• David Harrington

The Difference Between SEO and Thought Leadership Writing


One of the biggest challenges I see is that companies struggle with "making the lead" from search engine optimization (SEO) driven content to high-impact thought leadership.


It's an easy treadmill to get stuck on, and many organizations do so out of fear. Blogs and articles that are SEO-driven do generate a certain amount of traffic and conversions.


Any shift towards a more reader value-driven thought leadership strategy might mean losing traffic, leads and revenue.


Making that mental shift can be difficult, but it's one that I've helped founders and executives make. Here's how I think companies should approach as they evolve from SEO to thought leadership.

Questioning the SEO metric orthodoxy

I've gone back and forth as to how much businesses should invest into SEO-driven content over the past year. There's no doubt that SEO writing works, and I've come to the conclusion that it should be a pillar of any core content marketing strategy for technology and SaaS brands. However, focusing and relying solely on SEO content has diminishing returns and can have negative side effects.


Producing audience-centric content

Another beef I have with content that's strictly SEO-driven is that it tends not to be as reader or audience-centric as it could be. This typically stems from the ideation process, as content gets written based on keywords that the company or business wants to rank for. Personally, I prefer to develop content ideas based on what I think adds the most value to the audience, not what they're necessarily searching for.


Developing transformational ideas

Rarely do truly transformational ideas arise out of SEO-based content writing. As a writer, whenever I'm tasked with SEO-centric writing, there's something about it that takes a bit of creative energy out of the ideas I'm expressing. Again, it's all about the ideation and research process. SEO writing is often too rigid for the author -- in combination with the thought leader -- to spawn truly transformative ideas.


One of my other beef with content that's strictly SEO-driven is that it tends not to be as reader or audience-centric as it could be. This typically stems from the ideation process, as content gets written based on keywords that the company or business wants to rank for. Personally, I prefer to develop content ideas based on what I think adds the most value to the audience, not what they're necessarily searching for.

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2020, David W. Harrington

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