Optimize This! 10 Q&As on Customer-Centric Marketing with Lee Odden

I interviewed veteran Internet Marketer Lee Odden for his new book, Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing. Lee and I discussed how his book is designed to give readers a practical approach to integrating search and social media optimization with content marketing to boost relevance, visibility, and customer engagement.

Optimize: To make the most effective, perfect, or best use of a situation, opportunity, or resource.

We live in an age of information overload, rapid technology growth and constantly evolving consumer behaviors.  Marketers need to understand the roots of these changes and how to apply the principles of optimization for a more customer centric content and social media marketing strategy.” – Lee Odden

For those who already familiar with Lee, he’s CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, specializing in Internet marketing consulting, training, and implementation services, including for large-scale enterprises (like Hewlett-Packard) and innovative startups. He’s considered one of the industry’s top thought leaders in search marketer and is a rather popular speaker on the speaking circuit, including his most recent talk at Search Engine Strategies New York earlier this year. I’ve been familiar with his work since we both got started in the industry circa 1997, and learned that this was his first stab at doing a book. So naturally I thought that would be a good place to start the questions

Why did you feel the need to write this book?

Even in our modern era of communications, having a tangible thing like a book is still a very useful asset and way to build credibility. I’m already seeing that happen with this book (even though advance copies of the book just came out this week).

I had originally been approached a number of years ago about writing a book. For a long time I always wondered, why would I want to do that? After all, I already have a blog with a lot of visitors and subscribers. Then a very smart and persuasive acquisition editor came along and worked with me for about a year off-and-on. I also had noticed that some friends of mine who had written books were getting some exposure and they were doing things that seemed interesting to me.

But the biggest reason (and there isn’t just one answer) was that I wanted to go through the experience. A number of authors I knew talked with me about how focused doing a book make them just with gathering and writing their research, and I wanted to go through that experience. It was my expectation that I would come out of it a lot smarter, having gone through the process.

It’s funny because I hadn’t actually started out wanting to write a book, so when someone convinced me, I had to think to myself, what was I going to write about?

How is your book unique?

Well, I noticed that a lot of other books are very tactical. A lot of them would go after just SEO, or just content marketing, or just social. With the exception of one I found that was self-published, there weren’t any other books I found that integrated the three. And mostly these books were covering them jsut from a tactical approach, rather than getting deeper into things like mission and strategy, or even purpose (and certainly not enough with understanding customers and the customer life cycle, which is integral to doing business.)

Why are you the person to write this book?

I noticed a lot in my own maturity in the industry over the past 15 years. I started back in 1997 doing SEO-related things; and what I was seeing working for companies was a lot more customer-centric activities, and not so much tactical-SEO, technical-SEO, or whatever. Now I think technical SEO will always have its place, of course, as long as there’s a platform; and there will always be a need for the “super users” of the platform. But I found what I could bring that was unique the table was my background in public relations, my experience in direct marketing, and my experience with online and search engine marketing together; and talk about, holistically, how content can serve as a vehicle to attract, engage, and inspire customers in how this doesn’t have to be an “either-or.” It doesn’t have to be deciding between content or SEO, or social or SEO — that’s bullshit! It’s the combination that serves almost as a force-multiplier, at least in my mind.

So based on my observations and experiences, and doing my own marketing for cliens, I thought that there was an interesting story to tell in bringing those things together. That’s what I think makes this book stand out.

You place a strong emphasis on your content/SEO/social trifecta to an underlying theme of customer care, and being customer-centric. Is this something that isn’t stressed enough with SEO, Social, and Content strategists today — compared to how much focus they give to reach and awareness?

Absolutely, and thank you for drawing attention to that. One of the key things in the book is the notion of optimizing not only across the buying cycle, but also over a customer’s entire lifecycle. A big turning point for me was when Forrester Research approached me a couple years ago to work with them on a white paper about this notion about customer lifecycle marketing, which I did again for them about 6 months ago.

(Watch this video of Forrester Research’s VP and Principal Analyst explain the customer life-cycle, business strategy, which he describes as switching from a sales-focused model to a relationship-focused model.)

In terms of SEO, people are searching for more reasons just to buy something, they’re searching for answers to problems with the things they already bought, they’re searching for jobs, they’re people are searching for information on a company… Google really is the doorway to discovery, and social is the doorway to engagement. So I think SEO is important for the top of the customer funnel, but also there’s a thing on the paid search end about optimizing where the customer is further on in the buying cycle. The problem is, you don’t see that so much in SEO.

But beyond that is across the customer lifecycle, which includes its own relationship-focused model from creating awareness, all the way to advocacy. My book talks about from the perspective that there are companies that are publishing content not just for the purpose of customer acquisition, but also content that is to help people engage, build communities, to help them get more out of the products and services that they’ve already bought; and also to retain them and help them actually be an advocate or evangelist for the brand.

You see, what’s missing with both search and social marketing that I want to convey is, that there needs to be more content related to all of those things throughout the customer lifecycle. Content you can publish can be optimized, and what you can search for can be optimized as well. So this whole notion of the customer-lifecycle, sort of the whole totality of optimization, means any kind of content, whether it’s to build top-funnel awareness of a product, to help out a regular customer that’s looking for resources with which they can better advocate for a brand – those are all “socialized” and “optimize” opportunities.

Do you find that certain “pitch” approaches with your customer-centric optimization strategy are better for persuading the decision makers, who may be more data-driven and have to look at the bottom line with business outcomes that produce, in their mind, tangible results?

Grant Crowell

Grant Crowell

Grant Crowell is a self-described "videologist" covering the latest and time-tested best practices with online video since 2005, and a freelance writer in the search marketing space since 1996. Grant's areas of expertise include video SEO, social video marketing, website and web video usability, and e-commerce.

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5 thoughts on “Optimize This! 10 Q&As on Customer-Centric Marketing with Lee Odden

  1. What do you see as the big misconception or oversight with “optimization” practices in business today – be it SEO, Social, Content Marketing – all of the above?

    That would be placing the cart ahead of the horse. In other words, the big mistake that continues to be perpetuated often is having the “what” before the asking the “why” and (for) “who?

    Great mind!
    Good luck

  2. Compelling post Grant – loved the content here. Especially the point of optimizing for customers and experiences rather than just for search engines. Gary Vanyerchuk’s book The Thank You Economy says a lot of the same things. With the world and technology changing so quickly it is critical for businesses to be able to adapt. Enjoyed this article

  3. Grant,

    Thanks for the great interview! Marketo is a customer of Lee and TopRank, and we’re excited to see his book come out. We’re hosting a tweetchat with him on Wednesday, April 25th, if any of your readers have additional questions they want to ask him. Here are the details:


    Thanks again!

    Seth Resler
    Program Manager, Content Marketing