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August 4, 2014

Content Marketing or SEO: Which is Most Crucial?

Every season, it seems some new marketing trend surfaces, and people speculate whether it will replace SEO all together. Perhaps we’re all a little sick of the unknown and infinite process that is SEO; but try as we might, it really isn’t a replaceable task.

Content marketing may be a new and trendy phrase, but the practice itself is ancient. Online, it’s become the single most successful means of educating folks about your industry, product, and services. And while content marketing is integral to great SEO, it has not, and will not, replace it.

So how can the two best work together for maximum benefit? That’s the right question to explore.

Redefining SEO

Before we take on the task of merging SEO and content marketing, let’s first define what SEO means to the modern day marketer.

Author David Harry, in his landmark book It’s Time to Change the SEO Mindset, defines SEO by listing the different functions holistic SEO should include.

They are:

  • Keyword strategy
  • Page level tasks (template and contextual)
  • Site level tasks (internal link ratios, etc,)
  • Server level tasks (like redirects and xml sitemaps)
  • Monitoring tasks (Google webmaster tools, metrics analysis, etc.)
  • Forensic work (cleaning up ill performing pages and UI issues)]

Content marketing alone cannot tackle all of these crucial steps, so clearly, it’s in no position to replace SEO all together.

The Role of Content Marketing in Your Overall Strategy

Content is critical because it’s the mode in which most people learn that you exist. You express not only your goods and services through content, but also your brand’s entire identity, your overall mission, and the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of choosing your company. The content you produce provides value to your customers before they actually become your customers; it’s the motivation to choose you over all of your other competitors.

No matter how enlightening and impactful your content is, however, it’s useless if no one can find it. That’s where SEO steps in.

The Most Effective Way to Merge SEO and Content Marketing

How do these two different yet similar marketing strategies work together?

It all starts with keywords. Assuming you’ve taken the time and effort to produce worthy content, your next step, before publication ideally, is to clearly identify the most impactful and relevant search terms used by your audience.

Here are some suggested steps in tackling this task:

  1. First, make a comprehensive list of all the words you’ve seen your customers, staff, or competitors use to describe your goods and services
  2. Using the Google task bar, start to type each of these phrases, and take note on how Google wants to auto-complete your search terms. This tells you volumes about what is most popular with the initial words you are using.
  3. As you search for each term, comb through the top 10 results. Do you see key competitors? That’s a good thing; that means you’re on the right track. If you see directories or unrelated sites, you’re likely off base.
  4. Next, click on all the sites in the top 10 of your most relevant search terms. See what parts of the website you are directed to, and where / how they are utilizing the core keywords. Keep asking yourself whether any of this info or strategy would be impactful to your customers; see what your competitors are doing right, and start determining how to use these methods in your own efforts.
  5. Finally, create a few buyer personas that spell out your ideal customer in great detail. Then apply your top search terms to these personas, and determine which feel appropriate for each subset. Those terms that feel most universal are your top ranking terms; they have the highest likelihood of performing well for your content and SEO results.

The Impact of Keywords on Content Marketing

Keywords are important to your readers. They articulate your brand’s core focus, and give your audience the opportunity to feel resonance with your identity and offerings. Likewise, keywords are the means by which search engine bots categorize your content. They are in many ways the most important factor in the integration of SEO and content marketing.

The trick is to ensure you are speaking your demographic’s language, not your own. If your terms are never used in searches, it doesn’t matter how descriptive or accurate they are, they won’t succeed in generating leads. That’s why it’s insanely important to prove your keyword assumptions are in line with your audience’s searching trends.

Finally, remember this research applies to every kind of content you produce. From blogs to videos, webinars to white papers, keywords need to be integrated across the board. The more consistent you are, the more search engines will easily compartmentalize your expertise, and your rankings will rise accordingly.

I’ll leave you with a keyword caution for good measure: Don’t assume that all keywords are appropriate for all the content you create. Some will naturally fit the themes, but some most certainly won’t. Don’t ever just smatter your content with keywords in the hopes that your SEO will improve. If it doesn’t flow well to a human being, and very clearly connect to the meaning of the content, these keywords will do you more harm than good.

So there you have it; proof that content marketing isn’t replacing the fine art of SEO. While each discipline is separate and requires individual focus, it’s also obvious that they complement efforts on both sides, amplifying their mutual successes. Think of content marketing and SEO like chocolate and peanut butter – two great tastes that go great together.

What are some other ways you’ve successfully merged content marketing and SEO? Are there ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of each discipline by combining some of your efforts? Please share your insights!


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile