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If you look around some industry websites, you could be forgiven for thinking that content marketing is somehow new. It is not. In fact, content marketing has been around a lot longer than the Internet.

In the late nineteenth century, tyre company Michelin began publishing a guide of routes, accommodation and car care tips. The former part, accommodation and restaurants, was so successful that it is now probably the pre-eminent guide in that market. But of course, it is no longer distributed freely. It is a good example of the genre. The object is to provide people with valuable information that is likely to change their behaviour (towards being a customer). It can also position your company as a leader in your niche.

Why content marketing now?

In its online form, there is no doubt that content marketing now takes centre stage. Why is this? An easy answer is because it works, leading companies like Microsoft and Cisco to use it extensively. There is a little more to it than that though.

The rise of content marketing probably has something to do with a large slice of the SEO market getting something of a poor reputation. The thing is, search engines like Google don’t actually like SEO. That is not to say they don’t like content that is optimised to reflect what a site is all about, because they do. What they don’t like is when sites present themselves artificially by stuffing their content with keywords and tags and carrying out spurious backlink campaigns to boost their rankings. Each new iteration of Google’s algorithm goes further to punish such practices.

So is SEO finished?

SEO is absolutely not finished. It is a skilful process to present your website to search engines in a way that enables them to understand the content and match it to users’ search queries. What is probably over is the black-hat practice of trying to present your site in a way that is false or misleading. This is where the common debate starts. Many people argue that content marketing has replaced, usurped or somehow overtaken SEO as an online marketing technique. It should surprise no one that this is not the case. Instead, content marketing complements SEO efforts and should be seen as an additional tool in the online marketer’s toolbox.

How do the two relate?

SEO and content marketing are both methods of online marketing but they serve different purposes, even if they do overlap. That overlap can be described as the two performing similar operations for different audiences. SEO, for example, could be said to be content marketing for search engines. The engine responds to a user’s query by looking for appropriate content and presenting it to the user. That is what SEO is for. Content marketing, on the other hand, provides information for human users and, if it is good, causes them to value your company and visit your site. Both are still equally valuable and one could probably not be as effective without the other. It is not a choice, it is a combination.