Just hire a content marketing strategist, already!

So, I turned down a SEO copywriting job today.

No, the reason didn’t have anything to do with what the client would pay (the money was pretty good, actually.) Nor did it have anything to do with what I’d be writing about (the content was fairly interesting.)

The reason I turned down the gig was because there was no content strategy in place – and although I could easily write the copy and take the client’s money, I knew that what I’d be doing wouldn’t help them. Yes, I can write articles. Yes, those articles can easily have keyphrases. But to write 80 articles all focused around one keyword each…well…that’s not a content marketing strategy. That’s a step closer to Spamville.

What’s hard is explaining this to the client, who learned about this “content marketing strategy” from their marketing agency.  The agency explained to the client that if having one article on their site is good, 80 is better – especially when each article has a specific keyword density (can you SEE me rolling my eyes…argh!).  What’s more, the agency told the client that HOW the article was written really didn’t make much of a difference. It was all about focusing the article around one lone keyword.

Ouch.  What makes it worse is that I know the agency the prospect was working with. And I know that – every month – these poor folks are paying about 20K/month for advice like that. For some of us, 20K/month would mean a new car. Or a partial down payment on a house. You know, something that would be useful…

I’ve seen this same problem manifest in different ways, some more “SEO dangerous” than others.  Sometimes, the issue would qualify as a “stupid strategy” That is, it’s a strategy that won’t really help a client and shows that the SEO doesn’t know anything about content marketing (although they could be a fantastic technical SEO.) Other times, I hear of weird content interlinking and keyword-stuffing strategies that are painful to hear about – and would be even more painful to implement. During times like these, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut and not say, “Um, WTF is your agency thinking?” (And for folks who know me personally, you know that, yes, I DO ask that question. I can’t help it. It’s how I roll.)

Here’s the thing: Your content marketing strategy is crucial. You wouldn’t hire a SEO strategist who didn’t understand the technical ins-and-outs of a Website. Nor would you hire an affiliate marketing strategist who knew nothing about affiliate marketing.

But why, oh why, do agencies (and SEO companies) think that it’s not important to have a content marketing strategist on staff? And what’s more – why aren’t clients screaming for this type of expertise?

A content marketing strategist is more than a glorified copywriter who helps makes your content pretty for the search engines. This person is responsible for reviewing your existing content, noticing how it performs, reviewing your customer messaging, and helps build out value-added content your prospects want to read (and yes, helps them convert.) They may be expert SEO practitioners – but their focus is around your messaging and your opportunities. Not to mention, watch-dogging your existing content play to make sure that everything you do fits neatly into best practices.

So, here’s my call to action…

If you are an agency or a SEO company, for goodness sake, just hire a content marketing strategist already. You don’t have to bring them on full-time (although I’d recommend it.) Even having an outsourced content marketing strategist will help. If nothing else, your content marketing strategist may see opportunities that a more “technical” SEO wouldn’t see – and these opportunities can help increase the value of a contract (and more importantly, increase the value to the client.) This way, Mr. Technical SEO or Ms. Agency Marketer, you can focus on what you know and excel with – and the content strategist can do her thing.

If you are a client working with an agency or SEO, ask about their content strategy process. If the agency dances around the whole “content marketing strategist” talk, run. Run away. And run fast. For the most technically-savvy SEO’ed site doesn’t mean a thing without a good content marketing strategy. After all, are people buying from you because your site boasts elegant code and a slammin’ back end? Or because of your content and how it’s presented?

At the end of the day, as Seth Godin said, “The best SEO is great content.” When you work with a specialist, he can make your content great – and help you make content decisions that make sense for your site. It doesn’t get better than that.

19 replies
  1. Rafael Rez Oliveira
    Rafael Rez Oliveira says:

    Hi Heather!

    Who do you think that could apply best to be a “content marketing strategist”: a journalist, a marketer or just somebody who loves to write and have some good skills with SEO tools?



    • Heather
      Heather says:

      That’s a good question! Thanks for asking it!

      I think that the “fantasy SEO content strategist” would have a very diverse background: Some journalism experience, some copywriting experience and some coding experience. Throw in a dash of psychology and persuasion and add a love for analytics, and you have a fantastic content marketing strategist!

      I’ve met a few people who fit this profile, and they are worth their weight in gold. Since they can think about the project in a number of different ways, they’re able to “see” solutions that other folks can’t. It really is an incredible skill set!

  2. Shock Marketer
    Shock Marketer says:

    “But to write 80 articles all focused around one keyword each…well…that’s not a content marketing strategy. That’s a step closer to Spamville.”

    Even spam is a strategy – although I don’t believe this is even close to being spam since the articles are likely relevant to the site.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      LOL, well, you’re right! Spam *is* a strategy. A poor one. But it’s a strategy.

      Actually, one loose definition of spam that’s been around for years is, “Spam occurs whenever a company does something *solely* for search engines positions.” It’s a pretty extreme definition, but it does make you think. In this case, the agency didn’t care if people read the articles – that is, the purpose of the articles were to gain positions, nothing more. Which works against them in terms of links…people don’t like to link to spammy articles.

      Plus, optimizing a page around one keyphrase has always been against best practices. Which the agency should know. Sigh. :)

      It’s too bad, too – the agency is on the right track when they’re suggesting writing articles and building resources. If they only kept the intent on helping the user and not gaming the engines, they’d have a good strategy…

      Thanks for your post!

  3. Karri Flatla
    Karri Flatla says:

    Amen sista! It’s difficult to watch companies–including ones with big budgets–blow BIG bucks on “agency” help that doesn’t help!

    A lot of marketing companies actually don’t know squat about internet marketing but they keep a web designer on staff and call themselves internet marketers.



    • Heather
      Heather says:

      So true! I wonder how many clients know that their agency work is being outsourced out to SEO firms. Or that the person handling their SEO campaign had never managed one before getting the job a few months ago. Hopefully – especially if clients start asking for it – agencies and SEO firms will bring on dedicated content experts. That will be a happy day. :)

      Thanks for your post! :)

  4. Jerome
    Jerome says:

    I was listening to This Week in Google: 31 (about 1/2 way through the podcast http://www.twit.tv), there was some interesting conversation about writing massive amounts of content for the benefit of the users, the idea is that you mine keywords not addressed on your site, and write content based on those keywords.
    Demand media, or about.com are examples of this, they say.
    The idea is to pay little to a bunch of writers to churn out possible content for the site in order to hit every possible thing a searcher may be looking for.
    I think this is related to the idea of writing 80 pages on a keyword, your trying to cover every possible way a person may look for the content.
    Matt Cutts was on TWIG 30, also on this topic, was talking about the way Google was trying to find signals of quality in this massive amount of content.
    Jeff Jarvis, TWIG 31 points out that this is likely to be an example of capitalism at work. I guess if you can pay for massive amounts of content, then you can publish them, and it’s really up to Google to sort it out.
    I see this idea of content creation to be just what Google is asking for, content, if they cannot figure out the quality of the content, then that’s their fault.
    Your idea of managing the content creation process is noble, but I don’t see it as a good thing, as it will limit the content you produce. In the long run, if Google can discern your content as a higher quality than mass churned out content, then you will win.
    I am pretty sure that day has not yet come.

    Another reference:

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Ah yes. I haven’t addressed how I feel like companies like Demand. :)

      Writing a bunch of articles without a *reason to do so other than the search engines* feels to me like papering a bunch of cars with a 8 1/2 x 11 flyer. You’re spending money on a iffy marketing ploy that may gain a customer…and just as easily, may cause someone to have negative feelings about your brand. Come to think of it, I’d be curious as to the measurable ROI of these kind of campaigns versus the more “traditional” model. Does anyone have any stats on this? What are your opinions on the Demand business model?

      Thanks for your post!

  5. Brian V. Hunt
    Brian V. Hunt says:

    The good news is that as search evolves, we writers have good ammunition for helping clients understand why windshield papering (or the Internet equivalent) is not helping them.

    It’s so interesting that no matter how far down the road of commerce we get, people still thing there’s something for nothing. You can stuff keywords all the day long but if you don’t have content of value, visitors are not coming back.

    Thanks, Heather.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Exactly! I think that many companies are finally (finally) starting to realize that quality content is what sells – not keyphrase stuffing. I was speaking to an audience in Santa Clara last month, and there were a lot of questions about what to look for in a quality copywriter and how much they should be paid. That’s much different than last year when it was all about “Can I pay $10 for a quality 1,000 word article.” :)

  6. Jessica Bosari
    Jessica Bosari says:

    I think the budget speaks to Heather hitting this nail on the head. If the agency is getting $20K a month, it better be giving advice that will put this website out in the forefront of its field. 80 articles on one keyword is not going to do that. That kind of advice belongs on a shoestring seo budget.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Exactly! Companies deserve to get good, solid, spam-free advice – whether they’re paying $200 a month, $2,000 a month, or 20K. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Gina
    Gina says:

    This topic confuses me. I writer articles for a home improvement site. Should I assume that if I write one article about carpet and another article about landscaping that the search engine will understand these are somehow related with “home,” or should I worry that the differing themes will seem to the search engine like too many unrelated keywords?

  8. Heather
    Heather says:


    Thanks a great question – and it totally goes back to your keyword strategy (and the need for a content specialist!). :)

    Having different “how to” or informative articles is a GOOD thing – it helps folks who are looking for that kind of information. And if you choose the right keyphrases, the search engines will “know” what the article is about and position the page for a relevant query.

    Are you working with a site-wide keyphrase strategy now? How are you choosing keyphrases?

  9. Tod Hirsch
    Tod Hirsch says:

    I think it’s more that just a content strategist.

    You need someone who can sell the concept to C-levels and then push through the program to fruition. Companies need management consultant types who are smart, good communicators and who can play the corporate game when inertia rules.

    InboundMarketing.com has a great take on what kind of people you need to hire 1) Digital Citizens 2)Analytical Chops 3) Reach on the Web 4) Content Creators/Curators

    Not many of those around! Let me know if you find some!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] – depending on how deep you want your consultant to dig. Heck, you could even consult with a content marketing strategist for a few hours and figure out your options.  Plus, the strategist could give you a “sneak […]

  2. […] brand your businesses – then write your butt off.  Be smart about it – you may want to hire a content marketing strategist to teach you the ropes and set strategy. Or get train your team in SEO copywriting best practices. […]

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