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It isn’t the first time SEO has been squared up against another discipline as if they are in opposition with each other.

I’m sure you remember this post in Smashing Magazine, The Inconvenient Truth About SEO, where a deep misunderstanding of what SEO actually is, expressed itself as a diatribe against the industry. 

I see posts like this, albeit not quite as high profile, popping up all the time. 

This one, Step Aside SEO, Content Marketing Optimization is Here, which I originally found in Social Media Today, is closer to what I’ll be talking about in today’s post.

The article basically says that SEOs have been practicing what has been portrayed as a kind of black magic, which Google has wised up to and no longer works. Apparently, content marketing will “ultimately step in the place of SEO”. 

Even the Guardian has published an anti-SEO article, How SEO undermined content marketing yet created a demand for it, one that fails to deliver on the information promised in its title. 

The last example I wish to give is from The Content Strategist, and I will say in its defence that the comment referenced in the article is most likely taken out of context.

In it, VP of Content at Contently, Sam Slaughter, is said to told an audience during the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference that the:

...rise in content marketing budgets [is due] to the fact that banner ads and SEO-driven content are less effective, especially as Google continues to tweak its algorithm in favor of stories with substance and shareability.

I am not saying we can interpret this as being a bash to SEO, as it probably wasn’t, but it was enough to remind me why we need to make it clear that SEO, as a practice, isn’t going anywhere, and why it should reinforce and complement all of our content focused activities.  

Incorrect perceptions of SEO

All of the examples I’ve linked to above, excepting the last to The Content Strategist, all have this perception that SEO is essentially a spammy or even black-hat job that does everything to optimise for the search engine, and says hell to the user.

Now, the writers of these posts aren’t entirely to blame. There is a history of bad SEO practice (and “bad” SEO practice working - working damn well for that matter) that has done nothing to elevate the opinions of people hold about SEO.

Additionally, all of these posts are actually on to something - that fantastic content should be central to a good digital strategy - it’s just a shame that this aspect of their argument is easy to overlook.

Instead of focusing too much on explaining what SEO actually is, I’ll quote part of Bill Slawski’s comment to the Smashing Magazine post:

An SEO adds value to what you create by making sure that it is presented within the framework of the web in a way which makes it more likely that it will reach the people that you want it seen by, when they are looking for it.

So what role does the SEO have?

I don’t see how you could put it much better than Bill has above. So then, more specifically, if content is everything, what job is left for the SEO?

Well no matter how good your content is, it is going to do you no good if nobody can find it. Even as websites are seeing social media drive a greater and greater proportion of traffic, search engines are still the gateway to the content on the web for the majority of people.

This doesn’t mean that your content needs to be unnaturally stuffed with keywords, but it does mean that you cannot ignore the sorts of keywords people will be searching for your content with. You must show an understanding of how people search for content if you’re going to stand a good chance of competing with other sites in the SERP’s.

All of the basic principles of good on-page optimisation still apply, more than I think many people give it credit for.

However, the most important role I think an SEO plays now is dealing with technical issues. Again, I’m going to quote what Bill Slawski said in a comment:

if you need help with hreflang, canonical link elements, parameter handling, rel prev and next values for pagination, XML sitemaps for pages and images and videos and news, Google Plus authorship markup, Facebook’s Open Graph meta data, schema.org implementation, and many other issues that great content alone will not solve, an SEO can help you with those.

Technical considerations of a website will continue to exist, no matter how large and experienced a content team you have. And unless these considerations are adequately dealt with, your content is either going to go to waste, or will not live up to its full potential.   

Different disciplines but shared objectives

One of reasons I tend to quite like the term inbound marketing is that it encompasses the disciplines of content, social, and SEO, under one roof. These are not completely separate disciplines that work independently of each other (or rather, shouldn’t do), they complement each other and work together to accomplish shared objectives. 

Content marketing is not a replacement for SEO. SEO will continue to form the foundations holding our online strategies together, and ensure that our content gets found by the people we wish to read it. 

Peter Meinertzhagen

Published 3 May, 2013 by Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen is Digital Marketing Manager at mark-making* and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Peter on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn

8 more posts from this author

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Rory Natkiel

Good article - this 'produce content and wait' philosophy just doesn't cut it for many businesses who do produce relevant content but also need to be found sooner rather than later.

Social may provide brand engagement but it's people who arrive from search engines that have the high-intent visits that businesses ultimately need to survive.

Completely agree and actually think the changes in SEO mean that SEO is more important than ever. Content and social strategies need to underpin the target keyphrases identified by your SEO team to achieve revenue and business results. That content needs to be perfectly optimised. There's no point in having a great social strategy if your website is slow and the engines have to crawl through tons of javascript just to reach your H1.

Great post Peter!

about 3 years ago

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Andrew

A very good and thought-provoking post. As a relative new-comer to the SEO / content world, it seems to me that all two need to be linked together closely and failure at one will cause failure of the other.

I do, however, think that SEO is going to decrease in importance as distinct discipline. Even in the past three years, SEO has become relatively simpler and more accessible to the point where a good 'content' marketer will be able to do most practices as second nature and could easily learn all of the skills listed by Bill Slawski.

Basically, the future (in my mind at least) will favour the generalist over the specialist. A marketer with good content creation skills, social marketing abilities, essential technical skills and a good amount of commercial understanding will be much more effective than a pure SEO.

But maybe that's an obvious point...

about 3 years ago

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Ryan Skinner

I'm with you, for the most part, Peter. Many people are setting SEO up as a straw man; (arguably, SEOs are doing the same, as I've seen maaaaaany SEOs say "content marketing isn't a thing, we've been doing it forever"). I guess the point is they're very intertwined - being good at one immediately makes you dangerous in the other.

I was intrigued by a story last year however that described how The Atlantic specifically decided NOT to focus on search results at all; rather, they put all their energy into getting social sharing. Every site is hardly The Atlantic, but there's something harbinger-ish about the revelation: http://mashable.com/2012/05/09/the-atlantic-social-over-seo-strategy/

Thoughts?

about 3 years ago

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Ron VanPeursem

Nice work, Peter. There will continue to be a need for this discussion, because the hyping of one aspect against another ends up clouding the real picture. The integration of social engagement, content marketing and SEO needs to be talked about and made more and more clear. Plenty of people ARE talking about the "both and" rather than the "either or", but widespread understanding is still a ways away! Keep up the conversation!

about 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@Rory Thanks Rory! That's the key here: SEO needs to be looked at as part of a bigger whole, one which includes content and social. And there is more to ranking well than by just producing great content.

@Andrew Cheers Andrew. I agree to some extent that SEO as a separate discipline will decrease as time goes on, but mainly because people who previously called themselves SEO's will find new job titles and will carry on doing mostly what they were doing before.

Many SEO's were generalists; they were dealing with technical SEO in addition to content creation, and so on. They had their fingers in many pies because that was what was necessary!

However, the need for the technically minded SEO specialist will continue to exist. It can be tough having incredibly specialist knowledge when you have a very general role.

@Ryan Thanks for the comment Ryan, and for sharing that article. But Cohn again has this view that SEO is about writing for robots, disregarding users. There is some element of truth in this of course as you need to consider the way search bots function, but true success relies on getting humans to love and share your content.

If The Atlantic were truly completely disregarding SEO, they'd also be admitting to opening their site up to a host of technical problems. I bet their web team would disagree with the statement that they don't care about SEO.

about 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

"no matter how good your content is, it is going to do you no good if nobody can find it."

That's what I always tell my clients. You can't hope that people will find you, no matter how great your content is. You have to help that content get found and be seen so it can work for you and your SEO.

about 3 years ago

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Suzannah Hastings

In my experience, those who struggle are those who see it as CONTENT (marketing). They go hand in hand. Fantastic content should certainly be central to a good digital strategy, but it needs to tie in with other wider marketing considerations. When that happens, content marketing and good, white-hat-style SEO become one and the same.

about 3 years ago

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HodgesNet

For far too long content marketers and inbound marketing specialists have been naming the SEO is dead drum. We have alway had content-led SEO strategies at HodgesNet and in recent months it has been a much easier sell. The "if you built it, they will come" mentality with regards to your content is a false perception and we're right with you on the fact that SEO helps get your content found. SEO companies simply need to be shown to be whiter than white and by showing results for clients and themselves (modelling it for their own sites and content strategies), together we'll win the fight against those who say SEO is dead.

about 3 years ago

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at DigiToro

I wrote an article recently on content marketing and I said that “it’s unfortunate that buzz topics like content marketing get moved into a silo when they should naturally be part of the entire marketing mix.” It is the exact same for SEO. You need SEO and all of it's ingredients such as linking, XML sitemaps, G+ authorship, Facebook’s Open Graph, domain formatting, keyword research, page layout etc to be the foundation of good content.

SEO needs to drive your content marketing strategy, they need to be best friends and work together.

The second part of this article (http://econsultancy.com/au/blog/62573-creating-content-of-integrity-in-the-age-of-the-customer#blog_comment_828774), coming soon, will pay some attention to SEO.

Dominic

about 3 years ago

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Arise Johns

SEO is nothing but online marketing technique, In simple language to promote website online through different social media channels and links.Thanks

about 3 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

Great article and comments - I quite enjoy reading these content vs SEO arguments... what I enjoy even more is seeing example of big brands launching some great campaigns/content that can't be found in Google.... this is why you'll always need an SEO team to help designers/ content producers get the basics right and get their content ranking!

about 3 years ago

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Thiago

I don't think SEO in any of it's incarnations said hell to the user. As user, I never noticed that kind of SEO until I had to use it, at which point it was just interesting to note, and only frustrating when I was the content /provider/ and SEO was being thrown at my site instead of valid exposure. Maybe they do SEO in San Francisco differently, but that should hardly make a difference considering it's, well, the internet.

about 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@Dominic That's exactly the point: you need all of your marketing and digital activities to work together as part of an integrated strategy.

@Heledd It's horrible to see great content and campaigns which are impossible to find in Google - it's such a disappointing waste of an opportunity!

@Thiago I don't think that SEO should ever have had said hell to the user, but frankly many people in the past have had that kind of attitude, concentrating solely on beating the search engines.

about 3 years ago

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SEO Uzmanı

I often tell the same thing to my clients. When you worry about earning links (and what kind of actions will do that) you stop looking for the easy win links and are now going after the valuable ones that mean something. Always put your visitors first and you'll almost never be wrong.

about 3 years ago

Stephen Whitehead

Stephen Whitehead, Digital Content Manager at Study Group

Here here! Whilst I'm a Content Evangelist myself - no search-engine has abandoned the technical fundamentals of what 'good' SEO offers - good site accessibility; logical site structure, honest meta data and clean mark-up (for a few!)

Meanwhile reaching your audience still requires research and bringing that to bear within the content ('keyword optimisation').

The values of SEO are still essential learning for anyone in digital content marketing... it can never just be "provide the right content" - there's a lot of packaging, referencing and indexing that is essential for your intended audience(s) to find that content - the same as with any publishing process!

Take book publishing as an analogy.
One needs to choose the right classifications, provide referencing, the right title - can sell a book; appropriate chapters & headings; a consideration for layout and typesetting, a proofing processes, press reviews and distribution - all occupy the same necessary area of the production/marketing space... that SEO presently covers for the web.

about 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@Stephen Thanks for the analogy, I think it fits quite well. For as long as search engines exist, and people are using them, SEO expertise will be required and essential for any website hoping to be found.

about 3 years ago

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at DigiToro

about 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@Dominic Hey Dominic, thanks for the link. I really enjoyed your new blog post, a great foundation for getting organisations to start 'living and breathing content'! It is so important to approach content in as structured a way as possible, even for smaller brands, to give focus and clarity to the strategy.

about 3 years ago

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Jason C

Good article. I continue to struggle with this for my sites that sell products because there isn't much content (though I can start writing about the products I sell, which is not really my goal) vs. my other sites where its centered blog centered. Either way, i try to integrate both best practice SEO and definitely content on your site.

about 3 years ago

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Mat Wright, SEO at Honed

SEO's need to crack on and dive into Schemas, Link Portfolio management, Trending and Syndication... this is the hot bed of skills and application.

almost 3 years ago

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Sanjit Mandal, CEO and Founder at California SEO Professionals

Great post! SEO is carried across many different digital arenas to be effective. Many businesses I work with think it is just on-site and with some work it will work miracles; that is obviously not the case. It is a great foundation for starting, but it needs to be balances with off-page SEO. If a business has the resources to keep putting up great content that is another later. Then, social media to push out their content, email marketing, etc. There is no right or wrong answer, it comes down to determining goals of a company and how to spend resources wisely for a successful strategy. There is no one size fits all SEO strategy.

7 months ago

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