There isn't a magic formula for improving SEO results, although quality content is a key ingredient.

It’s becoming clear that custom content is the competitive differentiator in today’s SEO world. A survey just released by Ascend2 polled 442 marketing and sales professionals to take a pulse on which approaches are widely practiced, most effective or failing to drive results.

It found that high-quality written content tops the list as the most effective SEO tactic marketers have up their sleeves. Around 57 percent said content creation is the best way to achieve their most important business goals (namely: lead generation, website traffic and search rankings). Unfortunately, it’s also cited as the hardest to get right.

Nearly half of survey respondents (47 percent) said quality content creation is the SEO tactic that’s most difficult to execute. It’s a multi-pronged challenge to find writers who can compose strong copy, command the brand’s identity, understand how various assets support the sales funnel and do it on a regular basis. However, search engines love quality content, the study points out, and it’s also what people searching the web for answers want. This is a point Google’s own Matt Cutts has conveyed time and time again in his Webmaster Help Channel videos.

57 percent said content creation is the best way to achieve their most important business goals

It’s worth it to overcome those challenges because content creation is seen as a better way to drive results than other common practices once believed to be the best ways to dominate SERPs. Keyword research and management fell to second place with 46 percent of marketers saying it’s the best way to reach SEO goals, followed by frequent website updating (37 percent) and social media integration (34 percent).

Recent search updates like Hummingbird, the disappearance of keyword data and voice command technology have forced SEO to evolve. Companies that refuse to keep up risk losing SERP real estate and web relevance, while marketers who understand the imperative role brand content plays in this new order will be the ones with the biggest and best digital footprints.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.