News & Analysis

Content Marketing: SEO and Beyond

For years we have spoken SEO as the magic potion for digital and content marketing. Apart from filing Google's adwords coffers, it has done little on its own

In a different day and different age, content marketing meant a higher page ranking for organic search results. How so? Naïve business owners (including us) felt that those who need services (such as ours) would use smart search queries to express their needs. Pronto! We would appear much the same way the genie did when Aladdin rubbed that old lamp of his.  

To make this magic happen, we relied only on being “found” over search and created content that was boring but presumed that it fitted Google’s algorithms. And it did so, for a while! Just that Google was smarter and kept tweaking algorithms all the while creating more demand for keywords. The result: Google was laughing all the way to its bank. (We hope it wasn’t SVB!)

More and more enterprises chased this mirage by creating content designed to rank and not intended to lead, entertain or inform. Also, there’s the fact that organizing content to optimize organic search has become tougher (look at that revenue curve above). Competition amongst peers is up and so is quality of search optimized content. Above all, paid search has made the SERP (search engine landing page) more expensive than Mumbai’s Bandra seafront. 

Carrying forward that analogy, shifting from Bandra to Andheri or Malad amounts to failure. So appearing on the second or third page of a search query? An Absolute disaster! Robert Rose, the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for the Content Marketing Institute says two things: (a) “SEO has never been a good foundation for a content marketing platform” and (b) “You should know more about your audience than Google does.”

If the latter statement is true (which we strongly believe will always be the case), then the former automatically becomes acceptable. However, most digital agencies struggle with client demands on this front as their moot question always is how to bring their content marketing program to life and get the desired outcomes yesterday. Usually, this is what the agencies dish out, irrespective of the geography they are in or the audience they’re targeting. 

  • My audience is on Google and uses Search a million times (!) 
  • The post popular search terms are these and here’s what they find
  • Here are some terms that you care about or should be caring about
  • These are some more that the other agencies may not tell you about
  • The searches that fits your bill is low and it could be hard to compete
  • Create content about terms you care about and progress to high value keywords

While this isn’t to say that the above approach doesn’t work, the question that we could delve on is can there be a smarter way or even just “another” way? Of course, we are still playing around with multiple ideas and innovations without really being able to put our fingers on that magic bullet, as it were. 

So, what have we been blabbering about till now? Basically two or three factors that one needs to consider and carve in stone before even starting this journey. So, here goes… 

Google wasn’t conjured up as a business to help brands build an audience. Quite the contrary in fact. The company is only interested in how much the brand can contribute to its audience which is why the web search was designed to create commoditization in results so that ads featuring what the seeker seeks becomes attractive to the brand and its competitors. So, remember we may be chasing the tail by creating content for keywords that aren’t popular now as there is no way we can predict what people search for and therefore what will trend. 

The second point is that Google isn’t here for the brand or its audience. Though content discovery online has changed beyond recognition, Google still isn’t bothered about anything but itself. Research notes that close to a third of users were forced to redo their queries to actually find what they were seeking on Google. So, creating content only for Google may not give you the best bang for your buck. For inspiration, see how TikTok (and Reels) delivers better content discovery and more relevant content to the user. 

And last but not least, SEO is the starting point of a content marketing plan, not its conclusion. Getting at an arm’s length with content discovery via optimization is a great start but in case a brand wants to differentiate, they would need to cut the clutter. That story (or stories) which differentiates one brand from another cannot become a reality with SEO and the benefits it brings to organic search. That’s a story that the brand needs to tell and celebrate socially. And choose only those one or two platforms where they expect their target audience to be. 

In fact, even search engines are now looking for Page Authority, which now even SEO experts think to be beyond backlinks. Maybe, you can do a quick check on PA Rating with tools such as Moz – the higher your number on a 1-100 scale, the better your page authority. 

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