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.

Don’t Pay to SEO Optimize Your Site

Optimizing Your Site is Not Brain Surgery ... Whoever Builds, Should Optimize


Last week I published a blog post explaining that most SEO services are a scam (I won’t repeat myself; you can find out about the SEO scam here).

I want to explain another way businesses can avoid getting ripped off: by understanding the role of page optimization.

There are essentially two sides to Search Engine Optimization: on-page and off-page.

On-page optimization is how you code your Web site, essentially putting keywords into appropriate places in the site, making sure the site is readable by search engines, adding an XML sitemap, and so on.

Off-page “optimization” is not really optimization per se … it’s getting links pointing from other Web sites pointing to yours. I’m not going to discuss that in this post, just let me say that off-page work–linking–is in many cases the most complicated, difficult, frustrating part of SEO, and yet for most sites it’s the most important work, too. If few sites link to yours, the major search engines are not going to care about your site much, so won’t rank it highly (unless you have little competition in the search results for the keywords you care about … but that’s another subject for another day.)

So, today let’s consider on-page optimization … and why you shouldn’t pay an outside service to “optimize” your Web site. 

Many SEO firms offer page optimization as a service…they will, in theory, come into your site, and “optimize” the pages periodically.

On-page optimization is, quite simply, making sure your site can be read properly by the search engines, and that it has the correct keywords in the correct places (such as folder names, filenames, H1 tags, body text, internal links, and so on) … and various ancillary items, such as the XML sitemaps I mentioned earlier. The details don’t matter for my argument today. Let me simply explain why you shouldn’t pay a third party to do this work for you.

1: It’s Easy

Despite all the blinding-with-science going on in the SEO arena, on-page optimization is surprisingly easy. It is not brain surgery. It’s not rocket science either. Once you understand it, it’s disturbingly simple… you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. So…

2: Whoever Builds Your Site, Needs to Optimize It

For years I’ve been dissuading my consulting clients from paying SEO firms to optimize their sites. Why? Well, why duplicate the effort? You already have someone tinkering around in your site, why not have them optimize the site while they’re building it? 

They don’t know how to, you say. That’s true, they probably don’t, and as I mentioned in my post last week, Web development firms are notoriously bad at SEO. But see my Point #1 … It’s Easy! Page optimization is not brain surgery, so you don’t need to hire a specialist. You do, however, need to make sure who ever is building the site knows what he or she should be doing to it. But again … It’s Easy!

For many clients, I have given “tutorials” to Web-development staff, a very specific run-down of what they need to be doing. I’ll do a keyword analysis first, then I’ll discuss basic optimization techniques–“create an optimized page for each of these keywords…put the focus keyword in the URL, put it in an H1 heading near the top of the page, scatter it throughout the page, create a link from another page using the keyword as anchor text,” and so on.

Once developers understand simple optimization, they can run with it. And it doesn’t have to take weeks of work to learn how to do it.

3: No Third Party Will Optimize Your Site as Well as You or Your Staff

There are always exceptions, I guess, but in general no third party will optimize a site as well as an insider. This is based on my experience of seeing the results of “page optimization” done by SEO firms. (And assuming that the people building the site are willing to educate themselves properly.) I haven’t seen a third-party service do a good job of page optimization. In fact, they often do more harm than good.

4: You’re Continually Adding Content, Aren’t You?

Every time you add content, you should optimize the page the content sits on. Why wait for a third-party to do it for you, when it’s so simple anyway? And if you’re not continually adding content (and, by the way, not every site needs to … but that’s an argument for another day), then why would you need a third-party optimizing your content? Oh, because they told you that you need to tweak the site every month, did they?…

5: You Don’t Need to Continually Re-Optimize

Many SEO firms sign clients up for long-term, monthly contracts, in which they charge a fee for going into the clients’ sites once a month and “optimizing” them. But this is nonsense. Once a page is optimized, it’s optimized…there is no need to go back and re-optimize it, unless of course it wasn’t properly done in the first place! The constant tweaking provided by these firms is for the benefit of these firms, not your Web site.

Now, this isn’t to say you should never hire outside SEO services. I’m talking about on-page optimization here … whoever builds the pages needs to understand SEO and do the work (did I mention it’s not hard?). But there’s also off-page services…getting links pointing to your site. That’s where a third-party service may be useful. (But before you jump in make sure you read Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam.)

Need a simple outline of how to optimize a site’s Web pages? See my Udemy SEO course, which covers both on- and off-page optimization. 4.6 Stars out of 5, $10, you can’t go wrong!

Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam

SEO is 80% Scam - How to Protect Yourself


Been SEO scammed already? If so, you’re not alone.

I’ve now been involved in SEO for about two decades. Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of businesses, large and small, from Amazon to individual realtors, from Zillow to small industrial-equipment companies. Many of these businesses came to me after reading SEO for Dummies (or Search Engine Optimization for Dummies as it was named for the first five editions).

[For those of you who’ve been living in the proverbial cave for the last few years, SEO means Search Engine Optimization, and refers to techniques use to convince search engines that when somebody searches for blue widget, or whatever, your Web site is listed at the top of the blue widget search results.]

The refrain I often heard from these businesses was “we need help with our SEO,” and consequently I got to hear about the SEO experiences of numerous small businesses. What I quickly learned was, many of these companies were getting scammed.

Years ago, I posted an article on my Web site titled The SEO Business is 80% Scam. This led to various conversations with people in the Web-development and SEO business. I was initially nervous about this, assuming I’d get some push back at best, anger at worst. But what amused me was that overwhelmingly the response from colleagues was something along the lines of “really, only 80%?”

So let me be quite clear for you small business owners out there. It is well known in the Web-development, digital-marketing, and SEO arena that many of the SEO services being sold to small businesses are worthless (or at least worth far less than the fees paid).

There Are Decent SEO Firms & Consultants

Before I continue, let me just state that there are honest, knowledgeable consultants and firms out there.

They’re just in the minority. Sorry, but that’s the fact. How do I know? Because I’ve had the opportunity to see the results of numerous real SEO campaigns, shown to me by small-business owners. More commonly than not the SEO campaigns were useless… really bad on-page optimization, and useless links pointing to the business’ Web sites.

[SEO can be divided into two areas, “on-page”–things you do to your Web pages–and off-page, getting links from other sites pointing back to yours. With no good links pointing to your site, it doesn’t much matter what you do “on-page,” your site is unlikely to rank well in the search results.]

SEO is real. There really are things you can do to push a Web site up in the search results. It’s not that SEO itself is a scam; it’s that the business is mostly scam.

Two Types of Scam

There are essentially two types of scams.

The first is the outright scam. The company providing the service has little or no intention of providing anything of genuine value. Many small businesses think they need SEO (and often they do), but few small-business owners know what SEO really is. So they are easy to blind with science; a good salesperson can sign you up, and by the time you realize you’re not getting anything of value (because your Web site still can’t be found in the search results), you’ve paid months of fees, possibly thousands of dollars. The outright scam is, sadly, very common in the SEO world.

The second is the “accidental” scam. The barriers to entry are low; anyone can claim to be an SEO consultant, anyone can set up an SEO firm. So there are many, many people out there who really aren’t very good at what they do. They may have the best intentions in the world, but they simply can’t deliver.

A Special Category: Web Development Firms

Within the second category is an important subcategory; Web-development firms. It’s common these days–in fact has been for years–for Web developers (in particular Web-development firms rather than individual developers), to claim that they can and will “do the SEO” on your site for you.

Retro cartoon with texture. Isolated on White.

This is almost always untrue. Here’s an example. Not so long ago I was working with a Web-development firm that was developing a site for one of my consulting clients. This firm, like many (perhaps most), listed Search Engine Optimization on their Web site as one of the various services they provided. In fact they knew next to nothing about the subject. It was a battle to get them to implement the most basic SEO techniques. They had to have their hands held every step of the way. If I hadn’t been involved, my client’s site wouldn’t have been optimized in even the most basic way.

This is not an anomaly. Years ago the owner of a large Web-development firm confided in me that “we sell SEO services, but we don’t really know much about it.”

Here’s the takeaway: Regardless of what your Web developer says, you can’t rely on your Web-development firm to “do” SEO for you! That doesn’t mean there aren’t some developers who can do it; but most can’t.

How to Protect Yourself

So what do you do to avoid getting ripped off?:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn the basics of SEO so that you don’t get blinded by science, so you can talk to Web developers and SEO firms and know whether what they are saying makes sense, and so you can evaluate the work being done. I have an 8-hour course on the subject on Udemy; learn SEO here for $10. You might read my book, SEO for Dummies. Or sign up for some other kind of training. But you, or someone in your organization, needs to be educated!
  2. Don’t Rely on Your Web Developer: I explained why above; before you let you developer deal with SEO for you, you need a good reason … they need to convince you they know what they’re doing (see #1, above).
  3. Check References: It’s really important to work with someone who has a track record. Don’t simply work with someone who you ran into at a seminar, or who contacted you by email and offered SEO services. You have to have a reason to believe that who you are working with knows what they are doing. The ideal is to work with someone with glowing reviews from a friend or colleague.
  4. Understand What They Are Telling You: It always amazes me how many business owners don’t know what they are getting for their money. If the firm can’t explain it clearly, you shouldn’t be working with them.
  5. It’s All About Links: I’ll write later about my theory that you should never pay a firm to “optimize” your site. But you may need linking services. If you buy linking services, you need to understand what kind of links you’re getting. If the firm won’t show you, or only creates garbage links (another subject I’ll cover later), you shouldn’t be working with them.
  6. Check, Check, Check: Keep an eye on what’s being done. You need regular reports, showing exactly where links are being created, and how your site’s rank is improving in the search results. (Again, I don’t believe in buying on-page optimization services… I’ll explain why in a later post.)

Worthless SEO services are the norm. The good news is, forewarned is forearmed. You don’t have to be one of the thousands of business owners who’s poured money into the SEO black hole!