Content Marketing is the “Escort” of Online Marketing

Content Marketing. It's the new buzz word flowing around the Internet marketing community for the last year or so. I've been doing this online marketing “thing” for over a decade. When I first heard the phrase “content marketing” I was a little confused. What is that? I read the posts explaining it, but it left me even more confused. Why?

Because content marketing isn't a new strategy, it's merely a new word.

Why the fuck do we as an industry feel the need to invent a new buzz word for the same services every few years? We've been doing “content marketing” forever.

  • Website = content
  • Promotion of that website = marketing

Website + promotion of said website = content marketing.

External content marketing online is – and always has been – part of a good link building strategy. On-site content marketing is part of a good conversion strategy and a good link building strategy.

But “link building” as a term has become dirty. So, we feel the need to “rebrand” it every few years with new terms.

Reciprocal linking morphed into “strategic partnerships” and “joint venture initiatives.” Article marketing became “guest posting” and one-way linking became “content placement.” Forum and blog links became “niche networking.” Writing something controversial or killer to get noticed became “linkbait.” But then linkbait also got a negative connotation, and now it's considered a part of? Yep – “content marketing.”

According to Wikipedia content marketing is “any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.”

In short, content marketing is to link building what an escort is to a hooker. Link building services and hookers – it's very clear what happens with both. But content marketing and escorts? They're much classier (wink, wink – nudge, nudge).

Yes, yes, I know. What makes content marketing different is that it doesn't necessarily have to acquire a link to be considered content marketing and drive customers. I.e. if you publish a killer piece of content on Mashable, without a link – but a highly themed brand mention that causes consumers to seek you out, then you're doing “content marketing.” There was already a word for that in the SEO world. It's an unlinked “co-occurrence.” Unlinked mention of your URL? We had a word for that too – a “citation.” On-site content marketing can help convert customers. We've long referred to that as conversion optimization.

In 2002, I was ranking for the single word “phentermine” – and I was doing it without comment spam. How? Back then we had a ton of “free sites” on the web. They told you where you could find free wallpapers, free graphics, free logo generators, free games, free chat software, etc. Almost every one of those sites had a category called “Misc Freebies.” I created a five-page printable weight loss journal and listed it in every “free site” I could find. In several, it became a “popular listing.” A few months later, I was number 3 for the word phentermine. Crude content marketing. It's always been there, folks. We just didn't give it a shiny new word.

Let's just be honest here for a minute. 94% of the website owners rushing to grab a seat on the content marketing bandwagon are doing so with one primary objective – to get links. The methods may have evolved, but the core concepts are the same.

Because as long as links are the number one factor in search engine rankings and as long as search engines are the number one way to drive a website traffic online – that's the end game. No matter what we decide to call it.

Hooker, Escort – your objective is still to get laid by Google.



Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is a veteran digital marketer and SEO consultant. She is also a serial entrepreneur. You can find out more about her entrepreneurial efforts here. Rae is most active on Twitter.


  1. Brian Clark on May 13, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Google is one aspect, but only one. Content marketing has been around since 1895, and when done well it works even if search engines didn’t exist.

    So, you’re right … it’s a newer term (2008) that exemplifies how effective online marketing should work. But it also has a long history from before the web existed. It’s just now that people are empowered by all the information that’s available online, content is the only thing that really works.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Brian – agreed – definitely didn’t mean to imply it hasn’t been used longer than “on the web” – only to point out that it’s what we’ve (well, those not cutting corners) done all along on the web to market a website. I don’t intend to bash the usage of the term by marketers (as I said, it has clientele traction) – I know you write a lot on it… my issue is with it being touted as a “new” tactic when it’s really a repackaged version of a very, very old one – both online and off. :)

      • Brian Clark on May 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

        I think that’s because of all the SEOs who suddenly found “Content Marketing Jesus” after Panda and Penguin. SEO has become content marketing, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been around and we weren’t doing it back in the black hat days. Every time Greg Boser says “Go ahead and tell me you told me so,” I do. ;-)

        • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

          I nearly spit coffee at “Content Marketing Jesus” – praise the Google Lord!

  2. Meg Geddes on May 13, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Amen. Now let’s talk about “inbound” for chrissakes.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Haha! Agreed!

    • Brian Clark on May 13, 2013 at 10:32 am

      An even more meaningless term, I agree.

    • Mike Halvorsen on May 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      YES. Let’s kill inbound marketing. And content marketing.

      I don’t need to hide behind a new buzzword.

    • Max Minzer on May 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      How much you wanna bet it’ll become “inbound strategy” soon… and don’t you dare to call it “inbound marketing” because that’s low. Gurus will become “inbound strategists” and I can envision “Inbound Marketing is not Inbound Strategy” posts.

      People are ridiculous. Changing titles like tires @ Formula1 without ever thinking to think about changing their mindset…

      • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm

        I think there is something to be said that some are forced into it… the folks who start the wave force everyone else to ride it if the wave peaks. :)

      • Nancy on May 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm

        I’ve always wondered …. what’s outbound marketing? Email and autoresponders?

        • Melanie Egerton on May 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

          Hi Nancy,

          Outbound marketing is the traditional form of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience. eg, TV and radio commercials, print advertisements, cold calls, email blasts etc.

          Hope that helps.

  3. Jon DiPietro on May 13, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I understand your frustration. But “we” aren’t the reason why these new terms need to be cooked up over and over again. It’s because frequently (and sadly) the only way to convince business owners, executives and managers to do the right thing is to call it some new buzz-worthy thing that makes them feel like they’re being “innovative” and “agile” and “pivoting” and so on.

    Telling them that you’re going to use new tools for old strategies is not sexy. Too many of them are looking for more style points instead of more customers.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

      Interesting observation Jon. The majority of clientele I currently work with “get” the tactics and the end game – they’re less concerned with what it’s called and more concerned with low risk marketing (and understand what that even means). However, hearing you say they want to be “agile” and “pivoting” makes sense – I’ve definitely come across those kind of companies throughout my years in the industry. Like I said, I get the usage – I just resent having to use it. ;-)

  4. Jerry West on May 13, 2013 at 10:46 am

    “Hooker, escort – your objective is still to get laid by Google.”

    This must be the greatest line of the year. First person to get it on a t-shirt with Cutts’ face on it wins!

    Seriously, you nailed the issue and I think we all are frustrated with it. Remember when mass directory submissions stopped working? So the overseas people would say they had a “one-way link building service”…yet it was just mass directory submission.

    I can’t wait to hear the next garbage term someone will come up with…

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Haha! I think my personal frustration gets heightened when people ask me about it as IF it’s a new tactic. Everything we do, aside from technical SEO and PPC revolves around what is now dubbed as content marketing – and always has – but time and again I hear it talked about like it’s a new service so to speak.

  5. Georgie Casey on May 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Ah yes, the free sites. Just register a new domain and make a new design for your existing ringtone site, submit to the free sites and wait for first page ranking.

    I just wish I pushed it harder back in 2002!

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Same Georgie same. Hindsight would have meant a lot more money back in the day. ;-)

  6. Tony Wright on May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

    What’s in a name? All the term “content marketing” does is create a shiny object that people can grasp. I find in selling our services, it’s not necessarily about what we do, but how we say what we do. I was doing Social Media Marketing back in the days for message boards and even IRC. Back then, we called it “messaging”. At first, it was called “seeding”, but we decided to change the name because it sounded to much like “seedy”. The way I see it, the basic premise of search engine marketing and basically, all internet marketing hasn’t changed that much since I started way back in 1998. The same principles apply, albeit with the some new tools and about a million new buzzwords. But I’ll keep hopping on the semantic train to shiny objectville. Because I not only want to get laid by Google, but I want to have an orgy with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the hot new site that is still underage but growing up fast.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      HAHAHAHAHAHA – love this! :) I get the term’s usage… SMH at its creation. ;-)

  7. Martypants on May 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Tomato, tomato. Schlemeezel, schlemazzle.
    Ian Lurie chimed in a year ago on that inbound thing:
    But you said it: reskinning the same thing today perhaps allows you to keep selling it, and avoid the snake-oil tattoos we collectively got for passing Go a couple years ago.
    My favorite ridiculous new term recently was seen in a job listing, where the candidate was expected “…to sunset ideas” – WTF? Now I have to go update all my bullshit bingo cards…

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Seriously? to “sunset ideas”? Out of curiosity, I looked, but couldn’t seem to locate the phrase being used anywhere in a business context. #headdesk

  8. Ashir Badami on May 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Amen. To all of it. I don’t buy this notion of reskinning stuff so we make clients feel like they’re getting value for their money. Most clients I work with look at me funny if I use some new term and hold on to their wallets a little tighter. How about we just sell them on a job well done by teaching them what a good marketing program looks like? How about getting them to see the value of making meaningful content based on reliable and realistic operations. I came up through print, and while I hate how slow it was to change, it had some common sense built in. You can be good at marketing and get your links, your visibility and your pat on the back if you just build it with some mindfulness and care. I did my own rant after just getting fed up with hearing the term all the time. Nice to know I’m not the only one…

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Love the learn to fish tip in your post – I wish more people realized they’d get less “rides” with a bit of education on what we do – thanks for sharing it!

  9. Brian Dean on May 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Preach it, Rae!

    After SEO “died” in April of 2012, everyone rushed to get in on the inbound marketing — let’s forget about Google and just publish blog posts — bandwagon.


    Because fewer businesses wanted SEO work. So SEOs had to rebrand themselves or die.

    As Jon commented: the rebrand to “content marketing” helps IMers pitch the same services for more money. I think you’d agree that “content marketing” has a higher perceived value than “link building”.

    But you’re 100% right in your post: it’s the same set of strategies with a new name. Heck, it’s even the same goal (more search traffic)! I don’t blame you for adding a content marketing page…don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Ha! Perfect analogy. I have having to play this kind of game. But since I’m being forced to, I’ll play it and win. ;-)

  10. DarrylM on May 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    So then when I tell a client that they need to have content for their visitor, I guess I’m not developing content marketing as much as developing hooker content. Still laughing here, but a nice spin. Yet why do so many still get it wrong?

    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 6:08 am

      LOL – I don’t hate the ACT of what is labeled “content marketing” – I only resent having to call it that and adjust my terminology to include it. ;-) Haha.

      As for “getting it wrong” – there will always be those people. Like back when social bookmarking was the “thing”… people would submit an unworthy post to Digg, give it one vote and think that was what we meant when we discussed getting links from social bookmarking. Many saw the actual link on, buried 18 pages deep, a social bookmarking link campaign. Sigh.

  11. Nate Shivar on May 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Absolutely brilliant rant Rae. It is so frustrating having to constantly change (err.. “iterate”) our jargon to keep the same services perceived as having the same value.

    But do you see anyway to keep value of (err… “brand equity”) of traditionally used SEO/marketing terms – when they are so often overused by snake oil salesmen? Or is the abandoning of the traditional terms what allows the snake oil people to use them?

    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 6:12 am

      Thanks Nate. That’s something I’ve been struggling with myself. We’re at this kind of interim. You have a third of the industry calling it link building and a third of the industry now calling it content marketing and I’m sure there’s a shitload of other random terms the other third spins it as. It’s tough to walk to the line of making your services appealing to the masses without confusing them with ten different service offerings that essentially amount to the same thing.

      I.e. My agency doesn’t have a reputation management service offering. Really, to me, ORM is merely SEO for a name. But I get the need for the specific term… ORM has a much nicer ring than “get rid of the bad results about you with SEO” ;-)

  12. TJ on May 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm


    I wish you’d quit ‘sugar coating’ how you really feel! I absolutely am with you on why the need to change terminology except that it gives everybody that shiny new ‘cutting edge’ feeling! Car makers have been doing this for years, black & white are now more exotic names which makes me think, DAMN I want a new car with that ‘new’ color :-)

    One term I’m thankful for NOT seeing as much of anymore is ‘cracking the code’ – oh pleeease!

    Quick simply we use words to communicate and thus this is how they enter into our marketing efforts online and off!

    Here’s to keeping it simple,

    Thanks for the candor and perspective,


    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 6:13 am

      Thanks TJ and glad you enjoyed the post!

  13. Doc Sheldon on May 14, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Excellent rant, Rae! I’ve gone off a few times on the “inbound marketing” thing… but as you pointed out, that’s just one of many new shiny names that have been given to old proven techniques.

    I think Jon’s point about clients wanting what they think is the “newest, bestest” is often valid. But like you say, all a person can do if they’re forced into a game is play it to win.

    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Yeah, inbound gave me the same head tilt when I first heard it.

      I agree that Jon’s point is very valid. It’s one I didn’t necessarily think of because companies who want to “pivot” and “sunset ideas” typically are turned off by my personality, so I don’t work with them much. ;-)

      As one commenter said above, hate the game, not the player. :)

  14. Ted Ives on May 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Language is a funny thing, old things can become new just by slapping a new name on them.

    So, I guess this would make “outreach” the escort of link-building ;-)

    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Ha! Touche!

  15. Michelle Robbins on May 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    When I told someone who works in “old media” that ‘content marketing’ was the hot new thing a year or so ago, he said “nice of them to catch up. we’ve been marketing content for over 50 years now. but we just call it marketing.” When I told him about ‘inbound marketing’ he simply replied “you know this is why no one trusts your industry, right? you’ve got people making up things all the time, which really just makes it look like they either don’t know what they are doing, or don’t understand the basics of marketing, are untrustworthy, or all three.”

    • Rae Hoffman on May 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm


  16. scott on May 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Settle! LOL I agree…. I used it like 10 years ago and nobody new what I meant…now I’m changing back to use it again. Plz tell me Rooster ties and Member’s Only jackets arent next.

  17. scott on May 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    After a re-read I have to disagree about whoring for Google rank/links etc. To me publishing good content is MOSTLY about engaging your audience and building creditability. I could care less if I get links, that’s nice…but our goal is usually to nurture the target audience by helping them solve a problem or educating them about he benefits of the services or products our client.

  18. Greg on May 16, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Very impressive. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on “Content is King”.

  19. Dave on May 19, 2013 at 5:09 am

    Rae, you’ve made a miserable grumpy bastard a moderately happy grumpy bastard.

    One of my pet peaves (apart from people who use the term pet peave) is the increase in new age, wannabe ‘thought leaders’ who, in an attempt to rehash what’s been around since Adam was a lad, saturate the interweb with their completely shite vocabulary.

    There seems to be a direct correlation between pretentious, vacuous content and the use of vocab-shite. (oh bugger, I think I just invented another one!)

    Don’t even get me started on “Tribe’. Whoever came up with that needs some serious fucking help :)

  20. George Anderson on May 20, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Let’s talk about Search Marketing now and not SEO ;-)

  21. Arun on July 9, 2013 at 2:11 am

    In this world marketing is everything. Good content without proper marketing is useless.

  22. Chikodi Chima on July 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Rae,

    Great article. It misses an important point: Social media.

    While content marketing goes back at least to John Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, as Brian points out, online social media is a much newer phenomenon. The role of content marketing continues to evolve to meet the needs of our time.

    At its heart content marketing is a very specific form of storytelling. So is advertising. But content marketers are coming up with new and increasingly-sophisticated ways to tell stories that will be amplified on social media. To me this is new and different.

    Hookers and escorts are sex workers. Call the work what you want. Cybersex and live cams couldn’t exist without the Internet. They represent the evolution of sex for our digital times–or so my friends tell me.

  23. Jerri G. on July 14, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Fair points re: content marketing, but content also drives social media which is marketing that hopefully finds its way to people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in something. And that’s different than just links building.

    • Rae Hoffman on July 16, 2013 at 6:17 am

      I absolutely agree with that sentiment – social is a powerful link building tool, as well as a powerful branding and traffic tool.

  24. Bart Gibby on November 5, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Rae, Looks like you not only won people over to the understanding that the marketing industry loves to cannibalize its own buzz words and then regurgitate them back out to appeal to new generations and such; but you were able to also convince Jemma Taylor a “small gal who has never done escort work before” to “like it” and to “want to start it now.”

    You have a way with the women it seems Rae. Just think how many escorts you could have working out of your office if you really tried at it. This one only took a single blog post. You might have a 4th side business here.

    • Rae Hoffman on November 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Bart – hahahaha, thanks for the tip off – that “Jemma Taylor” made three other (what appeared to be) legit comments on the blog months ago, so her comment on this post went through with needing moderation. I’ve since deleted all her comments. :)