Learn why SEO and content marketing work better together. 

If you’re an HBO subscriber, science fiction buff or just a fan of mind-bending prestige drama, you’ve no doubt heard of last year’s breakout hit Westworld. Set in the fictional realm of a wild-west-like theme park called Westworld, the show follows the trials and tribulations of artificially intelligent androids (AIs) and the humans who, well, “dehumanize” them. 

If you haven’t seen it, just stay with me.

As wild as it seems, Westworld has much in common with two of my favorite topics: search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing.

Like search engines, Westworld’s android hosts develop the capacity to think for themselves with less need for human intervention over time. Like content marketing, the narratives written by Westworld’s visionary founder lure humans and AIs alike into a sophisticated web of storytelling neither can resist. If that doesn’t describe amazing content, what does?

At its heart, Westworld is about both the evolution of artificial intelligence and the power of great storytelling – two ideas that live at the center of SEO and content marketing.

So what, exactly, is SEO?

“SEO” describes a wide variety of methods used to improve search engine rankings and increase website traffic. Though it can involve any number of technical tactics, two of its main drivers – keywords and backlinks – happen to be essential in great content. This is why SEO and content marketing should act as two parts of the same whole.

Why keywords matter to SEO

Keywords tell search engines what your web page is all about, so the search engines can provide the best and most relevant results. For example, a prospective college student might Google the term “adult learning” to find popular courses. A school that practices on-page SEO and optimizes one of its web pages for the term “adult learning” is more likely to be discovered by that student than a school that optimizes for the term “professional development.”

Though they play a big role in search engine optimization, keywords only tell part of your story. After all, anyone can write an article stuffed with keywords. In fact, in the early days of the Internet, “keyword stuffing” was a major problem. Websites often published pages jam-packed with keywords to get to the top of search engine results. Bad user experiences ensued. Not unlike Maeve, Westworld’s favorite enlightened barmaid, search engines uncovered the truth and tweaked their own algorithms to combat manipulative practices (chiefly, they began to assign greater importance to backlinks).

Why backlinks matter to SEO

SEO and Content Marketing - Westworld Scene

SOURCE: Patricia Wong | Flickr

Backlinks are incoming links from other websites. The more relevant, high-quality backlinks your web page collects, the more valuable it is in the eyes of a search engine, and the higher your rankings. Think of them as votes of confidence from the Internet.

When it comes to backlinks, “quality” matters. At one time, a high quantity of backlinks would be enough to rank well in search engines. But this too was manipulated. Black hat SEOs—the internet’s version of the man in black — used low-quality link farms to drive backlinks to web pages, resulting in undeserved rankings. Search engines again evolved to consider the quality and relevance of websites doing the linking. After all, which Westworld recap would you take more seriously: an article linked to from The New York Times or a post linked to from an unknown online directory?

Where SEO and content marketing meet

Luckily for you, the combination of relevant keywords and quality backlinks are the two parts of SEO most easily (and earnestly) addressed by great content. When you publish great content – whether it’s a blog, article, or SEO-friendly PDF – SEO is almost inherent.

Unluckily for black hat SEO artists of the past, great content isn’t easy to fake. That’s because great content treats buyers a lot like guests are treated at Westworld (spoiler alert: at least until last season’s final episode). It engages them with unique narratives and guides them gently through a journey created just for them. When you produce content that reflects the needs, challenges, and language of your buyers, keywords happen. If you make it engaging to boot, your readers will share it. Then, backlinks happen.

Just remember that as much as search engines have evolved, they haven’t reached “Westworld-host” level awareness, which is why human intervention still goes a long way.  When you combine SEO and content marketing, you create stellar content supported by solid SEO best practices to gain an edge over the many competitors vying for your buyer’s attention.