Back in the ‘90s, there was a cartoon called Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It was about a group of five teenagers—of surprising racial diversity—who each had a ring granting them super powers. They used these powers to fight pollution, and when the job was too big for them to handle alone, they put their rings together and summoned the eponymous superhero. As he appeared in a bright flash of light, he would shout his catchphrase: “By your powers combined, I am…Captain Planet!”
It wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed television.
While the show didn’t have good writing, it did make a good point: sometimes “combining powers” is the only way to get the job done. Even so, many SEO and content marketing teams are failing to summon super search results because they’ve divided their efforts. They operate in relative isolation, paying only minimal attention to each other. This is a serious oversight, as the key to true digital marketing success is by joining forces and working together.
The Objectives of SEO and Content Marketing
The division between the two teams comes largely from a misunderstanding of purpose. Let’s illustrate.
The perceived purpose of SEO efforts is to accomplish things like:
- Optimize metadata around keywords
- Acquire valuable and credible backlinks by the bushel
- Build web pages around keywords in order to rank for them
This is all done in an effort to ultimately:
- Increase ranking on SERPs for certain keywords, leading to…
- Increased visibility for the brand, and—
- Increased web traffic
To simplify, the goal of SEO is to make the website more visible to the search engines, which makes it more visible to the humans, which increases traffic. That’s it. That’s their goal. Once visitors are on-site, sealing the deal is up to someone else.
Meanwhile, the goals of content marketing include:
- Generating content that’s relevant, unique, compelling, engaging, and entertaining
- Issuing effective calls to action
- Writing pieces that are highly shareable, and prone to going viral
And they do these things in the interest of achieving:
- Increased Visibility for the brand/company
- Increased brand loyalty by becoming an authority on relevant subjects, and—
- Increased time spent on web pages, which leads to…
- Increased conversions
In other words, SEO’s job is to bring users to the website, while content marketing seeks to keep them there and help them convert, and just by enumerating that, you’re beginning to see value in coordinating the two. They’re two phases of the same process, but the more integrated they are and the more seamlessly they can work together, the more effective both of them will be.
Improving SEO With Quality Content
Think of a typical summer action movie. Odds are pretty high that the main character is a man, and that there’s a woman in the film that he kisses. That female character likely received very little characterization—she was there solely to emphasize how desirable the man was. That means she had no desires or goals of her own, other than to be with the guy.
Savvy audiences, especially ones looking to connect with the content, are prone to noticing a lack of depth like the example above. So when an SEO team commissions content strictly for the purpose of ranking for a keyword, they’re creating a character as shallow as the love interest in an action film. Users will recognize it as dummy content that’s not meant to have any inherent value, and they will esteem your brand as less trustworthy as a result.
Instead, serving up valuable content, especially when keywords aren’t stuffed or shoehorned in, will elicit better results from search engines, better engage readers, and lead to better conversion rates.
Enhancing Content Marketing With SEO
If a blog post falls over in the forest, and there’s no one around to read it, does it still improve SEO? The answer is an obvious “no.” Content teams can’t expect to simply produce content—even well-written content—and expect it to be helpful to the company if it’s irrelevant, or if it doesn’t come up in searches.
SEO, whether you knew it or not, is designed to help with both problems—relevance and search rankings. First, when content is built around keywords, it’s more likely to rank for those keywords, meaning it will come up in the SERPs when people search for them. That’s a given. What might not be so obvious, however, is that the content will rank higher more consistently when the content is relevant, and SEO can help with that, too.
People search for certain keywords because they’re looking for certain pieces of related information. That information isn’t always apparent from the keyword itself. That’s why, when SEO specialists look beyond the keywords, content improves. SEO teams should work to understand the “why” behind keywords, by researching things like:
- The topics of content that rank for certain keywords
- TF-IDF words in content that ranks
- Customer feedback, surveys, and questionnaires
- And so forth
The insights from such research will shape content, and help content teams to aim their efforts at topics that audiences are interested in. And if the content is actually answering the audience’s questions, they will be more likely to read it.
In the end, the key to optimizing the efforts of SEO and content marketing lies in understanding the needs of the audience, and then delivering targeted, carefully-crafted content that meets those needs. We’re not saying that every piece needs to look like it was penned by T.S. Elliot, but quality content that’s relevant performs a lot better than the stuff that looks like a high school freshman wrote it.