By Julia Tiedt

The title of this blog probably caught your attention and had you pondering, “Why is it content marketing vs. SEO? Aren’t you supposed to have both?!”

If that is what you are thinking, you are right. 

Now that I have your attention: While it’s true that the ideal digital marketing strategy includes both content marketing and SEO, there are instances where SEO is not as important. First, let’s start with some basics. 

Content Marketing vs. SEO: Important Differentiators 

Content marketing is really any type of marketing that uses words to build trust with your audience and help them solve a pain point. This could be a blog, e-book, pillar page, and so much more. A good content marketing strategy takes into consideration the persona, how they digest information, and what interests them to create content that resonates. 

Your SEO strategy is way more technical than your content marketing strategy. It focuses on keywords and content optimization with the hopes of being found at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs)—and really, that just skims the surface of SEO strategies.

SEO is more structured than content marketing. In fact, many companies have a checklist whenever they publish their content to make sure it is optimized, whereas content is much more subjective. 

 

The Ideal Content Marketing and SEO Strategy

Before I get into the instances when SEO is not the answer, it’s important to understand what your content marketing and SEO strategies would look like in a perfect world. Ideally, you have a really great piece of content that is going to be a hit with your audience, and it also has an awesome keyword you align with and optimize for. 

The keyword will help the right people find this content, people who may not have known your company otherwise. Meanwhile, the content will hook the audience and leave them hungry for more. In order to see the best results from your marketing strategy, you will need a plan that has content and SEO working in tandem. However, that is not always the case. 

 

Instances When SEO Isn’t the Answer

Here are some scenarios where SEO may not be the answer—or at least, not the motivation. 

1. It’s a topic your audience cares about, but there isn’t a good keyword.

As much as I love a good SEO strategy, at the end of the day, content is king. You have to have great content that appeals to your audience on your website, or else they will bounce as soon as they get there. 

High-quality content is one of the most important signals Google uses to rank your website. So even if there isn’t a good keyword, it will still be important to create that blog post or premium content piece, because it is what your audience cares about and needs. If it is relevant to your audience, it may rank naturally in search engines because SEO crawlers recognize the intent of the audience and see it as beneficial. 

Just because a keyword is not advantageous now doesn’t mean it won’t gain authority down the road. If you have already created that piece of content, you may get a solid footing as No. 1 in SERPs. 

2. SEO isn’t in the “language” your audience speaks.

As marketers, this is something we see all the time. If you aren’t speaking your prospect’s language, they aren’t going to hang out on your website. When I say “language,” I am really referring to semantics: “The language used to achieve the desired effect on an audience, especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings.”

Depending on your industry and audience, semantics can be tricky to tackle, especially when you’re also taking into account quality content and a keyword for SEO. One of my favorite examples of this is pop versus soda versus Coke. Depending on where you are in the U.S., these are three different names for the same thing. Don’t go after a “pop” keyword if you are targeting people who live in the South and refer to all soda as “Coke.” Call it what your audience calls it. 

Although the soda example is extreme, this issue will most likely impact you when you are speaking your industry language that isn’t necessarily intuitive to your prospects. If SEO language doesn’t fit into your prospects’ vocabulary, don’t use it. 

 

A Note About Quality Over Quantity

Back in the day when SEO was in its infancy, it was easy to game the system and rank for relevant keywords, even if your content sucked. We saw marketers stuffing blog pages with as many keywords as they could think of, resulting in subpar, unhelpful content. Even today, we still see companies trying to blog as much as they can so they have as many indexable pages as possible, but their content is often filled with misspellings and it isn’t helpful. 

Every piece of content you share on your website should be quality—something that you are proud of. If it's not, don’t publish it. If you can publish five articles a week that are all quality content, that is great! But sometimes, teams don’t have the bandwidth to maintain that cadence. If time is an issue, focus on getting one good-quality article out once a week—or every other week. The key is quality

While the best digital content is a beautiful marriage of SEO and content marketing, there are instances where quality content may trump optimizing that content for search. Quality content will get found by the right people—that’s what search engine intent is working hard to achieve. No matter how someone finds your website, you want to ensure they have a great experience, growing closer and closer to taking that next step to becoming a customer. 

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Watch this interactive, “gated versus ungated content” debate as SmartBugs defend the benefits of each strategy.

Gated vs. Ungated Content Debate

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Julia Tiedt

About the author

Julia Tiedt is a Minneapolis-based Inbound Marketing Manager for SmartBug Media. With a background in agency marketing, she specializes in lead generation, lead nurturing, sales enablement, and content-based tactics that focus on her client's sales and marketing goals. Read more articles by Julia Tiedt.

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