Content Is King – Does It Mean Something Or Is It A Myth?

Has it already been a month since SES NYC? What a fantastic show! It certainly did not disappoint, with four great days chock full of the latest and greatest in SEO and search marketing.

I had never been to an SES before, and looking back on the show, there were a lot of things about it that surprised me. Oddly, the thing that may have surprised me the most was the number of times I heard the term “content is king”. Between search engine reps, speakers, and attendees, the phrase kept getting tossed around the show, like a beach ball in the bleachers at a baseball game.

It probably sounds so silly to be surprised by something like that, but think about it for a second; here we are at a show dedicated to the newest tactics and techniques in search, and you keep hearing this cliche that’s practically as old as SEO itself. It’s like going to a car show where people keep talking about an ’89 Yugo.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in great content as much as anybody. It’s just that, the longer I work in search, the more I find the phrase “content is king” to one of the worst things to ever happen to SEO.

Why is “content is king” bad for SEO? For me, it boils down to two reasons. First is good old-fashioned cynicism.  I know search reps didn’t coin the phrase, but they do use it a lot, and it makes me nervous. This is probably due to the fact I’ve always believed listening to search reps talk about content is a little too much like listening to a priest talk about sex.

Secondly, and more importantly, “content is king” is bad for SEO because it takes the attention away from where it really needs to be, the person doing the searching. Focusing on “content” draws the focus of the campaign inward when it really needs to be outward. For SEOs, what is truly paramount is the searcher, why they’re searching, and what they want out of the transaction; not the content you’re hoping to put in their way.

It’s the searcher that’s the king, not the content.

Isn’t saying “content is king” really talking about the searcher? You’d think so, but I don’t think that’s the case. At one point it may have been true, but from a practical perspective, the “content is king” mantra has resulted in too many SEOs and marketers trying to generate “good” content with as little incremental effort as possible. The searcher has been removed from the equation, and now it’s simply about crafting something that will just rank.

This is completely the wrong mindset. The SEOs who are successful today and down the road realize that content can’t exist in a vacuum; they need to figure out what searchers want when they use specific keywords, and much be able to help their clients (or themselves) meet those needs while differentiating themselves from the other sites on the search results page.

That’s the key to good SEO and that’s the stuff more people need to be talking about.

  • Hey Jason,

    I never really thought about it, but I agree with you in that the searcher is king, not content. Content is only an means to satisfy the end user. If the user stops caring about content, or specific types of content, then it no longer becomes important.

    This actually reminds me a lot of Kantianism. The philosophy that humans are value givers, and for that reason they should never be treated as a means to and end. But how does this benefit SEO?

    Humans don't really want content… They want answers. If you can give them answers without content, then content is worthless. But how does one give answers without content? I think there needs to be some form of content, but the goal of a webpage shouldn't be to create content, it should be to give answers. That's one reasons why links and now social signals are important. They help judge the value of answers outside the "cloud" of content.

    So yeah, content isn't king. Users are king, and answers are gold. Content is simply how you deliver that gold to the king.

  • Content is King is definitely a myth. It's one of those SEO myths that those "snake oil" SEO salesmen use to get you to think about the fact that they will create all sorts of great web content and people will end up linking to that content–and then at some point your search engine rankings will go up.

    So much for focusing on content.

  • I couldn't agree more. Love the Yugo reference too. How is the searcher consuming information. Maybe they are search for certain types of content but in what format – video, text, images,etc.. then craft your search strategy around the searcher.

  • Content is king?? Or is the searcher the king? Never really thought from this perspective. Content should be written keeping in mind the requirements of the readers, and not just for the ranking.Good post.

  • The old cliche is true… that's why it gets passed around some much. Without content all the design and usability is worthless.

  • Natalie Revell

    I agree that the focus needs to be the searcher – always. Without the searcher, there is no point. But saying "content is king" — simply means "what you are offering to your searchers is king." Like Dan O. said, this can be in many formats, it doesn't necessarily mean you writing and leaving a book for your searchers. We all know that won't work.

    I do see what your point is — the searcher is king and we cater to the king. But the way to get to the king is through offerings and content runs across all formats.

    Thanks for the controversial post and getting us all to think and stay focused!

  • People who are doing search marketing for a long time knows that content is the top
    priority to promote any business online. There are three key benefits to a
    nicely crafted content.

    · Reader Engagement
    · Boosts search engine ranking positions and traffic
    · Promotes the prospect of quality links from other websites

    You have pointed out just the right notes in your article. Thanks