Nathan Ellering

Head of Content at SimplTexting

Content Marketing Evolution: SEO, AI, and Future Trends with Nathan Ellering 

Nathan Ellering, Head of Content at SimplTexting, shared his insights during a recent interview. Nathan's journey in B2B SaaS content marketing spans over a decade, starting with his work at a wholesale electrical distributor in 2013, where he wrote blogs and white papers. Later, he joined CoSchedule, a content calendar software company, where he played a significant role in growing organic search traffic from 14,000 to 300,000 to 400,000 monthly visitors. Nathan's diverse experience includes creating various types of content like knowledge bases, blog posts, research reports, and podcasts.

The interview covered topics such as the evolving landscape of content marketing, the importance of SEO-led content strategies, the future of content marketing for businesses, and the impact of AI on content creation. Nathan emphasized the need for content focusing on user experience, topical authority, comprehensiveness, and structured content.

1. Can you briefly introduce your background and journey in content marketing?

I have over a decade of experience in B2B software as a service (SaaS) content marketing. I started 2013 working on a content marketing program for a wholesale electrical distributor, writing blogs and white papers. After that, I spent eight years at CoSchedule, a content calendar software company, focusing on growing organic search traffic through content marketing. During my time there, we increased monthly visitors from 14,000 to 300,000-400,000 and sometimes even reached 800,000 monthly visitors through organic search. I've worked on various content types, including knowledge bases, blog posts, research reports, and podcasts. Currently, I'm the Head of Content and SEO at SimplTexting.

2. How has the content marketing ecosystem evolved over the past decade, and what are the key shifts you've observed?

The content marketing ecosystem has evolved significantly over the past decade, particularly in how search engines reward content. One of the most significant shifts I've noticed is the move from a keyword-first approach to a topic-first approach. Search engines like Google now prioritize topical authority and structured content. This means it's no longer enough to target specific keywords; you must create content that comprehensively covers a topic and connects multiple pieces of content cohesively.

"The biggest shift has been with search engines and how they reward content. One of the biggest things I'm thinking about now is topical authority and structured content."

3. How important is an SEO-led content marketing strategy in an organization, and how do you build that entire engine from the ground up?

In my experience, an SEO-led content marketing strategy is exceptionally vital for an organization, especially in the B2B software as a service (SaaS) industry where I've primarily worked. To put it into perspective, organic search through content marketing brought in a significant portion of leads and customers for my previous company, co-schedule. It was, in essence, the revenue backbone for the company.

Now, let's discuss building this SEO engine from the ground up. It's a multifaceted process. Firstly, you need to identify your audience's pain points and needs. What problems are they trying to solve? Then, focus on establishing topical authority and comprehensiveness in your content. Decide what you want to be known for and create content that thoroughly covers that topic, showing your expertise.

Regarding different content types for SEO, consider four key categories: original insight and knowledge sharing, tear downs and case studies, Q&A and problem-solving content, and proprietary data sets and original research. Each serves a unique purpose and can contribute to your SEO strategy.

Furthermore, ensure every content has a clear call to action (CTA) that aligns with your goals. Whether it's driving product usage or increasing awareness, each piece should have a specific purpose.

4. What do you see as the future of content marketing concerning companies, and how should budding companies approach content marketing?

The future of content marketing is intriguing, and I believe it will continue to evolve. Companies, especially budding ones, should pay attention to several key factors.

Firstly, content marketing should become more experience-led. This means prioritizing user experience and focusing on what the audience values. It's about creating content that truly resonates with your target audience rather than just producing content for the sake of it.

Secondly, I see a trend toward more conversational content. People are looking for authentic, relatable stories and experiences. So, sharing personal stories, insights, and practical advice will become increasingly important.

Additionally, I think companies must find their niche and focus on producing content that aligns with their expertise and audience. Rather than trying to cover everything, specialize in a specific area where you can excel.

"I think we are just beginning to understand the future of content and how it's being produced, and we have no idea where this thing will go."

5. How do you view the balance between AI and human content creation, and what's the future of AI in content marketing?

The balance between AI and human content creation is a topic of great importance. AI has its strengths, especially in generating content quickly and efficiently. However, it's essential to use AI wisely.

AI can be a valuable tool for generating ad copy, headlines, or product descriptions. It can help content writers overcome writer's block or improve content quality. But it does not replace human creativity, storytelling, and authentic engagement.

As for the future of AI in content marketing, it's clear that AI will continue to play a significant role. However, it's crucial to be cautious about using AI to generate entire pieces of content, particularly regarding ranking on search engines. Google is becoming smarter at identifying content generated solely by AI, and it's placing more emphasis on user experience and authoritative content.

The key is to strike a balance. Use AI for tasks that it excels at, but ensure that humans contribute their creativity, expertise, and authentic voice to create content that truly resonates with the audience.

6. What's your take on thought leadership in content marketing, and how can one become a genuine thought leader in a crowded space?

I don't subscribe to the idea of publishing for the sake of consistency. It's evident on platforms like LinkedIn where users often post just to maintain a presence. The key is to publish when you genuinely have valuable insights to share. For instance, I once shared about a unique strategy we employed at CoSchedule when our traffic plateaued. This personal story resonated with my audience and garnered significant attention.

When it comes to long-form content, especially on platforms like your website, there's a lesson I've learned. Back in 2014 at CoSchedule, we championed long-form pieces. We had a comprehensive article on marketing ideas which was nearly 12,000 words. But over time, our competitors began targeting specific, nuanced keywords, making the user experience more direct and satisfying. They didn't need to sift through a mammoth article to find what they were looking for.

In response, we adapted. We deconstructed that extensive post, creating individual pages for each sub-topic, like email marketing or video marketing ideas. This restructure resulted in the largest collection of marketing ideas on the web, nested under CoSchedule’s marketing ideas hub. It provided clarity, a streamlined user experience, and positioned CoSchedule with remarkable topical authority. Today, their site witnesses consistent growth and numerous top-ranking results.

In essence, while long-form content still holds value, it's about strategic structure. Content should be as long as it needs to be to provide value, and sometimes having multiple dedicated URLs can be more beneficial than a single extensive one.

7. What common mistakes do content marketers make, and what advice do you have for budding content creators and marketers?

That's an insightful question. One of the significant challenges right now is maintaining focus. Given the array of options—whether it's video, podcasts, blogs, or these emerging knowledge hubs—it's crucial to select a primary focus. The key is to identify one pivotal metric or area that you can effectively influence. Considering limited resources, the strategy should be to optimize for impactful growth rather than dissipating efforts. The challenge is resisting the organizational pressure that often expects marketers to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously.

It's vital to articulate why certain areas deserve focus and demonstrate the potential outcomes. In today's content marketing landscape, staying laser-focused on strategy is imperative, especially with the unpredictable nature of search engine result page dynamics. With frequent algorithm changes from platforms like Google and upcoming AI enhancements, staying abreast of these fluctuations is paramount.

While driving traffic might be achievable, the real test lies in converting this traffic into tangible leads and clients. The ability to measure and report this conversion is equally challenging. From my interactions with peers, this remains a common concern.

My recommendation is to establish a 'North Star' for your content marketing.

Determine the singular pivotal action that, when executed well, could make other tasks secondary. Understand the expectations leadership has from content marketing and align your strategies accordingly. It's equally beneficial to envision the broader picture—identify all possible avenues that could influence your primary objective. Then, pragmatically assess the resources at your disposal, whether it's budget, team, tools, or partners.

Approaching challenges with this mindset can help address the focus issue, ensure clear communication of your value to senior leadership, and ultimately validate the impact of your work on the organization's success. I hope this provides a constructive perspective to conclude on.

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