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Optimizing Social, Search and Content: A Q&A with Lee Odden

Optimize-Book-Cover-230x230I’ve had the distinct pleasure of knowing Lee Odden for more than four years now.  I first started following his blog back in 2007/2008 when we launched the Junta42 Top Content Marketing blogs.  During the 11 times we released the top content marketing blogs from around the world, Lee’s blog ranked #1 three times.  Quite an accomplishment and a testament to Lee’s expertise around content marketing.

Better yet, I’ve had the opportunity to run into Lee at dozens of events around the country (Lee will also be speaking at Content Marketing World).  He is truly one of the stand-up guys in our industry.  When I found out he was writing a book, and on content marketing no less, I knew this book would be a keeper.

Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing is must reading for any marketer (joining these content marketing must reads).

Lee was kind enough to engage in a Q&A on content marketing, social media, search and the future of online marketing.  Here we go…

In the first part of your book, you discuss how SEO strategies have significantly evolved with the addition of content marketing and social media. Is the SEO-only agency dead?

Traditional SEO consultants that focus solely on keyword rankings and links that do not adapt to the changing nature of the social web will become less and less effective. In fact, I’ve seen a number of agencies remove SEO from their name. Some conferences too.

But adapting to change within the SEO world is no different than what’s been true in the 14 years I’ve been optimizing websites. The only constant with search engines is that they will change. Professional SEOs adapt because that is the spirit of optimization: continual improvement. SEO wannabes will die out pretty quickly because they’re only parroting the current tactics du jour. They’re chasing loopholes and manipulations without focusing on overall trends or consumer behaviors.

As long as search engines are imperfect at crawling and indexing content, there will always be a need for technical SEO. At the same time, the role of SEO is an evolving one. The premise of Optimize is in part a recognition of the adaptability of SEO or an “optimized state of mind” to be useful as a marketing resource regardless of changes in the industry.

SEO was responsible for increasing relevant visibility, traffic and sales in 1997 with search engines like Alta Vista, Lycos and HotBot when I started and it will be effective at facilitating connections between people looking and brand content in the future – whatever form search takes.

SEO agencies and brand marketers that do not adapt are at risk of becoming impotent. But that’s true with or without the growth in importance of content and social media.

You make a great point that silos need to come down to effectively drive a content marketing program. What are you seeing as the biggest barrier for this happening on the brand side?

Politics 🙂 Actually, lack of alignment towards common goals and the role each group can play in reaching those business objectives is something that can be a barrier. But when leadership in the organization supports alignment with clear individual, departmental and organizational goals, many of those barriers come down. It’s also important to support those common goals with resources, process, training and reporting so people know that the changes and (real or perceived) sacrifices in control they’ve made are having an impact.

Sometimes an outside perspective or insight can facilitate this kind of change. That’s why brands are hiring content marketing consultants: to discover opportunities and develop a plan or in many cases, reinforce what they know needs to be done.

You identify six steps for a better content marketing strategy in the book. For brands, which one is their biggest pain point and why?

I wish it were that easy! Each company brings it’s own situation and circumstances into the mix so the pain point can vary. One of the most common issues I see involves companies deciding to implement content marketing tactics as if more content is the solution vs. meaningful content.

A lack of thinking things through is pretty common too. Planning helps define goals or at least hypothesize what’s possible so marketers can dig into what kind of content would be most impactful at driving desired outcomes.

Another major issue I see is that companies create content to exclusively promote their agenda without considering what kind of information their target audience wants. To go a bit further is to map appropriate content across the buying cycle. Even further is to distinguish appropriate content between customer segments and to identify the difference in information needs between potential customers and those that influence them. Optimize addresses many of these issues, I’m happy to say.

I love how you talk about the idea that content marketing, SEO and social media all need to work together. But as we know, most organizations aren’t set up that way. If a senior marketer is reading this, and that is the current issue, what is step one?

I think Optimize does a great job of guiding executives through this important step. Understanding where an integrated approach fits within the organization and planning are key. Optimize outlines what kind of research, audits and goal setting steps to take as part of strategy development.

When marketing leaders see the synergistic opportunities from an integrated approach, the resource allocation, planning, training and implementation will follow. For some companies it might mean different groups will work together that haven’t before, like marketing and customer service or recruiting and public relations. But guided by a thoughtful approach, goals and plan – things come together.

After reading the section on SEO technical audits, I felt we needed one as well. Why are these so important?

Search engines are far from perfect at finding and copying content to show in search results. Search engines also continue to change the signals that affect how pages and media are ranked. SEO audits (Technical, Keywords, On-Page, Links, Social) provide a benchmark for performance improvement and when repeated quarterly or semi-annually, can be extremely beneficial as a proactive tool to identify major impacts of changes in search engine methodologies.

At the same time, SEO Audits identify the impact of changes made internally on web and social content such as code changes that can overwrite SEO implementations. Nothing is more frustrating than to see a company pay five figures for an audit and to then overwrite a substantial portion of the most effective SEO edits because IT updated how the site is managed or made a template change.

SEO Audits also give companies a blueprint they can use to guide their own ongoing SEO-friendly content and social media best practices. I use them for our own sites and for all clients sites. The most important elements of these audits you need to look for are outlined in Optimize.

I’ve been reading a lot about the intersection between keyword research and looking for upcoming keyword trends that brands can take advantage of if they are listening. Do you agree that is an opportunity, and if so, how can a brand look at a keyword trend and jump on a “hidden” opportunity for content marketing?

Yes, I definitely agree that an opportunistic approach to keyword optimization can be effective. Keyword Glossaries are fairly fixed lists of target keyword phrases relevant to customers and to the products or services being promoted and optimized. Dynamic keyword lists can be fueled by social media monitoring software, buzz tracking sites and news sites. When a meme emerges on the social web or a viral video, infographic or blog post explodes, people will search for it. They’ll search for more information or additional examples of the viral object. That’s an optimization opportunity.

Monitoring for search demand opportunities and then creating and promoting optimized content in response, can result in capturing a significant amount of relevant traffic from something started by another company – even a direct competitor. Public Relations professionals have been doing this for years and David Meerman Scott wrote an ebook about it called Newsjacking.

If in the future everyone’s search results are customized, how can you scale a content marketing program so that search works for the brand?

The first thing to consider is that the content needs to get into the search engine and indexed before it can be ranked and then personalized. Without those steps, personalization means nothing to a brand because their content isn’t eligible to appear in the first place. Or if it is included, the lack of optimization means it’s at a disadvantage to other content that is optimized.

The questions to ask are: How is the content included? How is it personalized? The answers to those questions are content creation, promotion and optimization opportunities. In other words, make sure content is created and included in a way that’s meaningful to search engines and users. Also make sure social sharing and content promotion follow optimization best practices to influence personalization. Make that part of the content creation process in the organization along with reporting and feedback – and it can scale.

Trick question: As an online marketing guy, do you believe in the integration of print and in-person content marketing strategies with online marketing?

Whatever influences consumer behavior is fair game in my book. If that means a brand creates online and offline content to guide prospects through a sales funnel, then so be it. I’m not as concerned about online or offline as much as understanding what will it take to attract and engage prospects to inspire them to share, buy and refer. If that means online to offline integration of content, then let’s roll.

What is the biggest online or social media channel opportunity that most marketers are ignoring?

Of course you’re talking about industrial engineering and Pinterest! Actually, image and video are probably under utilized according to the growth of their popularity. Mobile social media is even more neglected by marketers proportionate to growth in use by consumers.

If a brand wants to truly optimize their social, search and content marketing, how do you see the marketing group set up organizationally to scale this efficiently? Is their an in-source/out-source combination that you’d recommend?

I would start by reading a really good book called, Managing Content Marketing by these two smart guys, what are their names again?

I do think there needs to be content marketing leadership in place or at least buy-in to content strategy by marketing leadership. Marketing plans that incorporate customer segment and buying cycle information with editorial plans is a start. Adding social and SEO into the processes followed to plan, create, promote, manage and measure content enables scale.

As I mentioned above, bringing in outside expertise can help asses and recommend a plan that best uses a company’s resources. Then the company can evolve it’s own processes and internal collaboration accordingly with or without continued outside assistance.

Is their a content marketing measurement/ROI silver bullet? How hard is it to measure this stuff?

Business goals. It’s important to ask: Are business performance trend lines moving in the right direction in concert with content marketing initiatives or not? Revenue, retention, share of voice, and so on are all key business outcomes that can be affected by content marketing. The silver bullet is to set goals, create a plan and figure out the performance indicators that will allow you to adjust tactics to continually improve reaching business goals.

That’s optimization and a key principle in Optimize: continuously improve approach and tactics based on KPIs to reach objectives.

What is the most important question that I didn’t ask you?

What’s my favorite social app? Instagram. Let’s hope Facebook doesn’t do evil things to or with it.

Actually, a better question might be:  Where can you buy Optimize? Check it out on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or visit the book site:

Thanks to Lee for a great interview.  In closing, below is a fun video featuring Lee Odden from TopRank Online Marketing, Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute, Rick Burnes from Hubspot and Aaron Kahlow from the Online Marketing Institute in a phone booth at the Online Marketing Summit Minneapolis event.  It’s almost two years old now, so don’t get mad if the answers are wrong.