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A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel to discuss the role of content marketing to coincide with the release of Econsultancy’s Content Marketing Survey Report.

I was principally there to represent the publisher’s side of this new approach, but one comment I made seemed to cause a stir. It was: If you’re struggling to find a separate budget for content marketing, you could rename your SEO department to ‘Content Marketing’, rather than set up a new cost line.

It might then be easier to gain investment for the new discipline, because you’re not setting up a whole new department. I’m sure if you read this article, we’ll come to some agreement.

I was a little surprised that out of all the things I said, this was what garnered the biggest reaction. Indeed, I got some pretty sturdy disagreement amongst some of the SEO industry (although I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anyone should do this)!

SEO and content marketing

I’m heavily involved in SEO and appreciate its value to any digital business. However, something that’s struck me over the past two years is that SEO is undergoing something of an identity crisis.

In the US the school of ‘inbound marketing’ has grown up from evangelism from Hubspot and SEOmoz – the UK industry has appeared less receptive to this shift, but at search conferences the words ‘content’ and ‘social media’ are creeping in more and more.

I think to some degree, the interest in content marketing has stemmed from a marked shift in SEO discourse.

To me, this shift in search marketing stems from two key points:

  • Google Panda and Penguin have heavily targeted content and link spam. Certain tactics which used to work yesteryear (content farming, link networks) aren’t so effective anymore and are riskier.
  • The process to get SEO working effectively is actually very broad, and there are now a wide range of possibilities to gain ‘free’ traffic.

Debates around semantics can be amusing or painful, depending on your perspective, but are somewhat fruitless. My own view of SEO at a publisher is that it is a kind of glue that sticks departments together.

There are clear relationships between departments that SEO needs to meld together towards the ultimate goal of driving more valuable traffic.

The content marketing model

Assessing my own role within the organisation, I sat down and gave some thought to the process – particularly with the ambition of driving content strategy on destination websites. The SEO pyramid was a good starting point, but I felt it was slightly muddled and didn’t do justice to the bigger picture.

Thus I came up with the ‘Content Marketing Model’ – something that I’ve been evangelising both within my own business and the wider community since forming it.

Basically, SEO and content marketing rely on five fundamentals to be effective (I previously suggested four, but have recently added design):

Content Marketing Model

In this model, the size of the 'block' visualizes the investment in each department. Thus in the model above, analytics has the lowest investment and content the highest (something common within publishers for instance).

The arrows represent relationships and dependencies between departments. Analytics effects everything, but if we take content as an example, it is reliant on design and development, while outreach relies on content. 

What was the real revelation to me in a publishing business was that people in SEO roles were well suited to the organisation of such ‘stacks’ to drive strategy. You’ll notice also, that content sits as a department within this model, but at a publisher, the content is seen as the beef, but is really dependent on all of the other departments.

Content is the pattie for your burger, but it’s going to be a pretty poor burger with no cheese, ketchup, lettuce and a bun.

Content marketing spectrum

After seeing the reaction to my statement, I thought about how I could justify my view on SEO and Content Marketing’s ‘merger’ some more, and I thought through the way that different roles within an organisation sit within the stack.

I thought of as many people as I could who could be involved in the content strategy process, and made some rough indications on where they really sit on the spectrum. On the left, you have the analytical brains, and on the right you have the more creative types. SEO, I believe, needs both – but that’s pretty difficult to indicate on the spectrum.

Content Marketing Job Spectrum

I think in large organisations, the name of this department is largely irrelevant. I believe that the role of the SEO should be to train other people towards self-sufficiency (indeed, agencies are well placed to do this).

Does an SEO Manager need to do keyword analysis? No – an analyst can easily learn it, and it is a very complimentary skill to other forms of data driven research. An SEO Manager can also instruct developers on what is needed, and hopefully steer clear of exactly how in most cases.

Furthermore, they can advise content teams on how to properly optimise content against previously mentioned analysis and inform the PR department that a press release that insists on a link back is worth its weight in gold.

I believe in the role of SEO, but I’m not entirely sure it is its own department, since it is heavily reliant on other areas.

Why don’t we just get a ‘marketing team’ (and lose the digital too), that considers all of the above and uses the SEO ‘department’ as an adviser role to this function?

Inbound, SEO & content marketing – it’s all just semantics to me.

James Carson

Published 22 October, 2012 by James Carson

James Carson is Director of Content at Made From Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

24 more posts from this author

Comments (38)

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Kate Rose

Couldn't agree more. Post-Panda/Penguin linkbuilding - reliant on content. Boosts to SERPs via authorship markup - reliant on content. "Old style" SEO which could be done by one guy in a shed with a lot of spreadsheets, seems to be on its way out fast!

over 3 years ago

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fayberg

I agree with a lot of your points, but simply 'renaming' your department won't make it a content marketing department - you need to make sure you have the skills present for good old-fashioned marketing and PR to complement the process. This should be a process overhaul, not a rebranding. In much the same way, informing your PR department about the worth of a press release backlink (or more likely story backlink!) wouldn't be necessary if your PR department have SEO skills/training.

over 3 years ago

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Lyndon Antcliff

More like, When will content marketing replace SEO?

over 3 years ago

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Lyndon Antcliff

More like, When will content marketing replace SEO?

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Content marketing is a kind of umbrella term for doing a bunch of things that will help you a) to create the right kind of content that b) will help you climb the Google ladder by c) engaging the right kind of audience, which d) should become your community.

In my view SEO is a kind of happy byproduct of content marketing, which is another way of saying that you're putting some tactical thought into the production of content. Call it what you want, but you should be doing that anyway.

over 3 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

Chris, if there was a like button on this comment tool, I'd be liking your comment.

over 3 years ago

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Jason Diller

The agency I just started to work for has made this switch. SEO is just the basics. Content and Inbound marketing is where its at!

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@James - Thanks! I'd love to introduce comment voting functionality. Works well on sites like Reddit. Great post btw.

over 3 years ago

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Sharon flaherty

It's always been about content for me. Yes Seo should be advisory but nothing more. What is scary is when Seo teams try to do content. That's when it goes wrong. Content professionals should produce content, Seo professionals ensure best Seo practice and can aid with seeding... But even that is controversial as should Seo teams be contacting journalists to seed content? I'd argue not. The roles have become very murky but this needs to change.

over 3 years ago

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Douglas Karr, President and CEO at DK New Media, LLC

It should have months ago!

over 3 years ago

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Kiril Hristov

If you write quality content and follow the basic SEO principles, you are bound to see some traction. Indeed inbound/SEO/content marketing are terms with intertwined meanings. Nothing can compensate for mediocre or low quality content. You write for people and people look for useful information.

over 3 years ago

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David Baker

Great post

over 3 years ago

Raymond Dunthorne

Raymond Dunthorne, Digital Performance Manager at Thomson Reuters

Good work James. It’s certainly all about Content.

‘Content, Community, Commerce*’ is what we used to say, back in the day, in 2000, just before, well, you know…

Personally I’ve often worried about anyone who describes themselves as an SEO ending up someday soon feeling like a Ceefax consultant must be feeling today.

By which I mean that on this work laptop the resolution dictates I sometimes see just ONE natural search result (1366 x 768 / the query: ‘memory foam mattress’ – don’t ask) there’s obviously been a steadily shrinking presence of natural results for a while. Is that naughty UK Tax-avoiding Google one day going to have natural search at the point analogue TV reached today? A point where the final dying embers of it are stamped out? (by Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters).

Content, Search, Social – there’s so much cross-fertilisation there should be one term that captures the lot, I’m not sure it’s ‘content marketing’ though. Either way there’s a bright future for anyone embracing the opportunity to develop high-quality, unique content that’s relevant, useful and authoritative, published in ways that make it possible for users to consume it how they prefer. There’s a less bright a future for link buying.

*I eventually added a 4th ‘C’, ‘Concept’ – this was a good idea at the time and helped me feel better about some dodgy projects. However, re: the life of the company I was with at the time, it didn't help.

over 3 years ago

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Rick Noel

Great article James. It's all Internet marketing to me. I really like your models showing size of investment and dependencies between components of the stack. SEO tactics are morphing so quickly, at least for black and grey hats whose tactics are less effective. Unfortunately, there are enough stakeholders who have been burned by these tactics, either from in house or external SEOs that the SEO designation has been tarnished to some degree. Think of all the offshore SEO SPAM that invades our inbox each day. You are right, inbound marketing, SEO, Internet marketing, it's all semantics. Clearly the ability to rank without quality conetent (i.e. gaming the system) is getting harder and harder. An important role of any SEO is to constantly transfer knowledge and skills into surrounding organizations while, as you so eloquently put it, serving as the glue between marketing disciplines, both online and off. Thanks for sharing.

over 3 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi James,

Thanks for a well timed post. I had this discussion with @danbarker and a few others recently (+ it was the theme for our first #ecomchat - a weekly industry e-commerce chat on Twitter every Monday at 5.30pm UK time).

I think "content marketing" is becoming a tedious industry buzzword - it's almost as if the people who don't really understand SEO are pinning their hopes on CM as a way of making everything seem easier.

I agree with you that a lot of it is semantics, but semantics are hugely important as they determine how people react. If you want buy-in, you need to speak the language of the budget holder, even if you think the semantics are wrong. I've wrestled with this a lot recently.

So here's my take, opening myself for laughter and slander:)

SEO is still SEO. I like Dan's definition (paraphrased) - SEO is anything that helps you get your webpages/content into search engine results.

Content marketing is not SEO but it is complimentary and should be integrated. CM is the process of getting your content distributed to relevant audiences via whichever channels are at your disposal. CM I think gets confused with content creation. For me CM is the process of delivering your content plan. Your content plan comes from your business/trading plan. They must be aligned - all content should work towards business goals (note that these goals will be hard and soft, such as increasing social sharing). And SEO can help identify content opportunities, though it shouldn't be the sold driver of your content plan.

So for me CM doesn't replace SEO, or vice versa. They are both part of the same whole - Marketing. A good CM doesn't necessarily understand SEO enough to do SEO, but should grasp how SEO can benefit their CM plans. For example, helping to optimise content to be keyphrase relevant + optimising landing pages. Does a CM know how to do technical SEO, such as site audit's, handling crawl errors, site architecture etc? Unlikely. Does a specialist SEO know how to use marketing channels to maximise the reach of content? Also unlikely in my experience. But their skill sets are complimentary.

Who takes ownership of CM & SEO is dependent upon skill set and capability. For me, it needs an experienced Marketer who understands how all components of marketing come together to execute the business plan. As Hannibal says, I love it when a plan comes together.

I guess my key point is this - let's not confuse what SEO is and does with the latest buzzword. CM has always been a core part of marketing, offline and online. However, since the panda/penguin etc updates, there has been a realisation that content quality/frequency/links are more important than ever, not just to SEO but to your overall digital marketing.

Hope that actually makes as much sense as it appears to in my head!

thanks
james

over 3 years ago

Andrea Moro

Andrea Moro, SEO Technical Specialist / Growth Hacker at Freelancer

I didn't read through all the lines, but clearly you have a solid grasp on how industry is changing.

Absolutely great picture too. Self explicative.

over 3 years ago

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Charles Clayton

Oh,yet more confusing choices for many already bewildered marketing departments. Many of them are only just realising that Social Media has very small seo "points" and that metatags aren't "magic".
Content is certainly at the heart of nearly everything seo wise, both on page and off page....as long as everything else, such as site architecture and other significant factors mentioned above, are in order.
Certainly the largest problem that many companies create for themselves is to "have a go" at writing their own copy and default to standard self promotional content extolling the virtues of their own company. eg "We are the world leaders in..." and similar unpalatable messages.
Content (the written word) is a huge part of seo along with many other things and they ALL form part of MARKETING.
A few basic tips about content would be: Write in the correct shapes, use the You word, don't use long winded eloquent prose, be helpful not promotional and use an outsider to write it. Otherwise you will almost always end up with an inward looking view of your own company....and that will never be "customer centric," will it?

over 3 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

I think it's fair to say that thanks to recent Google evolutions, effective content marketing could have a bigger impact on SEO than ever before. I agree with James that the two are distinct disciplines that have some synergy. Both require multiple skillsets and, depending on organisational structure could be the responsibility of multiple teams or departments. There's an important distinction though:

SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a website in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines (i.e. purely online)

whereas

content marketing is about creating and sharing content in order to attract, acquire and profitably engage existing and potential customers (whether online or offline)

Having said that, effective SEO could have a knock on effect on offline channels and good content marketing should impact search engine rankings..

over 3 years ago

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David Burdon

James,

Good stuff. I think the design of your construct is in a workable form. I'd like to borrow some of your ideas. One thing is missing though, that's the actual product or service being promoted. Neither content, nor SEO, exist in a vacuum. Some products/services can be dynamic with lots of news - so creating content is easy. Whereas other product/services are less interesting.

over 3 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

Hmmm - I disagree with you there David. Content Strategy is far from being all about news. If you have a so called 'boring' product, then there are still stories, guides etc that can be useful for an audience and can rank on search engines. Sites still need to be structured in a way that allows the content to be appear on search engines.

over 3 years ago

Andy Wooles

Andy Wooles, Director at Great Northern Design Ltd

Great discussion, James.

I particularly like the blocks diagrams as they are a natural evolution of the SEOmoz pyramid (a copy of which is always in my briefcase).

They will work equally well whether talking to senior exec or a techie.

As a digital marketing consultant, I think the second one will be particularly useful in explaining to clients how we will work collaboratively with their in-house dev team or web agency to deliver tangible business results.

Thank you for providing my new sales tool :)

over 3 years ago

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Nick James

Great content has to be the foundation of any site but the rationale should be that you have great content to deliver an engaging user experience.

Are we still all so hung up on SEO that 'content' has to have the word 'marketing' attached to it?

over 3 years ago

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Daniel Clutterbuck

The question is should an 'SEO' now learn and perform other marketing activities such as PR and social or should a team consist of each of the relevant individuals?

The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries makes you wonder whether multi-skills are best in this turmoil!

over 3 years ago

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Ab Kuijer

Great post and yes, times are changing. Content marketing will not even be more effective than old style SEO, it will also force companies to think about a content format; a good storyline to has all the players in it; from customers to employees. In this way storytelling will become a natural and strong marketing campaign with lots of interesting angles and content for people that are searching for a company with a soul.

over 3 years ago

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Dani Booth

This is a great post and something I've been trying to tell people for some time now... but isn't content marketing an evolution of SEO; rather than its successor?

over 3 years ago

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matt dailey, Head of performance planning at Zenith

Great post James and I think the key bit in all of it is the description of SEO being the Glue between all the other areas mentioned. There is no longer a clear line between SEO, content and Social and they all blend somewhere in the middle. They can work as stand alone areas but as with many things, are better together. The one bit that you have left out is the technical, onsite side of SEO, which is still very important and an absolute standalone discipline.

over 3 years ago

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Sam Neatrour

Couldn't agree more this is exactly what we are talking about to our clients. Lets get your content, videos etc out there and working for you!

over 3 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

@matt - 'technical side of SEO' sits within development. It's up to the SEO to instruct developers how to deploy the most SEO friendly code.

over 3 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

I can hear thousands of self-styled SEO gurus tapping delete-delete-delete from their profiles, and writing in "content marketing expert". Companies will do the same - and the skills will not magically float over...

over 3 years ago

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Matthew Stocker

Content Marketing
(otherwise known as “I can’t believe it’s not SEO Marketing”)

over 3 years ago

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Neil Baxter

Intelligent article. There is no doubt that people are awakening to content marketing - and thank goodness. Old style SEO is bot centred, content marketing is human centred. Surely that's progress!

over 3 years ago

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Abbot

I agree - content most important in seo. page content with most keywords, it's very useful in seo. I think, we can easily reach our target.

over 3 years ago

Mike  Darnell

Mike Darnell, Social Marketing at Treepodia Ecommerce Video Solution

It's natural for a discipline as young as this one to be in formative stage where different nomenclature is being used. Most important, however, is intelligent execution and focus on the basics.

With that said, I believe video is one excellent way to boost SEO ranking. Especially if you are an e-commerce provider. Then, product video tools such as mentioned on blog.treepodia.com are king.

over 3 years ago

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Miguel

Really interesting discussion, and I really like how James Gurd has broken it down in particular.

SEO is a hard service to buy at the best of times even when dealing with reputable suppliers, and as an industry we run a real risk of confusing clients and making it even harder for them to buy.

over 3 years ago

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Simon Swan

Hi James

A great post, very informative and timely!

I like the comment: "I believe in the role of SEO, but I’m not entirely sure it is its own department, since it is heavily reliant on other areas".

I have found that to get this type of buy-in within an organisation is to ensure KPI's/targets are jointly owned across all the depts associated with implementing a successful SEO strategy.

It's no good having KPI's acting in a silo just within the digital marketing team - they need to be targets right across the spectrum of inter-depts.

Simon

over 3 years ago

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