Why Content Marketers are Right to Hate on SEOs

Do you self-identify (or have you previously self-identified) as an SEO?

If so you likely won’t be too surprised to hear that you’re ‘unpopular’ in the content marketing world. In truth I’d suggest that unpopular doesn’t come close to covering it. You might in fact be more accurately described as the red-headed stepchild of the content marketing world.

3415077023_2a47d51dbc_b How the Content Marketing Industry sees us SEOs:
Red-headed stepchildren (in this instance we’re in creepy doll form). No one likes us.

 

As an SEO myself I’ll admit to being frustrated by this. But,  I can also see where those content marketing practitioners  are coming from.

Historically SEOs have committed an awful lot of crimes against content. Let’s see how the evidence stacks up:

Exhibit A - Old School & not so Old School Page Content

Remember when keyword density was a ranking factor? Made for some pretty damned ugly reading. Of course that was long ago. Surely they can’t still be holding that against us, right?

Well, we’re less concerned with the number of instances our targeted keywords appear on pages than we used to be. But even today there are still those busily sourcing ‘SEO content’ that is created to serve the bots better than it serves consumers. This is a fairly recent job listing:

SEO Content 10 x 200 word ‘SEO’ Articles. The writer is paid $25.

 

I’d like to think I’m a decent writer but I’m certain I couldn’t do any topic justice in just 200 words.

It’s perhaps unfair to speculate on what sort of a copy brief the plucky writer who has elected to take this job on might receive, it’s conceivable that they might be given something decent; however if the advert above is anything to go by I suspect the ‘brief’ will look like this:

Write 200 word perfect English article on tap washer repair kit box.
To be fair, this assumption is unabashed conjecture. I have no idea what keywords these good folks wanted articles written on. But, let’s just go with it for now.

From a pure SEO perspective this isn’t such a strange request. Some might quibble over word count, sure - but you need unique content to rank, right?

Let’s look at this from a content marketer’s perspective. I imagine they might ask something like: Who wants to read an article on a tap washer repair kit box? Why are you creating something no one wants?

They have a point. This sort of ‘SEO content’ is unlikely to add much value to humans.

 

Exhibit B - Article ‘Marketing’ / Article Spinning

As SEOs we polluted the web with an awful lot of stuff like this:

Picture2 When you spin articles, sometimes Salt Lake City becomes Sodium Body of Water Town.

 

I remember when I first started in SEO I was both fascinated and scared by the tactics that were advocated. I’d previously been working in offline marketing and I was baffled by many things, but article directories were a particular sticking point.

What were they for? Who was going to read this? Shouldn’t we be writing good content?

I was told that no one read them. I was told that as long as the article was accepted the quality of the content was really neither here nor there.

I built a lot of links like this. Yes it was crappy. But it worked. These sorts of links helped my clients rank and that was what they cared about. They knew what we were doing and why.

Nevertheless I’d hit send on the reports detailing the links I’d built in this fashion and cower at my desk, hoping my clients wouldn’t click through and read those articles. I, like many other SEOs always knew it didn’t sit quite right. This sort of activity never made me feel good.

However, it used to work.

At the time my clients cared more about what was going on in terms of their own sites - their rankings, traffic, conversions etc. They didn’t really care to go through the links I’d built. They didn’t care that the content was horrible, it was just for ‘SEO’.

I feel that it’s pertinent to note, that this sort of thing wasn’t all that I did in terms of link building. I also feel it’s worth noting that as an industry, most of us SEOs recognised we were on borrowed time with this sort of tactic and chose to diversify.

 

Exhibit C - Off-Topic Link Bait

I’ve spoken and written previously about our obsession with off-topic content for links. SEOs have historically spent huge chunks of time creating zombie infographics and the like in our quest for links.

In the past I too have fallen prey to thinking about how I might be able to persuade my business insurance client to let me create something ‘whacky’, possibly about bacon.

6-Reasons-Bacon-is-Better-Than-True-Love-The-Oatmeal1

Why? Well we know what sort of stuff gets links, and historically we’ve been so link obsessed that we’ve perhaps not paused to consider whether or not such content really has a place on our client’s sites.

Off-topic link bait is something I’m guessing is pretty baffling to content marketers. I imagine they might ask:

How will that infographic about bacon engender customer loyalty? How does that bacon infographic drive more profitable customer action? Do your customers really want that bacon infographic? How does it help them?

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. If not, I’ve written more on this here.

 

Exhibits A to C of course don’t comprehensively cover all that we’ve done to offend the content marketers out there. But I think they provide a reasonable snap shot.

Sadly it gets worse.

Exhibit D - We Leap Aboard the Content Marketing Train

I can see from a content marketer’s perspective this is adding insult to injury.

Historically we’ve been guilty of creating content for search engines rather than people over and over and over again.

  • Horrible on-page content. Why? It’s for the search engines.
  • Frighteningly poorly written (or worse, spun) articles. Why? Don’t worry, no one reads them. They’re not for people they’re for links. Search engines see those links and reward us with better rankings.
  • Off-Topic link bait. Sure that content is kinda cool if you like that sort of thing. But why has a business insurance site done an infographic about bacon?  Links! Remember we told you about links? Search engines see those links and we get to rank better.
Is it any wonder that content marketers are exasperated with us? There’s quite the body of evidence against us. Why should they believe that we’ve changed?

 

Let’s Start Over

I acknowledge that there have been many things that we’ve done as SEOs that are entirely at odds with content marketing principles. However I do think there’s some good stuff that SEOs can bring to the content marketing party.

I’m conscious that as of yet I’ve not offered a definition of content marketing, so here’s one from Amanda Maksymiw:

Content marketing is the process of developing and sharing relevant, valuable, and engaging content to target audience with the goal of acquiring new customers or increasing business from existing customers.
If you accept that definition I think there’s plenty of areas where SEOs can help - provided, of course, the content you’re creating is going to live online.

 

1) Data

We’ve a pretty good understanding of what consumers are searching for thanks to search volume data. We’re also able to look at search trends over time and so know which topics are ‘hot’. We’re also used to crunching data from other sources - such as social media too; after all, we realise that search engines aren’t the only way people find things. This sort of data can be really useful when figuring out what ‘relevant’ content looks like.

We’re also pretty handy when it comes to understanding how competitive (or otherwise) a particular search landscape is. Does your client’s site have the authority to compete in search? Are there related areas which are less competitive where they could succeed? This sort of data is useful to help shape a strategy with the best chance of success.

 

2) Technical SEO

Ok this is sort of cheating, but it’s actually important.

We understand how search engines crawl and index content. We’re able to advise on how to ensure your content is visible to search engines and indeed how to get it to rank better (more on this later). In order to acquire new customers and increase business from existing customers you’re going to need eyeballs right?

 

3) Getting Content Shared & Linked to

We’ve been seeding content for a long time. We know that influencers opinions are important. We also know that whether or not they share something can make the difference between success and failure. We know how to find them. Plus, they might already be in our little black books already.

Social shares are important, particularly from influencers, however the truth is it’s likely that you’re also going to need to get links to your content in order to maximise visibility and ultimately achieve your goals. If your content doesn’t rank well then you’re missing opportunities.

Now I know as SEOs we’ve done ‘bad’ things in the name of getting links previously. But we’re also capable of getting really good links. Links from sites that your target audience reads for example. And like I said, your content does need links.

 

I really think that SEOs could learn a lot from content marketers, and I also think that SEOs have knowledge and skill sets to offer in return. What do you say?

Can we call a truce and let bygones be bygones?

 

 

 

 

Image credits

Creepy DollBacon is better than true love

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

Hannah joined Distilled in September 2010 as a Consultant and is now on the Content Strategy team. Prior to this she spent over 7 years in offline marketing (point of sale, press advertising, direct mail & sponsorship), until her fairy godmother...   read more

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22 Comments

  1. Nice piece Hannah. Content marketing people shouldnt be the only ones upset with those type of SEO's - Quality SEO people should be upset with them as well. SEO is still seen as snake oil to a lot of people and it is because of a lot of the sentiment expressed in exhibits A and B- the thought that we just spam out content to get a rank in Google and in a lot of cases that sentiment is rightfully given. I guess quality SEO people should be happy that spammy SEO people still exist as it makes our job slightly easier :)

    I do agree though, there is a lot that can be learned from each other. Content marketing and SEO will play a huge role together going forward, its time we all get along.

    reply >
    • Hannah

      Hi Erik,

      I think actually I'd be happier if the spammier tactics died a death (and by that I mean that they no longer worked and no one did them any more).

      Definitely concur that it's time for SEOs & content marketers to get along.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

  2. Fay Nyberg

    Great post, really enjoyed it Hannah. It's nice to see the industry as a whole is ready to move forward. I'm also a fan of snowglobes so hope to see you at a conference soon!

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  3. Great post Hannah. Good information and nicely presented with examples. Loving your work lately.

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  4. Thanks for the write up Hannah :] I like this post. I've noticed a trend of "former SEOs" turned content marketers, that love to bash their previous SEO tactics. However, I believe there is a marriage between the two which can be obtained. I love reading posts on content marketing, such as
    http://moz.com/blog/how-to-build-a-content-marketing-strategy,
    and taking away those concepts to integrate into our standard practices.

    I view my efforts in SEO through the Content Marketing glasses. I have a team of writers which write truly excellent content which is of real value to the community or niche we are operating within. Example - For our home brew supply client, we actively guest post on popular niche sites, and always receive positive comments and shares. In fact, our writer's name has become so popular in this tightly knit niche that when we pitch unsolicited guest posts, the site master often replies with "Oh, I've seen your writing on suchandsuch.com, you're very good! I would love to have your content."

    That's the trick. Write something truly useful to real humans.

    reply >
  5. I had hope until I got to the last part. What SEOs are trying to do is NOT and never will be "content marketing". What SEOs are trying to do is substitute content for links. It's all still formulaic fantasy designed to keep the client money flowing. Content marketing creates new demand. SEO content publishing chases existing demand. Until the SEO community accepts that, they will never become content marketers -- just people misusing yet another expression.

    reply >
    • Hannah

      Michael I'm not entirely sure what you mean by SEO content publishing. I'm assuming you mean the tactics I highlighted above (exhibits A-C)? If so, then yes, I'd agree, that's not content marketing.

      However, I think that there are many SEOs out there (and I'd include myself in that group) who recognise that content is about more than links.

    • Right on Michael! Content marketing is a culture change for most organizations. Many who are claiming to be content marketers or content marketing agencies do not understand this. You can't just start creating content and call yourself a content marketer. It is just different than SEO. Until you have developed a real content strategy, implemented that strategy for a client for several months and measured the results, you probably have no idea what content marketing is truly all about.

  6. I never employed those SEO tactics even when they were generally considered mainstream. I was always advocating the white hat side of things.

    Once I explain the risk behind spinning articles and submitting them to the article directories, most of my clients agreed that it was not worth the risk and that we should stick to the white hat.

    You can imagine the smile on my and my clients' faces when first Pandas and Penguins were released from the zoo :)

    In that regard, content marketing for me was always a part of inbound marketing, just like SEO.

    So from my (inbound marketer's) perspective, I never understood how can someone be just a content marketing or just an SEO. You need both skills to be good at the job.

    reply >
    • Well said Toni, but Google still gives high ranks to spinning contents, there are hundred of examples available. If we use spinning content using some advance tricks there is very less chance for Google to make it spam.

    • Hannah

      @Bilal - I think we'll have to agree to differ re spun content. I really wouldn't recommend that sort of activity any longer.

  7. Great article and I can definitely see the desire to make a bacon related info-graphic. On a more serious note, I have been advocating a content rich marketing strategy for the past several years and the one thing that I have noticed in regards to articles is that the good, the bad, and the really ugly articles are lost value on sites loaded with junk, talk about a slap in the face for writing good articles. Realistically, you just make a cost effective decision at the time. Either way, the seo game is about change; wonder whats next?

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  8. Good content Annah, nice view and examples for SEO and people who do bad think like spinning...

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  9. I have noticed a lot of SEO's now refer to themselves as marketers. Content marketers are also marketers. Same broad church. Sounds like peace has broken out to me!

    reply >
  10. Kate

    I have to admit as an SEOer I am definitely envious of content marketers...

    reply >
  11. A great blog post Hannah, and it's so true. I came from a content background into SEO via social. With my content background, I couldn't bring myself to write unreadable content so I found inventive content ways to get around that. It was a real struggle and I'm glad that article spinning is dying a slow death. Long live fabulous, readable content!

    One of the best things I heard at BrightonSEO a few weeks ago, was that as SEOs we are always trying to chase Google. Google are trying to work to make things simpler for the user. So as SEOs, why don't we 'cut out the middle man' and just make things simpler and more user-friendly.

    reply >
  12. Great article, lots of confessions in there, do you feel better to get them all of your chest?

    reply >
  13. Gina

    Great read Hannah! It's just unfortunate that in a lot of cases content management still does not reap the results of keyword ranking that seo still sees today.

    reply >
  14. Hi Hannah. You are relatively new to online marketing and SEO aren't you? Its easy to tell - you weren't involved just a few years ago when the term 'Content Marketing' was first coined - by an SEO company.

    The entire concept of 'Content Marketing' is an invention of SEO. Not that many years ago, SEOs were continually telling clients "You don't have enough content or copy - you can't rank for words and phrases you haven't actually ever mentioned anywhere".

    Just like a couple of years back when SEOs started talking about how Social Media was going to be important, and thousands of wannabe SEOs decided to become "Social Media Marketers", it was all the SEOs providing copywriting services, multi-media, linkbait, articles, guest blogging, video SEO, etc that led to the creation of the term 'Content Marketing'.

    I guess if you ever meet a 'Content Marketer' who hates SEOs, it will be exactly like meeting a 'Social Media Marketer' who hates SEO. A failed SEO who couldn't manage to compete in the big game and chose a specialist sub-niche of SEO, and suffers envy issues of those who can manage the broader picture.

    reply >
    • Hannah

      Hi Ammon,

      I'm relatively new, yes - since around 2007; so there's certainly many with more experience than me.

      However, SEOs certainly can't claim to have invented content marketing - early examples of content marketing include consumer magazines - John Deere launched theirs in 1895 and there are many later examples which long pre-date the web.

      In terms of who first coined the phrase - Joe Pulizzi claims to have done so - c. 2001 (NB I'm not sure how reliable this is, however he is widely cited as doing so). I'm not sure if he was (or indeed is) an SEO but he doesn't self-identify as one.

      Whilst I think it's certainly conceivable that some content marketers might be 'failed SEOs' as you put it; I don't think that's where most of the hate is coming from.

      I think there are many more content marketers who crossed over to online from offline customer publications. I don't think those content marketers are envious of SEOs - I think they're baffled by the tactics we've used historically, and I'd argue, rightly so.

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