SEO Like a Boss: Q&A with AIMCLEAR’s SEO Mastermind Lea Scudamore

Lea Scudamore

With three SEO-specific awards and dozens of speaking engagements, AIMCLEAR’s Lea Scudamore has staked her position as a leading authority on search engine optimization. Lea boasts an 8-year track record running integrated SEO programs at AIMCLEAR – often swimming upstream through a highly predictable school of SEOs swimming downstream. The result? A truck ton of SEO revenue, a trophy case full of awards and an ever-growing roster of clients who put their trust in Lea’s unique way of parsing data, pushing AIMCLEAR teams, and crafting winning strategies.

In March, we promoted Lea to Director of SEO to better reflect leadership with clients and within the agency. Colleagues and clients who work with Lea know they have access to a truly leading SEO mind.

To celebrate Lea’s new leadership mantle, AIMCLEAR VP of Strategic Communications, Joe Thornton, sat down with Lea to chat about the state of SEO, counterintuitive SEO strategies, and mindset shifts that are necessary for brands to win at the SEO game. Below are some highlights from their discussion.

Joe: What do you see as the biggest SEO mindset missteps by brands these days?
Lea: I often see many of the same fundamental mistakes since the classic 1960s “Madmen” era of marketing. Brands are STILL too busy talking about themselves – thumping their chests while never actually investing the time appropriately to answer the questions their customers are actually asking. Messaging “wants” too often get in the way of engaging customers on THEIR terms. SEOs are essential in the marketing mix, because we spend our time in the tools to understand what the audiences actually want to know. In other words…the questions humans actually put in the search bar!

It’s essential to invest time addressing the wants and needs of customers while still crafting messages that talk about value propositions should be part of the early stages of marketing. All too often, SEOs are called in to “do that SEO stuff you do” at the end of the equation, rather than at the beginning.

Joe: How difficult is it for the typical marketer or in-house SEO to keep up with changes at the big engines?
Lea: In-house marketers are often responsible for everything from printed collateral to online marketing. So, simply having the time to keep up with the changes with each search engine and with AI can be painful – if not impossible.

Major updates, such as the latest Core Algorithm Update, require intensive study and analysis. Marketers are often stretched too thin to gain enough expertise to truly understand the update. It’s wise for in-house SEOs to make sure they have the time available to stay current. Often, in-house demands of the day take precedence, which keeps even the SEO a few steps behind.

But as an SEO through-and-through, I do love that the search engines change continually. I’d be really bored if the SEO universe was stagnant.

Joe: How different is SEO today than even five years ago?
Lea: Overall, SEO is in a much better position than where we were five years ago. The latest evolutions in SEO are very focused on voice-search. People pose more questions to Alexa, Google Home, or our watches and phones every day. These queries are formed as questions actually spoken to other humans. As a result, we now have dramatically better information right at our fingertips, because smart brands are actually answering “how do I fix a flat tire?” or “what is the best wine to serve with pasta?” or myriad other questions. Providing responses to actual questions is an exciting new frontier for the practice.

Joe: You’ve won a whole bunch of awards for SEO programs that could be viewed as counter-intuitive in approach. Why do you chart your own path on SEO, rather than running with the pack?
Lea: Where’s the fun in being like everyone else? Doing something the way everybody else is doing it is boring. In terms of researching, learning, evolving with the search engines, an SEO can’t truly win against that pack by doing the same thing the pack is doing. Choosing to dive deeper into individual pieces of the search engine, understanding why certain pages rank, and identifying how best to serve each clients’ users is where success is found.

Success will elude an SEO doing what everybody else is doing.

Joe: AIMCLEAR has built a strong reputation for truly integrated marketing – but are too many brands still not even considering SEO as part of an integrated marketing mix?

Lea: That’s okay! Don’t! It leaves more room for me and the team at AIMCLEAR! Brands assume that cliche Kevin Costner movie message, “If you build it, they will come.” As much as I love Mufsa whispering inspiration into my ear, it’s kind of a true message. If you build a website, some people will come to it. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re going to buy or take another desirable action.

We succeed for clients and win awards because we look at SEO as a profit center for our clients. Too many brands miss that mindset opportunity. AIMCLEAR masters integration of SEO as a function of our paid ads, creative and CRO, PR and communications, and the dev teams. Think of marketing as a Rubik’s Cube. We’ve purposefully forged efficiencies and conversion wins for clients when integrating our SEO team at the beginning of the work our other departments do.

Joe: How is AI influencing the work you’re doing every day – and how is it impacting SEO for brands?
Lea: AI is the proverbial double-edged sword. Some marketers simply let the bots in the machine stamp out content, but then wonder why they’re not ranking better. Google knows that lazy marketing is happening too often, which is specifically why their algorithm is targeting spammy, low quality content. Such sites should see negative impact on their bottom line. If that happens, contact us. 🙂

Again, the search engines want to serve users the answers they need ASAP. From Google’s perspective (and Bing, Yahoo, and others), every time a new page is created, links are made on their server. The engines hate wasted space cluttered with lame content. Because of this, Google alone is looking to reduce the amount of garbage links by 40%. This latest update serves Google both by cutting costs and providing better content for users.

We tap AI tools and insight to refine our work before sending it to Communications for polishing. It’s so important to make sure we didn’t miss anything in our research and content creation – asking AI for valuable resources/links, learning industry slang and terminology, job titles or job hierarchy, for example. These insights help ensure we are speaking appropriately to audiences, uncovering industry pain points, and finding success by offering the solutions their customers actually crave. Again, so much of SEO success is rooted in offering users truly helpful content, which is what Google seeks to provide its users via every search.

Joe: What motivates you to drive results for clients?
Lea: Success is fun!

I like people, and I love talking about SEO. It’s extremely rewarding to educate my clients to a level that they can respond to their CEO’s or CMO’s difficult questions about SEO. I particularly love when clients are confident in me and the AIMCLEAR team to the point where they bring us to the executive table with them.

I had a client recently tell me that after four years working together, there has never been a month in which he didn’t feel like paying the bill. I rolled with laughter because that is a big compliment from a CFO and it made me beam with joy. Because there is nothing better than taking a client and turning them into a partner, a friend.

From the Q&A above, it’s apparent why Lea is a sought-after industry thought leader, speaking at many conferences on topics ranging from SEO to website accessibility. Her work for a wide range of clients has been instrumental in securing many of our top awards, including our Best Integrated Agency and multiple SEO-specific awards.

Working closely with the agency’s SEO team, Lea has made great strides establishing, maintaining, and growing AIMCLEAR’s sphere of influence in the SEO universe. We’re fortunate to have Lea as a long-term, “impact player.” She’s an SEO-force-of-nature and an extraordinary, gracious colleague to us all. We congratulate her on her new role as Director of SEO.

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