What is Thought Leadership vs SEO?

There is a difference between blogs written for thought leadership and those written for SEO. The main difference is the objective of each. The former is meant to establish brand authority and increase brand trust and credibility. The objective of the latter is to rank on Google, increase website traffic, and increase site conversions.

That being said, let’s pull back the lens a bit and consider the value of thought leadership and the value of SEO content.

Thought leadership content gives your brand space in people’s minds, while SEO makes room for your brand on people’s screens. One is not better than the other philosophically, but this distinction highlights the overall difference between the two.

Let’s take a look at what thought leadership is vs. SEO and how you can discern which content type will help your business reach your specific goals.

Examples of Thought Leadership Content

Thought leadership content goes against the flow. It doesn’t seek to say a familiar thing in a familiar way so as to remain palatable to the masses. Instead, it takes a stand. This kind of content offers alternative opinions to a popular narrative. That being said, it doesn’t take a stand for the purpose of making the stand itself the main topic. Thought leadership content offers a different perspective on a popular topic in order to spark new direction.

Thought leadership usually comes from personal or professional experience with a particular topic and builds credibility for the brand presenting it.

For example, there was a time when business leaders believed that in order to win friends and influence people, they had to exude power akin to lions roaming the Serengeti. Leadership was big, loud, and even a little scary. Then, Dale Carnegie came along and he wrote the book–literally–on how to ingratiate yourself to clients, colleagues, and people with whom you come into contact in your daily life. Whereas the culture was saying leaders needed to be domineering, Carnegie told us to become genuinely interested in other people.

Carnegie was a thought leader who changed the way people looked at success. That’s no small feat!

There are more unique aspects to consider as we look to define thought leadership vs. SEO content. These include personal storytelling, network connections, industry analysis, and data storytelling. If this list sounds intimidating, stick with us. We’re going to break these aspects down into more palatable explanations.

Personal Storytelling

Thought leadership shines when a brand voice shares a personal story that affirms a business strategy, company philosophy or valuable lessons learned.

Network Connections

In general, business leaders tend to partner with like-minded leaders. These partnerships create excellent networking opportunities wherein thought leadership content can be disseminated through podcasts, webinars and articles. In order to create these connections, you have to speak up, stand up and tell the truth behind your brand. This is how you find like-minded professionals.

Industry Analysis

In order to understand how and when to disrupt your industry, you need to have a solid understanding of the narratives being presented. There are a couple of ways you can go about this–intentionally or by simply being present in the environment.

When you conduct industry analysis, you look for the trends being purported by fellow industry leaders. Research, collecting hashtags, and scouring your competitor’s and affiliate’s websites and social media accounts are all examples of intentional data collection.

You can also become privy to the trending narratives in your industry if you take the time to daily be present in the space. More simply put–show up. Schedule time to scroll through social media accounts and pay special attention to your industry’s hashtags and conversations. Peruse the websites of your competitors and maybe even sign up for a webinar they’re hosting. In this digital age, we often overlook the importance of sitting in the same room with professionals who know more than we do or who think they do.

The key to gathering industry analysis that you can leverage in thought leadership content is overhearing the digital conversations and then taking a stand that leads the conversation in a new and valuable direction.

Data Storytelling

There is no shortage of data when it comes to almost any industry that has made an appearance in the digital world. Looking at data and drawing conclusions from it is a strong way to assess the current trends in your industry and use at least one of those trends to spin a new story. How you share this data can alert your users to your brand’s personality.

A great example of using data to tell a story can be found in this data storytelling, Why Do Cats & Dogs …?, depicting why cats and dogs do the things they do.

Examples of SEO Content

Thought leadership content is different than SEO content in that thought leadership seeks to establish your brand as the authority on an idea while SEO content seeks to build your relevance and authority in your industry. Everything SEO is focused on making your brand the authority on whatever product or service you sell.

Typically, an SEO blog looks different than a thought leadership blog. Below are several examples of the kind of structures that support SEO content.

Buying Guides

In general, every customer begins their search for your product or service with a search on Google. Gone are the days of strolling through the mall window shopping with your friends on a Friday night. Today, potential customers are strolling through the Internet searching for that perfect pair of jeans or that self-defining shade of lipstick.

Your potential customers are looking for you through search engines. For this reason, it behooves you to use the same verbiage on your website that they’re typing into their search engine. A buying guide is a lengthy piece of content in which you lay out all of your products and services according to the words your customers are searching for.


A listicle is an SEO blog that is written in the format of a list. The title of a listicle reflects the fact that the information they seek is in an easy-to-read list. For example, “The Top 10 Shows Streaming Now,” or, “The 10 Most Popular Paint Colors in 2022.”

Let’s say you own a company that makes desk chairs. If you’re interested in thought leadership content, you might post an article entitled, “Why Millennials Want to Work From Home in 2022.” If you’re looking to sell more chairs using SEO content you might write, “Important Features of Office Chairs.” The former can be a commentary on the work from home culture while the latter would give your brand an opportunity to rank for one of the most prominent office chair search keywords available at the time this article was written.


Your potential clients are consistently engaging in comparison searches on the Internet. Some of those comparisons are wildly popular, “mac vs PC” while others fulfill more niche searches, such as, “What is thought leadership vs. SEO?”. See what we did there?

Imagine you own a company that sells a wide variety of brand-name shoes. You might want to rank high comparison searches such as the following, “asics vs brooks,” or, “nikes vs jordans.” The idea here is that there is a customer out there beginning strolling through the Internet with the intent of buying a pair of shoes–you want your business to rank high enough on Google that they come across your shoe store first. You can do that by using specific SEO keywords in your SEO content.

Answers a Question

Where is the first place you go when you have a question? Here’s a hint: it’s no longer the library, the telephone book or your great Aunt Martha.

We all go to search engines when we have a question. Do you know who else frequents their local search engines each and every time they have a question? Your potential clients. To that end, you want your potential clients’ questions to lead them to your website.

If you own a pizza joint, you will want to include SEO content on your website that both includes and answers the question, “best pizza near me” and maybe even, “who makes the best pizza dough?”

In contrast to the SEO content, if you were looking to be a thought leader in the pizza world, you might try to rank for, “How Have Meal Service Deliveries Changed Pizza Industry?”

How is Thought Leadership and SEO Different?

As you can see by now, there are several inherent differences between thought leadership and SEO content. They mainly differ in their objectives, format, audiences, keyword research and conversion goals.

While the philosophies behind each type of content vary, there are also ways in which the two overlap and can fuel one another.

When Thought Leadership and SEO Work Together

There are several ways in which we can combine thought leadership content with SEO practices. We like to think of this practice as two flints–art and science–creating a magnificent fire that spreads throughout Google! SEO fuels thought leadership and thought leadership fuels SEO.

The interplay between thought leadership and SEO can be seen in the following content creating practices:

  • Building backlinks–when you write content that other people find valuable, they will share a link to your content on their website. This is called a backlink. When your content is valuable enough for others to share, Google takes notice and begins to rank your website.
  • SEO ranks the page and thought leadership invites users to stay awhile–once you attract users to your website, you want to give them thoughtful, accurate and compelling content that will help build your credibility and brand authority.
  • Taking a stand attracts other people who take a stand–robust discussion ignites users’ imaginations and motivation to develop their own thoughts on important topics. When you take a bold stand and you take the time to back it up, you’re signaling that you’re advanced enough in your industry to be the next game-changer.
  • Keyword research helps you discern what people need help with–once you’ve figured out what your potential audience is looking for you know how to craft your content to satisfy their needs.
  • SEO helps ensure your website provides an easy and enjoyable user experience. Most people don’t realize this is a vital part of SEO services. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your content is if your page loading times are slow, your links are broken, or your website’s navigation is cumbersome.

In summary, SEO can inform more strategic thought leadership blogs and thought leadership content marketing tactics in your SEO blogs can benefit your SEO tremendously.

Which One Is Better?

When you’re weighing thought leadership vs. SEO blog content strategy to figure out which one is best for your business, it all comes down to one thing: objective.

What are you trying to achieve with your blog post? What are your goals for your website?

Your Recipe for Success

As you develop a content marketing strategy and begin to decide whether to focus on SEO, thought leadership, or both, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

How do I differentiate thought leadership from SEO blogs?

Do I choose one or the other or combine the two?

Do our current customers see us as the ultimate go-to company in our industry? If so, how can we continue to grow our credibility?

Timmerman Group is a team of professional marketing strategists, copywriters, website developers, and graphic designers who work together to build websites that get our clients’ results. It isn’t only what we do; it’s what we love.

We’d love to help you assess where you are in terms of your marketing needs and then help you get to where you want to go.