Interview with Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking on many panels with the wonderful Mr. O. Not only is Lee a nice guy, he is incredibly smart in the ways of content marketing. I’m very honored to feature his guest interview today. — Heather

So how did you come to be the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing?

After working in numerous roles from late 1996 to 2001 for a web development and marketing agency, I left as VP of Online Marketing and joined with Susan Misukanis to launch a Marketing PR consultancy. I started TopRank as a product for the agency and it grew to become the company itself. Somewhere in that transition I became the CEO.

A good portion of our client base are B2B companies like StrongMail, PRWeb ,and McKesson, so the need for content to educate during longer sales cycles has always been an integral part of our SEO and Social Media consulting practice. Until a few years ago we called it “Editorial Marketing” until Joe Pulizzi helped popularized the phrase “Content Marketing.”

From your perspective, how has content marketing evolved over the past few years?

The biggest change I’ve seen is that more people are jumping on the bandwagon of creating content with the multitude of tools and publishing platforms available. While the value of great content to engage and persuade customers has always been important, I guess it took a while for a lot of online marketers to catch on.  Now content is an essential piece of any robust online marketing effort whether it’s B2C or B2B.

As more companies get into the “brand as publisher” business of creating content, I think many will burn out and turn to content curation as a way to provide value. Many of them are doing that now but will need to be aware of how Google deals with short form and duplicate information if they expect search to be a significant driver of traffic.

What would you say are the most important influences affecting content marketing today?

As far as the industry goes, there are rich information sources like Content Marketing Institute and the growing number of blogs (like this one) rich with information about marketing with content. My opinion is that anyone in a position to create content also has influence over how the organization plans, produces and promotes content.

When it comes to influences on the practice of content marketing, I’d say it’s the ability for companies to understand the people they’re trying to connect with, a.k.a. “audience,” “customers” or “community,” and then putting that understanding into an accountable content strategy. There is an accelerating quantity of content and digital information created every day and content marketing will evolve as changes in how people discover, consume and share information occurs.

What are your thoughts about the relative influences/intersections of Social Media and SEO on content marketing?

In the customer lifecycle from prospect to evangelist and everywhere in between, the information a brand publishes and exchanges with the community involves (or can involve) search-optimized content for discovery, social media for discovery, as well as content creation and sharing.  As consumers change how they find, interact and engage with digital information, marketers must anticipate what that means for their own messaging and methods of engagement.

Imagine the difference between these two scenarios:

Let’s go back a few years. Customer A needs a blender. She searches Google, is presented with results showing retail stores that sell blenders and visits several until she sees one she likes and buys it. A little simplified, but you get what I mean.

Fast forward to today. Customer B also needs a blender. She Tweets, “I need a new blender that can handle my monster smoothies, any recommendations?” (Yes, that’s under 140 characters). She might also message a few friends on Facebook asking a similar question. Some recommendations come her way and she “Googles” the brand / model names.  While she’s on the retailer website(s) there are product reviews, and some have articles and downloadable recipe books. Another links to a food/cooking community. After careful consideration she decides to buy one. Then she posts a thank you to her Facebook friends for helping pick out a new blender with photos of her first smoothie.

In the first example, our content is pretty much focused on the web pages that show up in search results. In the second example, content takes many forms including web pages, Tweets, reviews, social networks, and images. Maybe even video if margaritas we involved. Search and social increasingly drive discovery of new content. Social media facilitates sharing of that content.

The takeaway is that knowing consumer preferences should lead to making content findable, whether it’s search or social (or both), and shareable. That’s the intersection of Social SEO and Content in my book.

There’s been much discussion about content curation and creation — where are your thoughts on that?

Actually, I think it really depends on the strategy and resources of the business.  For many companies, original content is difficult and out of budget. In their search for other options, a strategy focused on becoming a single source of news and information around niche topics might be implemented through content curation. There are tools like Curata (a client) or Curation Station that provide companies with the ability to create these types of news destinations focused on specific topics. There are other tools like Amplify, Storify, and Eqentia that do similar things.

I’m a bit biased towards a mix of creation and curation. Most importantly, I think creating a content marketing strategy that is focused on providing customers with useful information and resources in a way that inspires them to buy and refer my clients’ products/services is the most effective.  In some cases that means 70% greenfield content and in others it might be 25%, with the balanced focused on being a filter of useful industry information for the community.

If there were any words of advice for the new content marketer, what would you tell him/her?

Turn around, run! Don’t look back. No, really: Study great sites like copyblogger.com and visit CMI (mentioned above) for great tips and case studies on how companies are implementing and innovating with content. Network with other content marketers and find a way to experiment. Build a base of knowledge and get wicked smart with analytics so you can demonstrate the impact of your awesome-sauce work.

Lee Odden, Founder and CEO of TopRank® Online Marketing, regularly shares his content marketing expertise at TopRank Blog.

Since 2001 TopRank® has helped Fortune 500 companies (and a few Fortune 20’s as well) increase traffic, sales and brand visibility online through a holistic internet marketing approach.

 

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