Content Intel—episode 14: the future of content marketing in 2022
Laura Dolan (00:00):
Hi everyone, and welcome back to Optimizely's Content Intel podcast. I am your host, Laura Dolan. And today, I am joined by our guest James Scherer. He's the VP of growth at Codeless. James, thanks so much for coming on. Welcome to the podcast.
James Scherer (00:15):
Thank you so much for having me, Laura, looking forward to it.
Laura Dolan (00:17):
Please start off by telling us a little bit about your background and how you started in content marketing?
James Scherer (00:22):
Yeah, for sure. I fell into it pretty much. I was an English major so when I graduated without any job prospects whatsoever, no one was surprised.
Laura Dolan (00:35):
I can relate. I was the literature major.
James Scherer (00:35):
Yeah, 100%, us liberal arts got to stick together.
Laura Dolan (00:37):
James Scherer (00:38):
And I fell into a marketing internship at a startup in Vancouver, Canada, where I was living. And it just happened to be around content. So I thought I should probably go into marketing because I was somewhat amiable and somewhat well spoken and written. And then I found that I could actually make a living writing, which was an earth-shattering thing for me. And I moved from a writer there at that startup into managing editor, and then into head of inbound. So when I left there in 2018, that was my experience, very much startup-y kind of world there in Vancouver. And then, my wife and I went remote and we traveled the world for a little bit. And during that time, I wrote remotely for a content marketing agency called Codeless. And when I settled back down here in the UK, I took on the role of director of editorial. And then, just a few weeks ago, at the beginning of January, VP of growth.
James Scherer (01:32):
So my job for a long time has been building brands through growth, initially, internal, in-house. And then, for a long time here at Codeless, for clients. And doing content strategy, and content planning, and consultation with our clients. And then, again, switching back to the focusing on our own internal growth, through a number of growth campaigns and efforts, really, not just inbound. But that's still definitely where my heart lies, in the written word and the ability to grow go brands through that merit-based marketing is definitely a huge thing that I love to talk about, and think about, and do. Yeah, that's me.
Laura Dolan (02:13):
Awesome. It's amazing the trajectory that our careers take us on. Because I could totally relate. I did not study marketing at all in school. I happened to fall into marketing accidentally, along the way, and I ended up loving it. And yeah, same thing, it just came very naturally to me. And I was able to produce content in that capacity. So that's really, really cool. So the topic at hand today, we're going to talk about the future of content marketing. So what do you think it looks like now that we're well into 2022?
James Scherer (02:42):
It's interesting. It doesn't look super different than it did last year, if I'm being honest with you. I would love to sit here and tell you, like we all love to do in November and December of every year, write those massive, "What we think is going to change the world." And I wrote an article in 2013 called, "Why video is going to be the next big thing in 2014." And I think I wrote that article in 2015 as well. And then also, I think in 2020, and like, "Video's going to be the next big thing, guys." Video is a big thing and it's going to be the next big thing, sure. But ultimately, we're into this place with content where all of the things that we've been working towards through the quality of the content we create, the value of links, the value of the page experience that we're interacting with. The subject matter, excellence, thought leadership, social media engagement, traffic, all of that stuff remains as true as it ever was.
James Scherer (03:38):
I guess the change is that it's all going to be more true so there's less room for error. There's less possibility of you throwing a piece of content flippantly at the wall and hoping that it sticks. There's less of a chance of that now than there was a year ago. And there was less a chance of that last year than was the year before, for sure. The major change I'm seeing is going to be around long-form blog content, really long-form blog content, has already seen a decline in the search rankings. That was back in the beginning of spring 2021. And the page experience update in May, June, was the nail in the coffin for a lot of our clients who their content strategy is without my involvement, or our involvement, revolved around creating 10,000 word articles that had a bunch of affiliate links. And that was a major play to get on the first page of Google.
James Scherer (04:34):
Laura Dolan (05:21):
Yeah, I'm not at all surprised. I always found out to be a paradox, that long-form content ranked so well. I think maybe the pandemic had to do with that decline. There may be a lot of content fatigue out there that I've found. I always found in SEO rankings, the sweet spot was between 500 and 800 words. But yeah, 12, 15, 2,500 is where we strive for here at Optimizely as well. But yeah, I find that interesting. I just want to circle back to when you mentioned content, and throwing it at the wall and see what sticks. Why do you feel like that's not effective anymore?
James Scherer (05:57):
Because there are 150 other brands doing the exact same thing with a very similar piece of content and the wall's only so big. In fact, the wall only has 10 spots on it. Really, the wall only has three spots on it, if we're talking about driving traffic. But the wall's small, and the wall has a lot of people trying to stick their little pin to it. And that's been the case for a long time, but it is absolutely the case now.
James Scherer (06:22):
The challenge, of course, that we're all facing, and we will continue to be facing, is that the brands most capable of creating the highest quality content are also the largest brands that you have to compete with. So they're the ones who are bringing high-quality video to it. They're the ones that are investing $1,000 in every article through the best writers, and the best custom image designers, and the best developers to clean every page. And make sure the load time is less than a billionth of a millisecond or whatever it is.
James Scherer (06:49):
So that's challenging. And the answer to that has been for a long time, and continues to be, thought leadership, bringing something new to the table. And then doing everything else as right as you possibly can do. And investing in yourself. Identify the lower hanging fruit that doesn't have as crowded a wall as some of the other stuff. Build momentum, build your domain authority slowly but surely. And do all of the things right, on top of being okay to start slow. I'm just talking to the people who are just looking to get into content marketing. If you've been somehow unaware that this is a thing that you've needed to be doing for the past 15 years. So it's still possible to get it in to it, but no, you can't do it flippantly or without intention anymore, that's for sure.
Laura Dolan (07:44):
So what are some smart ways to still invest in content marketing? If you want to move away from a wall of text, per se, do you have any insights as to which type of content would get more traffic in an omnichannel platform? Because I know you mentioned video, but do you think there's anything we could look into besides text and video?
James Scherer (08:05):
Yeah, we're on a podcast, that doesn't hurt.
Laura Dolan (08:08):
Yeah, that's one.
James Scherer (08:08):
The challenge there, of course, is a bit like the wall that people are throwing podcasts against is also a crowded one.
Laura Dolan (08:14):
Yes, it's almost like everyone has a podcast now. It's like, "Well, we thought we were special."
James Scherer (08:18):
I think that was also during this coronavirus thing. Everybody's like, "I'm going to start a podcast."
Laura Dolan (08:22):
Yes, yes, exactly.
James Scherer (08:27):
That doesn't mean that there's not a lot of fantastic content on those. And I think that the dialogue component of podcasts is, to me, the most valuable component of it, which you don't necessarily always get in a webinar. You definitely don't get it in a blog article. The idea of a Q&A still remains, to me, the most valuable way for anybody to get insight into a subject, is to hear somebody who knows what they're talking about. Talk to somebody who's asking them the questions about it. Which is why, historically, we reward from engagement perspective, if not necessarily SEO, the case study focused content remains extremely high value. And often rewarded, at least socially.
James Scherer (09:12):
That's the Groove HQ, or Groove, a million years ago, Alex Turnbull, the CEO, did that journey to $10,000, I believe is their thing. Or $10,000 MRR, which was a really interesting... Every single blog article revolved around specific strategies that they were executing in order to drive business growth. And they also talked about the things that didn't work. And that was extremely compelling and people loved it. And then, of course, a few people whose names I will not necessarily mention, immediately just copied it and did the exact same thing. And it was also a success.
James Scherer (09:47):
But I guess what I'm saying there is that bringing something new to the table is still a key component of driving social engagement. And to an extent, that is increasing by the day, also an SEO factor. Because it's going to be able to, in the not too distant future, see when ideas are original and make a call on whether it's good. And then make judgements, I don't know, like Google's algorithm. I don't have any belief that that thing isn't just going to continue getting better and better. We're not going to hit a plateau at which Google is like, "This is as good as we're going to get it. We're going to stop now." That's never going to happen. So I have faith that they will keep pushing to try to align what they're delivering with the search as well as they possibly can.
Laura Dolan (10:38):
That would be nice to have them work with us and how we're trying to improve.
James Scherer (10:44):
Just stomp, and say, "This is all of the variables. Just do this. And you're good."
Laura Dolan (10:47):
Yeah, yeah. It wouldn't be very limiting that way so that's a good thing.
James Scherer (10:52):
Yeah. Plus the people who know a little bit about it would lose their jobs. So maybe don't ask for that.
Laura Dolan (11:02):
So when it comes to AI and machine learning, I know this is always a sore subject with people. But if companies invest in those kind of content management tools, do you think that would jeopardize the workforce? Or do you think that can help enhance getting their content out there and supplementing their strategies?
James Scherer (11:22):
So AI generated content is a really interesting idea. There's AI generated content, and then there's AI assisting with content production. Now the latter, just having AI help you, is absolutely an incredibly valuable tool that we all have been using for a long time. In Word 96, that little red line that underscored incorrectly spelled words, that's AI. That's software identifying when you have written something poorly and improving the quality of your content. Grammarly has been reviewing our content for years and no one batted an eye. And that is AI helping us create better content. So all of those tools have been with us for a long time.
James Scherer (12:04):
And what's coming into the fore now are platforms that just go a bit above and beyond. The primary ones that we use at our content agency is tools like marketing use Clearscope and Frase. And there are a lot of others in that industry as well. But they're basically reading the SERP for a targeted key phrase. And pulling from it helpful insight into how you can create content that would rank better than what's there. And those platforms allow you to pull inspiration from HubSpot's ranking article, and what the article is focusing on, to create a content brief or an outline. To which you can add your own creativity, and your own brilliance, and your own thought leadership, and whatever. But you're doing it on the structure, the skeleton, of the subjects that Google is rewarding already.
James Scherer (12:58):
Then it can also, once you've drafted your content, review what you've written against those ranking URLs. To say, "You're missing this key phrase, this semantic key phrase, this idea, this subject," that the ranking content is including, "So just be aware of that. Your content, from our perspective, is not as optimized or not as comprehensive as these other articles are."
James Scherer (13:20):
Now, those tools don't necessarily see your images. They don't see the backend. They don't see how quickly your page is loading. They don't see your subheader optimization, your meta tags, your meta description. It just uses the written word. So there's still a lot of work to be done after the fact, but those tools are extremely helpful to create optimized content. And we use them a lot. And if you're doing high volume, A, you got to be using outlying templates to begin with. Because they're just going to speed up your process a lot. We use them as like, "I want to know that the writers are creating something that's going to be covering what our clients want to hear about or want to be focused on." But whether you have a senior writer, or a senior editor, create those templates, or if you use one of these platforms to do it, it's entirely up to you. But I would definitely say in order to speed up the process, and make reliably good content that is optimized for search, use outlines.
James Scherer (14:19):
So that's the AI helping you, which it can do a huge amount of... Let alone, sorry, that once you've drafted that content, it can go into a tool like writer.com, or Grammarly, or Hemingway, or any of the other ones to review the flow and the grammar. You can put into autocreate.com in order to check the plagiarism against, if you have a freelancer who writes a piece of content. All of this, again, AI helping you create better content.
James Scherer (14:41):
Then there's also AI generated content, which is not currently there yet for me. I've tried a few platforms who do it. And what they've spit out is just slightly wrong. It's like if you've ever heard a computer written, or a software written song, there's something too perfect about it. But in the case of AI written content, there's just something wrong with it. And it takes you a second to realize what it is. And it's just, "This phrase doesn't quite sound right." And there's a lot of that.
James Scherer (15:14):
So from our perspective, from the content agency perspective, yes, it would be nice for me to say, "If we just plug these key phrases into this tool, can you give me 700 articles this month? Thank you for your time." But no, we're still using 75-odd writers in any given month because that's, still, we need to bring it to the table. Because thought leadership is still a huge component of bringing something new. And there's a lot that AI can't do. I think it's getting there. There's industries for which it is working better. The financial space, when you're attaching stock change, plus line of context, plus stock change. That is more in tune with what AI can do. I think there's possibilities in the medical space as well. Very fact-based, like, "Here's the database of data that you need to pull your article from." If every 10th word is a data point or a specific fact that you've provided to it, it can fill in the blanks.
James Scherer (16:15):
But as far as the SaaS space, B2B space... Maybe the B2C space, we could see something like that. If you give it 100 different variations of how to talk about your tool, or about your product, it could probably put them together. But as far as expecting to do anything that is novel, this any level of bringing something new to the table, it's never going to be there. Because it literally can't. Which for all of our 75 freelancers and all the people involved in our process, they're very happy about. It's giving them a bit of a breath of, "All right, good." For now, at least.
Laura Dolan (16:49):
Yeah. There's that relief there that the manpower is still required, as far as needing that human interaction, that human input, like you said, that AI just can't get there. It generates something that feels so detached and you definitely detect that.
James Scherer (17:10):
And that's the thing. If you talked to most writers and said, "Would you rather fix a 2,000-word article written by AI, or write a 2,000 word article from scratch. Everybody I've spoken to says that, "I would rather write it from scratch." Because trying to find out what's weird about that line, and how to fix it, takes you longer than writing the damn line yourself.
Laura Dolan (17:38):
I totally understand that. You have to interpret it before you can make sense of it. And before you know it, you're spending twice as much time. So that definitely makes sense.
James Scherer (17:43):
You'd be reading the line half dozen times to try to figure it out. Yeah, for sure.
Laura Dolan (17:46):
Yeah, and I can't function without tools like Clearscope and Grammarly. I've used Hemingway in the past. Clearscope is fantastic. I love how it helps you improve your SEO score. And gives you all of the recommended phrases and words that you would need to increase the ranking of it. So yeah, definitely a valuable tool we use here at Optimizely as well.
James Scherer (18:08):
And note, really quickly for early stage businesses. And again, I have no affiliation with any of these tools. But if you're early days with lower budget, Frase is a great option. Clearscope is also fantastic. We've used it a lot. But Frase allows you to do any number of reports for a keyword. So yeah, lot of great tools out there.
Laura Dolan (18:30):
Awesome. Do you have any other valuable advice for writers out there, or for content marketers starting up, before we wrap up?
James Scherer (18:39):
Here's how to do a content plan in 30 seconds.
Laura Dolan (18:42):
You got more time than that, James. It's all good.
James Scherer (18:44):
Okay. Let me see if I can do how to do a content plan in a minute.
Laura Dolan (18:44):
You've got about five minutes.
James Scherer (18:48):
Okay. No, I can do how to do a content plan in a minute. If you're starting from scratch, look at your own site. And talk to your sales people, and your heads of product, and your CEOs, or whatever. And lock down the three to five categories that you want to talk about. If you're in the project management space, that might be productivity, task management, project planning, and the Agile, something like that. So say that thing of Agile and Scrum and hybrid stuff. So say those are your four categories of content. Notice that I didn't say, "Go to Google and find the key phrase that you want to rank for most." I said, "Structured around categories of content." Within each category then, head into a tool like HS, or MAAS, or Semrush, or whatever. And identify the pillars, the parent URLs and articles that are your pie in the sky, hope you could get there pieces. And if you're in a very competitive space, then go down a rung, in terms of competitiveness and in terms of volume. But that's all good. You have your pie in the sky pieces.
James Scherer (19:51):
And for each category, again, you've three to five of those, have three to five pillars. Now, every pillar should be published as soon as possible. Because you want to get that URL indexed as soon as possible and started getting traffic to it, and links to it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Now, make that content really, really good. But at the same time, don't worry massively about making it the best possible piece of content it can ever be, ever. We'll do that down the line. Once those pieces are live... And I'm talking about doing it for all your categories, I'm not one of those SEOs who says, "Work this whole pillar and post structure and then this one and this one and this one." Do it all at the same time, publish a pillar each month for all three or five categories. Because you want to see which one of those categories sticks for you. So do it all at the same time.
James Scherer (20:38):
And then do support content.
Support content is structured, again, based on monthly volume, and also on KD or competitiveness. And every time you create a piece of content that is supporting one of those pillars, it needs to do intelligent backlinking, internal backlinking, to those pillars. And every month, that is your content plan.
It's, "Here are my five pillars, or my 10 pillars, across my three categories. And here are the support pieces that are built to not just rank themselves, but also to get these pillars to rank." And very quickly, you come up with 60-odd pieces. You publish eight a month and you're golden for the first few quarters, for sure. And then you look into external backlinking, and that's the second step of this. But we can talk about that another time. Firstly, get the content live, get the URLs up, and then go from there.
Laura Dolan (21:29):
There you go. One step at a time. Do everything incrementally.
James Scherer (21:32):
Yeah, absolutely. But do it all at the same time.
Laura Dolan (21:35):
Yeah, yeah. Cover all your bases. Well, that is sage advice, James. Thanks so much. How can our audience find you?
James Scherer (21:45):
Yeah, I'm on Twitter @JDScherer. Last name is S-C-H-E-R-E-R. Or realistically, if you want to check out what we're doing at Codeless, and how we're helping businesses grow through content, head over to codeless.io. And if you want to book a call or something, then say, "I want James to be on it," our sales team will make sure that I'm there. And we can talk strategy. But yeah, that's probably the easiest ways.
Laura Dolan (22:07):
Awesome. I will make sure I hyperlink all of that in the show notes of this podcast so that people could easily just click on the link and reach out to you.
James Scherer (22:15):
Sounds good. Thank you so much.
Laura Dolan (22:16):
Awesome. Thank you so much, James, for coming on. This has been Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you next time.
Laura Dolan (22:23):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Intel. If you'd like to check out more episodes or learn more about how we can take your business to the next level by using our content, commerce, or optimization tools, please visit our website at optimizely.com, or you can contact us directly using the link at the bottom of this podcast blog to hear more about how our products will help you unlock your digital potential.