SEO and Content Marketing: Friends or Foes?



Search Engine Optimization and content marketing are two priorities for many marketing organizations today. Depending on who you ask, SEO and content marketing can be put forth as the most important tactic  in a digital marketing program. In one corner, SEO advocates tout the importance of optimization in elevating a website in organic search results. Moreover, SEO plays a crucial role in an inbound marketing program that brings interested people to your online presence with the ultimate aim of converting them into customers.

In the other corner, content marketing has gained tremendous momentum because of its capabilities to actually engage people. I say “actually” because engagement is an overused word in marketing, having become cliché as many marketers are clueless about how to truly engage a customer or prospect. Videos, blogs, and social media content are three forms of marketing content that can be crafted to appeal to an audience without reverting to our desire to sell to an audience. Content marketing offers a long sought channel for increasing brand relevance.

Can SEO and Content Marketing Co-Exist?
Are SEO and content marketing friends or foes? Can they co-exist as complementary priorities in a digital marketing program. Here are some points to consider.

  • SEO and content marketing offer different perspectives on what is influential in driving website traffic- each has strengths that influence performance
  • SEO is measured on performance such as organic search rankings and conversions
  • Content can aid in helping SEO effectiveness and can target different stages of the purchase decision cycle
  • SEOanticipates demand by aligning website design and architecture practices with user search patterns and behaviors.
  • Content marketing creates demand (via informing and building interest); this thought comes from a recent post by digital marketing expert Lee Odden on the TopRank Online Marketing blog.
  • SEO has a goal of increasing visibility of content.
  • Content Marketing has a goal of influencing outcomes along customer’s buying decision journey

And the Answer is…
Should SEO or content drive digital marketing efforts? The simple answer is “yes.” SEO and content marketing tactics are not adversaries locked in an either/or battle for a marketer’s attention. Instead, they are complementary pieces of a digital marketing strategy. An optimization focus without great content is lifeless in that it does not put emphasis on telling the brand’s story. Similarly, a content focus without consideration for optimization would result in missed opportunities to attune relevant content with an audience’s search behavior.

I was at a conference recently at which a nonprofit marketer shared with an audience an internal debate about whether the organization’s website should focus on filling the homepage with as much as possible. Her contention was that it should be heavy on content for potential SEO benefits, but I cringed at the thought of what that website might look like. A website designed with a search engine in mind instead of the target audience probably looks like… well, a website designed for a search engine- fulfilling the criteria to be recognized by search engines but not necessarily aligned with the brand’s story.

So, listen to the SEO experts and content marketing gurus for they are both correct to assert that you need them to achieve digital marketing success. The conference session presenter, a CEO of a SEO firm, gave the best advice: Design online content for users, not search engines.

Coca-Cola’s "Ahh" Moment with Teens

Like all brands, Coca-Cola strives to reach and engage customers in a challenging environment of first screens, second screens, and third screens. That order is particularly tall when it comes to connecting with the all-important teen market. The media consumption habits of this coveted segment of beverage consumers are different than their older siblings who came just before them and drastically different from how their parents engaged with media during their teen years.

Coca-Cola is seeking out teens through an ambitious digital marketing campaign called Ahh. The campaign is ambitious because it focuses on using digital media to reach teens. Ad agency Weiden + Kennedy created experiences- games and videos designed with mobile access in mind. In addition, Coca-Cola is turning to crowdsourcing by inviting teens to create their own Coca-Cola branded experiences, with 25 of them becoming part of the Ahh campaign. Would-be content creators are challenged to create an experience around the the theme “the ultimate in refreshment.”

There is method to the madness behind Ahh. Coca-Cola learned through research into teen consumers that the more fun, interactive, and random content is the more likely they are to engage it. Thus, a digitally-driven campaign is not just a gimmick to reach an audience segment that lives on their mobile devices. Marketing has always been about reaching people where they are- door-to-door salesmen, network television, Internet, social media, and now mobile represent a tradition of connecting through mediums that are most suitable given the audience targeted.

Not only is digital a good fit for reaching teens, but digital experiences are a good way to stimulate interaction with the Coca-Cola brand. A noticeably absent element is a strong call to action. Some marketers would ask, “Shouldn’t all marketing tactics encourage the audience to do something (preferably buy something)?” In this situation, no- Coca-Cola seeks to build bonds with teens through play and entertainment experiences. If this approach is successful, sales will follow… if Ahh can establish brand relevance among teens. Play and fun might give teens a brief entertainment experience, but if that is the extent of impact then they will quickly move on to other entertainment options.

Coca-Cola’s Ahh campaign is bold because it is a departure from the emphasis on mass media to spread brand messages. The reality is to reach teens a different kind of brand experience is needed. Inviting creation of experiences is a key piece of Ahh; the ad agency is not totally controlled messaging. Buy-in among teens can be enhanced through their involvement in content creation. Relevance increases when the audience becomes involved with the brand. I like that Coca-Cola has invited teens to create experiences as it will not only draw them into deeper brand relationships, but the audience-created experiences will help tell the Coca-Cola brand story from teens’ viewpoint.

Marketing Daily – “Coke Targets Teens with Its First All-Digital Effort”

Shade Pulled over Many Virtual Storefronts

Imagine owning a store in which you diligently opened for business daily but opted to leave the lights turned off and the door covered. Safe to say, such practices would lead to certain failure and defeat the purpose of being in business. Unfortunately, this analogy is reality for the online presence of many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). A recent audit by digital marketing firm vSplash of nearly 4 million SMB websites found that a startling percentage of them were not fully prepared to conduct business online.

Some of the most surprising findings in the vSplash study include:

  • 26% of SMB websites cannot be found on a Google search because their Google page rank is zero (or has no rank)
  • 49% have no contact phone number on their homepage
  • 94% have no contact email address and are not mobile optimized
  • 95% do not have an e-commerce shopping cart

To say the least, these findings represent significant opportunities for digital marketing service providers to help SMBs strengthen their online presence. The lack of an apparent digital strategy and the absence of essential online marketing elements like contact channels and e-commerce capabilities are surprising, but we should not chastise SMBs. Many SMBs are good at the product or service that they provide but lack marketing expertise or resources of their larger corporate counterparts. It is not that they do not care; they do not know how.

Results of the vSplash study also serve as a call to my chosen profession, marketing education. The low frequencies of use for basic digital marketing tactics can be traced to SMB managers lacking knowledge. For some, the issue is that the rapidly changing world of digital marketing makes it difficult for them to keep up with the latest best practices (although the statistics cited above relate to basics that are hardly cutting edge). For other managers, they were failed by business schools that have been slow to adapt to the rapid rate of change in marketing. I see more job descriptions seeking new graduates with search engine optimization and blogging skills; it is further evidence to me that B-schools must be nimble with curriculum in response to the pace of change in digital marketing to better serve employers and students.

Traditional Media and the Buzz Lightyear Effect

The decline of traditional media has been well documented and highly lamented in recent years. But, if more proof is needed of the shift away from old-school mass media as marketing channels, look at the results of a recent study by Aquent and the American Marketing Association. Responses from 2,600 marketing executives send yet more signals of the demise of traditional media. In fact, the top five channels that will see a decline in focus from marketers this year are:

  1. Newspapers: 32%
  2. Consumer Magazines: 28%
  3. Radio: 24%
  4. Trade Magazines: 22%
  5. Television: 21%

 If these communication channels are going to get less play, what will take their places? Perhaps not surprising is that mobile marketing and social media will experience the largest increases in focus among marketers at 82% and 76%, respectively. The shift in focus from traditional media to digital channels reflects the expansion of tools available in the marketer’s toolbox, but what does it say about the future of traditional media?

Instead of writing obituaries for newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV, a more appropriate response to these trends is to understand that traditional media is not being permanently replaced by digital communication channels. What is transpiring reminds me of what happens in one my favorite movies, Toy Story. Woody’s status as Andy’s favorite toy is jeopardized when Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. Woody is no longer the go-to toy as Andy is enamored with the bells and whistles in Buzz’s repertoire. In the end, Woody and Buzz co-exist to make Andy a happy child (not to mention go on to make two more movies and a lot of money for Disney and Pixar).

Like Sheriff Woody, traditional media may have lost some of its prominence but will not be replaced by the shiny new toy that is digital marketing. Like tools in a toolbox, traditional media and digital channels have certain strengths and capabilities. Marketers are wise to use all resources at their disposal to build their brand and manage customer relationships. If Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear can work together, so can traditional and digital media.

Marketing Charts – “Marketers Say They’re Shifting Focus Away from Traditional Media”

Turn Customers into Participants


Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was quoted as saying “life is not a spectator sport.” His sentiment has a great deal of validity. We can choose to be passive observers, but there is much that we must do (work), can do (entertainment), and ought to do (well being). Thus, being a spectator is not a viable option. The “ought to do” aspect of our lives has implications for healthcare marketing. A study done by Accenture reveals that when it comes to managing our health, Americans want to come out of the grandstand and get in the game.
Findings from the Accenture study show a desire for being engaged in communication with healthcare providers:
  • 90% want to use digital media to manage their personal healthcare
  • 88% want to receive reminders via email when it is time for preventative or follow-up care
  • 83% want to access personal medical information
  • 76% want to communicate with their doctor via email
  • 72% want to book, change or cancel appointments
  • 72% want to request prescription refills
Digital channels are significant for enabling patients to be participants in their health care. Survey respondents placed particular emphasis on email as a communications channel, but information access and communication options via mobile devices is important, too. The one statistic that cannot be overlooked in all of the interest in digital management of healthcare: 85% said they still want to be able to communicate with their doctor in person.
For healthcare marketers, findings from the Accenture study send a clear message: Figure out how to turn patients into participants. Many healthcare marketers may have some of these digital media in place already, but the survey also found that about one-third of patients were unaware that they could manage aspects of their healthcare using digital channels. Communicating options for self-service and encouraging patients to be engaged on an ongoing basis are two rather obvious solutions. Firms in other industries can reflect on findings of this survey, too. How can customers get involved as participants in managing their relationship with your company? Is interacting with your company easy to do, or are barriers in place (intentional or unintentional) that send a message of “don’t bother us.”
Life is not a spectator sport, nor is the customer experience with your brand. Get your customers into the game to deepen their relationships with your business.

Understanding Non-Clicks of Online Ads

The 80-20 rule is effectively used to make the point that a large majority of activity (sales, productivity, etc.) comes from a small minority of people. While percentages do not come out literally 80-20 every time, the point is well taken that most results are generated by a few people.

The principle behind the 80-20 rule applies to consumer response to online advertising. Research by comScore reveals that 85% of clicks for online ads are made by only 8% of Internet users. So instead of 80-20, clicks for online ads follow an 85-8 rule! Furthermore, 84% of web users do not click online ads.

What should we take away from these findings? Reduce spending on display ads online? Such a response might be understandable given 84% of web users do not act in the way we desire, but that would be the incorrect response. While click-throughs provide a measure of an audience responding to an ad, do ads that are not clicked still have an impact? The answer seems to be “yes.”

Related research by comScore has found online ad presence is related to greater brand-specific searches, increased visits to brand web sites, and increased online and offline sales. Notice that these outcomes are related to ad presence, not ad clicks. Thus, online ads appear to be noticed and processed by consumers, even if most of them do not take the action of clicking ads for more information and brand engagement.

Center for Media Research – “8% of Internet Users Account for 85% of All Clicks”