There’s a bit of confusion, generally, over the similarities and differences between SEO and content strategy. Sometimes they seem oh-so similar, and intrinsically linked in the digital world so as to never be separated. Other times, they couldn’t be more different.

For any agency to tag itself as either an ‘SEO agency’ or a ‘digital content marketing agency’ would be to do itself a disservice. This is because SEO and content are truly one and the same thing, or at least we think so. Standby and we’ll explain why…

What exactly is SEO?

While thinking about what SEO is to us today, maybe it’s a good idea to start with what SEO most definitely is not. Back in the early days of Google, SEO was being won hands down by low quality content mills that were simply churning out pages and pages of content to hit certain keywords. All too often those pages had absolutely nothing of value on them, making it hard as a surfer to find what we were looking for.

Google soon caught on, though, and put modifications into their algorithm to punish terrible content. We think they’ve done pretty well, as today’s browsing activities are a lot more pleasant and easily rewarded than they used to be. Thinking about those content ‘mills’ gives us a clear picture of what not to do when it comes to SEO, for example:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Low quality content
  • Spinning and rewriting existing content
  • Copying content
  • Writing for robots not people
  • Using black hat methods of optimisation

The days of shifty SEO are, thankfully, well behind us. Modern SEO is less of a dark art and more of an exercise in signposting, to ensure our carefully crafted content can actually be found and enjoyed by other people. It’s a big change from the SEO of days gone by, but is still crucial to our success in content marketing.

Some industry folks are even talking about changing the term ‘SEO’ to make it more reflective of what it actually does. Copyblogger have suggested the term ‘optimising content for discovery and conversion’, which could be shortened to ‘OC/DC’. It’s not really catching on yet, but the idea makes a valid point about what SEO actually is today.

If you think about what you’re actually trying to achieve by optimising your content, it’s easy to see the right way to go about it. You’re aiming to publish timely, engaging content that your audience will love, and then helping them to find it. Surely this is exactly what your content strategy is all about anyway, so clearly the two should go hand in hand.

Does SEO have a place in your content strategy?

It’s easy to think that SEO and content marketing are two completely separate games. After all, SEO is all about research, maths, stats and data, whereas content marketing is all about the creative skill of the marketer. On the face of it, they go together about as well as chalk and cheese, but once you start to break things down you start to see just how well they work together.

Here are some of the key reasons your SEO and content marketing strategies should be in alignment, if not all part of the same thing:

  • Google cares about amazing user experience

Google does, and no doubt so do you too. That’s why you invest in crafting amazing content, packed with relevant, valuable information targeted at your audience. The better your content is, the better the user experience. The better the user experience, the higher you’ll rank on Google. SEO and content marketing, all rolled into one. You can see what Google has to say about quality content for yourself here.

  • Amazing content gets share and linked to more

Great content will motivate enthusiastic sharing on social media, and can also attract inward links from other sites and blog posts. Guess what? More social shares and more links equals some powerful SEO juice! SEO and content marketing win together again.

  • The goals of the two strategies are largely the same

Pretty much all of your marketing efforts will share the same overall goals: helping to meet business objectives. Whether you’re working on driving more leads, boosting sales or something else, your SEO and content strategy will be aiming for the same goal post. Doesn’t it therefore make sense to tackle these two marketing streams in tandem, rather than trying to silo and separate the tasks?

If you want your content to be read, people need to be able to find it

Your amazing blog post could be the best thing since sliced bread, but if you haven’t at least given a nod to some relevant keywords, how will anyone ever find it? Keywords still matter, and if you want Google and Co to index your new pages, articles, blog posts and other content correctly, you need to have keywords in mind while you’re writing.

The more you think about it, the more things become clear; SEO and content marketing are two parts of the same thing. As Neil Patel wrote in a post for KissMetrics, “SEO makes demands. Content marketing fulfils them”. Some examples of this in practice include:

  • “SEO demands content. Content marketing is content.”
  • “SEO demands keywords. Content marketing means using keywords.”
  • “SEO demands linkbacks. Content marketing introduces linkbacks.”
  • “SEO demands onsite technical optimization. Content marketing needs great UX.”

SEO is like the little signals and signposts which robots need in order to find their way around your human orientated content. By ensuring you have these signposts in place, you can be confident in fast, accurate indexing, and therefore getting relevant traffic to your page from day one.

Content is certainly king, and SEO should never get in the way of that. But if you’re a smart marketer, you’ll start developing your SEO and digital content strategy at least in parallel, if not rolling them all into one.

So how can you start combining SEO and content easily?

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve suggested a couple of simple ways to inject some SEO juice into your content efforts right now:

  • Create content that relates to the keywords your customers are searching

Think carefully about what problem your business or product solves. Imagine what your customers are typing into Google when they are trying to solve that problem. Check it out on the keyword research tool and SEMrush or whatever your favourite resources are, to ensure you’re going for the most popular search term. Work on creating blog posts, videos, web pages and more that really target the question your customers are asking.

  • Write with keywords in mind, but don’t get hung up on them

SEO writing is not really a thing any more. It’s just content writing with a mind to including some of the most relevant search terms. You should not stuff keywords and then write fluff around them; it’s far more important to create genuinely useful, engaging content that people love to read and share.

  • Create content first, then check it sends the right signals

You should not be creating content for SEO any more. Content should be created because it’s the most important topic to discuss right now, and then checked that it is signposting in the right way to assist with indexing. Look for:

    • Keyword phrase: Use your target phrase 2 – 3 times in your text.
    • SEO title: This is what appears in the search results, so may need to be more succinct than the article title. It should contain your key phrase.
    • Meta description: This should also contain your key phrase, and should encourage people to click through from the SERPs.
    • Image alt-text: Google indexes the alt-text of your images, as it can’t ‘read’ them, so take the time to add alt-text to all your images.

Once you start thinking about SSEO and content in the same part of your brain, you’ll start to realise that the two things cannot work without one another. Let us know if you plan to streamline your SEO and content strategy into one, or if you’re intending to keep them separate, but running parallel to one another.