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8 min read The Evolution of Content Marketing: From Blog Posts to Podcasts and Beyond

The Evolution of Content Marketing: From Blog Posts to Podcasts and Beyond

Key Takeaways

  • We can trace the roots of content marketing back to the 1990s.
  • Content marketing has evolved a lot over the last 30 years, but consumer values have remained consistent.
  • As a result, we can rely on those consumer values to inform our future content marketing strategies, regardless of any technologies that emerge.

When push comes to shove, mar­keters and online busi­ness­es just want to keep con­sumers engaged. It is a con­stant­ly chang­ing chal­lenge – one which many have suc­ceed­ed in.

The task of engag­ing leads and inter­net users is dynam­ic for sev­er­al rea­sons. How­ev­er, the changes in tech­nol­o­gy and per­sis­tent com­pe­ti­tion are the most influential.

If you want to under­stand the heart of con­tent mar­ket­ing, you have to trace its roots back to the 1990s. Since then, there have been count­less trends that have caused busi­ness­es and mar­ket­ing teams to change tact. There have been huge indus­try changes that forced teams to adapt and rise to new chal­lenges. Con­sumer stan­dards have increased, caus­ing plat­forms to offer new oppor­tu­ni­ties for engagement.

Over the years, new types of con­tent have emerged – pod­casts, webi­na­rs, vlogs, blogs, and more!

To under­stand how con­tent mar­ket­ing has evolved into what it is today, we need to trace things back to when the inter­net was still in its infan­cy. Look­ing at sev­er­al key events, we can gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what inter­net users real­ly want and what the future may hold.

Let’s take a step into the past and look at how con­tent mar­ket­ing started.

Timeline of key events in the evolution of content marketing

1994 – The first banner ad

The first ban­ner ad appeared on HotWired.com for AT&T in 1994. Though it was a sim­ple mes­sage, it had a click-through rate of 44%. This mon­u­men­tal moment in con­tent mar­ket­ing set the stage, demon­strat­ing how online mes­sag­ing could “trans­port peo­ple through space and time via the Inter­net.” With a CTR as high as that, clear­ly, users were excit­ed to be part of a con­ver­sa­tion with the rest of the internet.

1995 – Amazon welcomed customer reviews

The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ued in the fol­low­ing year, with Ama­zon allow­ing cus­tomers to leave pub­lic reviews. Just a year after the busi­ness’s cre­ation, peo­ple thought Bezos had made a rad­i­cal deci­sion – users could say any­thing they wanted.

How­ev­er, this cus­tomer review sys­tem rev­o­lu­tionised how peo­ple shop online and inter­act with the inter­net over­all. It became one huge con­ver­sa­tion – per­haps some of the first user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent ever.

Per­haps this also wel­comed an ele­ment of trans­paren­cy from busi­ness­es, which would lat­er be increased by social media.

1996 – The first webinars

Through Microsoft­’s Net­Meet­ing, the first pub­lic web con­fer­ences took place in 1996. How­ev­er, the term “webi­nar” would­n’t be used until 1998.

In the next twen­ty years, webi­nar and video meet­ing plat­forms would con­tin­ue to emerge: GoToWe­bi­nar, Click­Meet­ing, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.

This very first Inter­net con­fer­ence revealed the con­sumer’s desire for inter­con­nect­ed­ness and the under­stand­ing of the Inter­net as a vehi­cle for shar­ing infor­ma­tion.

1998 – The birth of Google

The birth of Google in 1998 marked a sem­i­nal moment in the dig­i­tal landscape.

With the PageR­ank algo­rithm, the way infor­ma­tion was cat­a­logued and dis­cov­ered was changed com­plete­ly. With Google empha­sis­ing the impor­tance of rel­e­vance, it was­n’t long before busi­ness­es began to craft con­tent with the pur­pose of serv­ing cus­tomer needs, increas­ing online vis­i­bil­i­ty, and align­ing with Google’s algorithm.

This shift laid the ground­work for what would become the SEO indus­try, where the pur­suit of search engine rank­ings would be a bat­tle­ground for brand expo­sure and con­sumer engage­ment. But, more about that later.

1999 – RSS feeds

Although it would­n’t be adopt­ed for a few years, the advent of RSS in 1999 was anoth­er huge moment for the shar­ing of content.

RSS feeds auto­mat­ed the dis­tri­b­u­tion of new con­tent, where­by users could know instant­ly when new infor­ma­tion had been added to web­sites. RSS allowed users to sub­scribe to con­tent and see all of it in a news aggre­ga­tor feed.

Though this phe­nom­e­non was, in many ways, replaced by social media, it’s clear from con­sumers’ use of RSS that they liked being con­nect­ed with oth­ers and the instant shar­ing of infor­ma­tion.

2000 – The launch of AdWords

In 2000, Google launched AdWords (now Google Ads). It allowed adver­tis­ers to dis­play their ads in the SERPs and by 2002, they were pay­ing per click.

This new tech­nol­o­gy allowed con­tent mar­keters to reach tar­get­ed audi­ences and users became accus­tomed to their search engines being a space for com­merce as well as news and socialising.

2003 – The launch of WordPress

The launch of Word­Press in 2003 made it easy for any­one to cre­ate con­tent and pub­lish it online. This meant that the cre­ation of blogs, and oth­er forms of con­tent, was democ­ra­tised. It was easy and acces­si­ble, invit­ing indi­vid­u­als to con­tribute.

Though this led to an explo­sion in the quan­ti­ty of con­tent on the inter­net, it cre­at­ed niche spaces for dif­fer­ent users to iden­ti­fy with and enjoy. This need for niche con­tent would increase with the intro­duc­tion of pod­casts and vlogs in just the next cou­ple of years.

2004 – The first podcasts

In his 2004 Guardian arti­cle, Ben Ham­mer­s­ley describes the new phe­nom­e­non of pod­casts: “down­load­able as you wish”, illus­trat­ing how this emerg­ing con­tent type was high­ly adapt­able to the con­sumer. Sim­i­lar­ly to the trend of niche blogs, there were pod­casts for every­one: news, com­e­dy, and music to name a few.

The year after, Apple released iTunes 4.9 which includ­ed sup­port for pod­casts, vast­ly increas­ing their reach.

2004 – The launch of GoToWebinar

In 2004, Log­MeIn (now GoTo) released GoToWe­bi­nar, a ded­i­cat­ed plat­form for host­ing webi­na­rs, mak­ing it eas­i­er for busi­ness­es to con­duct online sem­i­nars with large audiences.

This inno­va­tion allowed peo­ple to attend inter­ac­tive ses­sions from any­where in the world, enabling pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment and edu­ca­tion with­out the con­straints of location.

The con­ve­nience and acces­si­bil­i­ty of webi­na­rs soon set the stan­dard for per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the inter­net and paved the way for con­tent mar­ket­ing to become immer­sive and inter­ac­tive.

2005 – The launch of YouTube

The cre­ation of YouTube in 2005 pro­vid­ed a plat­form for video con­tent that would become one of the most pow­er­ful con­tent mar­ket­ing chan­nels in the world.

Not only that, but the launch of YouTube gave rise to a stan­dard of inter­ac­tiv­i­ty since users could engage with videos by lik­ing, com­ment­ing, and sharing.

2005 – HubSpot coins the term “inbound marketing”

Hub­Spot coined the term “inbound mar­ket­ing” in 2005, advo­cat­ing for pro­vid­ing cus­tomers with rel­e­vant and help­ful con­tent in order to forge long-term B2C relationships.

In many ways, this was a counter-cul­tur­al move away from TV ads and PPC, but clear­ly, it was a shift that stuck. We can see that con­sumers did indeed enjoy rel­e­vant and help­ful con­tent from busi­ness­es, as the inter­net land­scape changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly from this point in time.

2007 – The birth of the iPhone

The iPhone and sub­se­quent smart­phones made on-the-go con­tent con­sump­tion com­mon. As a result, mar­keters were forced to cre­ate mobile strate­gies that shared quick and atten­tion-grab­bing con­tent.

2007 – Facebook business pages

In 2007, Face­book intro­duced busi­ness pages. These allowed com­pa­nies to cre­ate pages to con­nect with their audi­ences. This addi­tion marked social media as a plat­form for con­tent mar­ket­ing, as con­sumers could see com­pa­ny con­tent in their feeds and speak to them in a pub­lic forum.

Ulti­mate­ly, this gave busi­ness­es a new way to engage with audi­ences direct­ly and opened up var­i­ous issues around trans­paren­cy, engage­ment, and inter­ac­tiv­i­ty.

2011 – Google Panda

Google’s 2011 Pan­da update (and their sub­se­quent Pen­guin update in 2012) dras­ti­cal­ly changed the SEO land­scape. These updates were cre­at­ed with the aim of low­er­ing the rank of low-qual­i­ty sites and reward­ing high­er-qual­i­ty sites with top posi­tions in the SERPs.

By penal­is­ing low-qual­i­ty con­tent, com­pa­nies were pushed to focus on pro­vid­ing con­tent that was rel­e­vant, help­ful, and gen­uine. As a result, con­tent mar­ket­ing had to appeal to cus­tomers in a real way, rather than key­word stuffing.

2011 – BuzzFeed becomes a sensation

In 2011, Buz­zFeed was found to be the 13th most pop­u­lar blog in the world. The quirky news plat­form was loved for its quizzes, cal­cu­la­tors, and trendy YouTube con­tent – show­ing the con­sumer’s engage­ment in inter­ac­tive con­tent.

Look­ing back at Buz­zFeed from today’s lens, we can see how inter­net users looked to the web for fun, com­e­dy, and sim­i­lar social groups. In addi­tion, it was enjoy­able when they could respond and be involved in the con­tent itself.

2012 – Facebook buys Instagram

For approx­i­mate­ly $1 bil­lion, Face­book bought Insta­gram in 2012. This marked a piv­otal moment in the his­to­ry of social media, as many believed the acqui­si­tion would lead to Insta­gram becom­ing more mon­e­tised for com­merce and influ­encer accounts.

Zucker­berg said they would con­tin­ue to deliv­er the “best expe­ri­ences” for users. How­ev­er, the mon­eti­sa­tion of Insta­gram became appar­ent in the fol­low­ing year. In 2013, Insta­gram intro­duced spon­sored posts. This made it much eas­i­er for brands to pro­mote con­tent and col­lab­o­rate with influencers.

As a result, con­tent mar­ket­ing began to include influ­encer col­lab­o­ra­tions and native prod­uct pro­mo­tion.

2013 – Google Hangouts On Air

In 2013, the webi­nar indus­try was changed by Google’s Hang­outs On Air.

This ser­vice allowed users to broad­cast live ses­sions, lec­tures, and con­fer­ences to a large audi­ence for free. As a result, the webi­nar space was able to reach big audiences.

With the pop­u­lar­i­ty of YouTube, Face­book, and Insta­gram already in place, webi­na­rs were much more niche and con­nect­ed unique realms of the inter­net together.

2013 – Google Hummingbird

Also in 2013, Google released its Hum­ming­bird update. Hum­ming­bird changed the algo­rithm to try and under­stand user intent bet­ter, look­ing for con­tex­tu­al mean­ings in queries.

As a result, SEO and con­tent mar­keters had to focus much more on nat­ur­al lan­guage and less on short­er keywords.

2013 – Snapchat Stories

2013 saw fur­ther changes with Snapchat’s Sto­ries. This social app start­ed the trend which would lat­er be adopt­ed by oth­er plat­forms and become cru­cial to con­tent mar­ket­ing strategies.

Sto­ries were a sig­nif­i­cant change for con­tent mar­keters because they offered a com­plete­ly new way of engag­ing with audi­ences. Dis­ap­pear­ing after 24 hours, sto­ries had to be time­ly, rel­e­vant, and even inter­ac­tive.

2013 – The launch of Vine

The launch of Vine in 2013 was the begin­ning of short video con­tent. The plat­form for six-sec­ond loop­ing videos became immense­ly pop­u­lar, par­tic­u­lar­ly among younger audi­ences. Vine was arguably the rea­son for Tik­Tok and Insta­gram Reels which would appear much later.

The lim­it­ed for­mat meant that con­tent had to be quick and cre­ative, but atten­tion-grab­bing above all.

2015 – The rise of ad blocking

In 2015, there was a notable rise in the use of ad block­ers. Though tra­di­tion­al dis­play ads are still used to this day, con­tent mar­ket­ing has def­i­nite­ly adapt­ed since then to reach audi­ences with­out rely­ing on them.

2016 – Google’s mobile-first indexing

Due to the increased use of mobile devices, Google announced the move towards mobile-first index­ing in 2016. As a result, con­tent mar­keters had to pri­ori­tise mobile-friend­ly con­tent and keep SEO best prac­tices at the fore­front of their strategies.

2017 – Voice search grows

In an arti­cle about Ama­zon’s Echo, the Guardian sug­gest­ed that “2017 will go down as the year voice recog­ni­tion went mainstream,”

It was around this time that con­tent mar­keters began think­ing about opti­mis­ing their con­tent for voice search, as it became so com­mon­place for peo­ple to be using smart speak­ers and vir­tu­al assistants.

2018 – The launch of TikTok

Launch­ing to a world­wide audi­ence in 2018, Tik­Tok’s pop­u­lar­i­ty explod­ed. Though the trend opened up oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­tent mar­keters to tar­get younger users, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of short-form video con­tent spoke to a wider trend.

This would become clear in the fol­low­ing years, with Insta­gram (in 2020), YouTube (in 2021), and Face­book (in 2022) all even­tu­al­ly offer­ing short video con­tent to their users.

2020 – The rise of Zoom

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Zoom became a house­hold name, with many com­pa­nies and edu­ca­tors using the plat­form for webi­na­rs due to its ease of use and scalability.

If webi­na­rs were on the decline before the pan­dem­ic, Zoom brought them back to life – remind­ing inter­net users that they can still learn from home.

2022 – AI content becomes accessible

Ever since Ope­nAI released GPT‑3.5 in 2022, AI-gen­er­at­ed con­tent has become a house­hold phrase. The soft­ware proved to be the most pow­er­ful lan­guage gen­er­a­tor yet, able to write con­tent with less super­vi­sion and pre-edit­ing than pre­vi­ous models.

In addi­tion, AI has been used to help with e‑commerce per­son­al­i­sa­tion and ana­lyt­ics, offer­ing lots of ways to improve con­tent mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Though AI still requires a lot of human man­age­ment, it’s prov­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant game-chang­er in the con­tent mar­ket­ing space.

None of us can be sure exact­ly how AI will affect con­tent mar­ket­ing. Per­haps AI will free up the sched­ules of con­tent mar­keters, allow­ing them to cre­ate big­ger and bet­ter strate­gies. Per­haps AI’s pop­u­lar­i­ty will lead to such a mass of online con­tent that mar­keters will have to think of new ways to engage audi­ences.

Or maybe, it will put us all out of work! We’ll just have to watch this space.

What can we learn from the evolution of content marketing?

Look­ing at the time­line of con­tent mar­ket­ing, there are sev­er­al key themes that seem to be most promi­nent and pre­vail­ing. In sum­ma­ry, inter­net users like:

  • Being part of a conversation
  • Busi­ness­es to be transparent
  • A sense of inter­con­nect­ed­ness with the rest of the internet
  • Infor­ma­tion, fun, and socialness
  • Con­tent that is rel­e­vant and targeted
  • Niche spaces and communities
  • Quick and short con­tent (when applicable)
  • Con­tent that is nat­ur­al, not forced

Though the land­scape of con­tent mar­ket­ing has evolved sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the last 30 years, these cen­tral themes remain. They crop up in every type of con­tent out there: blogs, vlogs, videos, Sto­ries, pod­casts, webi­na­rs, quizzes, cal­cu­la­tors, user-gen­er­at­ed and so on.

And regard­less of what the future holds, these themes will con­tin­ue to be impor­tant to inter­net users. So, how­ev­er AI, voice search, and oth­er tech­nolo­gies impact con­tent mar­ket­ing, these con­sumer val­ues won’t disappear.

Here at pur­ple­plan­et, we offer a range of ser­vices to help with your con­tent mar­ket­ing and online busi­ness strate­gies. Get in touch to dis­cuss your needs with us:

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      To order the service package you’ve chosen, please fill in the form and we’ll get in touch with you soon.