What Should I Spend More Time On — Technical SEO or Content Marketing?

Time is the SEO’s perennial dilemma. There are so many things you could do, but so few things you actually have time to do. The two broadest categories of an SEO’s task are technical SEO, also known as conventional SEO, and content marketing. But what should you invest most of your time in? With a limited amount of time, where do you spend it?

To put the question more starkly, which one has a better ROI?

There’s no question about it — SEO and content marketing are both valuable. If your business depends on web traffic for any part of its continuation, technical SEO and content marketing are both critical.

The Value of Technical SEO

Search engine optimization sets your site up for search engine success. As you optimize various components of your site, you are positioning the site to not be penalized by the search engines.

A few years back, if you had a technically optimized site, that was pretty much all you needed. With some solid pages, good structure, keyword-stuffed page titles, and heavy keyword saturation on your main navigational pages, you were set for SEO success.

But that doesn’t work anymore. What “works” in SEO has changed dramatically. The pitfalls are noted, and the way to technical SEO perfection is clearly laid out. Now, it’s relatively easy to have a site that is perfectly optimized. Most competent companies know to create a website that has all the important SEO elements and features firmly in place.

So the fact is, you can’t win top spots in the SERPs by just having your technical SEO in place. If nearly every competitor has technically optimized SEO, then what kind of advantage do you have? None. The base standard for SEO has been set.

And you need to comply with those standards. That’s the value of technical SEO. It’s not traffic building. It’s road-paving. You must have a road built before it can sustain traffic. No, technical SEO won’t usher in the traffic, but it will ensure that the site can adequately deal with this traffic.

I’m going to state it negatively. Technical SEO doesn’t win traffic anymore. It merely sets your site up for success. Technical SEO — implementing a sitemap.xml, optimizing your robots.txt, and ensuring each page title is less than 65 characters — will not reward you with a torrent of high-value linkbacks, viral sharing, massive social spread, and insane levels of clickthroughs.

If you’re doing that technical stuff, then great. Your site needs it to sustain traffic. Your site needs to comply with SEO best practices and web standards.

I don’t want to dissuade you from doing the necessary work of reaching technical SEO perfection. But I’m making a point. I’ve seen sites with coding mistakes, broken links, unoptimized titles, and shoddy metadata. And I’ve watched those sites explode with targeted traffic, experience meteoric rise in the SERPs, and squash their competition’s conversions and CTRs.

How?! Why?!

Two words: content marketing.

The Value of Content Marketing

That brings me to this point — the real source of traffic. It’s content marketing.

Since nearly everyone is following the technical SEO rules, you have to do something different in order to differentiate yourself and gain traffic.

And that’s content marketing. The proven way to gain targeted traffic and achieve massive brand exposure is through the consistent output of awesome content. The chance of your site erupting with traffic apart from content is about one in three trillion.

But here’s the kicker. Just about everyone is doing content marketing. Take small B2Bs, for example, which constitutes a large percentage of my audience. Do they have a clear content marketing strategy?

percentage of b2b small business marketers content strategy

From the 2014 Study of Small Business Content Marketing Trends — North America, by Content Marketing Institute/Marketing Profs (source)

A lot of them do. And a lot of them are doing it well.

B2BMarketingInsider.com reports that 90% of all organizations are doing content marketing, even if they lack a documented process, as indicated in the pie graph above. Budget increases for content marketing are increasing, too. As it stands today, more than a quarter of a marketer’s budget is spent on content marketing.

This can be discouraging news. As with technical SEO, everyone is doing content marketing.

But here’s the difference:

  • You can’t attract more traffic by technical SEO. There’s a standard level of achievement that you can arrive at. It’s not possible to have a 301 redirect that is just so much better than the competition. Sure, you can have a redirect strategy, but a 301 is a 301. You don’t cause ripples in your niche by having a killer 301. The same goes for, say, a keyword strategy. Once you know your target keywords, you’re set. I’m not saying you can’t gradually improve. I’m just saying that you can’t become insanely successful through technical SEO alone.
  • But you can do content marketing better. Even though everyone is doing it, everyone is not doing it the same, or with the same level of excellence. Since content marketing is the path to greater success, then if you get better at it than the competition, you win.

Content marketing is still where success lies. Unless some new game-changing search element arrives, this is what we have to deal with.

Content Is King — Celebrating Seventeen Years of Being True

You’ve heard the phrase, of course, “content is king.” Bill Gates first wrote those words in 1996 in an essay of the same title.

It’s amazing how true his words are for companies today. Even though it’s dated by seventeen years (seventeen Internet years, no less), listen to how relevant his words are. These are excerpts from the essay:

  • Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.
  • The broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment.
  • No company is too small to participate.
  • One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create.
  • Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.
  • I expect societies will see intense competition-and ample failure as well as success-in all categories of popular content
  • If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will…they need an opportunity for personal involvement.
  • Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling
  • Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products-a marketplace of content.

What was true in the early dawn of digital marketing is true even now at the apex of digital marketing’s growth.

Content marketing is valuable.

How to Spend Your Time

I’ve taken the time to lay the groundwork, because I wanted to show you how content marketing and technical SEO interact. They are not in competition with one another. Like I’ve written many times, content marketing and SEO go together.

Thus, it’s not a question of which one should I spend my time on, but rather how should I spend my time?

Here is the two-point outline of how to spend your time:

1. Setup your technical SEO: Attain technical SEO excellence.

First, I recommend that you do everything technically right. Earlier in this article, I used the analogy of road building vs. traffic building. Technical SEO is the road. Build the road. If you want sustainable and solid content marketing success, you must have technical SEO in place.

When you’re first building a website, you’ll spend a lot of time on the technical SEO. Or, if you are dealing with a penalty, redesigning your site, or simply reoptimizing a site to comply with new search standards, then you should probably devote a lot of time to ensuring that your technical SEO is in place.

Then what?

2. Sustain your content marketing: Devote yourself to killer content marketing.

There comes a point where there’s not much you can do with technical SEO anymore. All the pieces are in place. All the standards are met. All the conventions are satisfied. Now, it’s time to unleash the world’s greatest content ever.

You’ll always need to be doing content marketing. It never stops. You’ll always have to do a moderate amount of technical SEO, too — auditing your link profile, reoptimizing titles, reconfiguring keyword foci, etc.

But as to where you should spend more time? It’s content marketing. Hands down.

At the beginning of this article, I asked the question: Which one — content marketing or technical SEO — has a better ROI?

The answer is yes. Both are important. But now that you understand the value of each — how technical SEO precedes content marketing — you have a more strategic way to answer the question and apply your knowledge.

How do you divide your time between content marketing and technical SEO?

About the Author: is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

  1. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for useful information, I have a doubt that Internet is source of all type of information so..should i write something out of world to get high ranking. Or what else i should do for content marketing to get high traffic.

  2. A great article. These are two very popular subject and have been for some time. Its a great resource that explains the two subjects very informatively.

  3. Justin Bennett Jun 17, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Great article. It’s true that content is king, and it always will be. After all that’s what our visitors are after. I’ve found the best approach to be a combination of the two. I typically start my days working on the technical side and then jump into creating great content, which of course means marketing that content via the proper channels.

    • Justin, that sounds like the right strategy. Keep up the great work and let us know if you need help with anything!

  4. Thomas Lartin Jun 17, 2014 at 7:05 am

    I totally agree with the article, with that said is there a website or book that anyone would suggest to help brush up on for technical SEO? I know the basics of course, but I feel like technical SEO is a broad topic and if I found resource that I could slowly read than I would be be more comfortable about my websites.

  5. Helen Bastian Jun 17, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Thank you. This is so timely. Currently in disagreement with business owner about way to allocate time and money re our internet positions.

  6. Icah Banjarmasin Jun 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you very much keep in touch from INDONESIA.

  7. Totally Agree with this one, Neil you always have a reason to post some more informative post, Thanks for sharing, After your website goes technically flawless it means that your half work is done than you just have to concentrate on your content marketing.

  8. Nice article. Content Marketing is very important. If we do this one we will get good results. Thanks for sharing this useful article.

  9. Can you provide insights on how to design a good content strategy?

  10. Hi Neil,

    Perhaps a bit off-topic but what are your views on guest blogging? I see there’s a link to QuickSprout (big fan!) at the bottom of this post, but I was under the impression that including links back to your site was a bad idea these days?

    Many thanks,
    Alex

  11. Content Marketing has come up as the most essential part of SEO. Google clearly loves longer content these days . A content marketing strategy helps to reach wider audience and helps in increasing the online presence of a company.

    Great post Neil.

  12. Hi,

    When working on SEO, I usually start with the techy part. Mostly because there are a lot of bad sites out there. Then i rewrite most of the content. People tend to write complex and not very userfriendly text. For content itself the biggest challenge is to get content from the client. So making something out of nothing are in my opinion one of the greates skill a SEO person need these days. And even if the Content is really good, you must often make changes to get the visitor to go where you want. So still a lot of KISS, but often i think it’s not about the webpage, it’s the offer that makes the deal or not. – But the website can make it easier to make up your mind – what’s the price and when can I get it – or click Back..

    • Thomas, great points. The simpler the design the easier it is for people to get what they want then leave.

  13. Great article and great insight about content marketing. But even with content businesses have to spend time marketing, or getting traffic. I’ve seen too many businesses that do great with content creation but spend very little title on traffic generation or lead acquisition.

  14. Thanks for the insight, Neil! But umm, did anyone else notice that “the answer is yes” ≠ an answer to: “which one has a better ROI?”?

  15. Hi Neil, I feel technical SEO and Content Marketing both are important, but you should divide your time as per your requirement. Obviously content marketing requires more time, but along with that what matter most is value addition. The search engine is giving more importance to value addition and user experience. So, our work should be based on theme that improve user experience. Thanks! :)

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