[Note this interview first appeared on scripted.com and was conducted by Nicole Karlis]
For many marketers, Lee Odden‘s name weighs as much significance as Derek Jeter‘s does for Yankee fans. Lee, the CEO of TopRankMarketing.com, has become a thought leader in the marketing space by single-handedly managingTopRank’s blog, publishing a book and speaking at various conferences around the world. Known as a pioneer in content marketing (before the phrase rose to fame), Lee’s marketing tactics have been driven by thought leadership efforts and creative content. In this interview, Lee talks about the importance of content marketing, content strategy, SEO and much more.
Scripted: Tell me about TopRank Online Marketing and how its content strategy has changed since the beginning?
Lee Odden: When we started as an agency in 2001, personal connections were responsible for most new business. The agency never really did any marketing or advertising starting out. I came on board shortly after the agency was formed, bringing in my network connections and an interest in experimenting with various Internet marketing tactics.
We started our content marketing journey with blogging as a way to curate useful news and as a platform for interacting with other bloggers. After some initial success, we became more intentional about the kinds of posts being published with more focus on demonstrating expertise and offering useful tips and best practices. From that we switched to a more customer centric approach by writing about topics from the buyer’s point of view. We also published more thought leadership content about our agency’s approach to digital marketing (but not the agency itself).
See also: How to Measure Your Blog Content’s ROI
Scripted: You have a large following. How long did it take to build?
Lee: I have a ways to go, but I never set out thinking, “Oh, I want to get 300,000 fans, followers and subscribers” or something like that. I simply use social networks and social media channels as a way to connect with other like-minded people. It’s a way to connect with individuals and large groups about common interests in the hopes that some would be interested in our message.
If anyone is wondering, “How long will it be before I’m popular?” You’ll probably never know, because popularity and a following are a by-product of being useful and a real person on the social web. Not just a collector of fans. If you can find a balance between being useful and a personal brand that differentiates you from others on social networks, the quality of interactions will outweigh the benefits of perceived popularity.
Scripted: Can you speak about how establishing thought leadership for your brand helps a content marketing strategy?
Lee: Thought leadership alludes to the fact that you have specific knowledge and vision about certain things and that people trust you. Being a trusted source for information creates many opportunities ranging from brands seeking your company out to hire you to journalists seeking you out for interviews and articles.
The more trusted your brand is, the more effective your content marketing can be. Quality content that is consumed and shared by influentials in your industry reflects back on your brand as a thought leader.
Scripted: How can people stay in front of industry changes and make sure they’re always up to speed with what’s going on in content marketing?
Lee: As a marketer, I think the most effective thing one can do is to experiment with marketing. You have to have your own publishing platform in order to do that in a meaningful way. If you have a blog or website, tap into analytics and social media monitoring to close the loop on feedback about how your content is performing.
If you don’t have a blog, then start one. Blogs are a great way to connect with others and can become a marketing asset in search and social networks. Besides experimenting yourself, connect with others that are doing the same thing. It’s amazing how much aggregate knowledge you can gain from a good network. An easy way to do that is find a few people and publications on Twitter that consistently share great content. Create a Twitter list and then follow that group’s shared news with a Rebel Mouse or Paper.li account.
Scripted: What metrics of success should content marketers pay attention to?
Lee: It depends on why a marketer is creating the content, but all content should be accountable to how it’s going to pull in an audience, the topics covered and media formats its published in and the calls to action. At TopRank we use a model of Attract, Engage and Convert to make sure the content we’re creating is accountable.
Attract measures referring traffic sources and where the audience discovers this kind of information. Engage is anything to do with the consumption of that content. How many people are looking and for how long? Are they interacting with the content? Are they making comments or socially sharing? Convert, of course, is really anything dealing with information capture through a form — a subscription, a trial, an inquiry or a sale.
Scripted: What does a piece of content absolutely need to gain traction and stick with and audience?
Lee: First, I think it’s important to think of content as pieces of a puzzle. The picture becomes clear from many pieces together not just one or two. Traction and stickiness are influenced by the content that came before and the content that comes after whatever the consumer is seeing at the moment. That said, there are some tactics worth paying attention: On the social web, titles are everything. 85 percent is the title. The title should make a promise to the reader and compel them to act, whether it’s a click or a share. Of course titles should have search keywords in them if possible.
The creative or visual element of the content is also extremely important. Video and images are the most often viewed and engaged content types for a reason. Text has it’s place, but an image or video can really help amplify the experience of the message so that your audience isn’t just informed, but entertained. I like to call it “infotainment.” Most importantly, content has to be relevant and well-written. Headlines, quotes, bold sub-headings, bullets, and all that — so it’s easy to scan on the web. Lastly, always give the reader something to do next. It might be as simple as soliciting feedback or it might be inviting them to do something as a next step, like subscribe, sign up, download a guide, get a trial, or register for webinar.
Scripted: How do you define high-quality content and do you think SEO is becoming a thing of the past?
Lee: I think high-quality content is content that satisfies the needs of your reader. It’s thoughtful and relevant. The writing, the design and usefulness of the content has to inspire some kind of action. Content that provides an experience that inspires readers to take action or think differently is high-quality content.
SEO has changed quite a bit and that really is the answer: SEO isn’t dead, it’s just changing. Modern SEO is more about optimizing the discovery, consumption and interaction between consumers and brand content. That’s what my bookOptimize is all about. As long as content is displayed in search results AND Google isn’t perfect at organizing that content, SEO will be helpful and useful. SEO that isn’t helpful to the user search experience or the experience of discovering brand content, isn’t really SEO. It’s just crappy spam.