At a recent gathering, a friend of a friend found out I write about digital marketing and SEO. He immediately perked up: “You’re the person I need to talk to!” What exactly did he need help with? He had a blog with tons of great content on it, but he wasn’t getting as much traffic as he wanted.
And he was right – he did need to talk to me. Or at least, he needed to talk to someone who knew a little something about SEO.
That’s because SEO is what gets great content in front of the audiences who want to read it. On the flipside, content is basically SEO insight put into practice.
So, to anyone who thinks SEO and content marketing can operate in isolation, this article is here to explain why they are not only complementary, but should be in total alignment in any agency or marketing department.
Why your SEO strategy and content strategy should be aligned
Take a cursory glance at any job listing for a content writer today, and chances are you’ll see “SEO” mentioned at least once as a desired skill. (Just in case you didn’t believe how intertwined these fields really are!)
But let’s take a step back and break down what SEO even means: Search Engine Optimization.
In other words, an SEO strategy is a strategy for giving some digital asset – in this case, content such as blog articles, infographics, videos, etc. – the best chance possible for people to find it organically (i.e., naturally) on search engines. Usually the search engine we’re talking about is Google.
Why are search engines so important for content, and why are SEO skills in such high demand for content writers? Again, SEO is how many of your users – especially first-time readers – are going to find you. It’s not the only way… there’s also:
- Social media
- Backlinks (links that direct users to your content from other sites)
- Your site (particularly for existing customers)
But for the vast majority of content marketers, search engine results pages (SERPs) are the bread and butter of earning traffic.
How SEO informs content production
Every day, billions of users fire up Google (or use voice search to have AI do it for them) and plug in inquiries, hoping to find high-quality, trustworthy content to answer their questions. These can be:
- General, short inquiries: e.g., “christmas gift ideas”
- Specific, “longer-tail” inquiries: e.g., “total number of deaths in game of thrones”
- Local inquiries: e.g, “auto shop near me” or “auto shop east los angeles”
We call these search inquiries “keywords,” and knowing which ones are most popular, when, and with which populations is tantamount to reading users’ minds. With access to data about what keywords people are searching for, plus data about your specific target audience, you can figure out just what kind of content your readers need – then create it and give it to them.
Uncovering those queries falls squarely into the realm of SEO. Experienced SEOs have the tools and knowledge to perform keyword research that then creates demands for certain kinds of content, which it’s the content team’s job to create.
Any great content strategy starts with keyword research, and any SEO strategy is incomplete without a good content strategy to put SEO discoveries into practice.
And while keywords aren’t the only thing search engines care about – not by a long shot – you shouldn’t ignore them, either. They won’t make bad writing good, but they can make good writing more likely to show up in front of readers.
How SEO helps content performance
Search engines use algorithms to comb through, sort, and eventually display web pages on the results pages you see when you do a Google search. Those algorithms change all the time, and it takes a lot of work and expert knowledge to follow the details of those changes. That’s where SEO comes in.
But what exactly are the algorithms designed to comb through or sort? One simple answer is meta data. Take any piece of content – a blog article called “Why SEO and Content Marketing Should Work Together (& How to Align Yours),” for example.
You, as a human reader, pull it up and see (1) what the blog is about (by looking at the title) and (2) what the article actually says (by reading it).
Search engines can “read” these things too, but they can also peek under the hood of the article and see all kinds of data we can’t (and don’t need to). That data includes:
- Meta titles – Usually this is the same title you see, but good SEO practices dictate that you include a meta title in a specific place that tells the search engine what the blog is about.
- Meta descriptions – Another reader-facing piece of data, this is the short description you usually see underneath the title on the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
- Image descriptions – Known as alt text, these are descriptions that are meant to take the place of an image if the image doesn’t load or for users with visual impairments. They also provide context for search engine crawlers. Including them helps readability and thus is a good SEO practice.
- Internal links – Linking to other areas of your website (e.g., related blog articles or product pages) using anchor text that is natural and relevant increases user-friendliness for readers and gives Google structural support as it crawls your site.
- External links – On the flipside, linking to high-quality, authoritative sources (typically with an equal or higher domain authority than your site) in useful, relevant places throughout the text signals trustworthiness to readers and Google alike.
These are just a few of the many, many technical SEO details that can influence the rankings of your content – i.e., the ability of your content to actually show up on the first page of Google, where most searches end.
While no practice guarantees a spot on the first page of Google, by not considering SEO, you’re not even giving yourself a shot.
High-ranking content is usually high-ranking because it provides a good user experience. It’s well-written or well-produced, credible and authoritative, and easy to use – i.e., it looks good, has a readable structure, loads quickly, and doesn’t include broken or irrelevant links.
It’s an SEO’s job to check all of these boxes, not just for individual pieces of content (e.g., blog articles), but for your site at large.
The SEO team has the expertise and tools to go through your site and alert you to any duplicate content, incorrect or broken links, or just kinks such as slow pages or 404 errors that hurt user experience. Leveraging their expertise in this arena should be a fundamental part of your content strategy.
What about the role of content for SEO?
Again, in many ways, content marketing is how the SEO team puts their discoveries to use.
Of course, a business’s SEO strategy is about much more than their content efforts: it should encompass on- and off-page practices for their website or e-commerce site, social media campaigns, and anything else that contributes to their digital presence.
But because SEO is about making your organic web presence as good as it can possibly be, a big part of that is going to be the content you produce. Whether it’s uncovering new keywords for the content team to target or revamping a website that needs new copy, it often falls on the content team to fulfill the demands of the SEO team, as informed by their work out in the (digital) field.
Tips for aligning your content and SEO strategies
Keep each other in the loop. Because SEO and content efforts often overlap, not communicating can risk a couple of equally undesirable outcomes. You could end up doing work that’s already been done, or you could find that your plan is incompatible with the efforts of the other team.
By keeping each other in the loop, the content and SEO teams can not only avoid stepping on each other’s toes, but can actually synthesize their efforts and make each department’s work that much greater.
Share skills. Content teams – leverage your SEO team to help with keyword research. They have tons of access to data, and they know how to use it!
As for SEO teams, you can and should be going to your content team when brainstorming ways to capitalize on insights you’ve picked up in the SEO weeds.
Actually have a strategy. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how much “content marketing” amounts to sitting down and firing off a blog without thinking about how that piece of content will fit with your larger efforts – let alone target keywords or other aspects of SEO.
Think of content and SEO as a partnership. Imagine telling your spouse you’ve booked an impromptu cabin trip for two this weekend, only to find out said spouse already committed the two of you to a basketball game with their boss. Keeping each other in the loop about your plans means actually having plans to communicate in the first place.
And while spontaneity is great for romance, strategy should be the default.
If you don’t come up with an actual plan informed by data and concrete business goals, you can’t take control of your marketing efforts. And you certainly won’t have anything to communicate to your SEO counterparts (and vice-versa).