Content creation is hard. It’s a vital part of modern marketing, it feeds SEO, and nearly every customer I talk to—SMB, digital agency, publisher, you name it, they all struggle. For digital agencies especially, multiply “this is hard” by a list of demanding clients and flakey freelancers, and you’ve got a recipe for something not delicious. 

My company, Verblio, creates content for 500 agencies every month. 

As a result, I talk to a lot of digital agencies and I hear the same complaints over and over: good writers are hard to find. Quality content is expensive and difficult to produce. Did you know that only 25% of digital agencies consider their content programs “successful?”

We surveyed 115 agencies and compiled the results and takeaways in Verblio’s 2020 Digital Agency Survey. The 5 biggest content trends should not surprise you—most savvy agencies are doing this stuff. What may surprise you is how hard it is to execute these strategies at scale and to price for success. 

Trend #1: Content is getting longer

The data says: 57 percent of agencies are producing longer content than they were two years ago.

Longer content = better results. 

  • 29% of agencies said their content length hasn’t changed in 2 years
  • Only 14% of respondents said their content is getting shorter. 
  • 43% of agencies said their average blog post today is longer than 1,000 words

For any agency steeped in SEO, those numbers are no surprise. The average length of a top-ten Google search result has now topped 2,000 words. Search engines prioritize in-depth pieces that provide significant value to audiences, especially when they also happen to naturally cover related keywords and phrases. Agencies looking to provide tangible SEO value to their client have picked up on that trend, adjusting their content length accordingly.

Trend #2 Video is hot

The data says: 71 percent of agencies have used video embedded in their content or on social media.

For years, video was the bold new content type that only the most trailblazing (and deep-pocketed) were digging into. Not so anymore. Nearly three quarters of our agency respondents have experimented with video, taking advantage of the medium to supplement their written material and achieve higher audience engagement. 

Even if video is now the norm, however, the what and how of the form is still more Wild West than established norms. The most common types range from explainer videos to whiteboards to testimonials, while some agencies even use third-party YouTube videos. They may use video embedded in blog posts, or as social media teasers for long-form web content. Across the board, agencies are experimenting with the format, finding what works best for their respective clients and industries.

Regardless of its exact usage, video works. As one respondent put it,

“We create in-house and publish on social media, paid and organic, digital display, video preroll and in email marketing. Engagement is always higher.”

Trend #3 Refreshing content is a not-so-secret weapon

The data says: 54 percent of agencies rewrite their clients’ existing content to drive results.

“Work smarter, not harder” applies to content, too. Over half of agencies are giving themselves a head start by rewriting their clients’ existing content as a major piece of their strategy. Content is an asset and you can re-mix and re-purpose it to get more value.

Agencies are well aware that keeping up a weekly publishing cadence of original content across multiple clients is not feasible (or if it is, you’re going to be up late every night writing about nutraceuticals and tax law and you will hate life). Furthermore, most clients already have plenty of existing content to work with. Whether an outdated piece needs only a few updated links and keywords or a more robust re-write, it’s easier to refresh and republish that content rather than start from scratch. An empty page is a terrible thing, so start with what you already have. Rewrites can also tie into the longform trend, allowing agencies to combine multiple older posts into one longer, more comprehensive piece.

Rewrites can’t be the only component of a successful content strategy, of course, but, as one piece of the puzzle, they have the power to significantly boost ROI for both agencies and their clients.

Trend #4 Promotion >> ‘Publish & Pray’

The data says: 96 percent of agencies do more than just ‘publish and pray.’

On its own, newly published content is unlikely to succeed (sob). Your content needs a hype man, or at least a hype plan, around it. Nearly every agency recognizes the necessity of promoting content, and they’re using a wide range of channels to accomplish it.

Social media is by far the most common promotional channel, with networks like Facebook and LinkedIn offering access to millions of eyeballs. Marketing emails, especially company newsletters, aren’t far behind, with the content providing important lead nurturing fodder. A smaller but still significant percentage of agencies engage in strategic link building, increasing site authority and credibility through backlinks from industry and audience-relevant websites.

Trend #5 Outsourcing is the norm

The data says: 86 percent of agencies outsource their content creation in some way.

The overwhelming majority of agencies are outsourcing at least part of the content they create for their clients. Just as significant, however, may be the fact that 55 percent of agencies don’t have a dedicated writer on staff at all. 

Most of our agency respondents either work with individual freelancers or contract through a dedicated content platform, while other, more general platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are less commonly used. (Symptoms of Post Freelance Writer Depression are common in digital agencies. See a video about it here.)

Often, though, it takes multiple sources to get the job done: 60% of agencies use a combination of outsourcing methods to fill their content needs. 

There are advantages to each outsourcing option. Working with individual freelancers is the most expensive choice, but the right ones can become a valuable extension of your in-house creative team. Content platforms, meanwhile, are more affordable, while shining for their efficiency and scalability. General marketplaces are the most cost-effective option but can come with quality control issues.

Regardless of the individual method, though, outsourcing is a core part of successful content strategies that better allows agencies to keep up with their clients’ demand.

So how’d you stack up against your peers?

Check out Verblio’s 2020 Digital Agency Survey for the full details and data on pricing, billing, and more. It’s a behind the scenes look at what your peers are doing that you can’t get anywhere else.

Need help with content? Check out Verblio for quality content creation at scale for every niche. Verblio’s platform is built for agencies, and we work with agencies across all industries to get their clients the content they need.