This tweet of mine got over 900 likes and sparked debate about whether other marketers agree:
SEO strategy ≠ content marketing strategy— Amanda Natividad (@amandanat) March 2, 2021
My point was that a solid SEO strategy alone can’t replace a content marketing strategy.
SEO is one means of accomplishing a strong content strategy. It ensures your content gets found organically by readers all over the world.
But organic traffic and search rank goals can’t be your only ways to gauge content’s success. When your site is new, it’ll take closer to six months for it to rank for anything. That’s due to the Critical Authority Threshold: the time it takes for your site to reach a certain level of authority, based on some combination of your regularly publishing high-quality, search-for content, the time it takes for Google to crawl your site, and link building.
So within that six months, it’s crucial to identify short-term goals for your content that ultimately set the path for long-term success in SEO and across the rest of your marketing efforts.
How Content Powers Your Marketing
Here’s a secret: In growing my content marketing career, the last thing I focused on was SEO.
Whether or not that’s ideal is debatable. But this article isn’t about that. My point is that I found ways, other than SEO, to guide my content strategy and gauge its success.
Historically, I’ve run my team content teams as “content as a service.” I thought less about SEO, and more about how content could power the rest of our marketing efforts. In fact, not focusing on SEO is how I was able to get buy-in for content from the executive team.
And for half my time at Fitbit, where I ran content for the B2B unit, we didn’t even have a blog. Given the brand halo of Fitbit as a whole, growing organic traffic wasn’t an initial business priority.
So my content was largely focused on lead generation, event support, and end user marketing. I created white papers and interactive content for use in demand generation efforts, ultimately growing our pipeline by several thousand new leads every quarter.
Creating those white papers gave me opportunities to reach out to thought leaders in my target audience for quotes, and to then invite them to speak at Fitbit’s conferences. Finally, I created educational and foundational materials — brochures, guidebooks, and emails — for the end users of our products, as well as our product marketing and PR teams.
But of course, not everyone has those same goals and uses for content. Every team and every business is different.
Thinking through the typical functions of a marketing team, here are several ways your content can fuel the rest of your marketing efforts beyond SEO:
Ideally, content and demand generation teams are working hand in hand on the published work that’s distributed to the widest possible audience. This content can come in the form of lead magnets, gated assets, content syndication, and more.
And if you have a blog, your articles can serve as source content for your white papers and vice versa — white papers can be repurposed into blog posts. In this way, repurposing published blog content becomes the means of gauging short-term success while SEO works its magic in the background.
PR and Corporate Communications
Content provides foundational knowledge and backup messaging for your PR team. You know the claims a PR team might cite in a press release, or use as a talking point for an executive briefing doc? The content team should play the chief role in researching those findings, and writing them up into broader narratives within pieces like white papers or blog articles.
And here, it’s not just SEO or demand generation that are the distribution channels of content. It’s your PR team and by extension, your executive team.
Content offers the educational backbone for the product marketing team. Similar to how external research enables the PR team, educational content enables product marketing.
While the product marketing team is working on user onboarding materials with the product, UX and customer support teams, the content team should be distilling the onboarding insights into reader-friendly materials for the broader audience. This might be “how to” blog posts or playbooks.
Longer-form content provides the additional context for the social media team’s content. Where a social media team might be posting infographics or pithy statements, the content marketing team creates the source content for all of this. Content and social teams should be working together to turn one blog article into an insightful Twitter thread, a hard-hitting LinkedIn post, or even a quiz on Instagram Stories.
As all this content is being created, it’s ideally being done under cohesive themes — which yes, can absolutely be guided by a keyword research strategy for SEO — that can then be used to power an events strategy.
Maybe a white paper becomes a presentation for an executive at a conference. Or maybe your company hosts your own conference or roundtable, and the major content pieces you’ve been producing all year turn into the event’s theme.
That white paper you created about the state of consumer financial technology serves as the pillar for your conference, where you pull in all the thought leaders you cited and ask them to keynote or lead speaking sessions.
And finally, if none of the content you’re producing is ultimately leading to sales, what’s the point?
When I worked at direct-to-consumer snack company NatureBox, we experimented with content that existed solely to make people smile. It had nothing to do with our snacks. Hell, it didn’t even drive traffic to our site. The content was cute, but not only did it not drive sales, it didn’t build affinity with our community. It was a poorly executed brand play.
As SEO serves as the guiding light for high-level topics, sales should be the compass that points the content in the right direction. Content teams should produce articles that focus on customers’ pain points, and case studies that explain how your company solves them.
In all of those examples above, you can start to see how content can meet your business goals in a much shorter time frame than that six-month wait.
You’ll notice you’re solving problems across your marketing department and across your business. You’re educating your would-be customers on your products, you’re elevating leadership’s talking points, you’re setting the foundation for next year’s user conference, and you’re helping close deals.
When you finally do get that organic traffic and those owned keywords, SEO will be icing on the cake.
A special thank you to the kindred spirits at Write of Passage who brought this article to life: Cam Houser, Tobi Emonts-Holley, Gayatri Taley, Paul Underhill, Beda Binder, Alex Azoury, Alexandra Zamora, Kyle Bowe, and Erin Moore.
Featured image by Marvin Meyer