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SEO Is Dead. Content Marketing Is the Only Way to Compete Online in 2019

Posted on 7.18.2019

What’s your digital marketing trump card in 2019? Is it Search Engine Optimization or Content Strategy?

The debate of Content Strategy vs. SEO has been ongoing for a few years now. 

SEO, which has always been positioned as a key strategy in boosting website ranking is now being replaced by the more overarching Content Strategy, which takes into account the holistic needs of end users, such as educating them, linking similar content pieces, creating landing pages, etc.

In this article, we’ll show you why and how Content Strategy has effectively replaced SEO in 2019.

But let’s put first things first: basics.


What Is Digital Content?

Also referred sometimes to as digital media, digital content is anything that can be electronically transmitted, lives online and can be accessed via electronic means. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of types of digital media.

The primary purpose of digital content is to entertain, educate, persuade and convert. All of these attributes make content a crucial component of any solid digital marketing strategy.


What is SEO?

As previously discussed, SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, refers to a set of tactical strategies and methodologies designed to get a higher search result ranking for your website.

Google and other search engines rank websites and their constituent pages using factors that fall under two top-level categories: authority and relevance to a user’s search query.

To attract the attention of a specific segment of online users, you have to increase the relevance of your site’s content to conform with what your potential customers are searching for online.

If, however, you want to increase your site’s authority, you have to make it appear more credible by creating better content and gaining links from high-authority websites, news platforms, blogs, and so on.

As such, the goal of SEO is pretty simple and straightforward: appear more relevant and more credible in the eyes of Google (and other search engines) in order to garner a favorable organic search ranking. 

More specifically, SEO encompasses all the activities that you have to undertake to make sure that your site is easily found in search results for phrases and words (collectively called keywords) relevant to what you are offering.

For example, Kool 8 is a company that sells insulated water bottles online. Their competitive edge is that the design of their water bottles is modern, sleek and simple. The company ranks organically in Google for search terms like ‘modern water bottle’, ‘minimalist water bottle’ and ‘eco friendly water bottles.’ If your company sells thermoses online, this is exactly what you’d hope to rank for. 

It’s that simple, but getting your site to the top of the rankings list is often a different story. That’s why you need SEO!


What is Content Strategy?

The definition of content strategy is a bit ambiguous.

The folks at Brain Traffic define it as “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”

Other pundits refer to content strategy as entailing the ideation, discovery, maintenance, and implementation of all forms of digital content, from video to metadata and everything in between.

In his book, A Website that Works: How Marketing Agencies Can Create Business Generating Websites, Mark O'Brien says content strategy refers to the process of incorporating expert, original and indexable pieces of content to your website that are published on a regular basis.

As you can see, content strategy can mean different things to different experts, depending on their niche. No matter the definition, the overarching principle behind content strategy is to provide users with content that is deemed valuable.

Valuable content should be entertaining, educative, practical and, more importantly, useful to the reader/consumer. If it is not useful to the consumer, then the content does not produce value.

Is the content format important? No - it can be podcasts, infographics, explainer articles, blog posts, webinar or even memes.

In other words, content strategy refers to knowing how to provide the right content, at the right time, in the right place, to the right customers. 

The overarching strategy itself dictates how you will create, deliver and govern these pieces of usable and useful content.


Content Strategy vs. SEO

So, are Content Strategy and SEO two completely separate entities?

Simple answer is: no.

There are many areas where the two overlap, but not enough to make them one and the same. Some of the key overlaps are below:

Content presents an ideal medium you can use to optimize for relevant keywords. Without content, you will have no means to optimize for specific keywords for which you may want to rank. 

Content provides marketers with a viable way to incorporate proper keywords across the entire site, and to focus on niches or topics that the target audience will find appealing.

More content translates to more rankable pages. Each piece of content you create and publish provides yet another page Google can index. With a large selection of pages at your disposal, you will have a wide range of potential keywords for which to optimize and rank.

Valuable content is good for link-building which, in turn, builds your authority. 

If you create top-notch quality content that stands out, you will gain more inbound links and therefore push your ranking higher. This can also have a positive impact on your site’s user experience.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why your content strategy and SEO should work in tandem.  

For starters, your SEO goals are, more often than not, the same as your content strategy goals. And let’s not forget about meta descriptions - well-written and optimized copy really matters.


What are the differences between Content Strategy and Search Engine Optimization?

Fundamentally, the goals of SEO and Content Strategy are different.  

SEO is focused on ranking organically in Google search results.

Content strategy focuses on the user's experience. Its goal is to build content around users, addressing their needs, educating them and helping them get value.

There are also other factors that clearly showcase the difference between SEO and content strategy, such as:


Conversions. This is a metric that matters most to lead generation and sales. 

While SEO will deliver traffic to your website and pages, it doesn’t have much bearing on conversions. 

That’s where content strategy, coupled with product management, comes into play. 

It teaches visitors more about your business, your products, your services and your brand. In a nutshell, content strategy helps nudge the visitor to take a desired action.

Backlink building. Well-written, valuable content might naturally pull in some backlinks, which are essentially good for generating referral traffic. However, if you seek backlinks manually, by asking for them from high authority sites, you have crossed over to the zone of SEO.

Technical SEO. Content strategy doesn’t have any direct impact on technical SEO. This is the segment of SEO that involves developing and submitting XML markups, code analysis, finding duplicate content, rectifying crawl errors, optimization for faster site loading speeds and mobile devices, as well as optimizing website architecture. Content quality or quantity doesn’t matter here. If you are not familiar with technical SEO, read this article: The Only Guide to Technical SEO You Will Ever Need to Read (23 Actionable Tips)

User experience (UX). Yes, UX is a SEO ranking factor, but optimizing for a better reader experience is the primary key performance indicator for content marketers. In content strategy you create content with the reader in mind, without concern for search ranking.


Why You Should ALWAYS Focus on Content Strategy

Successful content strategy is the overarching goal of any marketing organization, no matter how big or small it is. SEO is only a means to that end. The goal is to convert users online.  On its own, SEO can rarely deliver this.

The truth, however,  is that content marketing and SEO don’t go against each other. They are meant to work together like peanut butter and jelly. 

These two strategies must work in tandem in order to deliver the best of two worlds - better search ranking and a positive user experience.

Put differently, SEO is a key element of content strategy. Don’t get me wrong: although it is at the core of any successful site, SEO is not the only element. It is only one of the crucial steps to a successful content strategy.

A great SEO strategy ensures that a website shows up at the top of search rankings

You already know this: a great content strategy ensures that the pages within the website convert. This means that readers or visitors to those pages will understand what is being offered, how it can benefit them and, ultimately, decide to engage with the brand.


The Anatomy of a Successful Content Strategy

Content strategy is an all-important digital marketing tactic. SEO is part of it.

The burning question then becomes: how can you build a successful content strategy? Here are a few important tips to help you get started.


(1) Get to Know Your Audience and Build Proper Personas (Target User Analysis)


To whom are you marketing? Who is the audience reading your content? What do they need?

All of these questions need to be answered before deciding to build a content strategy. After all, a strategy needs a goal. The goal is to convert that audience. Once you know your target audience, you can create proper personas to inform your content strategy.

Creating personas helps you to understanding who the consumer of the content will be, how they will interact and react to the content and how the content can best serve them . If you don’t go through these steps, it will be akin to developing a product when you know nothing about the ideal user.

Ultimately, personas help you give context, meaning, and value to your content. When you are aware of who you are addressing, you can speak to their pain-points and touch-buttons.


(2) Research and Set-up a Content Calendar

Strategy is all about logical steps. 

Plan one step after the other.  

That’s where a content calendar comes into play. 

It will help you properly schedule those steps, which in this case are: researching, writing, editing and publishing.

Once the calendar is set up, it is time to begin researching the details of a chosen topic, decide what to write about it and the best time to publish it.

There are essentially 4 key steps to crafting an actionable content calendar:

First, you need to sit down with your team and brainstorm content ideas that suit your niche and brand. 

If you have a brand persona, ensure your content ideas align with it. 

White papers, case studies, how-to blog posts, multi-part series, infographics and buying guides are just a few content ideas you can throw into the ring.

Second, create the actual content calendar for the next one to six months. 

The schedule should cover content for email, social media, blog, guest blogs, etc. 

Hard-date pieces of content like product releases, press releases, Q&As, webinars and interviews should be set into the calendar when you have confirmed the actual dates.

Last but not least, stay on top of what’s happening around you. Do not follow a content calendar blindly. Keep a tab on your competitors, and see how your content stacks up. If it doesn’t make you stand out (or at least be competitive), don’t hesitate to pull any element down from the calendar.

Bottomline: Creating a content calendar is crucial to the success of your strategy, but it’s easier said than done. Make sure your content plan is available  to every member of your content team. Don't forget to iterate/update it as many times as seems necessary.


(3) Research and Build a Keyword Universe

A keyword universe is a repository of all the keywords for which the content strategy being created should rank. It is a group of interconnected keywords that give meaning to the product or service and illustrate its strengths, uses, and more

Here’s a list of resources, tools, and tips that will come in handy:

Determine your keyword universe. Google Keyword Tool, Google Analytics, Ubersuggest, or Ahrefs will help you conduct thorough keyword research.

Don’t forget to check out your competitors. 

Tools like SEMrush will do wonders for your competitor keyword analysis. 

These keywords will be part of your seed set, which brings us to the next point: expanding your keywords list. Keyword Discovery, Wordtracker, Google Keyword Tool, and Ubersuggest will do the trick here.

Next up, you need to prioritize your keywords. 

Put them into at least three buckets: 

(1) whales - these are highly competitive keywords in which everyone is interested. They are great for your long-term content strategy, 

(2) rabbits - these are low competition, low volume keywords. They make for easy ranking, but they won’t provide much value to your bottom line, 

(3) deer - these are medium competition keywords that receive modest volume. They should be part and parcel of your content (and SEO) strategy.

Wait!  You are not yet done . You also need to segment your priority keywords. Doing so will make it easier for your writing teams to create content that is relevant to each level.


(4) Creating and Publishing Content

Once you have completed the steps outlined above, you will be well on your way to the most important piece of this exercise - creating the content.

Here’s the holy grail of compelling, memorable and effective content:

●  Originality - Google isn’t fond of duplicate or plagiarized content.

●  Strong headline - Capture the attention of the reader right from the word ‘go’.

●  Actionable - the user can take an action after reading the content

●  The article answers questions that interest the audience. 

●  The content is sufficiently thought-provoking that the reader continues to think about it long after reading it.

●  The article is accurate and trustworthy; it includes identifiable and research-based sources.

●  The article includes images and videos that help to carry the idea.  Human brains process visuals faster and retain the memory of them longer.


(5) Linking Content

Stand-alone pieces of content are good, but they are only a dot in the big picture. Connecting all dots to paint a complete picture is the ultimate goal of a great content strategy.

That's why you need to create a repository of related content and link items to one another in order to provide a complete picture of what you want to sell, or the idea you want to communicate.

A few things to keep in mind when linking content include:

Make proper use of anchor text. You don't have to use black-hat techniques or overthink it - just link your text and move on to the next item.

Create content frequently. The more content you create, the more credible your internal links will seem in the eyes of the reader and Google.

Consider the use of co-citation. This is a fancy term for mentioning a brand without actually linking to it. Like co-occurrence, co-citation will help build authority for your content and site.

Linking for keywords isn’t too important. That is a tale of a bygone era. Forget about keywords, and just create a proper, meaningful link. The overwhelming majority of links ‘awarded’ on the internet are branded (‘According to Website Magazine’ for example) and unique keyword-driven links account for only 1-2% of all links according to an Ahrefs report.


(6) Evaluating and Optimizing Content

Now it’s time to evaluate the content to see how well it is doing. 

Not all content performs in a top-notch manner at the first go. 

That is why you need analytics managers to monitor, evaluate and understand what is working and what is not.

The primary goal of content analysis is to make a connection between causes (e.g., campaign content) and outcome (e.g., readership). This allows authors to gain insights into what the audience really wants and to optimize the content so it performs better.

At a very basic level, an analysis will help you answer the crucial question: is my content good enough? Answering this question is of paramount importance if your goal is to:

●  Know how you stack up against the competition

●  Build reader/user/customer loyalty

●  Understand where content needs sprucing 

Content is performing well? Excellent! 

Evaluation and optimization will make it perform even better! There are scores of content evaluation tools, but SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider have proven their worth.


(7) Giving Users a Goal and Converting Them

Ultimately, a content strategy is created to make users convert, take the desired action, buy, etc. How can that be successfully accomplished ?

First, you can direct them from the content pages to page revealing the product/service details for the item or service in question. Second, you can create a landing page focused on the specific product/service that includes accurate information about it:  testimonials, statistics, and most importantly, well-placed contact forms.


Why do you need landing pages?

It’s a great way to get rid of all the clutter and distractions that could prevent the visitor from taking the desired action. 

It’s a trimmed down page that can do wonders for your search ranking, as well as conversions and sales. 

Landing pages are ideal for:

●  Segmenting your offerings

●  Creating buzz for an upcoming release or product launch

●  Segmenting your audience/readers

●  Creating a harbor for your PPC ads

How do you create a killer landing page? Here are a few tips, tricks and hacks that will help you design and execute a high-converting landing page:


Know the pain points of your audience

Be specific and concise.  Don’t confuse the reader with several choices and CTAs. They should know what you’re driving at and what they are getting from the landing page.

Give irresistible offers on your landing page. You want readers to sign up? What’s in it for them? Make the value clear to the reader.

Take it for a test drive.  Have a few teammates, collaborators and other 3rd parties test the landing page for authenticity and ability to encourage an action.

Provide social proof in real-time. Of course, don’t bombard the reader with fake testimonials and whatnot.

Create a sense of urgency. If it’s a limited offer, the reader will most likely take action sooner than later.

Actionable Case Study: Becoming a top provider of blockchain services

  1. Background

    1. The Company: A start-up focused on blockchain technology

    2. The Goal: Get clients who want to invest in blockchain technology; convert them on the site

    3. The approach: Build a content strategy to educate clients on blockchain technology; sell services specific to supply chain management using blockchain

  2. Landscape:

    1. Search volume: 7.5k searches/month

    2. Keyword ranking difficulty: Medium 

  3. Building the content strategy:

    1. Defining the personas

      1. Analysts in target industries (e.g., logistics, manufacturing etc).

      2. Decision makers who ultimately decide whether their company has the right knowledge and tools

    2. Research topics and set-up the content calendar

      1. The Content Manager now determines key articles about blockchain in Supply Chain Management and how those topics will relate to one another

      2. Goal: to create a collection of articles around the topic

      3. Set-up content calendar.  Create a schedule for when the research, writing, editing and publishing of each piece of content will happen

      4. Share content calendar with the team.  This shows them their directions for how to proceed

    3. Creating and publishing the content

      1. Build a repository of interrelated keywords that are relevant to the topic and geared towards educating the target personas

      2. Create a collection of general keywords, record their search volume and ease for ranking high. Purpose: to show leadership in the area and educate the audience.

        1. Blockchain technology trends (search volume: 50) Ranking: very easy 

        2. Blockchain technology (search volume: 260) Ranking: easy

        3. Blockchain benefits (search volume: 480) Ranking: medium

      3. Make another set of keywords that is more specific to blockchain and how it is used in Supply Chain Management

        1. Building a blockchain based Supply Chain (search volume: 70) Ranking: easy

        2. Blockchain for dummies (search volume: 100) Ranking: easy 

        3. How to use blockchain to build an efficient Supply Chain (search volume 1300)ranking easy

        4. Blockchain for business (search volume 1,700) Ranking: medium 

      4. Get content authors to pick up the article topics and keywords for which you want to rank

      5. Write articles, making effective use of keywords to both educate and inform readers

      6. Pass each article through editorial reviews until it is optimized

      7. Publish the articles

    4. Link the articles

      1. As articles are created and published, link them to older and newer articles on the same topic - Blockchain for Supply Chain Management

      2. Each article now has links to other relevant articles that users can navigate to and from.  This gives users a good education about how they can use blockchain to drive efficiencies in their organizations

    5. Create a landing page

      1. List the company’s skills for building successful blockchain systems

      2. Show their expertise in optimizing supply chains through that technology

      3. Decision makers will land on that page from an article, choose to contact the company to learn more, and thus become a lead

    6. Optimizing the content strategy

      1. While all of this is happening, all the articles and their effectiveness with readers is constantly monitored to observe how people are reacting

      2. After a few months, when sufficient data is collected, each article is refined and further optimized to keep it fresh and make it rank even higher

    7. An effective content strategy has been created that not only educates end users but also converts them into qualified leads.

Summary

SEO and Content Strategy aren’t entirely different entities. They work in tandem rather than against each other. Overlaps of the two include:

●  Good content spruces up your site’s authority, which, in turn, improves SEO

●  Content provides the medium for keyword optimization; more content means more pages that can be ranked for better SEO

However, it is important to remember the differences between the purpose and focus of  SEO and content strategy:  

SEO is focused on search engines; content strategy focuses on the holistic user experience (UX).

This difference aside, why focus on content strategy on top of, or instead of, SEO in 2019? SEO is just a means to a goal–a successful content strategy.  This, in turn, is the overarching channel by which to achieve higher rankings in search results.

Given its importance, how can you build a successful content strategy? Here’s an executive step-by-step recap of how to do it:

Step 1. Understand your audience and build personas

Step 2. Research the content and create a calendar

Step 3. Research keywords and build a keyword universe. Use free and cheap tools to make the whole process successful and easy.

Step 4. Create and publish high-quality content. Ensure your content is original, actionable, and answers the questions your target audience is asking. Use strong headline, images, thought-provoking written material, and videos.  Ensure accuracy in reporting materials.

Step 5. Create links and link your content. Connecting all dots to paint a complete picture is the ultimate goal of any great content strategy

Step 6. Evaluate, analyze and optimize your content

Step 7. Give your users a goal and take steps to convert them. Direct users to your product/service pages.  Even better: create a landing page.

SEO is Dead
Content Marketing Is the Only Way to Compete Online in 2019
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