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Content Marketing, Digital PR And SEO: What Is The Difference?

November 10, 2015

What you will learn: What these very important Internet marketing terms mean.

Who should read this article: Executive and marketing leadership.

Are You Confused About What Agencies Are Selling?

One thing that makes Internet marketing so frustrating for clients is that every agency bundles its services differently. One agency calls such-and-such marketing activity content marketing, another calls it digital PR, and a third calls it SEO. No wonder clients get confused.

In this post, we’ll try to shed some light on these three terms. There are very important differences among content marketing, digital PR and SEO: If you know these differences, you’ll be much better positioned to invest your marketing dollars where they will get the biggest return.

Content Marketing Defined

Content marketing is the use of content to further particular marketing objectives. Those objectives could be customer acquisition, customer retention, organic search engine rankings, lead or revenue generation, brand awareness, brand affinity, thought leadership — you name it.

Content marketing is a very broad term: it can refer to original content created by a company; external content aggregated by a company; content on a company’s website; content external to a company’s website; and content used for print advertising, PR, SEO, PPC advertising, email marketing, display advertising, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, sales collateral, video, slide presentations, white papers, e-books, printed books — again, you name it.

Digital PR Defined

Digital PR uses content to communicate with target audiences to create a positive image around a company or brand. Typical audiences for a digital PR campaign include customers, prospects, journalists, communities where the company has facilities or does business, and geographic regions of larger scope. Common techniques involve steady publication of press releases and articles targeted to online websites where a company’s constituents consume information, to build a positive image by establishing awareness and credibility.

Digital PR is in highest demand by large organizations that are vulnerable to bad press, political or social controversy, or requiring damage control — due to product-quality issues, scandal or other causes of poor public perception.

SEO Defined

SEO is the Internet marketing discipline of improving a company’s organic visibility on search engines, with Google being the most important. Companies use SEO to generate sales leads or online revenue, occasionally with secondary objectives such as website traffic growth and branding.

SEO uses a variety of techniques to improve a company’s organic visibility, some of which involve the creation of content; for example, off-site articles can be marketed to acquire very important backlinks to the company’s website. Other SEO techniques, such as improving website page loading time, have little if anything to do with content.

How Content Marketing, Digital PR and SEO Relate

A few important points about these three marketing disciplines should help you figure out where they fit in to your overall marketing plan:

  1. You can’t really “buy” a content marketing campaign — it’s too broad and too unfocused. It is possible to say, “We want a content marketing campaign with the limited objective of generating sales leads,” and then get a meaningful proposal.
  2. Digital PR is valuable for companies in the situation described above; however, digital PR will not improve SEO by itself, because it does not involve the use of SEO techniques. An SEO campaign could have a positive affect on online PR — for example, in the sense of improving a company’s credibility by making it more prominent on Google organic search results — but this would be a fringe benefit.
  3. SEO uses content marketing and digital PR techniques in campaign execution, such as content creation, editing and the marketing of content to targeted publishers and audiences — with the important difference being that these techniques are used specifically in the service of improving organic search results. For example, an SEO campaign would not involve the production of sales collateral unless it could be connected to some tangible improvement in a company’s search engine rankings.

What Do I Need, Content Marketing, Digital PR or SEO?

There is no pat answer to this question, because the needs of every company differ:

  • SEO is probably the most common need, because most companies need organic search as a lead or revenue-generating stream. In many cases, organic search is the single most important stream, either currently or potentially.
  • Digital PR, in contrast, is probably the least common need for small and midsize companies. If you face any of the challenges noted earlier, you also know you need a digital PR campaign. However, if your primary goal is something other than image building, you will be better served with SEO or some other type of Internet marketing campaign.
  • Content marketing is better thought of as a skill set than a marketing campaign. For many types of marketing-related campaigns, the ability to create high-quality content and effectively market it will be crucial. Some companies nurture internal content development teams in-house, but others rely on Internet marketing agencies to do the heavy lifting.

Content can be created and marketed internally, externally (by an agency), or in collaboration. Some companies are very adept at creating their content, but are not equipped to market it effectively. Other companies need a great deal of help creating content, but have terrific internal teams for sharing content on their social media or news media channels. Though most often, some level of collaboration is needed to get the whole job accomplished.

The important thing to remember is this: If you are running an SEO campaign and have weak internal skills for content marketing, or if you want a turnkey solution, you must partner with an SEO agency with strong content marketing skills. Without great content marketing skills used in the service of SEO, any campaign will fail.

The content marketing skills an agency needs to execute a successful SEO campaign include:

  • Identifying topics relevant and important to a company’s target audience.
  • Creating (either independently or in collaboration) powerful content in a variety of formats, such as text and infographics.
  • Marketing content to off-site publishers (with the additional skill of identifying publishers vetted from an SEO perspective).
  • Evaluating the impact of the content on important KPIs (which in the case of SEO will be things such as backlinks, referred traffic and conversions).

We hope this information is helpful in enabling you to understand these three terms. If you have additional questions or would like to learn more, please contact us.

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