Lee Odden

Content Marketing Strategies with SEO

Lee Odden     Online Marketing

content marketing word cloud

We’ve debated content vs links as it relates to SEO as well as the general merits of content in online marketing for several years on this blog. Most of the advice about content optimization comes from a search engine optimization perspective, or at least, from SEOs.  I decided to reach out to a good number of people that work mostly on the content side of internet marketing to get their opinions of the interplay between content and SEO with a strategic perspective.

Five of those content marketing smarties are featured below including:  Jon Wuebben President/CEO of Custom Copywriting and author of “Content Rich”, Heidi Cohen, President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Adjunct Professor at NYU and Columnist at ClickZ, Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42 & Z Squared Media and author of “Get Content. Get Customers”, Heather Lloyd-Martin, President/CEO of SuccessWorks and Sally Falkow, President of Expansion Plus, Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research.

How would you define “content marketing strategy” and what role does it play in a SEO effort?

sally falkow
Falkow: A content marketing strategy is a plan based on in-depth research – keywords, search volume, competing pages in the search engines, looking at your own analytics and your current rankings.

Pulizzi: Creating a content marketing strategy means developing a keen understanding of what your customers need to know and then delivering it to them in a compelling way to create or maintain a behavior.  It’s an important to differentiate the content strategy as part of the overall integrated marketing strategy because developing a content strategy forces you to think more like a publisher than a marketer. It’s less about sales spin, and all about delivering a consistent message that is valuable and relevant.

It’s hard to think about creating an effective SEO strategy without first developing the content marketing strategy.  Getting people to your web pages is one thing, getting customers to feel and think a certain way about your content, and then creating a behavior change is another all together.  The two go hand in hand, but without a content strategy that makes sense for your business and your customers, the SEO strategy either won’t make sense to customers, or won’t accomplish the organizational goals and tactics of the business.

Cohen: From a marketing perspective, I define content marketing strategy as providing relevant information for your prospects, customers and other important audiences (such as press) at every point in the buying process to aid purchase, support post-purchase usage and encourage advocacy.

To this end, it’s important to place content including instructions, how to articles, marketing collateral, photographs, video, forums, ratings and other information where consumers will look for it using search. Understand that consumers may use different terms at different points in the process depending on how they view the information which can be important to your SEO efforts. Once users find the information, make sure that they can engage with your firm or product via a variety of tools including “Buy It Now” buttons, Email-a-Friend, Print This Page, Customer Service, 800 number and other engagement features.

jon wuebben
Wuebben: Your content marketing strategy is a systematic and planned approach you take to develop site copy, blog content, press releases, articles, newsletters, videos, podcasts, e-book and/or white paper downloads and other forms of content that enahnces and builds your relationship with new prospects, current clients, the media and those in your industry. Through developing this relationship, you secure a long-term, two-way “benefit channel” for both yourself and them. People buy from those who they have a high comfort level with. If you have a large network through the relationships you’ve built from your strategic content efforts, you will always have a steady stream of buyers for your products and services.

The role content strategy plays in the SEO effort is simple: if your content can be ranked high in the search engines for your keyword phrases, you will attract more prospects, media attention and industry interest at a faster rate. It makes the marketing of your content much easier, because its placing it on their front door. If all they have to do to see your content is open their door, then you’ve just accomplished something that many other companies have not and it gives you a competitive advantage. Note: the content must be relevant and high quality and the content must be updated and added to frequently for maximum impact.

What advice can you give companies that are looking for the benefits of an overall content marketing strategy while enhancing search visibility through SEO?

heather lloyd martin
Lloyd-Martin: The benefits are huge from a conversion standpoint as well as a SEO standpoint. But first, let’s talk about SEO. Google states that site owners should create a “useful, information-based site” and to “write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”  Right there, Google is stressing the importance of content. We know that how a page is written around a keyphrase focus can have an incredible impact on search engine visibility. Plus, content naturally gains long-tail keyphrase positioning that a site owner wouldn’t necessarily target – yet brings in qualified traffic. So yes, the more pages you have on your site, the more ways that people can find your site. The more content you have, the more positioning opportunities you have. The more that your site is considered a “resource” in Google, the better the site will position. It’s a win-win.

But let’s look at it from the sales/marketing side. Prospects are evaluating your site to determine their next conversion step. Have you grabbed their interest enough to get them to call you for more information? Does your writing make folks think it’s worth it to give you their email address to download your white paper. Does the content tempt your prospects into buying from you rather that your competitor? The quality of your writing – and here we’re getting into old-school direct response – can make the difference between a conversion and a fast exit. Content strategy is more than just about how pages position with the engines. It’s about how successful the writing is in getting your prospects to take action. It’s about speaking your customer’s language and making your case so convincingly that your prospects can’t help but take your next action step. Sure, sales-oriented pages help with this (like product pages.) But articles, FAQ pages, blog entries – these are all content snowflakes that can melt together and cause an avalanche of sales.

jon wuebben
1. Analyze your current web presence – What is the state of your existing content? What types of content do you have? If you only have a five page website and thats it, you know you have work to do. If you are looking into the various types of content I pointed out above, you are ahead of most and on your way. If you are actively engaged in all the types of content I mentioned above, then you are in the top 10%. If you are connecting with new prospects, building your database and driving new sales from your new content, then you are in the top 5% and you are a truly model for other companies.

2. Look at your online competitors. How does their content compare to yours? Are they capturing email addresses and marketing through a newsletter and a blog? Do they have a forum where customers can discuss their products and services? Is their site built out with benefit-rich, call to action pages? Take some time and really see what you are up against, be sure to check their links, their meta tags and their presence in social media sites like Stumble Upon, Technorati and others. Your goal: be better than them.

3. Start building your content. Whether you do it yourself, through partnerships, or use a mix of both (recommended), there is no better time than right now to start growing your content. As you do, remember your keyword phrases and be sure to include them. Remember the rules of SEO and follow them. Keep in mind the needs of your future customers and write about them. If you dont know how to go about it an need help, reach out and start building your network. Dont know the first thing about keywords? Use Wordtracker. Confused about SEO? Find a good Search Marketing Firm that knows it inside and out. Dont have the time to write? Locate a great web copywriter and outsource to them.

Cohen: An overall content strategy can enrich your site’s offering from your customers’ perspective. In essence, you are providing an augmented product since the content, whether developed internally or through your customers, is part of your offering and can distinguish your firm from competitors. Further, by providing targeted information, you can enhance your customer relationships by becoming a trusted source.

Pulizzi:  All companies, no matter what the size, must start to think more like publishers than ever before. Consumer behavior has changed drastically over the past few years. Customers are more accepting of content from “non-media” sites and the barriers to publishing are now non-existent. This has created a tremendous opportunity for businesses, but one that has a short leash. Customers’ content expectations when going to corporate web sites are higher than ever. If you can’t deliver on their perception of your brand promise quickly through your web content, they will simply go elsewhere.

The best advice is to first identify what your customers need to hear to make their lives better or jobs easier. What’s the information that they need to know that keeps them up at night.  That’s exactly the kind of content that you need to be giving them.  Once you understand that, deliver it to them quickly and easily – and maybe most importantly, do it on a consistent basis.  Whatever you decide are the best content initiatives (blogs, enewsletters, eZines, digital magazines, etc.), create a content production plan and stick to it.  Once this is accomplished, fitting the content within your SEO strategy (which is part of the content strategy) is much easier to implement.

What comes first, keywords and SEO or content marketing strategy? Why?

Cohen: Your content marketing strategy and SEO strategy should be developed first to ensure that they work together to enhance your brand and offering.

jon wuebben
Wuebben: I think it all starts with keywords. This gives you the “lay of the land” for your industry. By engaging in an extensive keyword research effort, you start seeing patterns, begin understanding how your future customers think and develop a firm knowledge of how the search engines, namely Google, works. This is all fundamental. Plus, most businesses have no idea what their prospects are searching for. Most websites dont have a clue about keyword research. The bottom line is that if you are on page 1 for these phrases, you will receive more clicks and more inquiries than others. Its that simple. To start with your keyword research effort, get a free trial on WordTracker.com or KeywordDiscovery.com and go to work!

Once you have your keyword phrases researched, look into SEO and putting together your content marketing strategy simultaneously. You want to ensure that what you develop is fully optimized from the start. Again, if you are intimidated by Search Engine Optimization, seek to partner with a leading SEM firm.

Pulizzi: Understanding your industry keywords is an important part of the content exploration process, but I’m a believer that the content marketing strategy must come first (see above). You can have the best SEO strategy in the world, but if the content doesn’t move them to action once you get them to your site, then what’s the point. A solid content marketing strategy will help you understand the process of conversion because it delivers on your customers’ needs and expectations. In my opinion, the SEO strategy has a short shelf live without content (which is why SEO consultants are now continually banging the drum with their customers about the creation of great and ongoing content).

sally falkow
Falkow: Keyword research comes first – along with the other things I mentioned in point 1. Once you have that data you can formulate a content marketing strategy. Then you can go after your SEO in an intelligent manner

Example – for a consumer electronics retailer it makes more sense to started with SEO for digital camera accessories. It’s easier to get on page one for that term than digital camera – much less competition. And the sale of these accessories is more profitable. That page one listing will drive traffic and sales while you continue to work on the broader term digital camera over time.

heather lloyd martin
Lloyd-Martin: For sales copy, I always advise letting keyphrases drive the content marketing strategy as much as possible (although, admittedly, this is a personal preference). Here are some specifics about “why keywords first”:

(1) It’s often easier to blend keywords into new sales copy than retrofit them into existing copy. “Optimized” copy (where the keyphrases are added later) often sounds and reads like “optimized” copy, and the sales focus can be lost.

(2) Keyphrase research can uncover a wealth of “hidden” content opportunities that a company would have never considered. For instance, you may learn that a good volume of searchers are searching for “how to choose a digital camera” – and your site sells digital cameras. Aha! A content idea! That allows your writers to go back, create a sales page focused around the new keyterm (plus a couple other keyterms) and give readers exactly what they want. Keyphrase research, in this case, allows companies to learn what their prospects are interested in reading and create content geared towards their needs.

It’s important to note that publisher sites will write about what they want to write about, putting content marketing strategy first – and then they work with a SEO copywriting shop to optimize the content for keyphrases. This is also perfectly OK. Publishers know their target audience well and know exactly what their audience wants to read. The SEO copywriter’s job is to merely make the content easier to find in the engines without taking away from the informational flow.

Something incredibly important to mention is that “content marketing strategy” is more than sticking keywords into your copy. If you are writing sales copy, it’s important to use direct-response techniques, focusing more on persuasion than keyword density. It’s great to get a top ranking. But if the copy is so stuffed with keyphrases that it loses its persuasive power, it’s doing you absolutely no good.

Mapping keywords to content is a fundamental part of on-page site optimization program. It encourages content creators and marketers to assign specific meaning and purpose at the page level. Sounds logical, right? Why do you think so few companies practice it?

Pulizzi: Look at the editorial experts in almost every industry. They were never taught to create content by mapping keywords, or even considering keywords at all until just a few years ago. It is foreign to many, and it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks.

More information on each person interviewed:

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Some interesting opinions there, Lee. Thanks for canvassing those contributors because it gives us an insight into how some of our more academic colleagues think about this subject.

    Fot those of us in the trenches, there are two fundamental issues that impact website content creation:

    1. Without content your site is going nowhere. All gains have to be made by advertising, but that is highly inefficient compared to a more balanced policy that preferably favours content. You can run your truck on Glenmorangie whisky, sure, but the ROI is terrible. Unfortunately website owners are eager to pay for PPC because they can see an immediate, solid return. It may only be a 2 or 3 to 1 return – but it’s there in a couple of days. Content creation is highly elusive in comparison – it’s just the promise of gains “at some time in the future”. The potential ROI is 10:1 or even 20:1, which compares very favourably with PPC – especially when it brings home the bacon long after the bill was paid. But it’s only a promise, for a couple of months and usually even longer.

    2. The more content you’ve got the higher you score. Simple. If you’ve got 5,000 pages with 5,000 words on each then you kick A for sure. Problem though – that’s kind of tricky for marketing. Selling your offer is best done off short, sharp pages. So how to combine the two? Aha – that’s the secret. The $64k question actually…

  2. What a fantastic article. My take-away is this: It’s common for us and our customers to get lulled into the technical aspects of SEO but it doesn’t stop there. The mechanics are relatively easy. The tools and techniques are many and they are littered all over the internet. What is REALLY important, and many times missed, is simple old fashioned marketing! Good copy writing, making sure you establish credibility with your customers, adding value and compelling them to progress through the conversion funnel are key!
    Really great job here!

    -Peter Braswell

  3. Very interesting read Lee, thanks for sharing. I am of the school where content is always king. We can become extremely analytical, but the basis of all wealth creation is providing a service to others. This service includes what valuable information which you provide on your website to expand the lives of others. Always have a service oriented mindset, starting with the content which you will publish.
    I feel that it’a all about quality first, then quantity. Publishing useless or non-pertinent information will results in small returns in the long-run. People want real value. How can you add to their life? How will your content do that? Asking yourself these questions will move your mindset from “how can I improve my ranking” to “what kind of service am I offering, right down to the value which my content provides.”


  4. Good blog and super discussion.

    Thanks for all

  5. great way to look at page optimization. good read.

  6. Great article, and interesting discussion…
    I agree that links are important, but where to link to when there is no content? If you have content, good content, targeted towards the reader, then all else will follow. Links will build organically, and extra traffic will too.
    Of course, you do need a bit of help to get it started in the beginning, but once your rolling…

    • re: “Links will build organically” technically, that’s true. But it’s not what makes companies money through search. Waiting for links to come to your site “naturally” is like waiting for your next million to be delivered to your front door. A winning SEO strategy involves creating compelling and meaningful content that’s optimized and promoted to a target audience. How will anyone know to link to your “great” content if they don’t know about it in the first place? Content promotion attracts attention and links resulting in improved search visibility.

      • I totally agree… And, that’s exactly what I meant with “a little help in the beginning”. Loads and loads of the most magnificent content is useless, or doesn’t even really exist, if there are no links to it, and nobody can find it.
        You need to get a kickstart to get it all going.
        After that, it will grow automatically. Doesn’t mean you have to rely on that as your single source of incoming links and traffic of course… To go with your comparison of the million dollars: While waiting for the next million dollars, there is nothing that stops you from earning or searching your own million, but in the meantime, each dollar they deliver to your door is a nice extra 🙂
        If that makes any sense… I think I need some sleep now (midnight in Belgium). G’night!

  7. Best quote from article..

    (1) It’s often easier to blend keywords into new sales copy than retrofit them into existing copy. “Optimized” copy (where the keyphrases are added later) often sounds and reads like “optimized” copy, and the sales focus can be lost.

    (which will affect your bounce rate either way)

  8. SEO is for CEO. No longer can you leave SEO to your IT. Today people spend significant time researching before they even hit your site. Meaning, they have already formed some opinions. If you are stuffing keyword around sales material you may get some incremental seo traffic, however this traffic may not stick on your site.

    SEO needs to be tied into your overall business strategy – unique value proposition etc. As Google understand more and more how human beings are consuming content, we should see more emphasis on content.

  9. In SEO the approach should be based on some strategy for required results. Online marketing trends increases the competitions among the online companies as well as the marketing personals. In SEO the strategy should be with the foundation of keywords, where as Anchor text should be used to make the work effective.

  10. Great article and content is crucial and a good copywriter can turn drab technical stuff into something that people not only want to read but also seamlessly provides something the SEs will like.

  11. Interesting article! You will come a long way by writing good quality content on your blog and commenting on other blogs in your niche.SEO doesn´t have to be more difficult than that.

  12. Brilliant article. I’ve read this at least a dozen times already and was just about to twitter it (tweet rather) when I realized that I hadn’t given proper credit where credit was due. So Bravo on an invaluable article!! I intend to share this with all of my colleagues and partners.

  13. I had to learn SEO and how it relates with web content by trial and error. No classes or webinars. There is a definite give and take and you must have a well rounded approach to climb pages and stay there.

  14. Thanks Lee for pulling together the thoughts of a group of great minds on this. For me and working with SMBs, I can’t help but thing of how much value a content strategy brings to their website. It is sooo overlooked in that space.

    • A lot of SMBs aren’t in a position to produce a lot of content so it may take more convincing. But once they “get it” and see progress, it’s another matter as I’m sure you’re aware. Thanks for stopping by, BTW.

      • Right you are Lee. Once we find the ideas that connect with them for creating content, the results happen rather quickly in their space. It’s quite fun.

  15. “Mapping keywords to content!” Absolutely loved this blog and the wide range of experts. Now, I need to sit down and sum up all of the experts into one statement, to define my own strategic approach to Internet Marketing.

    Thanks for saving me a lot of time~!


  16. A nice article with a lot of useful information.

    To me, a Content Marketing Strategy must come from an overall Marketing Strategy. It is no use to say this is what the website is going to be about if the the basic marketing information is not there. And, sadly, in many cases that is missing.

    Setting a Content Marketing Strategy without knowing target market, customer habits etc is a waste of time. Content is certainly king. But, even good content is not going to help if it is not relevant to the target audience.

    Joe Pulizzi said “Creating a content marketing strategy means developing a keen understanding of what your customers need to know”. However, without an understanding of your target market what you think the need to know and what they think they need to know can b worlds apart.

  17. Lee,

    You make a very good point: “A winning SEO strategy involves creating compelling and meaningful content that’s optimized and promoted to a target audience. How will anyone know to link to your “great” content if they don’t know about it in the first place? Content promotion attracts attention and links resulting in improved search visibility.”

    Wenda Harris Millard, speaking recently at the annual IAB summit in Orlando, questioned: “Where is the creative innovation in advertising? Data alone is not going to assure we create a successful brand experience. There is art here, literally and figuratively.”

    I think WHM’s comments are indeed timely. A content marketing strategy begins with art – a/k/a – “a great idea.” This “art” is then optimized as compelling and meaningful keyword content — especially effective — as noted above, in “short, sharp pages.”

  18. Avatar Steen Seo Ohman says

    Content is king … but Links have been the præsident for a long time now. Coming from Denmark we do have a king, no præsident.

    It’s hard to get organic growth in links a small language as Danish. The potential number of users are often rather small. You really need to do some effort to build these links.

    My experience is you have some viral effect on link building, as you get more links, the organic growth also tends to pick up.

    But in the beginning you really need to build those links, ideally with anchor texts relation to your high quality content.

  19. Choosing the right keywords for your target audience and then implementing them into your site, is a very important part of your SEO. Although links play an important role in SEO and without them your site wouldn’t do very well, but surely the first thing you must do is the on site optimisation before you start link building.

  20. Very interesting article!

    SEO is techniques that search engines recommend as part of good design. SEO is not just about following guidelines, but is about ensuring that the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see.

    Good SEO is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose.

    Thanks for sharing.

  21. Great post. Your expert opinions are coming to come in useful when I explaining to clients on why they need to invest in ongoing content rather than just having an online brochure and pouring money into PPC.