A Brief History of Content Marketing (And Why It’s Taking Over)

Embark on a journey through time to explore the fascinating evolution of content marketing, stretching from the late 1800s to the digital era of today. Unveil the power of high-quality content strategies and how they can elevate your online presence, engage your audience, and establish your brand as an authority in your industry. Join us on this captivating exploration of the past, present, and future of content marketing.

Updated: September 1, 2023
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Effective advertising in today’s global culture requires great website content. Not okay content, or even good content.

To stand out from your competitors and capture the attention of your target audience, you need superior content.  It is arguably one of the most important parts of advertising on the internet.

Here’s what you should know about content marketing, its history, why it’s critical, and how to start developing a content strategy that generates results.

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    What Is Content Marketing?

    Simply put, content marketing involves using content or copy to achieve specific goals. Businesses utilize it to inform, connect with potential customers, nurture client relationships, and sell products. However, content marketing can take various forms.

    Many businesses already partake in content marketing by publishing consumable content on public platforms to boost brand awareness—think social media.

    However, strategically leveraging content can be a game-changer. When companies purposefully design campaigns to educate, inform, and engage consumers, profit margins naturally increase over time.

    Where Did It Come From?

    Although the term “content marketing” itself wouldn’t come until much later, the first recognized efforts to use content in advertising occurred in 1895. American tractor and farm equipment manufacturer John Deere launched “The Furrow,” a printed magazine that was published every quarter.

    What made “The Furrow” stand out from its competing publications is that it didn’t try to sell anything. It wasn’t a catalog and it didn’t contain overt advertisements. It simply sought to educate the consumer and build a relationship between the company and its target audience. 

    Over the years, its readership grew. By 1912, “The Furrow” boasted a staggering 4 million readers, paving the way for other brands to follow a similar marketing model.

    Meanwhile, in France in 1900, brothers Édouard and Ándre Michelin of Michelin Tires created the famed Michelin Guide. It began as a guide for automobile owners and included basic maps, tire care instructions, and mechanic, hotel, and other travel recommendations.

    In 1929, the Michelin Guide began to include restaurant listings in its publications. It became most notably known for the awarding of “stars” to fine dining establishments that were considered worth traveling to.

    Their marketing strategy was brilliant and one of the most noticeable in the history of content marketing. There were fewer than 3,000 cars on France’s roadways. The Michelin Guide was designed to generate interest in automobile travel and, subsequently, the need for tire services.

    Later, the advent of radio stations would provide an opportunity for companies to create radio shows and commercials. Sears created Sears Radio Theater in 1979, which provided useful advice and comedic relief to listeners. This in turn created a higher demand for radios. Consumers then purchased those radios from Sears, driving revenue.

    Television subsequently brought the opportunity for visually engaging advertisements. By the early 1990s, content marketing was being used in some way by nearly every brand.

    The Birth of Digital Content Creation

    In 1993, O’Reilly Media (formerly O’Reilly & Associates) launched the world’s first company website. As technology began to advance at a breakneck pace, computers found their way into the home of nearly every American—just like televisions once did. 

    At one time, computers, and by extension the internet, were considered a luxury. All that changed rather quickly, with the World Wide Web becoming an integral way of communicating and doing business.

    Just two years later, in 1996, newspaper journalist John F. Oppedahl unwittingly coined the term “content marketing,” not knowing just how important the term would become in the coming decades. Copy creation soon became a free-for-all. If you had an internet connection, you could publish content people would see.

    The Emergence of Search Engine Optimization

    Most businesses that were present on the web in the mid-’90s to early 2000s enjoyed consistently rising traffic as consumers discovered how to use the internet.  But as hundreds and even thousands of websites were published daily, competition for views grew.

    Performance metrics like traffic volume didn’t necessarily indicate the quality of the content users were arriving at. They were largely reflective of a copywriter’s ability to appeal to search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO) became inextricably tied to content marketing, but content marketing grew well beyond just SEO.


    Early versions of search engine algorithms were much simpler and ranked web pages for a search term or keyword based on the number of times that term appeared on the page. Algorithms assumed that the more times a keyword was present, the better the content was for people searching for the topic.

    It wasn’t long before search engine algorithms evolved. Early versions of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning began to track user behavior and how they interacted with webpages once they arrived. If users “bounced” or didn’t engage with the content, algorithms would start to rank the page lower than others on the same topic. And the algorithms continue to grow and evolve. 

    The Rise of Social Media Marketing

    Although MySpace wasn’t the first social media platform to exist, it’s arguably the one that people remember most. The basic social sharing forum of Six Degrees was actually the first online social platform, followed by a litany of others.

    Justin Bieber MySpace profile
    Justin Bieber’s MySpace profile

    As consumers joined social media platforms in droves, companies began to investigate how to advertise to users in unique and memorable ways. Social media marketing began to take shape, and it now plays a critical role in a company’s overall content marketing strategy. 

    Posting on social media is a great way to share blog posts, articles, photos, videos, and user-generated content (UGC) like testimonials or reviews.

    The Arrival of Authority Marketing

    Content publishing, search engine optimization, and social media marketing weren’t enough for search engines to separate good copy from great copy with so many competitors creating content.

    Search engines began to evaluate the credibility and reputation of a website page’s author, and then used this information to rank pages by established content creators and industry authorities higher than similar content by less known sources.

    Authority marketing is an important component of advanced content marketing. Industry leaders are generally given more internet real estate, so to speak, than others competing for the same space.

    Published authors, large corporations, international brands, and other well-known entities will usually have a higher domain authority or website authority. This is one of the many factors used by algorithms to determine where a web page should rank in relation to billions of others.

    The Introduction of Natural Language Processing (NLP)

    In October 2019, search engine giant Google announced the introduction of natural language processing (NLP) into its algorithms. NLP doesn’t replace any currently existing algorithm technology. It instead adds another layer to it.

    NLP technology allows Google to use advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to analyze human language and better match search terms to web page results. Essentially, this enables Google to read website pages like a human would. 

    The need to understand the page at such a level is largely driven by the rise in voice search, which has changed how people try to find things on the web. Instead of using keywords like “content marketing,” consumers are using key phrases, like “What is the best content marketing tool?”

    Why Do You Need a Good Content Marketing Strategy?

    Simply put, without a good content marketing strategy, you’ll have a difficult time maintaining the visibility of your business online. Potential customers will have a harder time finding your company, and those that do make it to your website are more likely to bounce than stick around and consume content.

    At the very least, basic content marketing is necessary to make sure your business registers on the digital map for potential customers. This might look like a couple of blog posts a month fed to your social media channels just to keep them alive. 

    Good content, on the other hand, provides exponential value for your business over time.

    Benefits of Consistent, High-Quality Content

    There are numerous benefits to regularly publishing high-quality content in various forms on your company’s website and social media channels. A solid web marketing strategy:

    • Establishes credibility and authority in your field
    • Continues to generate value for your business over time
    • Cultivates an engaged target audience
    • Builds trust between your brand and consumers
    • Provides answers to the most common user questions
    • Improves your brand’s reputation
    • Generates more qualified leads and click-throughs
    • Compels users to take action, such as calling your business or filling out your contact form
    • Informs consumers and allows them to make educated decisions about products and services they purchase
    • Creates more online visibility for your business and encourages word-of-mouth advertising
    • Helps your website pages rank highly in search engines for target keywords and key phrases in your industry
    • Builds brand loyalty and creates advocates for your products and services

    What Does Good Content Look Like?

    If you’re not a writer by trade, you may not know what Google and web users consider to be “good content.” Many business owners don’t know how to effectively use keywords, what topics to include to create an authoritative page, or how to publish better content than their competitors. 

    Professional writers have a better understanding of what users and search engines expect from copy.

    Good content should be:

    • Easy and straightforward for the user to read
    • Scan and skim friendly
    • Search engine and conversion rate optimized
    • Rich with headings and subheadings
    • Completely unique on every page
    • On-brand and able to clearly communicate your company’s core values
    • Aligned with the challenges and needs of your target audience
    • Optimized for human readers
    • Positioned to help the reader more than sell to them (sales tend to organically increase when users feel understood and supported)
    • Peppered with relevant statistics and/or facts from reputable sources and other industry professionals
    • Evergreen or newsworthy; evergreen content continues to provide ongoing value to your business, while newsworthy blogs help drive fast, targeted traffic to your website
    • Shared regularly on your social media channels

    It should also provide:

    • Acknowledgment of the user’s problems
    • Actionable advice for the reader
    • Valuable information not published online by competitors
    • Visual engagement with ALT tag-optimized images and videos
    • A clear call to action to contact the business via form or telephone
    • Links to additional resources on your website and other credible, high-ranking websites
    • Insight into your company’s unique vision and personality

    It’s also important to pay attention to the user experience and ensure that visitors experience your content in the manner you intend. Your pages should:

    • Load quickly; ideally in less than three seconds
    • Be free of broken links or links to low-quality, spammy websites
    • Contain no critical content errors 
    • Include links to other pages on your site to:
      • Help users easily navigate from one place to another 
      • Keep them interested and engaged in what you have to say

    No Time to Write? Hire an Expert Writer

    Quality content creation takes time, something many business owners find themselves short on as they work to drive sales and keep the company organized.

    If you don’t have time to write, or you just don’t feel confident in your ability to write for the web, outsourcing your copy could be a viable solution for your company.

    WriterAccess is one of the world’s top content creation platforms that provides businesses of all sizes access to the talent and tools needed to create compelling content marketing campaigns.

    We offer affordable per-word and flat-rate pricing, and each of our content strategists, editors, and writers is screened to ensure their ability to consistently provide our customers with error-free, engaging copy.

    Sign up now for a 14-day free trial to connect with our network of over 15,000 writers, editors, and other freelancers. We can help you cultivate top-tier content that generates quality leads and positions your brand as an authority in your niche!


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    Find top content freelancers on WriterAccess.

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    Find top content freelancers on WriterAccess.

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