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SEOs & Content Strategists: How to Play Nice

Joel Klettke explains how content strategists and SEOs can work better together by focusing on the user and data.

Content strategy and SEO are often two teams tugging at the same rope, trying to control the direction of a marketing campaign. But as the two roles become increasingly intertwined, how can everyone find a way to not only get along, but deliver on the client’s expectations?

1. Realize you’re on the same team

Whether you’re pulling for the SEO side of things or you’re sitting in the strategist’s chair, your goal should be the same: to create a stronger and more consistent online presence. In fact, modern SEO has evolved to the point that the line between where content strategy begins and SEO ends can be difficult to draw – which can add to the tension between groups.

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SEOs tend to bring a search-centric priority – and while it’s important not to paint with too broad a brush, traditional SEO has focused on technical elements and the importance of being findable.

Content strategists, on the other hand, are forced to view things through a much bigger lens –  they are coordinators, flowing between the disciplines of design, development, SEO, sales, and so on – in fact, much of their job may not even involve online channels. So while findability is always important, it may not be priority one.

And that’s okay, because…

There are more than a few ways to win online.

Both disciplines will be measured on similar metrics: increased traffic, better share metrics – and most importantly – higher sales numbers.

But often, ideas that might be ill-advised for traditionally-minded SEO (like a parallax resource or a text-light home page) will convert like gang busters and close the deal regardless. While SEO best practices should be adhered to whenever it makes sense, the hard truth is that sometimes, it’s not as important as you might think.

2. Embrace the complexity of content strategy

When the penguin algorithm update dropped, SEOs had to take another serious look at content in order to survive in a changing environment. There was a frantic scramble to learn to embrace the tasks of content strategy, creation and promotion as part of the SEO discipline.

Unfortunately, many approached with the very limited mindset of finding a replacement for the link building tactics that no longer worked. All over the place, SEOs started adding “content strategy” to their services pages without any real consideration for what that job actually entails. This, understandably, puts those who have been in the content strategy business for years on edge, because content strategy as a practice is so much more than coming up with blog post topics.

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That doesn’t mean SEOs can’t move into the content strategy role – in fact, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap. However, it does mean understanding and respecting the different jobs strategists are asked to perform and recognizing where your skill sets may not be up to snuff yet.

Some of the things Content strategists are responsible for:

  1. Content gap analysis and research
  2. Content planning and scheduling
  3. Creating and enforcing the documentation that will guide voice, tone and strategy
  4. Overseeing and defining the content creation and quality assurance processes
  5. Curation and vetting of created content
  6. Content performance evaluation

Likewise, content strategists should embrace the evolution of SEO.

SEOs are now being evaluated on metrics once thought to be outside the realm of search engine optimization, and activities that were once relegated to someone else have a direct impact on how their work will be evaluated.

3. Collaborate from Day one

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The time to open the floor for discussion is during the initial planning stages, not after the fact. Neither practice can thrive when forced to try to work themselves into a plan that’s already been signed off on.

The earlier you can start working together, the better off your project will be. That said, while it’s important to check in with everyone and solicit feedback, one person needs to be given absolute authority to say “yes” or “no” and make unbiased, calculated decisions on behalf of all teams.

4. Don’t hoard your insights

What do both content strategists and SEO’s love? Data! And when it comes to productive collaboration, sharing data can be the difference between a drawn-out battle and a round of high-fives. If ever there is a conflict between SEO and the content strategy, use the insights you can glean from data to resolve the issue.

Because of their focus on search, SEOs will be able to contribute insights to the conversation that the broad scope of the content strategist might have missed or overlooked, whether technical or otherise.

5. Fight for the user

It all comes down to the customer. The debate should never be about whether or not doing X for SEO is a better plan than doing Y for the content strategy. As we’ve established, they are supporting roles. The question should always be,

“Is this good for the user?”

Differing opinions and competing priorities become easier to wade through when you frame it through the lens of what’s best for those you are trying to sell to – which ultimately will be what’s best for the company, the website and the bottom line.

  • http://www.seo-doctor.co.uk/ SEO Doctor

    Got a least one client where there is a battle for controlling the content, PR people saying they are now content marketers V the SEOs.

  • ronellsmith

    Joel,

    We will all share from a bigger pie if we make collaboration a part of our repertoire in 2014. Content touches everything, so there is no need for either side to hoard their skills; there is enough to go around.

    RS

    • Joel K

      Thanks, Ronnell! I agree; I think the two jobs are so overlapped anyhow, that sharing can happen as long as egos don’t win out.

  • Devin Asaro

    Great post, Joel.

    It’s absolutely true that as many disciplines find older, more technically focused (or traditional MarComm) tactics become ineffective or counter-productive, they seek refuge in content strategy. Lately the CS community has felt a little bit like Sea Punk after Rihanna — which is, I think, why there has been so much hostility and bone-picking about the difference between content strategy and content marketing. But these things are inevitable.

    But, frankly, I couldn’t be happier that the words “content strategy” are being spoken in more and more boardrooms (even if it is a buzzword). There will be a lot of squabbling over nomenclature, focus, and the boundaries of roles, but I think the influx of marketers and SEOs will help bring focus to the discipline, and allow those who actually know what they are doing to rise to the top.