No, Content is Not King! (At Least Not for SEO, or Small-Business Digital Marketing)

Don't Believe This One-Size-Fits-All Content-Marketing Nonsense

You’ve probably heard the phrase, Content is King. I recently asked for a show of hands at a speech I was giving, “how many of you know the phrase ‘content is king,'” and I was surprised at how many people, in this non-technical, small-business audience, with little understanding of digital marketing or SEO, had heard the phrase.

Content is Not King in SEO [depositphotos]

No, One Size Does Not Fit All

The phrase has become so common in the digital-marketing arena, that it’s spread into layman consciousness. Google the term “content is king” in quotation marks, and you’ll find (at the time of writing) 433,000 pages with that exact phrase.

Content is King may be quite correct in some contexts; but in the context to which it is commonly applied these days, it’s completely wrong. What’s that context? One frequently hears the term in relation to SEO, or as an overall strategy for small-business digital marketing. It’s simply not true, and I’ll tell you why.

But first, where does the phrase even come from?

It’s generally attributed to an essay written by Bill Gates, back in 1996, and I have no argument with his position. It’s an essay about how the Internet would essentially become a content machine, that “Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling” [although he was overly optimistic about the development of micropayments which, by 1997 he believed, would “allow content providers to charge just a cent or a few cents for information” … we’re still waiting, two decades later, for an effective solution for that! … but, I digress…]

Over the last few years the term Content is King has come to mean a couple of things. Within the SEO field, it means that the most important thing you can do to get your Web site ranked high in the search results, is to create content.

And in a more general sense, I think it’s come to mean that content marketing is the digital-marketing strategy of first choice. Seth Godin has even called content-marketing “the only marketing left” … really?!

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

In SEO, Links Win

First, let’s get technical, in the SEO sense. If anything’s “King” in the SEO world, it’s links. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. It’s possible for a Web page to rank #1 in the search results, with minimal content, if it has sufficient links pointing to it from other Web sites.
  2. A Web page containing fantastic, extensive, Pulitzer-prize winning content won’t rank anywhere in the search results without links pointing to it, or to the site on which it’s hosted, sufficient to convince the search engines it must be valuable…
  3. …and even if it does have links pointing to it, it will rank lower than a page with mediocre content that has more valuable links pointing to it.

I doubt anybody in the SEO business would disagree with these basic principles! I would never say “Links are King,” … but in a battle between links and content, links definitely win the SEO prize.

Here’s why I dislike this phrase. It’s a one-size-fits-all answer. Content is King seems to mean–and let’s face it, does mean, when the statement is made by content-marketing firms–that you’d be nuts to do anything but content marketing, or at least that content marketing should be your first step.

Don’t misunderstand me; there’s a place for content marketing. In fact, in some cases content marketing is a remarkably effective strategy.

The problem is, it’s not always true. It’s simply not true that all companies should start with content marketing. 

From an SEO standpoint, for instance, many small companies can rank well with very little effort. If you have specialty business in a particular location, you should be able to rank well without trying very hard; definitely without getting into the business of creating world-class “content” about your subject area. Let’s say you own a paintball field, or an indoor skydiving tower (huh? see here, it’s really cool). You have so little competition, that ranking well in the major search engines is not a matter of spending a fortune on “content,” it’s a matter of doing the SEO basics (including getting a few links).

Every Business is Different

In fact, there are so many different forms of digital marketing, there is no King. What may work for your jewelry company, may not work for your friend’s Japanese restaurant, or his mother’s poster store, or my speaking business. There’s a multitude of different businesses, why on earth should one form of marketing work for them all? It doesn’t. 

As I write this, I’m reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful Ted Talk about education and it’s ills. (Not only does Sir Ken make a lot of sense, but he’s also a very entertaining speaker; listen to this speech not just to educate yourself about education, but because it’s fun.)

Sir Ken says at one point [8m:32s],

“…the pinnacle for education is getting you to college. I think we are obsessed with getting people to college. Certain sorts of college. I don’t mean you shouldn’t go, but not everybody needs to go, or go now. Maybe they go later, not right away.”

That’s just how I feel about “content.” I don’t think you shouldn’t use content, but not everybody needs content, or needs content now… Maybe you develop content later, not right away.

So next time you hear the phrase, “content is King,” ask what the speaker or writer does for a living. Who knows, you may discover he or she is in the content-marketing business.