Many people discussing SEO and content marketing treat the two practices as separate, like oil and water. The reality is that they both complement one another. SEO allows people to find your website, and great content keeps them there (and drives conversions). Social media, on the other hand, can be thought of as a ruthless game of King of the Mountain. The best content is promoted through social media, often gaining surges of traffic and buzz, but without SEO, that content is going nowhere after its brief time in the spotlight in social media channels.

Both marketing practices inform one another, but they have their distinct qualities. Recent changes in Google’s algorithm have brought the era of shameless self-promotion to a screeching halt. For a long time, Google found and ranked sites based on keywords alone. Websites, scams, terrible content, and more could flourish as long as keywords were crammed into the content in certain “keyword densities.” You may even still remember trying to search for information and finding hundreds of keywords saturating the bottom of the page, to the bewilderment of many unfamiliar with SEO.

This manipulation frustrated searchers. High-ranking websites often came with distracting ads, and clicking on links was dangerous because they were riddled with malware. Google responded by changing its algorithm so websites with great content and user experiences occupy the search results, while penalizing sites that engaged in spammy manipulation tactics.

SEO Still Matters

Internet marketers need SEO more than ever, but times have changed, and savvier strategies and tactics are required for performing well. Using the same keywords over and over is a poor content red flag for Google’s formulas, and that overuse can hurt your site’s rankings due to the Penguin algorithm. The rules continually evolve, and it’s necessary for businesses to keep up with those rules. If you don’t play the game, your Internet presence suffers.

Yet it’s SEO that drives traffic. As the efforts required to stay relevant continue to increase, your competitors put more work into keeping up. That’s where content marketing comes in.

Enter Content Marketing

Google rewards websites that continually produce new, original, relevant, and valuable content for their audiences. The more a page is shared, visited, or attracts repeat readers, the higher that site climbs in the search rankings. Great content needs to be found. Think of SEO as an integration rather than an addition; keywords that are effortlessly weaved into solid information produce the best results.

SEO can improve content. Keywords focus the content around the few words or phrases that matter. Writing around keywords requires research on those keywords, meaning more informed content will be written. Since everyone is following the same SEO rules, businesses have to develop new ideas and fresher, more sharable content to improve their ranking.

A website with a large number of keywords can provide background information on what the keywords mean. This is a great method for providers of technical material who want to produce new content to attract readers.

The Current Trends

Internet marketing, as an industry,  is pulling away quickly from the spammy tactics of its storied past. Instead of searching by just a keyword, content should also be able to easily answer the question of “who”. Who would want to read this? Who does this content benefit? Will readers of my site learn something, or be redirected to where they want to go (e.g. aggregator sites)?

Additionally, content frequency is important. According to a 2012 study done by the State of Inbound Marketing, businesses with blogs that published less than once a month acquired 43% of their customers through their blog. By comparison, companies that published several times per day saw this number rise to a staggering 92%.

However, if the content isn’t good, not only will customers will leave, but your brand image could suffer as well. As such, while quantity is important, quality is king. If in doubt, always err on the side of quality.

Use your PR team. They can develop an outreach strategy to other, similar sites to build your brand awareness and presence. They know how to pitch ideas and communicate a clear vision, thus cultivating partnerships. In contrast, SEO offers a more passive method of finding new users. For example, imagine that someone is fixing his house, and your business provides raw materials for construction. That person gets online and searches for the best materials for project X. He finds your blog, discussing the pros and cons of various materials. You have all the information the customer needs, and eventually he places the order through your site. The work done by your blog was preemptive.

Outreach programs are aggressive instead of passive. They aim to find where the consumer base is headed, and place the business in that stream of search results. Whether it’s by linking to another site or paying for advertisements, outreach programs are key components of successful campaigns.

Once a customer is acquired, the goal is to direct that person through the proper channels of information. Your call to action should solicit a response for your goods or services. Good content builds trust; thus, SEO and content marketing are interconnected.

Future Trends

Search engines like Bing and Google will continue evolving their algorithms in an effort to display relevant, quality search results. Since those formulas are at the heart of any Internet marketing strategy, the changes are very important for businesses to keep up with.

Until recently, content marketing and SEO were considered synonymous. The future of SEO is more technical in nature, focusing on meta elements, indexing, site navigation architecture, and other technical functions, while search engines will more heavily focus on screening content for quality and relevancy to user search queries.

The era of the keyword isn’t completely over, but the emphasis placed on keywords by search engine algorithms is shrinking. For businesses to remain viable, they will have to shift toward better informing users about products, services, and processes, while working to develop trust. The vast majority of online shoppers research products before making a purchase, so it only makes sense that content marketing stands to play an increasingly bigger role in the industry.

These changes will also introduce a new era of branding, where mentioning brands or products will be the desired goal of companies. Implied links don’t physically link back to a business’s website, but include unlinked brand mentions. This Internet “word of mouth” is the direction in which the industry is headed. And while SEO and content marketing will simultaneously become more distinct and intertwined, that’s good news for the quality of search engine results pages.