Lee Odden

Listen Learn Change Grow

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, Social Media

internet marketing strategyThe thing about internet marketing is that there is no “one right way” to solve a single problem. So much of the advice and commentary about content optimization for search engines at conferences and on blogs is tactical. Five tips for this and 10 ways to do that. We do it too, because people that are new or just dipping their toe into the stream of internet marketing knowledge need information packaged in an easy to understand and actionable format.

Between the changes and improvements that happen on search engines, adoption of new web technologies/applications and changes in the way people use search, tactical advice can get outdated pretty quickly.  

I’ve been thinking lately about how managing long term search marketing programs can be tricky with all that change, but a strategy that focuses on a model of “Listen, Learn, Change and Grow” can make a big difference between long term success or failure.

1. Listen: The very first thing a marketer needs to do with a new internet marketing project (especially SEO and social media marketing) is to listen. Depending on your perspective (agency or client side) it will be critical to perform discovery tasks and probe for realistic goals, target audience characteristics, competitive landscape and messaging guidelines.  

The trick is that while many people looking for help with improving search based lead generation and sales will tell you about their situation, goals and challenges, it takes an experienced marketer with excellent listening skills to decipher what that information means and to ask questions in order to construct a strategy.

A basic example is when someone asks for specific services like SEO or social media marketing. It’s the responsible thing for the marketer listen and pick up on the motivators to be so specific and also to ask, why? Why SEO, why social media? What are the specific goals and how will you measure them? What is the time frame, what are the resources available to reach those goals? Who are the influencers within the organization that you’ll need to win over for proper implementation and what is the reporting structure upstream in order to evangelize and promote success within the organization?

Listening is key to discovering the viability and relevance of a particular marketing channel as well as the resources to ensure it’s success. Too many SEO consultants take on projects believing the client knows what’s best for themselves. The reason to hire a consultant is that they bring expertise and an outside perspective to the situation and challenge existing processes to reach goals. If current processes and knowledge worked so well, there would be little reason to bring in an outside consultant.

2. Learn: A natural progression of listening is to learn about the uniqueness of the situation and what that means for constructing a strategy. Learning about the situation to be solved for a search based marketing effort involves everything from an audit of the web site: keyword use,  code/server issues, internal and inbound links compared to the market, industry and competitors.

Reporting mechanisms need to be clearly defined for the scope of the program and it is absolutely critical to take benchmark measurements as soon as possible. Even in somewhat ambiguous situations, it’s important to have measurement and data collection in progress. That translates into web analytics, social media monitoring, sales channel analytics and anything that works as a proxy to desired outcomes like web traffic, RSS subscribers, white paper downloads, webinar sign ups, etc.

  • Phase 1 learning covers the discovery process of understanding the project situation, competitors and resources to make it happen. Getting up to speed quickly on a client, industry, competitors and resources shortens the time to start seeing results.
  • Phase 2 learning is ongoing and helps determine how effective marketing efforts are as well as determining seasonality, patterns or cycles to audience “buying” behavior.  Sharing this knowledge is also important for content and promotion scheduling.
  • Phase 3 learning emphasizes client side education on how to best take advantage of insights from the consultant. Client education and training is critical for proper implementation and communication. With our digital marketing consulting practice, we spend as much time training clients as we do on consulting. Helping clients develop these skills makes the overall program more effective by more involvement of the right people with the right skills for implementation. It also frees up consulting time to be spent on more strategic efforts with greater impact.

I call these “phases” but all of them should start on day one of an internet marketing program. 

3. Change: Internet marketing exists in part, because of the constant change and newness of the web. Companies need help navigating and adapting to that change.   Each day there’s an abundance of new content being published, new users and ways to use the web and of course, changes in how search engines do what they do. Innovation is synonymous with doing business online. That means change.

Companies hiring outside consultants will expect, for the most part, to receive recommendations that mean changes in strategy, tactics and processes. In order to take full advantage of the marketing and customer communication opportunities that the web affords, organizations need to embrace change. Consultants that have really “been there, done that” with numerouse clients can be relied upon to facilitate the strategic and tatical changes necessary for a succesful program. 

For example, if a company wants to increase sales via online channels but doesn’t want to change existing sales channel tracking in order to effectively track web sales, then it’s incumbent upon the agency/consultant to provide a compelling arguement or even a business case to make that change. Otherwise, the program is doomed for failure – not because tactics fail, but because the client stands in their own way for success.

4. Grow: Marketing programs should be self funding, ongoing efforts. Successful programs will grow and scaling efforts to increase customer acquisition and sales should be inevitable.  For search marketing, particularly SEO, it’s ongoing content creation, promotion and social engagement that grows an organization’s footprint on the web.

More web pages, inbound links and social networking connections mean more opportunities to engage customers. It also means, to some degree, displacement of the competition: in the search results and with mindshare for a category.

Many companies look at internet marketing as a start stop campaign because that’s how their budgeting processes are structured and because that’s how they’ve always done it. However, doing so with the social web is like trying to start/stop growing a plant or a relationship.

Organic growth of content, links and social connections on the web result in a compounding effect that persists and grows as long as you “feed” it. Growing these online marketing efforts is an ongoing effort and simple to budget for as a flat rate cost. You can scale results by increasing these efforts and corresponding consulting costs, but time is also a factor with scaling organic growth.  

Even online advertisers are realizing the campaign perspective towards marketing isn’t very effiecient when a social aspect can be leveraged long after the initial start/stop dates have passed. Whether it’s asking viewers for feedback on an ad or offering a link to a forum/social community, the life a successful ad campaign creates can be extended.  Success measurements change from direct sales off an ad to the kinds of metrics associated with social media ROI.  Additionally, digital assets from interactive advertising campaigns can be optimized for organic search in order to grow the reach and continue to provide value from a SEO perspective.

Rounding up the Listen Learn Change Grow.  

Tactical expertise with search and social marketing is abundant. However, there is a huge advantage when you can combine practical internet marketing experience with social and organizational experience. It’s just not enough to create a plan to improve online sales through specific channels. Companies should expect their digital marketing agencies to help them grow through better listening, facilitating learning, encouraging change and understanding the long term benefits of growing online marketing efforts.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Marney Lewis says

    This was a very good post, I really enjoyed all the points that you made with all the interesting facts, Great work and I look forward to the next post. Thanks again and Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Se voc

  3. Great steps Lee. And a deep post too – maybe too deep for me to read at the moment on a Friday night so I’ll have to come back later. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  4. I read something the other night about life that also applys to marketing. A farmer says to someone trying to sell him something to help him make more money and farm better says “I don’t farm half as good as I know already” – I think the same goes for everything in SEO and most working in it.

  5. You know ,I am so glad I came across this post today. There are so many people who spend hours trying to produce the greatest content and value in the world, but they just don’t listen to what’s going on.

    This is the problem with many old media and old marketing companies. They just don’t listen.

    Great article, I stumbled it.

  6. Good points. It really helps to keep things simple.

    Thank you for the post!


  7. Lee, I love that you break down listening as being something more than hearing the words that are spoken. Good marketers need to understand that the problems identified by businesses are often just symptoms. Good listening is deciphering where the real problems lie and that leads to learning.

    I also really like the emphasis on change. This is not the field for you if you want to learn a particular set of skills and coast your way to retirement. Change is always part of the equation and it’s our job to stay on top of the changes.

    Great information and perspective!

  8. Thanks David and Richard.

    Glad you liked it Derek and thank you for Stumbling!

  9. Shannon, you are generous with your comments – listening and change are the constants we can rely on with digital marketing.

    And BTW, that’s a wonderful blog you have there. 🙂

    I recommend readers to check out “Shannon’s Very Official Blog” which is a refreshing taste of social media goodness.

  10. It looks really simple when a big thing is broken down in smaller chunks.

    Gr8 post. Stumbled!

  11. Avatar Brock Horner says

    This post was very insightful. I think a lot of marketers tend to get out of touch with what the problem is and where it lies. If the problem is not fully understood, then a working solution cannot be created. This field does not work like a kitchen. You can’t just dig out grandma’s old recipe and whip up something amazing in the blink of an eye. You can always use the basics, but it will be a rare occasion when something used a year or two ago will work again today. It’s been seen and done, consumers want something different now.

    Great post!

  12. Great post really good information here!
    Thanks again Lee Odden for always posting such good content.

    Marci ~

  13. What a GREAT post, Lee… really insightful and “right on”.

    I just wanted to add another perspective… that it would be SO nice if our CLIENTS would also Listen, Learn, Change & Grow from our recommendations and suggestions to them!

    Yes, we as internet marketers MUST listen, learn, change and grow… but the success of a project also depends on the CLIENT doing the same. Often times as consultants, we’re at the mercy of the client not implementing half of our suggestions – whether it be budget or a real lack of understanding the ongoing requirements (and commitment) it takes to be successful. And unfortunately, sometimes the time we take to educate falls on deaf ears.

  14. Avatar Marketing Rooster says

    Your points about listening are especially interesting. I’ve become very interested in the shift in internet marketing towards creating a dialogue with the consumer, over the traditional method of creating a brand narrative. Your breakdown is a great analysis of how companies need to interact WITH the end user more and more these days, vs. talking AT them.

  15. Thanks Saad.

    Right on Brock, we are in a time of fluid marketing and the same old rules no longer apply. Agencies and clients alike need to adapt or they’ll lose out to those that do.

    Thank you Marci

  16. Hey Valerie, it’s an industry wide issue – implementation of SEO recommendations. Part of the solution from an agency perspective is to do a better job of qualifying clients before they become clients. Is the company a learning organization, are they realistic, capable and open to change? Or not? Build that into the agreement.

    Of course it’s hard to know organization capabilities until it gets tested. That needs to be addressed up front as well – to the degree possible, without scaring the client away.

    “This is going to hurt” isn’t a very effective sales technique, but it’s the truth and those that listen, learn, change and grow will come out ahead.

  17. Avatar Scott Clark says

    You outdid yourself on this one Lee.

    I think we Web Marketers are all singing a similar song but there is a fundamental chasm between the corporate culture (often decades’ worth) and the “sudden” need to engage directly when it comes to clients. I’m struggling with this with every client it seems, no matter how outwardly progressive they seem.

    People can no longer hide mediocre products and services behind on the friction of networks (e.g. word of mouth used to be very inefficient, but now it’s effortless.) This is a big shock and uncomfortable to most. It puts a ruthless magnifying glass on their stuff.

  18. Thanks Scott. At some point, maybe now?, companies will feel the $ pain enough to really take a serious look at the results they’re getting from current models and what innovators are doing on the web.

    Legacy mindsets are far more dangerous to company profitability than legacy software.