The Myth of Content Marketing, the New SEO & Penguin 2.0

“What Should Lead Your Online Marketing Strategy: SEO or Content”. “Why Content Marketing is the New SEO”. “Is Google’s love affair with content marketing usurping SEO?” “Content Marketing is the New SEO ”

These are actual titles from article in the top search results for [content marketing and SEO].

Content Marketing Isn’t New



In fact, it’s so awesome you don’t need anything else! Just produce awesome content and you will be in SEO nirvana! It’s like double rainbows and Matt Cutts got together and had baby NyanCats!

Old SEO is dead. This is the new SEO and it’s beautiful!

Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.

Content marketing isn’t new. It’s just a new buzzword picked up by other industries that suddenly found out they could to “do SEO”, but they didn’t want to “do SEO”, so they tried to make it more special. It isn’t.

Content marketing has been around since SEO on Google has been called SEO. To not understand this is to not understand what Google and its algorithms measure and how this might affect your site.

Now with the arrival of Penguin 2.0, you might be just setting yourself up for a fall – right out of the rankings. And yes despite all our talk of rankings not mattering, they do, because if you go from somewhere on Page 1 (with personalization) to nowhere on page 51, you will suddenly say, “Oh no! My rankings!

Rankings matter. SEO matters. And content marketing is SEO. It always has been, and always will be – well, at least until the search engines don’t use algorithms and content, but that’s a long way off.

Need more proof of the power of content? Back in 2008, I ranked a website in the top 15 for a one-word term in competitive vertical with no links, a domain that was less than a year old, four weeks from launch, with 1,500 pages of unique, solid, quality content. Every word on the site was original, even the Contact Us.

How do I know content was the reason for getting the site ranked in the top 15? Content! To be fair, I can only be 99 percent sure that content, thanks to a Google engineer at a party at an SES Conference who confirmed it was “most likely the reason”.

Like I said, the importance of unique, quality content isn’t a new concept.

Just What is “Content Marketing”?


If you want the best literal explanation, this quote from Quora (found via Ann Smarty and Authority Labs) works very well:

“Content marketing is the umbrella of all techniques that are used to generate traffic, leads, online visibility, and brand awareness/fidelity.”

If you want the one that really gets it, then this one from Sugar Rae says it best:

“Content marketing isn’t a new strategy, it’s merely a new word.

Why … do we as an industry feel the need to invent a new buzzword for the same services every few years? We’ve been doing “content marketing” forever.

  • Website = content
  • Promotion of that website = marketing

Website + promotion of said website = content marketing.”

And there you go. It is content that you put on your website and promote. That can be text, video, infographics, images, whatever you think of and put on your site. When you release it as part of your site marketed materials, then it is “content marketing”.

It’s really that simple. Again, it’s not new, it’s just a new buzzword.


Now that we have that straightened out, what does content marketing have to do with Penguin, SEO, future penalties, and you?

Content marketing is not the new SEO. It is SEO and so are a lot of other things.

It’s All SEO Now

One client’s site I recently reviewed was brilliant. The company had never bought a link, was completely legit, and worked feverishly on their content marketing – yet they had 16 warnings and penalties. Why? Because while content is great and certainly a very important part of any SEO strategy, it isn’t all or even most of what you need to be concerned about when thinking about the algorithm.

Taking Your Eyes Off The Ball


So while you were spending all that time concentrating on your content marketing, what were you doing about making sure you met the rest of the 200+ points on the algorithm? What about the other things that Penguin was meant to control?

How is your internal linking? Your anchor text either coming in or internally?

How about where your sites are linking externally? Where are you linking to and are you linking to other sites you own? (triangulation – crosslinking)

What about the other changes Google announced are coming this summer (which I will just term, the “no one is home” penalties for lack of a better term)? You know, like spam comment in your forums or blogs? Or your page speed and usability?

How about your page crawls? Sitemaps? Are you showing Google no one is at the helm while you spend all your time focused on cultivating the latest viral video or super infographic?

Starting to see the issue?

Content marketing isn’t separate from SEO and isn’t the new SEO. It doesn’t replace SEO. It is SEO just like all the other items mentioned are SEO.


SEO isn’t just search engine optimization anymore. It is, as Cutts suggested a little while back, search experience optimization and it covers everything on the website, either directly or relationally.

Once you realize that “content marketing” is just using good content practices and that you might have been neglecting the rest of your site SEO, what should you do?

12 Other Google Update Checks (Penguin Included)

1. Titles and Descriptions

Titles and descriptions still remain one of the most misunderstood items on any site and they are still as important as ever. Know what these mean and how to write each properly. Make sure you don’t have duplicates, ones that are too long or over-optimized tags.

2. Anchor Text

Is your anchor text over-optimized with keywords? Are you using keywords when domain names should be used? What is the natural way someone would link to your site? This counts with inbound links as well as internally. Beware of over-optimized and overused keyword anchor text.

3. Links – Inbound & Outbound

Run a link check. How do your inbound links look? The threshold for spammy links was about 80 percent, it is now down to about 50 percent. That means 50 percent questionable links can keep your site or a page out of the index.

Know your link profile.

Using outbound links, make sure you are not sending out link juice on ad links, but still make sure you are doing some links offsite. Google doesn’t like it when you hoard that link power all for yourself. Share with worthwhile sites, but never with ad links.

4. Links Cross or Triangulate

Sometimes by accident even, sites crosslink to other sites they own or partner with that site while sitting on the same IP addresses or C classes. Do you know if yours do? If they do, delink your sites or put rel=nofollow on those links, or Google may think you are attempting to put up a link network of your own.

Remember, Google can’t discern intent, so the appearance of impropriety is all that you need to give yourself a penalty.

5. Page Speed

Google likes to say page speed is a small factor for websites and maybe for some industries this is the case, but in others our experience shows it isn’t. This only makes sense. For Google, faster loading sites lower the load on Google’s end, so take the page speed tool, check your site, and get it above a 90 percent if you can. That seems to be the magic threshold for most.

6. User-Generated Content Spam

User-generated content spam on your site is directly linked to a penalty now at Google. (Heard about Sprint’s latest fiasco?)

It doesn’t take a lot to indicate to Google “No One is Home” keeping an eye on things.

Make sure you have checked your blogs and comment areas for things like multiple https or for words such as “free shipping” with a database crawler or in Google with “words go here” and see, is someone scamming you?

Note: If the spammers are very good you may not be able to see it without a Google search.

7. Redirects

Get a tool like Screaming Frog and check your site pages for redirects then make sure those redirected pages have a 301 permanent redirect, which tells Google the page has been permanently moved and it should keep following it.

It’s rare you need a different type of page redirect and if you do, then remove the page from the index with a noindex tag in the header. (There are rare cases where this won’t be the case, this is just the general rule.)

Also make sure you have your canonicals in place and that they are correct. This should go without saying, but not all sites do it.

8. Over-Optimization on Non-Content Items

A common type of over-optimization happens in the navigation, the header or footer.

This is where someone either adds a keyword to every (or almost every) word to try to rank for the term or where someone adds an overabundance of header or footer links to “help” a site position for known keywords. This won’t help and is likely to give the site a penalty.

9. Alt Attributes

How are you using the alt attribute on your images? Don’t stuff keywords into this text. Using good alt text, especially when images are replacing text in links, can be very good for a site. In fact, Google will treat this alt text as actual text in these cases.

Go to to learn the rules for “alt text” content generation.

10. Ad Issues

Google doesn’t like it when a site seems to only be there to support the ads on it, so an overabundance of above the fold ads can cause the site to receive a penalty.

What is too much? Google is a little obtuse about this, but find out what is above the fold for your screen size (not your screen, but the site screen size), then hold up a post it note, if it takes up more space than the note, it is probably too large.

11. Crawl Issues

When is the last time you got into your Webmaster Tools and checked how your crawls were going? How is your crawl rate? Are the spiders having any crawl issues?

We once had a client who had 28k crawl errors. These will affect your site strength and authority with the “No One Is Home” devaluations. So keep an eye on your crawl rate and if it is not crawling well, find out why as quickly as possible and fix it!

12. Malware or Rogue Sites

For the most part, we’re fortunate that Google will email us and tell you that you have malware on your site – but be careful: this isn’t always the case. Periodically you want to do a search for your site, see if you trigger malware warnings in a site search or mobile, then check your analytics to make sure no one is running anything untoward on your site like say a rogue Viagra site. If you want to see how prevalent this is, go to Google search and put in “.gov” Viagra.

Not only can these sites be doing things on your site that could be causing you “hack” issues, but also sending links to their pages on your site causing your link profile to be damaged.

What Else?

This was just a partial list to get you started. We haven’t touched authorship, structured data, URL construction or a whole host of things you should be doing these are just some things you need to be checking, but hopefully you get an idea that myopic SEO is not SEO at all.


If you haven’t been doing much more than content marketing and thought there was something called the “new SEO” and the “old SEO” was dead, my best advice is with the arrival of Penguin 2.0 and several other changes still on the horizon, is to conduct a site audit.

This is going to be the summer of change on Google, and this article has only touched on some of the items known to be part of the Penguin and Panda algorithms and the coming attractions. Don’t get caught with your proverbial pants down, wondering, what happened?

With SEO proactive is always better than reactive, because only a small percentage of sites hit by the first Penguin have ever fully recovered. If (or when) your site gets hit, sometimes all you can do is start again.

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