A few weeks ago, a piece appeared on a major UK newspapers website bemoaning Content Marketing, and how it's ruining the internet.
The article's strap-line fused fantasy and hyperbole to great effect: "... the toxic fuel which propels the internet forward, needs to be eradicated for mankind to reach its true spiritual potential."
While that is a tad dramatic, my issue is not with it, but with the rest of the piece.
You see, the criticism being levied in the post is not against content marketing, or even SEO. From what I can infer it's actually aimed at native advertising, although the author has confused the topics.
I'd like to set the record straight:
The Rise and Rise of SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and over the past 10 years it's meant a wide variety of practices. Going back before 2007/2008 there is no arguing that a lot of it involved techniques those outside the industry may consider sneaky. Often it involved having lots of keywords on pages, or getting lots of websites that may have had nothing to do with your core audience to link back to you (quiz widgets were a great example).
Since 2009/2010 though, Google has doubled down on algorithmically improving the quality and relevance of content that appears against search phrases, and actively penalised websites with less than squeaky clean profiles.
That forced a fundamental rethink by everyone involved in marketing online, from SMBs right up to blue chip brands.
No longer would substandard websites be able to rank, propped up by little more than the smoke and mirrors of old-school SEO.
Content Marketing, Meet SEO.
Since early 2010 the popularity of people searching Google for "Content Marketing" has skyrocketed. So much so, that recently it became a more popular search term than "Search Engine Optimization", although it's not a clear comparison as it doesn't include searches for close variants (for instance, "SEO" has much higher search volume), but it's a great indicator that as a form of marketing it's in the ascendency.
Content Marketing differs from traditional SEO in that the primary focus of any well executed piece, is to engage an audience.
To stand out in the ever increasing flood of content on the internet, being good isn't good enough. You must be remarkable to stand out - and that's precisely what Content Marketing is about.
The business and marketing author, Seth Godin wrote a guide to being remarkable on his personal blog, with quotes such as:
"If it's in a manual, if it's the accepted wisdom, if you can find it in a Dummies book, then guess what? It's boring, not remarkable. Part of what it takes to do something remarkable is to do something first and best. Roger Bannister was remarkable. The next guy, the guy who broke Bannister's record wasn't. He was just faster... but it doesn't matter."
Content Marketing Transecting SEO
The point is, as the internet develops, we are in a progressively tougher fight to stand out - and by standing out you gain consumer attention.
A by-product of consumer attention is links from other websites that are editorially given, because you are being remarkable.
This in turn promotes your website in the search engine algorithms, but more than that - it also engages your audience in a way that the old version of SEO never could. People stay on your site longer, they engage with your brand more, they build a rapport with you that marketing departments have been trying for decades to crack.
Look at the most successful brands today, Apple is a great example. They have managed to turn consumers into brand advocates.
Few people these days "love" Microsoft the way Apple's customers love them. Few people love Blackberrys the way that iPhones are loved.
I would be willing to bet that Apple could spend precisely zero dollars on advertising the new iPhone 6 (or whatever it will be called) and it will still top the sales charts and have customers queuing around the block to secure their device.
This of course isn't Content Marketing for the sake of SEO, so let's take a look at some examples executed by SMBs.
Real World Examples of Content Marketing
Concert Hotels recently published a single page on their website where they compared singers mathematically, using the lowest and highest notes sung on albums to derive a ranking of the "best" artists in history.
The measurement is of course subjective, but it certainly got attention: over 100,000 likes on Facebook, over 100,000 likes on a piece here on the Huffington Post, and crucially over a million visitors for free within two days.
At today's CPC click cost from Google Adwords, that would have cost over a million dollars. While I'm not sure how much it cost them to put this page of content together, I'm pretty sure the ROI was exceptional.
Another exceptionally executed campaign, was by a Dinosaur Themed Best Western Hotel in Denver, Colorado. The notable thing about this campaign is that it's not hosted on their website, but on that of well known comic artist The Oatmeal.
Budget to mid-range accommodation in Denver probably isn't the easiest thing to come up with a creative idea around, but when you see what was put together by Matthew Inman (the man behind The Oatmeal), you can truly see where content is for once, really 'king' when it comes to marketing.
Their objective (which they make clear in the piece itself) was to gain followers on Facebook - the result? Nearly 90,000 people liked it on the platform.
Is Content Marketing Killing the Web?
Absolutely not, the web is all about consuming great content that keeps you entertained & informed.
Content marketing only works when it fulfills one of those two key requirements.
Content Marketing does now what SEO did a decade ago, it levels the playing field and allows SMBs to compete again on a global scale.