If you dabble in digital marketing, you know that content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are crucial components of a holistic strategy.
But are they discrete parts?
Quick answer: No.
This post will explore why these two perspectives shouldn’t operate in silos and how, when they work together, you’ll achieve the best results possible.
And then we’ll tell you how you can optimize your own marketing plan.
Let’s get to it.
Why They’re Interconnected
Content marketing and SEO are two peas in the get-your-brand-noticed pod. Technically, you can focus on one or the other while ignoring its counterpart and still see some upticks in traffic and customer engagement, but that’ll only show you a glimpse of what’s possible, and frankly, it won’t be utilizing your resources to their full potential.
Why SEO Needs Content Marketing
The point of search engine optimization is to increase your chances of your site appearing in Google (or Bing!) search results for the right queries.
Google has been clear that content is a major ranking factor, so ignoring how it plays in with what you’re trying to rank for would be a huge oversight. Ultimately, content is what people are searching for in the first place, and if it’s not relevant to what they’re looking for, your rankings won’t matter.
In fact, your rankings will most likely drop. Google tracks for relevancy of content to its query by using signals like bounce rate and time on site, which are both available for you to see in Google Analytics. If someone lands on your page and realizes it’s not what they’re looking for, and thus they immediately leave, that signals to Google your content isn’t good enough to answer that query.
Additionally, backlinks are a major signal for search engine rankings, and broadly appealing content can get the kind of links that’ll greatly boost the authority of your site.
If you’re an SEO junkie, you might be thinking, but what about other ranking factors like H1 tags and keywords and backlinks and, and, and….?
Valid points! And they bring us to...
Why Content Marketing Needs SEO
Content published without a way to anchor it to what’s actually being searched for means it’s untethered -- floating out in the watery abyss that is the hundreds of millions of words already swimming around.
You can publish the best web page in the world. You can create a blog that would win awards if given the chance. You can push this stuff out via your email marketing lists, your social channels, and more. And for a while, it might even work.
But after that initial push, the content dies. If you haven’t thought about SEO, there’s a good chance it’s not ranking in search engine results the way it should be. So, how would people find it?
Content that can be found might as well not exist.
Sure, you’ll have some content that only needs to be seen by a niche audience once, and that’s not what we’re talking about here. But if you’re working on an overall content strategy, SEO is what will structure everything you do to make sure people searching for it can find it.
How to Create the Perfect Strategy
Now it’s time to put it all together, which, as is usually the case, can be easier said than done. But if you use the following framework, you’ll get a sense of how you can work through a series of questions to arrive at the most effective plan.
1. What are you trying to accomplish?
This is so vague, but it’s the correct way to start. It’s easy to get caught up in needing to utilize tactics or share news without really examining who you’re telling and why.
Here are some possible goals a brand could have:
- Inform customers about a new feature
- Persuade people interested in cars to sign up for your car review newsletter
- Show people interested in paying for a music streaming service why yours is the best fit for them
We’ll use our own blog as an example. At Fractl, we wanted to make sure our marketing advice was reaching people who could actually use it. It’s our goal to help the greater marketing community by sharing our knowledge and experiences while also showcasing our expertise in a transparent way. (We understand people won’t want to hire us unless they know what we’re capable of!)
But ultimately, the goals are to increase our brand authority, be more visible, offer genuine value to the marketing community, and get more leads.
So our objective is set. Next up….
2. Which audience matches that goal?
It’s important to have a very clear idea of who you’re trying to talk to. If it’s as general as “the public,” there are probably ways to narrow that down, too. Maybe it’s members of the general public with a certain interest or problem. Or maybe it’s a certain subset of your customer base. Whatever it is, think about who ties to your objective the closest.
In our example, we have two target audiences for our blog and case studies: Other marketers in the field, and professionals who work in SEO or digital marketing who might be looking to hire a content marketing agency.
3. What is the best way to reach that audience?
At this point, you know who you’re trying to reach and what you want to tell them (or what you’d like them to do as a result of passing along that information).
That’s a great start, but this next step is crucial. You can try to get them your content, but if you don’t know where they’re most likely to read it, you can’t properly communicate it.
Ask yourself: Where is this audience online and most receptive? And then, take it a step further -- if it’s an audience you’ve interacted with before, check your analytics to see where they’ve been most likely to read what you provide.
Examples of where your audience might be consuming content:
- If you’re targeting customers, maybe most of them open a certain roundup email you send out
- If you’re targeting potential customers, maybe they find your competitors through Google searches, and you want to outrank them there
- If you’re targeting certain online communities, maybe they’re more active in social media chats or groups
In our case, marketers are often searching for resources in Google, so creating a blog and trying to rank there made the most sense. We also create high-value content for other sites where our target audience reads content to expand our reach.
After you’ve answered those three questions, you’re ready to start forming your plan.
If you’re messaging on social media, email marketing, or other less evergreen channels, the SEO component won’t apply as much, though you still should do similar research in figuring out what those audiences are interested in and what they’re looking for.
But if you’re planning to post content on your site, it’s time to do the following:
- Perform keyword research to determine how people are searching for the content you want to create, and then optimize for that keyword
- Make sure the content you’re creating isn’t so optimized it doesn’t read naturally; confirm it’s providing real value to your target audience
- Promote it on any channels you think it’ll be valuable to give it a boost and perhaps build links to the page, which will work with your keyword optimization to boost its potential ranking
Ultimately, no matter how you execute, remember that everything works together. The generated backlinks and optimized keywords involved in SEO help bolster the content you’re creating in search, and the quality content you create proves that the rankings you earn are deserved. Good SEO means better visibility, and better content means better SEO.
It’s a beautiful cycle you need to keep tweaking and improving, which you can absolutely do as long as you understand the relationship between SEO and content.
Good luck out there!