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The Content Marketing and Outreach Paradox

I recently read a piece on Search Engine Journal titled – ‘Content Marketing isn’t a Good Marketing Strategy After All’.

To summarise, Stoney G de Geyter makes the argument that content marketing as a route to long term success is a fallacy. The article is based around the old Chinese proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll have food for one day, teach a man to fish and he’ll have food forever’.

Margaret Thatcher and communityCommunity and Online Content

Stoney essentially pushes the idea that we as marketers or brands need to create communities, not content, as a community is far more likely to create a return visitor to your site – in turn it leads to continuous success, and through conversation allows you to develop relationships and build engaged brand evangelists.

It’s a wonderfully aspirational piece of content and one that in an ideal world is to be aspired to. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world. I’m not going to go as far as former British PM Margaret Thatcher and declare community non-existent, but I would suggest it’s a lot of effort and often nigh impossible to create.

On-Page SEO Factors

Last week Matt Cutts answered a question on how Google ranks a webpage with no links to it. On the surface, Matt cited a number of on-page factors as the ranking factor – nothing extraordinary really. However, under the skin there’s a far more interesting context – backlinks rank and rankings bring traffic. Matt of course would never say this outright, but it does go a long way to quelling the link deniers who have come to the fore of SEO very notably of late.

However, the two articles led me to think, which is king – content or links? We’re constantly told that content is king, that content ranks and that great content will give our site exposure.

The Reality of Link Building

However, we all know if I have five pieces of content of identical quality and decide to link to four with different levels of quality and one with no links at all, the one with no links will most likely rank below the other four all other factors being equal. In fact, even if the non-linked piece is even better quality than the other four, it still will probably be the piece that is the dud in the SERPs. That’s the harsh reality.

So, in this case is the quality content the king of link building? No, the links are the king. Of course, the reign of the king is going to be dependent on the quality of the links.

However, the question to be asked here is, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one to hear it does it make a sound’, or let’s make an apt though slightly dramatic – ‘Nobody can hear you scream in space’.

Social Media

Of course, you could make the social media argument. Hypothetically, we could build a following of people, use social media to leverage the content we create and then hope those people link to the content from our promoted social media efforts. How practical is that in a boring industry? Particularly in a world where the most popular social media sites don’t officially have any say in search engine rankings?

Guest Posting

However, in a world where most people don’t intend on taking this route and are far more inclined to take the link building option – it’s going to be incredibly hard to compete. Even in light of Matt Cutts guest posting warnings, there’s plenty of other ways to build links Google most likely won’t detect for a long, long time, if ever. I’m not saying these are ideal or right, the point I make is that as long as Google relies on links, they can be manipulated.

In addition, Cutt’s declaration on guest posting looks like in reality it’s only going to impact on low quality sites there for link schemes alone. If it were otherwise the case, Moz.com and all the other industry blogs wouldn’t continue to allow do follow guest posts.

Linking Issues

And after all, a lot of links are paid for in a roundabout way – any SEO who has ever built a link for a client is seeing that client take part in a paid link. There’s money changing hands at some stage, so the link should contravene Google’s quality guidelines.

Google does of course wish to prevent such factors being the ones that determine rank, however until it finds another way of ranking, it looks likely search is going to be determined largely by off-site linking factors. Matt Cutts rigmarole about on-site ranking factors and on-site quality still alludes to this fact.

The Future of No Links

Needless to say Google is trying to change this. We’ve seen Yandex remove links as a ranking factor in local SEO around Moscow and Google has also mentioned how its trialled results without links (they’re a lot less accurate supposedly).

There’s also been discussion around a patent for brand mentions and citations as ranking factors in search. However, as you’ll see this is also fraught with difficulties owing to semantics and other factors.

The Fish Analogy

Going back to de Geyter and the fish analogy, the underlying problem is that in a lot of cases there’s nobody even giving the man the fish.In fact, the only way the man fish initially is either with a stick of dynamite, or else he starves.

Being Irish and part of a nation that tends to have three states of law, I can reconcile to a degree with the current SEO landscape. Rather than a something being legal, or something being illegal, as is the case in most countries in the Western world. In Ireland, we also have a state where something is possibly mildly illegal, but ignored for reasons dependant on the mood of the police officer (once heralded MyBlogGuest = Link scheme), your state of mind (intoxicated or otherwise) or who you are (Google owns a number of companies that have supposedly gotten away with dubious SEO practices).

In conclusion, I’m not advocating anything grey or black. However, in a world where the lines between white and black are being eradicated and a grey area is ever more evident, it would be nice for Matt Cutts and Google to offer more clarity, more openness and for the very evident hypocrisy to end.

What’s your opinion on link building and the future of SEO – why not let us know below or contact us.

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