Ten Content Trends & Opportunities For Small Businesses in 2018

*Guest post by Andy Mcllwain*
10 Content Trends 2018

Andy Mcllwain
Andy Mcllwain wrangles content and community projects for the GoDaddy blog. Connect with Andy on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and his personal blog.
Andy Mcllwain

Before joining GoDaddy I worked in WordPress development full-time. As a developer, I thought of content as an easy client deliverable. At the time, content meant posts and pages, and their place within a sitemap. I didn’t go deep into the production of the content itself, or what the value of the content was.

Looking back, that was a huge oversight. Why? Because content is the purpose of a website.

The site’s design, the functionality, the layout… it all exists for the sake of presenting the content.

The site’s design, the functionality, the layout… it all exists for the sake of presenting the content. @andymci Click to Tweet

Without your content, your website is an empty box.

We’ve talked about the importance of written content and strong visuals for years. But there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth in those areas.

This is especially true when you consider how many small businesses don’t even have a website

So, as I look ahead to 2018, I’m not only looking for emerging trends. I’m also looking at the untrendy stuff and the opportunities that exist around them.

In particular, there are ten opportunities I want to call out:

  1. Content and copywriting
  2. Illustration and photography
  3. Video production
  4. Ongoing content creation
  5. DIY interactive content
  6. The rise of audio and podcasting
  7. Smarter email marketing
  8. Data-driven decision making
  9. Bigger content teams
  10. Earning more revenue from your original content

Let’s dig into it.

1. Content and copywritingcontent and copywriting

Written content makes up the bulk of what we create and consume online. It’s the type of content we’ve been producing since the birth of the web.

Yet writing is still a major bottleneck to getting a website up and running.

Web developers have it as a line item on their projects. But if you’re on the client side, or if you’re building your own website, you know how intimidating that blank screen is.

You don’t know where to start. You keep pushing it off. And so the project gets delayed.

So here’s my recommendation for business owners: Start with the content before you even approach a developer.

Open up a new Word or Google doc. Outline the copy. Have separate headings for each page. Fill in the blanks. Write your backstory for the About page. Describe your process on your Services page. Write product descriptions. Write your FAQs and return policies. Get it all into the doc.

The writing doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be final. (That’s one of the great things about websites – you can always change the copy later.)

I also have a recommendation for writers and marketers: Want to work with small businesses? Create a new service focusing on content strategy and content development. Go team up with web developers. Together you can handle both the technical build of a website and the content production.

2. Illustration and PhotographyIllustration and photography

Stock images are a pain. Especially bad stock images. You know the ones – they’re the generic business photos that make you cringe every time you see them.

Sites like Unsplash and Pixabay improved our options for free images. They’re great sources for photos. I love using them for blog posts or presentation slides. But if you’re working on a website for a business, original images are the way to go.

Your About page should have photos of actual employees. Your product listings should have photos of your actual products. And if you’re building a website for a brick & mortar business, you should have photos of the physical space.

My recommendation for business owners: Hire a creative professional. It might be a designer, an illustrator, or a photographer. It depends on your needs. But their skill will give your content the visual lift that it deserves.

My recommendation for creative professionals: Work with web developers. They need strong visuals for client projects. Photography is a must-have in most cases. Otherwise, illustrations are great for businesses that are hard to explain through photography.

3. Video productionVideo production

If you’re not doing video, you’re missing out on a huge source of attention.

At a DIY level, it’s a lot easier to get into video thanks to the smartphones we’re all carrying around. I’m a big fan of the Pixel XL, for example, because of the great camera and unlimited storage on Google Photos.

You’ll want to learn about composition, lighting, audio and all that fun stuff. There are lots of free resources online for that, especially on YouTube. Check out tutorials from Peter McKinnon, DSLR Video Shooter, and Art of Photography

What’s holding most businesses back here is the intimidation factor. It’s like stage fright – fear of judgment, or something backfiring.

I feel it too. That’s why I’ve done a few videos of my own.

But the longer we hesitate, the longer it’ll take to start seeing results.

My recommendation for business owners: Try the Stories video format. They’ve proliferated on Instagram, Facebook, and now YouTube.

Related: Instagram adds new “Story Highlights” feature

Use Stories to give a behind-the-scenes look at your business. Talk about the journey of how you got to where you are today. Share your opinion on news and events related to your business. It’s all personal – the ultimate original content that your competitors can’t steal.

But the longer we hesitate, the longer it’ll take to start seeing results. @andymci Click to Tweet

4. Ongoing content creationongoing content creation

Content isn’t a special project or one-off campaign. It’s the new normal. Ongoing content creation is how you build your brand in the 21st century.

Blog articles. Email newsletters. Social media posts. Vlogs. This is all marketing, and marketing needs constant investment. So you’ll need to either pick up the skills to do it yourself or bring someone in to help you with it.

My recommendation for creative professionals: Offer retainers. An ongoing content creation service will bolster your recurring revenue.

My recommendation for business owners: Hire creative professionals. Look for someone who can commit to a regular amount of work each month.

5. Interactive Contentinteractive content

When I talk about interactive content I’m talking about creating useful tools. These range from the likes of fun “What X are you?” quizzes to less-exciting mortgage payment calculators.

Related: How to generate leads and sales with online quizzes

The DIY aspect means you can put these things together without needing a developer to build it for you.

My recommendation for business owners: Think of simple tools and templates that’d help your potential customers. What can you create with a form builder?

If you’re on WordPress, plugins like Ninja Forms, Gravity Forms, and Caldera Forms can do the job. If you’re not on WordPress, check out tools like Wufoo Forms, Typeforms, and Formstack.

6. Growth in audio and podcastingaudio and podcasting

Look at all the smart speakers that have come out this year.

Amazon, Google, and Apple are all making plays for it on a software level. Then you’ve got the OEMs like Sonos jumping on board with their own hardware. 

Google relies on the knowledge graph for answers. The knowledge graph relies on semantic website markup like Schema. So having a website built with these factors in mind is important for popping up in voice search results.

Alexa skills are more explicit. they’re like apps with verbal cues. You can work with a developer to create useful skills that tie into your business focus.

And last but not least are podcasts. There’s been steady growth in the popularity and consumption of podcasts over the last ten years. I expect that to continue as we get more smart speakers into homes, and as more people start understanding their value.

Related: 11 ways podcasting will explode your business

My recommendation for business owners: Record more audio. Use a recording app on your phone or computer. Capture a conversation, an interview, or your own off-the-cuff commentary. Run that recording through a service like Rev to transcribe the audio. Take the transcription and turn it into a written article. Take excerpts from the article to share on social media.

Voila. Even if you don’t produce a podcast, that audio recording was “raw content” for other formats.

7. Smarter email marketingsmarter email marketing

Email marketing services used to tout simple mass-email capabilities. Now they’re edging into marketing automation. Not long ago, that sort of work was exclusive to enterprise software.

I see two causes for this. One: Customers are becoming more sophisticated and demand more powerful features. Two: The affordability gap between email marketing tools and marketing automation tools.

So, why is marketing automation useful for a small business, and how does it relate to content?

Imagine that someone’s filled out a “request a quote” form. The form has different multiple-choice options.

Depending on the selected options, you could immediately send them information (content!) related to their choices.

Then, based on their next actions, you can trigger further follow-ups. Send an email, for example, or tag them in your automation system. (The more you know about your audience, the easier it is to create content for them.)

My recommendation for business owners: Start with the basics. Create email autoresponders for forms on your website. Include links to your content in the follow-up emails.

You’ll become comfortable thinking about these workflows. As you do, start looking for other opportunities for automation.

8. More data-driven decision makingdata driven decision making

This is another trend making the shift from enterprise to small business. We have Google to thank for that.

They’ve got the trifecta of tools:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Tag Manager
  • Google Data Studio

Related: Google Analytics website traffic analysis 101

These tools provide more visibility into the impact and value of existing content.   Based on those insights, businesses can determine what new content to create.

My recommendation for business owners: Set up your goals in Google Analytics. Use those goals to calculate the value and ROI of your existing content. Look at what’s working for you, try to understand why, and replicate those traits in future content.

9. Bigger content teamscontent teams

Writing. Illustration. Photography. Video. Audio. You need diverse skillsets to deliver on all the content formats I’ve covered here.

For a larger company, that might mean hiring an agency or forming an in-house team. For a small business, you’ll either need to learn the skills yourself or hire those who already have the skills.

Related: Hiring a contractor

My recommendation for business owners: Pick a format to start with and learn — or hire — based on that.

If you’re a retailer, focus on photography so you can show off the products you sell. Professional services? Produce written articles that capture your advice and expertise. Personal trainer? Publish videos that showcase your technique and methods. (You get the idea.)

Get into a comfortable routine of producing and syndicating content. Once you’re there, start branching out into other formats.

10. Earn more revenue from your original contentrevenue

Content production takes time and resources. So wouldn’t it be great if the content paid for itself? That’s where this final trend and opportunity comes in.

As I’ve mentioned, there’s a huge opportunity for creative professionals here. Artists with some business sense can step up and provide content creation services. Monthly retainers, in particular, are a great way to boost recurring revenue.

But there’s also revenue streams for the business that’s publishing the content.

Affiliate commissions. Sponsorships. Premium content. Online courses. These are all ways to earn more revenue, but they don’t exist without original content.

My recommendation for business owners: Put yourself in the mind of a publisher. How can you bring in extra dollars from your content?

Are there products you’re already using that offer an affiliate program? Non-competing businesses willing to give you a percentage of new leads? Can you package up your knowledge into something that people will buy from you at scale?

Explore those options. Experiment and see what sticks.

Put yourself in the mind of a publisher. How can you bring in extra dollars from your content? @andymci Click to Tweet

This is the new normal.

I was chatting with a buddy of mine the other night. He runs a web development shop that also does media production. He’s pivoted his business to go heavy into content creation. (He’s created the ultimate website care plan, IMO.)

But he’s facing a big and unexpected challenge. Clients are having trouble committing. They don’t completely understand the importance of the content they’re creating.

They know they need it, but they’re looking at it as a painful “one and done” experience.

But it’s not. As I mentioned before, this is the new normal. Content is how you build a business and get attention in the 21st century.

Your articles on LinkedIn. Your images on Instagram. Your videos on Facebook. Your podcast on iTunes. These are the assets that showcase expertise and establish your brand, bit by bit.

So, as we go into 2018, here’s my parting recommendation: Don’t sweat over every single piece of content.

Look at your content as a portfolio. It’s a long-term investment with compounding interest. Contribute a little bit to your portfolio of content every week, and let the value grow over time.

Connect with Andy on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and his personal blog.

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