Content & SEO

SEO And Content Marketing: Differences And Correct Integrations

By alexandra-cote ·  September 18, 2020

You can’t do content marketing effectively without SEO and you can’t get SEO to work without some form of content marketing. Both statements are true. The two fields are often confused despite them working together better than any other marketing spheres.

The reason why SEO and content marketing are often used incorrectly is that people tend to separate the two fields. Once you do this, you’re unable to find the similarities and realize how you can integrate the two.

Understanding that SEO plays a huge role in the success of your content marketing attempts. It also makes the difference between putting content out there just for the sake of filling up a blog and actually seeing results. 

The way I’ve always looked at it, SEO was never absent from my content marketing activities whenever I wanted to go for more than merely sharing my thoughts. But the fact is, SEO does have its own distinctive parts separate from the content marketing realm.

So first, what is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of making the appropriate changes to your website and content in an attempt to raise your domain authority and visibility on the web.

SEO can be divided into 3 distinct focus points:

  1. Technical SEO – This is the only aspect of SEO that wouldn’t necessarily be categorized as part of content marketing. It involves having an XML sitemap, guaranteeing mobile-friendliness, using HTTPS, and lots of other elements your developers will rack their brains with. The catch is, all of these aspects will influence the way Google indexes and ranks your content. This being said, all three SEO aspects are vital for your content strategy.
  2. On-page SEO [keyword research goes here] – One of the first steps when putting together an editorial calendar is keyword research. Having the right keyword ensures you’ll rank for the query of your interest. Choosing a relevant keyword is not enough though. There are roughly 16 other on-page SEO elements to consider for a blogging lift. Cover and update these on a regular basis to keep your content high in the rankings.
  3. Off-page SEO – This is literally the content promotion part. From having a social media presence to getting backlinks to your content, off-page SEO refers to all of the content sharing efforts that happen outside of your own website.

What SEO looks like without content

Like keywords without a context.

You can get your homepage and other landing or product pages to rank by optimizing them for a keyword of your choice. However, popular keywords that commonly have a high volume and keyword difficulty will additionally require off-page promotion attempts.

The “SEO without content” approach was the thing of the past where people would just create “SEO copy” without thinking of intent. Such SEO strategies don’t work anymore.

The technical SEO aspects will also need to be covered well before you launch your content strategy because they help with the general ranking and usability of your website. Ensuring all technicalities are optimized in time will leave you with more time and resources to focus on your content-related SEO efforts.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing involves all the efforts for creating, maintaining, and promoting content through all stages of the marketing funnel. Content involves different mediums and forms such as articles, podcasts, videos, case studies, presentations, infographics, books, social media posts, and many more.

A common misconception is that content is only focused on selling. Instead, its broadness implies a variety of roles, including bringing in leads, increasing brand awareness, promoting engagement, and much more. Besides, content marketing also has its own funnel that helps you categorize content types:

Content Marketing Funnel (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)

What content marketing would look like without SEO

Like a bunch of text and ideas on a blog nobody will read.

But content isn’t just about the words. Regardless of how great your research is, SEO is that one factor that makes your articles discoverable. You might be able to talk about a secret or finding that could change the world and no one will ever read it. 

Content distribution efforts alone can also boost rankings [traffic from social media, for example]. So the two need to be combined even though content distribution gives more of a short-term visibility boost, while SEO is a long-term game.

There are still types of content you create without a keyword in mind. Ebooks and product announcements for instance have different goals than just ranking. Yet, you’ll need to do at least off-page search engine optimization to bring some more eyeballs over your content. 

Not to mention that the technical and on-page elements you tweak to optimize your homepage will also contribute to growing your audience, getting backlinks, and increasing brand awareness. In turn, this brings more traffic and raises your thought leadership which is extra important for Google these days. Safe to say, content is not highly visible without SEO.

SEO and content marketing differences

The broadness of the field

The easiest way to distinguish the two is to consider content marketing as a broad field. It encompasses anything from the blog posts you share on social media, to the videos you put on your YouTube channel and the whitepapers you create to get leads. It involves both strategy, content writing, and the everlasting promotion stage.

On the other hand, SEO is more specific and technical. You’ve got a bunch of best practices that you can apply on top of your existing content and that’s it really. Once you apply search engine optimization principles to content, you’ve got a broader channel of action for SEO as well.

One thing to be careful of here is not to consider SEO as inferior or short-lived. Both processes take a long time to develop and maintain so neither SEO nor content marketing is something you can just do overnight.

Analytical vs. creative

Another core difference is how technical SEO is compared to the freedom you have with content marketing. There’s a relatively finite number of search engine optimization changes you can make to your content [200 according to Brian Dean]. These include:

  • Making sure your main keyword appears in the right places; title tag, headings, meta description, alt text, and more
  • Avoiding duplicate content
  • Linking internally to relevant pages
  • Ensuring your site is mobile-friendly
  • Getting backlinks from .edu and .gov domains along with .com ones

With content marketing, you’ve got total control of your creativity. You can decide how you want to differentiate your content from similar pieces, what channels to promote your articles on, what your sharing strategy should be, and other fun factors that depend entirely on your own mind. All of these tweaks take the READER into account. On the reverse side, most SEO factors you need to keep in check are meant to please Google’s bots.

Humans and bots

No matter how controversial this statement is, it’s probably the number one thing anyone should learn about SEO and content marketing:

You do SEO for Google. All other content marketing efforts are reserved for the people.

You need to distinguish between pleasing human readers or Google robots when you want to create content that will rank high but also be deemed of top authority by your real readers. 

Here’s where integrating SEO and content comes into play: The Google algorithm looks at what readers think about a piece. This is done by taking into consideration the time they spend on your article, if they engage with the post, and even if they opt to go back to the SERP and click on a competitor’s link.

Real people are responsible for “telling” Google whether the quality of your content is up to par or not. And in case the constant algorithm changes are making you go crazy every time, remember that writing for humans will always prevail. So looking to educate and bring unique insights to a field should be your core priority.
In fact, the Google Webmaster Central Blog has this secret [not anymore] hidden among all of their updates:

“We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”

Integrating SEO and content marketing

To understand why the two fields work together, look at SEO as being a reason. 

Most brands create content for SEO purposes. There’s a keyword they want to rank for or they want the #1 position on Google when someone searches for a product or service.

Content marketing makes all of those dreams come true.

And the process is simple really but so time-consuming. It all starts with a keyword. Let’s say “email marketing software”. 

You’ve then got your goal which is to appear as high as possible when someone searches for this keyword. Run a search for that keyword in an SEO tool of your choice and analyze the current SERP results:

SERP results

A tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs does literally everything. It tells you how hard it is to rank for a keyword, who your competitors are, and even how many backlinks you need to get to the top.

From here on starts the content strategy and writing process which you’ll use to ensure your content brings something valuable to the table. You know, so you don’t repeat the same things that have been said hundreds of times and will only be buried under the other results. 🙄

Never leave SEO out of your strategy. Every single heading and keyword can make the difference between a piece that will rank in the first ten results and a post that will get lost among the other billions of articles that are written every single day.

So is mixing SEO and content marketing really worth it?

The benefits of integrating content marketing and SEO include:

  • Get your content seen by more people
  • Make it easy for Google to rank your content based both on search engine optimization and what real readers think of the information you provide
  • Keep content updated in time to maintain/increase its rank and influence
  • Strengthen your thought leadership through content pillars
  • Ensure site-wide content quality
  • Establish authority to last for more than just a couple of months
  • Score new partnerships and sponsorship opportunities
  • Gain more leads and loyalize existing customers

Steps to integrating SEO and content marketing

One thing to clarify is that SEO is all about keywords. Finding the right keywords, ranking for them, getting backlinks related to your main keyword, etc. 

But keywords don’t stand alone. You need content to make them work.
Context gives SEO its real value and there’s no context without content marketing. If you will, a nonconformist definition of content marketing is just this:

“Giving meaning to keywords.”

Going to the extreme end of the specter, SEO can’t be done without content. You need “a bunch of text” to start somewhere with search engine optimization whether that text is a landing page or a complete guide.

You can’t opt for just one effectively. Seeing results from content marketing is close to impossible if you opt for none of SEO’s areas. And sharing your post on social media is already a small SEO contributor. 

The same is valid for backlinks. It’s not content marketing that demands a series of links. It’s your SEO goals. Kind of like this:

content writing + content promotion = backlinks -> SEO goals reached

No matter how many domains you need to link back to your content, you’ll ultimately turn to some form of content marketing. Whether that’s guest posting, pitching quotes via HARO, or just regularly updating your content to keep it at the top.

The importance of updating old content and where SEO comes into play

Getting people to share your content and give you a backlink is no easy feat. You need brilliant content and you have to get it in front of more people.

But what most marketers fail to realize is that you need to keep that content at an upper level for years, not just for a couple of months when the topic is buzzing. That’s exactly where SEO comes into action for a second time to help you maintain content up-to-date.

Since there are so many factors to take into account when updating old content, here’s a checklist of the steps you should go through:

  1. Go through the keyword research process again – The reader intent for the main keyword you chose initially can change in time. In addition, all the secondary keywords you’ve used will have a different intent, volume, and keyword difficulty. Taking this into consideration, keep the keywords you currently have while ensuring that the ones with higher volume get a top priority when it comes to frequency and presence in headings or bolded sections.
  2. Turn to your Search Console – The Performance report in Google’s Search Console holds immense amounts of information related to how people search. The Queries tab should be your go-to source for finding which keywords perform best on your website and if there’s any keyword you can further optimize a page/article for based on the current ranking. Plus, it shows which pages you need to refresh or merge into a larger piece of content. 😉
  3. On-page SEO factors – Remember the 16 on-page search engine optimization elements I mentioned? Just updating these on a regular basis can prolong the visibility of your article.
  4. Promotion – There’s this one thing all content marketers say: Share an article even months after you’ve published it. But not many stick to this and prefer to share it once or twice within the first few weeks. Truth is, you’ll need to keep sharing it regularly even years after you first published it. One good approach is to update it with new findings and share these together with the link. Otherwise, your traffic will look like this:
Low Traffic Results

5. More inbound links – This is without a doubt the lengthiest process of them all. Whether we’re talking about guest posting or cold emailing websites to link back to your content, you’ll likely need an outreach specialist to take care of this on a day-to-day basis. Don’t worry though. Inbound links come naturally too if you’ve got exceptional content. However, you still need to dedicate time to share your post and fit in a link back to it in a relevant guest post.

When to use content marketing and SEO?

Every single time really. 😉

The first case is when you want an evergreen piece that will bring you backlinks and quality traffic + leads. Here’s where the topic, keyword, and SERP research comes into place, followed by all the on-page SEO tweaks you need to make.

The most common situation when marketers realize they need to put more effort into their SEO strategy is when an article’s success declines. This can appear in several different ways on your Google Analytics dashboard. It usually looks like a flat stream of page views that follows a traffic spike:

Traffic Decline

Other practical applications of mixing SEO and content marketing include:

  • To improve the organic click-through rate on your articles
  • Ensure high visibility for your content and appear on multiple networks
  • Increase your domain authority
  • Be present as a thought leader in your industry
  • Support your branding attempts

Be aware though: the SEO and content marketing mix is not for everyone. If you have a local business or service you’re trying to promote, you’re better off sticking to PPC and local SEO strategies that will provide results faster. Simply put, if you’re looking for quick results, plain old SEO and content is not the way to go.

Depending on the type of business you run, you’ll want to carefully choose where you place your content. 

A coffee shop, for instance, should opt for social media promotion rather than long-term blog strategy if they’re only selling locally. Once they shift towards the ecommerce site and want people from across the country to buy their products, a content plan can be paired with their PPC campaigns.

Questions like “Which is the best strategy: SEO or content marketing?” or “Is content marketing the new SEO?” are clearly not worth debating. There’s no way to stand out without SEO just like you’ll need some form of content to get your product or service in front of more people.

In this context, it’s safe to say that if you’re a content marketer, becoming a pro at SEO is a huge plus. Not only does this ensure your SEO campaigns will succeed, but you’ll be able to create those evergreen pieces everyone talks about.

Finally, whether your goal is to rank or just raise brand awareness, remember to write for humans. 

It’s convincing and educating real people with your content that will turn you into a go-to source for information and keep your brand top-of-mind.
Beyond any bots. 😉

About the author

Alexandra Cote Alexandra Cote is a SaaS content writer and strategist with a passion for content marketing, social media marketing wonders, and artificial intelligence. She’s a strong supporter of staying happy at work and choosing a career path that’s healthy for people’s wellness.
Alexandra Cote