43% of SMBs Note Content Marketing is Somewhat Important for Their Business: 2022 Insights

We’ve talked extensively about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the United States economy, and covered in-depth how businesses transformed and pivoted in order to survive the resulting instability and restrictions caused by mass quarantines and shutdowns. And while we’ve touched on changes in consumer behaviors and brand loyalties, we haven’t gotten to the core of how changes in consumer behaviors shaped businesses’ marketing strategies both during the pandemic and after conditions began to recover in mid-2022. 

With the pandemic forcing people into quarantine situations, employers were forced to embrace work-from-home and hybrid work arrangements. As the population hunkered down in new work settings and sought to fill time they had previously spent out of the house, many turned to online content and streaming services for comfort and distraction. 

While many businesses slashed their marketing budgets, those who effectively navigated the last two years and grew their business embraced one common marketing tactic: expanding their online content marketing efforts.

To emphasize how important content marketing became throughout the pandemic, UpCity partnered with Pollfish to survey 600 small businesses on how their current content marketing strategies moving into the late third quarter of 2022 differed from their approach to content pre-COVID. We’ve organized Pollfish survey results according to the following discussions:

  • Content Marketing Methods, Goals, and Challenges
  • Content Marketing Tools, Resources, and Budgets

We’ve enhanced our survey findings with key insights gathered directly from small business owners and content marketing experts operating globally across industries and including their feedback with our analysis. Our goal is to provide small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as larger commercial operators with the necessary information to assess and address any shortcomings they might find in their content marketing strategies moving into the end of 2022 and planning and executing their 2023 content plans successfully. 

Content Marketing Methods, Goals, and Challenges

47% of small businesses said content marketing was somewhat important to them pre-COVID. 43% of small businesses still say that content marketing is only somewhat important for their business in 2022

While the middle range of respondents who felt content marketing was only somewhat important decreased in the wake of COVID-19, the more telling story is the shift in the other response categories. A full 1% fewer respondents felt post-COVID that content marketing played no role in their business, while the decreases both shifted to a 5% increase in the number of respondents who felt that content marketing was essential and was a strategy they prioritized over the last year in 2022 and will continue to do so. 

This increase in the importance of content marketing reflects that businesses understand they must now provide an increasingly wide array of engaging, informational, and educational material to gain and maintain the attention of a more discerning customer base.

Pre-COVID2022
Content marketing wasn’t important for my business at all18%17%
Content marketing was somewhat important for my business47%43%
Content marketing was an important priority for my business35%40%

To understand the changes businesses made to their content marketing strategies due to COVID-19, we asked small business owners and marketing professionals how they adapted.

“Many marketing and advertising departments will be up to devising original and inventive marketing strategies and tactics that will guide the company through this new norm. This means that for brands, dealing with market change because of the economic impact on all industry sectors, facing increased competition given consumers’ and social new normal, addressing sustainability, assessing operational options and challenges presented by strategic planning in an environment of uncertainty, examining brand reputation issues, identifying potential new products and services needed to meet consumers’ needs and expectations, and concentrating on creating a strategy.”

—David Reid, Sales Director, VEM Tooling  

“As consumers have become increasingly wary of traditional advertising, businesses have had to find new ways to reach their target audiences. Content marketing provides a unique opportunity to build trust and relationships with customers. By creating valuable and relevant content, businesses can connect with their audiences on a deeper level.”

—Diana Stepanova, Communications Manager, Monitask

“Content marketing was crazy important before and it’s even more important now. The restaurants that we saw doing well during the pandemic had been using social media platforms to tell their story and connect with customers outside of selling food for years before Covid hit. That gave them a deeper connection with their customers that wasn’t about food or price, it was about them and their employees.”

—Matt Plapp, Founder and CEO, America’s Best Restaurants

20% of businesses with annual revenue of less than $500,000 prioritized social media marketing for their content marketing strategy pre-COVID. However, 28% of businesses with $3M-$5M in annual revenue prioritized direct marketing.

These pre-COVID trends in content marketing are fairly in-line with what one might expect when considering how businesses with different revenue streams tackle this component of their digital marketing strategy. Without robust revenue to support more expensive marketing tactics, it’s natural that a business would instead focus on content marketing strategies that can have a significant impact and generate the necessary leads and conversion rates with a lower cost of entry than other methods. 

At higher revenue tiers, businesses had the flexibility to spread their marketing efforts across more channels and leveraged as many outlets as possible to engage target audiences on multiple levels. In the respondent data at the top revenue tier of $10 million or more, businesses could shift to less cost-intense content marketing tactics and focus on retention and engagement to build and maintain customer relationships across social media content strategy campaigns.

Overall Breakdown

19% – Social media marketing

8% – SEO

8% – Paid search

12% – Advertising

15% – Direct marketing

9% – Affiliate marketing

17% – Public relations

11% – Event marketing

2% – Other

Majority Breakdown By Annual Revenue 
Less than $500,00020% – Social media marketing
$500,000-$2M16% – Social media marketing
$3M-$5M28% – Direct marketing
$6M-$9M29% – Public relations
$10M+40% – Social media marketing

24% of businesses with annual revenue of less than $500,000 still focus on social media marketing for their 2022 content marketing efforts. 30% of businesses with $3M-$5M in annual revenue now most heavily leverage event marketing 

There are several interesting shifts post-COVID in our respondent data. First, this shift at the mid-range of revenue towards event marketing shows businesses taking advantage of the fact that their customer bases have spent much of the last two years unable to socialize or attend events, and are eager to get out and network in person. 

The second interesting shift in the data is at the low-end of the revenue stream, with companies earning between $500,000 to $2 million annually prioritizing direct marketing tactics, showing they feel more stable and have possibly experienced an uptick in marketing, they feel more comfortable once again investing in more cost-heavy marketing tactics to drive lead generation and sales conversions to make up ground lost during the pandemic. 

Similarly, in the second highest revenue range, where recovery has likely led to more stable customer behaviors, businesses with revenues of $6 million to $9 million shifted focus to engagement and retention tactics by prioritizing social media content marketing. 

Overall Breakdown

22% – Social media marketing

7% – SEO

9% – Paid search

12% – Advertising

19% – Direct marketing

4% – Affiliate marketing

13% – Public relations

11% – Event marketing

3% – Other

Majority Breakdown By Annual Revenue 
Less than $500,00024% – Social media marketing
$500,000-$2M21% – Direct marketing
$3M-$5M30% – Event marketing
$6M-$9M43% – Social media marketing
$10M+50% – Social media marketing

To explore these tactical shifts in more detail, we asked our community of business owners to find how they adapted their content marketing strategies in response to the pandemic. 

“The most powerful content marketing methods in 2022 are likely to be native advertising, sponsored content, and influencer marketing. These strategies are already gaining traction in the CVID era—and for good reason: they’re effective ways to reach your target audience without spending a ton of time or money. Native ads can be easily integrated into your website content, sponsored posts can be repurposed as organic posts on social media, and influencers are often willing to work with you for free or on a very low budget.”

—Soheil Khaledi, Founder, 100 Tattoos

“Creating businesses awareness on YouTube and podcasts is a more powerful content marketing strategy today than Pre-COVID, perhaps because of behavioral changes that occurred during the height of the pandemic and have carried over into 2022. Consumers have grown accustomed to accessing multimedia content on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other similar channels.”

—John Francis, Digital Marketing Specialist, Roofing Webmasters

“Content marketing pre-COVID was certainly more targeted, and brands were focused on targeting a specific audience with their content and advertising. In 2022, it’s much more about search engine optimization paired with tactics for marketing around the algorithm and trying to get the algorithms to favor your content and push you to the front.”

—Ouriel Lemmel, CEO, WinIt

A majority of respondents leveraged social media posts as their top content type pre-COVID. Most respondents are still using social media posts as their key content type in 2022

With large swathes of the population at home and turning to their screens and devices for distraction or information, it makes sense that post-COVID content would be prioritized differently as businesses attempted to capitalize on shifts in user behaviors. While social media, email, and video content remained important, you’ll notice the slight uptick in each in importance post-COVID. The tone of these tactics shifted during the pandemic, however, with the intent moving from conversion and heavily sales-focused to providing more informational and educational content with the intent of engaging and deepening the customer relationship to maximize long-term brand loyalty and retention. 

Long-form article content remained relevant throughout the pandemic but similarly shifted in tone towards educating consumers about how brands were changing to become more responsive to the needs of customers and the community in general. You can see this pivot elsewhere in the data as well, with more engaging and information-focused content types seeing a slight increase in importance post-COVID, illustrated by the shift away from quizzes and tools and an uptick in webinars.

(On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most important)

Pre-COVID

4.8/10

Social media posts

5/ 10

Emails

5/ 10

Videos

5.3/ 10

Article content

5.4/ 10

Infographics

5.7/ 10

Quizzes/Tools

5.8/ 10

Podcasts

6/ 10

Webinars

6/ 10

Other

6/ 10

eBooks and/or white papers

2022

4.6/10

Social media posts

4.9/ 10

Emails

4.8/ 10

Videos

5.3/ 10

Article content

5.4/ 10

Infographics

6/ 10

Quizzes/Tools

6/ 10

Podcasts

5.7/ 10

Webinars

6.3/ 10

Other

6/ 10

eBooks and/or white papers

After two years, companies can look back and speak to how they shifted tactics and the impact their efforts had on their businesses. We approached our community of owners and marketing experts to dig deeper into what content types provided the best engagement during the pandemic. 

“We’ve started to see amazing results from videos, quick guides, short emails, infographics—essentially, easily consumable content became king throughout the pandemic and into 2022, and this is a permanent change compared to pre-COVID times.”

—Chelsea Cohen, Co-Founder, SoStocked

“Video content has continued to outpace everything else 10x, but since COVID-19, we’ve especially noticed significant growth of candid video. Properly staged video with expensive cameras and lighting lost ground in a huge way to content creators simply using their mobile devices to quickly create engaging content. This shift inserted more authenticity into content marketing and people are eating it up. TikTok is a good use case to show why Instagram has lost popularity. Video content is such a powerful force that TikTok has even supplanted Google for search as the platform of choice for Gen Z.”

—Mick Essex, Growth Marketing Manager, POWR

“The content types haven’t changed as much other than a rise in TikTok and Podcasting. The thing you want to focus on is being real and earning the trust of your audience. We accomplish this by first providing authentic technical content. When content is considered to be informative and written by industry professionals, it is hard for my competitors to replicate. It builds trust and showcases our ability. Second, we use real images and screenshots. Certain types of images just can’t be faked! This is especially important in niches where products are being reviewed. If you put actual images, people trust your word a lot more.”

—Talal Khan, Owner, ProRec.com

Most small businesses operating for 3-5 years stated that strengthening their revenue was their largest pre-COVID content marketing goal. Businesses operating for 6-9 years were mostly focused on improving customer retention

Before the pandemic outbreak, one could easily anticipate a company’s business goals relative to their marketing strategy based on revenue and how long the business had been in operation. Younger companies were largely focused on improving and stabilizing their revenue streams, while more established businesses worked to set themselves up for longer-term stability by strengthening client relationships and ensuring current customers would remain as such. In the mid-range, respondents did place importance on building brand awareness and educating consumers about services, products, and the businesses themselves, but these efforts were largely an effort to adapt to changes in search engine algorithms.

In this way, businesses before the pandemic largely balanced efforts to increase brand loyalty and customer engagement and widen brand awareness on new platforms against the need to maximize the impact of SEO and other factors relative to search engine ranking performance of a brand’s digital footprint.

(On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most important)

Overall Breakdown

5.2/ 10

Strengthen revenue

5.3/ 10

Foster customer loyalty

5.3/ 10

Improve customer retention

5.4/ 10

Boost brand awareness

5.5/ 10

Educate my audience

5.5/ 10

Engage more with customers

5.5/ 10

Generate more leads

5.7/ 10

Build EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)

5.7/ 10

Gain and nurture email subscribers

6/ 10

Maximize SEO efforts

Majority Breakdown By Years in Business
1-2 years – Foster customer loyalty
3-5 years – Strengthen revenue
6-9 years – Improve customer retention
10+ years – Improve customer retention

While respondents to our Pollfish survey provided fairly straightforward metrics on their priorities pre-COVID, we opened up discourse and allowed small business owners and marketing professionals to weigh in on how they had leveraged content creation to their advantage before quarantines and shut-downs forced them to reevaluate their marketing approach.

“From our experience working with clients to improve business processes, we found that before COVID-19, businesses didn’t often invest in content marketing. If they did, it was to raise businesses awareness and never solely to attract customers and build businesses loyalty.”

—Mark Buff, Founder and CEO, Profit Frog

“Before the pandemic we were seen as being a fringe business that appealed solely to a certain type of business, but COVID-19 changed that and made the American public more aware of the unseens dangers and threats that they could potentially face in the future, which drew them directly to us.”

—Matthew Osborn, Founder and CEO, Legionary

“Our main content marketing objectives before COVID-19 were similar to our current objectives, but prior to the pandemic, we took a very different approach to accomplishing these objectives. Before 2020, we could limit our expenses on paid advertising in combination with our content campaigns, as it wasn’t as necessary to reach such a wide audience. Prior to the pandemic, we could also get away with generating less timely content and it wasn’t always necessary to constantly generate content responding to the latest news and events. Our content cycle was much easier to keep pace with.”

—Tom Kelly, CTO, Life Part 2

Meanwhile, maintaining quality content and generating a consistent amount were most respondents’ key pre-COVID challenges regardless of their years in business

Even without the pandemic playing havoc with the economy, there were challenges in marketing and sales leading up to 2020 that vexed experts in the field and led to innovations and evolving tactics. With the growing focus of search engines on unique and well-written content to improve rankings, and despite the Great Resignation having yet to descend, businesses already operating lean and with minimal staff on hand struggled to both keep up with the demand for content and to produce high-quality content in the necessary volumes. 

Many of the other challenges before COVID-19, such as the ability to properly target content to buyer persona and aligning with the customer journey, speak to just how complex undertaking content marketing can be without the properly experienced staff on hand to guide the content strategy properly.

Overall Breakdown

(On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most challenging)

4.8/ 10

Maintaining content quality

5/ 10

Generating a consistent amount of content

5.4/ 10

Insufficient resources to produce content

5.4/ 10

Ensuring that content aligns with the buyer’s journey

5.5/ 10

Identifying different buying personas

5.5/ 10

Producing content in the correct formats

5.6/ 10

Too much competition

5.6/ 10

Measuring content ROI

5.8/ 10

Leveraging experts to produce content

6.4/ 10

Other

Having established pre-COVID goals, we were also interested in exploring the challenges owners and marketers faced in the period leading up to COVID-19.

“Getting time on experts’ calendars, to write quality content has always been a challenge, even before COVID-19. However, once we produce something with their input and they see the value, they’re often more willing to help in the future. It’s that first piece that’s hard to get.”

—David Zimmerman, SEO Coach, Curious Ants

“Pre-COVID, the challenges were insufficient resources. Good content takes time and is harder to produce. It requires time, effort, and expertise. Lack of time was the biggest barrier we faced.”

—Aima Irfan, Editor-in-Chief and Marketing Manager, Inside TechWorld

“Before COVID-19, there were not that many rivals in our market. Our keywords easily ranked in top search results and we were getting the maximum of the business.”

—Ava Martin, Founder, Quality Water Lab

A majority of businesses operating for both 3-5 years and 6-9 years said that boosting businesses awareness is now their top content marketing goal in 2022

Recovery from COVID-19 has been a journey across industries and geographic regions. However, universally the primary goal has been in the subsequent months to recover revenue lost from closures, quarantines, shutdowns, and business restructuring to meet customer needs. But consumers are more discerning in their shopping and purchasing habits, and in the wake of COVID-19, have become less loyal to brands and more concerned with establishing whether a business offers the right mix of quality, value, and social media aesthetic. 

In response, businesses prioritized boosting brand awareness in their content marketing campaigns by posting more informational and educational content, which comes across as more sincere and concerned with the consumer experience than traditional hard sales tactics. 

Overall Breakdown

(On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most challenging)

5/ 10

Strengthen revenue

5.1/ 10

Boost brand awareness

5.2/ 10

Engage more with customers

5.3/ 10

Foster customer loyalty

5.3/ 10

Improve customer retention

5.5/ 10

Generate more leads

5.7/ 10

Educate my audience

5.9/ 10

Build EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)

6.1/ 10

Gain and nurture email subscribers

6.1/ 10

Maximize SEO efforts

Majority Breakdown By Years
Less than 1 year – Strengthen revenue
1-2 years – Strengthen revenue
3-5 years – Maintain content quality
6-9 years – Ensuring that content aligns with the buyer’s journey
10+ years – Maintain content quality

While boosting brand awareness might have been top-of-mind for our respondents to the Pollfish survey, we wanted to learn how they’ve structured their content marketing strategies for the future.

“With the help of a thorough content audit, you can get rid of outdated and underperforming content, maintain blog posts current with relevant information and SEO best practices, and repurpose content into more interesting assets like infographics or videos. Another big reason to do a content audit is to find out what kinds of content your customers like best. You can compare marketing statistics to compare and discover the topics that resulted in the highest conversion rates on your website, and you can then make plans to create new content that is precisely aimed at those terms. By conducting audits, you can keep your website current and polished while also establishing your business as a thought leader in your field. After all, potential customers are more likely to purchase from a company they perceive as being the most competent and reliable.”

—Max Whiteside, SEO and Content Lead, Breaking Muscle

“My business’s main content marketing objectives are to expand my business’s reach. I want to use content marketing strategies like social media and email marketing to create a brand image.”

—Rhett Stubbendeck, CPCU and CEO, LeverageRx Inc.

“In 2022, our organization is striving to create content that is more ‘human.’ Customers want to feel spoken to, not when they are being addressed. By humanizing your content, you can better address their demands and ultimately turn qualified leads into paying customers for your business. Here are some ideas for improving the approachability of your content:

  • Consider the content you produce as a dialogue with your readers.
  • If at all possible, stay away from jargon and big words.
  • Put pronouns in your writing, including first- and second-person.
  • Add original stories that are related to the content.
  • Address your listeners directly.”

—Lulu Albanna, Co-Founder, WRC Media

Small businesses either operating for less than one year or 6-9 years are struggling the most with creating content that aligns with the buyer’s journey in 2022

It should be no surprise, given what we’ve discussed about how consumer concerns and purchasing decisions have become more discerning in the aftermath of the pandemic, that businesses new and well-established are struggling to pin down how to align content with customer expectations and the customer experience. In other demographics, businesses are struggling to either generate enough quality content or to even maintain content quality at existing output levels. This is another indication of how remaining lean at the operations level often necessitates outsourcing complex business requirements to knowledgeable and skilled managed service providers, agencies, freelancers, or consultants.  

Overall Breakdown

(On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most challenging)

4.9/ 10

Maintain content quality

5.2/ 10

Ensuring that content aligns with the buyer’s journey

5.2/ 10

Generate a consistent amount of content

5.4/ 10

Identifying different buyer persona

5.4/ 10

Leveraging experts to produce content

5.4/ 10

Producing content in the correct formats

5.4/ 10

Insufficient resources to produce content

5.6/ 10

Measuring content ROI

5.7/ 10

Too much competition

6.6/ 10

Other

Majority Breakdown By Years
Less than 1 year – Ensuring that content aligns with the buyer’s journey
1-2 years – Generate a consistent amount of content
3-5 years – Maintain content quality
6-9 years – Ensuring that content aligns with the buyer’s journey
10+ years – Maintain content quality

Again, we opened this analysis to insight from business owners and marketing professionals to better understand the challenges being faced in properly executing content marketing campaigns post-COVID.

“Our biggest content marketing challenge in 2022 has been identifying which content creators we should collaborate with. Influencer marketing has been really popular this year so it is very important for brands to maximize this opportunity. However, choosing the right influencer to represent the businesses has been the challenging part as people on the Internet can easily cancel someone whom they think did something wrong. Hence, we had to be very careful in choosing who to work with.”

—Sharon Moore, Co-Founder, Philadelphia Weekly

“The biggest challenge we’ve faced in content marketing is getting our audience to take action. We have a great product, but it’s not enough to just have a good product. We have to tell our customers what we’re about and why they should care about us—and that’s a lot harder than you might think.”

—Rengie Wisper, Co-Founder and Designer, Ever Wallpaper

“My biggest content marketing challenge in 2022 has been the inability to measure return on investment. We weren’t aware which campaign was generating the most revenue; hence our ability to scale operations was limited.”

—Oliver Hudson, Marketing Manager, Word Finder

The complexities of content marketing in modern marketing strategies have evolved drastically since COVID-19 set fire to the world economy in 2020. Businesses learned quickly during the recovery period in 2022 that tactics that worked previously don’t necessarily apply to the post-COVID consumer, and they have had to shift the tone and intent of content to boost brand awareness while engaging customers and converting leads. Accomplishing this has required a shift not only in the tools being used but also in resource and budget allocations dedicated toward content marketing campaigns to ensure the success of content campaigns. 

Content Marketing Tools, Resources, and Budgets

20% of small businesses used Adobe Photoshop most often for content marketing pre-COVID. 20% of respondents are still using Adobe Photoshop in 2022

Content marketing campaigns are executed across multiple online platforms, from social media to video platforms, and thus require a very diverse range of tools to create effective assets. Because branding elements are at the core of successful marketing campaigns, regardless of whether we’re dealing with content or other marketing channels, it follows that Adobe Photoshop is one of the most leveraged content marketing tools on the market according to our respondents. The Adobe Creative Suite of products, and Photoshop, in particular, are powerful design and production tools that can be used to make brand assets that can be utilized for brand content on any platform. 

While Adobe Photoshop is a powerful tool in itself, it is often used in conjunction with the remainder of the Adobe Creative Suite, and as such can become a costly tool for small businesses to adopt. As many of our respondents point out in the challenges they face, the ability to affordably keep up with the demand for quality content is high on that list. As budget-conscious as many small businesses and entrepreneurs have become to maximize profitability, especially in the wake of the pandemic, it makes sense that Canva has emerged as an extremely popular digital marketing tool. 

Email direct marketing remains a powerful channel to distribute extremely targeted content to curated lists of consumers, justifying MailChimp’s popularity before and throughout COVID-19. Many of the other tools highlighted by respondents, such as BuzzSumo, ClickFunnels, HootSuite, and SEMRush, are popular because they are advertising tools that provide a diverse array of functionalities to support multifacet marketing campaigns and aren’t specific to a single type of content.

Pre-COVID2022
BuzzSumo6%6%
Evernote8%8%
ClickFunnels5%5%
Canva17%17%
SEMrush5%4%
MailChimp11%11%
GetResponse7%7%
InVideo11%11%
HootSuite7%7%
Adobe Photoshop20%20%
None of the above3%3%
Other1%1%

There are a vast number of tools used to support the execution of content marketing strategies across industries, but as with our respondents to the Pollfish survey, there are a few that seem to rise to the top when business owners and marketers are asked which they prefer to use.

“One of our preferred SEO tools is Yoast SEO. It’s long been a favorite of mine, and our internal marketing team still uses it today. It’s our go-to tool when producing SEO-focused content because it simplifies keyword optimization. We have been using it to optimize articles and blog posts for a specific keyword so that Google reads our content as we intend. It evaluates the content about the chosen keyword and assigns an SEO score, along with suggestions for raising a said score. This increases the effectiveness and speed of content optimization. A readability score analysis is also integrated into the plugin. We use it to ensure that the content is readable and easy for readers to comprehend.”

—David Bitton, Co-Founder and CMO, DoorLoop

“Canva was one of the first companies to recognize the move to the visual content business. And it goes all out to assist its users in developing the most creative, content-friendly, and search-engine-optimized banners ever seen on the Internet. And building them is quite simple. Canva has dozens of templates available; it has a great deal to offer any form of business. These templates were designed by professionals and creative people with extensive industry experience. With such a variety of creatives to pick from, users have a leg up on their competition when it comes to providing them with something distinctive. Never before has cross-team collaboration been so simple. No longer are designers required to scurry after their managers for permission on designs. Now, designers can distribute banners, posters, and invitations across different platforms and receive comments without ever having to leave the platform.”

—Kavin Patel, Founder and CEO, Convrrt

“In 2022, I believe that SEMRush will be the best content marketing tool available. Although search engine optimization for written material is notoriously difficult, I find that using SEMRush simplifies even that. SEMRush has helped me streamline my SEO strategy by displaying crucial facts in an approachable format, relieving a major source of anxiety for me: maximizing your search intent. It reveals the search terms our rivals are employing to attract organic visitors. Plus, it facilitates our efforts to enhance our material for search engine results pages. The goal of collecting and analyzing this kind of user engagement data is to improve our search engine rankings. By just entering a URL, we are presented with a wealth of keyword suggestions from which to draw inspiration for our writing. There’s a chance that we’ll find terms that our rivals aren’t using.”

—Ellie Shippey, eCommerce Growth Specialist, EZContracts

49% of respondents handled content marketing in-house pre-COVID and 36% of small businesses had an in-house content marketing team of 6-10 employees

While respondents to our survey seem to show that a majority primarily relied upon a small in-house team of content marketers, the full story told by the data shows that a majority of small business and marketing expert respondents rely upon outside resources of some type for their content marketing efforts. As we discussed above, many businesses have been operating with minimal staffing as a business strategy, with their staff largely leveraged at being able to maximize customer engagement, sales, and services. 

This means that many organizations didn’t have the human assets to dedicate to other business tasks, and therefore relied heavily upon agencies, freelancers, or consultants to help them plan and execute content marketing campaigns. This often was considered an equally expensive undertaking but in the long run a more affordable option for businesses who don’t want to maintain a team of marketing experts capable of executing effective modern campaigns. 

Pre-COVID

49% – In-house team

23% – Third-party agency

26% – Freelancers and/or consultants

2% – Other

In-House Team Size

32% – 1-5 employees

36% – 6-10 employees

21% – 11-20 employees

12% – 21+ employees

Pre-COVID strategies for outsourcing varied largely by business side and industry, so we wanted to reach out to a wide range of organizations to find out reasons why they might have gone one direction or the other before the pandemic.

“We handle our content marketing efforts in-house and have a team dedicated to the growth and development of our work, and we’ve had the same focus as a company since the pre-COVID days. We’ve had our eyes on the prize for a long while and, while marketing hasn’t changed that much, we have had to accelerate things to meet new levels of work.”

—Sean Carroll, Founder and Director, Vixen Digital

“Even before COVID, our strategy has been to hire directly from agencies while also considering remote workers so that we don’t have to spend money on office space, Internet, and other overhead expenses to grow our team.”

—Chris M. Walker, CEO, Superstar SEO

“Yes, it is different from pre-COVID. Before COVID, we had a full-time in-house team of content marketers, but during, we outsourced a few tasks, and we are still doing the same because it is economical and easy to hire.”

—CJ Xia, VP of Marketing and Sales, Boster Biological Technology

A majority of content marketing efforts are still being conducted in-house at 50%. 34% of respondents currently leverage 6-10 content marketing employees 

As businesses struggle to recover from the pandemic, it follows that many had to make hard decisions as to how they would position their assets most effectively and where they might restructure relative to marketing tasks. There was very minimal movement in this particular dataset, but what movement there was tells an interesting story. There was a slight uptick in companies utilizing an in-house team, likely due to stabilization in the economy and a need to control costs. On the other side of the discussion, there was a clear shift away from consultants and freelancers to agencies, an interesting shift away from independent contractors, and a move towards agencies that offer increased flexibility and resources.

2022

50% – In-house team

25% – Third-party agency

24% – Freelancers and/or consultants

1% – Other

In-House Team Size

32% – 1-5 employees

34% – 6-10 employees

27% – 11-20 employees

8% – 21+ employees

Seeing this shift in how respondents are leveraging outsourcing in 2022, we decided to gather additional insight from a wider range of business owners and marketers to find out how they were approaching in-house marketing.

“We have outsourced most of our content marketing to third-party vendors and freelancers. This is because most of our employees left due to the pandemic or wanted to work from home. We instead chose to hire freelancers, who ended up costing us less than our actual employees.”

—Simon Bacher, Co-Founder, Ling

“As it stands, we mostly now outsource content writers whereas pre-COVID, we had someone in-house doing this. We found this is because post-COVID, people are less likely to want to work for a start-up because they want the security of a bigger company. And so small companies like us are having to turn to gig economy workers.”

—Emma Thompson, Marketing Manager, Jaxery

“I’m a small operation, so I pretty much handle everything by myself and outsource the grunt work to my very small team. I handle the big picture stuff (keyword research, building out funnels, building links, etc) but the data crunching is something I give to the team. I rarely, if ever, outsource.”

—Becca Klein, B2B Marketer and Owner, BeccaKlein.co  

36% of both B2B and B2C small businesses had a monthly content marketing budget of $501-$1,000 pre-COVID. 36% of respondents continue to use a $501-$1,000 monthly budget in 2022

While other marketing channels might have suffered from slashes to non-essential expenses in response to COVID-19-related quarantines and closures, the fact that content marketing remained a fairly static expense across our respondent field speaks to the power that content marketing brings to the table. Even as consumers increased their media consumption and shifted shopping habits to be more discerning, businesses that successfully navigated the pandemic adapted and prioritized their content marketing strategies to meet this demand. 

Budgets mostly remained static in these cases because resources were often diverted from less effective marketing strategies and away from other business activities, so that content could be created in sufficient volumes to engage with and connect with consumers and maximize those relationships. 

Pre-COVID2022
Less than $50018%19%
$501-$1,00036%36%
$1,001-$249930%31%
$2,500+15%14%
Unsure2%

We further explored budgetary shifts with a larger community of business owners and marketing experts so that we could provide our readers with additional insight into how they might effectively adapt their own content marketing strategies relative to their overall marketing budget. 

“No, it hasn’t changed since COVID-19. Many expect it to increase, but we have streamlined our work quite effectively. Due to this, we’re achieving our set goals in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

—Jeff Johnson, Acquisition Manager, Simple Homebuyers

“It has increased since COVID-19 began. We are using it for outsourcing and designing. Most people are not traveling and are searching for content online. So we need to position ourselves accordingly and get more leads organically. We need five to six articles per month, and I can’t do that alone. Outsourcing is helping scale our efforts.”

—Sidharth Kumar, Director of Product Marketing, Exoprise Systems

“Our monthly content marketing budget has significantly increased since COVID began. That’s because we adopted new technologies and revamped our marketing style in a bid to stay relevant to current times. So, that demanded more money and stretched our budget.”

—Ian Kelly, CEO, NuLeaf Naturals

The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adapt their overall marketing strategies to prioritize content marketing tactics and the tools necessary to execute content campaigns. Overall, the community was evenly split both before and after the pandemic on how they approached leveraging in-house talent versus outsourcing to third-party entities.

You Must Revisit Your Content Marketing Strategy as We Approach 2023

As the economy struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for what many experts are anticipating to be another recession, you must revisit your overall marketing strategy and determine how content marketing will continue to play a role in your ongoing success. If you are only starting to layout your strategy or lack the resources to execute an effective content campaign, you can check out UpCity’s marketplace of content marketing agencies that can put your firm on track for maximizing customer engagement as we round the corner into the final quarter of 2022 and start laying the groundwork for 2023.

UpCity’s Survey Method

UpCity used Pollfish to survey 600 small business owners and marketing experts on their 2022 content marketing strategies.

Twenty percent of respondents owned or worked at small businesses with 2-5 employees, followed by 101-250 employees (16%), 6-10 employees (15%), 11-25 employees (14%), and 26-50 employees (14%).

Fifty-one percent of respondents are male and forty-nine percent are female. Thirty-five percent of male respondents are 35-44 years old and thirty-percent of female respondents are 18-24 years old.

This article was written by David J. Brin and originally appeared in https://upcity.com/experts/content-marketing-survey/.

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