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.