Observing all the efforts of SEO professionals to relabel what we do, over the past few years, I'm reminded of the MLM industry's attempt at giving their business plan a new face: “network marketing.”
I was sitting down with a high level MLM distributer some months back and he stressed that he was not presenting a multi level or pyramid scheme. I pointed out the obvious, that in fact he had just presented a business opportunity structured with various levels, earning different income percentages, and that with more people in the bottom level, and a decreasing number in the upper levels, the diagram would look very much like a pyramid on paper. He became very defensive and I tried to calm him by comparing the structure with that of Fortune 500 companies. There are only a few top executives, considerably more desks in middle management and the largest number are employed in the labor force at the bottom. The MLM industry has allowed many people of modest education and start-up capital to make outstanding incomes, providing comfortable lifestyles for their families, while giving the very same opportunity to many others. Now why would anyone be ashamed of that, or feel there was a need to call it by another name? Of course there have been unscrupulous MLM'ers, just as there are shady SEOs and corrupt corporate executives.
I come from a design background. I began in the print industry, moved into magazine publishing and in 1997 observed that web design was growing rapidly and offered new opportunities. My epiphany came in 1999, when a client called out to me across a parking lot, as I was about to enter the bank. “I love the website you built. Our customers like it. But as for bringing in new business, I might as well be sending smoke signals.” I will never forget those words. I went home to do a lot of soul searching and came to the solemn realization that attractive, even brilliant award-winning web design, without a solid SEO and content strategy behind it, was only adding to the clients' overhead. SEO has made it possible to provide a respectable return on investment, to deliver value. I'm proud to be in the SEO profession.
Most skilled SEO professionals, inbound marketers and content marketers employ the same strategies, to varying degrees. I realize that some feel there is a need to separate themselves from the pack by using unique labels or buzzwords in their branding, but that there is some overlap between SEO and content marketing. There has been a lot of trash talk surrounding the SEO profession on the web — particularly shady link building — and I believe some SEOs may be ashamed of what they do. The desire for disassociation from a bit of bad press may cause some internet marketing practitioners to rebrand their work for all the wrong reasons. Bottom line; developing on-site content based upon keyword research and analytics and a portfolio of “good” links are still the primary reasons websites rank well, and traffic from search engines remains very hard to beat.
In the wake of Panda and Penguin, the need for professionals that can help companies create findable content and attract prospective customers to that information has never been greater. I believe that’s a certainty that will outlive any SEO tactics, content marketing strategies, SEO experts, internet marketing terminology and even the search engines themselves.
To answer the question, what's the difference between SEO and content marketing, here's my take on it:
SEO strives to increase traffic and conversions through improved search engine rankings. Coming up in the top-5 results for the right keyword search terms will make your site more visible, drive more traffic to your website and generate more income. At the core of SEO, you'll find keyword research and a link building strategy that probably includes resource links and guest posting. The technical aspects of site architecture, site mapping, tagging, internal linking, etc. also fall under SEO.
Content marketing is about building brands through content, building name recognition. It does make brands more visible, but not through search rankings. It focuses on self-promotion over the development of links.
I believe that both approaches, done well, provide value to the customer. And they can work hand in hand. Will there be some that disagree with my understanding on this? Absolutely. The “SEO is dead” camp definitely believes traditional SEO has come to an end.
Like many SEO companies, we're not a one trick pony. Our focus has been SEO, but most of our client work now includes content marketing strategies. This blog post is part of our own content marketing and the keyword term “content marketing” drives traffic to our website.
I welcome your input and look forward to your comments.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)