The phrase “content is king” is one of the most popular in the world of digital marketing. A quick Google search of the phrase will generate 117,000,000 results. This phrase has also become a core tenet of many in the SEO community as well. While I am not going to refute the importance of content, I do want to challenge the idea pushed by many that content alone is enough for SEO.
The phrase “content is king” was coined by Bill Gates in an essay of the same title he published in 1996. In the article, Gates made the argument that content is where the money will be. “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”
The internet changed the way we communicate. It has given a voice to many who would not have had one in the past. In Gates’ article, he, too, foresaw the power of this medium. “One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.”
While the ability to create and share content online is amazing, doing so was extremely hard at first. In the early days, search engines were much less sophisticated, and email was the primary way to get your message heard. While the content was still powerful and anyone could publish it, few were able to interact with that content in a meaningful way.
As Google took on the challenge of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful,” things began to change. By creating a search engine that ranked content based on more than just on-page factors, people who we couldn’t previously hear online had a chance to reach millions.
In 2013, search changed again with the release of a whole new algorithm known as Hummingbird. The goal of Hummingbird was to initiate Google’s move from “strings to things.” The goal was to deliver more contextually relevant results to users based on a number of new factors.
Because of this change, many in the digital marketing space declared the “end of SEO” and crowned content marketing as its heir apparent. Now, I want again to make the point that content is extremely important! Without content, there is no internet. But if you want to have organic visibility, you need more than just content.
The “content marketing only” push, in my opinion, has caused some significant issues. First, it sets false expectations. Second, it leads to a ton of junk content. Third, it just doesn’t work. Below I’ll explain more about these three points and what we need to do instead.
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I have had many conversations with people who have spent a ton of time creating and posting content and are completely confused by why they don’t see results. I feel for them. They bought into the rule “content is king” and did the work. But as the results never showed up, it just got too hard to keep going.
This is one of the biggest hurdles I see when speaking with frustrated online marketers. Most of the people who started out creating blogs and online content did so after reading something from a successful online marketer. They read about how all you need is good content to rank and expected to see similar results as in the article. The problem here is context. Let me explain.
Let’s say I run an online marketing blog that has 100,000 subscribers. Creating content and sharing it with my community is going to do more than just grow my influence. Because I spent time building my list, I am sure also to get shares as well as links to anything I create.
Now, let’s say I have a blog with 1000 subscribers. While creating content adds value to my users, I probably won’t get as much organic lift right away as the first guy.
As you can see, the first site has a ton of authority built up. This means they have more weight with their users and, yes, Google. While the second site can get there, it’s not going to be as simple as “just post it, and they will come.”
What to Do About It
I am a big believer in creating valuable content. We post at least three times a week on our site. We do this not to solely “rank” but to build value for our community. (In case you are wondering, three times a week is not a magical number.)
By looking at what our users want, we create content that matches their intent. The more we interact with them, the better our content gets and the higher the engagement. But if that was all we did, we still wouldn’t get the results we need.
When you are trying to reach a new market or are starting out online, and you want to leverage search, you have to build domain authority. The best way to do this is through links. Yes, Google is looking at intent, but links still matter. If you ignore this, you will have a hard time growing your domain credibility and will have little to no organic exposure.
Let’s face it; there is a ton of junk content online. As the phrase “content is king” moved to center stage, many started to post content for the sake of posting content. This never has and never will work. First, Google is really smart. Second, users hate junk content.
When Google looks at a site, it does look at how often the site gets updated. But it also looks at the content. As you may know, they can and do penalize sites that have low-quality content. They care more about the quality of content than the quantity.
So what is quality content? While it is obviously subjective, quality content is content that meets the end user’s expectations. Never create content just to create content.
What to Do Instead
To create quality content, you first need to understand your audience. In another article, “The human side to SEO: the power of personas,” I talked about the need for persona research in SEO.
If you want to please both your audience and Google, you must create content that meets the end user’s needs. Take time to uncover your personas’ pain points, questions, and problems. Then create content that educates them and solves their problems.
Again, this alone won’t get you ranked, but quality content gets shared more and linked to more. By starting with solid work, you will set yourself up for long-term success.
SEO never works in a vacuum, but neither does content marketing. If you have bought into the “content is key” push and saw little to no results, I feel for you. But all that work was not done in vain. Here are some ways to leverage your content:
- Go back and make sure all your content is optimized.
- See which pieces of content are performing and look for similarities.
- Look at which type of content is getting shares and links.
- Look at the types of sites/people who are sharing and linking to you.
Then leverage this information to create better content that you can build a solid SEO strategy around. Because many overlook the basic elements of SEO, there is a lot of room if you focus on the basics. If you need a quick refresher on those, check out this post.
Search engines are still a powerful way to share your expertise and grow your business. By focusing on delivering value, making sure that your content is optimized, and earning links, you’ll see outstanding results.