“Just create great content.”
It’s a notion you’ve probably heard before: the idea that the solution to every business’s search engine problems is to focus on creating content that their customers love.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has repeatedly iterated that Google wants business owners to focus on creating great content, going so far as to say:
“Even if you do brain-dead stupid things and shoot yourself in the foot, but have good content, we still want to return it,” going on to say that Google works hard to try to make it so that businesses don’t even need to do SEO to rank well.
Case closed, right? If Google’s goal is to serve up the best content regardless of search engine optimization, then in theory, all you need to do is publish.
Simple! Never pay for SEO again! SEO is dead!
But wait — what about this, taken from the official webmaster central blog?
“Google has said before that search engine optimization, or SEO, can be positive and constructive… “White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines.”
That certainly seems to be not only a favorable review, but an absolute endorsement for SEO services from a search engine that’s long had a tenuous relationship with SEOs.
That begs all kinds of questions: Is SEO really necessary, or should you just focus on creating content? Is content marketing really just another part of SEO? Or, is it the other way around — is SEO just a part of content marketing?
Talk about head spinning. Let’s sort it out.
First, what is search engine optimization, really?
At its most basic, SEO deals with two different elements of ranking well in search engines: the technical side of websites (coding, architecture, crawlability) and the on-page factors (keywords and content).
That first part, the technical elements, are a clue as to why SEO remains so important even in the age where content marketing is the golden goose.
While the goal of SEO might be a rather ambiguous “improve search rankings,” the mechanics of making that happen are well defined.
Most people know you need links to rank well (which is where the initial push for content marketing came from — more on that in a moment), but behind the scenes are myriad factors.
But it goes beyond that.
In addition to making websites accessible to both users and search engines and improving things like site speed, an SEO needs to be a bit of an architect, understanding how to organize your content and arrange it so that Google can properly interpret its topicality/semantics and determine its relevance.
Here is where SEOs play more of a content strategy role, helping you figure out what needs to be created and where it needs to live, in addition to things like managing your internal linking and anchor text.
This will mean the difference, for example, between shoving all of your services onto a single page and building targeted landing pages based on search queries, user intent, and natural language.
These technical elements are things that content marketing alone could NEVER take care of, but they profoundly impact your user experience and bottom line.
So Wait — Isn’t Content Marketing Just SEO, Then?
Here’s the tricky part: It is… and it isn’t.
Content marketing is a great way to build links and influence onsite metrics, both critical parts of SEO that will impact rankings.
As SEOs realized that their manipulative link building schemes really could get them in trouble, content marketing was looked to as a new form of link building — a way to naturally attract links without raising Google’s ire — and that’s where the wires started to be crossed.
People started to believe content marketing was just link building with a slightly longer name.
(Side note: There is still plenty of legitimate link building to be had, and link building itself is a different service than content marketing. Read Jarrod’s post “SEO 101: Does Link Building Still Work?” for more info!)
And of course, you need content to rank and target keywords, so content itself is a critical element of SEO.
Since then, online marketers have woken up to the fact that rankings and links are just one very small function of content marketing. In fact, if the only reason you’re creating content to begin with is for SEO purposes, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Yes, content marketing is great for building links, and it’s also great for targeting keywords — two functions distinctly belonging to SEO. But then, it’s also used for so much more: creating and capturing leads, nurturing the lead funnel, building a brand. To call content marketing a simple function of SEO would be giving it too small a definition.
In fact, you could even argue that SEO, or making content “SEO friendly,” is just one small part of content marketing!
So, it’s a bit of a snake eating its tail:
- SEO focuses on making your content relevant and accessible to search engines, and SEO-based research can help you determine what needs to be published to determine visibility.
- Content marketing focuses on creating and proliferating that content, with search engine friendliness as just one of several considerations throughout that process.
- In turn, your content should earn links, making your SEO more effective.
Great SEO is a part of what makes your content great, and great content is part of what makes for great SEO!
Given the Competition Level, One Will Never Be Enough
While there’s still plenty of untapped potential in online marketing, the amount of awareness and investment in SEO and content marketing has done nothing but increase over the past few years. Those who are really cleaning up in search are doing so because they’ve invested in both the website-improving power of SEO and the magnetic attraction of content marketing.
Put all your eggs in just one basket, and you’re effectively doing half of the things your most successful competitors are.
Simplified: Yes, You Need Both — Because Both Accomplish Different Things
The two can overlap and support each other, but neither one is a suitable replacement for the other because they each can help you achieve separate but equally important goals.
No amount of content will solve a bad website architecture, but a perfectly built website is nothing without the content to pull people in.
So the next time you read, “Just create great content,” smile, nod, and high-five your SEO. While content might be king, it’s nothing without a solid throne to sit on.
Need help creating effective content that also meets your SEO goals?
Creating content that resonates at the right points in the sales funnel and is optimized to attract the right prospects is the key to a successful digital marketing campaign. Digital Current’s team has over a decade of experience making digital marketing campaigns perform at the maximum, giving you more performance and more conversions for your sales funnel.