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.