If you’ve been plugged into the world of online marketing in the past decade, you’ve heard the terms “SEO” and “content marketing” used pretty frequently. Moreover, they seem to be used by the same types of people, in the same context, and referring to very similar strategies.
If you’re new to the online marketing industry, this can all be a bit confusing. Even if you’re experienced, you might have trouble drawing a line between the two concepts. On some level, this is fine; content marketing and SEO are two tightly interwoven strategies. But if you want to get the most out of each dimension of your online marketing, you should know where each begins and ends.
The High Level View on Content
Let’s start by defining the goals and techniques of content marketing. Essentially, the idea is to create “valuable” content for your customers to consume; valuable, here, could refer to content that’s practical, informative, entertaining, or otherwise useful. The type of content doesn’t matter so much — it could be in the form of blog posts, whitepapers, infographics, videos, podcasts, or even the paragraphs you use to populate the pages of your main site (here’s a list of 101 content ideas).
The goal is to naturally attract people to your site by giving them something they want (usually for free), and then persuade them to convert by making a soft pitch for your products and services.
The High Level View on SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a series of tactics meant to increase your site’s rankings in search engines, including the individual pages within that site. Search engines rank pages based on two broad categories of factors: relevance and authority. Increasing relevance usually means customizing your content to appeal to a certain segment of search users, while increasing authority means making your site more trustworthy by creating better content and earning links.
The goal is to increase your visibility in search engines by complying with search engines’ expectations and ranking methods.
Content marketing and SEO share the same space frequently because they both share the same implicit goal; to get more people to your site. They also share a mechanism; content marketing is capable of generating an audience by appealing to readers and spreading through social shares and word of mouth, but it’s also a necessary ingredient for SEO.
The relationship unfolds in several dimensions:
· Content provides the medium for keyword optimization. Content presents an easy opportunity to include specific keywords throughout your site, or target niches that would be appealing to your ideal audience.
· Content adds new pages that can be ranked. Each new piece of content you develop is another page that Google can index. While quantity alone isn’t enough to increase your rankings, this does give you more potential targets, and a more diverse range of keywords to rank for.
· Good content increases your authority. If your content is high quality, it can also increase your authority, nudging your rankings even higher. Detailed, valuable content attracts more inbound links, and also influences user experience factors that can increase this metric.
On the other side of the equation, optimizing for search can help your content generate more visibility more quickly. If you have a steady stream of organic traffic, your readership can grow much faster, and all those calls-to-action will suddenly become more valuable.
So where does this overlap end? Speaking broadly, SEO tends to focus on attracting users by first appealing to search engines and climbing the ranks. Content marketing tends to focus on appealing to users directly, which, in turn, appeals to SEO.
You can argue that SEO’s primary goal should be pleasing users, but the real focus for SEO is search engines, and the real focus for content marketing is user experience.
You’ll also need to consider:
· Technical SEO. Technical SEO is a specific area of SEO that has nothing to do with content marketing. It includes things like optimizing your site for mobile devices, improving site speed, creating and submitting XML sitemaps, organizing and optimizing your site navigation structure, and finding crawl errors and duplicate content. Though some of these tactics can peripherally involve content, the quality of the content doesn’t generally factor in.
· Inbound links. Your content may attract some links naturally, but if you start taking manual efforts to attract or build links on your own, you’ll start venturing into SEO territory. Inbound links generate referral traffic, but their main source of power is passing authority, which is necessary to rank in search engines.
· Reader experience. Though user experience does have an effect on rankings, optimization for reader experience is the realm of content marketing. If you’re writing with your users in mind, rather than on what search engines want to see, you’re leaning toward the content end of the spectrum.
· Conversions. SEO will get traffic to your site, but it doesn’t have the power to secure immediate conversions. Content marketing does more for your campaign once visitors are actually on your site, learning about your brand, and potentially reaching out or buying something.
Finding the Balance
If you want a comprehensive online marketing strategy, you need both SEO and content marketing working in conjunction with one another. It’s hard to have one strictly without dabbling in the other (intentionally or unintentionally), so rather than making a firm choice, your job as a marketer is to find the balance — covering both ends of the spectrum.
If you’re more interested in attracting visitors, SEO should be your main priority. If you’re more concerned about building a lasting reputation or converting visitors once they get to your site, content marketing related tactics are going to be more beneficial to pursue. In the end, a healthy balance of SEO and content marketing is key to success.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!