Every content creator should think seriously about how their audiences discover new content in the first place. After all, the future of how we make and tell stories depends on audiences being able to find those stories in the first place.

For some creators, looking at your audience’s content discovery process will be a chilling wake-up call. You might lack any ownable channels to reach the people who care, for instance. For others, the future will look brighter than ever before—because audiences are always looking for something. Google alone processes upward of 5.5 billion content searches every day. 

The big challenge is that content discovery is in a state of perpetual flux. Furthermore, every aspect of discovery changes as new trends emerge in search engine optimization (SEO), content curation, algorithmic recommendations, first-party data access and on down the line. The result is that whether you’re searching for new stories, music, videos, brand recommendations, shopping options or educational content, this ongoing evolution will keep changing how you find what you’re looking for—and how you find things you didn’t plan on. 

Here are three key content discovery trends you can expect to see over the next decade, along with actionable insights into how brands can ride this wave of changes. 

1. Audiences will embrace content curation

To talk about the advent of user-favored content curation, it’s important to distinguish between the two main umbrellas of the content discovery process.

One main content discovery avenue is search—where you set out to find a specific answer or type of information by actively looking for it. The easiest way to search is of course by querying a search engine, whether you’re asking your phone to conjure up directions, typing a specific query in DuckDuckGo or searching Amazon for a new product (and yes, Amazon is a search engine).

Audiences of all types also spend an enormous amount of time consuming content they did not seek out. Think of this as curated discovery. The curated discovery experience involves being in a position to find stories, offers and information you didn’t necessarily set out to consume in the first place. Social media feeds are just such a place. Channel subscriptions, playlists, subreddits, and Google Discover are also instances where curated discovery works.

Most consumers insist that they’re courageously independent, but the fact remains that something is curating the content they encounter and subsequently consume. It often starts with search engines indexing that content and continues as search engine results pages (SERPs) refine recommendations based on consumer engagement data—click-through rates, bounce rates, dwell time and, most of all, whether searchers then continue their search after the point of consumption.

As such, content search and curated discovery are integrally fused—more on that topic later—although it’s tempting to talk as if there’s a clear line between the two. In both cases, the audience wants something. There’s just a difference in what they want or how conscious their desire is at the time.

Thus, user intent varies quite a bit between search and curated discovery, and that intent makes all the difference in people’s ability to find what they’re looking for.

GROWTH OF CONSCIOUS CURATION

Whether knowingly or not, most consumers already rely on curated channels to find content that is educational, newsworthy, entertaining and personally relevant. Newspapers are an old model of this phenomenon. Email subscriptions, Discord channels and social media feeds are current examples, with TikTok standing out as the most notable platform for user-embraced content curation today.

That’s not to say people don’t actively go to TikTok to search as well. Some search experts believe TikTok is more valuable as a search engine than Google. But the majority of users’ hour-and-a-half per day on TikTok is spent consuming content that is sent to them by algorithmic recommendation.

Most consumers are cool with this. In fact, 85% of TikTok users like the content they’re finding.

WHAT DOES THE RISE OF CONTENT CURATION MEAN FOR BRANDS?

Brands can take several steps to make the most of audience-embraced curation.

  • Ensure that your inbound marketing strategies—especially strategies around SEO and organic search—support content discovery through curated channels as well. Hint: Google doesn’t index everything; no single search engine can pull everything together yet. You don’t need to be present on every platform, but to meet your audience’s content needs and preferred timing, you do need to be findable through both organic search and curated discovery.
  • We’re seeing ongoing interest in human curation, such as LinkedIn’s experiments with human-fashioned content feeds. Your brand can provide that human touch as well, such as through branded newsletters and social media communities.
  • You can also augment your human-led curation by bringing AI into your tech stack, combining both personal and data-driven strategies to fuel content curation for your audiences.
  • Last but not least, keep a weather eye on social proof. Algorithmic proof might seem like the real goal, but search engines tend to like—and recommend—content that humans liked first.

2. Ease of consumption will offset audience intent

Some content consumption is intentional. Thanks to social feeds, push notifications and other forms of media bombardment, we also consume plenty of content without planning to do so.

The easier it is to engage, the more likely the audience is to proceed—whether or not they intended in advance to consume any content. This is especially important to keep in mind when your content might a) come unexpectedly to new audiences (not via dedicated search) or b) interrupt the user’s experience.

For example, no one suddenly pauses in their workday because their Leo Tolstoy app reminded them to read War and Peace before the next meeting starts. However, plenty of people pause to check a notification from Discord, Instagram, Reddit or TikTok and to consume intriguing content they discover through these platforms.

The issue isn’t that no one reads doorstopper novels or consumes other huge pieces of content. It’s just that the threshold to play is so much higher there—and it’s so easy to watch one TikTok (or 20), because they’re short, digestible, multimodal and accessible. This is another reason so many creators have invested in multiepisode, multiseason content rather than golden age Hollywood-style storytelling: Break points make the content more manageable.

Marketing is always at risk of feeling like an interruption. But relevant content that promises only a small or smile-worthy break will still win the day again and again.

WHAT DO NEW CONTENT CONSUMPTION PATTERNS MEAN FOR BRANDS?

When you’re using branded content to interrupt a user’s normal experience, keep your content digestible, accessible and relevant. When you’re crafting branded content to truly meet a searcher’s needs, the equation is different. It’s not so much of an interruption to fill out a web form when you’re on a quest for information—though the web form should still be logical, user-friendly and easy to complete. Likewise, it’s not so heavy a lift to listen to an in-depth interview or read a 15-page white paper if you’re finding authoritative answers to your earnest question.

In sum:

  • If you want your audience to change directions, give them an easy starting point.
  • If you want to meet search intent, create content that does so clearly and distinctively, even if the result is lengthy and complex.
  • Simplifying the user journey will always yield rich results.

3. Content search and curation will overlap more than ever before

It might never be possible to cultivate a strong brand presence on every platform. The good news is that the rise of content curation means that there’s now less need to try and more value in thriving on the right platforms for your audiences to find you both via search and curated discovery.

As an example, Google is continuously evolving its ability to help people find content without entering a search query or viewing SERPs. Google and other traditional search engines will continue to evolve their voice, image and multisearch capabilities to accomplish this kind of preemptive service, securing incredible new power to reach global audiences who are not actually using their search engine in the moment of discovery and engagement.

Social media platforms like Facebook—which processes nearly 40% as many searches as Google itself, at more than 2 billion per day—have been trying for more than a decade to accomplish the same thing in reverse order. The key is that platforms with volumes of search data have more first-party data to inform passive discovery, shopability, ad revenue and other engagement markers.

In tandem with this overlap between search and content discovery, platforms like Netflix, Twitch and YouTube are vigorously evolving their models to support content creators. We’re seeing greater symbiosis between platforms and creators because creators are less dependent on any one platform now, incentivizing platform operators to share value more equitably with the creators that attract audiences in the first place.

HOW DOES THE EVOLUTION OF SEARCH AND DISCOVERY IMPACT BRANDS?

The growing overlap of content search and curated discovery has bearings on how brands approach their websites, social media presence, paid media campaigns and overall community engagement. Here are a few top takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Expand your strategic definitions around content discovery. SEO isn’t going away. It’s simply spanning new forms of content discovery.
  • Remember that to be discovered, content must be consumable. If consumers can’t get through it and leave disappointed, search engines and human curators alike won’t recommend it in the future.
  • Audience microsegments and niches are on the rise. Brands should shape their strategies to connect with niche audiences through both passive and active channels of content discovery.
  • Audiences of all sorts will find more content they like with less effort. This reinforces the need for brands to do more than ever to avoid being interruptive in their marketing efforts.

GOOD NEWS FOR SEO, SOCIAL AND CONTENT TEAMS

A win in search will almost always lead to a win in passive discovery and vice versa. At the end of the day, good content will merit engagement, whether people find it through organic search or a curated feed.

So, the trick is still to make good content and to ensure it’s discoverable—and that won’t change anytime soon.

Let’s talk content strategy