This week, The Search Agency sits down (in a Chicago airport) with Angie Schottmuller, Director of Interactive Strategy and Optimization at Three Deep Marketing , to learn more about her search marketing career. Angie tells us about her take on SEO and provides an awesome analogy between search and Star Wars.
Hi there, would you mind saying who you are, who you work for, and what you do?
My name is Angie Schottmuller  (@aschottmuller ), and I head up interactive strategy and optimization for Three Deep Marketing  in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. My role includes big picture strategic planning for client accounts along with ROI and optimization direction for SEO, social media, and landing page campaigns. I’m also a Search Engine Watch columnist  and regular speaker at major marketing conferences like SES, SMX, and Conversion Conference.
That’s great, so I wonder if you can tell me how you got into search?
I began my career in IT, working as an application developer for over 10 years before transitioning into an e-business role. I saw a need for marketers to better understand technology potential to truly maximize ROI and user experience. Some of my first SEO endeavors involved site search optimization for complex corporate intranets. In 2008, I officially transitioned my career focus to online marketing, though I still routinely geek-out on code. Search — regardless of intranet, extranet, or Internet environment — is basically user experience problem solving. And that’s something that engages my heart and mind.
So would you say that you are a geek, a marketer, or a user experience person?
D. All of the above.
So, what is it that you like most about what you do?
When it comes to SEO, I love the problem solving aspect along with all the geekiness and all the Star Wars analogies I can use!
Real SEO isn’t obsessing over keyword rankings or backlinks; it’s about understanding a user’s search query intent and helping connect them to the best answer. When content strategy is thought of as proving one page as the *best answer* for a targeted keyword phrase, it helps simplify the complexity of algorithm updates and search ranking factors. A web page with numerous reviews, recent user-shared photos, a well-written description and a supporting video is clearly a “better answer,” that’s more relevant and authoritative, than most pages. We don’t need Google to tell us that.
So you mentioned Star Wars. Maybe you can give us a little bit of background on how that influences what you do in a different way from just wielding a lightsaber of SEO. How do you use that analogy?
When working with clients (or presenting at conferences), I like to using movie analogies to help communicate complex principles in a simple, fun, memorable fashion. Some recent themes I’ve used include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, MacGyver , Mission Impossible , and, of course, my beloved Star Wars . I’ve found Star Wars to be a dominant gene in the technology geek persona, so the analogy resonates well with most online marketers — especially for black hat white hat SEO wars . At the end of the day, aren’t we all just trying to “wield the Force” of magnetic content to persuade search engines and users that our websites are worthy?
[Darth Vader:] “Search your feelings; you know it to be true!”
By the way, my article on SEO lightsabers  describes 6 unique types of SEO’s and their respective lightsaber color according to the original Jedi code. It’s important to identify folks with each lightsaber, so you have a comprehensive “team” of SEO’s from which to consult for strategy and execution. My SEO lightsaber is yellow, with blue as my back-up. That means I’m a specialist, typically technical SEO, with primary strengths in content strategy, link building, and offensive tactics to improve search rankings, experience, and conversion.) Folks should check out their SEO lightsaber color if they haven’t already. The analogy is spot on and lots of fun!
I’m a hardcore SEO Jedi (a.k.a. inbound marketer) and believe the key to good marketing is focusing on providing relevant, credible, value-added content that helps users make an informed decision on the journey to achieving their goals. There are some marketers – I call SEO Siths – drawn to the power of “beating of the algorithm.” Their efforts focus more on the search engine than users, which is the first indicator of being tempted or falling to the dark side.
So if you’d have to say, what is the Darth Maul of SEO right now? What concept or tactic what would that be?
I don’t want to tempt any SEOs with black hat tactics, so I’d prefer not to discuss them in a case where it would be documented.
Oh, so they move towards the dark side?
Exactly. I don’t want to lure anybody to the dark side.
<Bad Yoda voice> Move to dark side you will. </Bad Yoda voice>
[Laughter] I’m up for tackling grey hat SEO though, which is actually more prevalent than black hat. It’s the fuzzy area that true white hats would typically consider black hat, and vice-versa. Grey hat tactics are generally frowned upon, but there’s usually nothing technically wrong that would solicit a search engine penalty. Many SEOs are self-taught — picking it up from what they’ve seen. With the influx of novice SEOs the past several years, there’s unfortunately lots of bad grey hat tactics out there being replicated. Sadly, most folks don’t even know they’re doing it wrong.
As one grey hat example, I routinely see cases where an individual has copied the entire transcript of an article including images and published it on their own site. (Aside: This particularly ticks me off when people do it with my own content and the author by line is the thief’s name with no credit to the actual source.) Regardless of whether there’s a backlink and credit, “scraping” and duplicating someone else’s original content as your own is BAD. (It’s often copyright infringement as well, but few folks pursue charges.) So let’s move out of grey territory and over to white hat. The correct and better approach would have been to only copy a small intro snippet of the article and then (A) add your own personal commentary or (B) find 2 or more similar articles to also feature as part of an aggregate post. (Make sure you include backlinks and credit to the author and site.) In both cases, you’ve basically improved upon the original article by adding fresh, unique, relevant, value-added content. Now there’s reason for someone to link or reference your article over the original.
So that’s the grey side of the Force, what is the positive side of the force? What is it you think everyone should be doing?
The most important thing for marketers to focus on now is creating the “best answer” with their content. Quality trumps quantity. There’s no point in driving traffic that leads to a dead-end or traffic jam. Content should be purpose-driven. Every page should provide an answer to a question/query or serve as a “traffic cop.” To effectively optimize for both search and conversion, prove your content as the best answer.
“One page. One purpose. One targeted keyword phrase. One best answer.”
– Angie Schottmuller
We call that “intent to content” – with context!
I like that!
So my last question: Apart from SEO, which is obviously a passion, and Star Wars, which is also a passion – what else do you like to do, and what else do you want people to know about you?
I like the great outdoors and nature photography. I love underwater photography and scuba diving too, but most of my travel these days goes toward speaking conferences. I’m not up for diving in the creepy, limited visibility lakes or rivers of Minnesota. (Side note to conference planners: Please host an event someplace warm where we can scuba dive! =) This summer I really got into macro photography (super close-up photos) and fell in love with Instagram (@aschottmuller) . On a marketing note, I think there’s a huge audience of amateur photographers on Instagram just waiting to be tapped for their talents… at virtually no charge! Companies needing good, authentic photos of their products should take note.
You’re really good about avoiding talking about yourself. I’ve noticed that.
Thank you Angie, great information
Thank you, Grant!