SEO vs. Content Marketing Debate

Content Marketing Rule No. 1: Create for Quality First, SEO Strategy Second


The day Google released the Panda algorithm update was a good day for content marketers. The company, which prides itself on giving consumers the best of what the Internet has to offer, confirmed the importance of quality content in SEO strategy.

“Our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google’s current ranking algorithms or signals,” the company said in a blog post from 2011.

Years later, the implications of the Panda update still linger as marketers wonder if technical know-how is still required to inch up to the top of SERPs. Does Panda mean that the content creation process would stop feeling like a word game driven by the search engine gods? Could marketers focus solely on creating stories that their audience would enjoy, rather than answering to a list? The answer seems to be yes and no: To break through the noise, marketers must deliver a good experience to consumers. Quality content is one part of that, and SEO is the other.

“It takes a while to build up search credibility,” said Andrew Wheeler, vice president of strategic services at Skyword. “Having good content is not enough. Without mapping that content to search, you lose a big opportunity.”

Although Google’s algorithm changes may seem like a hurricane to marketers, the company’s mission to deliver the best content based on consumers’ requests has stayed the same throughout each storm. Therefore, brands’ top goal should be creating a seamless user experience and telling interesting, relevant stories to their audiences.

Setting the FoundationSetting the Foundation: Website Health and User Experience

Content and SEO work better when supporting each other. Just as a leather reclining chair loses its warmth if it’s not placed in a heated living room, the best piece of content will fail without the support of a strong website and keyword mapping. Wheeler compares building an online presence to building a house: Many components—from the foundation to the kitchen stools—must come together and be maintained in order for you to feel at home.

Wheeler, who with his team at Skyword builds online destinations for brands that attract new audiences through original storytelling, recommends assessing the state of the website first to ensure the user experience will enhance the content.

  • Is the site new or does it have a history?
  • Does the brand already have credibility in search? If so, what kinds of keywords is it ranking for?
  • Do any technical hindrances exist, like broken links or duplicate content?

Auditing the state of the site and implementing recommended changes will ensure the consumers have a pleasant experience, and in turn, increase its search ranking.

Setting the InteriorThe Interior: From Keywords to Creation, Know Your Audience

When it comes to delivering a digital experience that reaches new audiences, SEO and content go hand-in-hand. SEO gives us a lens into what our audience needs and offers a framework for meeting those needs. For brands working to grow their audience of young mothers, tools like Google AdWords help figure out when this group starts planning for Thanksgiving or budgeting for holiday shopping, and assess the resources and advice they are looking for in order to stay calm throughout the process.

Although the optimization process should keep marketers accountable for giving the audience the information they are looking for, keywords do not have to stifle creativity. Jay Acunzo, VP of platform at NextView Ventures who shares his insight on content marketing on his blog, stresses the importance of writing for humans, not bots. “I work hard to know my customers better than anyone—meeting with them, reading about the industry, listening to and addressing their questions,” he said. That personal knowledge and research should drive the content and SEO strategy, while keyword metrics provide additional color.

Besides using the WordPress Yoast SEO plugin, which optimizes pages for content, image titles, meta descriptions, and more, Acunzo does not bend his writing process in the name of SEO standards. With 70 percent of traffic coming from posts that generate views weeks and months after their publication date, his SEO strategy is working.

Content optimized for search will thrive there, and the better the content is, the more credit brands will receive in Google’s eyes. Building in the steps into the revision process to optimize the final content piece will allow brands to add greater depth and reach to their stories.

Repair, AffirmRepair, Renew, and Affirm

Roger Ebert referred to the Internet as “a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.” It’s true: We live in a digital world with billions of pieces of information flying around. The marketer’s job is to solidify the brand’s place within the library, and ensure that even as interests change and platforms evolve, the brand’s message continues to rise.

This is where SEO and content work together on an ongoing basis: SEO affirms relevant topics through keyword research, and content fulfills those needs. When the two work together, the brand’s visibility and authority in the market will increase. Neil Patel, CEO of Kissmetrics, referred to the two as peanut butter and jelly: Both taste great on their own, but their exceptional joint partnership is what drives us to continually combine them.

For brands to make a place for themselves in the digital clutter, we need to stop talking about what components of digital marketing are most important. The challenge isn’t in choosing one or the other, but in building a synergy between the platforms and assets and ensuring that brands are customer-driven, not tactic-driven.

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