Content marketing vs SEO - Whats the difference and which service do you need - blog feature image

During sales calls and meetings, I am often asked “what is the difference between content marketing and SEO strategy?”.

Usually, the person wants to get more traffic to their website, improve their search engine rankings and become more discoverable online. At a glance, both content marketing and SEO appear to achieve these objectives, so they are left wondering what type of agency would be the best fit for their business and their goals.

The truth is that content marketing and SEO can’t be separated. Effective content marketing involves paying attention to SEO, and effective SEO can’t be achieved without quality content.

But, whilst that is the case, you still have a choice to make about where you spend your marketing budget. Do you spend it with a company who specialises in content marketing strategy, or one who does SEO?

Before we go any further, I need to make a disclaimer: I am not an SEO expert. But I can explain the high-level similarities and differences, and help you make a decision about where to put your focus in your business.

And to make sure my overview is accurate and unbiased, I ran it past my friend Ahmed Khalifa, who is an SEO and WordPress specialist. Thanks for your input, Ahmed!

So, without further ado…

Let’s get the definitions straight

What is content marketing?

from Content Marketing Institute

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

What is SEO?


“SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines.”

With that said, let’s dig deeper into how they compare.

What are the similarities between content marketing and SEO?

There are a number of overlaps between content marketing and SEO strategy. Here are the main similarities:

  • Both have the objective of increasing traffic to your website. It’s not necessarily the primary objective of both, but I’ll come on to that shortly.
  • Both have the objective of increasing the visibility of your brand, by making your business more easily discoverable online.
  • Both aim to connect people who are searching for a solution with your products and services.
  • Both types of strategy require focused, high-quality content that serves a specific target audience.
  • Both require an understanding of how search engines read and interpret information on websites, and how they rank it based on its relevance to a search query.
  • Both involve identifying your target audience and content themes/topics which address the questions/pain points of that audience.
  • Both disciplines measure their success on: website traffic, traffic sources, visitor behaviour, conversion rate of traffic to leads and keyword rankings.

What are the differences between content marketing and SEO?

Now, let’s take a look at the major differences between a content marketing strategy and an SEO strategy.

Primary objective

The primary objective of a content marketing strategy is to provide value to, and build a relationship with, prospective customers with the aim of driving sales. The main aim of an SEO strategy, however, is to drive relevant traffic to your website with a view to converting visitors to customers.

It’s a subtle difference, but you’ll notice that each puts the emphasis in a slightly different place.

SEO is primarily about putting yourself in a position to be found by people who are searching for your product/service in search engines. Content marketing is about helping people to understand how your product/service solves their problem or meets their need.

However, as I’ve already mentioned, prospective customers won’t find your content if it doesn’t appeal to search engines, and a high search ranking won’t convert visitors into customers unless your website and content appeal to humans.

Service process and activities

This difference in objective, in turn, impacts the process taken to develop and implement a content marketing versus an SEO strategy.

What does an SEO agency do?

An SEO service will undertake considerable research and analysis into the structure and performance of your website, your profile and authority (as far as search engines are concerned), and your position in relation to competitors.

Based on this research, they will do the technical work to optimise your website, for instance, improving the structure, making it mobile friendly and improving the loading speed.

Then, they would look to optimise the content on your website for your target keywords, proactively obtain high-quality links back to your site, and build upon this with an SEO-focused content marketing plan.

A good SEO firm will ensure that your content is attractive, valuable and engaging to prospective customers, as well as search engines.

What does a content marketing agency do?

A content marketing service will also do initial research, but this will focus more on the company’s current marketing and sales performance, and their business objectives.

Next, they will develop an in-depth buyer persona that captures the pain points, frustrations and challenges of customers, as well as their goals and desires. They’ll use this information to develop a content plan that addresses the questions and concerns of customers, with a view to helping them make an informed buying decision.

The content topics will be refined based on keyword research, to ensure that they reflect the terms and phrases that customers are using in search engines to look for your products/services.

And, during the content creation process, they will make sure that this is carried through with appropriate optimisation of the articles themselves, before they are published and promoted through other channels like social media and email marketing.

Related: How much does a content marketing strategy cost?

"Effective content marketing involves paying attention to SEO, and effective SEO can’t be achieved without quality content." quote image


There is considerable overlap in the types of data that SEO and content marketing firms will monitor and report against. As I mentioned earlier, both will use website analytics as a key measure of success.

These will include organic traffic, the sources of that traffic (e.g. search, social media, referrals from other websites), visitor behaviour (ie. how long they spend on the website, how many pages they look at) and how many visitors convert into leads.

Both types of agency will also monitor SERP (Search Engine Result Page) rankings, to see how your website is performing for your target keywords.

What does an SEO firm measure?

In addition to the above, an SEO firm will monitor website performance, to identify issues and areas for improvement. They will also look at the number and quality of the backlinks to your website, and how much referral traffic they are generating.

Their keyword research and reporting on SERP rankings will likely be much more in-depth than a content marketing agency. And they may take a more technical perspective on areas like visitor behaviour and conversion rate and how to improve them.

What does a content marketing firm measure?

In addition to website analytics, a content marketing agency will look at engagement on social media and email campaigns. This helps to determine how well the content is resonating with your audience.

When it comes to improving conversion rates, they may place more emphasis on the content plan and its alignment with the buyer persona than the performance and layout of the website (although both are important).

And they may also consider the wider sales and marketing performance of the company, looking at how the content marketing strategy integrates with sales processes to convert leads to customers.

Related: 6 problems with content marketing strategy (and how to overcome them)

Which type of service should you choose?

Choosing to work with a content marketing or SEO service will largely depend on your priorities, and where you feel your biggest gaps/weaknesses are.

For instance, if you’ve been creating quality content, but you’re still not ranking highly for your target keywords and not seeing an increase in traffic, then you should perhaps invest in an SEO audit and strategy.

This will allow you to plug any gaps that may be working against you in your content creation efforts, and get an SEO perspective on your content to make sure it is being optimised effectively.

On the other hand, if you’ve made sure your website’s structure, layout and content is optimised, and you’ve got a healthy backlink profile, but you’re not converting traffic to qualified leads, then I’d suggest that you focus on content marketing.

A content marketing service will make sure your strategy is aligned with the buyer’s journey, appeals to prospective customers and is helping them to determine if your products/services are the right fit for them.

And if you’ve not really been paying attention to content marketing or SEO until now, then this is where my bias comes in, because I would suggest you prioritise content marketing strategy initially.

As long as your website is properly structured and covers the basics of optimisation, then an effective content marketing strategy will not only help to educate your customers and move them through your sales pipeline, but it’ll build your search engine rankings as well.

However, ultimately, you need both! You can’t succeed at one without the other. So whatever path you decide to take for your business, make sure you consider both content and SEO in your strategy from the outset.

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