We’re nearly halfway through 2012 and there are some clear content trends emerging.

Here are the top six hot issues we’re discussing with content owners…

1.  Can you COPE?

COPE, as in Create Once Publish Everywhere. Originally this phrase was simply a sell for clever publishing software. It’s now become shorthand for planning and creating content that can be published and re-used across many platforms, ideally cutting the cost of creation, production and (especially) translation and localisation. Lately we’ve heard it bandied about a lot in editorial meetings.

Obviously if you are going to publish the same content (or elements of the same content) across many platforms, you’ll need to indulge in some pretty sophisticated content planning work first.

If your company operates in a series of content silos, with one team ‘doing email’ and another responsible for ‘social’, you’ll struggle to get this off the ground. But if you can join your internal content owners up to develop a truly inclusive content strategy, then COPE may well prove efficient for you.

On a practical level, for written content, this will usually mean coming up with highly adaptive modular copy formats that everyone signs off on and subscribes to. Cue stakeholder pistols at dawn… 

2. Post-Panda SEO for peanuts?

You can’t stuff your content with keywords any more. So what now? Those whose businesses stand or fall on their search results are out there trying to source content that will both keep customers engaged and satisfy a Google algorithm that rewards content quality. But how much are they willing to invest in it really?

As far as we can see, the SEO copywriting market has polarised. While we can report a recent large influx of clients prepared to invest in quality copywriting, along with the editorial planning, format work and quality control that requires, we also notice a proliferation of extremely low-cost content providers.

There will always be people prepared to churn out repurposed gobbledegook for buttons (£6.50 for 700 words, anyone?) and also those who insist that software could “seriously, like, replace Shakespeare”.

But the truth is that anyone who is prepared to write you an on-brand, optimised, customer-facing, usable piece of content, mapped to your business objectives, legally compliant, sub-edited and proofread for a fiver, is either living in a country where that’s a day’s wages, living off a trust fund or has repurposed it from someone else’s work.

Really good content costs. Sorry.

3. Micro-content fixes

The rise of the copy nudge. The double-dip has forced companies to focus even more on the bottom line. So what content gives the greatest return on investment?

Last year we started suggesting that budget-strapped content owners identified quick copy fixes with high ROI. After all, if your conversions increase as a result of your emails, then why not focus on a more compelling email sign-up, or on messages which dissuade customers from unsubscribing?

Re-working a key call to action, a button, or split-testing the benefits on a product page is quick to do, requires minimal design input and can produce instant results.

The king of all quick copy fixes is the online form. We have case studies showing up to a 35% increase in conversions from fixing the reassurance and instructional text in transactional areas.

So maybe instead of that big ambitious content migration, you should simply ‘sweat the small stuff’ instead?

4.  Mobile, tablet and yet more mobile

Making content mobile and tablet friendly is definitely what’s keeping content owners up at night. Last year, Jakob Nielsen revealed that content is twice as hard to understand on a mobile device. “When reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores,” he reported.

So what is the answer? In short: write short, clear sentences. What’s the problem? This is very hard to do well, especially when summarising the terms and conditions of a home contents insurance policy.

And what about tablet? While we’re still in learning mode as to what works best, certain content issues are already pretty clear. Overly-long lists and menus, information ‘too small to tap’ and serving up splash screens are all out. It appears you do need a distinct content approach for tablet after all…

5. Govern or be damned

“Quality is doing it right when no one is looking,” said Henry Ford. Unfortunately, all the best editorial set-ups rely on lots of people looking. Looking, editing, checking, and then looking again in fact.

While most content teams weren’t initially set up with anything like this kind of QA process in place, we are seeing a rise in demand for content training and guidelines which support governance and help benchmark content quality.

For many clients this is ensuring that (a) best-practice samples and execution guidelines exist for each content type and (b) someone is making sure they actually get followed. For others, this means regular content auditing followed up by training and mentoring.

It’s fantastic to finally see the old-school rigour of print publishing being embraced by the digital world. Better content should come of it.

6. Content ideas brainstorm boom

The trend to embrace content marketing as a discipline in itself continues apace. But this is primarily an editorial endeavour. And great editorial depends on an ongoing flow of high-quality ideas. When the ideas run out, it’s all over.

As original ideas can be hard to find (especially for the more complex B2B brands), the ability to brainstorm clever content ideas, formats and executions has become powerful content-marketing currency.

What marketers are after is ‘ideas with legs’, workable series of content that can be replicated week after week without flagging. Content mapped to customer needs and interests that is truly useful, usable and builds long-tail relationships.

In his post-Panda blog post  Google fellow Amit Singhal advises content owners to avoid ‘mass produced’ content that is ‘shallow in nature’, and to strive for high-quality ‘original content’. He urges us to produce articles full of ‘interesting information that is beyond obvious’ and remove low-quality content from our websites.

And this is the biggest content trend of all: the culling of poor-quality content is finally beginning to happen. And we can’t wait to see the results…