Content Strategy vs. SEO Strategy: How to Decide Which Comes First

Author's avatar Content Marketing Jun 25, 2021 34 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    It’s like the chicken and the egg debate. You can’t have “great content” if your site isn’t SEO optimized, but SEO isn’t possible without a solid (content) foundation.

    You’ve only got so many hours in the day. You can’t do everything at once, and your marketing strategy will be all over the place if you’re unsure which you’re prioritizing.

    …But which should take priority when both SEO and content marketing have great potential?

    It’s not an easy question to answer on your own. The route you take can depend on several factors—but that’s not useful advice.


    So, we asked 60+ experts to share the strategy they prioritize. We’ve compiled their answers to give solid arguments for (and against) each strategy. 

    What is an SEO strategy?

    SEO strategy is the process of defining and implementing key steps you’d need to take in order to improve search engine rankings and get more organic traffic.

    What is a Content Strategy?

    A content strategy refers to the process of creating useful content as a medium to achieve your set business goals and meet your customers’ needs. 

    For example, one of your business goals might be to increase traffic to your website or create awareness for your newly launched product or service. One great way to achieve that is by developing a solid content strategy that enables you to publish quality content that will not only drive traffic to your website but ultimately lead to sales.

    5 Reasons to Develop Your SEO Strategy First

    93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.

    A huge percentage of the people you’re writing for will use a search engine (like Google or Bing) at some point in their day. It makes sense to target them with SEO, right?

    *Editor’s note: Do you know where you’re starting from if you’re planning to run an SEO-first strategy? If not, grab our Improve Your Google Search Position dashboard, which shows the pages with the best opportunity to rank on page one.

    Improve Your Google Search Position dashboard

    These marketers also prefer the SEO-first approach because of the following 5 reasons:

    1. SEO brings in “passive” traffic
    2. Keywords inspire excellent topic ideas
    3. Keep track of your competitors
    4. Great content is SEO
    5. You need more than “good content” for SEO success

    1. SEO brings is “passive” traffic

    As G2’s Lauren Pope explains, “people need to be searching for your content in order to make it worth writing.”

    That’s why Josh Gallant’s team at Foundation Marketing thinks “the SEO strategy always comes first.”

    “Our main goal with content marketing is to build a consistent stream of traffic that we can convert over time. Since organic (typically) makes up the largest chunk of traffic AND it’s the most “passive” of the primary traffic sources—it’s where we focus most of our effort.”

    “If increasing organic traffic is the goal with the content we’re creating, it only makes sense for us to have a solid understanding of our search strategy before we just dive in head-first with flashy content ideas,” Gallant explains.

    2. Keywords inspire excellent topic ideas

    “SEO research should always come first and is the foundation of any good content strategy,” writes Quincy Smith of ESL Authority.

    “The goal of content should be to attract and engage users – if you have no data to help you determine what content will fulfill these goals then no amount of guessing will help. Where insights about your current users or industry can help is with language and determining how to phrase things or talk about subjects so that they resonate with your audience.”

    It’s no surprise that 66% of our experts think keyword analysis is “very important” for coming up with new content ideas:

    importance of keyword analysis for content ideation data pie chart

    Smith puts that into practice: “For example, if you sell dog leashes and keyword research shows that there is an opportunity to write a guide to “How to measure your dog for a leash”, that article can be enhanced by user insights. 

    “In this scenario, if you know that 75% of your customers are from the UK, you’d want to make sure you use the metric measurements and British terms instead of something else, but it still won’t change the topic of your article,” Smith explains.

    “Guessing what content will rank is no substitute for diligent keyword research and a robust ranking plan,” writes ClydeBank Media’s John Donnachie. “Inbound marketing is about giving people what they want – once you have a good idea of what people are searching for it’s then your job to match your content to their needs.”

    Vedrana Damjanovic of RunnerClick explains: “Yes, the quality of content, structure, creativity, relevance, timeliness—that all matters. However, the end goal is that the content is actually seen by the target audience; that they’re able to find it quickly using the keywords.”

    “That’s why it’s crucial to think from the SEO point of view: what the content should contain, which short- and long-tail keywords, which subheadings, questions, and phrases; how in-depth the content should be in order to rank for it and outperform the competition.”

    “If the content is done by itself, without prior SEO analysis, competition, and keyword research, it is likely to end up with minimum traffic, if any,” Damjanovic writes.

    Daria Tokareva of OneCore Media explains: “SEO helps create a “skeleton” for the future content piece, providing information on the optimal content structure, the list of core and LSI keywords to use and other technical tweaks that will ensure this content outperforms the competition and gains great exposure in organic search results.”

    But you should “always be realistic about your chances, especially considering your time resources,” writes LiveAgent’s Matej Kukucka. “ After it’s all about creating a better piece of content that the main search query shows and follows best practices from both on-page SEO and link building.”

    Sound too good to be true? 

    Fundera’s Lizzie Dunn shares a warning if you’re using keywords to form your content strategy: “Informing your strategy based on SEO and keyword research could tempt your company to dip into a field that it shouldn’t really be in, especially if you’re creating content that isn’t specific to your core product/service offering.”

    “After all, Google’s goal is to pair the user with the search result that’s best fit to answer their questions. But, what if you do end up getting users to your page and then have them leave because you cannot satisfy their need the way a company that is expert on that topic could?”

    Juliette Tholey of Revenue River also adds that “in this day and age, due to Google’s ranking methodologies and changes in the way buyers search for information, it is very important to optimize around topic clusters rather than solely focusing on exact match keywords.”

    Keyword research plays a large factor in determining which topics to pursue, but search engines will now consider the entire system when delivering results to users, no longer focusing on single-page optimization,” Tholey summarizes.

    3. Keep track of your competitors

    We all want to know how we’re performing in comparison to our competitors, right?

    “An SEO strategy is most important when it comes to developing a successful marketing plan,” writes Juliane Sunshine of Tandem Interactive.

    “The idea behind this is that you look at your client’s information as a whole, you are looking into their analytics, Google Search Console, backlinks and competitors. It is from there we dive deep into our SEO strategy and figure what needs to be done first.”

    Sunshine also notes that this content doesn’t need to be blog posts: “Sometimes it a title tag or meta descriptions that need to be updated and optimized first BEFORE content. Once everything has gone through a proper analysis with SEO tools, we can focus on building content.”

    Andrej Ilisin’s team also does this by focusing on an SEO-first strategy: “We, internally, always start with SEO competition research. We do feel like finding which topics got traction/links for our competitors will make our job with ranking that page much easier. After we find 10-20 topics, we’ll dive into the keyword research in order to find gaps in their content.”

    Ilisin says this approach leaves them “with a much better and in-depth content outline” which their writers can use to tackle the writing.

    *Editor’s note: Keep track of your competitors with our Moz Competitor Overview dashboard. You won’t need to dig around several websites to find how they’re performing SEO-wise; you can use this simple template to drag and drop the SEO KPIs you want to measure for each site.

    moz competitor SEO dashboard

    4. Great content is SEO

    In fact, 9Sail’s Kyle Kasharian adds that “a content strategy without first considering the SEO landscape will fall flat. SEO research builds an understanding of what topics and keywords are attainable and effective for the targeted niche. This research will guide the flow of the content from the overall topic, to section headers, to the title itself.”

    Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions thinks “its helpful to have the SEO framework in place first – identifying technical changes needed to your overall website, building out your keyword tracking list, and engaging in link-building so that it can build momentum over time.”

    “This way, you can identify what existing content assets can be leveraged to rank for your desired search terms and map out what new content areas are needed to rank for the rest.”

    5. You need more than “good content” for SEO success

    It’s all well and good to write great content as part of your SEO strategy.

    However, as Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop explains, “most businesses struggle with website rankings and conversions”–even with stellar content.

    “Solving that problem involves content, yes, but it also necessitates a look at the bigger picture – things like technical aspects of the website, the quantity and quality of backlinks, and if trying to rank locally, proximity to the searcher and name, address and phone number citations. 

    Duncan adds: “All those signals combined enable coming with a strategy and plan to close gaps. Singling out content alone isn’t enough unless you’ve already done that due diligence.”

    5 Tips on How to Build a Successful SEO Strategy

    Creating a solid SEO strategy is pivotal to your website SEO success in terms of ranking in search engines and driving traffic. Struggling to build a strong SEO strategy? Follow these simple steps to get started:

    1. Make a list of keywords
    2. Create a list of topics
    3. Write better, quality content 
    4. Have a link-building plan
    5. Improve, update and track your content consistently

    1. Make a list of keywords

    Andrew Dafoe of TraduccioNOLA says that “your keywords will act as the backbone of the content, and their placement and distribution in the piece should be organic and natural.”

    “For example, when we started our SEO campaign, it became clear that we needed to expand our service pages. Creating an overarching SEO strategy allows you to see the gaps in your content and fill those in.”

    You can use tools like UberSuggest, Keyword Keg, or Ahrefs (shown below) to find these keywords.

    ahrefs for content marketing strategy

    Zack Bowlby of ROI has a philosophy that there’s no point creating content that I can’t rank on Page #1 of Google. So, Bowlby “tries to identify keywords that consumers may search for when finding a marketing agency. What the consumers consider us is far more important than what we call ourselves.”

    Once you’ve got your list of keywords, you’ve got a stream of new ideas to fill your editorial calendar with. According to our survey, it’s the most popular technique to find content ideas:

    content ideas data graph

    2. Create a list of topics

    One way to rank well in search results is to find niche topics (and relevant keywords) with great search volume to write on. For a start, these topics should be closely aligned with your products and services. 

    Additionally, through a simple Google search, you can dig in to find out what your competitors are writing about, or you can leverage great tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs to learn more about topics to cover.

    Related: 30 Ways to Come Up With Great Blog Topic Ideas

    3. Write better, quality content 

    As Miguel Piedrafita of Blogcast explains, “the ultimate objective of SEO is to get people to read your content, and if you have great SEO and poor content you won’t achieve your objective.”

    You can do this by either creating better content on topics that have been written on by others or by writing content on topics that your competitors haven’t thought about just yet but might be the next big thing in a couple of months/years and most importantly that will make you stand out from the pack.

    Use this marketing dashboard software to monitor key content marketing metrics that denote that your visitors find your content valuable.

    4. Have a link-building plan

    A crucial part of your SEO strategy should entail generating new backlinks from relevant websites with high domain authority, either through prospecting, writing content that will be interesting for others to reference in their articles, and so on.

    5. Improve, update and track your content consistently

    The importance of optimizing and updating your (old) content for SEO cannot be overstated. From having a proper internal linking strategy set up, to creating and optimizing your content based on search intent and interest, all of these combine to help your website content perform better.

    Use this SEO dashboard to monitor the performance of your content in SERPs before and after updating.

    6 Reasons to Develop Your Content Strategy First

    SEO sounds like a great strategy to pick, right? It might sound too good to be true–there are some disadvantages that a content-first approach would solve.

    Some of our experts prefer the content-first approach due to the following reasons:

    1. Content can rank without SEO optimization
    2. You need content to do SEO effectively
    3. You can drive targeted, qualified traffic
    4. You’re writing for humans, not Google bots
    5. You’re not falling victim to ever-changing algorithms
    6. The ability to catch topics before they become popular

    1. Content can rank without SEO optimization

    SEO is a skill that often takes years to master. That means you could be waiting a long time for your SEO experiments to pay off–a timeframe where the wheels of your content marketing strategy would have already started turning.

    When we asked Linda Formichelli for the strategy used at Hero’s Journey Content, their answer was simple: “The content strategy should come first! But if you know what content your audience is looking for, the SEO will be an organic part of that strategy—and the content itself.”

    “Now that everyone’s realizes how smart Google has become, it’s “safe” to design your content strategy and know that Google will take care of the rest.”

    “The key is to create content around topics your audience wants to learn more about and that you’re an expert on, and the keywords and key phrases will occur naturally,” Formichelli explains.

    And while Mark Armstrong of Mark Armstrong Illustration notes that “SEO is still important, Google is now a lot better at figuring out your content— what it’s about and whether it’s worthwhile, as opposed to being a generic puff piece. Google doesn’t need your “help” (keyword stuffing) anymore.”

    2. You need content to do SEO effectively

    Return On Now’s Tommy Landry starts off by saying: “content without SEO in mind is “content for content’s sake” in my book.”

    “Content marketing is part of an overall digital marketing campaign, and that campaign should also be built around owning specific niche topics and keywords. You want to be seen as one of the key resources in your chosen field, so you MUST know what you want to achieve in the end.”

    Landry continues: “Once your domain is properly optimized via on-page, you then should have additional keywords you uncovered in your SEO strategy development stage that can help you decide where to aim the content strategy itself.”

    “So don’t just go start writing blog posts and creating infographics based on guesswork. Know the SEO objectives upfront, and you’ll see much faster success and better traction in the end,” Landry concludes.

    3. You can drive targeted, qualified traffic

    “Unless you make money primarily via website traffic, content strategy must come first,” writes Engenius’ Brooks Manley. “A content strategy focused solely around SEO might increase your traffic, but whether or not that traffic is qualified for your buying cycle is a complete toss-up.”

    Maria Mora of Big Sea agrees: “The content strategy comes first, because it involves understanding the buyer’s journey, their drivers, and the pain points that can and should be addressed in marketing materials.”

    “SEO should be part of the process of structuring that content, but ultimately cannot be the primary focus, or you run the risk of driving the wrong traffic to the wrong places for the wrong reasons. And you lose conversion opportunities.”

    Hung Nguyen of Smallpdf also focuses on content-first strategies for the same reason: “SEO is just the mindset – where you take the user’s behavior into account. How the users communicate with a search engine is different from an actual human interaction, but their reaction to content will be the same.”

    Nguyen continues: “Robotic and dull content may drive short-term traffic, but will eventually lead to higher bounce rates and plummeting SERP rankings.”

    Andrew Schutt of Schutt Media explains: “Sure, you want to get more traffic to your site, but the entire reason you want traffic in the first place is to provide value to your website visitors and help move them down your sales funnel by giving them the very best experience possible with your content.”

    “After you’ve nailed down your message, go back and see what you can do to improve your SEO. But the message and the content always comes first,” Schutt says.

    Antonella Pisani of Flower Glossary summarizes: “Ultimately, most website owners want to drive qualified traffic through SEO even though they may not convert in the same session; a strategy developed solely with SEO in mind may miss the boat on the bigger picture.”

    *Editor’s note: Keep track of the people visiting your website content with our Google Analytics Content Analysis dashboard template, which reveals the pages that keep your visitor’s attention (so you can duplicate them to prevent new visitors from bouncing).

    Google analytics content marketing dashboard

    4. You’re writing for humans, not Google bots

    “At the end of the day, clicks and conversions are more important than rankings,” writes Troy Frink of Medicare Plan Finder.

    “Think about it: If your website is at position two on a SERP and people aren’t clicking then you haven’t done your job. However, if it’s at position five and you get 35 leads a day, then even though your SEO isn’t as effective, your page is much more productive.”

    Plus, Matt Solar of argues that “your target audience should be your end users, not Google bots. That means your content strategy needs to come first as it influences your SEO strategy much more heavily than your SEO strategy influences your content strategy.”

    “Perfecting an SEO strategy before crafting content is like preparing to run before you have learned to walk. It is also equivalent of having a very poorly made product and spending a lot of money to market it. No matter how good your SEO strategy is, without content, no one will care about it and you will waste money on perfecting the meaningless SEO,” writes Varfaj Partners’ Steven.

    Sandra Chung says: “For Mention this means having a complete understanding of what our customers want and need in relation to all of the different use cases. This involves media monitoring, customer interviews, and market research.

    “We then build the SEO strategy around the sweet spot between what are customer needs and wants, and what our product provides.”

    James Pollard of The Advisor Coach notes: “I always start with my content strategy because it enables me to focus on creating great content.”

    “Besides, I’m not just writing for a search engine. I’m writing for a person. Also, I’m going to share my content on social media, send it to my email list, and maybe run paid traffic to it. It’s much more important to me that it’s high-quality content.”

    Eucalypt Media’s Kathyrn Hawkins follows a similar approach: “While your initial SEO report can be helpful for understanding how to create article topics that will drive organic search traffic, it’s important to build a more holistic content strategy that incorporates user research, stakeholder interviews, competitor analysis, and buyer personas to generate topics for content for other purposes, including social media content, research reports, demand gen content, sales enablement content, webinars, and more.”

    Hawkins concludes: “SEO gives you an initial metric to track when it comes to on-site web copy, but content strategy is a far broader discipline.”

    5. You’re not falling victim to ever-changing algorithms

    “Once you’ve identified your market segments (a critical step in planning any content strategy), you know who they are – and, their pain points and desires are unlikely to change,” says Nextiva’s Yaniv Masjedi.

    “However, with SEO algorithms, Google, Bing, et al can change their minds at any moment. We see it time and time again – an algorithm update knocks sites off of top SERP results in moments.”

    It’s true; 7 changes to Google’s algorithm have been recorded in the past six months.

    “With a solid content strategy in place, however, you’re not going to fall out of your prospects’ top of mind so easily. Just because they’ve temporarily switched gears doesn’t mean they won’t still come back to your content when they next are able to,” Masjedi explains.

    Summarizing, NetStrategies’ John Schultz says: “I’d say that SEO used to prevail consistently, however, Google is constantly working to make content the priority. This is because they don’t want people filling the internet with meaningless articles. Their new algorithms take content into consideration much more than they used to.”

    6. The ability to catch topics before they become popular

    Sure, keyword research can highlight some great content marketing opportunities.

    …But what if you’ve found an excellent keyword that matches your business perfectly which has zero search volume?

    “If there is a piece of content you believe will really resonate with your audience, but can’t find great keywords to include, write it anyways,” advises Julia Tiedt of SmartBug Media. “You may just be ahead of the curveball for that keyword because you are so in touch with your persona and their pain points.”

    For example, Fiona Kay says that one of Nigel Wright Groups’ “key USPs is that we are Europe’s number one consumer sector recruitment agency, but keyword research has identified that there aren’t hundreds of terms that we can focus on targeting within this niche.” 

    “This is where our wider content strategy comes in – client interviews (with those in the consumer/FMCG sector) provide us with some great content that reflects our expertise and knowledge and also gives our readers an insight into the HR and recruitment plan of some of the biggest brands in the world.”

    Check whether the keyword you’ve chosen is expected to increase in popularity using Google Trends:

    google trends

    5 Tips on How to Create an Effective Content Strategy

    1. Set your goals and KPIs
    2. Determine your target audience
    3. Conduct SEO analysis
    4. Conduct a content audit
    5. Come up with content ideas

    1. Set your goals and KPIs

    Creating content just for the sake of it isn’t an efficient and effective way to approach content marketing. A better approach is to start by outlining your business goals and objectives and producing content based on that. More importantly, set up content marketing dashboards to measure your results against your set content goals.

    2. Determine your target audience

    One crucial step for creating a successful content strategy is to identify your target audience. That is, who are you creating content for? By establishing who your ideal audience is, you’ll be able to produce relevant content that they’ll not only enjoy and find value in but ultimately convert.

    3. Conduct SEO analysis

    It’s one thing to know your audience, but it’s another to know what kind of content resonates with them and how to get them to find that content. To find out, you have to leverage great SEO tools in order to conduct keyword research and learn what specific keywords are used when conducting search queries.  

    4. Conduct a content audit

    Everything changes so quickly in the world of marketing, as such it is important to conduct regular content audits, and learn about what your content library is currently missing, identify declining content (traffic and conversion wise), content with outdated information, content with broken links, and more.

    5. Come up with content ideas

    Find out what your competitors are writing about as well as leverage great tools such as BuzzSumo, Feedly to help you come up with great blog topics that will attract and excite your new and current readers.

    How to Successfully Combine Both SEO and Content-first

    Still unsure whether to pick SEO or content as a priority? You don’t have to pick one over the other.

    “Before thinking about content or SEO, you need to focus on the people you will be writing and optimizing for,” says Sean Henri of Pepperland Marketing, who recommends answering these questions about your audience before writing:

    • “What does their buying process look like? 
    • What questions or challenges do they encounter in that process?”

    “Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll know if you have more of a content problem or an SEO problem, and you can go from there.”

    Henri puts that into practice: “If you’re letting key questions go unanswered by your content, you should probably start by closing that gap and focusing your efforts on developing new resources. If you have all the content you need, but people aren’t finding it yet, focus your efforts on SEO.”

    SyncShow’s Jessica Sandoval thinks “SEO has an important role in your content strategy, but your overall strategy needs to be mapped first. For example, you can’t provide an SEO strategy for a new product line before you have developed a content strategy to incorporate the new product into your website.”

    “Once you have plans to roll out a new product, you first have to develop a strategy on when you are going to add it to your website (does it need to be included on the home page?), your blogging cadence (how is this product going to be introduced to blog readers? In one post, in a series of posts?), your social strategy (what is the voice of this product? what platforms are end-users most active on so it can be promoted appropriately?) and your email strategy (should an announcement be sent in a monthly newsletter?).”

    Sandoval continues: “Then, once you’ve laid out what you need from a content perspective, SEO can work its magic. An SEO strategy will determine how many pages for this product your company has ranking potential for, guidance for the content included on those pages and topics to blog about to start.”

    PowerfulOutreach’s Elijah Masek-Kelly explains: “You need to ensure that there is enough SEO potential in your content strategy in order to truly maximize impact from a campaign, but in order for that SEO potential to be realized – your content strategy must be value-driven in order to actually get great rankings.”

    “When you’ve identified how you’re going to reach the right people at the right time with the right content, then you should be incorporating your SEO strategy to inform and guide that content creation,” says CRO:NYX Digital’s Tanya Wigmore.

    “When your content campaigns are running, you will often encounter SEO gold with digging into your analytics. For example, there may be a sub-topic or niche that you get a good amount of traction for because it hasn’t been saturated with competition. When you identify these little gaps in the market you should double down on your SEO and content strategy by building a fresh content strategy based on the SEO data for that niche.”

    Wigmore continues: “Your content strategy is the message that you want to portray to a certain audience and your SEO strategy is the actual terms, phrases and searches that you want to align your brand with. Both are important and they really need to work together to build a strong brand, engaging content and drive conversions.”

    “The best content marketing and SEO strategies are created in tandem,” says Larissa Williams of Effective Spend. “Think of it this way; if you were drawing a Venn diagram comparing the objectives of a good content marketing strategy and a good SEO strategy, at least a third would overlap.”

    Foundation Marketing’s Ross Simmonds notes that “you can’t add traffic to a financial statement. You can’t add links to a balance sheet. So it’s important that you start by understanding exactly how reaching your audience with this content can drive results that influence your sales and business as a whole.”

    “Upon establishing this foundation, you begin reviewing and developing an SEO strategy. But it doesn’t end with SEO… You have to think about keywords that your audience will be looking for at each stage of the funnel but also consider the type of content they’ll share and be more likely to download resulting in a lead.”

    For that reason, Simmonds thinks “your SEO strategy should be a part of your content strategy and not viewed as an add-on a few months down the road.”

    Daniel Reeves’ team at Dandy Marketing sum this up perfectly: “With any SEO strategy you will also take a look at what’s working well for competition, what pages are driving traffic, what pages are generating links for them and can you do it better?

    “On the flip side, without producing content, you don’t really have any linkable assets which is a key part of any SEO strategy. You can’t go after keywords that are higher in the funnel and potentially easier to rank for. So they really do go hand in hand.”

    Summarizing, Hilborn Digital’s Sarah Halsey says: “Content creation is a core pillar of SEO and the two must be done in conjunction with each other in order to be successful.”

    SEO Strategy vs Content Strategy: Important Questions to Ask to Help You Decide

    If you’ve got to this point and still don’t have a clue which strategy to prioritize, don’t panic.

    Our experts share several questions that could spark the answer.

    Are you B2B or B2C?

    Before we dive into the arguments for each strategy, Team Building NYC’s Jennifer Chen thinks the starting point for your decision is the type of business you run.

    “For B2B businesses, I suggest starting with an SEO strategy. Your highest returns will come from targeting keywords that directly correlate with lead generation and buying intent. For us, for example, searches for “team building activities in NYC” are far more relevant than “how to communicate effectively with your colleagues.” The latter could be an excellent content piece, but is less likely to generate an actual lead and sale.”

    Chen continues: “For B2C businesses, both approaches can work well, but I recommend a content strategy to start. You can craft content that is more likely [to] be shared on social media and other platforms and therefore reach a far larger audience than you otherwise would; often greater than the SEO reach would be.”

    Plus, Wild Apricot’s Tatiana Morand argues that “SEO is a type of content, and can be one useful tool in your arsenal, but it might not suit every business’s immediate needs.”

    “For example, if you’re a primarily sales-driven organization, it might be more valuable to create whitepapers that salespeople can distribute rather than going for SEO right off the bat since it could take longer for your articles to rank and become useful as lead drivers.”

    (That’s a great conclusion; 47% of buyers consume between 3 and 5 pieces of content before talking to a sales rep.)

    How old is your site?

    Before picking a focus, Celeste Huffman’s team at Rocket Web look at the age of the site you’re building a strategy for. Their plan of action depends on the answer.

    If the website isn’t live, Huffman shares the plan they’d follow:

    1. “Find keywords and topics for your specific brand
    2. Look at what competitors are ranking for
    3. Find what questions users are running into, what do they want to know? 
    4. Then based off of your findings, create content.”

    But “if the site is already live, look at the current content and find what that content is ranking for. From there, pull in some SEO strategy to see where we can make improvements and what it may be missing. We may be able to tweak content on the site and or add more based on how the website is performing.”

    Which strategy do your goals match?

    Tony Mastri of Search Engine Coach explains: “If your chief aim is to increase your social media following and garner natural backlinks, they start with a strong content strategy. This approach also works well if your organization already has a robust social media following and list of email subscribers.”

    “If your main goal is to improve the rankings of product/service pages on your website and generate leads, then start with a thoughtful and thorough SEO strategy. This approach is best for brands with little to no following that need to build an audience, increase commercial search engine rankings to increase customer conversions,” Mastri explains.

    Smartlook’s Nikola Kožuljević also thinks the approach you take to content marketing “depends on the goals of the strategy.”

    “If the overall goal is to be an influencer or a thought leader in a niche market without the need for organic presence – then content should come in first. On the other hand if there’s a need for easier website discovery and organic lead generation – then SEO comes first.”

    Balazs Hajde of Authority Hacker adds to that: “If you’re establishing a site and researching the traffic and earning potential, SEO strategies will usually have some priority over content strategies, since SEO is one of the main sources of your revenue.

    “After this research is done however, content strategy should usually come first, because that is how you gain momentum with search engines.”

    One Week Website’s Danny Peavey agrees: “Content yields that slow and steady burn over an undetermined amount of time. Your content strategy should link directly to your business goals. If your content is clear, consistent and specifically tailored to your audience, then you should see growth in your content ROI and conversions over time.”

    “In reality, search engine optimization should be done concurrently to your content strategy, adjusting both as the business evolves and grows. However, in order to make your SEO work for you, your content must be searchable. This means clarity is key. Your SEO strategy should also be tied to your business goals.”

    “My goals don’t match anything!”

    The content and SEO debate is often compared to the “chicken and the egg.”

    …But what if neither came first—and instead, SEO and content are results of something bigger? 

    According to Travis Lodolinski of Traventures Media Group, “there’s another key element that determines both when strategizing: market research.”

    “It should come as no surprise to you that you are not recreating the wheel in your business space. Or, maybe you are. Either way, a comprehensive market research study gives definitive answers as to the traffic yield your site may have through the use of powerful content tools that define keywords to model out blog posts as they relate to your target market.”

    Lodolinski continues: “Taking the time, effort, and/or a little help from someone who can teach you how to gain or provide you with actual results for topics needed in your space is a huge time saver.”

    Brian Cairns of ProStrategix Consulting also argues “that your brand positioning comes first. From which, your SEO and content strategy are born.”

    “A positioning puts your brand within a competitive context and clearly articulates your unique benefit to your target. Your target is going to view you as one choice among several alternatives he or she is considering.”

    Cairns shares a great brand positioning template you can use to build your statement: “For [target], [Brand] is the only [Category] that provides [Brand’s Benefit] that’s because [support point 1] and [support point 2].”

    Cairns puts that into practice using electric cars as an example: “For eco-conscious consumers, who don’t want to trade performance for low emissions, Brand X is the only electric car brand that provides performance equal to a combustion engine with zero emissions. That’s because it utilizes a Turbo-XYZ engine and ABC hydrogen fuel cell.”

    “Based on this, you would build your SEO and content strategy,” Cairns continues.

    “So, for your SEO, you’d clearly want eco-conscious consumers, low emission vehicles, high-performance electric cars, engine technology (what the magic sauce is), etc. For content, you would want to talk about performance, emissions, your new engine, your new fuel cells, etc.”

    Summarizing, Cairns says: “It’s not the chicken and the egg. It’s the son and daughter of positioning.”

    Have you decided which strategy you’re going to use?

    Kristine Cameron of Content Cumber summarizes by saying that “SEO focuses on specific keywords related to current industry trends, and content marketing focuses on addressing current consumer needs.”

    But Cameron leaves us with a smart mindset you can use to make the perfect balance between SEO and content marketing: “It doesn’t really matter which strategy you begin with; if you familiarize yourself with the topic, you will naturally incorporate essential keywords into your article rather than forcing them in to meet SEO criteria.”


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    Elise Dopson

    Elise Dopson is a freelance B2B writer for SaaS and marketing companies. With a focus on data-driven ideas that truly provide value, she helps brands to get noticed online--and drive targeted website visitors that transform into raving fans.

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