The Keyword Or The Content? A Modern-Day Chicken And Egg

It’s interesting how everyday assignments can sometimes challenge core conventional wisdom. I was speaking with a new client recently about very broad digital marketing opportunities. This client had extended our meeting invitation to a consultant who had been retained to manage search engine marketing specifically. I began the conversation by starting down a familiar path: discussing business goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), requisite content and offers..

The consultant spoke up, noting that a lot of the keyword decisions had been made, and the client had agreed which terms needed to be supported with content and calls-to-action. It was an unexpected comment, and it took me a moment to formulate an opinion and regain my stride.

I’ve been thinking about the ideal way to pursue search opportunities ever since that conversation. Granted, this consultant was engaged strictly with the instruction to identify search engine channel opportunities. That aside, I was still left with the question: “Which comes first, the keyword or the content?”



The Case For the Keyword

Understanding a user’s needs and expectations is certainly a prerequisite to delivering against those expectations. The obvious benefit to advertising across search engine results pages is the ability to deliver messaging in response to verbatim, self-expressed intent. The user identifies the information he/she is after, and search engine advertisers vie for that user’s attention, click and subsequent engagement. The linear flow of that model starts with the keywords selected by the marketer for purchase and/or optimization.

Beginning with the keyword also forces the marketer to pre-qualify areas where the brand can compete. Through assessing keyword demand and competition (via free or paid tools), marketers can very precisely chart the strategy before embarking on a program. A rich website experience is meaningless without visitors to engage with the content; assuming search is a key traffic referral source, it’s important to make practical keyword choices.

The Case For The Content

Pursuing opportunities in search without considering how search can help solve fundamental business challenges is a huge miss. I believe that a “search strategy” can be built to support any “brand strategy.” I believe in that so much that I’ll often punt on UX and content recommendations until the core of the approach has been defined, only stepping in at the end to help round out the plan. That’s a somewhat controversial position to take; many experts are of the opinion that search insight should be a leading driver throughout.

But the long tail of search presents opportunity for everyone to succeed. I’m fond of saying that search is unique in that, in capable hands, success is not only possible, it’s probable. Through analytics-driven refinement, search can be adjusted until it produces a positive ROI. That can be accomplished either through careful keyword pruning or bid adjustments (or both).

Which is why, to me, the content and surrounding experience is infinitely more important than specific keyword phrases. Our jobs should be focused on leveraging search channel opportunities that will deliver the organizational objectives. If those organizational objectives are best met with a specific content-driven experience, then that should be the approach. Making content decisions based on keyword popularity alone seems misguided.

A friend shared with me once the best analogy to the viewpoint I’m describing. He noted that, from a marketer’s perspective, keyword terms are really magnets that attract users to the subsequent on-site experience. They function as the initial attractor, but it’s the content that invites engagement and conversion. 

Surely there are many perspectives on this, so let me throw it back to you. Which comes first, the keyword or the content?

6 comments about "The Keyword Or The Content? A Modern-Day Chicken And Egg".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Betsy Kent from Be Visible Associates, March 1, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.

    I so agree with your approach. I've experienced this conundrum may times over the years while working with clients on websites and working with marketers on the search strategy. Thanks so much for this article.

  2. Kathryn Gorges from Kathryn Gorges Courses, March 1, 2013 at 1:01 p.m.

    I also agree with your approach - focusing on what is the key value the business creates and then matching up with search opportunities is harder, but more supportive of the business itself.

    The idea of keywords being the attractor is interesting -- it still begs the question about compromising the true value differentiation of the business if you're using keywords that every business is using -- because to really create traffic they need to be in prominent locations on key pages on the site, and then what are you left with?

    I think the bottom line with search marketers is that they want easy success and that means using keywords that will generate traffic, content that contains the keywords, and then if the business fails to deliver on the implied value, it's the problem of the business.

    The underlying question you're asking about keyword or content is about aggregation of businesses offering the same value vs. unique differentiation. We've all seen how the big box stores have acted out that scenario in the real that what's happening online? You have to look like what everyone's searching for and individuation with unique value (worth paying for) is just not going to be found because we have a herd mentality that's echoed by Google??? I don't think Google does a good job of providing search results in the long tail for searchers who aren't search savvy...

  3. Susan Breidenbach from Broadbrook Associates, March 1, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.

    I like the magnets analogy. I teach personal branding to unemployed professionals who are well beyond the digital-native age and struggling to really get social media. I tell them to choose the ideas/concepts/topics (WHAT they write about) for people, but to choose the words/phrasing (HOW they write about what they write about) for search engines. But if I say something like "the long tail of search presents opportunity," I get blank stares. Anyone know of a good long-tail-search-for-dummies source?....Anyway, thanks for the great discussion.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, March 4, 2013 at 5:37 a.m.

    I hate the magnets analogy, because it suggests they should attract everybody. But you don't want all leads, you want qualified leads, so keywords should ideally avoid people who are unlikely to buy.

  5. Clay Cazier from PM Digital, March 4, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.

    I'm partial to identifying target audiences, then focal keywords and then content gap analysis...

  6. Bruce May from Bizperity, March 4, 2013 at 11:17 a.m.

    Of course content has to drive SEO otherwise you risk driving traffic that generates nothing but unqualified prospects. I teach my clients that the best way to improve their SEO strategies is to develop better writing skills. Read any well written article and the key words jump out at you, in part because they are organically created (i.e. grow out of the content naturally). Google key word tool can produce some interesting insights and should be used to better understand the words and language you should be using but that ultimately just means you better understand diction...l another key skill that content creators should seek to develop.

    Too often today SEO “experts” focus only on key words without being grounded in the vision of the content strategy which should naturally be driven by the branding strategy. You are spot on in your analysis of how to deal with this challenge.

Next story loading loading..