When it comes to content publishing, there are basically two camps in the blogging world:
- The "Content is King" camp
- The "SEO" camp
The first camp insists that it's good content that entirely drives traffic to your blog or website. The second camp insists that it's good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques like keyword research and relevant meta tags that does it by standing up to the search engine algorithms that determine the page ranking for each link.
The truth (obviously) lies somewhere in the middle. There used to be a time in the 1990s (and probably early 2000s) when you could easily fool the Google search algorithm into making your page rank on top by merely spamming it with good keywords. But that started changing as the algorithms got smarter, today they are able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Today, they are able to tell the difference between good content and bad, or do they?
In a perfect world, SEO should work only to the extent of supply/demand of relevant information. In other words, to the extent that people searching for online booking of flight tickets is greater than people searching for flight simulator games, the content related to former must rank above for most queries related to "flights" and thus they should bag a larger number of "hits" overall than the latter.
But among all the "online flight booking" websites, how does the Google algorithm decide which ones to put on top and which ones at the bottom? How does it know that makemytrip.com and goibibo.com should rank higher than cleartrip.com and air.irctc.co.in for an Indian visitor? Or for that matter, how does it know that expedia.co.uk and skyscanner.net should be placed higher than momondo.co.uk or wegotravel.co.uk for a UK visitor?
Now, this is where SEO and keyword research come into play which supposedly has some influence on that algorithm. SEO proponents like to think that their proposed measures (like filling the right meta tags, populating the page with right keywords, etc.) play a role in making makemytrip.com rank higher than cleartrip.com in Google searches. But can that really be true? Common sense suggests that search algorithms are a whole lot more complex beasts today than they once were and are influenced by just way too many things to create such a causal relationship:
Links (inbound and outbound). They play a large role in making the ranking decision. It could be the fact that makemytrip.com has a lot more links flowing in from highly reputable sites than air.irctc.co.in, so the algorithm is considering that in ranking. And of course, they should all be good (organic) links with no evidence of foul play! Now, trying to influence one's own site's ranking by throwing their links across various social media sites is an SEO technique called "link building" and is a slightly grey area. Do it too much and the search engines might ban your site or blog entirely in today's age. Done correctly, link building provides a good initial boost of popularity, it's a kind of marketing dude who goes across each home and tells good thinks about your product. But if the dude tries to be too intrusive or pushy, he might get blocked from the apartment. Thus, link building is more of a marketing trick than SEO technique in my opinion.
Keywords. Well, they sometimes do work but I'd like to think of them as the effect of a well ranked page, not the cause. In retrospect, it explains how the page's content got ranked above its peers by the ranking algorithm but trying to replicate that strategy on another site by attempting to use more of those keywords may not always be successful. Trying to reduce textual content to mere keywords is like trying to reduce the human mind and emotions to mere neurons and synapses in the brain! They do play a huge role in the thinking process, but we humans are definitely more than our brain cells. That's the problem with many of today's so called "SEO Experts", they are pushing keyword research as some kind of a silver bullet to page ranking while ignoring everything else.
Content quality. Ultimately, it's good content that every googler is really searching for! It's definitely not very easy to create good textual content and that's because writing is not an easy craft. It takes a lot of effort to come up with good content periodically and this difficulty is what has given rise to the whole SEO industry! It's my unpopular and controversial opinion that in an ideal world, SEO shouldn't be needed at all (except to the extent of finding out what kind of content people are searching for (demand), so that you may write content relevant to that (supply)).
Again, trying to meet supply with demand is a common sense discipline, I wouldn't call it SEO at all! But you don't really need keyword research to tell you that do you? If you are an industry veteran who has some experience under your belt, don't you already know what is the trendiest subject in your industry? As a php programmer, for example, you must know that Laravel and Symfony are far more trendy these days than CodeIgniter or CakePHP. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't write articles on CodeIgniter, by all means you should if that's your area of expertise! But you must also be aware that those articles won't be catching as many eyeballs as the ones on Laravel or Symfony.
The debate between the "Content is King" and "SEO" camps will probably continue for decades to come, but it all depends on who you are and what you hope to gain from SEO (or some of it's aspects called content marketing). If you are a blogger or writer, my advice for you is to focus on mastering the art of churning great content frequently than trying to master the art of SEO.