Traditional Content Marketing Doesn’t Work. Here’s What Does.

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Content marketing as we’ve known it, which is centered on search optimization and sharing links that drive traffic to websites, is no longer a leading strategy.

We’ve entered a new paradigm that has social media at its center and relies on sharing content that can be consumed and engaged with on the networks.  

This new model — which we’ll call modern content marketing — requires a significant shift in thinking, but there are big opportunities for those who can make the transition.

This post details the reasons why traditional content marketing peaked, what modern content marketing is, and the ways real companies can succeed in this new paradigm.

Traditional Content Marketing Has Peaked

Traditional content marketing is what virtually every business has done for the last ten years.

Remember all the proclamations that every company would become a publisher or a media company? Well, that’s what happened.

Back in the early 2000s (around the time Hubspot and other marketing automation tools emerged), the internet was still pretty new. 

Broadband speeds were getting better, and millions of people were starting to use the internet and wanted content.

Google, one of the primary platforms by which all of us navigate the internet, was on the rise, and, in order to meet the needs of its swelling user base (and stay relevant), it needed to be able to index more and more content.        

Social media didn’t yet exist, so who was going to create all this content that consumers clearly wanted, that they were searching for? Marketers.  

Content marketing was born in a world where…

  • Google was the only major, emergent platform
  • Social media didn’t exist
  • Total internet users had just eclipsed 1 billion users
  • The iPhone had not yet launched
  • The New York Times and may other publishers were free online

All of these factors combined meant that if you produced content that Google’s crawler could index, it would include your web page in search results for related keywords.

So people came to Google, they searched for something, your webpage was listed in the results, so they clicked it, and off they went to your website. Pretty good deal, right?

That sounds like something we can scale, like something we can optimize! Thus was born the world of search engine optimization (SEO).

The formula was simple: Figure out what people were searching for that was relevant to your business (this data was largely available, including from Google) then craft content that would best match those keywords. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum!

If you create it (content that loosely matches the keywords), they (the users/potential customers) will come. This was the basis of traditional content marketing.

Why is traditional content marketing dead?

Everything started to change in 2006 and a LOT has happened since then.  

Since 2006…

  • The iPhone launched, along with apps and the mobile internet
  • Bandwidth improved
  • YouTube/video consumption gained steam
  • Internet usage increased >5x
  • Search volume increased 20x
  • Facebook + every other major social network launched
  • Google’s ad revenue grew >20x
  • The New York Times launched its paywall in 2012
  • Cambridge Analytica happened in 2018

That’s a LOT of change in an 18-year period! As the saying goes, innovation accelerates. Change happens faster and faster.

During this time, most marketers continued to crank out more and more content, but the landscape was no longer the same.

Google continued to grow, but it was becoming a mature organization. Case in point: its ad revenue increased 20x over that period.

Social media was a brand new thing and something that Google had yet to — and, arguably, still hasn’t — figured out.

Point being, the pie was a lot bigger, but there was also much more competition. A lot of change had happened and was happening, including with Google.  

Somewhere around the 2015 timeframe is when traditional content marketing really started to degrade. In reality though, it’s been on this course since around 2006.

This was the point at which Google shifted from sending traffic to the webpages it indexed to keeping that traffic for itself.

This is just what happens. As platforms (Google, Facebook, etc.) mature, they become more closed. They’re public companies that need to drive user and revenue growth each quarter.

Why would they send all that traffic away to your website when they could keep it for themselves to support those goals?  

Every single marketer can see this change in their Google Analytics dashboard. For the last few years, organic/search traffic has been on the decline.

Our friends over at SparkToro did some research on this and found that 60% of Google searches no longer result in a click away from Google!

The emergence of social networks

But all of that is water under the bridge. The real elephants that entered the room were the social networks.

Unlike Google, social platforms were never designed to send traffic to your website. 

From day one, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and every other major networks’ #1 priority was growing their user base, which they did by keeping people ON their platform.

The more they kept people, the more engagement they drove, the better they retained those users, and the more likely those users were to invite their friends. What could be summed up as network effect.  

All of these things translated to value. But these platforms were smart and they knew marketers wanted to reach the people using these social platforms.

So they allowed marketers to do that — but through ads only, which marketers happily agreed to because they didn’t have a choice.

At present, marketers spend >$150 billion a year on social media ads, and, in the next three years, ads will supplant search as the #1 form of advertising.

search ad spending by year

social media ad spending by year

What is Modern Content Marketing?

In addition to supplanting search on the ad revenue front, social platforms have supplanted search as the place we spend most of our time on a daily basis. 

Facebook has 3x more users than there were TOTAL internet users back in 2006. Linkedin, arguably the most niche of the major social networks, has over 850M registered users.

As we like to say here at EveryoneSocial, everyone you want to reach is on social media.  Period, end of story. Your employees, customers, prospects, potential hires, partners, alumni, analysts, etc., etc. They’re ALL on social media.

the future of content marketing

Understanding the differences

The leading marketers understand that, unlike in the days of search, which were centered on content and optimizing it to appear in search results, the new reality is about three things:

  1. Understanding where your target audience spends their time
  2. Crafting content matches their interests
  3. Efficiently, effectively, and authentically getting that content in front of them

That’s pretty different, right?

Traditional content marketing was literally, “If you create it, they will come.”

You didn’t really need to know where they were; they were on Google. Search was Google, and Google was search.

All you needed to do was create content that matched their interests (i.e., what they were searching for). 

And you didn’t need to think about distribution because Google would find your content and serve it up to those who were interested.

traditional content marketing vs. modern

Keys to modern media marketing success

So let’s break these things down: How do you understand your audience, craft content that meets their needs, and distribute it to them in a way that the social networks will support?

Fortunately there’s a formula for that:

1. Understand who your audience is and where they spend time.

That used to be Google because it has >95% market share. As a result, all of us — from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to a teenager looking to buy a T-shirt — use Google.

We didn’t have to think about where people were; we simply needed to match our content to the audience’s search intent. Marketing teams could sit behind their desks all day long crafting and optimizing content and it resulted in traffic. Yay! This was traditional content marketing.

search traffic by platform

social media platform marketshare

Social is different though. It’s not monolithic. There are a variety of social networks, and no single platform has >95% market share like Google once did.

Further, every user’s experience on each of those networks is unique, as is the content they’re exposed to.

When you log into Linkedin, you’ll see completely different content in your feed compared with your Instagram feed. And it’s not just because the networks are so different — it’s also because you’re connected with different people on each platform.

For this reason, the modern content marketer needs to think more about HOW they can reach the people on these networks. (Hold that thought because we’ll circle back to this in a minute.)

2. Craft content that can be consumed and engaged with on the network.

Remember, the social networks DO NOT want to send their users away to your website. They want them to stay right where they are.

So you’ve gotta play that game, which means you need to craft content that can be consumed and engaged with on the network itself. This means videos, photos, text posts, interactive polls, etc. Zero-click content.

Further, the more engagement your content drives, the more the network will expose your content to a broader audience. These are the rules of the game when it comes to social media; your content needs to support the goals of the networks. Go against that and you’ll lose.  

3. Effectively, efficiently, and authentically get that content in front of your audience.

We’re talking about distribution and THIS is the $150 million-dollar question in the era of modern content marketing.

After all, you know where your audience spends time, you craft content they can consume and engage with on the platform, but how do you get that content in front of them?

Perhaps you think the answer is ads. Sure, that’s one way, but it’s certainly not efficient, effective, or authentic.

Via your brand pages and accounts? We already know that doesn’t work. Social networks created these spaces for brands solely to extract ad dollars from them. Any posts you make from brand accounts won’t see the light of day unless you put ad dollars behind them.

So how do you distribute your content??? Through people, that’s how. Your employees, your customers, your partners. People. But let’s talk about employees because every business has them and most employees are eager to help.  

Employees as a distribution channel are efficient (aside from some tools, it’s basically free), effective (every single employee is on social media and connected w/ >1,000 people outside your company) and 100% authentic (they’re people, which is who your audience actually wants to hear from!).

Further, employee-posted content is exactly what the social networks want. For them, there’s no higher value action a user can take than to contribute original, engaging content. And, for that reason, when your employees share company content on social media, the algorithm will prioritize it, enabling that content to reach the broadest possible audience.  

What About Attribution?

If you can’t measure it, did it ever really happen? Of course it did.

One of the byproducts of the traditional content marketing era, with its purchased data, mass emails, marketing automation tools, etc., is that most marketers became very risk-averse.

They wanted to invest only in things they believed would generate ROI. Unfortunately for them, the folks at Google took full advantage of that deep-seated psychological need, as did the social networks.

They convinced these risk-averse marketers that performance marketing and hyper-targeting people with ads was the solution. That it was safe. Simply pay, and they’ll provide all the justification needed to show positive ROI.

In the world of modern content marketing though, attribution is different. The leading companies we work with at EveryoneSocial assess the success of their social efforts primarily based on impressions and engagement. How many people do they reach and how do those people receive content? In other words, does it make an impression?

Since there aren’t any links (or at least a whole lot less of them than we had with traditional content marketing) there’s a gap between what happens on the social networks and the visitors you get to your website. But, if you’re successful, traffic will come — and results (conversions, purchases, etc.) will too.

Because buyers aren’t idiots. If you reach them with great content and they develop awareness, trust, and affinity for your brand, they’ll figure out how to find their way to your site to fill out that form to get a demo or buy whatever it is you’re selling.

Now, I will say this: Some have said that attribution from social media is impossible, that we just need to accept that it’s a black box. That simply isn’t true.

Much of the data you and your team would like to have is right there in the open — you just need to know where to look and how to work with it. If you’re curious to learn more about social media attribution and intent data, drop us a line.  We’d be happy to chat.  

How Does This Change Marketing’s Relationship with the Company?

Social media, unlike search, affects every aspect of a business and all of its functions.

The reason is exceedingly simple: Social media is about people, it’s about sharing, it’s about engaging. And business is conducted among people. It’s how we recruit, market, sell, engage, retain, etc., etc.

Ten plus years ago we used to refer to social media as “social media marketing” in a business context. Today, it inhabits every area of an organization. 

The real question is how can marketing work with these other areas of the business to succeed in this new world of content marketing — of modern content marketing?

Well, because distribution relies on getting your people (not just those on the marketing team) to help spread your content on social media, collaboration is more critical than it’s ever been.

Here are some ways we see leading companies leveraging social across their businesses.


Internal and external awareness is key. We’ve done a number of case studies with our customers over the years and they’ve shown that sales reps who are active on social and connecting and engaging with buyers are always top performers. They attain more than their peers, and they close bigger, faster deals.


If distribution relies on getting your people to share your content, comms is a super important partner to have. After all, it’s one of the only company teams with the mandate to get messaging to employees and it’s not a big jump to enable employees to share that content on social. The tighter the partnership between comms and marketing, the greater the success. 

HR & Recruiting

Every company competes for the same talent. Every company is a tech company. Every company is a remote company. The barriers of industry and geography are gone. As such, most companies are in a permanent hiring motion, which makes employer branding and recruiting that much more important — and social is where the opportunity lies.


Executives are some of the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of driving modern content marketing distribution. Most executives want to be active on social media. It’s about them and it’s about the company. And, more so than your average employee, they can garner a big network and generate outsized results when they share.

Modern Content Marketing Requires Leaders

In the world of modern content marketing, the overlap between marketing and all the other key teams is a lot greater. It must be a lot greater.

For one, if people — especially employees — are the distribution channel, everyone in the company is a marketer. Further, if your people are the ones distributing content, they’re inherently salespeople!

Wait. What?

Yes, they’re one in the same.

People want to engage with people, and historically, the only people a buyer would engage with would be a salesperson. But, in the modern regime, that buyer could engage with your CEO, a product marketer, a solutions architect, or all of them before, during, or after they engage with your official salesperson.  

Sound scary? It’s not.

Remember the point about getting your content in front of buyers authentically? Buyers, prospective hires, or anyone else want real connection. They don’t want smoke blown up their shorts by a salesperson. They want to connect with real people.

If the goal is to land the sale (or the candidate) and the prospect wants to connect with a product person, would you really prevent them from doing that?

“Oh no you don’t! You can only talk to this salesperson.” That would be asinine.

We’ve worked with some of the worlds’ most successful companies over the last ten years, some of the largest, too, and one of the things they all have in common is that they trust and empower their people. This is the ethos that modern content marketers must also adopt.

Ready to do the same?

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