The Difference Between Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing and SEO
Jonathan Gebauer / January, 2015
If the title of this post doesn’t sound very original to you – that’s because it’s not. There are many posts about this topic. But I am still surprised on a daily basis by the ignorance with which the differences between these different areas of online marketing are met by various people… even members of the online marketing community.
So I decided to write my own post about this. And here we go.
Let’s make one thing very clear right from the start: Social Media Marketing does not equal Content Marketing and Content Marketing does not equal SEO.
If you think that: Online Marketing and even anything related to online business is simply not for you. The reason why I decided to write this post is that there are too many so called marketers running around in our industry that not only mix these up – they are mixing these up on purpose.
Their purpose is to rip off those who don’t know about the differences between these areas and sell one-stop solutions to victims that don’t know better. If this post can prevent even one of these sales from happening I have achieved my goal.
Yes, these three areas are related but no, they are not the same!
Let’s start with Social Media Marketing…
What Is Social Media Marketing?
Social Media Marketing is the art of tapping into the conversations that happen on social networks for marketing purposes. Every social network provides it’s own tools especially designed for marketing purposes. Facebook for instance provides Fanpages that allow companies to have their own presence and interact with people via their page. They can post just like a normal user would and people can like either the page itself or the specific posts. This way, marketers can induce their own messages into the social streams of people, therefore creating and reaching an audience for the company or brand.
Don’t get me wrong though – Marketers should use the tools provided only as part of their toolset. It is completely legitimate and often also encouraged to use the whole functionality of the platforms and not just the specific tools for marketers. Many marketers use their personal social media accounts to create an audience for their companies.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content Marketing is the marketing strategy that uses helpful, entertaining or at least content that is interesting to the target audience in order to increase brand awareness and perception. The goal is to become a partner to future consumers or clients instead of being the annoying brand that screams it’s advertising message as loud as it can.
Content in Content Marketing can be anything and there are heated debates on the web as to what is actually content and what is not. Blog articles are content as well as infographics and videos. Social Media posts can be content but don’t get me wrong: Not every tweet is a highly valuable piece of content.
In my opinion, a content piece needs to provide value on its own (instead of just linking to a piece that provides that value). But maybe that is just me.
What The Heck Is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and describes the process of optimizing a website and it’s content in a way so that it hopefully will receive more website traffic from search engine result pages. Here is how that works (in theory at least):
Search engines decide how to rank website content based on the amount of links from other websites to the actual website and the amount of related keywords in the copy on the website.
(Before anyone else starts pointing this out: Yes, this is very simplified.)
As a result of this you can improve the ranking of the website by improving keyword density for specific keywords, by providing more content for specific keywords and by generating backlinks to your site. Problem is: Backlinks to your page are rated as well and if you only produce spammy backlinks from article directories and hundreds of links that you bought for a couple of bucks on Fiverr you are more likely to take a traffic hit than see any improvement.
What Search Engines are after are organic link profiles. This means that these links should be created by people who found your page genuinely interesting enough to place a link to it on their own site.
According to Google even guest posting is now a crime… well, at least what they define as Black Hat SEO. This means it is against their guidelines and may result in a site that gets downranked.
But: As said before – that is just the theory. What works and what doesn’t is pretty much down to guesswork. Like it or not.
How Are These Related?
Now that we have the differences between these three areas of online marketing out of the way, let’s get a better understanding about how they are related. Because this is where things get interesting! I am sorry though that I will only be able to scratch the surface of the topic in this article.
One side effect of the rise of social networks was that they allowed us to discover and consume a hell of a lot more content than ever before. The rise of the blogosphere (the community of bloggers that read and share each other’s blog articles) was in a large part empowered by sharing their content around with the help of social networks
In return Content Marketing became a hyped strategy because as people started to consume more content it also meant that producing more marketing content made a lot more sense. But this also meant that to increase the audience for the content Social Media Marketing techniques became a must.
But content marketing itself existed long before Social Media and even long before the WWW. One example for content marketing were magazines sent out vial traditional mail to clients by companies. It’s first rise actually came to pass when every company suddenly needed a presence on the web – and on this website they needed to provide content (at least in a way).
SEO was the main technique for generating consumers for content before the Social Media revolution.
Back in the early days of SEO it actually used to be quite easy as the main focus was on how the content would be presented on Search Result Pages. But when Google revolutionized web search things became complicated – and today SEO is the billion dollar industry that resulted from this.
An Example to Make Things Clearer – Hopefully…
Imagine you are working for a business that has a website. So far so normal. For SEO purposes you propose starting a blog, which will provide helpful articles to your audience. This will add to the amount of content on the page, therefore, the aim is to generate more traffic and as a result more leads.
The content on the blog needs to be keyword optimized but it also needs to be helpful to readers. And to generate more backlinks it also needs to be read by an audience first. Because why should anyone ever place a backlink if no one ever reads your content. (Until now the SEO effect is most probably close to zero.)
So you start sharing your content around on Social Media platforms – you probably start a fanpage on Facebook, and a Twitter profile. Maybe even something slightly more exotic like a Pinterest account. And you start growing those accounts.
And suddenly you are already engaged in all three strategies/activities while all you wanted to do in the beginning was a little bit of SEO.
I hope this illustrated the tight relationships between the three aspects of Online Marketing. At least a bit.