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Content Marketing vs. SEO: The Truth Behind A Ridiculous Debate

content marketing-seoThe headlines read…

Content marketing usurps SEO…

Content marketing has killed SEO…

Content marketing overtakes SEO…

The word “versus” often appears between these two purported rivals.

Shoot me now.

Or, wait just a minute and shoot me after you’ve read (and have disagreed with) my strong point of view on the hyper-hyped topic du jour that’s come to be a showdown between content marketing and SEO. 

From where I sit, it’s a ridiculous argument.

Though the topic is often (and shamefully) broached by writers who actually understand marketing strategy, it seems little more than a gimmick to get readers to click on a blog post. At best, what they get from the read is another lesson on the power of content marketing.

If this is an unpopular opinion, I have two things to say:

  • So be it.
  • Having an unpopular opinion is a powerful way to polarize the audience and win favor with those in your camp.

Content marketing and SEO do not compete with each other

The “Content marketing vs. SEO” battle opportunists are so eager to pit the two against each other. They want you to pick a side.

The implication seems to be that, to be smart about your digital marketing spend, you need to choose to hire one type of specialist over the other. Maybe you have $3,000 to allocate per month. The dilemma: Do you put it into content marketing or into SEO?

I can only make sense of this if the SEO effort in contention here is of the black hat variety. In other words, if SEO wins your dollars, it would go into hiring a shop to go on a voracious back-link-building mission. This was indeed a booming, yet questionable, business for years. Today, it’s unethical and ineffective — dangerous even. Search engines penalize the practitioners they find guilty of these crimes.

Let’s cast aside the shady practice of building links by exchanging dollars (or favors, or link farming, or any other nonsense that will no longer fly, thanks to Google’s Penguin initiatives and the like). You’re left with no competition. There are no rivals here, and there’s nothing left to debate.

True online marketing professionals will recognize that both content marketing and SEO are star players in an enterprise-focused marketing strategy. If your team has a void in one area or the other (or both), you need to fill it — end of story. SEO experts need not fear the extinction of their craft. Their roles will remain vital to brand marketing because they know better than anyone that effective and ethical SEO can’t happen without content to be optimized.

You could make the case that SEO is content marketing

We create content to support our marketing objectives. If we’re doing this wisely, a vital part of our execution strategies should be focused on optimizations that will increase the probability that our content will be discovered via search.

As I see it, saying SEO and content are two separate marketing tactics is akin to saying headlines and copy are foes. How preposterous is that? You write headlines to get people to read copy. You then optimize your online content to get people to discover it.

In my opinion, SEO, or search engine optimization, is a misnomer anyway. It seems to suggest you optimize the search engine. Clearly, you cannot and do not. You optimize online content.

“Content” optimization — now there’s a term I could live with. Seems like a happy and harmonious marriage of the two marketing disciplines.

It’s time to think holistically

InThe Mindset that Makes Online Marketing Work,” from MarketingLand, Copyblogger’s Brian Clark writes:

“The struggle many face with online marketing is a misguided impulse to put various tactics into separate boxes instead of seeing each as an aspect of one overarching strategic process.”

Brian adds:

“To this day, I see people referring to content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization as three different things — as if each is a tactic that can get you there alone.

“The smart way to practice effective online marketing is to treat social media and search engine results as aspects of a holistic strategy that centers around compelling content.”

You can’t cast a vote for content that succeeds in a vacuum. You can create and publish content across multiple, strategic platforms. You can repurpose it from materials created by other functional disciplines within your organization. You can share it via numerous social media channels…

And if you want to maximize its marketing power and potential benefit to your business, you damn well better optimize it.

For more guidance on how to do this, check out the following CMI posts:

Looking to learn even more about the emerging roles that content marketing plays in the digital landscape? Don’t miss out on the groundbreaking discussions that will take place at Content Marketing World 2013. 

Cover image via Bigstock