Over the course of the past several years, driven by Google’s Panda update and a rising trend of webmaster acceptance, the terms “content marketing” and “SEO” have become almost synonymous. The common thinking today is that you can’t have a decent SEO strategy without a content marketing program, and having a content marketing program essentially fills a role as your fundamental SEO strategy. The interrelationship between these two core strategies has linked them together, some would argue permanently. But is it possible that content marketing will someday become an obsolete strategy?
It’s entirely possible that content marketing will eventually decay in importance over time. However, that change is unlikely to occur immediately. There are several interrelated factors that could eventually contribute to the downfall of content marketing’s relevance for SEO, but none of them are a threat for the near future. If content marketing is going to disappear from the world of search relevance, it’s going to be a long, slow process.
Content Marketing Saturation
One of the most obvious factors for the possible degradation of content marketing’s value is its saturation in the marketplace. Because so many webmasters and business owners realize the value and importance of content marketing, it has become a widespread phenomenon. Practically every online business engages in some form of content marketing, and the sheer volume of articles being written and syndicated has an effect on the landscape.
First, users are likely to grow tired of being inundated with content, the same way they’ve grown tired of being inundated with advertising. Eventually, they’ll tune traditional forms of content out as white noise, and will move on to some new means of finding value. Second, Google could easily see the flaws of valuing content, and eventually reevaluate their process of determining rank. Either way, content marketing could fall out of favor as the best way to earn rank.
Already, users are starting to rely on individual applications rather than a browser-based web experience. The rise of mobile technology, including smartphones, tablets, and now wearable technology, has prompted users to meet their needs using specific apps. This has two ramifications for content marketing.
First, if users aren’t reading content from the web, and instead are relying on app-based content, searchers will no longer need content to be calculated as an important ranking factor. Second, and as an indirect result of the first, Google and other search engines would soon start to favor app functionality over onsite content, alienating any webmasters archaic enough to update their sites with text rather than their mobile applications.
The rise in wearable technologies, such as the Apple Watch or Google Glass, could accelerate this favoritism for app experiences over browser experiences.
Onsite and offsite optimization are both fundamentally important to any SEO strategy, and since onsite optimization is generally considered more important, content marketing remains the traditional foundation of any campaign. However, offsite ranking factors are becoming more complex, more diverse, and after the Pigeon update of 2014, more important.
Under the Pigeon update, local directories have skyrocketed in importance for search engine ranking. For local businesses, the quantity and quality of reviews on local listing sites like Yelp now have a huge significance on their Google rank—for example, a site with several high-quality reviews could outrank a site with only a handful of low-quality reviews, even if the poorly reviewed site has ample content to back it up.
This could mark the beginning of a trend that places a much higher emphasis on outside authority—such as user reviews and content generated from external sources—than internal authority. If that trend continues, self-published content could become far less significant.
New Forms of Content
New forms of content are also encroaching on the traditional content marketing strategy. While “content marketing” does refer to any type of content production and syndication for the value of your users, most traditional content marketing campaigns do rely on written articles to substantiate the bulk of their progress. In most cases, this is because Google’s algorithms rely on scouring the web for written words and contextual clues that lead it to a semantic understanding of the nature of the article.
However, as Google’s algorithms and robots become more advanced, it may become possible for them to scan and interpret the significance of several other types of content, including new mediums and new formats. If this is the case, traditional content marketing—in the form of written articles—would eventually die out entirely.
Despite all the possibilities for content marketing to eventually die out or dwindle in significance, there’s a good chance that the strategy could continue to be relevant for a long, long time. One of the biggest reasons for the strategy’s enduring popularity is the fact that in addition to being valuable for building ranks, it has the peripheral benefit of being valuable to the publisher’s users. It’s not designed as a temporary strategy, and it still has a lot of life left in it.
A Constant Need
It’s worth arguing that there will always be a need for content, at least in some form. People will rely on searches to find answers to their questions for years to come, and content needs to be there to answer those questions. Even though the market is currently saturated, the newest, best content will always rise to the top—so if you can offer that greatest, newest, content, you’ll get the rewards of additional traffic. Even as new mediums and formats enter the fray, there will always be a portion of the population who favors the traditional means of acquiring information—reading.
Content marketing exists to build companies’ reputations just as much as it exists to build ranks. Through a successful content marketing program, you can build your reputation and authority amongst your user base, regardless of any circumstantial ranking benefits you happen to gain in the process. Even if content marketing ends up dying out for SEO, it’s still going to be relevant for authority building, and thus remains as a solid long-term strategy for user acquisition and retention.
Another argument for content marketing’s permanence is the idea that content marketing will never actually die—it will only evolve to fit new contexts. For example, if mobile apps rise in popularity over traditional web pages, then more content needs allocated to those app-based experiences. If written content becomes less important than video content, then businesses will need to produce more video content. Content marketing is adaptable, and that makes it, in some ways, immortal.
Moving into 2015, it’s not certain whether content marketing—or even SEO as we know it—will last forever. Forever is an exceptionally long time, and changes in technology and trends occur at an exponential rate. It’s impossible to accurately predict what’s coming in the next three years, let alone the next decade. But content marketing is going to continue being relevant—some would argue necessary—for at least the next few years. Pay close attention to Google’s next round of algorithm updates, user adoption of wearable technology, and make a conscious effort to adapt your strategies to what your users would genuinely prefer the most.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.