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SEO is all about content, it’s all about audiences and it’s all about engagement. Stop me if you’ve heard something like that before.

But have marketers lost sight of the foundations that search, and digital, are built on? 

It seems like it's getting harder to find people willing to talk about the virtues of good, solid search engine optimisation; the core technical proficiencies that make the web work.

Instead, people want to talk about content, creative, social engagement and all manner of audience metrics.

While that is, and always was, undoubtedly part of any sound digital marketing strategy, there’s a sense that perhaps, just perhaps, some marketers have jumped on the content bandwagon a little incautiously. 

What we have seen, in a relatively short period of time, is a rise in the number of brands banging the content drum above all else.

Many agencies have largely followed that same beat, and it has changed the mind-set of the brands that they are talking to. 

There are lots of good reasons for this. Google algorithm changes are obviously a key driver behind the shift.

Content was important before, and it is certainly important now, but has the industry allowed itself to lurch to the other end of the spectrum; where big-bang creative and the pursuit of ‘engagement’ have overtaken consideration for just, you know, doing the basics and doing them really, really well?

And is content simply an easier sell than some of the more technical and less glamorous aspects of digital?

That idea that may cause some raised eyebrows for any content marketer that has had to wrestle with the idea of proving the ROI to the board, but at the very least, content is visible, it’s fashionable and, ultimately, it’s what puts people and brands in the spotlight. 

But content cannot be a strategy around which every other element of digital and search engine optimisation is built, it has to be a tactic that is part of a wider and much more balanced strategy. 

Digital is all about balance

People love to talk about content.

It’s creative, it’s exciting, it’s interesting and it allows both marketers and brands to express themselves in ways that few other tactics do on the same cost and resource level. 

But when speaking to various marketers recently, there was a notion that perhaps the love affair with content has arguably come at the expense of other core elements of search marketing.

That isn’t to say that marketers aren’t doing the other fundamental elements of digital, but the question is over the extent to which these elements are integrated together – if they are integrated at all. 

This isn't a particularly new debate, but while the virtues of integrating content marketing with SEO have been discussed at length, the issues still persist.

Indeed, in the light of Google’s Penguin and Panda updates, it’s arguable that the disconnect has become even greater, and in an environment where search engines are decreasing the reliance on links and focusing on content, UX and engagement, it is only natural that minds will focus in a particular direction. 

But while content-related factors are undeniably an important part of a digital strategy, so too are some of the more traditional and technical elements of digital.

Stickyeyes’ own Roadmap tool highlights that although the importance of ‘links and authority’ may have declined, it is still a massively influential ranking factor with a strong correlation to ranking positions. 

What we therefore have is two marketing tactics that are dependent on each other.

SEO needs content, but it doesn’t have to be glamorous

Search engine optimisation has relied on content. Even during the pre-Penguin period where everyone was rushing for links, links and more links, content was still crucial. 

But does this content have to always be the glamorous, big-bang creative ideas that get noticed in order to be effective? Well, not really.

And ask yourself, is your brand or agency really resourced to deliver that in the timeframe that you need it? After all, quality creative can be very resource intensive. 

For sure, it has to be good content, it has to be something that delivers some value to the reader, but it has to ultimately fulfil its purpose; it has to function. 

Functional content is very much the staple of your entire web presence, and can cover anything from your company information and your store finder pages, through to the copy on your product and sales pages.

It may be overlooked in the pursuit of shares and engagement, but functional content plays a vital role in any digital strategy. 

It establishes what your page is ultimately about, and it guides your customer through their journey. 

Content relies on SEO to move

Content marketing doesn’t work unless it moves – another one that we’ve all heard before, and there are plenty of ways in which we can make our content move.

Influencer engagement, social media, paid content distribution, email marketing, PR – the list is almost endless. 

But search also remains a huge channel for content discovery.

Content is still actively searched for and, for all of the click-bait headlines and optimised descriptive titles, content still needs a solid foundation upon which it can be discovered.

These foundations are fundamentally built through technical SEO. 

The collaboration to bring these skills together

SEO and content marketing are two very distinct skillsets, and this is often the root cause of this disconnect between content and SEO. 

But these skillsets, departments and stakeholders need to collaborate in order to deliver a complete digital strategy.

SEO needs content marketing, content marketing needs SEO, and both of these functions need the support of the wider business in general.

If you want to get your ideas off the ground and in front of your audiences, you're going to need to get other people on board and a single, unified voice is much more effective at doing this than multiple ideas and ambitions all vying for limited resource.  

Don't neglect the value of sound foundations because if you do, it is highly likely that your content will fall down.

Integrate these two key marketing tactics with the rest of your organisation. That is how you will engage your audiences with an effective digital strategy. 

Michael Hewitt

Published 9 March, 2016 by Michael Hewitt

Michael Hewitt is Content Marketing Manager at Stickyeyes and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Michael on Twitter and LinkedIn.

8 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Michael Townsend, Digital Marketing Account Director at SocialB

The basic foundations for content & SEO need to start higher up with a good quality website that is mobile friendly, loads quickly have links to internal & external content etc. That is why it's important for brands and agencies to understand what is required from both an SEO & content viewpoint.

8 months ago


Joe Chancellor, Informationalist at Speaker

I appreciated this post for sure. As a speaker and leader for a large community of online informationalists... it's very important to have context and perspective in line. There are too many half backed cakes of tips and how to's out there.... looking forward to sharing more and meeting your contributors at future events.

I shared this on my fan page at facebook.com/theinformationalist

8 months ago

Joe Armstrong

Joe Armstrong, Copywriter at C4 Solutions

You seem to be using the terms "content" and "content marketing" somewhat interchangeably in this article. It's important to keep in mind that proper content strategy is much more than content marketing and it's relationship with SEO more fluid.

8 months ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design Ltd

When is the Stickyeyes chart dated?

I would think that having a fully responsive website would have a positive effect as it better present content, in Google's eyes at least.

8 months ago

Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton, Founder at Neo Mam Studios

If content is created to generate awareness then I am sorry but it does need to be bigger and better than what is out there at the moment including what publishers are creating.

Choosing not to compete in this space because you are worried that your agency/provider can't produce in the timeframe is not a reason to create "functional content" but a reason to start looking for an agency who can deliver.

Content marketing is getting harder every single day and even more so for agencies who provide many different services.

8 months ago

Daniel Whitehouse

Daniel Whitehouse, Head of digital at GravytrainSmall Business Multi-user

To play devil's advocate, I've seen both sides of the coin over the last few years. With many companies instantly jumping on the 'content is king' strategy back in 2011, the strategy was simple; more is more! (Some) agencies focussed almost entirely on churning out press releases which was a shocker at the time. Owch, not sure if my team would want that clean up job. Moving forward to the last couple of years a new breed of data driven 'content strategy' has been a strong focus. Making a very dry tactic of utilising search data to inform content strategy is still nothing new. I’d agree that a look at all channels working together is fundamental from an integration perspective. In summary, reacting to change leaves us rushed off our feet. The alternative is to predict and plan. A little harder, but if plans can be laid down for 3 years from now (rather than now) that’s going to give the best chance of success - where possible!!

7 months ago


Kyle Healey, Founder at KHealey.com

I think you're 100% right. That's why I coined the term "Future Marketing" in various mastermind groups. It covers SEO, Digital Marketing, Hologram and all future technologies.

It's comical to me that a company could pay an "SEO agency" thousands a month and have some "junior analyst content marketer" handling the entire campaign. Someone who might not even know what SEO really is.


7 months ago

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