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Career Day: Becoming an expert in Google search with Kristen Vaughn

Episode Overview

How do B2B organizations get discovered on Google, drive more online leads, and build brand visibility? Kristen Vaughn of KoMarketing shares her journey for becoming an SEO expert in a world where there is no clear playbook. Now more than ever gaining on Google requires understanding not only the technical aspects, but some of the more artistic elements of search engine optimization.

Kristen shares her journey and the knowledge she’s gained along the way:

  • What type of detective work does it take to become a content expert?
  • What’s Kristen’s approach to Google Analytics?
  • What’s it like to make the shift from smaller commercial businesses to larger enterprise B2Bs?
  • What does it take to generate thought-leadership content?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome to Career Day on the Voices of Search podcast. Today we’re going to learn about the skills accumulated and lessons learned from a great SEO throughout the various stops on her career. Joining us for Career Day is an expert in connecting content, SEO and social media marketing for B2B brands. Kristen Vaughn is the Associate Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing Associates, which is an agency that helps B2B organizations get found, drive more online leads, and build brand visibility through their strategic search, social media, and content marketing programs tailored to their clients’ specific needs.

Ben:                             But before we hear from Kristen, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to by the Marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. We’d like to invite you, our loyal podcast listeners, to an upcoming webinar where we’ll discuss how SEO and SEM are joining forces to win the SERP.

Ben:                             On June 19th, Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’s Director of Services, and Leslie Tu, 3Q Digital’s VP of SEO, will dive into ways that you can combine your paid and organic search marketing to be more effective together. To register for our SEO and SEM Joining Forces webinar, go to Searchmetrics.com/Webinar.

Ben:                             Okay, here is our interview with Kristen Vaughn, Associate Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing Associates. Kristen, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Kristen:                         Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Ben:                             It’s an honor to have you here, and I have to say you are our first guest that I know of that has a ferret as a pet. It’s something that was listed on your personal website. I have to, before we get into all of the goodness about search and content and SEO, how the heck did you decide to have a ferret as a pet?

Kristen:                         I guess the backstory is that I moved into a condo that doesn’t allow dogs, and I’m highly allergic to cats, but also still wanted to have a little friend in my house. So, I started looking into I guess less classic pets, and came upon the idea of ferrets. It actually is my first ferret that I’ve had, and it’s been interesting.

Ben:                             Ferrets are just a little more cuddly than going out and getting a lizard, I assume?

Kristen:                         Yes, they are.

Ben:                             Something that caught my eye about your personal profile when I was looking over your website and prepping for this, but let’s talk a little bit about your career. Obviously, that’s the reason why we’re here. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in SEO?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so I guess how I originally got started in SEO was kind of sheer luck, really. It happened kind of right out of college. At the time that I was attending college, SEO wasn’t really something that was taught in schools, so it wasn’t really something that I was an expert in quite yet. But I did, throughout college, have several marketing internships that kind of got my feet wet into the whole concept of digital marketing and managing websites, and kind of just that general goal of website visibility in order to generate leads for a business.

Ben:                             Early on in your career, actually before your career started, you were gaining some experience in digital marketing. Were you, at the same time, studying marketing? Or, was that just the couple of internships that you were able to get while you were in college?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so when I was in college… I went to a college in Massachusetts. I studied both marketing and communication. At the time that I was in school, I was kind of debating whether I wanted to go into marketing or more like PR/communications. I think it’s interesting now, kind of reflecting on that, because I do think that SEO kind of has a balance of both marketing, and there certainly is a more like PR focused element when you think about link building and visibility on third party websites, and that type of thing.

Ben:                             I feel like SEO in general, over specifically the past few years, maybe the last five years to 10 years with the rise of social media as a channel, has blended into other principals of marketing. Like you said, you had a background in communications and in marketing. SEO has become more than just the technical geeks- sorry guys that are listening to the podcast- that are the technical side, but the background is the nerds, the geeks, the guys that were really technical figuring out how to gain Google and now it is more of people that are generalists in terms of their background, understanding not only the technical side but some of the more artistic pieces of SEO.

Ben:                             Talk to me about your career arc. When you graduated from college, did you start working in SEO right away? Or, is that something that you picked up on later in your career?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so right out of college I actually extended kind of some of my internships eventually had turned into freelance work. I was working for a couple of local businesses in Boston, Andover, kind of like the suburb area of Massachusetts. They were all local businesses, but I really with that, got experience in doing a little bit of everything marketing so it wasn’t just digital. But, it did steer me in that direction where I was like, “Hey, I really like the digital aspect of marketing,” and kind of narrowed my focus there.

Kristen:                         At the time, I was doing everything from writing blog posts to direct mail, managing websites, but with that overall goal of generating leads for the businesses.

Ben:                             You mentioned that you were doing a little bit of everything marketing. That’s my favorite channel of marketing. Talk to me a little bit about some of the experience that you gained as a freelancer. It’s a little bit of a nontraditional path coming out of college and going out on your own. Why did you decide to go that route and work for multiple different brands? What were you working on? Why didn’t you just go get a traditional J-O-B?

Kristen:                         Yeah, when I was coming out of college, I had some really great experiences with the one specific owner that I was working for. He was the owner of a custom closet designer in Andover. From that, we had a great relationship and he basically just started referring me to other local businesses, so it all kind of stemmed from him. From that, I was working with another interior designer that he had referred me to, another person he had referred me to who built wine cellars. So really, all these local business owners that I was doing some consulting for.

Ben:                             It’s a challenging market, and mostly because it’s very geographically constrained. Talk to me about some of the tips that you’ve learned or some of the tactics that you implemented related to marketing local businesses.

Kristen:                         At the time, the business was really getting a lot of their leads, their referrals. My goal was to be reaching kind of these newer audiences that hadn’t been targeted in the past, so whether that be via the website, via social media channels, via blog content, we were kind of using some of these newer channels for the business to reach new audiences rather than just kind of relying on that referral program that had been relied on in the past.

Ben:                             So, you worked on a multichannel digital marketing strategy, and your business expanded from your sort of one stable client to working with a couple of other local businesses. It sounds like you were running a pretty successful digital marketing consulting agency. What made you decide to eventually go over to KoMarketing where you are now? You’ve been there for a long time. You’ve specialized more. What made you make the decision to leave your independent consulting business and go take a job at an agency?

Kristen:                         Ultimately, I can remember even being in college and knowing that I wanted to work in an agency. I’m not really sure where that confidence came from, that I definitely wanted to be an agency, but it did end up working out for me. Ultimately, with that goal of wanting to move to an agency, I wanted to be learning from other marketers, exchanging their knowledge, and really part of a marketing team. I think especially at that point in my career where I was looking to learn and kind of gain that momentum, and really become an expert in digital marketing, I needed that pure communication and mentorship which is really difficult to do on your own when you’re just starting out, kind of, if that makes sense.

Ben:                             No, absolutely. I think the value of working at an agency is you get, A, mentorship. You have a boss, somebody that’s a little bit more experienced. You get some professional training and coaching. You also get the opportunity to work on multiple different businesses. So, you can see different business models, different industries, you get multiple reps, and that’s a big difference between being in-house, is when you’re in-house you get to own an entire product or you’re really thinking about the same product or service all of the time.

Kristen:                         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                             Talk to me about some of the type of work that you were doing, maybe some of the businesses you were working on. Was there an area of expertise or specialty that you started when you were at KoMarketing?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so actually I started at KoMarketing as a Content Marketing Analyst. At the time, it was really a mix between both social media marketing and writing content for several different industries and clients, a lot of which were focused in the technology space, even in the agriculture space. It really pushed me to be writing about some very technical clients that required a lot of research. At that point, I think it really put my writing skills to the test, and made me kind of improve in that area.

Kristen:                         From there, I figured out that I really wanted to get more involved in the SEO side of things, which at the time being, my only involvement in keywords that we were targeting within the content that I was writing are the specific audiences that we were trying to reach on social media for link-building purposes. I did have some sort of underlying curiosity more towards SEO. I voiced that to my two direct bosses, Derek Edmond and Casey Gillette.

Kristen:                         Once I did voice that curiosity, they were super helpful and such good mentors with kind of getting me the training that I needed to become more of an expert and search specifically. That required a bunch of tests. I can remember taking training courses and tests, Google Analytics certification, and really just continuous learning with the specific publications in the industry, and knowledge sharing with other SEO experts at the company.

Ben:                             There’s a lot to unpack there. You started off as an independent consultant. You’re working on some local marketing projects. You go to an agency to get some mentorship experience, and you’re a writer by trade. You mentioned that you were working on writing a lot of technical content. What’s the strategy there for creating great technical content when it’s not necessarily a subject matter that you’re an expert in? How did you learn about agriculture?

Kristen:                         Yeah, great question. It’s not really common sense to be knowing about all the ins and outs of agriculture, so I would say a lot of it required researching and getting more familiar with that industry in general. I think really the key is being fully committed to the industry. Even though you are an agency writing about a specific industry, inserting yourself in that audience whether it’s subscribing to the top publications or setting up Google Alert notifications, really staying on top of what that audience is facing on a daily basis, what are their challenges, what information do they want to know that you can provide them.

Kristen:                         Kind of switching gears a bit too, with that independent research that I was doing, I think it was also very important to be getting research and resources from their internal team. A lot of the times, I was reaching out SMEs at organizations, and kind of just asking, “Hey, do you have 10 minutes to jump on a call? Let’s talk about this topic. I really want to write a good piece about it and want to pick your brain a bit, and make sure that we’re aligned with the audience and the right positioning.”

Kristen:                         So, really using a mix of the third party resources I could get, but also the direct resources within those companies.

Ben:                             It sounds like the strategy here is not only to understand who you’re writing for and learn about your audience, but then also to network your way to other people that are working in publications to pick their brains on the resource and content that influences them.

Kristen:                         Yep, yeah exactly.

Ben:                             Okay, and eventually moving down your career path, you’re talking about becoming a great technical writer, and you decided, “You know what? I want to expand this. I’m not just going to be the writer. I’m going to focus a little bit on content syndication,” and you look at SEO as a great channel. Talk to me about why SEO was attractive for you, and what did you do to become an expert in SEO?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so I SEO to me was very interesting because there isn’t really a rule book when it comes to SEO. There’s a lot of digging and investigating, which I found really appealing. Like, figuring out what strategy you might want to test and implement, and see if it works. It might not work, and you might need to readjust and think on the fly and come up with a new strategy. Also, from the technical component, really just figuring out… I mean, it’s not a secret that a lot of times SEOs are dealing with things that have broke, and kind of trying to figure out what the root cause was and how to fix it. So, that sort of… We joke around at KoMarketing saying it’s detective work. So, that sort of investigation work is something that I really found interesting and was passionate about, like figuring out problems and the solutions to them.

Ben:                             Tell me about some of the projects, as you transitioned to becoming a SEO, what was your focus, what did you learn, what were some of the projects you took on?

Kristen:                         Yeah, I would say a lot of my initial focuses getting more involved in SEO was very analytics-focused. So really, getting very familiar with Google Analytics and really what performance metrics we needed to be looking at on a daily basis to figure out if our strategies were working, because I think a lot of the times, that’s really what it comes down to is you can implement several different strategies, right? But, having that basic understanding of what’s working and what’s not, and what metrics we need to be tasked against in order to figure out if this is successful or not. So, I would say definitely being very familiar with analytics.

Kristen:                         The keyword research process is also something that’s kind of never-ending. There’s always new learnings there, but I would say a lot of my time was getting more familiar with what the right keyword research process was for me specifically, because there’s not really a right or wrong approach. But, being able to figure out what keywords make the most sense for these very technical audiences, a lot of the times the keywords weren’t necessarily the highest search volume because you’re in such a niche. But, figuring out what keywords are going to offer a business the most value.

Kristen:                         If it is longer tail, it may be less search volume. Just making sure that we have the right intent, and that being something that is actually going to generate business.

Ben:                             KoMarketing is primarily focused on serving B2B brands, and when you left your consulting practice you were working on consumer-facing brands at small businesses. Talk to me about the shift and what you learned moving from smaller commercial businesses, to larger enterprise B2B-focused businesses.

Kristen:                         Yeah, I love that question because that definitely was something that was a bit of a transition for me. Dealing with local businesses, I would say that there was more of an instant result, or at least a shorter period where you would see a result, and that when you’re dealing with consumers usually the decision is made much quicker whether they’re going to make a purchase or not; whereas, B2B there are a lot of decision makers involved, and the sales funnel is really much longer. So, you might go months without actually seeing leads or results from an asset that was generated, for example.

Kristen:                         Really, just making sure that with so many decision makers involved in something, you really need to be creating a lot more content that’s targeting different phases of the funnel. So, reaching all of those different points where people might be searching.

Ben:                             Let’s double click there. As you’re working with a B2B brand and you’re understanding that there are multiple decision makers at different points in the process, how is that affecting your content strategy? Are you creating different types of content for different decision makers, different points in the buyers’ journey? Walk me through a little bit about your through process working with B2B enterprise brands.

Kristen:                         Yeah, thinking about it from a keyword perspective, there are obviously… I’ll use marketing automation as an example. Say we wanted to target the term “marketing automation”. That term by nature is much more top of the funnel. I do still think that’s an important term if you want to be known for that. But the way that you’re going to position it and write about it is much different. For example, if you look in search results for marketing automation, a lot of what’s showing up is a lot of informational type of content. People are asking what it is, how to do it successfully, challenges around it.

Kristen:                         If you were going to write an asset-targeting kind of top of the funnel searches like that, you would want to align it with what Google sees as applicable; whereas, if you want to target someone much deeper in the funnel, say marketing automation platform or the best marketing automation platform, someone who’s kind of indicating that they’re ready to start looking at specific solutions and make a purchase potentially, if you take a look at the bet marketing automation platforms in search results, you can see that there are lot more review-style content, things to look for in a marketing automation platform, key features, et cetera.

Kristen:                         So, creating an asset that’s specifically aligned towards that face of funnel, and clearly addressing that question.

Ben:                             What’s interesting to me about what you said is that you’re not only matching the piece of content to the buyer’s journey, you’re matching it to a different content type. The example you used was creating a review type of content for something like best marketing automation services, which is an interesting tip. Let’s go back to talking about your career. You’ve been at KoMarketing for looks like a little over five years now. Talk to me about being at an agency for that long, working with multiple clients. What are some of the value and benefits that you’ve seen? What are some of the things that you’re thinking about longer term in your career?

Kristen:                         Yeah, I mean one of the benefits that I’ve seen, and it really goes back to initially when I wanted to work in an agency, was specifically the knowledge sharing. I haven’t really hit a day or a point in my career where I haven’t learned something new every day. There’s just so many- especially in the SEO landscape, things are constantly changing. I think staying on top of what’s changing and kind of exchanging different strategies on how to align your programs with that is super important. That’s something that I see as a key benefit every day, really when I’m at work. Especially, being in an agency where we have I would say three core focuses.

Kristen:                         We have SEO and content, social media and paid advertising as well. So those three kind of channels and experts within each of those were constantly exchanging what we found to work, or maybe what we’re struggling with that someone else could give us advice on.

Ben:                             As you’ve transitioned from being more of a generalist to being a specialist in SEO, what are some of the things that you feel like you’ve learned about the connection between not only content search marketing, but also how it impacts some of syndication? You know, somebody in your social marketing efforts?

Kristen:                         Yeah, I think some of the key learnings… I mean one of the things that I learned right out the gate was how important it is to have solid writing skills in really all of those areas whether you are focused in SEO, social media, even paid advertising. Having solid writing skills is so important because no matter what, you are positioning yourself as an expert in that specific industry, and you need to be tailoring your content towards an audience that’s very educated, and really creating that engaging content that is going to encourage them to take it the next step with the company, to view your company as a thought leader in the space.

Ben:                             As you learn more about the connection between content, content syndication, content optimization, what do you think the future career path is for you? Are you planning to stay in an agency? Do you think that you’re going to be expanding, maybe going in-house sometime? What’s the long-term direction for you?

Kristen:                         Yeah, so taking a step back and kind of looking at what I’ve done so far in my career, having that experience of doing freelance work, and now being in an agency, I think agency is really what I found to be the best fit for me. I could see myself staying in an agency environment for really the bulk of my career.

Ben:                             Interesting. Do you have aspirations to become an agency owner? Would you ever branch out on your own and bridge the gap between running a consulting business, being independent, and being in an agency format?

Kristen:                         Potentially. Never say never. It’s definitely possible.

Ben:                             It’s a long career, and I think that you’ve obviously done a lot in the early portions of your career. I guess the last question that I have for you today is for the people that are making the transition from their education and are debating whether they would want to go independent, whether they want to be in an agency, what advice do you have for the younger generation of marketers that are interested in following a similar career path?

Kristen:                         Yeah, I would say it really comes down to what’s the best fit for your personality. I think one of the key things, like I said, that I was looking for is to constantly be learning at that point in my career. As someone who is working independently, as long as you have kind of that confidence to be pushing yourself to seek that new information, I think it can certainly be successful as well for me personally. I felt like being in an agency would allow me to kind of do that a bit more, especially at the start of my career.

Ben:                             Yeah, well I appreciate the advice. I think that the match between your personality type and everybody has to make these decisions for themselves, but understanding if you want guidance, or if you are somebody that feels confident and capable to just go figure it out on your own. Some people thrive in that environment, and some people want a template to follow. That’s a personal decision for everyone.

Ben:                             Either way, Kristen, it sounds like your career is off to a great start, and I appreciate you joining us and telling us about your path.

Kristen:                         Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Ben:                             Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Kristen Vaughn, the Associate Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing Associates. If you’d like to learn more about Kristen, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send her a Tweet @Kristen_Vaughn, K-R-I-S-T-E-N_V-A-U-G-H-N. Or, you could visit her personal website, which is KristenVaughn.com, or her company’s website which is CoMarketing.com. K-OMarketing.com.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions, or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a Tweet @BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And, if you’re interested in joining us for our SEO and SEM Joining Forces webinar, which is happening on June 19th, go to Searchmetrics.com/Webinar to register. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed next week.

Ben:                             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember, the answers are always in the data.