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Does SEO Still Exist? Part I: Content’s Coronation

Right now, if you look up SEO on any given search engine and you read carefully, you’ll notice a distinct divide between people who are talking about “SEO techniques” and “SEO strategies” and people who are talking about content. The first group treats SEO like it’s some sort of occult collection of mysterious digital rites that is performed with a black robe (and hat) that will either catapult you into Internet demigodhood or send you spiraling into the Abyss. The second basically ignores SEO entirely, at least in technical terms.

So what’s the connection? Why did SEO metamorph from the technomancy of olde (like 2011 kind of old) into the rubbing-elbows-and-kissing-babies social love-fest that it is today? Let’s start by delving into why the two schools work.

 

Old School SEO:

  • Took advantage of small technical aspects of the search engine’s algorithms to create a website that appeared more valuable than it actually was. For example, back when the Google algorithm held .edu and .gov sites in high regard, it was common to deliberately find sites with those suffixes and create backlinks from them to your site, even if the site was completely unrelated to your topic.
  • Often took measures that were strongly counterintuitive to humans reading the page, but played to the algorithm’s weaknesses. For example, back when most search engines relied on keyword frequency to determine the subject of a webpage, lots of pages would include a large amount of text in the same color as the background of the page. Humans couldn’t see it (unless they highlighted it deliberately), but search engines saw it and used it to determine the site’s relative value to those keywords.

 

New School Content Marketing:

  • Takes advantage of the actual purpose of the search engine’s algorithms by creating a website that meets the algorithm’s standards for a genuinely valuable website. For example, the algorithm looks for sites that have high usability (i.e. don’t interfere with a user’s experience of the content), so content marketing sets up content in the most accessible manner possible.
  • Gears content for humans first, taking any and all pro-search-engine measures that don’t interfere with the human experience. For example, even though there is definitely a known positive bump given by a certain level of keyword use, modern content marketing consciously stresses not putting a keyword in unless it perfectly fits the natural flow of the content to the point that no human reader would be able to discern that it is a keyword.

 

As you can see, the wizardy of the ancient SEO masters was about deception, whereas Content Marketing is all about creating something good. Does this mean that SEO is “bad” and Content Marketing is “good”? Well…yes, actually, it very much does. Not because we should all bow to Master Google’s desires, but because the only reason to use the old school is because you want to succeed (i.e. get ranked highly) without being actually valuable (which generally means ‘without putting in the hard work it takes to create something good.’)

Does that mean that SEO in its old-school, techno-sorcery sense is “dead”? Hell, no — it’s merely taken a step back into the “vizier” role and allowed content to finally become, as it should always have been, king. We’ll look at the role of the “vizier” vs. the “king” in content marketing next week.

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