Content marketing and strategy aren’t new concepts.
The act of telling stories to build relationships with customers goes back hundreds of years. So does the use of strategic content to grow businesses.
Content Marketing Institute lists some of the earliest uses of content marketing in their infographic, A Brief History of Content Marketing.
Ever heard of Poor Richard’s Almanack, published by Benjamin Franklin? That was an early form of content marketing.
Fast-forward to the present. What is content marketing in today’s modern, internet age?
It’s all about sharing useful information with your audience in the form of blogs, articles, social media posts, infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, and more to build trust, build relationships, and earn their business.
In essence, that’s always what it has been about – helping your audience to know, like, and trust you without asking for their money. (Once enough trust is established, revenue comes in later, organically.)
So, content media marketing has a long history – and so does content strategy, which is the guiding light of content marketing. It includes the creation, planning, management, distribution, and promotion of valuable, relevant content for targeted audiences.
What’s newer is online content strategy and marketing. In fact, it’s almost as new as the internet (which, in the scheme of things, isn’t that old).
How did we get to this point? What’s the history of content strategy? Let’s explore.
The History of Content Strategy: From Zero to 100% Necessary in 10 Years (The Infographic)
Here is the infographic we put together on the history of content strategy. This was a joint effort, weeks of work between my designer Antonella, copywriter and strategist Alyssa, editor Danielle, and myself. We dug deep, pulling in original studies from Moz, Fractl, Glassdoor, Payscale, and referencing sites and books from original, leading content strategy industry experts. Scroll below the infographic for all the details, links, and more.
The History of Content Strategy Online: From Zero to 100% Necessary in 10 Years (The Details)
These days, digital content marketing needs a strategy to work – and content strategists to implement it. You can’t stand out in the swamp of the internet without one.
Since content marketing online really didn’t take off until the mid-2000s, that begs the question: When did content strategy become part of the picture?
In a SlideShare from the very first Content Strategy Consortium held in 2009, Rachel Lovinger (more on her later) featured a graph illustrating how its popularity grew over eight years.
In 2000, “content strategy” only had 880 results in Google. By 2008, that number had skyrocketed to 286,000.
Here’s a timeline of that impressive growth.
The Late 1990s – 2000: Content Strategy Builds Steam
The discipline of online content strategy appeared as early as the late ‘90s – or, at least, people were talking about it.
In those days, examples of content strategy as we know it are hard to find. Instead, CS mainly involved data management, including making sure content was meaningful and users could find what they were looking for. Content strategy in terms of guiding content marketing wasn’t widely adopted.
One of the top online articles on content strategy in 2000 was this Inc. piece by Russell Shaw: Checklist: Create a Content Strategy. It covers why site content is important, tailoring your content to your target audience, and establishing a content budget.
Blogging wasn’t a big part of the conversation, although this guide does mention posting “articles that spotlight your knowledge and expertise in certain areas.”
Screenshot: Internet Archive Wayback Machine
2002: Ann Rockley, “the ‘Mother’ of Content Strategy”
A few years later, content strategy was starting to gain traction.
One of the first books on content strategy, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, was published in 2002 by Ann Rockley – a pioneer in the field.
Here’s an excerpt from Ann’s bio in the book’s 2nd edition, published in 2012:
“Mother of content strategy” kind of sounds like “mother of dragons” – pretty impressive.
Her book provides guidance on how to unify your content strategy into a “repeatable, systematic plan that can help you reach your customers, anytime, anywhere, on any device.” It’s truly the first example of an online content strategy manual.
2007: Rachel Lovinger
As her bio says, “Rachel was doing Content Strategy long before she realized it was an actual field.” She’s another industry pioneer who is continually asking the question, “How do we connect with the data that means something to us?”
In the article, she defines content, explains the broad goals of a content strategy, and how a content strategist wrangles it all into one coherent picture. It’s more abstract than practical, but it made a big splash.
2008: Kristina Halvorson
By that time, Kristina had already established herself as the 2001 founder of Brain Traffic – one of the first content strategy consultancies in the world.
In her article, she asked questions that demanded answers at the time, including “Who’s overseeing the care and feeding of content once it’s out there, clogging up the tubes and dragging down our search engines?”
As you’ll soon see, Kristina became a key player in making content strategy a break-out movement.
2009 – 2010: Content Strategy Breaks Out
2009 – 2010 was big for content strategy. A lot of important events happened that helped cement the discipline as a vital partner to content marketing:
- Kristina Halvorson published Content Strategy for the Web, the first book that laid out content strategy in a down-to-earth way. Today, it’s pretty much required reading for anyone interested in content strategy.
That same year, Kristina helped pull together the first official gathering on the topic of content strategy – the 2009 Content Strategy Consortium, held as a part of IA Summit.
- Meanwhile, other important content strategy and marketing books published in 2009-2010 helped propel the discipline into the awareness of marketers everywhere:
- Get Content Get Customers: Turn Prospects into Buyers with Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett
- The Web Content Strategist’s Bible by Richard Sheffield
2011 – 2016: Content Strategy Is Here to Stay
This is the point in our history where content strategy cements itself.
First off, Kristina Halvorson founded Confab, the Content Strategy Conference. The first conference was held in May 2011 and sold out months in advance. It’s been a must-attend event ever since.
2011 also saw the publication of another classic content strategy book: The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. (A Book Apart recently made this book available for free online.)
Since the early 2010s, a bevy of other great content strategists has sprung up in the industry. Some of them blog, some of them write books, and all of them are generously sharing a wealth of expertise:
- Colleen Jones – Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content – Colleen is the founder of Content Science as well as the author of two books. She tweets @leenjones.
- Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Content Everywhere – Sara runs Rare Union, where she consults with startups and businesses on content strategy and UX. She has written three books and tweets @sara_ann_marie.
- Meghan Casey – The Content Strategy Toolkit – Meghan worked as one of the first content strategists at Brain Traffic, Kristina Halvorson’s company. She’s been a mainstay in the field since 1996.
- Melanie Seibert – Prose Kiln – Melanie is a Senior Content Strategist with over 17 years of experience. She blogs, teaches courses, and tweets.
- Rahel Anne Bailie – Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits (with Noz Urbina) – Rahel is the founder of Intentional Design, a consultancy that specializes in complex content strategy projects. She has written two books and is a regular presenter at content strategy conferences.
Content strategy is a vibrant field that has only just begun. If you’re interested in joining the ranks, check out this guide: How to Start Your Career as a Content Strategist.
2017: The Content Strategy & Marketing Course
In the fall of 2017, after a successful spring beta launch, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course from Julia McCoy and guest teachers Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo; Sujan Patel, content marketing pioneer; Content Marketing Institute’s Michele Linn; SEMRush’s Ryan West; Unbounce’s Dan Levy; Airtable’s Shani Taylor, launches on contentstrategycourse.com. The accompanying book, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, is published — and earns a place in the top 30 on Amazon the same-day it is published!
After six years of leading tens of thousands of content projects in her own agency, Express Writers, I built The Content Strategy & Marketing Course to help content marketers gain real clarity on growth from content.
It is the first six-week online course that teaches potential content strategists and growth-focused content marketers how to build a content strategy from scratch. Every graduate student has a fully-built content strategy in hand, after taking this course.
I launched this resource in 2017 for new content strategists and digital content marketers looking to learn practical skillsets right out of the gate. I teach actionable steps to build a content strategy, inside the course. One of the main reasons I created my course was the dire need for content strategy I kept seeing in the industry. What drove that point home was when a client approached me and asked me to teach SEO content strategy to his team. Before I could say “yes” to that opportunity, I wanted to create a full curriculum. Naturally, that snowballed into taking an entire month to study the industry and what education was out there. Five months and hundreds of hours later, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course was born.
If you’re looking to step into the content strategist realm, this could be the investment that makes all the difference. See enrollment pricing.
2017 – 2019+: Content Strategy is Booming
Today, the average content salary for a career content strategist is $60k+ and upwards. Some opportunities are even positioned as profit-sharing, meaning content strategists can work based on results and receive even higher earnings if their content efforts return on investment for their employers.
The number of content strategy jobs has grown by 350% since 2011 (Inc).
And finally, content marketing as an industry will be worth $412.88 billion by 2021 (Technavio).
The Future for Content Strategists Looks Rosy
The content strategy industry has changed at lightning speed. Just 20 years ago, it was barely a blip on the radar. Today, it’s an in-demand field that is wide-open if you want to try your hand at being a digital content strategist.
The outlook looks downright rosy. 🌹
Up for the challenge? Then it’s time to dive in and see what you’re made of. Maybe someday you’ll make content strategy history, too.