Ask any search expert how they think content affects SEO, and nearly all of them will probably say content is vital for achieving ranking results. The common mantra, "content is king," has become a rule of practice in most SEO circles, though its origin dates back to an essay by Bill Gates before Google was even founded
The issue here is that digital marketing is a complex, interconnected web of different strategies that affect one another in different ways. For example, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) can be classified as two different strategies, while content can complement and enhance most other digital marketing strategies
, including SEO, SEM, social media, PPC, affiliate marketing, and email marketing.
We know that content is vital for an SEO campaign to succeed, but let's try to flip that logic around. Is it possible for an SEO campaign to succeed through the use of content only?
The Roles Content Plays
First, let's examine some of the most important roles that content plays in an SEO campaign:
Contextual relevance. Content is a crucial factor in providing contextual relevance for your pages. Google's semantic search analyzes the meaning of the natural language of pages more than it scouts for individual keywords; adding rich, concise content to your site gives Google more clues about what those pages mean and how they can be effectively tied to user queries.
- Indexable pages. Producing more content means adding more indexable pages to your site. Quantity doesn't matter nearly as much as quality, so merely adding pages won't increase your rankings, but over time, if you keep your quality consistent, you'll gain more meaningful real estate on the web.
- Perceived authority. If you keep your quality high across your site, your content will increase Google's perception of your authority. In other words, Google will view you as a provider of high-quality content, and will reward your content with higher rankings and visibility.
- Interlinking. Content also gives you more opportunities to interlink the pages of your site. The closer linked your pages are, the higher your authority will be.
- Inbound links. Inbound links are necessary if you want to rank in search engines; they serve as external indicators of your trust, authority, and relevance as a brand. It's possible to build these independently, but it's far better to earn those links naturally by producing content that people naturally want to link to. This way, you'll avoid a penalty and still earn those all-important authority building links.
- Off-site publishing opportunities. Content can also be your gateway to building relationships with outside authorities, who in turn, can increase your own domain's value. You can only succeed here if your content is good enough to publish and distribute on these channels.
Aside from these key areas, you could argue that content also plays a role in the following areas (though semantics and technical nitpicking could override this influence):
- Meta data. Your title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, and other forms of "meta" text are important indicators for the pages of your site to rank. Since they're written for search engines almost more so than readers, you could argue that they're only peripherally related to content marketing, but they still require mindful writing to successfully execute.
- Site mapping. The page names, URL structures, and navigation of your site could be considered technical elements. However, they still require an intimate knowledge of your users, and messaging that caters to them.
- Social signals. Social signals, the act of socially sharing content from your site, are small ranking factors, but they're still important. These actions rely on strong content to succeed.
Where Content Isn't Necessary
Now, let's take a look at just a few of the "necessary" SEO strategies that don't require content in any capacity:
- Technical structure and indexation. The technical structure of your site matters--it needs to be in an indexable format, allowing search crawlers to read it fully and properly. Avoiding antiquated technologies like flash, including Schema.org microformatting, and ensuring the proper formatting of pictures and video are just a few of the considerations to bear in mind here.
- Site performance. If your site doesn't perform well, it isn't going to rank well. Check to make sure your site is mobile-optimized, reduce your loading time, and add a layer of encryption to keep your users' data safe.
- Robots.txt. Your robots.txt file tells search crawlers what to crawl and what not to crawl--it has no bearing on your content strategy, and vice versa.
- Technical issues. Even seasoned SEO experts are vulnerable to occasional technical issues, such as pages inexplicably going down or duplicate pages being indexed. These issues tend to arise independently of your content strategy, and must be solved independently as well.
The Final Verdict
Yes, content is king--it's either a sole or partial contributor to the vast majority of tactics you need to be successful in SEO. However, there are some strategies that are imperative to your ranking potential that have nothing to do with content whatsoever. If you focus exclusively on content, you'll miss these critical factors and sabotage your long-term potential. Accordingly, content should be one of your biggest priorities--it just shouldn't be your only priority.
February 12, 2016
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.