Content Marketing Isn’t Always Good For SEO

spilledA few years ago I remember talking with a new client over the phone as they described all of the work former SEO agencies had done for them in the past. If you do a lot of client work in SEO, you are more than likely going to meet clients that have wasted tons of money in the past on bad SEO. This particular client though was a little different. This company had hired a well known SEO agency that specializes in content marketing. As a result they had published several very successful infographics and other popular pieces of content. Because of this they had acquired a very nice back link profile and popular social media accounts.

However, despite being successful at content marketing, the domain wasn’t ranking for anything of value. Seeing content marketing fail like this, was horrible. But what was worse, was seeing this same scenario play out over and over again. Businesses spend lots of money on content marketing with little to no increases to SEO performance. Yes content marketing may have increased traffic for a brief time, but after the buzz dies down there was little to no growth. And, when you need to spend your marketing budget wisely, you don’t want to waste money on campaigns that only deliver for a few days.

Now, I am not saying that content marketing is useless, but what I am saying is that it can be useless for a lot of businesses that are only interested in SEO. Here are three ways that content marketing may not be great for SEO:

Unbalanced Back Link Profile

Under a best case scenario we can assume that each content marketing campaign will attract lots of inbound signals like links and citations. While this might sound like a dream for most SEOs and link builders, the truth is these types of signals rarely are applied to the sections of the site that are in most need of them.

For example lets take a look at Lion Brand Yarn sells yarn and other supplies for knitting and crocheting. I have never done any business with them, but just by looking at their site, I can tell that they are heavily invested in content marketing. They have TONS of content related to anything and everything revolving around knitting and crocheting. I won’t even try to list all the content they have, but if you are even the least bit interested in knitting, then you should check them out.

So what does an aggressive content marketing campaign do for your back link profile? … Lets take a look.

URL # Of Linking Domains 6653 1662 669 350 280 233 211 206 131 130 113 112 108 105 98$V2&language= 87 82 77 76

Above, we can see the top 18 linked to URLs on Highlighted in yellow are URLs where content marketing efforts have been executed. The URLs highlighted in blue, are product based URLs. Notice how there is a lot more yellow on the table. LB’s content has done an amazing job attracting back links, but the pages on the site that are most closely related to LB’s business model, aren’t receiving anywhere near the same amount of links. This is problematic when you consider the amount of time and money that likely went into creating and promoting the content.

A typical solution to the unbalanced link distribution above, is to develop an aggressive internal linking strategy that spreads the inbound link equity onto the product and sales pages. In some cases a SEO may even recommend 301ing a content asset to another section of a site that needs more links. Either way, both of these strategies could be avoided if LB’s scope was more evenly spent across content and more traditional link building efforts that target all sections of the site.

Content Is Invested In The Wrong Areas

As you can see having an unbalanced back link profile tends to be a major concern related to content marketing. But an equal and sometimes greater issue is when companies invest heavily into “content marketing” while ignoring the rest of the content on their site.

A commonly seen example of this, is when an eCommerce company will invest thousands of dollars into infographics and blog posts, while at the same time keeping duplicate content on their product pages. This is problematic because the product and sales pages are the ones that need to be ranking and as long as there is duplicate content present they will be filtered out of the results. Despite this many that sell content marketing will push for content development that is more likely to build links than build a better product page.

Removing duplicate content should always be a high priority, but while you are at it, how about also investing in content on product and sales pages that attract links and users? Maybe we can reverse that unbalanced link profile seen above!

Content Scope is Often Far Removed From Target User Intent

The overall goal of content marketing is to attract visitors, links, and potential customers to your domain by developing content that appeals to the public interest. Many would argue that the hardest part of content marketing is promoting content successfully. To make the “promotion hurdle” more realistic, many marketers focus on a content scope that is most likely to do well in social media. Which is why things like “top 10” list, infographics, and online quizzes are constantly being created (and sold to clients) by content marketers. I tend to call this type of content “social bait”, because the goal is to attract attention via social media channels.

To try and get away from this addiction to social bait, many marketers (and I do mean many) have made some very compelling arguments towards content creation for businesses that don’t typically fit in social media. And while their attempts may work for many clients, there still remains a crucial problem:

Most of the content created for content marketing (whether it be social bait, or something else), has nothing to do with the business’ targeted user intent. In other words how is an infographic, “top ten list”, or educational guide really going to attract buyers?

The whole point of inbound marketing is to position your brand, so that when people go looking for your product, they find you. Content that doesn’t align itself with this strategy is a waste of time and money. For example lets say you sell watches. Which terms do you think are closer to a buyers intent? “Casio G Shock Solar Review” OR “Top 10 Watches Celebrities Wore In 2014”. Yes they both have to do with watches, but the first one is clearly targeted towards users that are with in the buying cycle. Content that is closely aligned with your targeted buyers cycle should be prioritized above social bait. In fact it should be regarded as the most important content created for the domain.

Content Marketing, What Is It Good For?

I can already hear content marketers sharpening their pitchforks, so let me give credit where credit is due. Content marketing can be a very powerful strategy for branding, social media marketing, online fund raising, and many other things.

In some cases it can also help with SEO, but unfortunately (as seen above) it can also waste a lot of money. Which is why everyone should prioritize their marketing budgets prior to investments in a specifics strategy. That way you can constantly refine and direct a campaign’s scope; based on real priorities that have the company’s bottom line at the forefront of everything that is done.


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7 thoughts on “Content Marketing Isn’t Always Good For SEO

  • Awesome post Joe!!

    Here is another one I have been thinking about: Content that just doesn’t belong! For example, let’s say there are 150 dry cleaners in Los Angeles (made up #s) and let’s say 25 of them have done content marketing for SEO. how easy is it for Google to see those that aren’t trying to rank for broad obscure terms like the history of dry cleaning? If 125 sites have an about us page, a coupon page, and a home page, I would gather they are the real deal and the 25 others “stick out.”

  • Hey, I’m a content marketer and there’s no pitchfork in sight lol. You are 100% correct, Joe. Companies have to stop doing content marketing just to say they’re doing it. Like everything else, it needs to drive business results or it’s pointless.

  • This is a fantastic post, Joe. I don’t think this only relates to SEO-driven companies….there’s way too much money being spent on content with no real thought to how it ties to the buyer journey.

    Even if you’re creating pieces that are geared toward awareness, I still think the first question you should ask is “how is this eventually going to lead to a conversion?”

  • Really a wonderful article, Joe. I do agree with you that content marketing will not do any good for your business organization if it is not targeted in a right way. You need to understand the pulse of your audience so as to make your content more appealing. Further, you need to track down the active interest areas of your site visitors on your site with the help of heat map tools like Click Tale, Mocking Fish, Mouse Flow and such others so as to create the desired content according to the interest and preference of your customers.

  • Totally agree with you – that a lot of companies spend a huge chunk of their profits to content marketing that just doesn’t give back what they hoped for. That would be backlinks, getting to the front page of search engines, more traffic, more sales, etc…

    Ultimately though, I still think pushing content out is better than nothing, as long as you offer SOMEthing useful there.

  • Totally agree with you – how businesses spend a huge chunk of their profits in content marketing that just doesn’t give them what they’ve expected. Things like good backlinks, getting to the front page of search engines, more traffic, more sales, etc…

    Regardless though, I still think investing in content marketing is better than nothing. I’m not talking about money-wise but spending the time to push out great content. Because as long as you give something of value to your readers, that’s all that matters. 🙂

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