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Is Content Marketing The New SEO?



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Oct 22, 2015

If you Googled the title of this post, you’d get a lot of answers. You’d notice that there doesn’t seem to be a strong consensus one way or the other and that where an answer falls on the spectrum from yes to no has a lot to do with whether or not the author has the word “writer” in their title.

Given that, you probably expect my answer to be “YES!” But, you’d be wrong. And that’s because when done correctly, content marketing and SEO are two sides of the same coin. If you want to rock at one of them, it’s not possible without the other. Allow me to explain.

What’s What

When you think of SEO, right or wrong, you probably think of secret formulas, keywords and specific technical stuff like metadata and alt tags, etc. Some of that is due to the shady, pre-Penguin SEO practices of old when getting ahead in the search engines was really just a competition to see who could stuff more keywords where. While keywords, back links and basic best practices around back-end details like url structure and meta info still have a place in the bedrock of SEO, these days, the real action is the high quality content it’s all built to support.

Content marketing, on the other hand, IS that high quality content (easy to see why the two might be conflated, no?). The idea here is broader and more holistic in nature; basically boiling down to providing a steady stream of valuable information to your target audience who then:

  1. Begin to think of you as an expert resource
  2. Buy your product or service
  3. Promote your work on social media
  4. All of the above

There are two ways to succeed at content marketing according to this pure definition: One, you are one of about five businesses on the planet for whom search engine rankings are no object (you are not one of those businesses, btw) or Two, one of your pieces is struck by the metaphorical lightening that is “going viral” (for which there is NO way to plan).

A (Friendly) Family Feud

The divide is further complicated by the fact that the people working in content marketing and the people working in SEO are often not the same people. Ideally, they’re working together, but occupy separate roles on a marketing team. Why is that? I briefly mentioned Google’s Panda Update earlier and I think if you really want to understand the state of SEO and content marketing today, that’s probably where you should start.

In 2011, Google introduced a major adjustment to their algorithm called the Panda Update. Named after a cute, snuggly bear, Panda was anything but for junk sites with low-quality content that had been heretofore gaming the system to appear in top search results. Pretty quickly, sites that didn’t have the content chops to match their rankings saw their stature plummet—some temporarily (until necessary changes were made), some forever.

When Panda hit the scene, there was no such thing as content marketing. The people leading the charge in SEO were deep in the technical weeds, calling all the shots and churning out strange, stunted copy as an afterthought. Post-Panda, the roles have reversed a bit and the folks whose first priority is the content itself now have a place of honor at the table. It’s not an absolute rule, but these two interests/talents aren’t often aligned in the same person. Thus, you’ve got the content marketing specialist and the digital marketing expert working side-by-side, balancing each other/duking it out (just kidding! Sort of).

So What’s The Verdict?

Despite the politics, the bottom line is this: SEO cannot exist without content marketing. Content marketing can exist without SEO, but shouldn’t. Success at one requires both.

Have questions or feel like arguing (politely, of course)? Contact me directly or start a thread in the comments!

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