4 content marketing predictions for 2018 (and a bonus tip)

With a new year comes new technologies and the habits around them. Together they form our new realities that are forever evolving.

So, what we really want to know as content marketers is, WHAT is going to happen this year, and how can we stay ahead of the curve!?

There are some changes that are underway and foundations put in place that will play a meaningful role in 2018. From the mainstreaming of smart speakers that change the way we interact with tech to the ways we expect our search queries to be answered, we’ve put together our predictions for content marketing in 2018.

Content marketing will outcompete paid advertising

Advertising began first by advertising the product itself. Then the benefits of the product. And now, not mentioning the product at all.

More and more brands are using content as the bait to lure individuals into the mouth of their sales funnel. Why? Because in 2018, people will still hate ads and won’t like being sold to.

Look:

Advertisers are already fighting with banner blindness — a phenomenon where visitors of a website consciously or subconsciously ignore ads.

A study by the digital advertising company Infolinks found that as much as 86% of the Internet users ‘’suffer’’ from banner blindness and won’t be able to recall the last ad they saw and the company or product it promoted. Now, who’s the real sufferer here, hm?

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And it’s getting worse:

In 2017, 11% of Internet users were blocking ads on the web. This number is growing and planned to reach 30% in 2018.

So, in 2018 brands should change their course from paid advertising to content marketing and storytelling. Free, quality content won’t show measurable results right away, but in the long-term will be what sells.

Need proof? Look at the stats:

Simply put, in 2018 you should focus on creating content that doesn’t sell, but informs, builds trust and reputation. In the long-term, that’ll be the strategy that sells.

Ranking for ”Featured Snippets” will become more important than ranking for #1

Google is developing to become increasingly helpful to those making searches. You’ve noticed it in searches, you’re being shown increasingly more info on the results page so that possibly, you don’t even have to click through.

Those are called “Snippets”.

Ranking for snippets, or rather, ranking for #0 in Google searches, is the new goal. It’s been found that content that ranks #0 outperforms content that ranks for #1, leading to a 114% increase in CTR.

They come in various forms, here’s a list of all of the possible Rich Snippets — a total of 16.

The most common is the Paragraph Snippet — it makes up for 82% of all Rich Snippets shown on Google. The paragraph snippet is a series of sentences that specifically answers the query asked in the search. The results show in the snippet aren’t necessarily the top-ranking pages, but rather the page that has been determined to give the best answer.

Even though paragraph snippets are meant to provide an answer without having to click through, featured pages have seen between 20–30% higher traffic from Google.

The second most common is the List Snippet, at 11%, and third is Table Snippets, at 7%.

How you can optimize your content for SERP:

Since the paragraph and list snippets are the most commonly shown, it would be a logical place to begin.

  • Consider the query — Make sure that the question is in your headline, and that you provide a short paragraph briefly explaining the answer. The following paragraphs should elaborate on that question.
  • Choose language wisely — study by Ahrefs found that the most common words in rich snippets include; recipe, best, vs, make, and definition.
  • Know how people are asking questions — get an idea for how people frame their questions by; asking people, studying Quora questions, use Google auto-suggestions, try answertherepublic.com
  • Be factual and organized — Use data, facts, numbers, and structure. One study found that bulleted lists and charts are the easiest way to get featured.

So if you’re creating new content in 2018, or if you’re looking to freshen up your existing archive, consider optimizing for snippets by very specifically and succinctly answering a foreseeable search query.

Voice search is becoming the norm — optimize now to be ahead in 3 years’ time

Voice search is going to be huge. Audio search is growing. With 40% of adults using voice search at least once a dayit’s estimated that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done by voice.

What does that mean?

Those who already begin to optimize their content for audio search will be in the best market position within 3 years.

This tendency is largely driven by the ability to operate devices hands-free, including recently prevalent smart speakers such as Alexa and Echo incentivizing voice purchases.

Over the 2017 holiday period, the Echo Dot smart speaker (made by Amazon) became the best selling product on Amazon. Already 4.4 million devices have been sold during its first full year of sales.

Amazon was quick to incentivize purchases through its new products — a press release that was sent out by Amazon before Black Friday stated that “voice shoppers” would have access to select deals earlier than online shoppers. This is how they’ve been cultivating the habit of voice shopping.

So how do you optimize your content for voice search?

Here are some quick tips:

  • Optimize for sentences, not keywords — consider how people ask questions verbally. For example, rather than “Strawberry recipes”, you would target “What recipes can you make with a ton of strawberries?”.
  • Develop your FAQs — make sure that the most commonly asked questions about your business in general (not only customer support related questions!) are answered in your FAQ section.
  • Answer the question “what is the best…” — the most common voice searches begin with “what/who”. If you’re selling a product, make sure that your content answers a question that starts with “what”. For example, “what’s the best text editing tool?” — here you’d make sure to have content that compares different tools that also offers a conclusion

To get an idea of what you’re up against and what content does well, try doing a voice search of your own. Ask Siri, Alexa, or whichever voice-activated device you have, something about your industry. See what they come up with, and what resources they point you towards. This will show you what does well in voice search and might spark some ideas as to how to generate your own voice-activated content.

Audio content and podcasting will have the most loyal consumers

Video was so 2017.

Now we’re seeing a shift…back. To audio.

What we’re starting to see is a preference of content consumers, leaning towards audio content.

Why is that?

Audio content is a matter of convenience. Consuming audio content is the easiest way to passively fill your time while busy with mundane tasks, such as driving to work, cleaning the dishes, getting ready in the morning…these are all activities that can’t be done while simultaneously consuming video content, but audio fits the bill perfectly.

Consider the amount of growth in podcasts over the years. The amount of podcast consumers has grown to 24% of the population who listen to podcasts at least once per month. This has doubled within the past 4 years.

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Apple has stated that there are over 250,000 unique podcasts on iTunes in over 100 languages, with a total of 8M episodes.

To seal the deal, even Gary V is talking about the future of audio content — the guy who prides himself on predicting future trends. If you were looking for any more reasons that this is a concept with considering — this is it.

It’s clear that podcasting is a significant trend. From a business perspective, this becomes interesting when you contemplate the statistics of the listeners:

  • 86% of listeners will listen to all or most of the episode — this is an incredibly long amount of time for modern attention spans to have the focus and attention of your audience
  • 27% of listeners have at least a 4-year college degree — this is higher than the percentage of college degree holders in the US, which is 19%
  • Podcast owners are more likely to own a smart speaker — this can be interpreted as listeners being early adopters and tech-savvy
  • Podcast owners are most likely to be consumers of bottled water — an arguably non-essential product, and therefore affluent (compared to the general population).

By considering these different data points, we can conclude that podcast listeners are loyal, educated and affluent. Essentially a dream audience for any brand looking to make sales online.

So if you’re looking to really lock down your audience and increase engagement, podcasting might be an excellent channel for you.

Bonus: Great customer service will be more important than ever

While launching a business in 2018 will be easier than ever thanks to the wide array of online tools, scaling it will be the actual challenge for new entrepreneurs. The competition will be fierce and companies must get ready to fight for customers.

How to win customers over?

Brian Halligan, the CEO of HubSpot, in his speech at the Web Summit 2017 noted that today it’s more important than ever to stand out with customer service.

While we’re living in the technological era, the destiny of today’s companies more than ever depends on word of mouth and influencer marketing. That is, a friend suggesting to a friend, a blogger recommending to its readers, etc.

In fact, word of mouth and influencer marketing is becoming THE trusted source of product recommendations, so it’s crucial to keep people happy. Because at the end of the day, as old-school and tech-unrelated as that sounds, just plain great customer service will either make or break your business.

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To leave your customers satisfied, here’s what you can do:

  • If you’re in ecommerce, improve your shipping and returns policy. People today want free shipping, and 90% of online shoppers are ready to wait a little longer if that means they get free delivery. Meanwhile, by offering easy and stress-free returns, your brand will stand out and look like it really cares about the satisfaction of their customers.
  • Work on your email response times because people are losing their patience when it comes to customer service. One survey found that 53% of customers expect a response immediately or within an hour’s time, which in other words means that 24-hour support, or a less expensive alternative — a chatbot, is becoming a must-have for every business.
  • Create a loyalty program for your customers and treat them more specially than the rest, and people will keep coming back. A study by Accenture Interactive found that customers in loyalty programs generate up to 18% more revenue than customers who’re not.

Take the time to brainstorm how your brand can generate an improved and over-and-above customer service experience, and watch how your customer satisfaction and lifetime value grows.

When in doubt, aim for quality

The general theme of these predictions is that each step of content and consumer interaction is geared towards reducing friction and being genuinely helpful to your audience and customers.

If you find yourself in doubt of a new initiative, or if you don’t know what content to produce next, use this general north-star question to guide your decision making:

What will my audience find useful? How can I make this experience better for them?

If you place your audience first, then without a doubt, you’ll be setting yourself up for a great 2018.

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