27 December 2023 |

A content marketing year in review––and a preview at what I think is next

By Tracey Wallace

It’s been a wild 2023 for me, personally. When I left for an incredibly generous maternity leave (6 months!), I thought I had everything well documented and a solid plan in place. That may have been true, but things didn’t go according to plan (do they ever?). 

Instead, my company did what companies do over the course of 6 months…it changed. A lot! On top of that, content marketing changed a ton, too. In fatc, content marketing probably changed more as a discipline in those 6 months I was on maternity leave than it did in my decade of work previously. 

Funny how that works. 

I got back to full-time work mid-August, and I’ve been trying to gather my bearings ever since. If you’ve felt discombobulated, too, and think folks like me have it all together––feel comforted in knowing that we do not. 

I’ve talked to so many friends in the industry over the last 4 months, and nearly everyone is at their wits end, trying to figure out the next content thing––the new path forward.

I listened to a fantastic Hidden Brain podcast yesterday that talked about how research shows that the most progress often comes after a short period of backward trajectory. And that this is because you have to learn a new way of doing things, which means you have to unlearn the old way. And unlearning? That’s tough. It typically requires you to overcorrect toward the new beahvior. And it’s uncomfortable. It feels wrong. You live in an extended state of uncertainty. 

But that’s often a sign of change, of personal growth, and a quantum leap forward in the future. That’s where it feels like content marketing is right now. 

So, in the spirit of the end of the year (the last newsletter of the year!), here are a few things I’ve learned this year:

  1. ChatGPT works…

I’ve known folks to get promotions from the work that ChatGPT produces for them. And no, it isn’t that crappy SEO stuff you see. Its competitive content, typically leveraging a decent first draft that needs to be sassier and snappier––and gosh, ChatGPT delivers. Sure, content needs to be edited from ChatGPT, but it really nails a specific voice well—and in a way that a lot of content marketers just can’t do. It’s tough for content marketers, and writers in general, to alter tone & voice. And ChatGPT is really, really good at that. I’ve used it for short-pagers, executive summaries, and so much more. 

I’m not sure that it is what will stamp out freelancers or copywriters entirely, but yea…this thing is dangerous. And yes, it can make you way better and more effective at your job. And no, not through “prompt writing.” Seriously, go to it right now, drop in some content and ask it to make it more whatever you need it to be: concise, snappy, joyful, etc. You’ll be surprised at what it can do. 

  1. Content has officially commoditized…

This has been happening for years––but the end is nigh. Everyone can produce content––pretty damn good content, and at the very least decent content. For your content to be valuable, you need to do things that ChatGPT can’t do. You need original research. You need a unique tone and voice. And you need to write content targeted to very specific audiences. I think we are about to see the era of ABM-like content. This content will be used in campaigns, in sales enablement, and in journeys and nurture streams. You might still produce wider, more general audience content top of funnel for SEO, but I think that will ever change because… 

  1. Google just had one of its most volatile SERP years ever… 

And 2024 isn’t going to be any better. We don’t know exactly what the new Google SERP experience will be, but we do know there is a renewed focus on zero-click results that will absolutely take a ton of traffic away from sites (though primarily on low converting queries). This might spell disaster for a lot ofc ontent markters, especially ones that have bet their success on SEO traffic number KPIs. The name of the game now will be CRO. Expect content marketing to get more metric driven like performance marketing, and work even more closely with (or even full integrate with) demand generation teams. 

  1. This means that content marketers really need to nail audience development…

And I don’t just mean leveraging the personas your product marketing team hands over. No, I mean that content marketers need to understand a couple things:

  • Exactly who they are talking to with each piece of content, the job to be done for that person at that stage andddd….
  • Which pieces of content are performing best in terms of traffic, engagement and conversion, and ideally know this based on content theme, type, format, length, headline, and tone & voice. 

That second bullet point there is what has me thinking about thematic content analysis (and no joke, even reaching out to development firms to help me create the tool I envision…because I’m not finding it anywhere). 

SEO is going to remain important for content marketers, but we’re entering the era of less is more––and so many of us have massive libraries fo content that we should leverage as foundations for this next era. In other words, there’s no need to scrap what has been done. But it is crucial that we understand it, can wrap our arms around it, can figure out how to topimize it, and can leverage AI to help us do this in an efficiency, consistent way. 

So, again, if you’ve ever used a thematic content analyzer, please send me a message. Because I’m looking to get my hands on one. And if I can’t, I’m about to built it myself.