During an event that launched Econsultancy's first Content Marketing Survey of 1,300 industry agencies, brands and publishers, one guest speaker stated that "SEO departments should be renamed content marketing departments" and that "it's not a technical task any more."
My gut reaction is, I'm sure, the same as yours – a resounding "No!" However this comment – no doubt said in part to garner a response and some tweets on the day – shows how much of an impact content marketing is having with marketers and how far some believe it will change SEO.
The survey results backed this up; 90 percent of respondents thought "content marketing will be more important over the next 12 months" and 44 percent agreed that "content marketing is more effective than advertising at generating sales," while 55 percent of brands expected to have a content strategy in 2013 (see a round up of the survey here).
So in light of this, did the commentator have a point? Yes - but only to an extent.
Content generation - and the actual marketing of said content - isn't SEO. It might require some of the skills that many SEOs have - whether that's ensuring the content is visible to search engines through technical skills or getting the content featured through blogger outreach - but there are other skills which, frankly, most SEOs lack.
Idea generation isn't the forte of most and neither is carrying out research into consumers to understand what type of content they actual want to see, and therefore what topics they are discussing. Those are research skills.
Content marketing isn't a replacement for SEO. It is not the "latest version" of SEO, either. It can greatly help SEO in today's post-Panda and Penguin Google landscape, just as it can social - and it can help with PR, too.
Great content is just that – great. It should, deployed in the right way, help across the business – from getting the attention of print titles for the PR department to generating social shares and helping rankings to being featured in internal training materials. It overlaps channels – 64 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement "Content marketing is its own discipline."
This does mean that brands need to consider what resources they need to add to be able to compete in a world where content has moved toward the center of the stage, as do agencies.
Production skills like (info)graphic design, video production, and copywriting will be important – both within SEO teams who need to generate content to help their efforts and in the wider business. Perhaps just as important – and often overlooked in the industry's breathless rush to "the next thing" – is that the ability to understand consumers and then generate content ideas is just as important.
The web's already starting to feel like a dead sea awash with the litter of dull, over-designed infographics dumped out by cheap content producers without any thought about what consumers actually want to see, what interests or excites them, what's actually got value - or what the overall brand's campaign is, beyond getting a few Likes/Tweets/Shares.
Content marketing needs ideas people and - dare I say it to a crowd who (including me) are acquisition led creatives. Content marketing is about branding and can be negative or positive for the brand; raising brand awareness was the third most popular reason respondents were engaging in content marketing, after increasing engagement and traffic levels.
So should SEO departments be renamed "Content Marketing" departments? No.
Should SEO departments learn about some of the skills mentioned above? Yes.
Should brands and agencies consider hiring dedicated content marketing people to work across, and co-ordinate, departments? Maybe.
Should they be looking at what content they are producing, and operating in a joined-up way with a content plan that spans SEO, social, PR and any other relevant department? Definitely.