Should You Engage a Content Marketing Agency or an SEO Agency?

Quentin Aisbett, SEO Lead, Searcht

Last updated May 09, 2024

Content marketing helps fuel so many of our business objectives, from brand awareness and customer engagement to search engine visibility and lead generation.

Content really is king.

What I’ve always found interesting is how content marketing has been delegated within that small to mid-market landscape. Some brands task their SEO agency to expand their scope to develop a content plan and execute. Others choose to employ a content marketing agency and let them manage the SEO planning process.

How do the two approaches differ? Search Engine Journal puts it like this:

“The major difference is that SEO makes its decisions based on search-driven data and analytics, whereas a content marketing agency makes its decisions based on more audience-driven data and general content creation knowledge.”

So as a marketing manager looking to invest in a content marketing strategy, should you be engaging a content marketing agency or an SEO agency? That’s the question I want to unpack with you.

Already have an SEO agency?

If you’ve already got an SEO agency, great. You already have a partner who understands your business and how search engines influence your buyer’s journey. It makes sense to have them help you plan your content marketing.

In fact, it was likely their idea to launch a content marketing program. They’d be aiming to establish your topical expertise and leverage the informational queries people are conducting everyday around your product or service.

And they wouldn’t be wrong.

An SEO agency is well placed to help you to:

  • Identify relevant topics that you can become an authority and will help support your service pages
  • Establish a plan to ensure your content is ‘helpful’ and can provide the SERP with a unique perspective
  • Produce strategic, SEO-led content briefs for your writers
  • Audit your content on a 6-month or 12-month basis

Put simply, if you’re already working with an SEO agency, then you want them involved in planning your content strategy. It’s the key to leveraging your investment to generate more organic traffic and qualified leads.

Note: Here’s an example of a SEO content brief.

Who will write the content?

Perhaps it’s a capable, in-house team member who is given the time and freedom to create great content. Or it might be a small team of freelance writers who bring some topical experience and expertise and who, when given time, will learn to understand your brand.

Employing great writers becomes even more important if you have a longer buyer journey, as you’ll need content that nurtures them – consistency will be a factor.

For many brands, the answer is to engage a reputable content marketing agency plus an SEO agency (or a large, reputable agency that excels in both). Be aware that there are potential pitfalls to your SEO agency alone executing the content. I’ll explain that later.

Finally, of course, you could look at utilising AI with ChatGPT or Claude to write your content. But consider the topics you want to be visible for – how good is the content that’s ranking prominently? Could an AI-generated piece provide more value and more ‘information gain’ than the top-performers? It’s also worth really considering the time required to generate an AI post. Think about the time spent researching, getting the prompts right and then reviewing and proofreading for accuracy. If you believe strongly enough in the opportunity your content presents, avoid taking short-cuts and produce the best possible resource on the topic.

Already have a content marketing agency?

Having an established relationship with a content agency means you have a partner who understands your brand and your audience. And they know how to tell your story effectively to prompt action.

The content agency will be recommending:

  • A content strategy based on a Hub & Spoke model or other similar content framework
  • Audience-driven topics backed by search volume and search intent
  • A content calendar
  • Expert interviews or commentary sourcing to establish trust
  • Other content production ideas like video and social posts

And they employ professional writers and editors who understand how to structure great content and keep readers engaged – which ultimately encourages readers to take action.

Note: Experienced writers understand the various copywriting frameworks and can leverage these for action.

Can I trust my content marketing agency’s understanding of SEO?

This is the big question: is the investment you’re making in incredible content achieving your objectives of increasing organic traffic and leads?

The answer will depend on the structure of the agency you’ve engaged. Do they have a full-time SEO on the team to manage the function? If they do, great. But you should ask about their experience. If this one person is the key to your content investment, ask questions. If the agency doesn’t have a dedicated and experienced SEO professional, then there might be reason for concern. SEO is a role difficult enough to keep abreast of trends even as a full-timer.

You don’t have either agency?

If you’re unsure whether to engage a content marketing or SEO agency for planning and strategy, the first step is to identify your content objectives.

Looking to build a community, strengthen your brand or convert an audience already coming to your site? Engage a content marketing agency first.

Looking to grow your organic traffic and search visibility? Engage an SEO agency first.

Note: This 2022 Content Marketing Institute survey highlights some leading content marketing objectives. What are yours?

Of course, a big decision like this is never that simple. There are other deciding factors.

You’ll need an SEO agency to improve sitewide search performance

If you’re going to engage an SEO agency to improve your sitewide search performance, then it makes sense to have them manage your content planning. As they get to work, they’ll have a broader understanding of your customer journey and how search influences the different touchpoints before conversion. This will ensure greater alignment between your overall SEO strategy and content strategy.

After all, if you’re looking to improve leads and revenue, you will do so via your service pages or your product pages – and your blog content is there to support that.

You don’t need regular SEO agency support

If your marketing strategy revolves around your content and its ability to strengthen your brand and engage your social followers, then it would be a sound idea to engage a content agency for planning and execution.

And if your goals begin to turn more towards organic traffic, keep in mind that you can always employ an SEO consultant or agency to review your content plan or develop a strategy for the content team to execute.

The potential pitfalls of SEO agencies creating content and content marketing agencies doing SEO planning

I’ve seen this from just about all angles, and there are concerns you should be aware of.

Problem 1: SEO agencies wanting to deliver content

The SEO agency is too often lured by the bigger retainer. But without dedicated writers on staff, you’re likely to receive content outsourced to freelancers or content marketplaces or, dare I say it, ChatGPT.

The fact is, anyone can outsource writing and it can be incredibly cheap in contrast to a content marketing agency. That’s why it’s an attractive proposition for an SEO agency who is working with a brand being quoted anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per blog post.

But this is where some SEO agencies shoot themselves in the foot. They’re all too familiar with the importance of quality content and user experience, but they risk their own SEO performance in favour of a little more profit from providing cheaper content.

If your SEO agency is offering content production, ask them who will be writing. Ask if the writer has any experience on your topic and whether it will be a consistent writer who will learn the intricacies of your brand over time. If you’re not happy with the answers, then make your own arrangements for content production.

Problem 2: Content marketing agencies wanting to do SEO planning

When you have a content marketing agency engaged, they’ll expect to do the SEO-driven planning and strategy. It’s often already built into your retainer.

But it’s still worth considering an SEO agency to support your content planning and strategy. Because while the content agency will do their SEO planning and look at search volume to identify topics (and the good agencies will also deliberate over search intent), this is not their primary skill set. Like the SEO agency and writing, there will be missteps and missed opportunities. So, ask your content agency about who manages SEO planning for your content and ask what experience they have.

My experience with content agencies is that their business models generally do not support SEO objectives. That’s because many content marketing packages serve a predetermined content length regardless of the topic. As a result, some posts will underserve the query at hand while others will overserve. Either way, it’s not SEO best practice.

For the investment you’re making in your content, it would be ill-advised to leave the strategy and planning to a team who isn’t across the latest developments in SEO.

Strategy will shape your success

It’s a volatile environment. ChatGPT and Google’s Bard are making their way into our traditional search experiences and change is afoot. Will content maintain its standing as king?

Let’s assume it will – because nobody can tell you definitively otherwise. The one thing we know for sure is that having a documented content strategy is becoming more crucial. This process helps you define your content objectives and guides your decision on whether to entrust the entire process to your SEO agency or your content marketing agency.

Both have a role to play, but it’s up to you to ensure they don’t overreach at your expense.