I got a call last week from a frustrated business owner.

“I can’t make sense of all the different things people are telling me about Search Engine Optimization and how blogging and content play into the formula,” he said, “How am I supposed to know what’s real and what’s not?”

He is 100% right. Business managers are surrounded every day by conflicting stories, half-truths and misinformation. How can any novice-level marketer be expected to sort fact from fiction in any meaningful way? It’s a complicated question but the answer is surprisingly simple.

What Is SEO, anyway?

If we’re going to understand the connection between content and SEO, we first need to understand what SEO really means. There are basically two philosophies on this:

1. The Google View. When you enter a search phrase into a Google bar, Google’s mission is simple: to find and return the best and most trustworthy content on the Internet that matches what you are looking for. Therefore, Google would view Search Engine Optimization as a process by which you improve the quality of your site and improve Google’s understanding of your content.

2. The Manipulator’s View. When you enter a search phrase into a Google bar, Google isn’t actually looking for trust and understanding when they return results — they are looking for signals that indicate trust and understanding. Create some backlinks, stuff a page to the brim with keywords and you have created perfect replicas of the traits that Google looks for. And so SEO is a process by which we manufacture signals designed to fool Google into thinking they can trust and understand us.

What has changed?

This past spring, Google released a sweeping set of changes to their search algorithm — which they nicknamed “Penguin” in case you want to do some research — designed to eliminate the value of the signals many SEO firms have been sending on their clients’ behalf.

To put it in another way, Google effectively destroyed a commonly-held definition of SEO, one that was at odds with their own ideology.

What does content have to do with any of this?

Now that manipulation techniques have been rendered impotent*, we are forced to accept Google’s meritocratic view of SEO. If we can’t fake trust and understanding, we have no alternative but to achieve it.

Of the factors that impact search results, few remain in our immediate control.

But content is.

We can control the quality of our content and how we craft content to meet our SEO goals. We can control when we publish new content and how frequently old content is updated. We can control how we leverage images, multimedia and links. We can control how our content is connected within the structure of our site.

But for all the leverage that content gives us in how search engines read our websites, content is not manipulative. In fact, it fits perfectly into Google’s view of SEO. Regular content creation — also known as blogging — builds the trust and understanding that Google wants in order to rank our businesses appropriately for the keywords that are most important to us.

But don’t just take my word for it: look around. In the wake of the Penguin updates, many SEO firms have adopted blogging as a key component of their service. Some SEO firms have even gone as far as to contractually obligate their clients to blog regularly, effectively forcing clients to pay an agency all while performing, in house, a disproportionate amount of the work required to execute a winning SEO strategy.

Blogging and SEO, more than ever, are two sides of the same coin — to engage in one in a meaningful way means to engage in the other by default.

*It’s important to note that although these techniques no longer work, many SEO firms still pitch manipulation-based services as if Penguin never happened. Either they don’t respect the intelligence of their clients or they are completely ignorant to what is happening in their field. Either way, it’s reprehensible that people would still be selling this approach.


February 4, 2013 | Content

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  • http://www.bowlerhat.co.uk Marcus

    Hey Erik

    SEO is just such a poor term now and one that has so much baggage with many folks post Panda / Penguin etc. Whilst the viewpoint of Google is that these people are responsible for what is done on their behalf, many small businesses have paid ‘seo companies’ and consultants to help with the marketing of their site and almost forgotten about what was going on as long as it drove results, which in many cases, manipulation and junk link building did – for a while.

    I have joined a small, local business group this month and it almost feels dirty to stand up to do my elevator pitch and tell people I am an SEO consultant with no no knowledge of their past experience – “are you one of those b@5t%rds that tanked my website???”

    For me, this is now all about helping people have a better appreciation and understand of what SEO is and how it can benefit their business and a large part of that is realigning their expectations away from high rankings for a couple of obvious money phrases and more towards increased traffic and leads from a range of content that we add to the site.

    Obviously, there is a little more to the picture and sometimes sites need the the basics SEO nuts and bolts tightening up a bit but long term, the approach should be to build value into the site and not to focus on off page activities.

    Build a better site, be mindful of how search engines want your site to be put together, focus on your potential customers and if you do need to build some links down the road, it will be a damn site easier to get the kind of links that matter if your site has everything else dialled in.

    ORBTR sounds interesting, we work with WordPress a lot so have signed up and will keep an eye on that.

    Folks, see how this interesting bit of web content drew me in and subsequently I have now signed up for the ORBTR platform that this site is promoting – think with content – this stuff works.


  • http://zerogcreative.com Erik Wolf


    Thanks for your note on this and I think you’re 100% on the money with your response. If you type “SEO is dead” into Google, you will get over 6,000,000 results. The entire industry agrees that it’s dead, yet it won’t go away. If we don’t figure out a more meaningful name, there’s no way for you or the guys at Ethical SEO to differentiate from the cretins. I sincerely hope we see the “SEO guy” go the way of the “social media expert” or anyone who still codes static websites using tables.

    Like you I’m a firm believer in the idea that what makes a site better for human visitors will also yield positive returns in SEO. I see it every day in my own practice and in talking with others who do it right like you and the guys at Ethical SEO.

    Thank you again for taking the time to write all that, I can tell it matters to you. I will follow up with you outside of this thread on ORBTR when we get just a little closer to our March release.

    Have a great week!


  • https://plus.google.com/100113243218660623924/about Matt Green

    Agree 100% that SEO has been completely redefined over the past 12 months. Crappy links no longer work, which is awesome!

    That being said, I cannot agree that SEO is dead. Things as simple as optimizing a page title, a meta description, internal links and their anchor text, configuring a robots.txt file, creating 301 redirects via a .htaccess file for dead pages, are all examples of critical SEO work that even big companies still get wrong!

    In the end it comes down to semantics (which is why people like Rand Fishkin and Dharmesh Shah created Inbound.org, wherein SEO is just a subset of a larger “inbound” marketing funnel), but people will forever and always need someone to do things as simple as ensuring that Google can actually access the content they publish. Thus, in my humble opinion, SEO will never die.