Content vs. SEO: Which is More Important?

When Bill Gates coined the term “content is king” back in 1996, few people thought that quote would turn into an industry cliché, yet almost 18 years later, we’re debating whether content truly is king more than we ever did in 1996.

Many SEOs these days frequently ask, or are frequently asked, the question of whether they should focus on building content or SEO. While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask, it’s important to remember that the true “king” of digital marketing is not content or technical SEO, it’s context.

Why Context is the True King for Your Online Marketing Strategy

If you were the marketing manager of a multi-million dollar steel manufacturing company, chances are, your marketing campaigns would look wildly different than advertising campaigns for consumer driven companies such as Nike, or Coca Cola.

As is true in traditional marketing, digital marketing is not a one-size fits all commodity, and what works best is dependent on context specific to each organization. Before we go any further, it’s important to define that content marketing is simply a part of overall SEO strategy, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Important Factors That Help Determine Whether Content or Technical SEO Will Be More Valuable

Current website design (including degree of technical errors)

I like to think of content as the pinnacle of a well-built SEO strategy. As the saying goes, you have to walk before you can run, and in this instance, you need to correct your basic SEO errors before moving on to more advanced SEO work.

If your website is rife with technical errors, poor site structure, and bad design, adding more content will likely be a waste of time since that content is unlikely to rank due to technical issues on the website. Before you plan on an ambitious content development strategy, make sure your website cultivates an SEO friendly environment for your content to live.

Industry / website niche

Your website’s niche plays a large role in whether you will be able to gain traction from a content development plan. Using our steel manufacturing example from before, the amount of search traffic related to steel production pales in comparison to searches related to basketball shoes.

While search traffic for niche websites may be difficult to find, one thing to keep in mind is that there is typically less search competition for niche keywords, and keywords for long tail terms often convert at a higher rate than broad match keyword searches. Still, it’s a relevant question for organizations to ask whether building a content strategy is worth their time and money if there isn’t a plethora of valuable topics to write about.

Blogosphere & social interest for related topics

Social media has changed the way in which information is spread. High quality content will often see more traction and traffic from social media platforms than from organic search engines.
Some industries and niches have a lot more social discussion related to their content than others. If your vertical features a lot of bloggers, publications, and social traction, this is a sign of a very healthy content development environment. On the other hand, verticals with little social discussion will be much more difficult to grow traffic via content development. As an example, the tech industry has a wide variety of tech bloggers, industry news publications, and social discussions discussion related to anything and everything in the tech industry. Social niches like the tech industry provide a lot of easy opportunities for content developers to attract backlinks, gain social traction, and generate traffic from organic search.

Content competition + brand equity

Creating content in a high search volume vertical isn’t the only thing that matters. If the content you create doesn’t rank for the relevant topics you’re targeting, the content is almost entirely useless from a search perspective.

One of the challenges of content creation is that for most heavily searched content niches, there are a plethora of articles and websites competing for similar search terms. Having a high level of brand equity can do wonders when it comes to competing for search results. Google loves brands, and so do people. When we come across a group of search results, most people have a tendency to click on a search result from a trusted brand – this increases conversion rate, click-through rate, and in turn, helps to boost organic rankings.

Volume of content currently available

As simple as it sounds, the volume of content that is currently available on a website matters. If a website already has an enormous content library covering most of the relevant keyword searches, it may be more valuable to focus on repurposing, optimizing, and building links to the content that is available instead of creating more content.

Another problem that can occur when there is an over-saturation of content is that you may start to cannibalize rankings due to various content pieces having very similar keyword topics. Even if search engines don’t view content as duplicate, they will still need to choose which web page they want to rank in search results if two or more pages are focused around one keyword phrase.

Quality of backlink profile

Backlinks still matter, and this is not likely to change any time soon. When it comes to search competition, pages with a large volume of links will typically outrank pages with very few backlinks. If your website has a great backlink profile and authority flows well throughout your website, this will make gaining success from content development much easier.

The good news for websites without a great link profile is that high quality content should help to attract links naturally.

Conclusions: Is Content Better Than Technical SEO?

Digital marketing is not a one-size fits all service as, and content marketing is just one important piece of a well-developed inbound marketing campaign.

Looking at content vs. technical SEO in a vacuum, I would be inclined to say that high quality content will typically drive more search traffic than technical SEO would. With that said, content is co-dependent on a solid base of technical SEO, search rankings, and search volume relating to relevant keywords. Asking whether content is more important than seo is akin to asking whether the wheels or engine are more important to driving a car.

Greg Stockmaster

About Greg Stockmaster

Greg Stockmaster is a SEO specialist for Fathom Healthcare focusing on strategic content to grow traffic for clients. His specialty is taking an organic, marketing oriented approach towards SEO strategy to generate natural, search friendly traffic for client websites. Greg is a graduate of The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business with a specialization in Marketing. Outside the office, Greg enjoys exploring Columbus, playing in sports leagues and seeing live music.

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