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Who should optimize content: SEOs or content writers?
Search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing have a lot of overlap, but they're still separate disciplines. Columnist Stoney deGeyter discusses who should ultimately own content optimization.
Content marketing and SEO are pretty closely related in the digital marketing sphere, but they can also be miles apart in execution. There are certainly some overlapping areas between the two, but is there enough to allow your SEO practitioner to also be your content marketer, or vice versa?
In my (almost) 20 years of performing and overseeing successful digital marketing campaigns, I’ve come across a lot of “jack of all trades” types. I have argued over the years that having one person do everything isn’t a solid model for a high-performing web marketing campaign. After all, the skills required to, say, optimize a PPC campaign are vastly different from those required for organic SEO.
Let’s get back to content and SEO. On-page optimization is a core piece of the optimization process — and that means working with content is part of an SEO’s job. But does that mean that the best person to optimize your content is the SEO specialist? Or should optimizing content be left to the writer — and if so, to what extent?
These are questions I hope to answer here.
Technical vs. creative
SEO is more than the art of getting top search engine rankings. In fact, most of what comprises true SEO has very little to do with art — or even creativity, for that matter. The bulk of an SEO’s time is spent analyzing and fixing site architectural problems.
Most websites — even those built in WordPress — come packed with layers upon layers of issues. I would guess that 50-80% of them are structural in nature, having little to do with the actual content on the page.
But that doesn’t minimize the importance of content in regards to SEO. In fact, there’s something of a circular relationship between the two: Content has a hard time gaining traction in search if the search engines have trouble accessing or analyzing it properly, but fixing site architecture issues is rarely enough to rank well in search results. The content has to be optimized and valuable.
It’s this interdependence between good content and sound technical SEO that can make it difficult for sites with limited budgets to succeed. If you can only pick one, where do you invest your time? Or do you do a little of both and hope for the best?
It’s a tough call. To get results, you need a sufficient amount of both the creative and technical sides of SEO.
The SEO’s role in content
At this point in time, I would argue that very little of SEO is creative in any way. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take creativity to find and implement solutions to the technical problems. I’m just saying that the only creative aspect of SEO is working keywords into the content. And I’m not convinced that should be the job of the SEO.
When it comes to the content portion of the optimization process, the SEO should be in charge of keyword research and selection. It is not the copywriter’s job to go out and do hours worth of in-depth keyword research, or to necessarily be responsible for selecting which keywords should be targeted for any given page.
The job of the copywriter is to integrate the keywords provided by the SEO into the content. The SEO hands the list of keywords to the copywriter, and the copywriter edits, tweaks, rewrites, and adjusts the content accordingly.
Left to the more technically mature SEO, the optimized content would probably be weighed down by keyword usage. A good writer knows how take a list of keywords and shape them naturally into a well-rounded piece of content that covers the topic effectively.
After the keyword research process, the primary function of the SEO in regards to content is to make sure it’s accessible. This means ensuring all pages have a title, description, and unique content — and that the search engine spiders can find it and analyze it properly.
The writer’s role in SEO
Today, I would argue that the content writer needs to know more about SEO than the SEO needs to know about writing content. This is because writing incredible, optimized content requires some understanding of how search engines work and what they are looking for.
The writer should always start out focusing on the visitor. Meet their needs first and foremost. But they can’t neglect the preferences of the search engines. The content should be created to serve both simultaneously.
Without this knowledge, the content will likely be subjected to rewrites after the SEO reviews it. Might as well save yourself the time and have your writer dig a bit into SEO so they can cover the bulk of what search engines want on the first pass. The SEO should still review and send suggestions back to the writer if necessary, and in very rare occasions they can tweak the content themselves. But this is one place where I would let the writer do the SEO’s job!
Everyone has a role
Is it a good idea for your SEO to have some grasp of what makes content good? Absolutely. But very few people are both technical and creative at the same time. My recommendation would be to allow your SEO to focus on the technical and your writer on the creative. But it’s not a bad idea for any writer to have to have a technical grasp of what makes content great in the eyes of the search engines.
No one expects the writer to be an SEO. Nor should your SEO be a writer. They each have their place. Where the two roles overlap, they should work together to create a masterful finished product.
When you allow each person to stay focused in their primary role, you’ll get content that is search engine optimized, brings in targeted traffic, provides your visitors the information they need, and helps move them through the sales process. Keywords will be utilized, but only as required to get the job done.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.