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Keep up to date with the latest content marketing tips and news.


The festive shopping season is expected to start earlier than ever this year as consumers turn to digital stores in droves to avoid last-minute logistical nightmares. This busy online sales period represents a great opportunity for brands to drive revenue and engagement.

Review last year’s performance

The best place to start is by looking at what worked and where you fell short during the holiday season last year. Google Analytics can be used here to review your website’s performance. You will be able to track general metrics such as session duration and bounce rate, which can highlight consumer behaviours and habits.

You should also be able to see what channels people used the most to reach your site and the products or services that saw an uptick in activity during a sales period. You might also find that a compelling blog post delivered a considerable spike in traffic.

You can use these insights to support your decision-making in the run-up to Christmas this year. For example, you might need to update product copy, republish a gift guide article, or tweak on-page SEO to get the best results.

Use local SEO

While COVID-19 will reduce the clamour for shopping at physical stores this year, local SEO should still be used to attract consumers in regional markets as many people will be eager to secure deliveries from suppliers nearby.

Optimisation here is relatively straightforward. All you need to do is update your Google My Business listing with relevant information, including contact details and opening hours. You can also use Google Posts to promote offers or new product offerings in the local section of SERPs.

Include internal links in content

Internal linking provides structure to your website, but more important in ecommerce is its ability to guide a visitor from one page to the next. Consumers want to see more relevant articles, blogs and product sections when they navigate to your site. This information could be enough to convert and close a sale.

Optimise images

Images are important for keeping customers engaged, especially during a product-driven shopping season. People want to see high-resolution images of products before they make a purchase. These images need to be optimised to ensure that the customer experience meets expectations — large files can weigh down pages. You can do this by resizing and compressing them and by optimising placement near relevant text.

Make sure to tag your images correctly. Google says that “adding more context around images” can make your content “more useful”, which leads to higher-quality traffic sources. You should include descriptive titles, filenames and captions for images for this reason.

Target top of the funnel

Content is readily deployed by marketers at the top of the funnel, and this works well at Christmas as consumers will want to research products before making a purchase. You can use content to provide timely advice, reviews and comparisons. Aim to inform and educate. This type of ‘research-stage’ content is incredibly valuable at this time of the year and it aligns perfectly with SEO and social media output.


With the average person set to spend more than an hour and a half a day watching online videos in 2021, there has never been a better time to invest in video marketing. Here are five more reasons why video can benefit your business during the next 12 months.

Educate and inform

The old adage that a picture can tell a thousand words rings true for many consumers who defer to visual content when attempting to gain a better understanding of a product or service. 97% of marketers believe that videos help to communicate the features and value of something to audiences, according to research by HubSpot.

Sales pitches in videos are unlikely to resonate though. Brands should instead attempt to provide added value by offering an in-depth, balanced review of a product, showing how it works and the best way to buy it.

Optimise for SEO

Google is all about serving high-quality content in search. Video fits neatly into this objective and will be readily consumed by viewers. Cisco forecasts that over 80% of all web traffic will consist of video by the end of next year.

To optimise your video for search so that it has a better chance of featuring near the top of rankings, you will need to include a meta description for SEO with the right mix of keywords and a detailed overview of what it is about. A strong title is also helpful.

Competitive edge

Videos are being deployed in content campaigns by 81% of all businesses, according to HubSpot. While written content is excellent for exploring certain subjects in detail, video usually has the edge for storytelling and delivering succinct and memorable messages.

If you fail to invest in some form of marketing, you may lose out to competitors that have a more mature approach to video marketing. Social media is also a hotly contested battleground where a viral clip can do wonders for awareness and engagement.

Live video

Video is also a space where brands are being more creative to reach audiences in new ways. Live video has emerged as another potentially important lever in the marketing toolset as it helps to build a sense of community by offering real-time interactions.

Cisco believes that live video will make up 13% of the web’s traffic in 2021, with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat among the key drivers in this form of content consumption. In the continued absence of physical events, you could use live video for digital conferences and webinars. 


Nine in 10 consumers say that videos are a valued resource when attempting to make a decision about a purchase. Furthermore, 74% of people who get to see how a product works in a video then go on to buy it.

This highlights again how content that is customer-focused, rather than brand-related, can actually have a greater impact on sales. Videos on landing pages are particularly effective at converting customers who have clicked through from a link in an article or via a search engine.

Meanwhile, videos published on webpages should aim to increase metrics such as ‘time on page’, as keeping people around and engaged is usually more than enough to move them on to the next stage of the sales cycle.


Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are sticking with what they know best and are reluctant to adopt entirely new strategies as they look to manage expectations and keep content campaigns on track amid challenges caused by the global pandemic.

Dentsu’s annual report of marketing has a different focus this year, with many of the questions and insights centred on what actions brands are taking to maintain continuity while attempting to keep pace with new tech and trends.

1,350 CMOs in 12 countries were polled for their responses between May and June this year, and a common through line emerged. Key decision-makers are relying on tried-and-trusted methods to get the job done.

90% of those surveyed said that they have fallen back to strategies that have worked in the past, rather than attempting to forge a new path amid uncertainty about budgets and the changing needs and demands of consumers.

However, the vast majority say that they have done this to “see the company through”, rather than there being any real prospect of the business going under or marketing being scaled back completely.

On the latter point, investment in marketing and content remains strong and will continue to be so. More than half of large companies, with in excess of 1,000 employees, said that they are planning to spend more on marketing during the next 12 months.

Smaller enterprises are more conservative, but there is a real desire among all companies, from micro to large corporations, to focus on marketing to drive sales and other important objectives during what is expected to be a difficult period.

The impact of COVID-19 has already been keenly felt though. Six in 10 CMOs admit that they have been “significantly affected” by the tumultuous real-world events during the last six to eight months.

It’s not all bad news as around a quarter of marketing chiefs claim that their business has only seen minimal disruption from the pandemic, while 10% of respondents believe that it has actually been beneficial overall.

For those who are targeting a period of recovery in the coming months, the 2008 financial crisis is acting as a reference point for strategies, though the report noted that “traditional” plans may not be best suited to a pandemic.

Around half of CMOs (49%) expect to look at the lessons learnt from previous recessions and the actions taken to inform their strategies moving forward. Meanwhile, a small subset (10%) are looking to implement entirely new strategies – a bold move that could eventually pay off, according to Dentsu.

The report found that CMOs at larger companies are generally better equipped to deal with the crisis and are already at a more advanced point in the recovery phase compared to SMEs that may struggle with the disruption. Smaller companies that are more heavily impacted will also find it more challenging to deal with revenue reductions.

Despite the concerns, there is a general feeling of optimism as CMOs look to use the pandemic as a catalyst for further digital transformation to support new ways of working, selling goods and engaging with audiences.


More than two-thirds of B2B companies are planning to invest in “content creation” in 2021, according to the latest annual report for the industry from Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The ‘B2B Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets and Trends: Insights for 2021’ report is the 11th annual study and has a broader focus this time amid changes caused by the global pandemic. It also takes a look at content creation and distribution and how teams are budgeting and managing campaigns.

A sizeable 94% of business-to-business marketers said that they have had to amend and update content marketing strategies due to COVID-19, and the vast majority (86%) said that they were able to do so quickly. Four in five also stated that the changes were effective.

The pandemic was disruptive though as 70% of respondents said that it had either a “major” or “moderate” impact, while just 6% claimed that it had “none”.

When making changes, 70% optimised targeting and messaging, making it the most popular area for amendment ahead of adjusting editorial calendars (64%) and updating content distribution and promotion (53%).

There was less focus on data and analytics during this time as less than a third said that they revised buyer personas, adjusted KPIs and metrics, or took another look at how customers are moving through the sales cycle.

This suggests that companies are focused on addressing immediate needs first and foremost. However, CMI noted that a customer-based focus will come to the fore again as the pandemic continues, as this will be central to long-term success.

The good news is that there is no loss in appetite for further content marketing investment. When asked what they expect to invest in next year, 70% of respondents said that they would funnel more funds into “content creation”, while two-thirds will do the same for “website enhancement”.

The annual CMI study also takes a look at the ways that “top performing” B2B companies are differentiating themselves. Six in 10 of the most successful marketers have a documented strategy in place, but this slumps to 43% for all respondents and 21% for the least successful.

Having an editorial calendar and using metrics to measure content performance are also linked to higher levels of performance, though there has been an improvement for the latter overall. 81% said that they now dig into data to determine ROI.

Content marketing is also, by and large, still being used at the top of the funnel as 60% said that articles, blogs and videos are enabling them to successfully generate and nurture leads, audiences and subscribers.

Overall, 31% would rate their organisation’s approach to content marketing as “extremely” or “very successful” during the last year, and the vast majority believe that the value of content has been a core part of that success.

MarketingProfs chief content officer Ann Handley concluded: “Our industry met the challenges of this pandemic head on and adapted quickly. No one knows what the future holds, but as long as content marketers continue to believe in the value content provides, and listen to what audiences need, I believe we can weather this pandemic.”


Almost half of small and medium-sized businesses are ready to outsource content marketing to agencies as part of wider cost-reduction strategies, according to a new report released this week by Ask Marketing.

100 SME business owners were asked about their plans for marketing during the next 12 months. The survey also had a particular focus on how the global pandemic has affected core processes and working arrangements.

The findings show that leaders are eager to embrace more affordable marketing strategies and campaigns, with around 15% revealing that they have already reduced spend on marketing and advertising since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting businesses back in March.

SMEs remain dedicated to organic methods such as content marketing though, and are looking at new options to rein in investment without there being a negative impact on ROI and results.

The solution for nearly half of the respondents is fast-tracking outsourcing to experienced agencies and other third parties. 47% of those surveyed said that they are already attempting to switch in-house roles to outsourced alternatives.

The driving factors for this behaviour are cost-efficiency and continuity. Business owners believe that agencies can pick up where in-house left off and deliver high-quality campaigns without the need for a major overhaul.

This does not appear to be a short-term switch either. More than half (55%) of SMEs want to adopt a leaner approach to marketing for the foreseeable future.

When asked about the benefits of outsourcing and stripping back in-house activities, the main reasons given were cost savings, greater transparency, and greater control over investment.

Ask Marketing co-founder Alexandra King revealed that while the pandemic has been disruptive and forced SMEs away from the traditional marketing model, it did allow businesses to take stock and optimise spend.

She added: “The pandemic has seen many organisations, particularly small businesses, reflect and question their marketing spend and consider where they can realistically cut costs without having a detrimental impact on their organisation’s ability to promote their products and services strategically whilst growing their brand.”

The study also explored the potential for hybrid approaches to marketing, where businesses have a smaller in-house marketing setup that combines with the strategic expertise of an agency to improve performance and cost-efficiency.

The findings suggest that there is a great appetite for such an approach. 85% of SME business owners believe that they would benefit from a hybrid infrastructure where they would effectively have their own ‘virtual marketing manager’.

A report released by CMO earlier this year found that ‘in-house’ was being relied on for a number of marketing functions, but the latest data points to a change in thinking and outlook for important activities amid the disruption of the pandemic.

The Ask Marketing report was based on answers given by key decision makers in June, several months after its initial impact was felt. Moving forward, many will pursue methods of outsourcing to improve the quality of campaigns without having to invest in in-house roles. Some are also set on removing these roles entirely to streamline operations and cut costs.


Four in 10 companies are now reallocating marketing spend to more cost-effective, organic channels amid a wider push for change driven by digital transformation and the global pandemic, a new joint study by MediaMonks and Forrester Research has found.

At the start of the year, only 40% of marketing leaders were focusing on new digital approaches to processes and activities, a mindset that was characterised as “important but not urgent”.

While that outlook may have appeared complacent in the age of artificial intelligence, cloud computing and machine learning, many would not have been able to predict the impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of business.

Leaders were generally focused on putting ‘tech pipes’ in place that could support a solid tech infrastructure, but this changed in March. Almost two-thirds of leaders are now not only prioritising but also actively accelerating digital experience initiatives to support marketing and sales.

“It’s surprising how much the concept of digital transformation has been removed from actually delivering better digital experiences for consumers, after a decade of work mostly defined and delivered by consultancies,” MediaMonks co-founder Wesley ter Haar notes.

He adds that digital transformation was often mired in the process of getting things done rather than being implemented for a specific end goal.

This has changed, at least for now. Marketing leaders are enacting digital schemes and restructuring teams to ensure that marketing spend is funnelled into better channels and formats. 42% of respondents say that they are doing this.

A focus on publishing high-quality, targeted content is also taking precedence. The report urges brands to better understand customers’ needs so that they can deliver tailored content at the right time – something that will also help with the objective of delivering more relevant digital experiences.

It is no surprise, then, that 56% of the 366 global marketing decision makers surveyed said that teams are now prioritising new initiatives and that 48% are retraining employees to improve data and analytics.

Just 23% admit that they are well versed and successful in using analytics to determine the performance of marketing campaigns. The report said that brands and their partners should make analytics, which is also central to SEO and search strategies, a top priority as there is a mass of data that can be mined for insights.

Analytics is one of the top skills that marketing leaders are looking for to support ‘digital first’ initiatives, second only to content development, highlighting how the two are closely linked.

Marketers also want more design/virtualisation and AI/machine skills. 

The report also said that marketers must recognise that customers now need to be engaged across a “series of touchpoints” that places more emphasis on content creation and experiences. These journeys can start with virtual events and then move through digital experiences on apps, social and commerce before being nurtured via automated email marketing.

Brands are also advised to work with select partners to support omnichannel solutions and experiences across broader ecosystems. It concluded that unifying all of these important marketing touchpoints will help companies to drive sustainable impact and growth.


How-to content is the top-performing format for attracting traffic and generating leads at the top and middle of the marketing funnel, according to a new survey of B2C and B2B professionals released this week by SEMrush.

The ‘Anatomy of a Powerful Marketing Funnel’ report collates the insights and expertise of 350 employees at small, medium and large-sized companies around the world, with the aim of defining marketing funnel characteristics.

The study found that content marketing is being used across the entire marketing funnel but that the awareness phase at the top of the funnel (TOFU) is still the most popular overall. 95% of marketers said that they now create content for the TOFU, compared to 86% for the middle and 76% for the bottom.

While TOFU gets the most attention, the study noted that 87% of marketers “rely on content” across the entire customer cycle and that articles, blogs and videos are expected to peak customer interest, relay product and service details, and close sales.

Marketers turn to various formats to get the job done, but there is one content type that is driving results and ROI consistently. Three quarters of respondents said that the how-to guide is the top performer for attracting traffic, putting it ahead of landing pages (35%) and infographics (28%).

SEMrush noted that while infographics are behind how-tos, the short, eye-catching and digestible format is particularly adept at helping visitors to make sense of the problem they are facing and determining the best way to solve it.

When assessing the impact of content at the TOFU, 73% of marketers rely on the ‘number of visitors’ metric, while 54% and 52% keep track of ‘conversion rate’ and ‘time on page’, respectively.

Organic search is also the best channel for driving traffic at this stage, with 70% of respondents saying that it is the most efficient, ahead of social media marketing (60%) and email marketing (54%).

What is perhaps surprising is that further along the funnel, how-to guides remain the top performer. 44% of respondents said that how-tos are crucial for generating leads at the middle of the funnel (MOFU), though product overviews (40%) and case studies (34%) are not far behind.

For nurturing leads during this phase, 43% are using success stories in addition to product overviews and case studies, highlighting how content formats can be tweaked slightly to achieve certain objectives.

Channels are also optimised. 69% said that organic search is best for generating leads, but for nurturing leads, search takes more of a back seat with 28% compared to the 72% that deploy email marketing to follow up and engage with leads.

At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU), marketers are set on closing a sale and make liberal use of product overviews (51%) and customer reviews (49%) to drive payments. Email marketing is the most efficient channel here, and ‘conversion rate’ is the most tracked metric for success.

The study also looked at the way that marketers build a funnel. For research, 88% are conducting analysis of keywords and 73% of competitors. Finally, the primary challenge when building a funnel is crafting content that drives quality leads (52%).


Hashtag campaigns on social media have been one of the most affordable ways of generating content and strengthening customer relationships this year, but the majority of people are not compelled to join in and contribute, according to a new report from Visual Objects.

More than 400 people in the US were asked about their views on creating content for brands, a strategy that is called user-generated content (UGC) in marketing and that has been deployed more by companies amid budget cuts following the pandemic.

Getting customers involved on social media by asking them to create a video or post an image is generally a great way to increase engagement with audiences and build connections that can support the sales cycle.

However, the study found that audiences on social media are not as receptive as they once were.

Just 11% of respondents said that they had taken part in a hashtag campaign during the previous three months.

Hashtag campaigns grew in popularity during the mid to late 2010s as an alternative to traditional forms of marketing, but consumers are now more likely to want brands to create content themselves.

Almost three quarters (73%) of respondents said that they would think twice about coming up with a creative branded video, but many would be open to the idea if brands created more stories and engaging videos to draw them in.

This is backed up by another finding that shows that 40% of people have commented or engaged with a brand story on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat recently, making it one of the most popular content formats overall.

Another quarter of respondents said that they had interacted with livestreams and new digital experiences based around AR lenses and filters.

This shows that customer expectations are evolving and that many want to engage with new forms of tech and media rather than “older” formats such as hashtags, which have now been around for a while and are better suited for appealing to “brand enthusiasts”.

While UGC can be tricky to get right for brands big and small, it can supplement organic content marketing to deliver cost-effective campaigns that drive higher rates of return on investment.

The report noted that brands must use the right mix of platforms and content types to get the desired results.  

The humble comment and review still has a place though.

More than a quarter (26%) said that they would be ready and willing to review a business’s products or services via a third-party website.

This actually makes reviews the most popular form of UGC overall and something that brands should look to leverage to support general marketing.

Respondents said that they will look to their peers to see what they think about a brand before deciding whether to buy, rather than relying on information from the brand itself.

One way that brands can do this without being too pushy is by asking customers to leave reviews for products in marketing emails and by giving them an incentive to offer feedback and insights through video channels on YouTube and social media.


Content creation and the demonstration of expertise through high-quality editorials and blogs is one of the five marketing best practices for ‘high growth’ enterprises, according to a recent report released by Hinge.

The ‘All Professional Services Edition’ of the High Growth Study 2020 found that marketing is a key driver for business performance and that there is a range of different levers that companies can use to achieve bespoke objectives and deliver ample return on investment (ROI).

Following the release of the study, Hinge partner Elizabeth Harr outlined five specific marketing initiatives that companies should undertake during the remainder of the year to remain a step ahead of competitors.

Hinge says that these best practices have empowered companies to outgrow peers by 20% over a sustained period of three years or more.

The first, and arguably the most important as a base to work from, is content creation. With both B2B and B2C customers looking for high-quality materials, thought leadership pieces and informative articles are a crucial method of generating leads and attracting new clients.

Those capable of publishing relevant, value-added content are more likely to be viewed as leaders, which not only has a positive impact on marketing and sales but also makes a company a more attractive prospect for potential employees.

The study found that a company’s content marketing output embodies its culture and employee development.

The second best practice for high growth is the deployment of search engine optimisation (SEO). Fast-growing firms are 19% more likely to focus their efforts on SEO, and optimising strategies in this area leads to higher levels of visibility in Google.

Next up is social media marketing and management. Social networks enable companies to distribute and share high-quality content, which is a product of the effective creative marketing efforts outlined earlier.

Social media plays a vital role in amplifying the power of content, giving companies a visible online presence within target client groups. Managing accounts on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn is also cost-effective and sustainable in the long term, making it perfect for new tech companies and other start-ups.

The fourth best practice is one that Google has championed during the last 12 months. Website performance is now viewed as a fundamental element of SEO and also underpins the sales cycle.

Optimising for technical SEO makes it easier for companies to rank on the first page of search results while also providing the excellent user experiences that customers expect when they navigate to a webpage. This makes it easier to capture and retain the interest of new leads who might otherwise click away.

The study noted that high growth firms also regularly dip into web analytics for feedback about the performance of webpages with the view to optimising them regularly.

The fifth and final best practice is ‘brand differentiation’. High growth companies set themselves apart by conducting research and identifying industry trends that can be put into practice.

The study found that this allows fast-growing firms to meet the evolving needs of clients and customers. Research is also completed regularly, at least once every three months, which leads to a three times uptick in profitability compared to those that don’t conduct research.


Two ‘new media’ experts have suggested a way of resolving a core contradiction facing content marketers – the dilemma of whether to ‘go niche’ and tailor compelling content to specialist platforms catering for relatively small audiences with strong preferences, or ‘go wide’ on more generic platforms and risk submerging unique content in a sea of other, unrelated topics.

Both approaches have flaws: many niche platforms draw small audiences, not large enough to generate sufficient returns for rich, authentic and engaging content that requires so much talent and effort to produce. Big brands might be able to attract a sufficiently large audience, but smaller outfits will usually struggle.

Yet the apparent way out – placing marketing content on more generalist platforms – also has its drawbacks. They tend to cover huge varieties of different topics, leaving people to wade through an ocean of content that doesn’t really float their boat to find a particular article or video that does the trick for them.

Aileen Lamb, CEO of the South African digital content marketing agency New Media, and Hendri Lategan, COO of Swipe iX, a digital solutions and development house specialising in scalable and secure technology for helping businesses grow, suggest a way forward: machine learning.

Machine learning technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few years, making it possible for content marketers to train their most relevant content on consumers who would value and benefit from it most. As the authors put it, machine learning has given content marketers “a quantum leap forward in increasing audience engagement and, ultimately, ROI for clients”.

The technology enables a switch of focus: instead of the often thankless task of pumping as much content as possible ‘out there’, hoping for interested parties to simply happen upon it, it lets content creators target highly particular content with laser accuracy – straight at the right end users. It has even evolved to the point where creators can dynamically fashion custom publications for individual end users in real time.

The effect, Lamb and Lategan suggest, is akin to going to your favourite generic news site but being spared the tedium of sifting through numerous layers of irrelevant categories to reach the content that inspires you. Machine learning can ensure instead that you get a complete homepage already customised exclusively to your specific interests.

The technology can help creators build up a detailed profile of each person’s likes and dislikes, their user preferences and browsing habits, and what content they find most engaging.

As the authors put it: “You can do this without asking the user to fill out a survey or ever tell you what they want. Ever wonder why your own Netflix profile brings up such different content from when your partner logs into theirs?”

Machine learning can collect discrete data points tracking a user’s pathway through a platform, pinpointing what issues they engaged with the most, how much time they devoted to specific pieces of content, and what they’ve felt moved to comment on or hit the like button over. The beauty is that no user will have their anonymity compromised by this technology: it uses ones and zeros, not user IDs or names.

The time has never been better for content marketers to marry great storytelling with machine learning’s technological wizardry.