What is the difference between an SEO agency and a content marketing agency?
The fields of activity of a SEO Agency and a content marketing agency are very close today. Content is created, websites are enriched with Google-specific building blocks and links to important pages are generated. Nevertheless: There are big differences.
History of agency types Digital, Content Marketing, SEO
When I founded COCO in 1997, there was neither an SEO agency nor a content marketing agency in Munich. There was no Google at all! Google was only founded at the end of 1998 and then became relevant and big extremely quickly. We called ourselves digital agency, internet agency or multimedia agency (a nice word that has completely disappeared). And quite naturally, we took care of everything digital.
Specialized SEO agencies or SEO specialists in these digital agencies emerged quite quickly, around the turn of the millennium. They were initially very technically oriented, mostly as part of the developers. It was initially a matter of telling Google in the source code what the page contained. Since there were nowhere near as many websites as there are today, this was a relatively simple craft. Through various updates from Google, the necessary building blocks changed. For the vast majority, however, it remained a purely technical procedure. The content is rather a necessary evil.
Content marketing agencies have only been around since around 2010. They usually emerged as a spin-off or part of PR agencies. They come from the written word. The focus was initially completely different, namely strongly oriented towards the brand. Storytelling is the big word here. The need to also write and design content in a way that it would be found, shared, and thus develop relevance for the target audience came only over time. For this group, the technical basis was a pain to deal with, preferably not.
This history still has an effect today.
Different approaches today
SEO Agencies are still often very technical. Business models, target groups, emotions of the personas to be addressed, strategic interests of the customers are only necessary evils. Instead, they love HTML, Google updates, theories about supposedly safe components of the Google algorithm and endless discussions about why which page is listed how.
For content marketing agencies today, content is naturally digital and for all channels. They come and think from the brand. Social media is hugely important. Good content is often shared. Whether that is then always the target group, one can certainly question. And whether these posts then ultimately lead to new customers is usually also not traceable. For the underlying technology, there is an expert who separately takes care that the content also ranks well.
Basically: Both agency types should have the same goal: A better positioning in Google for relevant content. But: The approach is very different in detail
Starting point: HTML or content
If you start a project today with the goal of positioning your content better in Google, what you start with is critical to the outcome.
Do you look at the content? What is relevant for our customers? What questions do our customers ask? How do I identify their needs? What is the importance of our products and services for our customers? And only then: How are our answers listed in Google?
Or do you first look at the results in and for Google? How often do we rank on the first page? Do our headlines have the right length? Are they marked as H1? Is the description no longer than 157 characters for desktop and 115 characters for mobile? Do we have good alt texts for images? And only then: which of our content actually ranks and gets clicked on?
At the beginning there is always the analysis of the status quo. This is called a content audit and an SEO audit. You can easily spend a few days on both. For me it is clear: There is no either/or here. Both audits must run together and be combined into one result. Only then will you have the optimal starting point for all further optimization work.
Technical SEO as an elixir of life or as a necessary basis
The technical SEO includes the design of the technology for the optimal presentation of the website for Google. This includes that the page loads quickly, can be viewed optimally in all screen resolutions mobile and desktop, title and description have the right length, there is no duplicate content, talking URLs with the right keywords, no wrong links and more.
Google sets different priorities here every now and then. Google publishes these in updates that are often named after zoo animals: Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird. In doing so, they define goals. Ultimately, Google always wants to present the results for the user as well as possible. This then includes measures such as avoiding technically highly ranked advertising content, prioritizing mobile devices, etc.
With the experts in many SEO agencies you can discuss and philosophize about this for days and nights. What is needed here is a sophisticated Strategy.
As a client who wants to see their content rank optimally in Google, you need to ask yourself if you want to talk at length about the details of these updates or simply see them as a necessary basis for ranking your valuable content. My tip is to focus on what you know and do best: Your company, your products, your services, your customers and their needs. And on how you can provide the best exposure for that. The whole SEO technique should be dealt with by the experts and ideally only inform you about the necessary consequences.
Content for Google or for the users
The danger with keyword analysis is that you focus too much on what is frequently searched for. But are these really your customers? Or are they, for example, pupils and students who frequently search for a term from your company context in order to write a seminar paper about it? It is also not an achievement of your search engine optimization if you are listed on position 1 with all keywords in which your company name appears.
It's not so easy to figure out what your target groups are actually looking for. In addition to customers, this could of course also be pupils and students who are potential future employees.
It is therefore all the more important to first analyze well what your users are actually interested in and what they are looking for in Google. Content marketing agencies are usually stronger here than SEO agencies, which focus more on technical analysis. In the end, however, you create your content for the users, of course. Google "only" needs to understand that they belong in high rankings.
Link Building vs. Public & Influencer Relations
Good positions are ultimately only created by high-quality links to the page. However, it makes a world of difference whether the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the VDI Nachrichten and the most important blogger in your industry link to your page or a hodgepodge of bizarre blogs all over the world.
I receive mails practically every day offering me their blogs with high trust values for the placement of links. With this, you can definitely achieve a quick success sometimes. This is called link building. It is primarily about collecting as many links as possible that are valuable from Google's perspective. Some directories, in which one can register for this, are absolutely respectable and purposeful. However, many offers are exactly the opposite. They are not serious, not reliable, not trustworthy, not sustainable. Thus, they are also at any time at risk of being punished by the next Google update. This approach, which is practiced by many SEO agencies in order to show quick successes, is not recommended under any circumstances.
The sustainable approach is to produce valuable content for high-quality media. By pitching this content to journalists and influencers, you get valuable links that will permanently contribute to your brand and push the positioning of all pages up in Google.
Result and conclusion
There are big differences between SEO agencies and content marketing agencies.
Those who only care about producing rankings can work with a specialized SEO agency. If you only want great content, you can work with a content marketing agency. But if you want great content that customers are excited about and that ranks top in Google at the same time, you need an agency that masters both disciplines and has both a strong marketing strategy and an optimal SEO consulting can show.
Only the combination is promising in the long term.