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Home > Digital Marketing Blog > Interview with SEO Expert David Leonhardt

Interview with SEO Expert David Leonhardt

Interview with SEO Expert David Leonhardt
Chiranjeevi Maddala
April 4, 2018

David Leonhardt is the SEO Expert, head marketing strategist and a dreamer.

He runs a team of writers at The Happy Guy Marketing. David is also a published author of one book under his name, and a contributor to two other publications. His articles have appeared in various newspapers and magazines over the years.

David Leonhardt

Founder of THGM Writers

1. How has Digital Marketing changed over the years?

In a word, online marketing has matured.

When I first began in 2003, online marketing was simple. There were very few tools. Nobody had invented HTML5. SEO was all about keywords on your page and in your meta data. We worked in Netscape, courted Alta Vista and bought and sold ezine ads. There was much less competition, and everyone was a freelancing novice. Yeah, Wild West and Garden of Eden.

But it has matured. We now flip across several browsers on multiple devices. We court Google's complex algorithm, which makes Alta Vista look like disposable cutlery.

And we have competition. Every niche is dominated by huge companies. There is little room now for freelancers, except to serve the huge companies. We all have to work harder to compete.

2. What skill sets do people need to possess to be able to sustain market fluctuations?

As with any field that suffers fluctuations, one needs variety.

One typical fluctuation is seasonal. Many businesses do better at Christmas. Others do best in the summer. Carrying a variety of products helps one prosper across the year.

Even with products or services that have an equal appeal year-round, it can help to have different communication strategies for different seasons.

Coping with cyclical market fluctuations is tougher. I did not do this very well when the 2008 recession hit. I should have. My business model made it easy for me to scale up and scale down. In other words, I should have remained profitable whether business was flowing freely or not. I know others who blew that too. A useful skill would have been to better predict the depth and breadth of a market downturn, so that I could have scaled down quicker. Then again, if you have that skill, invest in the stock market, not in online marketing.

3. What are some of your most trusted SEO best practices?

As a writer, I love creating content. Good, solid content. On-theme content. And sometimes, SEO-optimized content. I look for two things:

  • What are potential clients interested in? How can I write something that is very complete, but not overbearingly long? If I can draw traffic to these pages, I can benefit from the leads.
  • What are other websites in my niche, especially blogs, interested in? How can I write something that is very complete, but not overbearingly long? If those webmasters and bloggers like my article, some of them will link to it.

As much as I like writing, I know that content lost in Cyberspace won't do me any good. So I try to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I share it to friends. I post it to LinkedIn and Pinterest. I use Triberr and Viral Content Bee.

I rarely ask for a link. Most of them are offered. Yes, I believe in the power of really good content.

4. As a digital marketer, what are some of the most vital blunders that you suggest should be avoided?

There are two critical blunders.

The first, is falling in love with a niche because it is amazing. Most things that are truly amazing, nobody will pay for. A cleaner environment. Art appreciation. Happiness. My first niche was happiness. It began with my book: https://www.amazon.com/Climb-Your-Stairway-Heaven-happiness/dp/059517826X I learned the hard way that nobody pays for happiness. The silver lining is that I learned SEO trying to promote the book, and I got to write for others on less interesting topics for which they were happy to pay.

The second blunder is to pick a niche because it has the mostly income potential. There are plenty of "gurus" trolling the Internet with advice on how to let the numbers choose your niche. That is no way to live. You end up selling your soul for something you don't believe in. Something that doesn't make your heart skip a beat. There is no integrity in this approach.

These two blunders seem like opposites. Indeed, they are. They are the two extremes. Poverty sucks. So does being soulless. Find that happy spot in the middle – that spot where you can do what you enjoy and people are willing to pay for.

5. In the next 5 years, where do you see the scenario with respect to digital marketing?

Amazon and Google will own everything. We'll all be working for them. OK, OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But it will get harder, not easier.

More importantly, the pace of change will reach dizzying heights. AI. Drone drop-shipping. Smart homes. More marketing channels. More devices to optimize for. Laser-tight marketing segmentation.

Even if a freelance marketer could afford all the technology that will run our marketing systems, it would take a team to keep up with all the best practices. That is the advantage the big companies will increasingly have.

I see now what my critical error was. I should have founded Amazon. The upside for my business is that the market for dystopian novel ghostwriters will remain strong.

6. What tools would you suggest as some of the most essential ones for handling the digital marketing process?

Common sense. In the end, it is the one advantage the little guy has over the big corporations. And far too few of us have even that. I see this over and over when people rely on numbers alone to decide the keywords to chase. Don't get me wrong, numbers are good. Except when they overrule common sense. Then numbers are bad. Understanding one's market is much more important.

Most businesses will need some form of advanced contact system. That might be CRM or even just an email blast tool. It might also include a social media tool. One needs to keep top-of-mind with customers, let them know about sales, brag a little and if possible, be an indispensible source of niche information. What tool business needs depends on how they interact with their target market.

7. For someone in the digital media marketing, what best practices would you suggest for media planning and buying?

I don't do that. I have never been involved in PPC, space advertising or any paid placement. I come from the world of public affairs and public relations, and I stick to what I'm good at.

8. What are your opinions about hyper-personalisation? Would you say it works out in most cases?

Yes. The closer you can match a person's needs to a specific quality of your product or service, the more effective you will be.

Except for re-marketing. I recall visiting a kayak site just out of curiosity to check some price ranges. For the next two weeks, every website I visited seemed to have a kayak ad. I felt totally stalked. Do you think I would click on one of those creepy ads?

9. How to plan out a customer journey that not only retains existing customers, but also drives new customers as well?

This is not something I actively do. My business is mostly one-time sales. Somebody has been mulling over a screenplay or book they want written. OK, we can do that. But most of the time, it is a one-time project.

But some come back for sequels. And some give referrals. And some say really nice things that I use as testimonials (but I never, never ask for testimonials http://thgmwriters.com/blog/why-never-ask-testimonials/) I believe that those testimonials help drive new customers.

I do keep in touch with past clients. I offer to help promote their books on social media when they publish. That is an incentive for them also to keep in touch.

And some clients come to me for online content, whether that is blog posts or keyword-based articles. So I obviously keep in touch to see if they need more.

10. How far has social media been effective in the digital journey and what opportunities does it hold for the future?

Social media is incredible, and it is used in so many different ways. For me, it is a means of getting my content out in front of audiences 1 and 2 that I mentioned in response to a previous question.

It is also a great way for service providers, such as my business, to network (which leads to direct hiring and referrals, as well as collaborations).

Based on what I see of my daughters and their friends, social media might soon be the only way to reach people in the future.

Small business, such as mine, can interact with people one-on-one. When I interact on social media, it's all David Leonhardt. Nobody is interacting with my brand.

Big business will have more of a challenge. People want to interact with people. Sure, do Instagram and Whatsapp marketing, but how do you humanize it? Nobody wants a company intruding into their personal space.

Companies will have to find a way to get real people into the discussions. "Freelance brand ambassador" might well be a common career in the future, an online marketing career for freelancers. With gas station attendants extinct and bank tellers almost extinct, and with cashiers heading the way of the moat-diggers, this might be something for those people to do. When you see the first college certificate for "Brand Ambassador 101", remember that you first read about it it here.

11. While creating buyer personas, what are the most vital points that one needs to keep in mind?

I could blah, blah, blah about the usual demographics: gender, income, family size, etc.

What is more often missed is context. The same person will react to a message in a variety of ways, depending on context. A big difference is whether you catch them at work or at home. Whether you catch them in the evening or in the morning. If they are buying as an enthusiast or as a gift-giver,

"David Leonhardt needs a tent for a camping trip" is different than "David Leonhardt needs a tent to give as a birthday gift" is different than "David Leonhardt needs a tent as a supply for his team at work".

12. According to you, what determines the reach of the content among the audience?

I see four factors:

  1. How useful the content is. This is universal. It is almost always the single most important factor.
  2. How entertaining the content is. This can be huge, but it is not always a factor. It's not very big for B2B marketing. Context is everything.
  3. How accessible the content is. Even if you are writing for doctors and lawyers, if your text is at a grade 10 level, they'll only read it if they have to. Plain language rules!
  4. How big your extended network is. How many followers I have on Twitter is a small factor, How many followers other people have – people I can convince to share my content – that's where the power is in reach. Obviously, the more targeted the "how many" the better.

13. If you could advise one thing about online advertising, what would it be?

Again, I don't get involved in paid placement.

14. What is your take on influencer marketing?

This is big. But getting big influencers is pretty tough. These days, everybody with more than 17.5 Twitter followers calls themselves influencers.

The bottom line is this: if somebody says, "THGM does great writing", it is infinitely more powerful than if THGM says it. If the influencers have the right audience, people who are ready to buy, it's possibly the most powerful form of marketing. Influencer marketing is word-of-mouth-marketing on steroids.

15. How far has the evolution of digital marketing taken you as a digital marketer?

As digital marketing has matured, so have I. I am not a tools kind of guy, so I'm not knee deep in AI and automation. But I have learned to make good use of social media and online networking.

I suppose if I was marketing cookie-cutter products, I would be all about automation, but I offer a highly custom service, so most automation doesn't fit my business model. And, thank goodness, that also makes my business somewhat immune to being overrun by big companies. I like that I can offer personal service, while interacting in this futuristic world.

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