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The Truth About Content Marketing & SEO

Posted on May 30th, 2013
Written by Lee Odden
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    SEO tunnel visionOver the past few years, there’s been a tremendous focus on content creation in the search and overall digital marketing world. Once you get past the hype, there are plenty of well documented case studies showing the ROI of a content marketing approach.

    Unfortunately, content marketing campaigns are often guilty of paying little more than cursory attention to the optimization of digital assets for search. There might be a “keywords” or “SEO” check box on a task list, but it’s not anything that takes full advantage of search based discovery. The content might be engaging and inspire action, but good luck finding it on a search engine.

    Why is this? It can be a mix of factors ranging from the ambiguity of SEO cause and effect to prioritizing tactics according to the ability to implement and understand how to measure their impact.

    The flip side is when SEO and popular keywords drive the entirety of a content creation effort. When the focus is on aligning all assets and tactics for attracting buyers via search – it can be at the expense of content quality and the customer experience.

    This debate is not new at all:

    What good is great content if no one can find it? How useful is findable content when it doesn’t engage and persuade?

    For whatever reason, many marketers tend to gravitate towards extremes: “All SEO All the Time” or “Content: More, More, More”. One of the biggest myths propagated by the SEO world’s definition of content marketing is that it simply means creating more content. This flawed approach has gained momentum due to hyper-promotion by SEO consultants trying to differentiate themselves. Attention and budget are being taken away from core SEO programs, creating more than a little hostility towards the “more” definition of content marketing.

    The thing is, most Digital Marketers do not see content marketing as simply creating more content.

    Here’s my definition: Content Marketing is the thoughtful creation of content designed for a specific audience to inspire a particular outcome. It is often mapped to the information needs of a target audience segment during the customer journey from Awareness, to Purchase to Advocacy.

    Content Marketing is infinitely more than just creating more blog posts, videos and infographics. Content Marketing is not a “subset” of SEO either. A strategic approach integrates content marketing and SEO as appropriate to the audience and objectives, not according to the capabilities of the agency.

    For brand marketers that are tasked with month over month increases in web sourced customer acquisition and revenue, prioritization of resources is the reality. It’s not just about the tactics, but about the things that can actually be implemented and move the needle.

    Content Marketing Strategy has to factor in all digital channels as well as offline where appropriate because the focus isn’t solely on a search engine. It’s on the customer. Customers don’t just use search for finding solutions. Search is hugely important during the customer journey, of course. But it’s not the only touchpoint.

    The only thing worse than no SEO at all, is ALL SEO.

    Ignoring the contribution of search for attracting visitors that are actively looking for your information is a huge mistake. At the same time, ignoring content marketing simply defined as “more content” and focusing only on SEO is also a mistake. Search engines don’t buy products, people do. Market to the people!

    There’s no arguing that Search Engine Optimization can be a specialist’s game, especially when dealing with technical SEO or issues related to having been delisted and requiring link cleanup and re-inclusion work. Speaking of which, there is no better indictment of the SEO industry and its reputation than having to pay a SEO agency to clean up the consequences of previous SEO work – especially when Google has been pretty clear about webspam and SEO tactics that violate Google guidelines.

    I’d like to think those times are past us and that modern SEO is more aligned with a holistic approach to digital marketing than risky shortcuts.

    More content isn’t better unless it’s meaningful and findable.

    Most companies have minimal content creation in their marketing mix, so creating more content will always be a part of improving their online marketing. SEO can play an important role in content marketing strategy by informing topics, content organization, message and promotion to achieve the findability objective. Of course the broader notion of optimization means furthering the goal to conversions as well – i.e. the performance of the content as a marketing asset.

    As competitive and dynamic as the web is today, I can’t imagine how anything but a collaborative and integrated approach to content marketing and search engine optimization can win. That’s the truth.

    Image: Shutterstock