Are you suffering from identity crisis? The outside world doesn’t care for our latest buzzwords or hip job titles.

In many cases the same people offer content marketing, growth hacking and search engine optimization services.

Here are some differences and common aspects potential clients might want to compare before paying for them.

WTF is content marketing anyway and why do I need it?

Content marketing might seem like the most obvious of the three disciplines mentioned above. That might be even one of the main reasons for its growing success over the recent years. After all the term is pretty self-explanatory.

Both words, content and marketing are well known ones you don’t need to explain. A content marketer will most probably create and promote content for you. The only question remaining is why?

Why would someone want to create and promote content?

After all most website and business owners aren’t really into publishing. Instead most business people on the Web either offer products or services online. Content is none of the two. Content is neither a product (unless you’re from Hollywood or something similar) nor is it a service (unless you are a writer, photographer etc.).

Does a plumber need content marketing? This is a really good question I seldom see answered.

Content marketing is taken for granted these days it seems. There is no need to question it anymore. The plumber example is a good one because most businesses out there are in so called “boring” industries which are not sexy like architecture, design or photography. Can content marketing help the average small business people too?

Before I answer this question let’s introduce the other two, the growth hacker and the search engine optimizer.

Why do I need to hack for growth and is it illegal?

Growth hacking sounds dangerous! You might laugh know as a hipster living with his Mac but for 99% of people hacking is illegal and done by criminals. Like everything menacing there is a certain amount of coolness radiating from it.

A marketer is considered a sleazy sales-person in a shiny suite and with a fake smile by the majority out there. Instead you might prefer to style yourself as a hacker. You’re not a computer hacker who steals passwords though. You hack (for) growth!

Yes, indeed, there is a need for growth hacking these days. It’s not born solely from the wish to be cool. Marketing is a discipline rooted in the past. It’s closely related to advertising and sales, both of whom have a very bad rep on the Web.

Nobody wants to see ads or get sold to online. Unless of course the ads are funny and spread virally or we are already looking for a product. That’s the exception though. In all other cases advertising and sales suck for the majority of Internet users. Most ads are simply annoying. Overselling on social media is obnoxious. Also they do not work for businesses either.

Here’s comes the growth hacker. S/he focuses on technology not persuasion or downright annoyance. The growth hacker uses technology to build a spreading mechanism into the product or service you offer itself. It’s a profession for the digital world where self-replicating memes are not the domain of linguists but are a phenomenon of the masses.

In capitalism a thriving economy relies on growth. This may be controversial by now (as we already outgrow the resources the earth has) but it still works like that. On the Web growth is only limited by technology and human resources. Nobody cares for all the energy Google’s server farms use up.

Growth hackers are mostly preoccupied with helping start-up entrepreneurs

to create products and services that grow super-fast until they reach critical mass and can be monetized (or sold off). Such start-ups often have millions in venture capital and can afford to spend money with earning it fr years in a row.

Does the average business owner need a growth hacker? I’m afraid not really but s/he can learn a lot from such a person.

Why does someone optimize search engines and what is SEO, a Korean musician?

While SEO or Search Engine Optimization has been around since 1997 it’s still the most underrated and misunderstood online discipline I can imagine. The large majority of people neither know what the acronym means nor can explain the discipline as such even in case they already came across it.

SEO is the largest enigma on the Web and most business people liken it to black magic.

Roughly 18 years after its inception SEO is more about Google pleasing than anything else it seems to me. I’ve called myself an SEO for a decade but I’m increasingly confused about it myself. Do I really still want to be considered a spammer? This what most people still think of SEO. In some cases they are even right. After all who wants to risk getting affected by unnatural links, negative SEO, HTML and other sexually transmitted diseases?

While the SEO practitioner is adding content to sites as well plus is also preoccupied with growth s/he focuses on reaching people by way of search engines (mostly Google). S/he optimizes and improves all aspects of an online business ideally.

SEO for Google is of course an ever shrinking market as Google shows increasingly more ads, its own products and third party content instead of search results. Optimizing websites for the remaining real estate in search results is a bit like fighting with the Last of the Mohicans.

It’s possible but it’s harder every day. I witness more and more website owners giving up and trying to buy their way to the top of Google using advertising these days. With Google’s search traffic monopoly there is not much choice anymore it seems.

SEO is still useful but compared content marketing and growth hacking it’s impact becomes smaller these days.

The reason is simple. Google aggressively pushed ads, their own services and scraped content from third parties in “search results”. There is less space for organic search results each year. In contrast Google earns money by using your content and that’s why they demand people to create content for them.

Which discipline is best for me and my business?

As you might already fathom all three approaches to online popularization have their pros and cons. None of the strategies is a one size fits all solution for all kinds of businesses. Generally

Publishing oriented business can benefit from content marketing most. Of course all types of businesses can benefit but some need heavy investments and a change of the whole business culture to be able to compete.

  • In case you already have a lot of content online or an paper and you publish regularly it’s a welcome addition to plan, distribute and promote your content assets strategically.
  • In case you don’t publish yet and your website or overall web presence focuses strictly on the image aspects of your business solely displaying promotional material made by third parties you have a problem.

You’d need to establish a whole new workflow and team to take care of the content strategy and its implementation. What doesn’t work is to tell your existing employees to write, photograph, film and promote their work by themselves.

The average small business with fewer than a few dozens employees won’t be able to cope with the demand of ongoing publishing.

The costs of outsourcing such ongoing activity to an outside agency are also not to be understated. Quality content is costly and with content marketing being en vogue the costs for it rises as content creators who know their trade are few and far in-between.

In most cases brands try to buy into audiences such content creators already have. Sponsorships of teenage Vine video creators are such an example.

Growth hacking is best suited for technology based start-ups that sell online software

or short webware. It also works fine for those who specialize on apps and other mobile technology enhancements. Growth hacking for the plumber might be useless or downright harmful. Imagine a growth hack that leads to hundreds of new customers over night. It’s similar to what happened when small business embraced Groupon. Some of them got overrun and lost money actually while gaining lots of negative reviews.

Likewise low quality SEO can harm your bottom line quickly. Some people tried it and then assumed that all SEO is actually bad. While its still possible to optimize sites with no content (sales copy or product descriptions are not content strictly speaking) it’s a major disadvantage. Ideally there is content already or you create content for an SEO campaign.

While content marketing focuses rather on content by itself employing numerous tactics to spread it SEO still attempts to gain an audience by way of Google. SEO practitioners will also promote content on social media etc. but they will do so in order to get links. These will make their clients rank on Google.

Small businesses that sell a practical product or service in their niche without being overtly sexy or spectacular can benefit from SEO the most.

They won’t be able to implement a working content strategy while growth-hacking wouldn’t work for them simply because they need revenue right away not years later. Especially so called local SEO can help.

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