A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy

Content marketing has been around for years, but until recently Google was not making good on their word to rank content that deserves to rank. Instead, we could all easily find examples where sites were ranking off of low quality directories, link wheels, blog networks, and many other tactics. But since Penguin, Panda, and the myriad of other algorithm changes this year, SEOs have started to finally embrace content as a viable means, but we’re still running into old mindsets from clients, and honestly a lot of SEOs are not good at creating linkworthy content.

Interest in content marketing has grown this year:

Tom Critchlow published a post on Distilled back in February called The Time For Content Marketing Is Now. This got the SEO world abuzz and people have been writing ridiculous posts about “SEO is Dead, Content Strategy is the Future”, so this is not one of those posts.

Instead, we’re going to cover briefly:

  • Why Content
  • Why Other Industries Are Better at Content Than We Are
  • What To Do About It
  • Why SEOs Are Well Positioned to Leverage Content
  • Where To Go From Here

Why Blogging?

We need to first examine why people who blog (such as myself) do so. In my experience, a blog (or any kind of consistently updated media) is useful for keeping your brand front of mind. If you have a consistent blog that is well-read with content that reaches users, you can keep attracting links.

But links are not the purpose of blogging. Blogging has the following purposes, in my opinion:

  • It shows your thought leadership;
  • It can be used to consistently educate your readers;
  • Depending on your niche, it can drive conversions and business inquiries.

But a blog isn’t the only way to do this, and many times a blog does not fit a specific vertical. Jeff Goins says it well in this post:

“What if I don’t know why you should read my blog? What if I just blog to blog?”Frankly, that’s not good enough. You have something to say. If you don’t know what it is, then you’re probably not saying it. You owe to yourself to take this blogging thing seriously. Otherwise, why bother wasting your time?

If you’re just blogging to blog, you’re wasting your time. The brands winning online are not just blogging anymore.

Why Content Beyond Blogging?

When we’re talking about content strategy from an SEO perspective, we have to ask “why are we producing content?” Our job is to increase traffic and rankings, and not only that but traffic and rankings that convert. So we focus on keywords that are driving conversions and then try to move them up in the rankings.

First, allow me to point out that if you want to increase rankings for specific keywords, you do not need to produce new content just anywhere on your site. If you are engaging in a content campaign, such as a series of guides or visualizations, it is difficult to use these to get links back to a specific product page for example.

Is it possible? Yes it’s possible, but these are also the sorts of tactics that Google will probably be trying to discount soon enough, especially sneaky redirected linkbait and such. So any content we put on these pages needs to fit with the intent of the users, and not just be there for ranking/links sake.

The reasons for creating new pages of content are various, but include:

  • Branding
  • Longtail traffic
  • Targeting keywords you have not yet targeted
  • Thought leadership

We all know that to rank for competitive keywords, you need a combination of:

  • Links
  • Content
  • Relevancy to the phrase

And as you know, what it takes to rank in different verticals differs. Some verticals prefer fresh content, so editorial content will win:

But some don’t, like this search for [stickers]:

Text content alone, or even the type of content that we know gets links (with images and videos), will not rank for head terms in most verticals. So much more is involved. We’re past the 2008 days of “creating blog content so that crawlers will see fresh content.” That died back when Google introduced Caffeine to crawl the web in realtime thus putting an end to the Google-dance. Google’s technology has progressed, so we must as well.

Tell Me More

Smart brands these days are investing heavily in content to create richer pages that deserve to rank. SEOmoz has their SEO blog that has a lot of links to it, but they also have the Beginner’s Guide to SEO which is getting close to having as many links and ranks for tough head terms.

Here are a few examples:




Even more technical companies are investing in it, like SimplyBusiness with their WordPress guide:

And this one, MyAssetTag, a very B2B technical niche, with their visualization:

Coke gets it:

So does Google:

Other industries are better at content production than we are

Let’s face it – good content is ridiculously hard. We’re currently working on DistilledU at Distilled. You may not realize this, but each module we write is at least a few thousand words and takes us about 20 hours end-to-end. This includes writing, editing, rewriting, coding, and setting it live.

SEOs have a hard time thinking past keywords and “Google ranks”. We have a difficult time seeing the bigger objectives of businesses beyond rankings. I often hear “My job is to get the site ranking. After that, it’s their responsibility”.

Agencies like HUGE can create a good looking site, like this one for Barney’s:

But using an SEO agency could have helped them improve their SEO and their content strategy, such as on this page with minimal content:

Or KTM. They make amazing motorcycles and their fans produce content like this that they are not leveraging on their site. It’s sad really.

It’s time to get away from ROI

We’re all asked frequently, I’m sure, what the ROI of a piece of content or an activity will be. Clients or bosses want us to account for every minute or every activity in an attempt to tie it back. This is part of a misunderstood “data-driven” perspective on business and marketing. I believe in being data driven to be sure, but sometimes being data-driven isn’t looking at the individual activities, but on the aggregate whole.

We, and our clients, need to start thinking along the lines of these questions: “Is this content driving links and shares?” “Is it ranking and driving traffic?” “Are we then capturing that traffic so we can convert them later?” Now we’re starting to sound like real marketers…

SEOs are Perfectly Situated To Pitch Content Strategy

SEOs are perfectly situated to pitch content strategy, because a good SEO understands:

  • User personas and traffic sources
  • Need states and searcher demands
  • Content consumption and communities online
  • The conversion implications of content
  • Information architecture and internal linking
  • The technical requirements and considerations for content production (we consult on CMS specifications, WP plugins, CDNs, semantic markup and so on)
  • SEO considerations (obviously) including on-page copy as well as broader technical challenges of duplicate content, XML sitemaps, video sitemaps etc

Not only would we be able to get from the data who our customers are:

But we can also figure out the content that they want and then how to optimize it for the search engines:

We can use content to:

  • Drive brand awareness;
  • Future proof our sites against algorithms by attracting links;
  • Educate users (top of funnel content) and drive them to conversion (bottom of funnel content)
  • And more.
We can leverage the KTM videos for their SEO. I could leverage content being produced by GoPro users for their SEO to help them win online and become a publisher powerhouse like RedBull. But I’m not going to go create the content.

SEOs Are Not Perfectly Situated to Create Content Always

While we as SEOs are perfectly situated to pitch content, and sometimes execute, we must realize when we are not. Once again, this means more resources and budget are required, but the end result will be better.

One example is at Distilled. We have Mark Johnstone, who was an SEO consultant for a long time but he’s always been passionate about creative content. So, back in March he was made the Head of Creative at Distilled. He has a few designers, both static and interactive, as well as access to a couple of developers and videographers. He defines the strategy, sometimes alongside our head of outreach Adria, but he does not create the content himself. He leverages the skills of others to create it, and then helps to leverage the content through search and social.

A blog is no longer a content strategy. It can reach a certain persona, if that persona exists for your business, but many times it may not. Why create a blog when you can create, say, a travel guide that will drive people to book a room in your hotel? This content will be more difficult, including images and videos and the like, but the return will be much greater.

At Distilled, we blog twice a week, but we’ve seen a much bigger return from the linkbait guide:

The Excel for SEO guide:


And the video marketing guide:

Let’s go beyond content for freshness and links, and to content for qualified traffic and brand market share.

78 thoughts on “A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy

  1. Pingback: A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy - Inbound.org

  2. Pingback: A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy - Inbound.org

  3. Was thinking a lot about the ROI point over the last few weeks, trying to come up with a good way to really explain it to someone. It isn’t perfect, but I think I’m going to be using running as an example.

    I run a few miles in the morning, 3-4 times a week.

    If I run a marathon next summer, each run will have given me a little bit more to be able to actually hit that goal of finishing a marathon, and each would have helped my finishing time a little bit.

    Now, if I only ran twice a week instead of three or four times… what would my final marathon time have been?

    Obviously – no one can answer that. But that’s basically the same question we get from clients all the time. What was the ROI on this content piece vs this other one? How much did investing in adjusting my H1 tags get me? The list goes on.

    And it’s all exactly the same as asking what one individual run during marathon training did for your total time.

    1. When I think of your marathon analogy, I think of training. On one hand, a runner can do the minimum (aerobic running every other day) and likely complete the race. On the other hand, a runner can include interval training, diet, weight lifting, core training, etc, and run a personal best.

      We marketers want to ‘run personal bests’, right?

      1. One cannot complete the race if you are a 3 legged donkey. training included, you need to focus on the inner zen then take a huge leap of faith. Ryan, get with the program.

  4. I like your perspective in this post Jon. When talking about content and blogging, I typically have used the analogy the more hooks or bait you have in the water, the more opportunities you have to reach customers. While there still is truth to that, I think the examples you bring up in your post & the recent G algo changes puts more of an emphasis on quality and creating valuable content assets rather than just blogging for keywords or freshness.

    I would say their needs to be a balance though in the sense it doesn’t have to be “epic” to be successful. Sometimes I’ll come across several thousand word posts and even if they have a lot of good things to say, it’s just too much for one piece. Breaking things up into pieces and conveying a message in parts can also be quite effective.

    1. Great post John. You always have a great perspective on content marketing. And it’s extremely refreshing because it definitely varies a little more from the counterparts in the industry. I know Rand and a lot of the guys at Distilled are all about the content, but I think the best point you make here is that SEOs are indeed bad at content marketing.

      Big brands are so much better, and the examples you provided are stellar! But my opinion is that, alot of times its much easier for brands like that….simply because they need branding much more than say a local law firm. For someone like that…i feel like it is hard to ignore the ROI, because they don’t benefit as much from the branding. So maybe you’re thoughts on ROI…are better in a case by case scenario

      1. Hey Shane –
        Actually, a lot of those were conceived by SEOs, executed by creatives, and pushed by SEOs. So we’re bad at creating it (we’re not creatives) but we’re great at pushing it. We should realize where our strengths actually lie.

  5. I really like the examples you gave of content. All of the content is useful and not just someone trying to make the website thicker. Some many people are blogging just to add pages to the company website but have not real strategy or goal in mind. The content doesnt solve problems or help the user. Things like the SEOmoz beginners guide to SEO helps people by answer questions and getting to the root of what they are looking for. When people find useful valuable information they come back to you and your brand. Not everything has an immediate return and this is where the education as a SEO comes into play.

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  7. John,

    I wanted to say that this was one of the best examples of content creation I’ve read. Very good examples of good content (particularly how SEOMoz’ and Distilled’s guides are some of the most linked pages). I’m sharing it with the rest of my team on Wednesday.


    1. I think it’s kind of funny how all the content creation examples are “guides”. It seems that if you want to actually get a lot of links with your content you should create a guide.

  8. Epic post – you actually delivered on a great headline.

    I’ve always been a fan of Distilled’s content and, of course, Moz content. Great WordPress example as well.

    Cheers 🙂

  9. Great write up and graduation of logic on content. The notion of “ROI” can be tricky, especially considering long-term content efforts, such as identifying and studying the needs/likes of a target market (personas) and creating and strengthening a brand (thought leadership) as you identify.

    To think of some efforts in strict, data-driven terms/rewards may overlook other means of business appreciation (pun intended) taking place.

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  12. Awesome post just fyi!

    “SEOs have a hard time thinking past keywords and “Google ranks”. We have a difficult time seeing the bigger objectives of businesses beyond rankings. I often hear “My job is to get the site ranking. After that, it’s their responsibility”.”

    I could not agree more with this, I would actually take it further, and say (depending on the brand/situation) the goal of an SEO should be to work themselves out of a job. The way search is heading, SEO in and of itself is evolving and adapting, Really it is becoming an all inclusive, and I think it is important to switch your brain from Raw SEO to Digital Marketing or Digital Strategy. While its good to specialize, this is no longer 2007.

    I definitely agree that SEO’s should be knowledgeable about content marketing but they should also be PPC, Media Buying, Video Making, and Traditional marketing aware and know how to intertwine those mediums with SEO.

    I am not of the SEO is dead party, but SEO as it has been in the past is no longer viable….

  13. seomoz, like a lot of seo companies and consultants are mostly in the business of convincing the rest of the world how important their role is, whether its starting a blog or making an infographic.

    people working in seo often start out believing in it but after a few years realize that most of what they thought was true is just bs … but now theyre so deep in it they feel they need to keep justifying to the client how much theyre needed

    my advice is understand the principles of good web content but dont waste your time and energy drinking the seo koolaid

  14. Very well put up. We are guilty of using our blogs as a content marketing strategy for our branding and thought leadership. Didn’t realize that we can adapt the same to the brands we are managing.

    The trustworthy link bait of seomoz’s resources are the best of all examples. I like how distilled is picking up though

  15. Great post. As grandma used to say on the farm, “the cream will always rise to the top.”
    We had a hard time getting our expert-level clients to actually sit down and write posts.
    It wasn’t until we started interviewing them on tight topics (good SEO, to boot) and then transcribing and re-writing, that we were able to get good content out of them. They still don’t write, but they sure can talk your ear off.
    It worked so well, we made a business out of it, and we created a topic outline tool that’s free.

  16. Since a couple of weeks my blog is totally failing. With each blog entry I slide down the Serps. Very disappointing. I will try now to focus richer pages and the community respond. Thanks for the tip.

  17. This is a great post, showing how important it is not to focus only on “quick” content, but quality lasting content. Excellent examples of good content.
    Thanks for sharing.

  18. It is certainly worth investing in triple A content and the old classic Noobs Guide from Unbounce is a great example. I am sure they do okay from their blog as well but before they put that together which was obviously coupled with a big guest post over at SEOMoz just how many people had really heard of unbounce?

    Still, this can be an even harder sell than just blogging for small to medium businesses who don’t get it!

  19. It sounds like you’re still thinking like an SEO but at the end of the day your efforts need to back out to revenue. The true future of SEO is to have the ability to quantify and track these efforts to a sale. Doesn’t matter if it’s direct response or a branding effort. Coca Cola wouldn’t do what they do if it didn’t impact sales. John, you need to get more into the DR side of marketing. Oh… and nice try but I’m still voting for Romney. 🙂 Will be nice to have someone that understands maintaining a strong “branded” position on the world stage while initiating Direct Response results.

  20. I really liked this post, John – especially the examples of effective, engaging, non-fluffy content.
    The company I’m part of is currently working on expanding its scope from SEO tunnel vision to a more complete digital marketing strategy. As we move away from article directories toward high quality blog posts, for example, we’re realizing how important (and sometimes difficult) it is to get the client involved in content creation and promotion. They have the photos, videos, etc., and we have the SEO smarts.
    Thanks for an entertaining and instructive post!

  21. Great ideas and examples – and lots to think about. I will use some of the concepts here with my clients. I am an advocate of knowing your brand, your keyword and then developing content from your business VP first and foremost.

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  23. I think it should be definetly topic relevant helpful content.
    The tec blog with a wordpress guide business related is maybe not the optimal content strategy.

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  26. Hi John,

    Nice post, I agree with most of it. The only thing I would query is your last line around Distilled seeing more value from the big guides vs blog posts. I think Distilled see such value now from those type of guides, because they have a pretty strong site in Google’s eyes and a big social reach.

    Basically, you guys are a brand, which really helps when you start putting the big pieces of content together, as by their very nature, static content is going to be more difficult to attract eyeballs. If you have a ready made audience, the impact of great content is a lot stronger.

    If you take a couple of steps back, how pivotal was Distilled’s quality blog posts in becoming a brand and creating such a great environment to promote those bigger pieces?

    A blog may not be a content strategy – but for a lot of brands it’s the easiest place to start. In saying that, Content Marketing isn’t a Content Strategy – I think in general people mix the two up.

    Also, I am glad you showed product pages etc in relation to content marketing, too many SEO’s are focused on Content Marketing = Top of Funnel Content that drives links & shares, which is only a part of it (but obviously a big part for SEO’s).

  27. Pingback: Criar um blog não é uma estratégia de marketing de conteúdo | Chá de Cérebro

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  29. I couldn’t agree more with your main point. Having said that I have had extremely good luck with search engine sensitivity to Categories and Tagging in blogs that mirror popular or well-matched search parameters. Still, as I counsel client’s, if the content is not engaging when the traffic gets there, 80%+ bounce rates will be the norm. Well parsed topic with great visualizations. Thank you.

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  31. Really, an awesome blog. I couldn’t agree more. First, when you blog, you need purpose. If you’re doing it right, and providing real value in your industry, you should be getting some of that long tail traffic that comes with a more educational approach.

    But yes, blogging without thinking of any of these things in some organized fashion is not going to do your business any good. Should be pretty easy to figure out when there’s no real results.

    One of the great things with WordPress is it’s real easy to add pages to your site as well. As a business you have to always be thinking about content! Awesome post.

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  34. John, really a fantastic post.

    Agreed that SEOs are in a good position to inform content strategy. In fact, I’d say it’s a mistake to not include the research an SEO can bring to this.

    I would also stop short of prescribing this task to SEOs exclusively (not that you have in this post) because there are verticals and niches where areas of the buyer’s journey are impacted by peer interaction more so than content.

  35. Very interesting article. As someone new to the SEO field, this was extremely eye opening and thought provoking. We do encourage a lot of our clients to blog, and I believe it is useful and beneficial in ways, but after I read this I found myself agreeing with you that having more valuable content such as guides, how-to’s, videos, etc are even better content than just blogging about “things”. This is definitely something I am going to look into implementing for more of our clients. It seems like 3 less blog posts for 1 really awesome guide, video, etc might be worth it.

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  67. Do’s Donts and ethics are not considered nowdays ! there is race in freaks to put larger content on every topic on their blog and draw more traffic and get SEO clients to advertise ! This is getting lame and no vital information is found when needed ! and fed up off Advertisements !

  68. Very well put up. We are guilty of using our blogs as a content marketing strategy for our branding and thought leadership. Didn’t realize that we can adapt the same to the brands we are managing.

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