We’ve had a decade-plus run where the same SEO-heavy playbook alone could make your business money – often a lot of it. SEO was the golden ticket. I spent over six years at Buffer scaling its blogs to over one million visits and generating tens of thousands of signups every month.
It’s been a great ride. Content has gone from an emerging category to a function almost every B2B business invests in.
But the rapid evolution of both algorithms and audience expectations means we need to return to the experimental mindset of content's early days. It’s no longer enough to check all the boxes. To craft content that performs in today's landscape, we need to tap into what originally drew us to content marketing: creativity, insight, and making real connections with audiences.
Back in the 2010’s content was driven by a thirst for discovery and experimentation — like Buffer’s co-founder writing 150 guest posts in nine months. There wasn’t a playbook to adhere to, nor did marketers let the fear of the unknown deter them. Often, making the first move into uncharted tactics, and strategies was a catalyst for groundbreaking success. Think: Drift’s podcast network, Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday, or Zendesk’s alternative rock band.
But somewhere along the journey the quest to create content that resonated, that was unique, that helped to build a brand, gave way to a factory-like production of SEO-optimized, templated content. The checkboxes (as Brendan Hufford might say) replaced the compass.
In this rush for SEO optimization, the essence of curiosity and originality that once fueled content creation seemed to have dimmed. The unique charm of discovering fresh insights through content was being overshadowed by the mechanical churn of keyword-stuffed articles.
It's time to change.
Just like in the NBA, where the rise of the 3-point shot shifted the game, demanding teams to adapt or fall behind, content marketing too calls for a creative evolution. But instead of Steph Curry and the Warriors, it's the tech giants and consumer demands dribbling the ball, steering the game in a new direction.
AI is here, Google algorithm updates are more frequent and often less forgiving, and networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are suppressing outbound links. Traffic is harder to come by. And even if you get traffic, people see past blatantly SEO-d content now.
All of this might be a stumbling block in the short-term but long-term, it’s a silver lining Just look back at history — things always get better. Challenges lead to innovation.
Content is going to get really, really good… out of necessity. Because the floor has been raised. The tactics, like SEO, will still work. But the quality will have to rise and in this new arena, creativity isn't just the icing, it's the cake.
At Buffer, we ventured beyond our conventional SEO-focused strategy to produce a documentary podcast series about the launch of a new homeware brand. This not only garnered tens of thousands of engaged listeners but also helped us to build trust and affinity in a new niche. Similarly, Groove took us on a "Journey to $100k", captivating readers with the ups and downs of building a business. And recently, the team at Mutiny took a creative leap by premiering a unique virtual event, Surv-ai-vor, designed to demystify AI for marketers.
These projects weren't mere shots in the dark; they were calculated bets that prioritized new strategies over the standard SEO-guided content. By taking the less charted route, they showcased the spark of creativity that the future of content marketing is thirsting for.
So here’s to the future of content. Let’s not just follow the tide, let’s create waves. Be bold, be original, be human.