Should SEOs become Content Marketers?

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  • May 31, 2013
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Director of Search

Earlier this month the Guardian claimed that Google “has tired of its old friend SEO and is instead cosying-up to the new kid on the block, content marketing.” SEO is still a friend to Google and one it can’t live without, no matter how much it thinks it can…and content marketing is no “new kid on the block” – it’s just new on the search engine circuit.

Despite the author of the Guardian article (Jonathan Piggins of DBD Media) suggesting that “SEO now requires a much more varied skill set…something more akin to high quality writing and PR,” this is not necessarily the truth. Search engines still want to rank sound websites and plenty of massive brands would benefit more from some canonical tags on their website than a content marketing strategy that amounts to the same bill.

Today’s technical SEOs don’t necessarily need to become the Content Marketers of tomorrow any more than they need to learn how to become designers. Unless you’re a freelancer, you don’t need to hold all the cards yourself and if you do know how to write ‘awesome frickin’ content’ as well as writing code then you’ll probably be commanding an impressive fee.

If you saw Branded3’s Head of Search, Tim Grice, at BrightonSEO, or Branded3’s digital marketing seminar in March, you’ll have heard him say that links most likely aren’t the difference if you’re already ranking well.

The sites that head up most of Google’s search results don’t necessarily have the most links, or even the best links; they might just be the best sites. It seems that no amount of great links or great content will push a site into the top three if it just isn’t a great experience in itself and that’s why SEOs still perform a vital role.

Is content marketing a reaction to black hat SEO?

Much like we in the SEO industry have assumed the phrase ‘Big Data’ to mean “the things we measure now Google is getting better at keeping things from us”, it’s equally tempting to dismiss ‘content marketing’ as the digital marketing community reacting to Google’s liberally applied penalties and detaching ourselves from previous SEO tactics that really shouldn’t have worked in the first place.In essence, it’s just another buzzword adopted by the White Knights who want to make sure nobody thinks they’re doing spam.

The reality is that SEO and what we (the SEO industry) call ‘content marketing’ are two different things, although the aim is broadly similar. Link building, online PR and now content marketing all fall under the umbrella of search engine optimisation. Arguably, content marketing falls more under Google’s remit – create great content and people will link to you naturally. Online PR is simply a way to leverage that content to get links, but people do PR even when links aren’t involved, which is why it’s not gaming Google.

As recently as November, Matt Cutts defined SEO as “making a great site – making sure it’s accessible and crawlable, and then, almost marketing it – letting the world know about it.” It’s pretty clear that Cutts sees on-page and outreach as equally vital parts of SEO, so why the sudden impetus for technical SEOs to switch careers?

SEOs and content marketers are interdependent

Piggins’ concluded:

“The future lies in collaboration. The relationship between content marketing and SEO only reaches its true potential when it’s designed to be symbiotic. This means that brands need to underpin their content with SEO strategies like strong internal navigation.”

The word ‘collaboration’ implies that you don’t need to hold this up by yourself and, as much as Will Critchlow tries to inspire us to be “fully stacked marketers”, the reality is that this isn’t scalable – if you’re a big brand, it’s more resource effective to hire someone who’s great at SEO and someone who’s great at content, rather than two people who know everything about both.

Content Marketers still have a lot to learn from SEOs

Although this is true both ways and SEOs have been abusing content for years (and continue to do so), some of the world’s leading ad agencies and marketing companies don’t know how to apply multimillion pound budgets to an effective SEM strategy.

Lee Odden wrote that “Content Marketing is not a subset of SEO” and he’s right; it is something that every company who wants to do SEO is doing, but that doesn’t mean it should be done by one single person.

Building links is easier to do naturally if you’re using your client’s own marketing materials, whether that’s what they’re doing offline, or the content they’re already creating. Often this can be pretty difficult to get hold of, especially in enough time for that content to be linkworthy, which is why content practitioners need to know about SEO…

…and SEOs need to be around to tell them. Otherwise, highly profitable channels like Google are going to waste and nobody is making the best of all the awesome content.

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