The Evolution of Web Content: From Fast Food to Fine Dining

If you’ve been creating content for the web for the last decade and a half, then you know it’s hard to overstate the amount of change that’s taken place. Yes, there was indeed a time when just putting “Britney Spears” on your webpage hundreds of times meant you’d show up when people looked up the pop star in Lycos, relevance be damned.  Sure, that’s not what professional marketers were doing (if they were on the web then), but it gives you an idea of how quickly we went from simple to the sophisticated strategies of today.

While web content has evolved out of necessity, the simple idea of relevance is something that remains elusive. It’s not because the technology is lagging. Website personalization has been a viable martech option for a few years. However, the content itself, from web pages to blog posts to long-form articles to interactive ebooks, is constantly evolving to meet the buyers’ demands, often haphazardly thanks to data gaps. Without data, content can’t evolve, but without content, we can’t get the data we need. There’s the content Catch-22.

That paradox is exactly why web content has gone from unhealthy filler to what is becoming a fulfilling, fruitful guided experience. What was fast food is evolving into expected fine dining. At the heart of this evolution is the constant intersection of technology and content. But how do you move your organization in that direction? Let’s take a look at the types of web content and how they evolved:

Fast Food Web Content

Keyword stuffing was once the special sauce of online content. Back in the mid-2000s, we’d write web pages and eventually blog posts, maybe 300 words in length, with the right keywords to get people to the site through search. The content wasn’t healthy, though, and often times it the articles were void of any helpful information. But four paragraphs and a few choice words later and we’d see our search traffic start to go up.

Rightfully so, Google has been on a mission to rid the world of the fast food content that’s clogging the arteries of the internet. (They even published their quality guidelines for the  world to see.) Content folks who played along, writing better, more substantial articles and we were rewarded. So instead of McDonald’s we entered the T.G.I. Friday’s phase.

Casual Web Content Dining

Once Google started rewarding quality content back in 2011/2012, we saw the movement in the metrics. Better, longer articles not only received a boost in organic search traffic, but also in social sharing. The search drive-thru led to the social sit-down content meal. It certainly took more time and resources to produce the content, including the lead-generating gated material, but it was worth it.

Web content seemed headed for an appropriate full-circle return to the days when good creative was rewarded with eyeballs. The down-side? All at once, everyone started to realize how unhealthy fast food content was. Yet without much data to know what the good stuff was, the only thing we could do was to produce more and more content. Suddenly all this good food meant there were options. A lot of options.

All-You-Can-Eat Content Buffet

By 2014, we started to talk “content shock.” An astonishing 211 million pieces of content were being produced every minute. The content platforms themselves, from social media to web content management to regular old email communication, were much easier to use, too. Adding to the problem. Content was everywhere, so much so that it was actually costing companies $14,000 per worker just in search time.

Without a lot of support from IT departments, marketers started to turn things like Uberflip and Lookbook to organize and optimize their content experience. These softwares made all-you-can-eat content buffets out of all the blogs, ebooks, tweets and presentations a company had to offer. The only problem: These resource centers aren’t how buyers browsed the web.

Content consumption is spread out and intermittent. Rarely is it ever as logical as going to a single resource center, HubSpot’s research shows. And even if your buffet is only giving people who want dessert the dessert options, it’s still a lot of options. Consumers simply don’t rely on a single website or resource center for a company’s content. The fast food, the casual dining, the buffets, those experiences have moved to other platforms. When it comes to owned web properties, marketers should now be providing the fine-dining alternative.

The Content Chef’s Table

When you think of a great meal, it’s probably not one that comes wrapped in paper and delivered on a tray. So why would we want our web content experience to mirror that? With so much content and technology to manage, the practical reality of B2B personalization as standard practice, not just a tactic, has arrived. Moreover, buyers expect it.

A website visitor should be guided through each website visit like they are being served an exquisite multi-course meal. Each offer should complement the next one. Then when the visitor leaves and comes back, they should have another unique and relevant experience. Remember, the rest of content ecosystem outside of your website will get them to your website. After that, a personalized content journey is what keeps them there… and then makes it easier to continue that personalized relationship.

But there’s more to personalization than simple persona or vertical logic. Communicating with a website visitor based on who they are is one thing, but developing a menu that’s unique while still offering relevant surprises is where marketers will differentiate themselves.

Developing the Right Menu

Let’s jump back to the Catch-22 that I mentioned earlier. Website personalization, the fine-dining content experience, relies on two things:

  1. A moderately deep content library
  2. Content performance data

If you’re blogging regularly, sending offers in emails and doing online advertising, chances are the first bullet is something you have available. Where personalization prep tends to fail is in the second bullet.

Content performance data is much more than what blog posts are driving organic search or what landing pages are converting best from social advertising. Those metrics are fairly common and more often better for optimization than personalization. It’s also more than the content that works when someone is at a particular deal stage. (We generally have an idea of the types of content that perform at each stage in the buyer’s journey.) What we often don’t know is what pieces of content are contributing the most.

Putting together the right personalization scenarios requires a deeper look at the impact content has on the lifecycle of buyers and the accounts they are part of, such as:

  • Revenue contribution: What content is contributing to revenue and how much revenue is attributed to a piece of content?
  • Deals and buyers impacted: How many deals are impacted by a particular content offer and what different content was consumed by each type of buyer in the deal?
  • First and last touch source: Of those offers, what content offer opens the door and what content offers closed the deal?

Most marketing automation tools that are connected to a CRM system can provide this data, even on ungated content. Using this information you can put together personalization scenarios that will impress buyers with even the most discerning tastes.

Author: Dan Stasiewski

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