Search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing are often lumped together but those who are skilled in either area know they are two very different disciplines. However, you need to be able to have a competent knowledge of both to devise a strong digital strategy.
Let's start by clearly defining the two separate terms:
Implied by the term, content marketing is an umbrella term for any content that is being used for marketing purposes. This can be anything from whitepapers to infographics and even quizzes, but the most common format is blogs. These are commonly used to drive users from social media or browsing online to a company's website, from where they can then convert.
A key part of this is the marketing element, meaning you need to have goals, KPIs and metrics in place to measure your success and determine whether your current strategy is being effective.
SEO is a set of guidelines, dictated by search engine algorithms, that enable your content to perform well on search engine results pages (SERPs). Tackling SEO is largely about making sure Google (or your search engine of choice) recognizes your online content and understands it. As algorithms become more sophisticated and in-line with what readers want, they should be bridging the gap between businesses and their consumers.
Google updates its guidelines regularly so you'll need to keep evaluating your SEO strategy to see whether it still meets the necessary standard. There is no one metric that search engines champion but it can largely be broken down into two factors: relevance and authority.
Relevance usually requires optimizing your content to attract a specific segment of search users (which can be done using the right SEO tools), while authority is how trustworthy your online brand is by having a backlog of valuable content. The overall goal of SEO is to be rewarded by search engines by meeting their standards of value.
SEO vs Content marketing
As you can see, they are two very different terms relating to two very different elements of a digital marketing strategy but they are closely linked together. When content marketing first came to the front, many experts were concerned that it was the 'death of SEO' but the reality couldn't be further from the truth.
To conquer SEO you need to properly understand content marketing, and vice versa, so it's not really a matter of one versus the other but more how they complements each other. However, businesses who are being careful about their marketing spend want to know which area they should be investing in, so what's the answer?
Any online marketing specialist knows that you can't have one without the other and if your company is falling short on either side, it needs to fill that skills gap. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to find a single professional that has expertise in both SEO and content marketing but rather that you're asking for two specialities.
So why separate them?
The benefit of separating SEO and content marketing allows companies - and professionals - to understand them as two different disciplines rather than something that can be blended into one. They do have different goals and focuses and this is a key part of understanding them.
SEO's goal will always be to please search engines and to 'communicate' with them effectively, allowing them to be optimized. On the other hand, content marketing's main aim is to please specific consumers. A strong digital marketing strategy will achieve both simultaneously.
To develop a solid omni-channel content marketing strategy you need to understand the SEO guidelines that will dictate the performance of your content. SEO is a crucial element of any content marketing strategy as it optimizes valuable content that engages readers.
Think of SEO as your driving theory and content marketing as your practical test; you need both to be a competent driver but they are two very different skillsets.
The mistake most businesses make when grouping SEO and content marketing together is that they try to break down each discipline into a box-ticking exercise instead of seeing them both as elements of a successful digital marketing strategy.
Jason DeMers, Forbes and Huffington Post contributor, wrote:
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.
The goal of any digital strategy is to attract consumers to your website by offering them something that is of genuine value to them. You can then encourage them to convert through landing pages and journey through your buyer cycle. So it's much less about removing one from the other and more about finding a strategy that complements both of them and puts your consumer at the heart.