Content Strategy vs Content Marketing

Or: The Myth of the "One-Click Wonder"


So I just about had a brain aneurysm the other day when I saw this:

Content Strategy Generator

It’s a “content strategy generator”. And, according to the website, it will generate a content strategy “with the type of a single word or phrase!”

I call bullsh*t.

Those of you who know anything about content strategy know that the idea of generating one without hours of intense research and planning is ludicrous. It’s like bragging that you can generate a complete marketing strategy for a business with just one click.

It’s not that it can’t be done, because I’m a big believer in human ingenuity. Rather, it shouldn’t be done. One size doesn’t fit all.

And there are so many moving parts to contend with in a true content strategy—business goals, user needs, brand voice and tone, information architecture best practices, SEO and meta data factors, content structuring, and so much more—that taking a shortcut of this magnitude would be infinitely more harmful to your website than helpful.

So what’s going on here?

Content Strategy Generator

The company that created this tool has a (seriously deep) misunderstanding of what a content strategy is and does. Essentially, they’ve mis-named a tool that generates popular topics for blogs.

This would be similar to me creating a tool that generates lists of baby names and calling it a Baby Maker. I’d be missing the point entirely.

But I don’t think that SEO Gadget is alone here. All across the web, I’ve noticed a widespread confusion regarding the difference between content strategy and content marketing. So let’s dig into that a little bit.

What is content strategy?

A content strategy is a plan, not just a tool. It’s a customized strategy that lays out exactly what your business goals are and how to reach (and even exceed) them using the content on your website and beyond.

Content strategy expert Kristina Halvorson sums it by saying:

“A content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of valuable, adaptive content.”

So this means that a content strategy will address a ton of important questions, beyond just what you’re going to publish on your website, including:

Why are we publishing this content? How are we publishing this content? When are we publishing this content? Where are we publishing it? For whomWith whatHow often? And what do we do after we’ve published it? *

A good content strategy will use those questions as a springboard for more in-depth questions about the usefulness and purpose of your content, including:

  • What content does your audience need? (Or, you have multiple audiences, how do their content needs differ, and how do you address that on your website?)
  • What exactly will your content be doing for your business and your users?
  • Is your content useful and necessary for your users? (And what do you do if it’s not?)
  • How is your content being created? (And does the person creating it know what they’re doing?)
  • How is your content organized, prioritized, and structured?
  • How are your users finding and accessing your content?
  • How is your content being maintained? (And is it being maintained?)
  • Who is making decisions about your content? (And is this person making informed decisions?)
  • How is your website content helping you meet your business goals?
  • …And so much more. (Seriously, tip of the iceberg.)

You can start to see here how a “one-click” approach to content strategy really misses the point.

So what is content marketing?

Content marketing is a marketing technique that focuses on the creation of online content to attract and retain customers. It often emphasizes soft-selling stories about corporate culture and customer education over a harder-selling “buy our product now!” schtick.

A great example of content marketing is a corporate blog, which you may have seen before at StarbucksWhole FoodsPatagonia, and more.

So SEO Gadget’s “Content Strategy Generator” from above is really more of a “content marketing blog post topic generator”.

Content marketing can be part of a nutritious content strategy breakfast.

A good content strategy will address and govern not only the living content on your website, but the content that exists outside of it as well. I’m talking about content marketing pieces such as:

  • Your company’s blog (be it on-site, via Tumblr, etc.)
  • Your email marketing efforts
  • Your downloadable whitepapers
  • Your newsletters
  • Your YouTube videos, tweets, Vine videos, and Facebook posts

Content marketing can be a great component to a full content strategy, but a lot of people make the mistake of focusing only on content marketing. If you do this, you run the risk of driving people to your website (which is great!), but not engaging them properly once they’re there, thus rendering all the work you put into your content marketing fruitless.

Think of content marketing like the marshmallows in your Lucky Charms -- they taste great, but you can’t live on them forever without probably getting some kind of weird rainbow cancer.

Focus instead on developing a full content strategy, and the online success will follow.


*Thanks to Kristina Halvorson for parsing out these excellent questions.