19 September 2023 |

 Content marketing without SEO

By Tracey Wallace

Before we dive into what you might do if SEO wasn’t a distribution channel, let’s understand what SEO does for us as content marketers: It drives traffic (Woohoo!).

That’s the main goal of SEO––to drive traffic back to your pages. And ideally, you want the traffic landing there to be prospects who searched for a certain term that your brand wants impression and mindshare for. So, you create content to show up there, and you work really hard to get in the top 1-3 search results because that’s where the majority of clicks land. 

But what if the majority of clicks in the future don’t well…ugh, click? 

What if they read a little blurb at the top of Google, get their answer and move on? 

In fact, in the case of easy to answer queries, that is exactly what is going to happen. This means that on-site directionaries that answer “what is” questions succienctly likely aren’t going to have a ton of organic value any longer.

But they did, right? 

Well––yes and no. It depends on your audience, and what you want them to see, to read, and to take away about your brand. 

Because the goal for any company is never to just drive traffic, but to convert that traffic. Either to a newsletter sign up, a trial, a demo, etc. You want that organic traffic to take an action––and likely far fewer of them will at the very tip top of the funnel when searching for “what is” terms. 

That isn’t to say that traffic isn’t helpful. It gets you brand impressions, for sure. It builds a potential targeting audience, absolutely. And it gets you in front of prospects likely far earlier than you might otherwise––which means they begin to build even a subconscious relationship with you, especially if you can keep showing up throughout the funnel.

Most brands, though, didn’t do that second part. They didn’t take their big, volumoness wins from the top of funnel and replicate that for more intent-driven, lower-traffic keywords throughout the funnel. 

In fact, most marketing teams couldn’t even agree on which pieces of content belonged at which stages in the funnel to begin with. Nearly everything was an educated guess––based on persona research, for sure. 

But brands, and definitely content marketers, often optimized for the biggest potential wins because well, “free traffic” looks and feels cool. It looks and feels cool to rank for hard keywords, right there at the top of the page. 

The problem is that most of the answer to the content super top of funnel––i.e. more general content that answers a question or begins what will likely be a much larger queries session––can be answered pretty easily, arguably better, by AI. 

For longer-tail keywords, though, there’s still going to be a lot of opportunity. And this gives teams the chance to better align their content marketing and sales playbooks. 

So, here’s what I’d do (and honestly, it’s not that different from how I’ve set things up at other orgs):

Start with case studies: 

Align with your sales team on the most common sales objections, and then combat those with strong case studies that address the underlaying pain points. Create these in the format the sales team needs, and don’t forgo video here (YouTube SEO has a lot of legs still!). 

These case studies should still be optimized for long-tail keywords after they are written (and before you publish, duh). 

Once you have several of these under your belt, and a good sense of the customer voice, repurpose several of those case studies into a blog that tells their same story, in a different way, using those case studies as proof points. 

Don’t skimp on that video here. Companies like TestimonialHero can help you record case studies, and then cut them up in various asset for social media and paid media, as needed. 

Build an integrated lead gen program, with UX at the heart:

You want your lead gen program to be something so cool, people actually want to give you their email to get it. I know, everyone says this. But so few do it well. 

More, because SEO isn’t a distribution channel for you, you want to create something that nearly every function in the organization would be excited about and use (i.e. help distribute). 

  • What are the data points and stats that sales needs to tell their story better or land their message? 
  • What kind of thumb stopping message would paid media get excited about? 
  • What would make reporters turn their head and cover your new research or thought leadership? 

You’ll need to strategize creatively on that, and then, whatever the answer is, you’ll need a powerful UX to bring it all to life––becasue first impression matter now more than ever. All of us as digital consumers have seen it all…can spot bad content or an ad from a mile away. 

How will your lead gen program break the noise? Be helpful to you prospects? And ultimately help your team close more business? 

Rethink my content metrics:

SEO can play an important role in helping you and your team understand the market. For whatever keyword you rank for, what is the conversion rate? How might that change is your update the UX? The positioning of the content? The CTA? What can all this traffic tell you about how to optimize your site and content? 

As a result, many content marketers focus on driving traffic, engagement and leads top of funnel as their primary metrics. 

But what if we flipped that and looked instead at:

  • How often sales folks searched for our content
  • How often they read it
  • How often they used it in pitches
  • How often the folks in the pitches clicked on it
  • How many pages they read of it (and which did they linger)
  • And finally, how many deals with that content as part of the pitch actually closed (and for how much)?

Sounds like fever dream? It’s anything but. Tools like Highspot make this reality for content teams, aligning their work with sales use cases and revenue so content marketers can see what drives conversion at the bottom of the funnel, create more of that, and then extrapolate that insight for what might work a few stages further up funnel. 

In total, I’d do less, but make it far more impactful. And honestly, I’m personally looking forward to this future––where content comes off of its island and rejoins the larger company. 

SEO is great, but in many ways its gone too far over the last several years––in which a focus on traffic over conversion has reigned. 

Efficiency is the winning word in so many industries right now. Let’s add content to that list.