Excerpt of my interview with Lee Odden. Video production by my friends at Candidio. Fast, inexpensive, quality video production. Transcription services from Speechpad. For full conversation, watch the video!
Jay: In the United Kingdom. A secret location in the United Kingdom. Lee
is the author of the brand new book, so brand new that the official release
date was yesterday, called Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing. Lee, how are you? Thanks for being here.
Lee: Great to be here. Doing great. Having a good time at a search
conference here in Leeds and really happy to talk about Optimize. I can’t
get tired of it.
Jay: You do a lot of conferences. I tell you what, you guys in the
search business, you like to confer. There are conferences, there are confabs, there are a lot of that kind of thing
in your business.
Lee: You know, it changes so much. And there’s a lot of black box, so to
speak, in terms of how things work and that’s the search engines’ fault, I
suppose, and so, you know, to keep people guessing and that sort of thing.
So folks get together and try and figure it out, you know. And even people
like myself, I’ve been in the business for 15 years, you know, there’s
still new things, you know, you learn at these events. Because there’s so
many ways to answer the question.
Jay: Very nice. Very nice. As you said, your background
is in search. And, of course, now you do a lot of social and the
confluence of social and search, which is what the book is about. Do you
think being from a search background is the best possible historical
precedent to be good at social, or is it the worst possible background to
be good at social?
Lee: If you’re asking a search person, then clearly there’s a very obvious
answer to that. I came in as an online marketer search guy to a PR agency, as a contractor that
became an employee that became a partner and then I’m doing what I do now.
But, so I had the influence of public relations and the content
there. The importance of messaging and influence hit me on one side and
then search and data and all that propeller hat kind of SEO stuff that was
going on. And that’s kind of where I come from, I think. And I found,
interestingly, that the media relations efforts, the outbound calling of
journalists, emails of journalists to get media placement for our clients,
is something that I really recognize as a powerful
tactic, you know?
I think there are some search people,
who, by their nature, are adaptable. The long time search folks
that are successful are extremely adaptable. And I said this morning those
SEOs were making money in ’97 by optimizing for Altavista, Hotbot, and
Lycos. And they’re going to be making money-and I mean for their clients or
for themselves next year or ten years from now from whatever the future
Google Facebook Pinterest conglomeration is.
Lee: Now, that’s a small percentage. And so those folks, you know,
they’ll be great as social. They’ll be great at content. They’ll be great
at search or a conglomeration of all of the above. But there are plenty of
people who are tactically practicing SEO and they’re going to suck at
Jay: Just because they take sort of the relationship side out of it and
it’s too formulaic?
Lee: Yes. It’s mechanical, not meaningful.
Google Handles 11 Billion Inquiries Per Month. Twitter Handles 350 Billion Tweets Per Day.
Jay: One of the stats
that you had in the book which blew me away, I actually had to read it two
or three times, and I know it’s not a misprint because I’m sure you’ve
checked it. But I think you said in the book at Google has 11 billion
queries a month.
Lee: Yeah, that’s from Comscore.
Jay: And Twitter has 350 billion tweets a day?
Jay: But the reality is, the reality is that we think about Google as this like all-knowing, all-seeing cyborg. But yet, in terms of actual level of inquiry, level of chatter, Twitter and Facebook and those guys are right there.
Infographic by- Shanghai Web Designers
Lee: Yeah, you know, there’s an info-graphic that documents 60 seconds on
the web, right? And, you know, it’s kind of an information
overload kind of thing. And someone coming into the content marketing
space is not only competing against other companies that are creating
content, but they’re also, you know, competing against the consumers that
are empowered to publish.
Jay: Yeah. Yeah, I talk about that all the time. Your brand is competing
against my mom and my wife and my best friend for my attention. And brands
have never had to really experience that in the past. That’s really a
first. You know, my mom doesn’t buy magazine ads, right? And my friends
don’t buy radio time, right? But all the sudden, now we’re in the same
sandbox, which is crazy. So it seems like a lot of companies are like,
great, well we’ll just make more content, right? But your belief, i.e.
this book, is don’t necessarily make more content. Optimize that content.
And how does that yield better outcomes?
Personas, Content Marketing Segmentation and the Buy Cycle
Lee: Well obviously, it’s being thoughtful about a particular audience and
a particular outcome or a category of outcome. A lot of interesting,
interestingly, I’ve seen a lot of the SEO folks that are jumping on the
content marketing bandwagon. What I was getting at with the SEOs is that they’re
responding to the content issues by saying you should make more content.
So their perception is leaving out the customer. They’re leaving out
empathy. They’re leaving out who actually buys the stuff. And they’re also
not talking so much, although I think they will be, so much about buy cycle
optimization. So it’s one thing to segment customers and kind of think
about what their paying points and their goals are and then create a
content plan around that and that’s a qualitative effort, I think, right?
And so therefore, not only by understanding actual customers and what
they’re interested in, but also taking a look at a segment and documenting
the buying cycle, buying behaviors are, right?
Awareness, call it whatever you want, awareness, interest, consideration and purchase. And then
actually develop, craft the editorial plans, you know, specific to that buy
cycle. And of course, anytime there’s content, there’s an opportunity for,
you know, search and social media optimization.
Jay: Yep, yep. One of the things that was really interesting in the book,
you talk about buy cycle optimization is, you know, you talk about using
personas. I’m a big fan of that and used to do a lot that in my web
strategy consulting practice in the last company that I was in. But you
really talk about creating personas from a place of data inputs, right?
Where it’s not just like, let’s sit down and come up with an interesting
caricature of our customers, but using a lot of data and analysis to then
take that information and create personas based on that.
Lee: Right. Yeah, doing research into, you know, not only surveying
customers and doing some primary research, I guess and getting a sense of
what their preferences are. And I like to split it up into their
preferences for discovery of information, consumption of information, and
sharing or action. But understanding through web analytics, through other
data sources like social monitoring. I mean, there’s site-specific
information that have demographic information associated with it. Going to
social platforms that offer advertising, they usually have demographic
information about who visits that site. And by comparing that demographic
data or behavioral cycle, whatever, with information you have on your own
customers, you can make some good decisions in terms of persona
development. And the thing that folks need to understand is that there’s
not a start/stop with persona development, right? It’s you’re always
refining it. The other thing is the notion of creating a negative persona
and that is, you know, people that you don’t want to be your customer
anymore or that you don’t want to attract so that you make sure that you’re
not optimizing for them.
Editorial Calendars and Content Planning
Jay: You know, we talked about editorial plans in the book-and you
mentioned it a moment ago-how does that work with your blog? The Top Rank
Blog, of course, is one of the finest blogs out there on the interwebs and
I read it. In fact, I just read an article a minute ago about some cool new
Pinterest stuff. It’s a great, great blog. Super useful. How do you
apply editorial calendaring, editorial planning to the blog? What does
that process look like for you?
Lee: Well first, over the last six month I’ve had some help from Ashley
Zeckman, who wrote the Pinterest post. And we follow long term guidelines,
and some adaptive guidelines. So I like to plan things out a couple of
months in advance. And so we use sort of a
matrix. There are, let’s say, vertical markets or topics on one axis and
on the other axis are things like applications or industries and things
like that. So, for example, I might have well, Pinterest and optimization,
Pinterest and B2B, Pinterest and consumer, Pinterest and this, and so
forth. Or I might have, you know, retail and Facebook, retail and Twitter,
retail and SEO, retail and social media.
And when we follow sort of a
matrix like that is one input for inspiration on our editorial plan for the
blog. The other thing we look at is we have sort of a weekly calendar. So
on Monday, I’ll do a certain type of post, usually try to be thought
leadership. And on Fridays, it’s a news roundup. On Tuesdays, it’s
Jay: Brilliant. We do the second one with the weekly sort of editorial
calendar. But the X Y topical axes is really fascinating. Because what I
do is say, I think that’s interesting. I’m going to write about that.
Which is not terribly focused, which is why your blog has a lot more
traffic than mine does. Because you’re actually like, OK, we know what
people want and let’s give them that.
Lee: I’m not trying to be a platform for self expression as much as content that
supports our agency’s objective. We don’t run advertising. We don’t
monetize the blog in any way. It’s been free for all, for eight years now.
The only way we monetize the blog are the inquiries that occur directly or
that use the blog as part of inspiration, so offline, online, you know how
it goes, for consulting gigs. So to inspire those kinds of inquiries, you
know, we follow that kind of guideline.
Instagram, Pinterest and the Image Economy
Jay: Yeah, love it. So you are a photographer. I always see you around
conferences with a camera and you’re on Instagram all the time. You do a
great job there. Because you have this crazy, insane travel schedule,
you’re in Europe, you’re in Hong Kong, you’re on the moon. What’s your
take on the whole Instagram Facebook scenario? Are you running for the
hills? Are you freaked out? Are you going to stop using it?
Lee: Well, Instagram is my favorite app to use, personally. I don’t do
anything marketing oriented there. I do take photos of conference
attendees. Like when I’m on stage I do this little fun thing where I say,
to break the ice, I’m looking for the best looking audience in the world so
if you could all get good looking . Then I take a picture and then I pop
it up. So, yeah, because there’s a personal connection to me and I love
the content that the images that other people are putting up on Instagram,
that’s something I enjoy. It’s quick. It’s mobile. It’s obviously not on
the web. But I actually try and use a lot of my photos for blog posts, like
I did for a blog post today.
However, compared with Pinterest, when there was buzz about Pinterest
doing, you know, selling your personal photos, I deleted all the photos,
all my personal photos that I had uploaded. But that’s a little bit of a
different topic. Because the behavior on Pinterest isn’t something I’m
personally interesting. Curating other’s photos. I tried it. It’s not
for me. I like taking photos and, you know, refining and reacting to other
people’s photos that they’ve taken.
Jay: Yeah. Well the thing is, I mean, nobody freaks out about Google
buying YouTube at this point. You know, that’s worked out OK for all
involved. So just because Facebook owns Instagram I don’t think means that
they are necessarily going to kill it or screw it up or roll it in. Now
they may do all those things. But I don’t think it necessarily means that.
Lee: Yeah. I don’t know, I don’t know. I mean, you know, you’ve got-
that’s a lot of money. And they’ve got to monetize, right? So something’s
going to happen.
Optimize Spills the Beans
Jay: This book is really fascinating to me because, you know as we said, coming from the digital side of it,
like, you kind of, I mean, you told the whole tale in here. I mean, if you
really want to get good at optimizing search and social and content, I
mean, you can read this book and keep it around and you’ve got a really
good blueprint for doing so. It was amazing to me in comparison to other
books out there in our category who are a little bit more pontificating and
here’s the way the world works. I mean, this is very down the line, you do
this and then you do this and then you do this, which is admirable. But
did you ever have anybody on your team say, “hey, boss, maybe we shouldn’t
write a book that tells people exactly what we do for a living?” Was there
ever any concern there?
Lee: Well, you know, everything’s not in there.
Jay: ”All the good stuff is not in Optimize,” says Lee Odden.
Lee: Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s like anything, I suppose. If people
don’t think a certain way every day, and you give a taste of that, it does
seem like, “Holy crap, they’re giving all this stuff away.” And the
reality is it’s an iceberg. The other thing is there’s a lot of value in
execution. I mean, this is a creative business more so than people
realize. And it’s not just creative on the, you know, storytelling aspect
which is obviously important, and will continue to grow in importance. But
the creative content planning, the creativity, and the political issues you
have to deal with, as you know as a consultant with organizations, with
execution. And then also the insight that comes from data. That, you know
I can give even more detailed instructions about what one should do in all
those areas. But when it comes down to a human being actually turning that
into value, that’s requires experience and knowledge, not just information.
Jay: Yeah. Just because you give somebody a list of ingredients doesn’t
make them a chef.
Lee: Exactly. And my goal in the book was to give something to people
that would be valuable, right? I mean, I’m not looking to sign every
company up in the world to be a client.
Jay: Yeah, it was really, really good. I loved it. It’s singing the song
that I like to sing. You’ve done a great job
and I think a real service to a lot of people. And I hope folks will take
the time to really read it carefully. Because you can learn an awful lot in
that book and from the man, the myth, the legend, Lee Odden. Thanks so
much for being here. Congrats.