Artie the robot giving presentation on SEO and content strategy to human colleague

How to balance your SEO vs thought leadership content strategy

Posted by Rachel Kennedy
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Once upon a time SEO was a dirty word associated with ‘black hat’ operations manipulating rankings for their evil bidding. Now, some consider it a sort of alchemical conversion: tin to gold, content to customers.

In reality, neither is true.

Yes, SEO-focused content can improve the ranking of your site in Google and other search engines. But it’s not the be all and end all. It is but one moving part in what makes a great content strategy. The other end of the scale? Thought leadership content.

Why your content strategy needs SEO

At Articulate, we’re big believers in the power of SEO. We wax lyrical about best practices, because when you write snazzy thought leadership content like we do, you want people to find it.

Without SEO, your content is the flotsam and jetsam of the internet ocean. Debris, untethered, directionless. You need to come up with a solid SEO plan to integrate into your content strategy. That way, you can hone your messaging and reach your target audience. Some best practices include:

  • Keyword research. The right keywords will drive organic traffic to your site. People searching for those terms will see your page in the search engine listings, and click through.
  • External linking. Linking to external sources within your content backs up what you’re saying, and gives your words more authority. Be judicious about your sources — a subreddit ain’t gonna cut it. Use well-known journals and industry sites, and respected newspapers. (Top tip: make sure the link opens in a new page, so it’s not driving traffic away from your site.)
  • Backlinking. This is when other organisations hyperlink your resources on their own site. The more backlinks you have, the more authority. Some companies pay for their backlinks, but this is often a path to link farming and, often, it’s a waste of money. We prefer research, strategy, and a bit of elbow grease. (Another tip: find industry search sites like Clutch and get your profile on as many of them as possible.)
  • Topic clustering. A topic cluster is when you group multiple pieces of content around a shared topic. This way, your audience can easily find all the information they need on the subject they’re searching for. Ideally, content within the cluster will link to each other as well as back to the pillar page.
  • Technical SEO. This includes tactics that enable Google and other search engines to find, crawl, and rank your site. For example, every organisation should update their schema, both for desktop and mobile versions.
  • Reporting and optimisation. By paying attention to how your pages rank over time, you can use a tool like Ahrefs to see which pages you should optimise for certain keywords. And, which ones you need to update to retain their top-ranking position in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

These are but the tip of the iceberg. And some best practices will depend on what you want to achieve from your online presence, as well as what kind of market you operate in. Ultimately, every company is different, and should discuss the right strategies with their marketing team.

Why your content strategy needs more than just SEO

Google’s Broad Core update in September 2022 was good news for a lot of people as the changes to its search engine algorithm and systems aimed to provide users with more relevant content. At Articulate, we virtual high-fived each other (we’re a completely remote agency) —after all, we’ve always written content with the aim of answering search queries. But now, we could really reap the rewards!

We might be big fans of SEO, but it has its limitations in the real world of readers. Google’s update means you can focus more on other aspects of your content and less on the minutiae of SEO. Think of it like content’s sidekick, a Dr Watson to content’s Holmes. It helps content get to where it needs to go, but ultimately, it’s still high-quality content that does the hard work.

For instance, you should chase keywords that represent your business offerings and values, and not fall foul to keyword stuffing. Also, you might choose to talk about a topic because it’s hot right now — but only if it makes sense to your audience AND you can talk about it with authority.

Of course, even if you know a subject inside out, even if you really are a thought leader, articulating that is another thing. That’s where a marketing agency like Articulate (get it?) comes in.

Finding a balance: keywords vs. thought leadership

What keywords should you compete for? What are people in your field talking about right now?

Any marketer worth their salt will conduct a competitor analysis to help you figure this out. Your marketing team should also undertake more general keyword research, using an app like Semrush or Ahrefs to find related terms to your core offerings that will attract your target audience.

But the mistake many marketers make is to focus too much on the keyword volume and difficulty. Because all keywords should be super high volume and super low difficulty, right? RIGHT?


First of all, let’s look at a niche market as an example. Take HealthTech. Many of these companies’ target audience will be doctors and consultants, and the subject matter they’re dealing with will have esoteric terminology. So it follows that the keywords will have lower volumes and higher difficulty rankings than say a cyber security company where everyone and their granny is au fait with the technical lingo.

Secondly, chasing the big and easy keywords only takes into account what’s already talked about, what’s established as popular terminology.

At Articulate, we’re lucky to have clients who are vanguards in their fields. They aim to demonstrate true thought leadership (a phrase that’s battle weary and often misused) with content that starts new and interesting conversations. The keywords in these pieces might have no results at all. But over time, with the right exposure, their results will grow — as will the authority of the company who used them in the first place.

So, there’s also value in targeting a keyword that isn’t popular now, but that will be in the future, thanks to your industry leading content.

How to choose topics that support both SEO and thought leadership

  • Focus on what you love. At Articulate, when we onboard clients we go through a strategy workshop where we discuss things like tone of voice and content guidelines. This allows us to not just hear what excites our clients about what they offer, but also the specific language they use. From there, we can research keywords that truly differentiate them in their space.
  • Adjust your language. On the flip side, getting too attached to specific terminology can be detrimental. What works today may not work in a year’s time. Language is constantly changing and, as new competitors move into your space, they might introduce phrasing that makes better sense down the line. At Articulate, we recommend conducting competitor analysis not just at the start of our engagement with a client, but at yearly intervals (at least!).
  • Go old school. Sure, you’ve got SEO apps at your disposal, with all the whistles and bells. But content is, as we keep saying, more than SEO. Think about the last great article or novel you read. It likely resonated with you because the topic was interesting and relevant, and it was well-written. So, look at websites for inspiration (yes, with your eyes, not some content-scraping app). What do they write about? What kind of content engages and delights the reader? What ideas do they discuss that you should talk about, too?

Writing for the reader… and reaching the reader

What does success look like?

At Articulate, this is one of the first questions we ask clients. Because, not everyone will have the same goals. You may be all about the sales, and if so, more power to you. But, if your main objective is to first establish yourself as an authority in your field, your SEO and content strategy will be a tad different.

For instance, you might leave big keywords at the door and instead go after long-tail terms. This could mean your content won’t reach a huge base. But it’ll reach the right audience, the people interested in what you have to say (and hopefully, down the line, interested in what you have to sell, too).

SEO and thought leadership operate on a scale, and where you fall on it will very much depend on the size and current positioning of your company, as well as what you’re marketing. Of course, over time, these factors may change, and so will your SEO and content strategy. As such, it should always be ongoing. If this sounds like a lot, it doesn’t have to be.

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