For quite a long time I have been reading [Lee Odden's blog](http://www.toprankblog.com/) and have had the privilege to meet Lee in person at a few conferences. Lee has been in the industry for 9 years and he has a unique approach on PR and SEO. Because of this I asked him a few questions through an email interview. Here are the questions and his answers.
- You have a successful SEO company, what are some things that helped you become successful?
Focus is the one of the most important things. We also have a “mantra” that guides our training of new employees, client interaction and processes: Client, company, self. Everything we do is focused on making our clients successful. Being able to instill confidence in companies looking for a trusted resource to provide search and online marketing/PR services has been instrumental. Recruiting, training and empowering our employees with the right knowledge is also critical for growth and client/employee retention.
One of the comments we most often get from prospective clients is that we approach search marketing from more of a holistic marketing perspective, rather than focusing on it as a single tactic. Being able to understand client objectives and how that translates into a search marketing strategy has been very helpful in growing our reputation and word of mouth referrals.
For our marketing and knowledge development, networking with others in the industry has been very productive. Both I and our company have benefited greatly through the generosity of some of the most respected people in search marketing in terms of sharing information, introductions, referrals and partnering.
In the end, the same business principles apply with a SEO business as they do with any business.
- Your firm offers both PR and SEO solutions, how do you see them fitting together?
Public relations and search engine optimization relate to each other in the way that advertising and pay per click are related. PR and SEO are based mostly on editorial credibility and relevance, not a direct payment for exposure. Whether our PR firm is providing services to an offline public and media relations client or we’re executing a TopRank SEO project, some of the processes are very similar.
One of the important crossover points with PR and SEO is keyword messaging. We strive to educate our clients to think about keywords from a strategic perspective and to incorporate keyword messaging across all corporate communications, especially anything electronic. This includes web pages, PDF docs, press releases, newsletters, advertising and any other document that might be put on the web.
Consistency of keyword messaging helps build brand and it also supports pull marketing efforts driven by advertising and PR. For example, when we provide a client executive with media training, i.e., coach them how to talk to reporters, we encourage them to use the keywords their website, press releases, blogs and social media have been optimized for. When the article is published (print or online) or an advertisement is viewed, we find that people often remember the topic of the article or concept of the ad and then Google it. These are the topics and keywords our client should be ranked well on. As a result, the prospects “pull” themselves to the client web site as a more qualified lead than a random search query.
- With your busy schedule how do you still manage to be a good SEO when you are always busy speaking, blogging, writing articles, etc?
Who needs sleep?
Actually, speaking and blogging is the only marketing we do outside of SEO for our own sites and blogs. This Fall/Winter I’ll be a bit busier than normal with speaking, but it’s not always that way. I don’t write as many articles anymore due to time constraints and have had to pass up on some fantastic opportunities because of that.
As far as being a good SEO, the education is never-ending. I am involved with training our staff internally and the project/account managers responsible for managing SEO implementation so I get information on the effect of tactics firsthand.
I am also very interested and passionate about search engine optimization. It’s not just a business for me; it’s something I really enjoy. If you like the idea that things will change often, an environment that is often unpredictable, smart competition and a requirement to learn new things every day, being both technical and creative, then SEO is for you. These are things I enjoy about the search marketing business so I make time to do the things that are important, like this interview, and not doing things that aren’t, like brain-dump meetings with interactive and PR agencies that want to take knowledge and offer nothing in return.
- You have been blogging for quite a while now, do you have any tips you would like to share?
The most useful tips I could give are to have a good idea of your end objective and target audience. Start with a very focused topic and become an authority on it. Then branch out into other areas.
Even though knowing the audience is important, stay focused on what’s interesting to you and don’t worry too much about posting on the “latest thing” just because others are talking about it. I pass on a lot of major search engine news because of this.
Throw in personal information from time to time (I am not good at that) and blog ahead. I keep 15-20 stories “in development” at any one time. That makes it a lot easier to put out quality posts more often without taking up too much time in one sitting.
Reach out to other bloggers and be active in the community/industry. Networking online and in the real world is the single best source of new ideas and topics for blogging that I can think of.
As far as marketing your blog, here are 25 tips that have been useful for us.
- Lately you have been blogging about social media optimization, where do you see it going?
With the increasing social and sharing nature of the web, being able to make social media more effective at reaching and influencing your target audience is an opportunity. However, it’s no different a tactic than optimizing other communications for better performance.
Making web sites and web pages easier to share through social bookmarks or making blogs easier to subscribe to are not going to make them successful, but they are tactics that will assist in promotion with a cumulative effect over time.
Just about any communication process can be “optimized” whether its web pages, blog posts, email promotions and event direct mail. If you can tweak something, deploy it, then get feedback, refine and repeat, that’s optimizing in my book. But it’s also fundamental marketing.
Social media optimization is just another quill in the quiver of marketing tools. It happens to be one that is getting a bit of the spotlight right now with the short term success some search marketers have had with link baiting and the recent co-marketing deals and acquisitions (Google/YouTube). Like any marketing tactic, there is an appropriate time and place for SMO/SMM.
The key is not to jump on the bandwagon and put all your marketing eggs in one basket with any one tactic. Social media is important enough now to be treated as a channel like web sites, blogs or email, but it will evolve and change. The role of marketers is to plan, deploy, monitor and refine like they would any other marketing tactic.
- You are one of the top SEOs in the business and a lot of people look up to you. Is there anyone that you look up to?
Wow, that’s a bold statement Neil, thank you for saying that. (Note to readers, I did not pay or convince Neil to say that :) ) There are SO many more talented and articulate SEOs out there than myself. I am just a marketer helping companies grow their businesses.
I look up to a LOT of people actually. Some people who are very well known and doing the speaking/blogging/article thing and many that are in the trenches innovating and making things really happen. I am reluctant to list names because with my sad memory I’ll leave someone out. But rest assured there are a lot of them.
- In the past 9 years you have helped companies with their online marketing strategies and have seen the growth of search engines. What do you think is in-store for the future of search?
My opinion is that search marketing is becoming much more of a creative discipline than a technical one. That’s one of the reasons we’ve taken to marketing with social media so much the past year.
I do believe that an increasing number of niche communities, networks and vertical search applications will become excellent marketing opportunities in direct competition with traditional search engines.
SEO in its infancy grew out of IT departments tasked with editing HTML and placing keywords in tags and submitting. Now it is more often the marketing departments that are driving search projects. I think as SEO matures, it will gain more respect and marketing dollars.
As search engines become more sophisticated at organizing the immense amounts of content added to the web every day, I think it is the creative marketers and strategies that will stand out. However, there will always be a technical aspect to search marketing. SEO will never be 100% obsolete.