Last Updated on February 11, 2024 by Anneke Schmidt, PhD
We’ve heard it all. From “Content is king” to “Content is dead,” there’s been endless debate around the concept of content marketing and how it may or may not be evolving these years. Recent developments in generative AI only deepened the divide between these two opposing positions, with some calling for a technological revolution to automate content creation and others mourning the death of human-created content as we know it.
And while the truth usually hovers somewhere in the middle, research shows that, with this issue specifically, we’re probably better off choosing the first side rather than the second. For instance, 2023 Semrush statistics reveal a notable trend: 45% of content marketers were not just increasing their content output that year but also focusing on its frequency and quality, with 44% crediting these changes for their ongoing business success.
But what is content marketing, exactly, and how is it changing in the AI era? This article will guide you through the nuances of this multifaceted marketing channel. Our exploration will center on three key areas: the role of high-quality, original SEO content in building site authority and trust, the different content types to consider, and how to engage audiences effectively in these rapidly changing digital times.
Reconsidering Content Marketing in the Age of AI
To answer the question, “How is content marketing changing in the age of AI,” we first need to unpack the concept of content creation. At its core, it’s a strategic marketing process centered on crafting valuable, relevant, and consistent digital content. And why do we do this? To attract and retain a well-defined audience and, ultimately, to encourage profitable customer interactions.
Content marketing, in turn, goes beyond the simple promotion of products or services. Here, the primary focus is to engage the target audience with information they find genuinely helpful and interesting. Central to this strategy is the concept of building trust, achieved by providing valuable insights that address specific challenges or fulfill the audience’s needs.
With the rise of generative AI, the benefits and shortcomings of digital marketing have become more evident. As information overload disengages audiences and AI-generated content fragments our already scattered attention, there is an increased demand for meaningful, value-driven content. People are simply tired of being flooded with mediocre, uninspired content generated by robots – every single day.
But how did we get here? Let’s unpack this.
Why the ChatGPT Launch Is a Big Deal for AI-Driven Content Marketing
When OpenAI released ChatGPT to the public on November 30, 2022, it sent shockwaves through the content marketing world, changing the ways many of us work in SEO and content creation.
In particular, ChatGPT held the promise of faster, more powerful content creation – the possibility of churning out SEO-friendly articles at lightning speed. Developers were excited, too, as the API allowed them to add advanced language capabilities to their apps. Of course, there has been much controversy over its overall effects, but it’s hard to argue with the tool’s popularity. In no time, ChatGPT was the fastest-growing consumer application in history.
Marketers are using it for:
- Content Creation: It’s now possible to develop unique and engaging blog posts, articles, and social media content at an unprecedented pace.
- Search Engine Optimization: You can craft content that is optimized for search engines, enhancing online visibility and website traffic. Reverse engineering SEO strategies of top-ranking articles is one option to do so.
- Customer Service Automation: Chatbots allow you to create automated responses for customer inquiries, improving efficiency and response times.
- Email Marketing: Some marketers are trying to generate compelling email content to improve open and click-through rates.
- Market Research: AI tools with web access can quickly gather, synthesize, and analyze information about market trends and consumer preferences.
- Content Ideation: Another popular use case is discovering content ideas and themes that resonate with your target audience, e.g., by using ChatGPT as a brainstorming partner.
- Language Translation: Like Google Translate, generative AI tools can translate marketing materials into multiple languages, expanding global reach. They can even take into account contextual factors that other translation tools struggle with.
- Social Media Management: Marketers are using AI tools to create and schedule a variety of social media posts, analyze engagement rates, and optimize content for different platforms.
- Copywriting: There are AI tools specifically designed to help with the production of high-quality ad copy, web copy, and product descriptions.
- Competitor Analysis: This is part of market research. Here, AI can be used to gather information about competitors’ strategies, audience targeting, and campaign performances.
- Speech and Script Writing: Some marketers use AI tools to create scripts for videos, podcasts, and public speaking engagements.
- A/B Testing of Content: With the help of AI, you can also generate multiple versions of content for A/B testing (like marketing emails) to determine the most effective strategies.
Yet, these practices can have serious drawbacks depending on how and to what extent AI is integrated into marketing processes.
Focusing on content writing alone, there’s a lot to consider – like the following four risks:
Risks of Relying Too Heavily on AI for Content Creation
Quality concerns and plagiarism risk take the forefront. AI-generated content can be produced at a rapid pace, but this speed often comes at the cost of depth and nuance in tone. For instance, a marketing agency might use AI to draft articles quickly, only to find that the content mirrors existing online sources too closely. This not only raises plagiarism concerns but also conflicts with Google’s standards, which discourage content that lacks originality and value.
The threat posed by Google’s algorithms is another significant issue. With the Helpful Content Update, it’s clear that Google favors content created by humans that offers a satisfying and genuine reader experience. AI tools, focusing mainly on analyzing search results and on-page optimization, may miss the essence of what readers truly seek. This gap can lead to content that Google views as less valuable, impacting its visibility in search results.
As a direct result, Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) are becoming more crucial to content evaluation today. Google uses these criteria in its quality rater guidelines, and AI-generated content often falls short here. Consider a health blog using AI to write articles. Despite having accurate information, the lack of a qualified author’s perspective might make readers and Google’s quality raters question the content’s credibility.
Creativity and originality are the final hurdles for AI in content writing. Engaging and shareable content requires a level of creativity that AI, at this point, cannot match. Relying on existing data, AI struggles with understanding local language nuances and emotional intelligence. This limitation is evident, for example, in content that fails to resonate on a deeper, more personal level with readers.
So, what does this mean for the future of content marketing and content writing, specifically? In short, it’s all about human authenticity and connection.
Why High-Quality Original Content Matters Even More Now
In 2023, satisfaction rates with Google’s search results were at their lowest since 2016 due, in part, to content marketers missing the mark on search intent, quality, and relevance. A survey by SEMRush indicates that most users who search on Google are not satisfied with the search results needing to refine their queries several times for acceptable outcomes.
This behavior signals a significant opportunity for content creators to step in and fill the gap. Understanding the criticality of content relevance, we encounter the conundrum of satisfying our audience’s desire not for more but for more meaningful interactions. The challenge lies in producing such quality content both consistently and expeditiously.
Moreover, due to the information flood produced by generative AI, people increasingly view content with a critical eye, evaluating its authenticity with heightened scrutiny. The moment they sense a dearth of these qualities, we risk the loss of their trust – and their business.
That’s why the importance of building audience trust cannot be overstated. Trust is a lasting asset in an environment where attention is fleeting. Additionally, attracting new customers is significantly costlier than retaining existing ones, as highlighted by the five times higher cost of customer acquisition associated with the latter.
The actual business value of content marketing, therefore, lies in its capacity to uphold exceptional standards and consistently provide valuable content. This, in turn, cultivates an authentic connection with the audience, establishing a lasting and meaningful relationship.
Transcending the “More is Better” Mindset
Our modern digital content dilemma mirrors the concern voiced by Roman philosopher Seneca millennia ago – he saw the rising obsession with book collection as a distraction and advocated for depth over breadth. Likewise, the relentless expansion of digital platforms today poses the classic question: when does more become too much?
In our pursuit of more – more data, more content, more technology – we often find ourselves caught in the detrimental cycle of information overload. Interestingly, even a study conducted as early as 2010 suggests a tipping point where additional technology tools begin to crowd out productivity. Now imagine what this means for this day and age, where technology is even more ubiquitous and new tools and devices pop up faster than we can wrap our heads around.
In fact, marketers now face the challenge of creating and managing an overwhelming amount of content across various platforms. And with the ever-increasing demand for fresh content, it’s no surprise that the “more is better” mindset has become deeply ingrained in our thinking.
But what if we shift our focus from more to more quality? What if we prioritize depth over breadth and strive for excellence rather than quantity? This is what content curation is all about – the process of carefully selecting, organizing, and presenting the most valuable and relevant information to our audience.
With Google’s EEAT now emphasizing aspirational ranking factors like “Experience,” it’s clear that human first-hand knowledge-sharing is foundational for long-term visibility. This makes content curation more important than ever, especially for small businesses.
Being seen organically is no longer enough. It’s about being part of other people’s curation. Think Wired, Forbes, or The Economist. By providing valuable, high-quality information that complements the content of these publications, you establish yourself as a credible source and open up opportunities for collaboration and cross-promotion. Not to mention the backlinks and potential increase in organic traffic.
But there is more to the content curation process than building links with big publications. Becoming a source of information yourself is equally important. There is a real need for human curation that AI cannot fill. While generative AI may be everywhere, it is often overused and fails to establish trust.
So, what’s the way forward? Become a trusted source of information through your audience. In a digital world oversaturated with subpar AI content, focus on human qualities like:
- Critical thinking.
They are what make us unique and irreplaceable as curators. Plus, they’re not easily replicable by AI.
AI is predictive, not analytical. Valuable content is about what the user needs, not what AI guesses the next word should be. That’s good news, actually. It means Experience and Trustworthiness are our superpowers now. So, let’s use them wisely to be heard when people don’t know who to listen to.
Benefits of Adopting a Quality-Centered Content Marketing Approach
There are numerous benefits to prioritizing human curation in a quality-centered content marketing approach. Let’s explore the top three advantages:
Enhance Brand Visibility and SEO Rankings
A study by Content Marketing Institute found that 90% of the most successful marketers prioritize their audience’s informational needs over their promotional message. While this may seem counterintuitive at first, there are good reasons to put your audience first. By consistently producing high-quality, curated content, your brand will stand out as a reliable source of information. This will help increase your visibility and credibility in the eyes of search engines, leading to higher rankings on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) over time.
Moreover, excellent content has the power to attract natural backlinks. When your content is valuable, informative, and well-crafted, other websites and publications will naturally want to link to it as a reference or resource. These organic backlinks contribute to your SEO efforts and add credibility and authority to your brand. Other link-building strategies, such as guest blogging and influencer collaborations, are also more effective when backed by quality content.
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Build Trust and Customer Engagement
Content marketing uniquely enables information exchange, fostering trust and engagement more effectively than other digital marketing strategies. It transcends mere traffic generation, converting visitors into potential customers.
Today’s audiences, particularly Gen Z, are discerning and seek authenticity. As WP Engine’s Eric Jones notes in Entrepreneur: “They don’t want to ‘buy’ from a brand […] they want to partner with their brands. They want a relationship; they want honesty.”
The truth is that traditional marketing tactics rarely impress audiences now, let alone earn their trust. Gaining the support of audiences requires more than superficial gestures. Only through sincerely expressing and genuinely acting upon an interest to help can we truly earn their unwavering support and loyalty.
Here are some suggestions to help you adjust your brand voice in these times:
- Be transparent: Share behind-the-scenes content, showcase your company culture, and admit to mistakes. Honesty is always the best policy.
- Listen and respond: Monitor feedback and address any concerns promptly. Demonstrate that you value your customers’ opinions and are willing to take action to improve their experience.
- Be empathetic: Show genuine concern for your customers’ well-being and offer support or resources that may be helpful to them.
Generate High-Quality Leads and Conversions
Finally, content marketing is instrumental in lead generation. According to Semrush’s State of Content Marketing: 2023 Global Report, 34% of the 1,700 marketers and business owners they surveyed identified lead generation as a primary goal of their content marketing strategies. The Content Marketing Institute further reports that content marketing generates three times more leads than outbound marketing while costing 62% less.
Again, content quality plays a huge role here. By focusing on the audience’s needs, inbound marketing naturally pulls potential customers toward your business. Here, quality content acts as a magnet. Rather than chasing leads, compelling articles, insightful blog posts, and engaging videos draw them in. This approach transforms passive readers into active leads.
Moreover, every share, like, and comment increases your visibility without a hard sell. Think of it as planting seeds in a garden. You nurture them with quality content, and gradually, they grow into strong leads.
Top Content Types for High-Quality Content Marketing
The beauty of content marketing lies in its ability to morph your brand’s narrative into various formats. Each format you deploy paints your content strategy in vivid, engaging hues, appealing to a broad spectrum of people.
Do they prefer audio-visual content, or are they avid readers? Maybe, short, snappy social media posts catch their attention. Or are you working with different audience segments that require different content types?
When exploring the following core content types, keep these preferences in mind, as they are crucial in aligning with your marketing goals.
Blogging and Articles: Foundations of Digital Storytelling
Crafting blog posts and articles offers a welcoming way to weave your brand’s story online. These written, informative pieces on your website serve to:
- Foster engagement with current customers.
- Share valuable insights about your products and services.
- Boost website traffic and improve search engine rankings.
For many online businesses, especially early-stage ones, blogs and articles are the go-to choices. Their practicality and cost-effectiveness make them a smart start in content marketing.
E-books and White Papers: In-Depth Guides and Expert Insights
E-books and white papers are the go-to mediums for delving into complex topics. Their long-form nature allows for a thorough exploration of industry insights, cementing your authority through detailed, experience-based content. This, too, builds trust and confidence in your audience.
Similar to case studies (which we will delve into next), these mediums are potent lead generators. Due to their higher production costs compared to blog posts, e-books and white papers are often high-value, gated content.
This gating means they are accessible in exchange for contact information, making them powerful tools for nudging potential leads further down the sales funnel.
Case Studies and Customer Success Stories: Demonstrating Real-World Impact
More than just informative posts or guides are necessary to sway potential customers. You need tangible evidence of your impact, best demonstrated through case studies and customer success stories.
These are often featured on product landing pages as they act as trust and credibility signals, crucial in converting visitors to leads.
If resources are tight, you might have to choose between the two. Opt for the one that resonates more with your audience. Case studies might be more effective for a more technical, academic market like edTech & eLearning, whereas customer testimonials might be better suited for industries heavily reliant on reviews, like the beauty sector.
Social Media Content: Engaging and Connecting with Audiences
Social media content encompasses various media forms, including text posts, videos, memes, and gifs, shared on networking sites. Its primary aim is to keep customers engaged and connected, another vital component of customer retention.
The significance of social media content has never been more pronounced, as audiences seek more than passive consumption; they crave connection, discussion, and active participation on familiar platforms. Achieving this earns their trust and loyalty.
Plus, social media marketing and SEO are closely linked. Social traffic sends positive signals to search engines like Google, indicating the popularity and relevance of a website. In that sense, a solid social media strategy can also increase organic reach.
A Quick Note on the Relation of Content and Social Media Marketing
While it may seem synonymous with content marketing, social media marketing is better understood as an integral part of your overall strategy.
Content marketing processes typically culminate in promotional efforts. This stage involves expanding the reach of your content through various channels, including social media, email, and other marketing tactics. In short, social media is a tool to distribute and amplify your content.
How To Develop an Effective Content Marketing Strategy in the Age of AI
While some things are changing in the AI-driven marketing world, one truth persists: the cornerstone of successful content marketing is a combination of a well-crafted strategy and consistent execution.
Accurate strategies, from insights to audience and channel selection, are crucial for resonating with your target market. Consistency in your content marketing approach ensures regular engagement with both new and existing audiences.
To reach these two goals, consider the following steps:
Identify and Understand Your Target Audience
Creating resonant content begins with a deep understanding of your audience. If you neglect this critical first step, you could end up with a mismatch between search intent and content, leaving your customers/clients feeling overlooked.
For instance, imagine a learner searching for information on leadership development. If a piece of content targeting the search term “how to improve leadership development” provides generic articles on time management instead, the user may feel frustrated. And that frustration may lead them to look elsewhere for valuable content.
That’s why it’s best to start with a clearly defined audience profile:
The Audience Persona
An audience persona is a document detailing your target audience for content. The best content marketing strategies employ detailed audience personas that specify everything about the intended recipients, including language preferences, content consumption habits, and pain points. This guidance is invaluable in generating content for various digital marketing campaigns, like blogs, images, videos, and subsequent promotions.
Here’s an example of what an audience persona document looks like.
If you’ve already built an audience, creating such a buyer persona is straightforward. Begin by observing your existing digital presence, whether on a website or social media. Digital analytics tools help identify audience characteristics and patterns, preferred channels, as well as their interests, challenges, and motivations.
Choose the Right Content Formats and Channels
The effectiveness of your message also hinges on the appropriateness of the formats and channels used. Selecting suitable mediums becomes easier if you’ve taken the time to understand your audience.
Reflect on your earlier audience analysis. What formats resonate with them – blogs, images, explainer videos, infographics? What channels do they frequent – search engines, social platforms, email?
As a rule of thumb, always aim to meet your audience where they already are rather than trying to divert their attention elsewhere.
Other Considerations When Choosing Formats and Channels
Beyond your audience personas, consider:
- Business Capacity: Some formats and channels are more expensive than others. For example, videos are popular but can be costly. While small businesses can still utilize this format, they may need to find alternative and cost-effective production methods.
- Brand Voice: Your chosen formats and channels should align with your brand’s voice. For instance, if your brand is known for its professional and informative tone, using memes or slang on social media may not be suitable.
- Industry Trends and Best Practices: Regularly stepping back to observe industry trends helps identify content creation opportunities. Look at what competitors are doing to find gaps you can fill or practices to enhance.
Set Goals and Measure Success
A clear goal and measurable outcomes are vital in any content marketing strategy. This enables you to assess the effectiveness of your efforts and informs future improvements.
Consider why you’re creating content. Is it to boost website traffic, generate leads, or encourage purchases? Once your objectives are clear, decide on the metrics for measuring success.
Important Note: You should also make sure your Google Analytics 4 events are properly set up for effective performance tracking.
Partner with a Content Marketing Expert To Achieve Human-Powered Excellence
In the age of AI, a unique blend of human intuition and expert strategy sets leading content apart. Empathy cannot be programmed; it’s the priceless component only human marketers can integrate into every crafted piece. While generative AI technologies serve their purpose in streamlining content creation, they lack the nuanced understanding of human emotion and connection that is critical for truly resonating with audiences – in short, authenticity.
Consider your content’s journey: a well-strategized path that leads your audience from curiosity to conviction, from passive reading to active engagement. Make the decision to invest in human-powered excellence, and observe as your content transcends language barriers, engaging your readers with heart and precision.
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