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Content Marketing, Social Advertising, and SEO: Which Is Most Important?

A lot of marketers say content is kingOthers say that social is the most powerful marketing tool available. Still others, despite the drastic changes to Google’s algorithm, say that a website is worthless without SEO. 

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But instead of picturing three people, each from these different schools of thought, fighting it out with foam bats and shouted statistics, picture them sitting in a room with their heads together, creating great marketing content. It takes great content, a social plan, AND mindfulness of SEO best practices to make it out there.

But, since so many people think one is more important than the other, let’s let each tactic duke it out.

Content Marketing vs. SEO – Battle Round 1

In the old days (2009 or so), SEO totally trumped content marketing. In fact, marketing agencies created unrelated websites that they loaded with keyword-heavy content that linked back to the sites they were trying to rank. Some marketers did worse than that and created spammy sites, hid keywords in invisible text, and participated in link-building schemes.

And it worked, but only for a while. Google got wise and implemented a series of algorithm changes to not only combat these “black hat” tactics, but also to improve the search engine’s performance by thinking about how and why people search. Between 2010 and 2013, Google’s algorithm updates changed SEO as we knew it forever.

Timeline of key Google algorithm changes.
Timeline of key Google algorithm changes.

Nowadays, SEO and content marketing have become, as Neil Patel, has said, “two personalities of the same person.” Content marketing answers a need. It addresses a particular pain point or answers a question, engaging readers. SEO is a technical strategy that makes it so that content is seen.

SEO serves your content, and the content serves your audience. SEO works when you do research that determines the words people are using to find content related to your business and offerings. Then, naturally, you organically incorporate those keywords in your content. Since a big component to SEO is in backlinks, the content has to be good. Really, really good. That’s the only way people will want to link back to it. Link schemes don’t work anymore, and they’ll get you penalized quicker than you can blink.

Neil Patel’s blog gets tons of visitors every month. Sure, he knows the SEO world, but it’s the quality of his content and his established thought leadership that result in so much web traffic.
Neil Patel’s blog gets tons of visitors every month. Sure, he knows the SEO world, but it’s the quality of his content and his established thought leadership that result in so much web traffic.

So, the old adage is true. Content is king. But SEO is the king’s analytical mind at work. How can he know how to help his subjects if he doesn’t know what they’re asking for?

The Winner Is: Both. You can’t have SEO without content marketing, and nobody will see your content if you don’t do your SEO due diligence. With the right analytics and strategy, a marketer can find the power in both sides of the coin, and will understand that one cannot work without the other.

Content Marketing vs. Social Advertising – Battle Round 2

Because of changes in the marketing world, “content marketing” means something different than it used to.

Perhaps the Content Marketing Institute illustrated it best with their concept of a marketing plan’s “center of gravity.” The post was published in 2012, but its philosophy holds true. Depending on where you’re putting your content, be it Facebook, on your own website, or on someone else’s website, that’s your center of gravity. Content is placed inside different networks, so how you create that content and distribute it should be informed by the preferences of that network’s particular users.

In other words, you wouldn’t (and can’t) put a long-form Instagram post on your company’s Twitter account. You wouldn’t put a Tweet as a single blog post or landing page on your company’s website. Different types of content belong on different channels.

Look at it this way: your company website, blog, and partner websites are places where you put content that you want to publish. It is geared toward readers, sure, but it is coming from you to your audience. Social users were likely on Facebook and Twitter and other social media channels before your brand was. Those social networks are the places conversations happen, and successful social media marketing includes content that participates and facilitates conversation and engagement. Therefore, your content strategy has to be different depending on what channel you’re using to market.

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The Winner Is: Both, again. Your social advertising brings readers to your content. The quality of your content makes people like and share it socially.

Social Advertising and SEO – Battle Round 3

Social media and SEO are not, as one might think, two completely different animals. At least, not theoretically. It all comes down to whether or not you’re thinking of SEO in terms of Google and other search engines like Bing (which would make sense; SEO stands for “search engine optimization”), or if you are thinking about SEO in terms of social media channels as search engines. (More on that in a moment.) Since 2014, the question of whether or not Google took social signals into account in their algorithm has been hotly debated. Matt Cutts stated, on a video posted to YouTube January 22, 2014, that metrics involving social channels do not, in fact, play into Google’s algorithm to determine search rankings.

After that, the social media thought leadership community went wild. Rand Fishkin posted a Whiteboard Friday in December of 2014, urging marketers to consider engagement in general, including their social accounts. Regardless of Google’s back-and-forth stance on the impact of social on search results, most SEO professionals didn’t let up on their social activities.

That’s because social sites themselves are search engines. Plenty of people use Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels to find information. A Kissmetrics post by Chloe Mason Gray gave us some statistics that support this claim, showing us that billions of searches are done on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We have proof that social advertising works. In fact, it can reach millions of people without relying on traditional search engine results.

At press time, luxury brand Tiffany & Co. had almost 9 million Likes on their Facebook page. Each of their posts receives thousands of reactions.

The Winner Is: Both. You need to follow best SEO practices in your content marketing (blogs, websites, etc.), but you ALSO need to post well-written, relevant content to social channels. Google does crawl some social pages (just not all), and they may include social content in their algorithm at some point in the future. While we might not know when, there are proven statistics that show the benefits of social media marketing, so it’s best to make sure you have great content on your social channels in addition to your website pages and blog posts.

The Ultimate Winner Is: Symbiosis! In order to have a well-rounded marketing plan, incorporate solid strategies for SEO, which will inform your content marketing AND your social marketing. Look at the right analytics to determine your strategies. Deliver content across channels that adds value to the user experience and draws in more engagement. Once you get comfortable with all the tools in your marketing toolbox, you’ll have a better chance for success.


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Alla Bogdan

Alla Bogdan is the head content marketer from PromoRepublic, lead writer of the Content Hacker's Blog, and a Youtube blogger.

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