Written by Jonathan Heinl of SEO Savvy.
Currently, there are about 1.5 billion websites on the Internet today. Around 380 new websites are created every minute.[i] That is an incomprehensible amount of virtual space, and growing! How can a business owner or marketing team hope to compete in this literally endless marketplace?
You’ve got to get your SEO and your content marketing strategies together under one roof.
If your website is your virtual storefront, SEO is the architecture of the building—and the pathways leading to the building. SEO places digital signposts across the web to attract the right customers.
Content marketing is the showroom—and everything in and around it—that demonstrates a compelling picture of who you are, what you have to offer, and how your products or services can be beneficial to your customer.
You need both: a technical blueprint and a compelling, substantial presentation. In every piece of online marketing material, SEO and content marketing should both be part of the equation, working together and complementing each other.
In other words, SEO and content marketing go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.
Why SEO Needs Content Marketing and Vice Versa
SEO essentially optimizes a web page on the back end to increase the likelihood of ranking well in search results for targeted topics or keywords.
For example, SEO addresses HTML structure, website architecture, anchor text and keyword usage, meta-descriptions and tags, and internal and inbound links. Optimizing these many small yet important details for clearly identified search phrases makes it easier for Google’s spiders to accurately deliver a web page to a user searching for that topic. SEO is highly important to getting content seen on the web!
Design is also important. User experience is important. Ecommerce setup is important. But none of this matters without the beating heart of the website—content.
Content is the heart of a website, pumping blood to the circulatory system. Links are like the veins that connect each separate limb of a website to each other. One focus of SEO is creating a linking strategy for optimal results, such as leading users to a landing page designed to convert. Content runs through everything.
We want to make sure a business website and all of its external content is integrated and functioning well to both serve users and drive business.
Both of these examples so far—the house and the circulatory system—have something in common: they are integrated systems. You can’t separate the pillars from the house and expect it to stand. You can’t break apart the heart and the veins and expect to survive.
SEO and content marketing are intertwined. Content is the substance and SEO is the structure. Both are necessary if you want to increase your website traffic from potential customers across the web.
SEO, Content Marketing—and Google
In the early days of Google, a digital marketer might have been able use primarily SEO strategies to get a website to rank at the top of a SERP—with or without stellar content. Not so today.
As the Internet has grown and matured, Google has evolved as well. The world’s largest search engine has been a huge force in shaping the way websites are ranked and delivered to users.
Google’s waves of algorithmic updates over the years have made their intentions clear time and time again: prioritize valuable content. First and foremost, content should exist to serve users, either by entertaining, informing or educating them.
To paraphrase Google’s guidelines, content that performs well on the web answers users’ questions, engages users, proposes new ideas, shares insights and expertise, is well-researched, is well-optimized, is easy to read, and is unique.
Quality content tends to survive the test of time, while subpar content is eventually swept into obscurity.
There are no shortcuts: produce quality content. Or don’t produce content at all.
SEO and Content Marketing Done Right
Content has always been the main engine driving 20th century marketing: ads, slogans, jingles, photos, images, videos, etc. In today’s 21st century hyper-connected tech world, content marketing is focused on winning users’ trust and showing them you are a business that can make their lives better through powerfully compelling content online.
Modern attention spans are so short and people are bombarded by ads constantly. Content that shares information rather than sells is the name of the content marketing game. People don’t want to be advertised to everywhere they go. They search online for information that can help them feel better, achieve more, learn something, solve a problem, or make a decision.
You can help your potential customers make a purchasing decision by offering valuable information that answers their questions.
On the web, content is everything from written copy to images to videos to titles and more. Robust content that shares something unique, interesting or helpful always gets more views, more clicks, more likes, and ultimately more traffic than content that lacks originality, quality and value.
There’s just no getting around it: SEO needs outstanding content.
But content also needs SEO. Even the best content out there can go to waste, withering away in cyberspace with no eyes on it. Like they say about trees, if no one sees your content, does it really exist?
SEO is more than just a technical practice for ranking in search; it is also a valuable research strategy for content production.
A search mindset takes into account the interactions between searchers, search engines, and content. Researching who your online audiences are and what types of questions they are asking is essential information to inform your content production.
Content marketers that lack a basic knowledge of SEO may find themselves shooting in the dark, producing content they think people want, just to find out no one cares about that topic. Unfortunately, bypassing search research can too often lead to content efforts that won’t actually grow a business (and in fact end up wasting time and resources).
Your audience has questions. They are asking these questions online using search engines. You can find out what those questions are through keyword research, and then craft irresistible content around those questions to assuage their fears, provide solutions, offer options, and educate them about a topic in your field.
Ultimately, the informed user is more likely to convert to a customer.
Keyword research can illuminate which topics a target audience is actually searching for, validating your content ideas through evidence. It’s this type of audience-focused, search-informed content that drives results.
If you’re doing content marketing right, you’re effectively answering user questions, building brand awareness, building rapport with a target audience, and offering research-backed content to expand your reach online to the people who care about what you have to offer.
The SEO and Content Marketing Sandwich
If we want to truly understand how SEO and content marketing complement each other, we can think of them as two essential parts of a digital marketing sandwich. (The third and final SEO/content marketing metaphor!)
Here we go. Your content is the main attraction: the meat, patty, or protein. SEO is the bread that holds it all together. Add whichever condiments and flourishes you like to make it even heartier: social media, email marketing, paid ads, etc.
Imagine this sandwich could go on forever: bread, meat, condiments, then another layer of bread, meat, condiments, and again, and again. This is how the practice of SEO and content marketing unfolds in real time. For example:
- SEO: First, you build the structure of your website using all those particular SEO techniques we already talked about. You research keywords, build your site architecture, optimize your pages and get ready to fill it all in with content.
- Content: Then, you fill in the website with content, using SEO-informed page titles, subheadings and keyword-focused copy.
- SEO: Once your website is complete and optimized, you can start to expand your content marketing efforts by using search research to identify the questions your audiences are asking online.
- Content: With some SEO-informed content titles, you can then create a whole bunch of strategic content designed to connect with your customers and add value to their lives.
- SEO: After content is created, you can go back and optimize the content when publishing for all those juicy SEO tidbits, like tags, categories, meta-descriptions and formatting, that help search engines label and deliver it.
Forget the Subway footlong. Continue this layering process and you have the magnificent, endlessly long and never-ending SEO/content marketing sandwich.
This an ongoing practice of thinking deeply about what type of content your audience wants, validating those ideas with evidence from search, and then producing content that aims to make the world just a little bit better for the people who could benefit from working with you or buying from you.
And don’t we want to improve our customers’ lives? At the end of the day, marrying SEO and content marketing is not just a smart digital marketing strategy but also a forward-thinking and purposeful business approach that will keep you competitive and savvy in a changing social world where trust and value are increasingly synonymous with success.
Trends will change. Your audience will shift. Your business will evolve. If you can adopt a search mindset and create content that is truly meant to help people, you are well equipped to future-proof your company through any digital evolution.