Google’s been pissing people off lately. Panda, Penguin, Parakeet (okay, I made that last one up), who knows what’s next …
Then there are the social networking evangelists whose entire fortunes are deep in Zuckerberg’s asset.
And finally, the faithful content producers, who labor slowly and quietly to build their businesses one thousand words at a time.
To clear up some of this confusion and frustration for us, I’ve asked Lee Odden to jump on the show and tell us how the smart, systematic integration of search, social, and content can attract an audience … and keep businesses — both large and small — sanely profitable.
In this episode we discuss:
- The 3 phases of a holistic customer attraction plan
- What the changes in search algorithms really mean for online publishers
- How to intelligently plan a content strategy that works
- Why it’s now essential that you become a “holistic” content producer
- 5 content optimization audits you need to perform
- 3 steps to implementing your systematic content plan
- How to scale your content efforts on a limited budget
Hit the flash player below to listen now:
Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
Robert: This is Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio . I’m Robert Bruce and I am here with Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Online Marketing and author of the book, Optimize: How to Attract and engage more customers by integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing.
Now Brian Clark has said he’s very glad that Lee wrote this book so that he wouldn’t have to. Copyblogger is behind Lee’s ideas here and I am hoping to get to the bottom of this very cool and very effective holistic view of attracting customers online. Lee, thanks for coming by the show. Are you ready to answer some of these questions that I’ve got about SEO, social media and content marketing?
Lee: I am happy to be here, ready to be interrogated, Robert.
Robert: Excellent. Well just kick back for just a moment, I need to do a word about our sponsor, and then we will get right back into it. This radio show is brought to you by Internet Marketing for Smart People, which if you haven’t heard is our online marketing course that we deliver straight to your email inbox.
Now this course consists of 20 highly useful emails and more if you decide to stay on. It covers everything from content marketing, to email marketing, to the basics of good copywriting, to social media strategy and much, much, more and by the way, it’s totally free.
If you want to join over 75,000 people who have signed up, just jump-start your online marketing efforts, if you want to skip a large part of your learning curve with all this stuff, if you want to learn how to use the online marketing strategies and tactics that actually work, get on the bus, sign up, it’s easy and it’s free. Just head over to Copyblogger.com, scroll down to about the middle of our homepage where you will see the headline, “Grab our free 20-part internet marketing course.” Drop your email address into the little box there, and we’ll take care of the rest.
How SEO has changed for online publishers
Robert: So let me make sure that I understand what you are getting at with your new book here, Optimize. And that is as far as I see it, the big picture with SEO is really now, a holistic picture with content, social and search being one thing. I am just wondering if you can explain this holistic concept in more detail.
Lee: There’s a lot of history to SEO. I mean even though it’s been around for 10 or 15 years at best, there has been a lot of changes. They say that the one constant with internet marketing, especially with search, is that things are going to change. You can look back. I started in the business in 1997 and I never, ever would have imagined back then that things would be in the state that they are now. There was no Google. We were in a world of Lycos, Alta Vista, Hotbot, right? It was really all about keywords and that was it.
Then Google came along and we had to bow down to the almighty link, and as things have progressed, and things got personalized, and things began involving different media types, in terms of universal search, and personalized social search and social signals, really, really growing and in many cases displacing the importance or at least augmenting the importance of standard links between pages as signals.
What it really all boils down to is the ability for a company that’s publishing information online to connect with an audience and to keep them around.
Optimize takes this sort of holistic approach and doesn’t just connect the dots of how those target customers, those customers that you are after, discover and consume and act on content, but also digs into what it is that they care about in the first place.
SEO as a tactic or discipline has been very focused on keywords. It’s been very focused on the notion of optimizing for search engines, the notion is, the better visibility, the more traffic, and what should follow are more leads and conversion and more sales. Optimize takes the approach that …look, that’s important. It is, but let’s find out what customers care about.
Let’s really identify common characteristics amongst groups of customers, let’s understand the sales cycle, and let’s actually map the information needs in terms of content, across that buying cycle and then identify search keywords, social topics, and places where those customers can be influenced to move through that journey of the sales cycle to buy, so that by the time we come to conversion, we’ve got a self-educated customer or prospect that has pulled themselves through that journey to buy and that shortens sales cycles, increases order frequency and volume, repeat orders and referrals, all kinds of good stuff.
Why it’s now essential that you become a “holistic” content producer
Robert: Would I be right in breathing kind of a sigh of relief about all of this stuff? Not that we’re talking about anything that is unscientific, not that we are talking about throwing away testing or keywords or anything that has gone before, but breathing a sigh of relief at this holistic approach, because in some sense it seems like, though not well, generally, it seems what a lot of people are already doing.
Lee: I think there is something to be said for the building blocks of marketing as having been often overlooked. People like to chase shiny objects like this whole notion of social media, social business, social this or that, without having any clear goals identified and not having a clear idea about what’s even possible if they approach things a little more holistically.
Here is an example, most people are investing in SEO from a marketing perspective because it’s all about customer acquisition, and that’s great. But companies produce lots of other types of content that doesn’t have to do with products or services being sold and they have particular audiences in mind.
At the same time, people search for many different reasons than just to buy stuff. So while the revenue opportunity is very significant and most formidable, what a lot of people are leaving in terms of money, on the table, is efficiency.
For example, you’ve got people who are already customers and they have a problem, they go to Google and they search for an answer to a problem, why wouldn’t a company optimize it’s knowledge base in FAQ content so that the customer can answer the question online, right within a click through from Google instead of having to pick up the phone and annoyingly navigating an auto attendance system to finally talk to a human being or fill out a form and who knows when they will get replied to.
Same thing with optimizing news content, so that journalists who are doing research on topics, companies and subject matter experts can actually write about a company because they were easy to find versus only relying on outbound media relations. There are lots of efficiencies and cost deflections and other business benefits that come with optimizing holistically and maybe it is blocking and tackling, but a lot of folks aren’t doing it and Optimize covers all that.
How to plan a holistic content strategy that works
Robert: Now you break your overall optimization strategy down into three major phases, which are planning, implementation and scale and we’re going to talk about those three here but let’s start with phase one. What are some of the best practices surrounding good optimization planning?
Lee: I think one of the first things to do is just to get a sense of what is possible. I just want to touch on a couple of different things so optimizing holistically is about taking a look at the totality of content and objectives for that content.
Who is the content for? We’ve got public relations content, marketing content, customer service content, we’re trying to recruit people, investor relations, right? Think about all that content and who the audience it’s intended for and make that part of your overall content plan.
The second thing that I think is important to take a look at is doing some research that’s competitive research, that’s doing audits, and SEO audits, a social audit, a link audit, and it’s doing some social media monitoring and capturing some idea about where conversation are actually happening on the social web relevant to what it is that your target audience cares about.
The other thing with planning has to do with translating some preliminary ideas about keywords and understanding market demand and rolling that all up into a firm set of hypotheses in terms of objectives.
We believe, for example, that if we optimize our marketing content and we increase traffic by “x” with these relevant keywords, our revenue could increase by “y.” Right?
At the same time we’re forecasting that if we’re able to optimize our customer service FAQ content, and we’re able to increase traffic by “x” percent then we will actually be able to improve customer service or, if you will, customer perception of us substantially or by a certain percent.
We can forecast what’s possible and that’s all part of the planning phase. Understanding the landscape you are dealing with, identifying benchmark measurements and setting up goals and metrics to put that plan in place and be able to understand how well you are doing and progressing towards your goals and having an adaptable approach to refining it as you go.
5 content optimization audits you need to perform
Robert: How does your company, Top Rank, and this is a big question, we can’t cover everything here, but can you give us an example of how Top Rank does optimizing planning?
Lee: The way we do optimization planning is that we initially identify or we execute a series of audits. We want to have a sense of what our starting point is. We want to establish some benchmarks.
A lot of companies coming into a situation where they believe they can advance their marketing effectiveness through optimization may have employed other optimization tactics in the past, either on their own or with another agency, and we need to uncover, we need to know the truth about really what our starting point is. So we are going to conduct a series of different audits, there are five actually.
We are going to do a keyword audit, so that we have some documentation on what demand there really is, what language there is, what language, or voice of the customer so to speak, from both a search keyword and a social topic standpoint.
We are also going to do a technical audit so we want to make sure that the website or websites can be crawled properly by Google Bot and MSN Bot.
We are also going to do on-page or content audit, so we want to make sure that not only does the existing content deserve search visibility, or social sharability according to the target keywords that we have established, but we also want to make sure that the storytelling that’s happening with the existing content supports the key messaging and what it is that our target audience cares about. We are also going to do an audit related to links, good old fashioned, Google-centric SEO and document where links are coming from, what the distribution of anchor text is and all that sort of thing.
The fifth type of audit has to do with a social audit. What is the social presence of the brand? What are people saying about the brand? What are competitors doing? What are people saying about the brand terms, keyword terms? What sentiment, and that sort of thing.
These audits all paint a very qualitative picture for planning and we bring that together into a strategy that goes forward and says, “Look, here is the content we need to create. Here is an editorial plan.”
This is really getting into implementation but that’s how we do optimization planning. We do that kind of research to inform us and arm us with the qualitative information that we need to most efficiently and effectively reach the customers that we are after, but at the same time, produce content that is going to keep them around.
3 steps to implementing your systematic content plan
Robert: Yes and you have perfectly, effortlessly led us into phase two, which is, of course, implementation. So specifically, you write about building an effective content plan through what you call attracting, and engaging, and inspiring. Can you explain this process for us? How can we start to build an actual content plan that works through implementation?
Lee: Sure. There is this sort of content marketing trilogy that I talk about and that is having empathy towards how your target audience discovers content, right? What are they searching on, what are they talking about on the social web.
The second thing has to do with consumption, what are their preferences for consumption whether it’s devices, smart phones, tablets or computers, as well as media format, videos, images, if it’s text, is it how-tos versus tips?
There are lots of different types of content formats and understanding what it is that will move and inspire your customers is essential.
The third thing is action, or engaging. What kind of content will actually motivate them to take the actions we want them to, like buy stuff?
Not everyone is going to be a customer, but if they are inspired by the content that you’ve created, the engagement opportunity you’ve given them, then they may refer you to others. So the oldest form of marketing is that sort of word of mouth referral and the sale that everyone can make is a social share.
The implementation phase of the book is centered around acting on the opportunity to optimize for discovery, consumption, and engagement. And we do that by first going through a customer segmentation exercise and identifying common characteristics amongst groups of customers.
To simplify this, I am going to boil it down to just two things in terms of customers segments and personas. Who is your best customer? Who is your worst customer? Because we sure as hell don’t want to optimize for our worst customers. We want to identify behavioral demographic information that we can collect from surveys, from site data, from web analytics, and conversion data that will help us paint a picture of those coming actionable characteristics about a group of customers that we can leverage for developing a content plan.
So once we understand our best and worst customers, and what their pain points are, what their goals are, what they care about, we can literally translate that into a content plan that transcends or moves across the buying cycle so, in other words, for a particular customer segment, what kinds of topics and content types and keywords are relevant for generating awareness, for generating interest, for consideration, for purchase?
To be honest, we go beyond that, we look at the entire life cycle experience and look at retention, and advocacy.
How to scale your content efforts on any budget
Robert: Phase three is scale, and this is really where the rubber meets the road for many businesses. What are the challenges of social optimization that small, medium, and large businesses face in scaling and how can they overcome those challenges? You’ve got five minutes to solve the scaling issues of businesses large and small right here, Lee.
Lee: On the planet earth? Buy Optimize! Go to OptimizeBook.com, there you go. It’s a great starting point and there is a lot of storytelling in that third phase, it gives some specific examples about different types of companies and the challenges that they face and really, there is no predictable way to say, “Well small businesses will deal with this and large businesses will deal with that.”
But what I can touch on is that with a small business I think one of the opportunities for scale is self-education. Imagine a small business owner wearing multiple hats, they don’t have a budget either and I think they would do well if they would just get some self-education about what’s possible and how these different puzzle pieces can work together.
It’s kind of like a recipe. People will use that same recipe in different ways to achieve an objective that is satisfying to them and to anyone else involved. I think it’s important that they do get some understanding about how some of these fundamentals will work in terms of search, social and content.
I didn’t talk about SEO mechanics, or social media mechanics, or link-building mechanics. All that stuff is in the implementation phase. But to scale you have to have some idea of what the hell it is that you are doing and have some processes in place.
I recommend, if nothing else, that if someone doesn’t have a lot of time for that, that they do engage in some kind of audit with a third party resource.
That’s true whether it’s a small or large business. I know with large companies, we work with small and large companies; we have one large company that is a one hundred billion dollar business. It’s a Fortune 14 company. We’ve been working with them about five years now, and believe me, working with them is very different than working with start-ups.
I think the political aspect, working with a large organization and having some identification of, “Okay if I can get PR and marketing and customer service and even HR working together, and I can help them each understand what they are going to get out of this, from this idea of optimizing their content because it’s about more than just marketing.”
If I can show them how they can reach their goals and how it will advance their reputation in the organization and that political ecosystem that exists in large companies and if I can leverage that and make it part of our process, part of our brand style guide, if you will, then I will be more successful implementing a holistic approach.
In a small business, it’s that business owner saying, “You know what? I just have to make a commitment and now let’s act on it.”
An example of how to capitalize on an opportunity
Robert: Yes, and these three phases, I want to make clear to everyone that we are just doing a broad overview of the three big sections of Lee’s book, but these three phases, they are cyclical as well. In order to scale properly, it begins with the planning and the implementation of course as we go through that it also comes back around over and over again as you make moves to serve your audience better.
Lee: That’s it exactly. It is a cyclical process of having an idea, doing homework, having an informed idea about what’s possible, making a plan, implementing it, monitoring your progress towards that plan, measuring success, and then refining based on insight from your analytics and your measurement efforts, and then coming back to planning again and adjusting.
As you go, you are going to see opportunities and I talk about, for example, that editorial plan, content marketing plan, that specifically identifies topics and types of content and media and where we are going to promote in advance, but at the same time it allows for wild cards .
Here is a practical example; I saw a notice yesterday that we are getting a ton of search traffic for a search phrase having to do with “what are the best social networks for business?” I thought, “What the heck is happening, that’s crazy?”
I look at web analytics and I am like, “Wow, this is trending up.” There is a bunch of demand for this and I haven’t written a post about it in two years. So what did I do? I made sure that I put up a survey today asking people what the best social networks are for business.
So I’ve capitalized on an opportunity that’s kind of “real time”, if you will. That’s a big part of this.
It’s about quality over quantity
Robert: That’s very different from capitalizing on an opportunity like that and what you did there is very different, we are not talking about blowing around with the wind even though you see that search term coming through in your analytics, you write about it specifically.
What you are writing is still … you push that through the lens of everything else, the bigger plan of what your company is about and the integration of everything we’re talking about here, right?
It’s through that specific lens, not just grabbing whatever is popular, you mentioned earlier we are so addicted to these shiny things. That is not what you are saying at all.
Lee: No, no. If I was talking about that, then I would be talking about national disaster and celebrity crotch shots and things like that. Bad choice of words.
Robert: Page views, man. Page views.
Lee: Wasn’t it Stalin that said that “quantity has a quality all its own”. I don’t know.
I think I’d rather go for quality, just a qualitative approach is, yes indeed, the lens through which these opportunities and situations are acted on. No doubt about it. There’s sort of a narrative or storyline that comes along with that editorial plan and being able to proactively news-jack situations is smart marketing.
Robert: Okay, man, is there anything else here that I’ve missed that you really want to communicate to businesses both large and small that are maybe struggling with this integration of SEO, social media, and content marketing?
Create a content plan to meet the needs of your customers
Lee: The thing that holds it together is customers and content. Folks are sitting there going, “You know, marketing is handling SEO, public relations is handling social media, and then we have copywriters and stuff.”
Really what ties it together is having a clear picture of who your customers are and understanding that it’s a work in progress and at the same time, creating a content plan to meet the needs of those customers.
If you give customers what they want in terms of information, then they will give you want you want in terms of buying and referring you to other people.
So I think that’s really the core and central message of the book and what so many people like Brian, and Chris Brogan, and Scott Monty, and John Jantsch, and Ann Handley, and Joe Pulizzi, and people like that have all endorsed the book because of having that common understanding that the customer is key and it’s a missing piece in a lot of SEO discussions that are out there today. Folks are still hanging themselves up on Panda, Penguin, and keywords and aren’t really thinking about what’s best for the customer.
Robert: Alright this has been Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio. Thanks for listening, everybody. If this show has done something to you or for you, please head over to iTunes when you can and drop a rating or a comment there. We really appreciate it when you guys do that for us and it helps the show out a lot.
Lee, where can people find you and your book out there on the internet?
Lee: Well you can go to OptimizeBook.com and there we are publishing chapter previews. We’ll be uploading videos in each chapter, there is a downloadable spreadsheet both for a keyword glossary and editorial plan that you can get there so there is a lot of stuff that we are publishing there that is of use.
I have also been publishing a blog for eight years and you can find that by going to Google and typing in “online marketing” and after that darn Wikipedia you should find TopRankBlog.com and there you will find over a million words that I’ve written over the last eight years on specifically search. And I didn’t call it content marketing three or four years ago, I called it editorial marketing but about these sorts of things with lots of tips, and interviews, and live blogs, and polls, and all kinds of good stuff.
Robert: Great, I will link both of those in the show notes. Mr. Odden, you are a pro and in writing this comprehensive book you have saved my boss much aggravation and, in turn, saved me from much of the same, thank you!
Lee: I appreciate that, thanks!
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