TL;DR: Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my goals as a content writer for 2019. I’ve pared it down to three components: organizing content like a journalist, telling stories like a creative writer, and thinking about user intent like an SEO.
I’ll admit: I took several detours while writing this blog. My original idea was to share a quick list of content marketing tips and trends. However, as writers, analysts, and marketers, we’ve come to expect an annual onslaught of predictions and prophecies in the new year.
This is not one of those lists. Instead, this blog is an experiment of sort.
I wanted to do something different. So, rather than discuss the top ten ideas that every content marketer can focus on this upcoming year, I decided to dig deep and discuss a few ideas I’ve been thinking about lately.
This is a public statement of personal accountability. It’s an exercise in honesty. And it’s a way to take a step back and think about how my team and I can create impactful, purposeful content in 2019.
Quality, not quantity—with an emphasis on organization.
In the early days of content marketing, I remember churning out frequent (oftentimes, daily) blogs of roughly 500 words. I keyword stuffed the life out of blogs and snuck them into every tag imaginable. It’s what we did.
This type of writing was designed for search engines—and content was rewarded for tangential references to words or phrases, no matter how unnatural. You don’t need me to tell you that search engines have changed.
But first, a few things that remain true today:
- Long-tail keywords aren’t going anywhere
- People are still submitting conversational search queries
- And search engines are getting better at providing the best answers to users’ searches
Okay, so what does this mean? That content writers should be thinking about how they arrange their content.
This means organizing content like a journalist.
Thinking like a journalist, and following an inverted pyramid model, helps organize content based around user intent. The pyramid is designed to grab your reader’s attention by leading with the most important information. Think about the questions your readers are asking—and write content that answers their queries.
Pillar pages (and the like) are an exercise in intentionality. I first heard about this concept in 2017, when Hubspot announced “the next evolution of SEO”. While this proclamation may have been a bit overblown, the pillar page model is, undeniably, a logical way to organize content:
- Pillar pages serve the centralized hub for big-idea topics. While they answer specific questions, they aren’t in-depth by design.
- That’s where cluster content steps in. Cluster content discusses broad topics within a pillar page—and are driven by specific keywor
- Finally, hyperlinks—to third-party research and your own content—act as bridges to your pillar page.
For example, a pillar page may focus on a big-picture idea like SEO best practices, while cluster content may focus on, say, on-page optimization.
In this model, pillar pages map out content and create an interconnected conversation across broad topics. Cluster content—also called content hubs by SEOs—provide readers with better answers, while building authority on competitive, comprehensive ideas that your organization has already discussed.
Experiment with new formats (and focus on engagement).
You know what’s synonymous with quality writing? Storytelling.
It’s arguably the easiest way to connect with an audience on a deeper level. It’s also a tactic that can improve retention and increase engagement. In fact, Stanford research shows that statistics alone only produce a retention rate of 5-10 percent—while anecdotes can boost that number to 70 percent.
That’s why it’s essential for content writers to think like storytellers in 2019.
In his book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that an abundance of information has rendered even everyday decisions complex. Tasks as inconsequential as finding content online have become overwhelmingly difficult. Faced with so many choices, readers suffer from analysis paralysis—the state of overthinking a situation so a decision is never made in the first place.
Because the time to reach our audience is so limited, it’s important to provide them with quality storytelling in formats they want to consume.
I’m excited to experiment with new content types, including video, audio, and more. According to Content Marketing Institute, 64 percent of B2B marketers increased their audio and visual content efforts in 2018. However, written digital content—blogs, articles, ebooks, etc.—is just a three percentage points behind.
While I’ll continue to use long-form content to organize content, I’m excited to experiment with other modes of storytelling. I can’t tell you which format will work best for your efforts. 2019 is all about experimentation (and iteration). Try multiple approaches and see what works best.
Answering user questions in the never-ending battle to rank.
Organization and storytelling are great in theory, right? To bring it all home, however, it’s essential that content is found in the first place.
That’s why it’s important to approach user intent like an SEO. And that means staying on top of things.
For example, featured snippets, the coveted feature that was all the rage several years ago have evolved. Recently, Google rolled out the “carousel snippet”, which added additional results to featured snippets.
Instead of singular results, there are now up to ten times the number of answers included in a featured snippet. The carousel feature utilizes, as Moz points out, an “IQ-bubble” (coined by Google), which enables users to click through the multiple results included in the featured snippet.
This diversification has simultaneously amplified the level of competition latent in ranking on SERPs, and increased the chances of being featured. And, much like the innumerable ranking factors that dictate success, it will only continue to evolve.
No matter what the future holds, however, it will always be essential for content writers to consider user intent.
As with the original iteration, getting a featured snippet is largely dependent on the actual content on your page. Appeal to your audience by asking—and answering—questions that are relevant to their needs. Always consider their goals in every piece of content you create.
So, what does 2019 look like for content writers? I mean, I’m sure that we’ll be discussing trends like voice search, influencer marketing, and chat bots. But I also think it’s essential to get back to basics.
And to me, that means organizing content like a journalist, telling stories like a creative writer, and thinking about user intent like an SEO.