When done right, content marketing and SEO can both guarantee sustainable growth for a brand and work as a consistent compounder for generating website traffic for free.
Content marketing and SEO are two of the most actively practiced activities in the online marketing landscape. 9 out of 10 B2B marketers use content marketing and SEO can capture over 40% of the overall revenue.
They are often considered to be one and the same thing.
But while they certainly interchange paths and cannot function without each other, does SEO only revolve around content marketing? Or there is something special that separates it from the traditional online marketing philosophy.
Knowing the similarities and differences can put things in perspective and open doors to new opportunities.
But before we jump into the complex stuff and pull apart both, let’s start with an overview of each.
SEO is the process of optimizing a site to generate free and relevant organic traffic from search engines (primarily Google).
Your search ranking is the result of the calculation of over 200+ parameters.
With new ranking factors rolling in each year, SEO is an ever-evolving process.
Content marketing is a process that involves planning, research, ideation, production, and distribution of content to gain branded traction and ultimately, turn traffic into conversions and revenue.
SEO focuses only on optimizing for search engines while content marketing takes a bigger picture.
Content marketing impacts a brand’s overall communication on all the digital channels (more about this point in a subtopic below).
Before we jump into how they both are the same, let’s understand their differences first.
In this section, we will explore what separates these two marketing mediums from each other in terms of philosophy, execution, and impact.
You can plan your content marketing strategy to work on every marketing channel including search, social, paid, email, and so on.
You can achieve concurrency in your messaging in all the digital channels via your content marketing plan.
For example, your content marketing plan involves generating awareness for a particular product.
Hence, you can develop your content that discusses your target audience’s pain points and tap into their requirements to introduce your product as a reliable solution.
This involves comprehensive research that will provide lots of inputs for any type of organic or paid online campaign.
In another example, let’s say you want to increase traffic for your blog through Facebook Ads.
Now, you need to write powerful copy in the caption and add a creative that resonates with the users and makes them click.
How would you make sure you are delivering the same intent through your copy and ad creative?
You need to strike relevancy, which you can derive from your content marketing plan. In this activity, including keywords with higher search volume on Google is irrelevant.
This is a point most people (even expert marketers!) get wrong about content marketing.
SEO, PPC, social media, email, chatbot—all are marketing channels.
On the other hand, content marketing is a process that lays the foundation for building marketing plans and content for those various marketing channels.
SEO, just like any marketing channel, requires dedicated planning and structures in place to let a brand promote its products and services on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
But as discussed above, a content marketing plan is broader and is meant to help a brand’s promotion on multiple online channels, including SERPs.
There is no winning formula or established process in content marketing that works for every brand.
To develop a content marketing plan for each brand, you will have to research the personas, set the KPIs, and develop content that brings the required results.
For example, the content marketing plan for a SaaS product will not work for an eCommerce website or other SaaS product, per se.
In all those scenarios, you have different target audiences, different solutions, and unique styles of operation.
In SEO, however, you get an established set of procedures that works for various websites in a particular category.
There are best practices and methodologies that you can practice to rank almost any site.
For example, to rank a site, you can create an SOP that involves working with keyword research, meta tags, image optimization, loading speed improvements, site structure, UI and UX improvements, and other technical aspects that can favor the site to achieve top position on SERPs.
Gone are the days when activities like social bookmarking, directory submissions, and Web 2.0 are critical parts of an SEO strategy.
Nobody was talking about Core Web Vitals in 2012 and a few were focused on delivering a stellar web experience to their target users.
Psst.. we are coming up with a detailed blog post on core web vitals in August. So, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter at the end of this post.
Today, both these parameters, including many others, are an integral part of SEO strategies.
As marketers and business owners, you now need to work with developers and SEO specialists to boost the search rankings of a website.
You have to pay keen attention to a site’s overall structure, internal linking, design, speed, and source code.
You have to take care of visual content while improving the overall session time for the users. All these tiny parameters add up in massive SEO-positive results.
In content marketing, however, you have to plan creative PR outreach campaigns, design relevant email newsletters, develop effective copy, and so on.
When you are working on SEO, you have to follow the guidelines of specific platforms.
SEO for improving listing rankings on Amazon is different from what you do to rank higher in Google search results.
If a platform introduces algorithm updates, you have to upgrade your website and the SEO tactics to keep getting unique visitors to your site or listing.
Therefore, depending on the platform you are optimizing for, the process of SEO differs.
Content marketing, as discussed, focuses on multiple platforms and channels to derive maximum conversions and engagement for the brand.
Moreover, the research process also differs for both.
While working on a content marketing plan, you have to pay keen attention to all the mediums to develop a robust plan.
For example, you cannot just research Twitter and develop a content plan.
You need to go to other platforms like Reddit, popular niche blogs, watch YouTube videos, etc. to get a comprehensive idea of what you want to deliver and how you want to deliver.
Similarly, in SEO you have to observe what currently top-ranking pages are doing and try to do it better and faster.
But in SEO, your market research only revolves around that specific platform while in content marketing, the entire internet is your source of inspiration.
With the differences clear, now let’s see how content marketing and SEO are similar to each other.
Everything that we do online is to gain traction that eventually encourages someone to visit our website—our home on the internet.
Even if you are just sharing valuable information on social media channels to build your personal reputation, you can leverage that to build trust and eventually build traffic for a site in your affiliation.
As far as content marketing or SEO are concerned, both of them share the primary goal of generating traffic to websites.
The existence of SEO is to generate free (and not paid as in PPC) and relevant traffic to websites.
Through content marketing, whether you are promoting content through a blogger outreach campaign or optimizing a landing page with keywords, the end goal is to attract relevant eyeballs.
With content marketing, you get different ways to generate traffic to a site. You can send email newsletters, put links in the bio of your social media accounts, or create targeted PR campaigns, and more.
In a YouTube video, Brian Dean of Backlinko shares that he generated over 12,000+ website visitors through email. Here’s that video:
Without content itself, both of them cannot exist.
Imagine everything online shuts down for a few days.
What would you do? How would you sell products? How would you talk to your target audience?
All you would be left with is a plain black screen showcasing nothing!
No, I am not discussing a time-travel movie’s script.
I’m emphasizing the fact that whether you realize it or not, everything you and I are seeing at this very moment is some form of content. Ranging from a billion-dollar social media platform to an email signature, all of them are different forms of content.
It could be a web page, video, infographic, social media threads, comments, images, audio, and whatnot!
It’s impossible to make a single sale online without publishing any content piece.
Think about it, what would be your online selling strategy if you’re asked to close a lead without sharing anything on the web.
It’s next to impossible to even prove a brand’s existence if you don’t share anything.
From creating a website with a bunch of pages to publishing a podcast episode on Spotify, executing PR campaigns for new products, or producing Instagram Reels—everything falls under the broad umbrella called content.
Once you improve content marketing activities for your website, it will automatically improve your website’s chances to rank higher in SERP.
Content marketing with an SEO focus does involve both persuasive copywriting and publishing comprehensive long-form blog pieces. But there’s more.
It also revolves around improving the overall browsing experience and making people fall in love with your brand. For example, designing better landing pages, adding visual aids to better deliver content, distributing the content through PR & blogger outreach, repurposing content through video & graphics, and a lot more.
Once you start optimizing your website with a content marketing angle, the user experience improves dramatically and people will feel more connected with your brand.
Producing relevant content will help SEO by:
Improving Overall UX: There’d be less fluff and clutter on the site. Hence, users will enjoy browsing through it and the site will have a better loading speed.
Plus, the site will have a resonating copy for a targeted audience, who will eventually spend more time on the site, resulting in longer session time and a lesser bounce rate.
Therefore, working on content marketing for your site directly impacts your website’s SEO performance.
Regularly Adding Highly-Curated Content Pieces: When your SEO efforts are driven by content marketing, the focus to deliver maximum value through your content grows exponentially.
Your style of publishing content then revolves around solving your reader’s problems, which is what Google wants you to do since 2015 when it introduced the RankBrain algorithm.
If your content is high-quality, the audience will stick around—again resulting in more session time, better keyword relevancy, more shareability, and so on.
Link Earning Goes on Autopilot: Audiences always love good content and good content result in more mentions and backlinks from other sources.
Hence, when you optimize the quality of the content, your content automatically gets rewarded with mentions from high-DR sites and reputable sources.
Quality links will eventually improve your website’s SEO credibility to a whole new level. Plus, you will have fewer costs and time investment in acquiring relevant backlinks for your pages.
Content marketing and SEO both revolve around the same format of content pieces.
All these formats require keyword and audience research to attain the top position in SERPs.
Plus, both go hand in hand. Suppose, you are writing an in-depth and detailed blog post with a stellar copy but don’t consider overall website UX and loading speed. Then, you’ll have fewer people consuming your great content and thus, won’t realize the best possible ROI.
If you are doing SEO for over 5 years, I am sure you would know that old-school link-building techniques like directory submissions, social bookmarking, web 2.0, and more are part of off-page SEO.
Well, those things don’t work anymore. But the philosophy behind them is persistent, i.e. acquiring links from other platforms.
Today, we distribute the relevant content of a site by contributing to other platforms.
We submit guest contributions, develop high-quality infographics or transform blog posts into videos and share them with editors to try to acquire a mention from the process.
To create such content pieces that others would love to link to, we need to research the market, prepare topics, and then create a roadmap to distribute content across various channels.
Content marketing and SEO both require keyword research.
Without SEO keywords you end up creating irrelevant and unoptimized landing pages that don’t rank for relevant search terms. The same applies to other content marketing activities.
Without keywords for your content marketing activities, the infographics, videos, podcasts, or social media posts you create will have fewer impressions, clicks, and conversions.
No, absolutely not. They thrive on each other.
I believe that the role of off-page SEO will completely merge into content marketing.
The sorcery of technical SEO is here to stay and it will become more and more advanced.
Gone are the days when you talk about SEO, you talk about only keywords and backlinks.
Today, we have to follow a holistic approach and blend SEO and content marketing to build sustainable online growth.
Let me know what you think of this blog post.
If you have anything else to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
P.S.: We have started accepting guest posts on our blog and the content slots are filling up fast. If you want to contribute, head over to our guidelines page to know more.