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Interview of Lee Odden

February 15 , 2006

Lee Odden is a well known blogger, SEO and public relations guru. He writes the TopRank Online Marketing Blog, runs the TopRank SEO firm, and is an owner of the public relations firm Misukanis & Odden.

So I see you at conferences and you are almost always chipper. How do you run a business and not get behind or bogged down when you start doing time intensive things outside of your core business? 

I enjoy getting out to conferences and meeting up with online friends in person so I guess that puts me in a good mood. Also, for some reason whenever I go to a conference there's a pile of new project inquiries when I get back. That's a good thing right?

The nice thing about having a talented group of people on our team is that it frees me up to do things like blogging, writing articles, working with associations like the DMA SEMC and MIMA, and attending conferences like Search Engine Strategies. I do a lot of blogging at off hours when things have quieted down for the day and the kids are asleep. I also take advantage of software tools to make organizing information and the practice of blogging more efficient.

I know many people in the SEO industry. Almost everyone who seems well known has at least one person who hates them. You are one of the rare people who are well known and hated by nobody (that I know of at least). How did you do that?

I suppose if you look hard enough you'll find some one! My main reason for working in this industry is because I really enjoy search marketing. It's always changing and can be challenging. Within certain SEO groups, forums and blogs, there's a sense of "co-opetition" where direct competitors will share information (to some degree) and have a sincere interest in the success of the industry. I share that perspective so maybe people don't see me or my firm as a threat. Also, when prospective companies call us and ask about other SEO firms, I never bash them, I compliment them. Heck, I don't need to - we get several inquiries for proposals every day. I suppose it doesn't hurt that we refer a lot of business as well.

Favorite type of cookie?

Anything with macadamia nuts.

You seem to post on quite a wide range of sites. How do you know when it makes sense to post to each channel?

Me? Ha, you are a pro at posting at multiple sites and if I ever do half as well as you, I'll be satisfied. I get a little overly ambitious on blogging actually. I try to focus on SEO related subjects at my primary blog Online Marketing Blog. I also contribute to Lockergnome.com and Search Engine Smarts. For blogging related topics, I focus on Business Blog Consulting.

How did you become an author for so many different sites?

Social networking and following my interests pretty much. I started my own blog as a way to manage articles and topics of interest to me. Then I started sharing with co-workers and then started using it as a marketing tool for TopRank. A friend of mine, Rok Hrastnik writes for Lockergnome and I thought it would be a good idea to see if Chris Pirillo would want to create an Internet Marketing channel there. The AllBusiness.com blog is an opportunity for me to provide information about SEO to small businesses, plus John Jantsch was there. I didn't want to mix too much blogging related content with my SEO blog, so the Business Blog Consulting site is a perfect outlet for that. I had met Rick Bruner at Ad:Tech and when Paul Chaney wanted to revive that site, I was happy to sign on.

You run a PR company and an SEO company. Going forward do you see them merging?

There is a lot of crossover, that's for sure. We share a number of back office resources and we're doing more and more cross-training on the technologies and tactics that allow search engine optimization and public relations to compliment each other. Our PR firm, has typically provided offline marketing services and media relations consulting. TopRank is all about organic search engine optimization. However, our PR staff are becoming particularly talented at using online channels to help clients achieve their publicity and communications goals. Blogs, RSS, and news search SEO are now a daily part of both businesses, so maybe someday it would make sense to merge.

What is your favorite service to use for submitting press releases?

For public relations clients, most of the productive distribution of press releases is manually to individual journalists along with a relevant and personalized pitch. There are other things we do to get their attention, but the basic method of promoting client news is to research target publications and their editorial calendars and then pitch our clients accordingly. We'll include a press release and a link to an online media kit that's really a blog so it's easy for journalists to subscribe to our clients' news feeds. We also send releases out through PRNewswire and PRWeb.

For SEO client promotion, we often use PRWeb, PR.com and sometimes PRLeap or PRZoom. Here's an article listing a number of resources for submitting press releases.

Matt Cutts sometimes talks about I wouldn't expect this type of link or that type of link to count. When you send out a press release what tips do you have on how to ensure it counts? How do you get press releases to lead to secondary links and media coverage?

Sending out a press release with anchor text links has little value for SEO, but it does help clickthroughs. The releases that get the most links offer the kind of content that is similar to blog posts that get the most trackbacks. Relevant, humorous, particularly useful, timely information. Basically, the releases that are most "newsworthy" get the most links.

Expecting media coverage solely from distributing press releases through a wire service is a crap-shoot. Sure, if you send out a release through a secondary wire service for a big consumer brand name company, it's going to get lots of play. But that's because of the brand as much or more than the news. Providing journalists with credible, compelling story angles is the key to getting media coverage. News organizations are cutting staff left and right and many do not have the resources to pick and choose stories and sources as they used to. They're being asked to do more with less.

That's why more publications are interviewing less and accepting contributed articles more. As a result, a few years ago we adjusted our press release strategy away from relying wholesale distribution and focus more on making sure our clients' news is where increasing numbers of journalists are looking: RSS Feeds, blog/RSS search engines, news search engines and blogs.

Lets say I want you to cover my stuff in your magazine...what is the ideal Lee Odden approach?

Magazines typically plan stories far in advance and make that schedule available as an editorial calendar. Research the calendar for a planned story that matches your topic and make a corresponding pitch. With magazines you can also be a great resource by offering a pre-written article, or contributed article based on a planned or un-planned story.

Lets say I want you to cover my stuff on your blog...what is the difference in the approach?

With blogs, there is no planned story calendar outside of the pre-defined categories of the blog. Most bloggers like be first, so sending bloggers an email the night before a news release is distributed isn't a bad idea - no embargo either. Sending a press release to a blogger a week before the release goes out with an embargo is annoying as hell.

A great pitch is where someone has obviously read some of what the blogger has written in the past, then craft a personal email that is relevant and that gets to the point. Personally, I like a link to the press release which I will point to from a blog post, not the entire release within the email.

The new Google http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamster/91052794// is it Hot or Not?

It has a nice personality.

Should people new to the industry sell discount SEO services? What are the best ways to get people to see the full value of quality SEO services?

For people who wake up one day and say, "I think I'm going to do SEO", I suppose they don't have a choice. Prospective clients who call and start out by saying, "How much do you charge?" or "What are your packages?" are a little harder to serve because they want to buy on price. They think SEO is a commodity.

Selling SEO is no different than most other consulting services. It's important to listen to what the client's real problem is and to make thoughtful and realistic recommendations. Talking about meta tags, links and rankings is a distraction from the real problem to be solved: increased sales. No matter what, at the end of the day, everyone has to be accountable to the bottom line. It doesn't have to be "sales" necessarily, but some measure of success that drives the organization to exist. Getting people to see the full value of SEO services often means a discussion of many things other than SEO tactics.

You mentioned having a niche blog that was doing rather well financially. What topic does it cover? How did you market it? Were you surprised by the results?

I started a blog about a car I bought last summer. I was researching accessories and modifications and used the blog to organize them. The car was a brand new model and was winning design awards left and right. I didn't do much really. I checked some backlinks to the few other blogs on the same topic and asked for links where it was relevant. I made sure to link out to the best quality sites on the topic and limited that to 6 or 7. I collected resources on several posts, link bait I guess, and posted to a few forums when people were asking where to find certain things, a link to my corresponding collection of links, photos, etc. I threw in a little tagging and bookmarking too. At first I made a few posts per week and just wrote whatever came up making sure to use keywords in the post titles and to always link out on each post to relevant resources. I now track trends in keyword phrases as an RSS feed and also look at keyword referrer info once in a while to guide new post topics.

The revenue from the site pays me about $350 - $400 per hour of effort. I have no complaints. Then main thing is, I started it out of a sincere interest in the topic and am just using my knowledge of SEO to help it along a little. :) Now I just need to start ten more......

How many twins live in the twin cities?


What blogs do you subscribe to that you think I do not read?

That's an interesting question Aaron and I cannot imagine any blogs that you don't read! Maybe marketersstudio.com or kraneland.com?


Thanks for the interview Lee. If you want to learn more about Lee check out his blog.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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