Much as I write and speak and champion the notion that every business needs to tell its story as a cornerstone of its marketing, I'm also not myopic in the view that great content alone is enough to drive your business forward.
Just as a pitcher does not a baseball team make, or one chapter does not a book make, or one note a song, or one link a chain, or one chickpea a hummus dip, or just one lick to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop... well, you get the point. There are several key elements to a successful content marketing strategy. And as Lee Odden defines it, there are precisely three: content, search engine optimization, and social media.
Between you and me, I couldn't agree more. I think of content, search, and social as the Three Musketeers of Marketing. In Lee's new book, Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing, he tells you how to get the three to work together to benefit your business.
Lee comes out of the search marketing world, and he knows more than almost anyone about the intersection of search and marketing. More broadly, Lee has been recognized for his expertise with enterprise social media, SEO, and content marketing strategies by The Economist and Advertising Age, and he presents regularly at marketing and public relations conferences worldwide, including MarketingProfs events. He has been an instructor several times in our online training programs produced through MarketingProfs University. Lee's TopRankBlog.com is crazy-popular; it has over 46,000 subscribers and 11,000 Facebook Fans.
On a personal level, Lee has long been my own go-to expert on anything search- or SEO-related. He's also a friend and one of my favorite people to follow on my favorite social media platform, Instagram.
Lee and I sat down recently to talk over his new book and the ideas therein.
Tell me why you wrote this book.
A publisher approached me several years ago, and I've always felt that, for me, writing a book would be pointless. I mean, most authors are boring, right? (ducks)
Actually, sharing content and engaging with our community through Online Marketing Blog that has a network size of an agency 10 times our size served my writing and lead-generation needs just fine. However, at the time that Wiley approached me, I felt like the process of writing a book would be a useful experience both for me personally, as well as something we could use with our agency to communicate TopRank's approach to customer acquisition and retention.
What problem does the book solve?
While the name is "Optimize," it is by no means just a book about SEO. The search and social web is changing faster than ever, and I think it's time the conversation about what optimization means should change. "To optimize" is to "make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource)." I think that definition bodes well to the challenges we face with Internet marketing today and in the future: how to optimize our ability to be more intentional about attracting and engaging customers with content, regardless of search or social technologies of the day.
Optimize communicates a customer-centric framework that guides the reader through three phases---planning, implementation, and scale---that can be approached in a linear process for developing strategy, putting tactics in action, and implementing what is learned to other areas of the organization. It's also a useful reference guide for those who are well-developed in one area---like social media marketing---but not SEO or content marketing.
There's an emphasis on marketing in Optimize, but there's also specific insight and guidance for public relations, customer service, and other publishers of content in an organization. Whatever can be searched can be optimized. Whatever can be found can be shared. This book is a guide for both, with content and customers at the center.
The idea of SEO seems embedded into business processes to a greater degree---at least, it's been embraced more fully than content and social media as a business lever. Yet you see the three working together---as three legs of a stool. Can you explain that more fully?
One of the biggest problems with SEO has to do with companies approaching it more as a project versus a process. They see it as an event, not a way of approaching Internet marketing on an ongoing basis.
The approach we use in our consulting and what I use in the book focuses on understanding how customers discover, consume, and share information. Content is the vehicle for attracting and engaging potential customers in ways that inspire them to buy, share, and refer. I see social media and SEO as excellent means for facilitating all three aspects of how prospects interact with content on their journey from awareness to purchase.
When you look at the buying cycle or even customer life cycle, content is what feeds the customer experience. Imagine someone looking for a way to take better pictures with her iPhone, and she finds an article through search (or is referred to it via her social network) giving tips. That article is published by a company that makes an array of photo apps for iPhones. She's now aware of that company.
A mix of other media optimized for search and social sharing might include demos, video, a photo editor simulator, and other features that can move this prospect to consideration and, with pricing or offers, to purchase. An email newsletter offering further usage tips and a social site that connects other users of the apps to share tips with each other (and photos, too) can inspire retention and advocacy. Content that is easily discoverable via search or shared through social channels can attract customers at any point in the journey from awareness to evangelism.
Optimizing and socializing content across the buying cycle with customer goals in mind is the essence of the integrated approach that Optimize discusses.
So the three need to work together---but in most organizations, they aren't organized as such. You talk about the importance of breaking down those silos, but that's a difficult task. Any advice for a CMO or owner on how to make that happen?
Silos in organizations often exist because of how goals are managed. Look at departments. Public Relations creates awareness. Marketing creates demand and leads. Customer Service retains customers. When [we shift] the focus from just meeting organizational goals to also include understanding customer goals, the picture of an integrated approach to content, SEO, and social becomes clearer.
For example, making it clear how content can better reach the customers it's intended for through quality search engine optimization and social sharing should motivate content producers to open up to keywords and social network participation. The same goes for those in SEO and helping them see the power of customer-centric content and storytelling as ways to produce content that more people will link to, share, and respond to through conversions. Social media practitioners can use keyword glossaries that include search phrases and popular social topics relevant to the organization and customer goals to be more effective at engagement.
Shared goals, mutual understanding about how search, social and content can work together, and a good method of reporting integrated KPIs and business outcomes is the formula for effective silo-busting.
Do you think companies understand that they need to be publishing content as a cornerstone of their marketing?
Despite surveys reporting that more companies are investing in content, I don't know if we're there yet when it comes to saying they see content as a cornerstone of their marketing. Certainly, that is the way marketing is trending, but I think we have a ways to go.
What's their biggest pain as "publishers"?
For companies that have discovered the power and value of publishing content, I think the most common pain is being able to sustain a meaningful publishing schedule over a long period of time. I like to say, if a company doesn't have something interesting to say, they have bigger problems to solve than figuring out how content publishing will fit in their marketing mix. Social engagement, data from analytics and monitoring, and being well-connected internally should give a company an infinite number of meaningful things to say. They just need the right state of mind to see it. An Optimized state of mind!
What do most businesses miss entirely in their content creation efforts?
Customer focus is missing from a lot of business content. Corporate ego-centrism is still rampant with a lot of content being published that is "all about the company" and not thinking about the needs, pain points, or goals of the audiences the content is intended for.
Let's say you're the CMO of a brand-new startup. Who would be your first hire?
A CMO for a startup? They must be well-funded! : )
Depending on the approach to growing the business, I would want a writer with social strategy and community management skills. We could blog, write contributed articles in industry media, publish guest blog posts, and start growing and engaging our social networks.
You talk about the "big five" of social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Google+). Social media platforms change and evolve so fast... Would you add any others to this mix, if you were writing the book today?
Sure, Pinterest and Instagram are interesting, but the point of the book isn't specific applications. That's why I didn't include a lot of screen shots of Facebook, Google+, etc. It's a framework for working (optimizing) with any kind of social platform where content can be optimized and shared. The goal with Optimize was to "teach readers to fish" so they can better appreciate the smart advice we have to give at TopRank. Or at least begin smart programs on their own versus being bogged down with specific advice for specific social platforms that might---heck, will!---change significantly by the time the ink dries.
I love the part toward the end where you give a sample process and blueprint for broader adoption of content, social, and SEO---as suited to a small, midsized, and then enterprise organization. I know they all have unique challenges, but which size organization do you think resists the idea of content and social media the most?
I love that you love that part of the book, Ann. As a consultant, I'm obligated at some point in this interview to say, "It depends." There, that's out of the way.
I think organizations that are limited on resources and are confined with rigid structure are most resistant to content and social media. That could be a company of any size.
I know you had to edit the book ruthlessly. I remember your social status updates when you were in the midst of editing! What did you leave out of the book that you wish you could have included?
I thought about a pop-up book---but with so many graphs, someone would poke an eye out, and who needs that kind of lawsuit? I wanted to include a lot more interviews, examples, and some research, but overall, I'm happy with how the book turned out in the time we had. There's been so much great feedback already!
What was your favorite part of writing the book? What was your least favorite part?
Most: Learning a LOT more about the intersection of search, social, and content. And being done. What I'm really enjoying now is experiencing an amazing amount of outreach by others to help me promote the book and the feedback from those that have bought and read it. It's incredibly satisfying to have created something people find so useful.
Least: Writing a book in 2 1/2 months. I don't recommend it.
Want to win a copy of Lee's new book, Optimize? Leave a comment below if you do, and I'll pick one lucky winner at random!
Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.