The year was 2009: content marketers were focused on establishing guest blogging relationships, expanding websites with keyword specific content hubs, and pushing text-heavy whitepapers behind an email gate. Content truly was king and talented writers were in high demand. In a world centered around  competing for a search ranking, it made sense to market not only for the viewer, but for the bots and rich text was the best food for search bots at the time.

But in that same year demand began growing for a new type of content: the infographic. This piece of visual content wasn't new, but it also wasn't a popular digital marketing asset. Why would it be? It wasn't crawlable, it couldn't contain in-line links without the expense of added code, and the very nature of a standalone design didn't allow for a robust deep dive into a targeted keyword.

This isn't to say that visual content wasn't a part of a marketer's arsenal, but simply to point out that text was our primary weapon and anything lacking rich text seemed moot. Savvy marketers, on the other hand, recognized that  content needs were changing. Even though search engines couldn't crawl it, audiences were craving -- and widely sharing -- images.

When It Came to Visual Content, Early Adopters Had Tunnel Vision

Recognizing an opportunity for backlinks, many content farms jumped on the bandwagon, spamming the internet with poorly produced infographics to grow their PageRank. Over the next few years though, consumer expectations shifted and search algorithms improved. The links dried up and those same early adopters abandoned the tactic rather than evolving it.

But treating visual media as a one trick pony misses the point entirely. The popularity of infographics didn't grow just from the demand of content farms hoping for links, it grew out of the consumer demand for more engaging content. Marketers that understood this, have spent the last decade learning from the misconceptions of others, improving their execution and commitment to quality, and are now uniquely positioned to lead in today's age of content.

It's Not Just About Backlinks Anymore

Content marketing isn't about backlinks anymore, it's about connecting with your end audience in the most engaging and efficient ways possible. Studies show that pairing short-form text with universal imagery increases comprehension by 89 percent when compared to just reading text alone. In addition, as the growth of media channels have segmented attention spans, today's consumers read less and less. They want snackable media over reading assignments. Simply relying on text-based marketing tactics no longer equals success and are outdated at best. Today, 67 percent of all communication online is visual in nature and by 2018, Cisco predicts that this will catapult to 84 percent.

To succeed in the visual communication age, marketers need to expand their tactics across myriad media. A single piece of visual content won't move the needle like it used to. Successful marketers combine over a dozen pieces of visual media into a single campaign to engage audiences, grow leads, and ultimately build brands.

Visual Content Marketing is The New Content Marketing

As you consider your marketing calendar for 2018, plan to produce eBooks, animated video, interactive content, memes, gifs, and infographics at regular intervals. But when doing so, remember that 94 percent of first impressions (of your brand, service, or product) are based entirely on the design of the visual content you deliver (according to a multi-university study by Northumbria and Sheffield University). Let your content display a commitment to quality and authority versus a commitment to fast and cheap.

Visual content marketing was abused very early in its lifetime leading some to question its validity. But those who focused on quality over quantity not only see huge success today, they have continued to adapt and expand their visual content offerings to essentially future proof their marketing strategy. Today, visual content marketing is the new content marketing. If it's not your number one focus in 2018, you're living in the past.