Great Content vs. SEO

“Content is King” – the title of an article Bill Gates wrote in 1996 – is an expression used to mean that without original and desirable content any web venture is likely to fail. “The best SEO is great content” is another popular expression used to mean that websites with quality content will become popular purely as the result of the content alone.

tug-of-war

On the other side of this coin is human nature. :) We love to be lazy! We want to know the latest tweak, the coolest plugin, the guru’s trick to get to the top of Google without having to put the hard work in.

Added to this, there are endless stories from unscrupulous internet marketers of “how I made $2,000 in one day with just a few clicks!”, that cajole us into thinking: “maybe if I create great content, do some kick-ass link-building and beg/buy/borrow social signals … I’ll be crushing it!”

Content is King

guy-kawasakiOne possible champion of the “Content is King” camp would be Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, bestselling author, and avid blogger. Guy has been around for a long time, backed the right horses and seen a lot of success. He explained recently How Entrepreneurs Are Getting Social Media All Wrong and said this about SEO:

My recommendation for SEO is very simple. It’s Write Good Stuff. In my mind, Google is in the business of finding good stuff. It has thousands of the smartest people in the world, spending billions of dollars to find the good stuff. All you have to do is write the good stuff; you don’t need to trick it. Let Google do its job and you do your job.

We’ve heard this before. But is it really that simple? Is the world so perfect that, for example, if I write a great article entitled “Great Content vs. SEO” I’ll be top of Google for “Great Content vs. SEO” supposing that there isn’t a better article? Is the web a perfect democratic reservoir of knowledge that serves up what you want when you want?

Of course, not. And in fairness to Mr Kawasaki he probably only meant this as the starting point. The internet is more complicated than “Content is King”.

SEO / social signals / authority / branding / marketing is Queen!

If you’re Guy Kawasaki you can create great content and be rest assured that it will be popular. For the rest of us, creating great content simply isn’t enough.

rand-fishkinAs Rand Fishkin explains in his article Great Content Equals Great Rankings, Right? Wrong., great content doesn’t necessarily garner links and rankings, instead, those who have “better optimized” content for attracting links tend to far outshine their peers.

The “best” restaurants are often family-owned, hole-in-the-wall, never-marketed-themselves joints whose fabulous epicurean creations are a secret to all but the most diligent culinary Clouseaus. Meanwhile, the affront to humanity and cooking that is Olive Garden advertises relentlessly, conducts impeccable market research and appeals to the lowest common denominator in town after town to achieve geographic and market-penetration ubiquity

(Not being from the US, I’m not familiar with Olive Garden but I guess they’re a sort of Pizza Hut?)

Rand is making a crucial point that is easy to miss. All great content is not created equal. One page with great content, great links, great authority, great social signals will out-perform better than a page with just fantastic content alone. Every time.

If you create great content without marketing, you’ll end up like one of those out-of-the-way restaurants, popular with a very few people but never making any money. If that’s OK with you, fine. Otherwise…

What you can do

It is, sadly, not enough to create great content. Always be thinking of ways to market that content (actually, most of the following bullet points will only take you 5 minutes to do!):

  • Promote it through social networks
  • Make it easy for others to promote it through social networks (add Tweet buttons, etc)
  • Tell people about the great content (email high reputation bloggers in your niche, etc.)
  • Sort out your Google authorship
  • Promote blogger’s content and they’ll usually return the favor
  • Guest post
  • Create a Facebook page, add a Like Box in your sidebar and post the latest articles manually
  • Create a Google+ Page, add a Google+ Badge on the sidebar and post the latest articles
  • Find out what keywords people are using to find you on Analytics and write more content with those words in the heading
  • Find out what keywords are popular and you can rank for using the Adwords Tool and write content with those words in the heading
  • Find out what keywords are being searched for using Google Suggest and write content with those words in the heading
  • Find out what problems your audience has by visiting forums and write content solving them
  • Submit articles to web 2.0 sites with links back to your site
  • Link to your links
  • Keep writing great content, keep it fresh, interesting and original – but keep thinking of fresh, interesting and original ways to promote it as well

Google’s recent Panda algorithm updates have weeded out many low quality sites from the SERPs but SEO is not dead. It just never looked that good anyway. :)

The quotes from Rand Fishkin and Guy Kawasaki were taken from this Google+ post.

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Readers Comments

  1. It’s amazing how we can get caught up on methodologies to success, when all we want are positive results. SEO vs. Content is a stupid comparison. Having both will greatly increase the odds for better results. I would go as far to say that having useful unique content is an SEO best practice.
    For many companies, the question they should be asking themselves is, “what is the next best step for us?”. This can’t always be answered by a SEO or content agency. Because both will tell you exactly what they want you to hear.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Darwin, having useful unique content on sites is a TOTAL given. The title means Good Content vs. Good Content plus SEO as I explain in the body of the article. Nobody suggests you should apply SEO to scraper sites or anything like that nowadays and expect results, it simply doesn’t work.

      • Great article Rob! I guess I was calling the comparison from the original G+ thread, not your article. I’m totally with ya’ buddy. Nice work!

        • Rob Cubbon says:

          Glad you agree with me, I always like that! :) Sorry I misunderstood.

          • I should have made my position clearer with my first post. I found your blog from the post on G+ that I had made a comment on that I believe was misunderstood. So I was slightly emotionally charged when I started writing. My bad.
            I thought the way you took the G+ thread and formalized it into an good article as well as added more useful information was brilliant – You’re obviously a pro.

            • Rob Cubbon says:

              Thanks, Darwin, I hope you pop back here soon as, hopefully, there will be more stuff that will be of interest to you.

  2. That’s a good action list.
    Also, I would agree with Darwin when in his comment he says: ‘I would go as far to say that having useful unique content is an SEO best practice.”.. I would add that if you create each page with 1-2 keywords maximum and you write useful unique content, then that is a SEO best practice.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Thanks, Robert. I would target one keyphrase an article and have it in the beginning of the title, usually in the first paragraph and a few times in the rest of the article (3 or 4 times in a 750 word article) personally.

  3. Writing content for SEO is missing the point. Content should be for the end reader not for search engine bots. It would seem that google know this too. (at last) The king is dead, long live the king…..

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Gordon, as far as I’m concerned: Content should be written primarily for the end user but you’d be mad not to optimize the titles, subheads, etc., of the article – this means more people will read it.

  4. I would say my practical opinion.
    Great content is great but I see 90% of great content vanishing on the net. SEO is the magic bullet which can help you turn ordinary to great.

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