Sometime in 2011, the SEO industry started to shift gears. Maybe it was fallout from Panda. Maybe the agencies had plateaued, realized they needed to appeal to business professionals who would never find out about search engine optimization on their own. It was around this time that the phrase "content marketing" started to make its way into the industry.
I believe that content marketing skills are useful for SEOs, and I believe that SEO skills complement content marketing very nicely. But, as I've briefly mentioned before, there's a real danger in conflating these terms with each other. They are not the same thing.
Have you convinced yourself that you're a content marketer? If so, let me ask you this: would your content marketing strategy be profitable without the blessing of search engine traffic? Would it be worth the effort if every link you earned from your efforts were no-followed? Would you have an audience tomorrow if Google decided to ignore all of your content marketing efforts?
If not, you're not a content marketer, and you need to stop lying to yourself.
Why SEO Without Content Marketing isn't Necessarily Evil
If you ever feel a masochistic hunger for verbal abuse, visit any edgy SEO forum and let people know that you are an SEO, but you are not a content marketer. At best, that statement will be divisive, but more likely, you'll be almost universally reviled.
Here's why. These days, professional SEOs are finally coming around to the sensible position that if you want to use Google to make money, you should probably abide by their terms of service. That means that you should be "earning" links instead of "building" them. Never mind that the vast majority of these SEOs are still building the vast majority of their links with guest posts and outreach. At least they have something "worth" linking to.
If you aren't a content marketer, but you are an SEO, "clearly" you are just a spammer.
Here's the fatal flaw in that logic. "Worth linking to" = "great content," apparently. But this is not even remotely true. In fact, it sidesteps a very important fact about the internet. The vast majority of the most linked to sites on the web are not content sites.
Almost one year ago, I pointed out that the highest PageRank sites on the web share one thing in common. Every single one of them gives their core users something to do.
Facebook is not a content site. Amazon is not a content site. Yahoo! and MSN might produce content, but it's their email and search tools that made them what they are today. Fundamentally, Wikipedia, YouTube, and WordPress aren't really content sites either. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The top sites on the web are more accurately described as some mixture of tools and communities than as sources of "great content."
There's also a second fatal flaw in that logic. If you have content that's worth linking to, that doesn't mean you are a content marketer.
While content marketing has undeniable SEO benefit, even more so if you know something about SEO, true content marketing isn't about building or attracting links. It is about building and keeping an audience.
Personally, I believe that some combination of SEO and content marketing is one of the most powerful ways to grow an online presence with limited resources, but that doesn't mean they are one and the same.
Image credit: Sean MacEntee