Lee Odden

The Truth About Content Marketing & SEO

SEO tunnel visionOver the past few years, there’s been a tremendous focus on content creation in the search and overall digital marketing world. Once you get past the hype, there are plenty of well documented case studies showing the ROI of a content marketing approach.

Unfortunately, content marketing campaigns are often guilty of paying little more than cursory attention to the optimization of digital assets for search. There might be a “keywords” or “SEO” check box on a task list, but it’s not anything that takes full advantage of search based discovery. The content might be engaging and inspire action, but good luck finding it on a search engine.

Why is this? It can be a mix of factors ranging from the ambiguity of SEO cause and effect to prioritizing tactics according to the ability to implement and understand how to measure their impact.

The flip side is when SEO and popular keywords drive the entirety of a content creation effort. When the focus is on aligning all assets and tactics for attracting buyers via search – it can be at the expense of content quality and the customer experience.

This debate is not new at all:

What good is great content if no one can find it? How useful is findable content when it doesn’t engage and persuade?

For whatever reason, many marketers tend to gravitate towards extremes: “All SEO All the Time” or “Content: More, More, More”. One of the biggest myths propagated by the SEO world’s definition of content marketing is that it simply means creating more content. This flawed approach has gained momentum due to hyper-promotion by SEO consultants trying to differentiate themselves. Attention and budget are being taken away from core SEO programs, creating more than a little hostility towards the “more” definition of content marketing.

The thing is, most Digital Marketers do not see content marketing as simply creating more content.

Here’s my definition: Content Marketing is the thoughtful creation of content designed for a specific audience to inspire a particular outcome. It is often mapped to the information needs of a target audience segment during the customer journey from Awareness, to Purchase to Advocacy.

Content Marketing is infinitely more than just creating more blog posts, videos and infographics. Content Marketing is not a “subset” of SEO either. A strategic approach integrates content marketing and SEO as appropriate to the audience and objectives, not according to the capabilities of the agency.

For brand marketers that are tasked with month over month increases in web sourced customer acquisition and revenue, prioritization of resources is the reality. It’s not just about the tactics, but about the things that can actually be implemented and move the needle.

Content Marketing Strategy has to factor in all digital channels as well as offline where appropriate because the focus isn’t solely on a search engine. It’s on the customer. Customers don’t just use search for finding solutions. Search is hugely important during the customer journey, of course. But it’s not the only touchpoint.

The only thing worse than no SEO at all, is ALL SEO.

Ignoring the contribution of search for attracting visitors that are actively looking for your information is a huge mistake. At the same time, ignoring content marketing simply defined as “more content” and focusing only on SEO is also a mistake. Search engines don’t buy products, people do. Market to the people!

There’s no arguing that Search Engine Optimization can be a specialist’s game, especially when dealing with technical SEO or issues related to having been delisted and requiring link cleanup and re-inclusion work. Speaking of which, there is no better indictment of the SEO industry and its reputation than having to pay a SEO agency to clean up the consequences of previous SEO work – especially when Google has been pretty clear about webspam and SEO tactics that violate Google guidelines.

I’d like to think those times are past us and that modern SEO is more aligned with a holistic approach to digital marketing than risky shortcuts.

More content isn’t better unless it’s meaningful and findable.

Most companies have minimal content creation in their marketing mix, so creating more content will always be a part of improving their online marketing. SEO can play an important role in content marketing strategy by informing topics, content organization, message and promotion to achieve the findability objective. Of course the broader notion of optimization means furthering the goal to conversions as well – i.e. the performance of the content as a marketing asset.

As competitive and dynamic as the web is today, I can’t imagine how anything but a collaborative and integrated approach to content marketing and search engine optimization can win. That’s the truth.

Image: Shutterstock

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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. As competitive and dynamic as the web is today, I can’t imagine how anything but a collaborative and integrated approach to content marketing and search engine optimization can win. That’s the truth. > Amen to that.

  2. Lee…

    Here here…. Excellent post…. This is a constant battle these days as SEO remains so important, yet is changing so fundamentally. As I often tell clients – you can be a content production factory – and your content will do nothing but settle bar bets. Or, you can be remarkable, and perhaps reach fewer people. And as you point out, it’s not a zero sum game – and it’s the balanced approach that will ultimately win. Kudos my friend.

  3. Well said Lee….The truth is (as you say) that as content marketing has become mainstream, some brands are flying by the seat of their pants without regard for best practices. If they experience poor results, they’re the first ones to say “it doesn’t work.”

  4. I think you summed it up well with your statement that “More content isn’t better unless it’s meaningful and findable”. Focus on creating great, meaningful content with SEO in mind, and once you’ve created that great content, make sure its’ findable because as they say, “great content isn’t great unless it’s read.”

  5. Avatar Mike Moran says

    Great post, Lee. To me, it all goes back to something I talked about years ago, “Specialist Disease.” Every marketing specialist wants to check everything on their own list, to the detriment of the overall effectiveness wit your customer. Your points about content marketing and SEO are spot on. Likewise, does it make sense to decide content topics based only on keyword research–or should you be using social listening and other forms of market research, too? The older digital marketing gets, the easier it is to go deep on one or two things and miss the big picture. Thanks for bringing us back to the surface.

  6. I agree! I always recommend you create content for the readers because every business is a human business. Human being are what you’re after not AI. Now that’s not saying to ignore SEO but the people takes precedence.

  7. Yes, It has to be a combination of targeted content and technical SEO. Neither alone can get you results.

  8. Avatar Anna Pham says

    Over relying on SEO does not make a marketing campaign success, I’d rather think that content matters and content should be the competitive advantage here.

  9. Avatar Sonja Jefferson says

    Thanks for the post Lee. SEO and content must walk hand in hand. I think it’s all about balance. I see some content marketers who cotton on to SEO and then every post they write has an obvious keyword slant. What I loved about their content before was the evident passion they had for their subject but now I feel marketed at, not talked to (if that makes sense). This lessens the value of their content in my eyes.

    • The best SEO is transparent to the reader. When it’s easy to find content that’s really engaging on a search engine, then you know SEO and content are working together.

  10. Interesting read. I have seen keyword stuffed, spam content still rising to the top of the search engines and the strange thing is Yahoo and Bing seem to have more of a handle on it then Google. Im sure you will agree to disagree but i have run many experiments with poor keyword rich spam content as well as content that was engaging and helpful without the keyword stuffing and guess who the winner was? You got it..the keyword stuffed article. It just goes to show that Google is still just a big dumb search engine (Still). When Google starts treating content spam with a little less clout, that’s the day i will jump for joy! Until then…well Good luck!

  11. Avatar Christopher Droney says

    Fantastic post, I agree by adding good content to your site on a regular basis, you will be generating links to your site at a consistent and measured rate, that will attract the right kind of attention from the search engines, and really thats the name of the game.

  12. Avatar Cindy Turrietta says

    Hi Lee- Love your definition of content marketing, thank you for sharing it in this most excellent post. Of course it states what should be the obvious, right? A lot of effort can go into creating content for the sake of creating it and not enough effort into creating great content to satisfy search thirst. I’ve personally seen the first approach fail and the second work like a charm.

    I also like that @Mike Moran mentioned looking at other sources such as social media for market research and I agree that yes, they should be listened to. Long tail keywords have become increasingly important over the years and can bring in huge amounts of traffic. It also creates that holistic approach the search engines love by really responding to the people. However that’s probably another post, right?

    • Thanks Cindy, I think when it comes to this topic in particular, the idea of what’s obvious is like the notion of “common sense”, not so common in practice.

      A distinction made in the post and worth mentioning here is that search thirst is the objective for SEOs, but it’s not the end objective for customers. Finding is one step towards solving. It’s not the end goal. Content Marketing as a discipline is focused on the entire journey from finding to engagement to purchase to retention and advocacy. As you already, know, search plays a role during wherever there is content or media – during the entire journey.

      The question in the article is: should the search findability objective drive content creation or should solving the customer problem be the driver? Good to see some interesting discussion about the topic.

      I’ve learned a lot from Mike Moran too, from enterprise SEO to approaching search more holistically. I edited the social media chapter of Search Engine Marketing Inc, 2nd Edition for him and saw early on, his savvy for the intersection of social media and search marketing. He’s a smart guy indeed.

  13. Avatar Bella Cottage says

    This is really an interesting piece of analysis you have put forward. Keep up the good work and continue providing us more quality information from time to time.

  14. Avatar ICTReview says

    Thank you Lee for your useful articles.

    Content is always king for SEO. But “if no one can find it”? Yes …then you must properly promote your content so that viewers can be benefited.

  15. Good thoughts Lee. Great content is only effective if it’s found. We have to ask ourselves not just how much or how great the content should be but what audience is most appropriate. How can we reach that audience? Building up a following in social enough to drive results with content takes time.

  16. Avatar Goran Maric says

    Excellent post! I like this one: ” The only thing worse than no SEO at all, is ALL SEO. ” SEO and content must go together! They must be for people and machines! 🙂

  17. Avatar John Waghorn says

    Interesting piece Lee, I agree that in
    order for campaigns to really be effective they need to incorporate both
    content and SEO for full effect. If your site is optimised and you are firing
    on all cylinders with regards to SEO, then the content that you create alongside
    this is going to create more of a sustained impact.

    Like you say, it’s about
    finding a consistent balance between the two areas rather than going full steam
    ahead with just one.

  18. Avatar copywriting services says

    The definition of SEO as the means of grabbing a top spot in the SERPs is the thinking that content creators have to move past in order to make their optimization an integral part of the content that they create. It is important to write for real readers but, as you say, it is irrelevant how great your content is if the people that you want to read it can’t find it. In the end, good content is optimized for both people and spiderbots.

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