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Technology & InternetDebunking SEO: Lee Odden
What are the most effective SEO and marketing tactics? How does content marketing relate to SEO? What does the future of optimization look like? An exclusive interview with renowned marketer, editor and author, Lee Odden.
Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, editor at MarketingBlog.com and author of the new book, Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing. He's been cited in the New York Times, Forbes, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal for his internet marketing and PR expertise and writes a Social Media Marketing column for ClickZ. Lee has worked with hundreds of companies developing strategic search, social and content marketing programs and speaks internationally on the convergence of internet marketing, PR and new media.
When where you first introduced to the concept of SEO? What was your first experience with its implementation?
LO: In 1997, I started working with a web marketing company that offered template websites to small businesses. I learned some basic web development myself and began selling custom websites. Those business website customers wanted to know how to attract more visitors to their new website and a co-worker suggested I learn about something called SEO.
Those were the days of Yahoo! Directory, Excite, Lycos, HotBot, Alta Vista and later, paid inclusion to Inktomi. SEO tactics at the time focused on adding keywords to web pages, title tags, meta and description tags. We created landing pages for each major search engine, modifying content and page formats to increase the chances of ranking on specific keywords for specific search engines. Submitting (and re-submitting) web sites to directories and getting them included on “What’s New” review lists attracted traffic and buyers.
Google came on the scene and SEO focused a lot more on links. I almost stopped trying random tactics being promoted on SEO forums and other online communities and focused more on what I could learn from my own testing, direct observation and networking with other SEOs.
Many, many changes have occurred since then, ranging from the Google Florida update in 2003 to the growing popularity of blogs, social media and content today.
How did you implore SEO techniques when you began the TopRankBlog in 2003?
LO: I began blogging as a way to assemble useful resources for our team and for clients. The SEO tactics used at that time started to focus a lot more on content. Each new web page could serve as “another hook in the water” to attract links and a presence in search results.
In 2003, a lot of SEOs were still using various shortcuts to gain better search engine placement. Unfortunately, with the rise of blogging and SEOs seeking to become well known, as soon as a new tactic would be discovered it would be promoted publicly by a SEO blogger seeking attention. Such tactics would be noticed by search engines and resolved.
In time, I found it to be a risk and waste of time to continuously chase tricks and algorithmic loopholes. I didn’t want to waste time and money on things that could be discounted or negatively impact clients in the future.
My approach to SEO from a public relations, content and customer perspective allowed me to provide clients with SEO advice that withstood major Google algorithm changes or new processes like Panda and Penguin aimed at filtering out low quality and spammy sites.
As an example, we never purchased links because we wanted to earn them through online PR efforts risk free vs. paying someone a rental fee. Link buying was unattractive to me because of the economics of it and possible risk, not because Google had a policy about it.
My perspective towards SEO today is as part of an integrated online marketing approach that focuses on what it will take to attract new customers to client content wherever they’re looking during the sales cycle.
Which SEO tactics do you currently find most helpful? Do you emphasize internal or external optimization?
LO: I view SEO as an approach that continuously refines the strategy and tactics used to connect customers with brand content needed to buy. We use optimization best practices with any kind of digital content or media published online. My attitude is: if something can be searched, it can be optimized for better performance.
We also optimize for target customer preferences that are synthesized into topics and keywords vs. just optimizing for keywords by themselves. A customer centric approach helps us stay focused on what’s important: attracting and engaging buyers, not just rankings and organic referral traffic.
We don’t really isolate SEO tactics but rather add SEO best practices to content marketing, public relations and web development. Up front, we find audits to be very helpful that research both on and off page SEO.
In my book, Optimize, I provide details on 5 different audits: Technical SEO Audit, Keyword Audit, Content Audit, Social Media Audit and Link Footprint Audit. The information from these audits provides a benchmark against best practices with recommendations on how to close the gap and improve. Optimization is then a continuous cycle of implementation, measurement and refinement vs. a single event.
How has SEO changed with Google’s Panda and Penguin updates?
LO: Essentially, Panda focuses on signals that represent better quality content and Penguin filters out sites using potentially spammy tactics. I think those updates have inspired a lot of SEO practitioners to start looking at content and SEO differently.
Initially, a lot of SEO related blogs started promoting the need for more content and then better quality content. I think a lot more SEOs are doing that. However, great SEOs have been content focused for years – long before Panda.
Content marketing isn’t just about adding more content; it’s about creating information for a target audience that has a particular purpose and intended outcome. Content drives awareness but also social interaction, customer engagement and sales.
The recent Google efforts at combating on and off page SEO tactics have resulted in some interesting situations. For example, SEO services that are now charging to get “bad neighborhood” links removed seems amazing to me when it wasn’t that long ago that buying links was the focus.
With our agency at TopRank Online Marketing, we’re still using online PR, content and blogger relation tactics to win media placements and links that come from well-promoted, relevant content that people like and want to share.
Is there a rise in content marketing? Is content marketing a product of Google’s current SEO policies and emphasis on “good” content?
LO: SEOs are writing about and implementing content marketing tactics, but long before the Panda or Penguin updates, marketers were creating digital content and media for the purpose of marketing to customers.
From the modern TV soap operas like the Young and the Restless funded by Proctor & Gamble to print publications like American Express’s Food & Wine Magazine, brands have been publishing content as part of their marketing efforts for over 50 years. Today’s online versions of brand content marketing range from General Mills’ Tablespoon to LifeTime Fitness’s Experience Life. The fact that SEOs are getting into the game now might seem like content marketing is on the rise, but when you view the world outside of just SEO, content marketing has been rising for a very, very long time.
How important are SEO tactics for present day marketers? Which tactics?
LO: To the extent that search is expected to drive traffic to a marketing asset, companies should use search engine optimization accordingly. SEO tactics vary according to the website, topics and competitive landscape.
If a 10 year old website with 10,000 pages, lots of online press and blog coverage and an active community is having difficulty achieving top search results because the Content Management System doesn’t allow title tag edits and publishes 2 versions of every web page (HTML & Printer Friendly), then the solution is pretty straightforward.
A startup company with a new website, very little budget or content is an entirely different situation and requires a different set of SEO tactics and timeframe.
Modern day marketers should focus on understanding their customers, what topics are relevant to guide sales and leverage keyword research into an editorial plan and social media engagement program. Remove any technical barriers to search engines crawling and indexing a site efficiently and promote content to attract links and social shares. Do that, on an ongoing basis, and most sites will do fine in their category. I detail how to do this specifically in Optimize.
Given each company/product/marketing team is unique, after an SEO strategy is implemented - when should you generally start to see results?
LO: We’ve had mature websites tweaked with low hanging fruit SEO tactics that started to see increases in targeted organic search traffic in a few months. Other sites like the startup company I mention above with no history, little content or links is going to take a lot longer. SEO isn’t always the answer, so a responsible marketer will implement the right tactics for the situation.
Are there differences in strategy when using SEO for B2B and B2C?
LO: Yes. Optimize for your customers and how they buy. If I need to buy a new computer mouse right now, I can start and finish in minutes. If I need to buy 100 or 1,000 of them, it might require a bit more research and a more involved process. Find out what information the customer needs to buy and then make it. And optimize and socialize it so the information is easy to find and share. That approach isn’t just relevant for B2C vs. B2B, it’s relevant for any kind of market distinction.
What do you think is the most efficient and effective way to have your content found online?
LO: Go wherever customers are looking. For one segment of customers it might be search engines. For another it might be social or email. It could be on a tablet, mobile or computer. The content might be text, image, audio or video.
More practically, the ideal is a combination of places on and offline that lead someone from awareness to interest to consideration to purchase – all based on the target audience behaviors for discovering, consuming and acting on information. The key to answering the question is to understand who your target audience is.
How do you see SEO evolving in the next 10 years?
LO: Search won’t be anything like it is today in 5 years. 10 years is a lifetime away.
Still hungry for SEO insight? Read the interview with young, marketing influencer, Lisa Barone.