Content marketing 2021 statistics: Semrush shows content is truly King

Content marketing statistics are both plentiful and quite vague but a 2021 Semrush survey has shed quite a bit of light on how significant this discipline has become. What is the importance of content marketing, its weight, and its budgets? As I was preparing for a lecture I delivered recently, I asked myself a question: content marketing has been on every marketer’s lips for long — Visionary Marketing has even been around for 26 years — yet how critical is this discipline and what is the weight of this industry? I came across this Semrush 2021 study, which I found particularly interesting, especially in light of what happened during this pandemic. The US SEO company interviewed 1,500 B2B and B2C companies and marketing agencies, mainly in the US but also in the UK, Canada, Australia and India. To a lesser extent, in France and elsewhere. Despite this bias, this study provides some interesting insights, namely with regard to the US where, “no one hires a marketing director anymore unless he is knowledgeable in content marketing” according to Karine Abbou. 

Content marketing by numbers: 2021 Semrush survey statistics

Content marketing 2021 statistics: what weight and what importance in business?
Content marketing 2021 statistics: what weight and what importance in business?

Content marketing by numbers with the Semrush Content marketing 2021 statistics

Among the 1,500 respondents interviewed by Semrush, a vast majority consider that they have a content marketing strategy, 11% of which feel very satisfied and 76% of respondents with teams of less than 3 people. Three people is already significant though, even if this number depends on the size of the respondents. 61% measure the ROI of content marketing (I’d say we should take this number with a pinch of salt though, but fair enough…) Interestingly, 89% of respondents rely on organic search via search engines (as an aside, let me remind you that Semrush is a company dedicated to SEO).

Content marketing 2021 statistics : how much weight and importance in business?
Semrush’s content marketing 2021 statistics on the importance of content marketing

The three hard skills required for content marketing are social media (50%), SEO (44%) and strategy (42%). This result is quite surprising IMHO, despite the continued importance of social media in many areas, as social is now less prominent with regard to the dissemination of content, due to the decline in “organic reach”, i.e. the natural reach of social media, due to algorithms.

Essential soft skills

On the soft skills side, we find leadership, which makes perfect sense because content marketing is all about thought-leadership. “Being able to deliver on time” comes next, this is important because I see a lot of companies yearning to become content marketers, but unfortunately failing to deliver anything decent in an acceptable timeframe.

Either they try to deliver “perfect content” and this endeavour tends to last forever, therefore defeating the object of content marketing, which must be delivered in a timely manner. Alternatively, they tend to deliver results that are not really up to scratch too quickly. You have to find the right balance, and it’s not easy, because it requires a lot of skills and it’s not rocket science.

Finally, “solve problems”: this is also very interesting because indeed, one of the great aims of content marketing is to document pain-points and how they can be solved.

Let’s dig deeper and look at budgets that further demonstrate the significance of content marketing

In the United States today, content marketing is considered to be one of the most important budgets, certainly not the most important one, because as we shall see, allowances are still limited which is, in my opinion, one of the major concerns.

Companies are investing a lot in technology, and it’s a good thing. Yet they tend to invest far more in technology than they do in content. However, a marketing automation suite, for example, even when it’s top notch, without quality content, is useless.

Respondents’ content marketing budgets

This survey is targeted at both B2B and B2C businesses. The priority of the respondents is to generate more leads, which sounds like a reasonable aim. Especially in these difficult times. But there is more to content marketing programmes  than that. And there are a myriad of techniques for generating leads, which vary according to the size and nature of the industry in which a company is operating.

importance of content marketing
A majority of respondents say they use content marketing to generate leads

Attracting more traffic comes second, it’s also natural, but we will notice that it is not really the number one objective anymore. It must also be said that it has become very difficult to attract traffic to your website organically.

More 2021 content marketing statistics by Semrush

The average number of daily visits to a B2B site rarely exceeds 50, which is not much, to say the least. At the same time, if amongst these 50, a visitor places an order for €100,000 worth of goods or services, this should keep you happy for a while. There is no obligation for any website to attract millions of visitors for it to be useful. When markets are very specific, expect lower numbers of more engaged readers and communities. All in all, that’s what I favour most.

Inbound marketing besides, isn’t suitable for all (it is especially made for mass markets, including B2B mass markets) and is completely irrelevent for (B2B) complex sales.

Challenges are plentiful though. Content marketing is a complex discipline, both from a technical and strategic points of view. At one point, Semrush talks about a “Swiss Army Marketer”. What I call a “full-stack marketer”: you have to be good at technical stuff, SEO, content, blog writing and story telling, marketing and strategy. Well, people like that are few and far between.

And there are many techniques available, even if the blog remains, regardless of naysayers, the number one content marketing tactic by far. Where I am rather disappointed is the low share of UGC (“User-Generated Content”) among the tactics favoured by the respondents.

In a way, this is understandable because it’s harder to implement and marketers have a tendency to keep away from time-consuming and resource-hungry marketing tactics. Yet, it means you are losing a golden opportunity of producing high-value content.

importance of content marketing
There are many challenges in content marketing

Finally, let’s talk about money: the 2021content marketing statistics survey by Semrush shows that there is a majority of small budgets. There might be a bias in these results since Semrush’s sample is made of a good proportion of smaller companies.

So a majority of budgets are under €10,000, which is compatible with what I noticed in the field. About 20% of those budgets are between €10,000 and €25,000, which again is compatible with what I found out. And everything else is in much smaller proportions, but still 3% of the results, which, for me, is far from negligible.

That’s about 50 companies (out of 1,500) spending €500,000 to €5 million on their content strategies, which is no small amount

Such humongous budgets are dedicated to large multinational companies in the consumer and mass market sectors, which will launch global campaigns that will usually be allocated to larger international advertising agencies.

How will this budget allocation change in the future? Respondents to the Semrush study indicate a 25% increase.

The women and men behind content marketing

Last but not least, content marketing is produced by people and the teams are quite large. For me, the importance of investing on in-house content marketing teams is nothing new, since I initiated this approach at least twenty years ago. I started in ’99, I would say as a digital director and before that I was doing the work myself with my fellow consultants.

In large companies, especially in social media, you can have global teams of more than 200 community managers, content marketing and social media are now very important. It is also interesting to see the myriad of jobs that exist in this field, which opens up a great perspective, especially for students who want to start a career in that business.

About the Semrush survey sample

Let’s finish with a description of the respondents. 17% are CEOs and 16% marketing managers, 8% SEO managers, and CMOs are  in smaller proportions. Eventually, one finds people who are responsible for content production per se.

Interviewees are mostly located in the US, India, Australia, the UK and Canada. Some work could be done, in my mind, to adjust this sample and make it more representative. Europe has been left on the side, and it’s a bit of a shame.

Many small businesses are making up this sample (73% with less than 40 employees). But this is an interesting indication. It shows that small companies, mainly in the countries surveyed, are already sold on content marketing, whereas in Europe, we still have a long way to go.

Interest among small and medium-sized companies is growing there. Amongst our clients, even our top customers, one often finds small and medium-sized companies. This is fortunate because it is for them, in my opinion, that content marketing was really made. For those businesses, in a nutshell, for whom advertising is out of reach or even unusual.

Last but not least, I would have filtered agencies out of this sample purely and simply for it’s a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

What you need to know from this study about the significance of content marketing

Apart from its slightly quirky sample, we learn from this survey that content marketing is becoming a serious discipline, that some of the budgets spent on it are substantial, even if the majority remains modest. In any case, content marketing is now a staple for a majority of businesses in the countries surveyed, although perhaps not in Europe.

Europe will, in my opinion, keep up with the Joneses in the next four or five years, because changes here always take longer to implement. We can also see that content marketing requires a large number of skills, both hard and soft, that the jobs are very varied and that’s what makes this industry worthy  of note. Content types are also varied and require a lot of skills and they will increasingly resort to what we call “full-stack marketers”, who are able to deal with the whole content marketing process, from strategy all the way down to content production, SEO and even platform optimisation.

This means that in my mind, particularly for high-end B2B and B2C services and products, there is a bright future for humans who do qualitative content marketing. On the other hand, for mass markets as well as repetitive and basic markets such as real estate or financial data analysis or others, where databases are key, data will be – and it already is to some extent – king, not content. And so will be robots that will produce automated content. In my opinion, this will also be the case with ecommerce, where traditionally, little or nothing is done by way of quality in-depth content, barring a few exceptions.

Hence, in the suite spot I have just decribed, there will be a lot of business to me made both for specialist agencies, and especially verticalised boutique agencies, and also for content creators (aka influencers) and all the various professionals that have something to do with content marketing.

Content marketing 2021 statistics: what weight and what importance in business?

Read on: Semrush survey on the importance of content marketing

Yann Gourvennec
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