The Truth About SEO vs Content Marketing

Story by Robert Geiger.

Cary, NC – Recently, a colleague sent me an article from Smashing Magazine titled The Inconvenient Truth About SEO. Excuse me if I beg to differ.

Setting the Record Straight

Usually, I spend most of my time working with business owners. I try to ignore the sideshow buzz created by marketers who are purposely trying to be controversial just to get attention. In the interest of time, I resist the urge to jump in and argue in rebuttal. But lately, people have been asking me to set the record straight. To share with others what we’ve done that’s been so valuable and worked so well in their businesses. They see their fellow owners confused by all the marketing hype and they want to help them. So, I’ve finally agreed to put things in their proper perspective.

Do you get tired of reading articles that say, “SEO is dead, Content is all that matters” or “Content Marketing beats SEO every time” or “Latest Google changes invalidate your SEO.”

What’s most frustrating is that these so called experts who write these articles are misleading people about the true value of these most noble of marketing tactics. It’s confusing to business owners who are trying to make good marketing decisions. It’s confusing to the marketplace. It makes it difficult to know how much is enough, what’s too much, what works and what doesn’t. Lastly, they promise that this one technique is the magic bullet!

Just the Facts, M’am

The facts are quite simple. Content is necessary. Search Engine Optimization is necessary. These two tactics (and others) both belong in a balanced strategy – neither to the exclusion of the other.

Over the past years, I’ve conducting two hour seminars on “Content Marketing Strategy” and several more on the various aspects of on-line marketing that people like call SEO. And in any two hour session, we just scratch the surface of what they are and how they fit into your marketing strategy. Sadly, both good Content strategy and good SEO strategy are subtle and can be complex.

It’s like playing chess. Content and SEO are just two of the pieces on the board. But just because the game’s a little complicated doesn’t mean you don’t play the game! And certainly, you would not go into a game without all your pieces, right? And if you’re rally smart you’d start with a strategy to deploy the pieces based on their strengths and weaknesses working together. You certainly would not try to play the game by only ever moving one piece!

That’s the difference between strategy and tactics. Hopefully, this is starting to make sense.

The Great Game of Business

We business owners do not play the great game of business without any competition – and we certainly don’t play to lose. If there was no competition, then the “Content Marketing is King” approach might actually work. Any simple marketing strategy might do just fine. In the real world, though, there are always other business people trying to eat YOUR lunch.

The Value of Winning

Consider this: if two businesses in competition for the same customers use similarly good Content Strategies, then who wins?

And what is the value of winning? Why fight this marketing battle at all?

The answer is simple. If you are the #1 ranked company on a search engine result page, you get about 4 out of every 10 clicks. 40% of the lead generation value of the page. Any other spot on the page gets about 1 or fewer of every 10 clicks.

Now let’s go back to you and your competitor. You both have a good “Content Strategy” going for you. You both are fighting to be #1 – for 3 more clicks (think leads) than anyone else gets on the same search results page. If your competitor wins, you get 1 (if your lucky) and they get 4 (or more) valuable leads coming to their web site. That’s a pretty good start…for them, bad for you. All things being equal – both sites “convert” the leads at the same rate – and you lose the battle and the war. You might even lose your business.

Think about it… they get 80% of the leads between you. That’s 4 out of every 5 leads. What’s 4 customers worth to you? Do you know? Do you know what the lifetime value of one customer is? If you don’t get out your pad and figure it out. Then ask yourself how you can NOT pay for a marketing strategy with an ROI that includes getting 80% of the leads between you and this competitor!

The Difference between Winning and Losing

What makes the difference for being #1 and winning the game? Answer: The SEO that convinced Google that your content was more authoritative than your competitors.

Here is why I say that it’s irresponsible to advocate that SEO is dead, or that it’s “snake oil” or a “black art” designed to steal money from poor ignorant business owners. Under the right conditions, used properly, it can be the most important part of your marketing strategy that strengthens and brings together the whole strategy.

At this point, I need to head off all my fellow marketers that will cry foul because they don’t want you to know these truths. I understand their plight. It’s hard to sell products and services to business owners that are complex and hard to understand. Marketers would rather simplify what they sell. They’d rather just sell “Content Marketing” or a New Website, or “Social Media” (whatever that’s morphed into these days) – sell something bite sized and easier to understand. I can’t say I blame them, really. You know, with all the noise about “the economy” and all that. It makes sense because, as we all know that, “the confused mind always says no.

The problem is that any one of these solutions by themselves is far less effective than a well thought out marketing strategy that chooses to use some combination of these tactics over time. Business owners purchase “Content Marketing” as the answer and wonder why it’s not living up to the promises made. You buy “Social Media” and now you have a facebook page.. but no new customers. You write articles, and no one reads them. You make videos and no one watches. You keep trying the next new thing, and still, no new customers.

How’s that been working for you? Could it work better?

Magic Bullets and #1 Secrets

What are the elements of a well rounded marketing strategy for your business. Well, that’s my business.

I learned early on that there is no magic bullet. There is no #1 secret. I know, I tried them all! None of them work by themselves.

There is only your vision backed up by a well thought out marketing strategy, with carefully selected tactics specifically designed to work with your customers, and a long term implementation plan that looks 12-18 months into the future and beyond.

It’s up to you. Dabble… or Play The Game to Win!

Remember, there can only be one #1 winner in your niche, and your marketing ROI can be at least 4 times greater if that’s you!

And the Winner Is?

What Wins is a balanced strategy that has a reason for coordinating and moving all these pieces around the board at the same time in a way that maximizes results specifically for your business and beats the competition to your customers. You maximize return on your marketing investment (ROI) by executing a strategy that begins with your customer and ends with sales. You intentionally use a blend of content, keywords, SEO, podcasts, video and whatever else it takes to distinguish you and your company in your niche based on what your customers expect and what’s needed to win.


Robert Geiger is a mentor at Cary Innovation Center. Connect with him on LinkedIn. Photo of Fibber McGee and Molly from Wikipedia.