Lee Odden on Social, SEO, Evolution & Training

lee-odden-picture@LeeOdden is a consensus thought leader-SEO Agency owner focused on the stunning convergence of PR, social media and SEO. Business, agency, fellow speaker, conference organizer or client–these answers regarding search, social, evolution and agency training are are recommended reading.

Read back through TopRanks’s respected blog. It’s clear Lee Odden saw this future on the horizon…about 3 years ago. Gracious and brainy, he’s an approachable SEM industry personality, a fixture on the national search marketing conference scene and (for the most part) unaffected. 🙂

So far as we’re concerned, Lee’s one of the early SEOs who wrote the book on corporate use of feeds, inventoried digital assets, blog powered online media rooms, truly valuable content, empowering communities and other SMO cornerstones.

As an early setup for AIMCLEAR Blog’s  coverage of SES San Jose 2009, I pinged him for the  interview we’d been discussing for about a year. Selfishly I asked questions that I personally wanted answered, out of curiosity for how Lee thinks about things and runs TopRank.

Please describe your vision of the  intersection of SEO and social media and what successful holistic integration looks like to you?
On one end of the spectrum, there are significant efforts in the social media space that are focused on branding, relationship building and influence. The community building efforts in these situations provide brands with opportunities to listen, interact and market on a one to one level with customers. A byproduct of these interactions is content in the form of text, video, images and sometimes audio.

Conversely, there are also many direct efforts to leverage the distribution, reach and tendency of social content publishers to link.  Promoting content to drive traffic and links is often the primary focus. Marketers analyze the mechanical aspects of the social web such as content types and formats as well as sharing preferences, best time of day to promote, influencers aka “power users” in order to maximize outcomes from content promotion efforts.

The intersection of opportunity for SEO and social media lies in a sort of middle ground that involves SEO keyword, linking and technical insight into social applications. Search optimized content can extend distribution and reach of social web content, sites and networks via search channels. This, at the same time as building community that delivers value in the long run.

As an example, instead of corporate blogs focusing solely on “building thought leadership” for PR objectives by attracting ancillary social traffic, a keyword optimized blog can attract journalists, reporters and bloggers that are researching stories or looking for subject matter experts via search.  In the last 30 days or so, TopRank has had 25 plus “hits” from regional, national and industry specific publications with the majority coming as a result of our blog being found through search. Our blog and the social channels that promote it are our sole media relations effort

A mix of social content optimization and community building can be applied to social networks, media sharing sites and anywhere else social content is published. Making this work well depends on a cohesive or holistic perspective, coordination and planning. We manage such activities through a social media roadmap.

How has that changed over the last 3 years? Have the core values of search marketing changed over the years? What’s the same? What’s different?

Initially, social media sites were treated by many search marketers as another place to push content and drop links.  However, an increasing number of marketers are treating social channels as a place to build equity in the form of community that pays repeated dividends.

Many social sites have become a lot more aggressive about enforcing rules about behaviors that do not add value (as defined by the service) to the community.   Many types of social channel manipulations and exploits have declined. Others have simply become more discreet or better at creating the illusion of value when the intention is still just traffic and links.

That “illusion of value” scenario presents an interesting right/wrong or ethical question that we’ll be discussing at SES in August during the Social Media Black Hat / White Hat white-black-hat panel with Dave Evans moderating and panelists: Dave Snyder, Beth Harte, Chris Bennett and myself.  As long as marketers are creating value for a social community, does it really matter what their intentions are? A good question for discussion I think.

Where is the line between having the SEO/Social agency handle aspects of a campaign vs. training the client to do so?
The answer to that really depends on the situation and considerations like objectives, resources, budget and timeframe.   To use an Aaron Wall-ism, every company is like a snowflake and needs to be treated uniquely.

For example, some companies are already actively involved (successfully) with social media participation using internal resources in terms of reaching customer engagement or buzz building goals, but have completely missed out on the SEO value.  An outside agency that “speaks social” as well as SEO can help that kind of company boost the value of social content by consulting with and educating the client. That consulting can be project based or ongoing.

However, I think the issue you’re getting at is when companies rely on agencies to create branded profiles or personas as a completely outsourced activity versus training a company to do those things on their own.  Social media is not free and it takes a serious time commitment. Many companies don’t have that time but they do have marketing budget to pay an agency.

My perspective is that the agency can help get things started and should provide the client with training on an ongoing basis to do as much of the day to day work as possible. There are certain things that the agency will be best suited to handle even after training has been provided and many other tasks that the company can handle on its own. The company knows it’s own products and customers better than the type of person most agencies will task with managing a social profiles.  It’s important that the client take ownership of that.

The key is to make sure there are feedback mechanisms to make it easy for client staff to see the effect of their efforts and that there are competent campaign management people in place.

What are common client-integration barriers and what steps do you take to maximize the potential for success? Any tips for success?

Getting clients on board in a timely and lasting way means gaining buy-in from the right people at all levels. The way to do that is through a well constructed game plan that outlines specific audiences, objectives, strategy, tactics and most of all, the measurement tools that will end up motivating participants and justifying the program.  Clear goals for the client’s participation and involvement and an effective way to provide feedback are essential for success.

How do you train your staff? What role do you play? What parts do organized training and conferences play?
We provide a mix of structured training and resources (books, blogs, how to’s) but emphasize on the job training as much as possible by the rest of the “team”. Additionally, we do send each staff member to 1-2 conferences per year.  Every two weeks we conduct an “all hands” training which often involves myself and always members of our team providing training in their area of expertise. I also meet with certain staff on a regular basis to provide insight and guidance. My partner, Susan Misukanis provides guidance to our Account Managers every day.

Your affection for SES San Jose is apparent, from the depth of annual involvement. Why are you so fond of SES SJ?
SES San Jose was the first search marketing conference I attended and it made a big impact on my decision to be involved more publicly with the search marketing industry.  San Jose is a great location with its proximity to search engines and other companies important to our industry.  I send more of our staff to SES San Jose than any other conference we’re involved with. The networking is excellent and sessions are great sources of content and information.


The pre and post show training sessions are excellent also. In fact, I’m doing a SEO/Social Media Workshop dma at SES on August 10th that will dive specifically into how companies can leverage search engine optimization with social networks and content to reach multiple business goals ranging from increased media coverage to sales. Sessions are great, but 15 minutes per speaker isn’t a lot of time to dive into specifics. The workshop format of 3-4 hours allows attendees that want more practical information to get high level and very specific tactics they can take back to their companies and implement right away.

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