Getting content marketing strategies just right for the year ahead can be challenging, so it is always helpful to look at what competitors and companies in other industries are doing to try to succeed.
New research published by SEMrush this week offers a comprehensive overview of how customer-facing and business-focused organisations are planning to approach content campaigns and create teams that can support key objectives in 2021.
More than 1,500 agencies and enterprises in 24 countries took part in the study, and many of the findings should be useful for identifying new trends and developments that can help to shape your strategies this year. Here are six of the most interesting statistics.
84% of companies have a content marketing strategy
The number of companies that have a content marketing strategy in place continues to tick higher. In 2020, 84% of respondents said that they now have one, an increase from 77% a year earlier.
Both B2B and B2C marketers are also enjoying more success, as 62% would rate their performance as either “good” or “excellent”, which is an improvement from 52% in 2019. Just 2% would evaluate their efforts as “poor”, which is encouraging.
A further 71% believe that they are either “more” or “much more” successful now than a year ago, and 66% see the complexity of their overall strategies as either “promising” or “advanced”. However, only 6% believe that they are at the “mature” phase.
In previous studies, maturity has been linked to greater success, but the pandemic may have impacted that development. A recent Content Marketing Institute study found that 94% of marketers have had to pivot to new strategies to support new messages and distribution efforts.
79% plan to generate more quality leads this year
Despite the recent upheaval, the main content marketing goals being pursued did not really change in 2020. More than three quarters said that they wanted to drive lead generation and 75% are set on increasing traffic to webpages. Those objectives were also the top two priorities in 2019.
One goal that has become more pressing during the last 12 months is promoting the positioning of new products and services. Only 19% previously said that this was a priority, but there was a seven percentage point increase to 26% in the latest research.
51% say that creating content that generates leads is the top challenge
The challenges that content marketers are facing go hand in hand with the previous objectives. 51% are concerned about creating enough quality content that can support lead generation, making it the top challenge overall, just ahead of serving content that can drive traffic (47%).
The need to demonstrate to executives that content is delivering value will be crucial this year amid budget cuts, and 44% said that their top challenge will be proving the return on investment (ROI) for content campaigns. Just 30% said the same in 2019.
61% say that repurposing content is their most effective tactic
It is no surprise then that teams are trying to deploy tactics that can drive better ROI. Upcycling and recycling content has been a big theme during the last 12 months for this reason, and this is reflected in the study. 61% said that “updating and repurposing existing content” was their best tactic, an increase from 51% in 2019.
However, search engine optimisation is still the most effective overall, with 75% of respondents claiming this versus 67% a year earlier. Other effective tactics include crafting more visual content (41%), publishing more how-tos (45%), and optimising the customer journey (41%).
81% of companies are outsourcing writing
Outsourcing key content marketing activities has enabled companies to maintain business continuity and deliver high-quality campaigns consistently during what has been an incredibly challenging 12 months.
One specific area of focus for outsourcing has been writing. Back in 2019, 53% of respondents said that copywriting and other similar tasks were being offloaded to agencies and other third parties, but this soared to 81% in 2020.
The uptick can be attributed to the growing demand for written content from consumers and the wide variety of formats that can be deployed to satiate that desire. As noted already, blog posts are incredibly popular, but consumers also want more eBooks, infographics and white papers.
Writing was by far the most widely outsourced content creation service in 2020. Graphic design (40%), video design (40%), SEO (28%), and editing and proofreading (23%) rounded out the top five.
76% of companies have small teams with up to three people
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings in the survey is that the vast majority of companies are relying on very small teams to manage the entire content marketing process.
During the last year, 76% of respondents said that they had between one and three specialists on their team, while just 2% had more than 20. The year-over-year figures are relatively flat, suggesting that there have not been many changes to the make-up of teams since 2019.
Highlighting the importance of the creative process again, 54% said that they have writers and content creators on their teams. These specialists are the most widely used, ahead of SEO content managers (38%), social media managers (30%), designers (29%) and content marketing strategists (27%).
The biggest increases in hired specialists come in the form of heads and managers of content marketing, which suggests that companies have been attempting to bring in more experience to steady the ship during challenging periods.
The study from SEMrush is vast in its scope, so it is difficult to cover every valuable insight in the required depth. Some of the other most interesting findings include:
- Leadership, respect for deadlines, and problem solving are the top soft skills for marketers.
- 14% of companies are planning a “large increase” in content marketing investment.
- Facebook and LinkedIn are the most effective social media platforms for content distribution.
- 69% have created content for the top of the funnel versus 43% for the middle and 20% for the bottom.
- 92% of companies are producing blog posts, making it by far the most popular content format.
- 33% are now producing webinars, compared to 21% in 2019.
- 38% conduct content audits three or more times a year.