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Content Marketing 37 min read

Content Strategy vs. SEO Strategy: How to Decide Which Comes First

Content Strategy vs. SEO Strategy: How to Decide Which Comes First
Content Strategy vs. SEO Strategy: How to Decide Which Comes First

Content Developer at DashClicks
SEO and content are the two sides of the same coin in the digital marketing world, and you cannot run your business without both of them. Many companies struggle to choose between what to put first, SEO or content. It is actually a tough decision since both are the pillars of digital marketing.

However, making a choice is vital for the success of your business and what is even more important is to make the right choice, as the wrong choice can break your entire digital marketing strategy.

Today, we'll give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about SEO and content marketing to help you make the right choice. Moreover, this article will be supplemented by the comments of the following experts from our Twitter Chat:
Francesco Baldini
Freelance SEO Consultant
Olena Prokhoda
Social Media and Community Specialist at Serpstat
Joseph S. Kahn
President of Hum JAM
Taylor Murchison
SEO Specialist at Tipalti
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant & Founder at RemcoTensen.nl
Jonas Sickler
SEO Manager at Terakeet
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Founder & Owner at Yıldırım Sertbaş
Marco Giordano
Search Engine Optimization Specialist & Web Analyst at Sika

What is SEO?

SEO or search engine is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on improving your website to rank it high on SERPs. It is one of the most common methods to drive organic traffic and leads for your business. Optimizing your website is all about making the user experience better by improving various elements of your website. Some of the significant components that go into search engine optimization are:

  • Keyword research: Simply put, keywords are the questions that a user puts into the search bar to find answers. Understanding keywords is crucial for search engine rankings as it tells you about the user intent and creates content for your website accordingly. Using the right keywords also helps the search engine show the right website to the user, increasing its credibility.
  • The website design: Your website's design and structure play a vital role in its search engine ranking and overall user experience. Your website must have a responsive design and a user-friendly interface so that the user can find what they are looking for easily.
  • Page speed: Another crucial element of your website's ranking factor is speed. If your website doesn't load within seconds, the user will leave and find another source of information. Therefore, Google considers it an essential element of your website.
  • Link building: Links are a way for the search engine to determine the trustworthiness of your website. So you need to have backlinks from sites with good authority. Having backlinks makes your website more reliable, increasing your chances of ranking higher on the SERP.

We can divide all these elements into three major parts that make your SEO strategy.

  • On-page SEO: On-page SEO is that part of your SEO where you improve the content on your website to make it rank better. Such factors include adding keywords, creating better titles, adding the newest information, etc.
  • Off-page SEO: Off-page SEO focuses on everything that goes beyond your website, such as creating backlinks.
  • Technical SEO: Technical SEO involves the technical aspects of your website, such as improving the URL, adding Schema markup, and enhancing security by adding SSL.

Why do you need SEO?

There are various benefits of using SEO for your business. Some of the most significant ones are:

  • It enhances user experience: Implementing the best SEO practices for your website improves looks, speed, design, and value-adding content. Which in turn increases the user experience of the visitor.
  • It puts you on the map: Nearly 90% of the internet experience begins with a search engine. So when you have SEO, you are more likely to show up on a search result for a relevant keyword, and people will visit your website more. It helps people know more about your business and increase your brand awareness and reach.
  • It helps other marketing strategies: SEO greatly helps in different marketing strategies, such as content marketing, social media campaigns, and ad campaigns. Therefore, you need to make your SEO game strong to succeed in your digital marketing goals.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing uses different mediums such as text, images, videos, and graphics to create quality content that engages, entertains, and informs the viewers. Content marketing helps a business connect with its audience at a deeper level and gain their trust. Various forms of content include website posts, social media posts, emails, blog posts, display advertisements, and others.
"Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them."
~Doug Kessler

Why do you need Content marketing?

SEO indeed opens the gate, but it's content that makes you stay. Content makes the visitor connect with you at a deeper level, building trust. Here is why content marketing is indispensable for your business.

  • It helps build trust: The most significant benefit of good content is that it shows the audience what your brand is all about. It enables you to connect with like-minded people who appreciate your work and want to become a part of it.
  • It increases conversions: No one chooses a brand that they can not relate to at some point. And without content marketing, you cannot convince them to use your product or service.
Why is Content Marketing important?
Why is Content Marketing important? (Source)
  • It gives you better traction on social media: Social media is one digital platform with a tremendous reach. However, the only thing that sells on social media is good quality content to keep users entertained and educate them. With engaging content, you can quickly grab your target audience's attention and loyalty on social media with a good content marketing strategy. Here is how you can fix your social media content:

How do you decide what to do first?

Now let us move on to the most crucial part of the discussion, which is to decide what to focus on first, content marketing or SEO. Here are some critical questions you need to ask yourself to determine the correct answer.

  • Are you running a B2B or B2C business?
If you are into a B2B business, the wisest course of action would be to start with SEO, as lead generation is your best option to grow your business, and SEO plays a vital role in it.
Organizational Goals for B2B Marketing
Organizational Goals for B2B Marketing (Source)
For B2C businesses, both strategies can work well. However, it would be better to start with your content strategy as B2C companies rely more on social media to generate the impetus their businesses need, especially if it is into direct sales. Such companies need immediate results, and SEO takes longer to generate the output than social media and PPC campaigns. After that, you can integrate SEO with high-quality content.
  • Is your website live?
Another important question that you need to ask is whether your website is not live as of now. If it is not, you need to create your SEO strategy first and find out the ranking keywords—the type of content your target audience is attracted to, and what works best for your competition.

If your website is already live, analyze the ranking content and build your SEO strategy around it for the best results.

  • What are your digital marketing goals?
Another crucial consideration when choosing is the goal you want to achieve through your digital marketing strategies. If your goal is to improve your leads and gain authority, it is best to start with an excellent SEO strategy.

However, if you aim to achieve enhanced social media reach, build brand awareness quickly, and generate natural backlinks for your website, go with a captivating content marketing strategy.

Why should you develop an SEO strategy first?

There are pros and cons of starting any strategy first. Here we give you the benefits of going forward with SEO first. They are:

  • SEO gives you fantastic content ideas
When you start with your SEO strategy, the first thing you do is keyword research. And these keywords give you a clear idea of what people are looking for. It is not just about putting relevant keywords for search engines anymore. It is about understanding user intent and generating content that they would find engaging and value-adding. And for that, you can use SEO keyword research to develop content that people will want to read and watch, there are great Search Suggestions and Search questions tools for it on Serpstat:
  • SEO directs passive traffic to your website
The primary goal of content marketing is to generate traffic and get better conversions. It is proven that organic traffic occupies a larger share of traffic on your website than paid ones. And for your content to receive better organic traffic, it should show up when people search for relevant keywords. And for that, you need search engine optimization. Here's how you can select keywords to generate organic traffic:
  • SEO enables you to track your competitors
When creating an SEO strategy, you need to study several things from a marketing scale rather than from an individual point of view. One of the most common elements of creating an SEO strategy is competitor analysis.
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The SEO competitor analysis is finding out what keywords your competitor is ranking for with the help of various analytical tools. It helps you find gaps in your SEO strategy and other intel that tells you what is wrong with your content and website.

All that data you collect can help derive the best SEO strategy and create an excellent content marketing plan.

  • Content without SEO is futile
You may create the best content globally and still won't get any traffic if your content is irrelevant. It happens because even any premium content won't show up without the search engine finding your website, and for that, you need a well-planned SEO strategy. SEO also helps optimize your existing content to make it better.

  • SEO is more than just high-quality content
Yes, high-quality content plays a vital role in your SEO strategy. However, just good content won't cut it when it comes to SEO success. You need to improve on various other technical elements such as meta tags, anchor text, backlinks, website design, speed, responsiveness, Schema markup, and the content to gain the rankings you are looking for. All these steps improve your overall credibility and increase your reputation significantly in the market. You can find technical issues on your website with Serpstat's Site Audit Tool:
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How to build a successful SEO strategy

If these reasons have helped you decide that you need to focus on your SEO strategy first, your next step would be to build a successful one. Here is our guide to creating a successful strategy for your business:

Step # 1: Measure your existing SEO performance

Suppose you have a website that you want to create an SEO strategy for. The first thing you need to identify is how your current site is performing. Doing so will help you discover the issues and build your strategy to improve the shortcoming and add missing things.
Measure your existing SEO performance
Measure your existing SEO performance (Source)
Use an SEO analytical tool to gauge your existing performance. That will act as a benchmark for you to measure your success after applying a new strategy. It will also help you determine what is going well and doesn't need any meddling.

Tips to Measure and Improve Your SEO Performance

Step # 2: Analyze your competitor's SEO strategy

Don't look further than your competition if you find yourself clueless about where to start with your SEO. Analyze your competitor's SEO strategy to get an idea of what works in your industry.

  • Start with making a list of all your prominent competitors in your industry segment using organic research tools with competitor options such as Serpstat's Competitor Analysis Tool:
  • Find the pages of such competitors that generate the highest traffic in terms of organic search.
  • Then identify the keywords used on these pages. It will give you an idea of what keywords they are ranking for and which ones will work for you.
  • You should also compare the backlinks you and your competition have to eliminate the gap in your new strategy.
Competitors teach you what to do BETTER in terms of quality & tactics.

Product features can almost always be copied. And if you're only trying to do the same as your competitors in SEO, and relying on price: all it takes is ONE competitor who can sell cheaper.

That's a good reason to invest in increasing trust signals, and in growing brand authority through the various ways available to you, inside and outside the world of SEO, on-, and inside your website (technical SEO is your buy-in), and in other places.
Remco Tensen
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant & Founder at RemcoTensen.nl

Analysis of Competitors' Websites: An Extensive Guide

Your customers choose you for some aspects that alternatives don't have, lack, or are not clear about. Your goal is to identify features you have but competitors and alternatives don't:

- your team's expertise;
- functionality of your products;
- your return policy;
- your pricing model.

Once you have identified your uniqueness, focus on why it's important to them. Match your unique features with its ultimate benefits, and the task(s) it helps with.
Francesco Baldini
Francesco Baldini
Freelance SEO Consultant
Step # 3: Establish goals and KPIs

Now you know what works in your industry and where you stand, you can formulate the goals you want to achieve with your SEO strategy. Set clear goals that are quantifiable and measurable through tools.

Then set the daily parameters or KPIs you can measure and track to gauge your progress every step of the way.
Define goals, KPIs, and how to measure them. Plan as much as you can so you will save headaches in the future :)
Marco Giordano
Marco Giordano
Search Engine Optimization Specialist/Web Analyst at Sika
Step # 4: Establish your parent keywords pillar pages

After the goals are established, you can move to the next element, which is keyword research. Here, you need to define the primary keywords that you will use for specific pages that you want to get the most traffic on. These pages are also called pillar pages. These pages have clusters of keywords that you want the most traffic for.
Step # 5: Audit your existing content

Once you have your keyword list and pillar pages, the next step is to create content according to these keywords. However, before making new content from scratch, you need to analyze the existing content and determine what is usable. What should be deleted and what to update? It also helps you identify the type of content your audience likes and build new content according to it.
Content Audit Process
Content Audit Process (Source)
You can analyze your and your competitor's top pages to see which content attracts the most traffic with Serpstat's Top Pages report:
Step # 6: Create new content

Once you have scaped up whatever you can of your old content and removed duplicates and unusable content. The next step is to create content that suits the keywords and cluster topics you have formed for your new SEO strategy. Ensure that the content is of exceptional quality and adds value to the reader.

Your content should also satisfy the user intent rather than just fulfilling the keyword requirements to rank on the search engine. Having good quality content is key to ensuring that your traffic turns into conversions and leads.

7 Tips For Creating Content That Converts

Step #7: Remove any on-page SEO issues

After creating and posting the content, the next step is to get other on-page SEO factors correct. It includes adding meta descriptions, title tags, and internal links to the content, optimizing the images, and much more. SEO tools can provide you with suggestions to optimize your on-page SEO further.
The most common SEO issues
The most common SEO issues (Source)
Step #8: Take care of technical SEO

Even after doing on-page SEO, your site still can have some underlying technical issues. Such issues won't let the search engine crawl and index your website correctly, affecting your ranking. You can conduct a manual technical SEO audit to find the underlying issues and fit them. You should also add schema markup to your website to enhance its rankings.
Step #9: Master off-page SEO

You can move on to off-page SEO when you have taken care of technical aspects and on-page SEO. Off-page SEO is all about getting backlinks for your website through various means to increase the credibility of your website. Some of the most prominent techniques include:

Step #10: Measure and redefine

Once everything is in place, you can focus on measuring the results. Set up analytics mechanics such as Google Analytics to analyze the performance of your SEO strategy. Measure all the KPIs against the benchmarks set in the beginning. It will help you create a progress graph of your strategy efficiently. Make changes to your tactics where you are not meeting your goals.
SEO requires constant work. It is an endless cycle as you need to keep adjusting your website according to the changes in the search engine algorithms and new content requirements to maintain your rankings. But the results are worth it.
Let's see our experts' thoughts on the main steps one should follow when applying a successful SEO strategy. Some opinions seem to be quite common:
First, identify the customers you're after. Not just generic customers or personae, but customers you currently work with and are willing to work with in the future.

The ones that spend more or more often, that consume fewer resources (sales, customer support), the ones that suggest your product all the time, any characteristic that you consider great in your customers.
List them so you can analyze them later.
Francesco Baldini
Francesco Baldini
Freelance SEO Consultant
Do audience research and define your personas. Understand how they search for answers throughout their journey. Where do they get their information? Who do they trust? What are the key moments you can impact decisions?
Jonas Sickler
Jonas Sickler
SEO Manager at Terakeet
You need to know something about the target audience. If you do not know your target audience well, support can be obtained from those who do. Knowing what they question when buying products is the key to success.
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Founder & Owner at Yıldırım Sertbaş
If you have a site — benchmark current SEO performance: organic visibility, keyword rankings, branded vs. non-branded traffic split.

1. Keyword research is usually the first step of any legit SEO strategy.
2. Analyze your competitors' SEO strategies.
3. Set goals.
Olena Prokhoda
Olena Prokhoda
Social Media and Community Specialist at Serpstat

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Why should you create a Content Marketing strategy first?

Let's move on to understanding why you should opt for a content marketing strategy before SEO. Here are a few reasons to do so.

  • Rank your content without SEO.
Content is imperial for SEO: Even with good SEO, you need quality content, as content is what holds your on-page SEO together. So you can start with content before you move on to your SEO strategy. Also, even though SEO needs content, you don't need SEO for other campaigns, such as social media and PPC advertising. However, you need content for them as well.

  • It helps drive targeted traffic.
When you start with content marketing, you need to understand buyers' journey, intent, and problems. It helps you create content that matches user intent rather than simply feeding keywords to search engine bots. Because in the end, you want customers and not search engines for your business.

  • You don't get tossed off as soon as the algorithm changes.
There is nothing more worrying about SEO specialists than sudden search engine algorithm changes. It is because a single change can topple your SERP position within minutes. However, if your content is strong, you won't be moved so quickly. Also, if you provide quality content, users will seek your website even if it ranks a bit low temporarily.

  • It enables you to discover topics before they are popular.
With SEO, you find keywords that are already popular and create content around it. This is a good strategy, but you have to face stiff competition as other sites are already ranking on them. However, with a good content marketing strategy, you can identify topics that your audience will like even if it does not exist on the search engine before. It also increases your chances of ranking quickly on such less explored topics.

How to create a successful Content Marketing strategy?

For a successful content marketing campaign that drives results, you need to form a marketing strategy based on research and customer interest. Here are some tips for creating the perfect strategy for your business.
Tip #1: Set your goals

The first thing you need to do is set your content marketing goals. It can be to create brand awareness, gain more leads, or generate sales and conversions. Whatever your goal, you need to identify and set it as the content you generate will need to be in accordance with that. Ensure that your goals are measurable and trackable, and set KPIs to measure them each step of the way.
Tip# 2: Identify your target audience

One of the most crucial elements of your content marketing strategy is the target audience for creating the content. If you don't understand what motivates them, what their pains are, and what they like or dislike, you won't be able to influence them. Therefore, you should understand your target audience in depth before moving on to the actual content creation part.
Ask customers who they would replace you with if you didn't exist. This makes you understand what's their main focus and the actual reason for buying from you.

The CEO/MD/Directors' list of competitors is not what you are after. The answer you want to get is what they consider an alternative to your solution. And they could have different views on how you actually help them to solve a problem.
Francesco Baldini
Francesco Baldini
Freelance SEO Consultant
You should take into account the following factors: age (range), gender, income, values, beliefs, interests, and personality, based on the device/platform a customer is using, i.e. desktop vs. mobile.

Behavioral segmentation, habits, frequent actions, specific needs for a product/service, and value to the company are typically measured by Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
For B2B, what industry the customer belongs to, the number of employees, or the revenue size.
Olena Prokhoda
Olena Prokhoda
Social Media and Community Specialist at Serpstat
What questions did your customers ask when they first talked with you? Did they mention surface-level pain points or root causes of a problem? It's important to know what prompted your best customers to take action initially.
Jonas Sickler
Jonas Sickler
SEO Manager at Terakeet
Understand your target audience
Understand your target audience (Source)
I try not to think in personas. I want whoever is looking for my bucket, to hop in my bucket. SEO strategy is wide, sometimes indirectly related to the product. I analyze: where are they talking about stuff we align with? I note questions, interests, and tone.

Google can tell you what people are searching for. Make sure to check social media groups too. They may provide more info and let you know what resonates.

DO NOT underestimate the value of REDDIT as an audience/topical resource and content distribution platform!
Remco Tensen
Remco Tensen
Digital Marketing Consultant & Founder at RemcoTensen.nl
I love watching my customers discuss topics on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook groups, and many other places. Seeing what they complain about leads to their pain. This is gold for problem-solvers like.
Joseph S. Kahn
Joseph S. Kahn
President of Hum JAM
Tip #3: Perform an SEO analysis

Once you know your target audience and how your buyer's journey works, you need to do SEO analysis to get the right keywords, topics, and topic clusters for your website content. It will help you further segment your content according to the buyer's intent.
Tip #4: Come up with new content ideas

Now you have everything you need to find relevant topics for your content plan for blog posts, website copies, social media campaigns, and other marketing channels. You can also analyze the existing content to make changes to it according to the new content strategy. Some of it must be removed before you need to add the new content.
Tip #5: Publish and analyze

Once the new content is created, you can publish it on your website and other mediums. You should also analyze the published content to see the engagement level of your content. Always keep optimizing your published content at regular intervals to ensure that your content stays relevant time after time.
This is necessary to build a plan to achieve goals. You can also adjust the goals if you think they aren't achievable or not ambitious.

  • all interactions with the audience should be directed to the people described in the strategy: ads, posts on socials, etc.;
  • wherever there is a description of the product, emphasize its strengths compared to competitors;
  • focus on promotion for those keywords that are most relevant to your product and audience pains.
Olena Prokhoda
Olena Prokhoda
Social Media and Community Specialist at Serpstat

How to integrate SEO and Content Marketing strategies?

By now, it must be pretty clear to you that both SEO and content are indispensable for your business. And a good marketing plan is one which in both these elements go hand in hand.

The best way to combine both strategies is to ensure that both approaches achieve the answer to two questions, which are:

  • What is your buyer's journey?
  • What are the troubles they face along the journey?
You then need to ensure that your content provides answers to the audience's problem in the best possible way. And SEO will ensure that your audience will find the answers you give efficiently.

Make your SEO strategy strong enough to maximize your content's potential. Once your SEO is strong enough, you can identify any unexplored content topics that you can use to gain better rankings and conversions with less competition.

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Wrapping up

In the end, it is not how you begin, but how you finish the strategy game. So make your choices on whether to start with SEO or with content based on your goals, which will help you reach there faster.

However, understand that in the long haul, you will need both, no matter your starting position. So, make the decision and work towards achieving your goals!
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