"Search engine robots—the last time I checked—do not have credit cards to buy your product."
That's what Sonia Simone, co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media, told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts when I asked her about the role that SEO should play in one's content marketing efforts.
The issue came up because focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) can often be the easiest way to position the value of content marketing. Search engine results are something that everyone understands, and if content can help improve your company's rankings... then it must be a good thing, right?
Wrong, says Sonia. Why? Because focusing on SEO means privileging the spiders over the people you're trying to reach.
"You know," she explained, "you can make the search engine robots very, very happy, but if you're not doing something for your audience, it has absolutely no business value."
For this reason, Sonia insists, "It makes more sense for us to look at SEO as a function of content, rather than content as a function of SEO."
Content Builds Audience
If SEO is a secondary consideration, then what is the primary consideration of content marketing?
According to Sonia, the primary consideration is often "building an audience."
"There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of businesses out there [that] don't really have what you would call can audience," she told me. "They have customers."
The challenge is to take those customers and turn them into an audience—that is, a group of people who not only buy your products or services but also pay attention to what you have to say about topics that interest them (topics that are, ideally, related to your products and services). One tool for meeting that challenge is content marketing.
"Content marketing," Sonia explains, "is creating something people want to read or watch or listen to [in order] to build a sustained audience over time, so that they will pay attention to you when you've got something to offer in terms of a pitch, an offer, a product."
Audience Builds Business
Copyblogger Media itself stands as an example of how content can create an audience and how that audience in turn can serve as the basis for a real business. The company began as a blog written by founder Brian Clark, who, as Sonia describes it, "started talking about some things that he found interesting and he knew would have a commercial application."
As a result, she continues, "He built an audience and then he figured out what they needed, which is why we have search engine optimization software and why we have Web hosting and all that stuff."
Of course, to build an audience with your content, the former needs to be able to find the latter, which is where SEO actually can play a role. Recognition of that fact is what separates Sonia from the "SEO is dead" crowd.
Still, no matter how helpful Google can be, Sonia says, "Build your business and your content like you do not care what Google thinks. Sometimes Google just decides very capriciously that there's something that smells funny about your site and they'll stop sending you traffic."
"So," she concludes, "you business needs to work with or without Google."
And the way you make that work is to stick to this simple mantra: Audience First.
If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Sonia, you may listen above or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
Sonia Simone, co-founder and CMO at Copyblogger Media. She calls herself a relationship counselor for businesses of all sizes and the “marketer for people who hate marketing.” She advises businesses on how to use effective communication to build and improve customer relationships.