Content marketing is a great SEO strategy – even better better than link building. Shifting your strategy from search marketing to content marketing is increasingly leading to higher search rankings and more organic traffic.
Some tests in May that looked at the impact of Google+ to organic search performance produced some interesting results. I analyzed two sets of clients I was working with and categorized them as:
- Websites with strong social profiles.
- Websites with weak social profiles.
What this analysis showed was:
- Websites with weak social profiles saw a 19.5 percent reduction in organic traffic.
- Websites with strong social profiles saw a 42.6 percent increase in organic traffic.
With many SEO campaigns, it can be easy to over-analyze, often at the expense of the most important ranking factor: doing. Yes, analysis and auditing is important, but if you don't take action and change anything, your results aren't going to change. If anything, they'll probably get worse because your competitors will be out there doing instead.
Every site will have different SEO needs and requirements – but too often the actionable outcome of SEO audits and analysis is that a website needs more great content and it needs more high quality links. In these cases, why not just get on with building great content and attracting high-quality natural links?
Why Link Building is a Short-term Tactic
If your main focus for achieving search success is via SEO-based link building, then I think this can only ever be a short-term tactic at best.
The algorithms are looking to catch anything that appears unnatural – so when the next Penguin or Panda updates come around (or Platypus or Pigeon, whatever stupid name they give it next!) you're unlikely to be in a defensible position where you can expect to see a benefit rather that a drop. In fact, you're probably going to be pretty scared and concerned about what's around the corner, even if you haven't been hit yet.
Link Building Should be a Byproduct of Great Content
The main difference is that link building is a tactic, while content marketing is a strategy. What I mean by this is that if you're just trying to build links for SEO purposes and nothing else, you're basically just chasing Google's algorithm and making the most of what works while it's still getting you results. It can still work, but it's not a long-term strategy.
Great content, however, can send you targeted traffic for years. And I don't just mean search traffic, but referral, social and viral/word of mouth traffic.
Getting a great link shouldn't be your only end goal – you should think about other target metrics such as audience reach, traffic, mentions, citations, eyeballs, rankings, followers – or, more importantly, revenue!
What Happens if Links are no Longer Valued by Search Algorithms?
I can't see this happening in the near future – certainly with Google, but who knows what's ahead of us. The 2011 ranking correlation factors from SEOmoz showed that Facebook likes/shares had the highest correlation to rankings out of all factors. This is correlation not causation.
Google has said that they don't use this data for rankings - but it showed how powerful social data can be in terms of identifying the best content. So what happens if Google change their mind and start using it? Or what if Facebook/Twitter search becomes a real threat to Google?
You need to have something else to fall back on.
If a piece of content has 100 or more links and no social footprint, it's a clear sign that those links have been built to a page – they've not been naturally generated. Likewise, if you have many social votes for a piece of content, yet no links, it's also not the best sign that this is a high-quality page that demands trust and relevancy from the search engines. You need a mix of both – and it's becoming much more difficult to fake and make shortcuts.
Where to go From Here?
Whether it's content marketing, inbound marketing, earned media or just online marketing – what it's called is largely irrelevant. What's important is that you've got a great content strategy in place and you're able to make the most of this by promoting your content to generate attention online.
If you've got great content and you can attract/build an engaged audience, you don't have to rely on search. And even if you don't notice your organic traffic rising straight away, I would be confident that this is the best method right now for achieving long-term success.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!