This essay originally was published on January 14, 2021, with the email subject line CT No. 91: "Put this in your deck and pitch it," alongside a review of database/spreadsheet software Airtable.

Many of us in the content business are planning for 2022. Everyone's taking a hard look at their resources: how have we done? what's working? and what are the prospects for the future?

Big tech moves are influencing our future plans. Google's latest updates are surfacing surprising changes; Apple's mission to be a privacy stronghold is up for debate; and Facebook is picking fights and throwing random data everywhere to rebuild their image... and maintain their personal data-based display advertising cash cow.

What can brands and media companies do to stay on top of it? Invest in owned platforms, beginning with your website, the source of facts about your brand.

Knock-out web content ideas

Here's my advice for your website content/marketing to rise to the top in 2022, no matter your content business model.

1. Get classified.

Invest in creating a relevant classified ad system while adopting a results-focused reporting model. For the first time in a decade there's a significant deficit of inexpensive advertising options for small businesses, with more advertisers spending big on social for... no good reason that I can see. If they did, they'd notice that user behavior is changing: social content consumers are more passive, banner blind to yet another targeted ad or influencer endorsement. (Seriously, I have all the luxury pajamas I need now, thanks.)

If you're running a media business that's at all successful (1,000+ devoted readers, like the man says), consider creating an automated, but curated classified system. Develop a self-service submission process, and create reports with results-focused KPIs, either clickthroughs, subscribers, SQLs, anything meatier than impressions. Media companies tend to rely on overpriced software for ads management, but it's not super difficult to spin up a quick system with a Typeform and a spreadsheet (see today's review for more).

Why? Social and search advertising is the land of diminishing returns for direct response. Google Ads and Paid social promise highly targeted audiences at low rates, but they're no longer "cheap" or "easy." Machine learning makes it had to tell exactly what works in self-serve systems, and passive mobile scrolling behaviors ensure that wide reach is easily ignored.

If you can convince your advertisers that you'll get them a better value than $3k/month for six months with Google Ads (you can, that's a pretty low bar to cross), you'll have developed a new revenue stream that also serves your community.

2. Stay on topic.

Consolidate your topic content. The biggest SEO mistake content companies make is that they develop article after article about the same topic, year after year, never connecting or structuring the content in a way that makes sense to anyone but the casual, unengaged reader. But that approach never builds authority and only serves to confuse search algorithms. It also burns money and lessens quality, with writers starting from scratch every.damn.time.

I'll be writing more about this approach in the fall, but consolidating web content in a topic-based optimization strategy creates more loyal customers, better readers, and more topic authority when users are actively searching for content.

Topic-based optimization is not only relevant to search engines; it's also likely the future of advertising with Google's FLoC. More on this later, but... the next few years are gonna be all about topics.

3. Build trust.

I've written before about trust signals, so I won't go into detail here, but invest in trust! Here's how to get started:

Website trust signals and E-A-T | The Content Technologist
How do you show your audiences and search engine algorithms that your website is worth believing, quoting, showing up at the top of search results? Through trust signals.
Mixology and tech marketing | The Content Technologist
Storytelling, sales strategies, and trust signals from a cocktail bar at the forefront of the mixology trend

4. Reassess your user behavior again return on investment.

Reevaluate your performance rates, channel by channel. Dive into analytics and look at usage rates, channel by channel, medium by medium. Look at your chatbots, your push notifications, your email frequency, your sales emails. Establish what actually succeeds in converting loyal customers in the 2020s. There are no blanket answers here; the data reads differently for every business in every vertical.

Remember that novelty is a major factor in high conversion rates from new channels, and that all channel results diminish over time—especially push channels. What worked in 2015, 2018 or 2020 won't necessarily work in 2022. There are no blanket answers here; the data reads differently for every business in every vertical. Identify what drives customers to unsubscribe and opt-out, remembering that sometimes opt-outs are forever breakups with your brand.

5. We use the internet to support our real-world lives, and not the other way around.

Focus on real life and real data, not internet hype and perceived reach. Remember that Twitter or TikTok or email newsletters or any single medium is an extremely limited view of what people are actually talking about, how they are actually interacting offline. At least in my world, it's still pretty gauche to bring up some tweet you saw during IRL conversation. People still interact offline even when they primarily work online, and they're more focused on how to make their day-to-day lives better in an uncertain future than they are on whatever new tech is turning heads for small corners of the world. Respect that, and listen.

6. Accessibility is the future.

Accessibility is crucial. It's not only important for your human users, but it's also a ranking factor in SEO. Build it into your proposals, your requests, your specs. More on this later.

7. Implement schema markup for algorithmic visibility.

If you want to be perceived as an authority anywhere on the web, your website still needs a good foundation in structured data, if you haven't already built it. Schema markup is a major pain, I get it, but it helps search engines understand the facts about your content so machine learning can assess the quality. Make the case for some dollars for structured data, which, unlike every other SEO tactic, is Set it and forget it.

8. Understand your first-party data sitch.

If you're not already on the first-party data train, make like the Quad City DJ's and c'mon n' ride it. Your data acquisition strategy should be a major line item in 2022 planning.

Gathering audience data from your content | The Content Technologist
Data management is a part of your life as a content professional. Learn why content marketing and digital publishers should have a content-based data strategy.

9. Original = superior.

Once you've developed the foundation of structured data and accessibility, fill it with original content. When I say original, I mean original: if your brand can afford it, hire illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, data viz experts, animators, and yeah, some experienced frickin writers to make your work better. It's the creator economy, muthafuckas! Originality conquers stock in the algo every time.

Happy pitch season, y'all! Best of luck in your slide decks and line items. If you have success selling any of these, give a shout! I'd love to hear it.

Building trust through content in 2021: The
At the intersection of content, media and technology, we’re in a unique position to ensure facts are correct. What can we do to plan for the future?

Still relevant in 2022!

First-party audience data collection | The Content Technologist
What are the benefits of collecting first-party data from your audience? What are the best sources of audience intelligence? Dive deep into the first-party data party.
Gathering audience data from your content | The Content Technologist
Data management is a part of your life as a content professional. Learn why content marketing and digital publishers should have a content-based data strategy.