Kimberly Herrington (00:00):
We need to diversify our traffic channels and make sure that we're thinking about future-proofing our business for consumer privacy updates. Where we are right now, consumer privacy is going to be an issue, whether or not it comes from government regulation, from app opt-ins, from consumers changing, it's happening. Whether or not we are ready for it, it's coming. That's why I urge everyone that's listening to this to start to think about consumer privacy and how it affects their business, because it will eventually get there.
Susan Boles (00:37):
When I was first thinking about what privacy-focused marketing meant, I asked a few of my favorite marketing friends if they were going to do privacy-focused marketing, what would they do? Pretty much universally, everyone came back with the answer of podcasting and SEL.
Susan Boles (00:54):
I'm Susan Boles and you're listening to Break The Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit and increase your operational capacity. This month, we've been talking about digital privacy and online security. Following along a bit with an experiment in privacy focused marketing, I decided to take on for my own business. I talked to Paul Jarvis, the founder of Fathom Analytics, which is a privacy first alternative to Google Analytics. Switching out the analytics platform on my website was my first step of this experiment. I talked to Jessica Robinson, a cybersecurity expert, about online security risks for small business owners and how to counteract those risks.
Susan Boles (01:36):
If you missed either of those episodes, go check them out to get a bit more of the background for this privacy-focused marketing experiment. As I was deciding what marketing channels and initiatives should be included or excluded from this experiment, thinking about podcasting and SEO as the main focuses of my effort made a lot of sense to me. Podcasting is one of the very few places in the world of media still without automatic digital ad insertions, for the most part. There are a few hosting platforms that are allowing them or building their value proposition around ads, but as a podcaster, you can still choose to stay independent from that. Also, podcast data tracking is still just not that detailed. Download or subscriber numbers are notoriously unreliable and the ability to tie downloads to an individual, still relatively difficult. In terms of content delivery, podcasting is pretty private and it was also already my primary content and marketing channel.
Susan Boles (02:36):
I already hosted and still do host the podcast on platform called Transistor.fm, which I'll link to in the show notes. One of the founders, Justin Jackson, was a guest here on the show back in episode 24, to talk more about how he grew Transistor. Now, Transistor as a platform, doesn't do any digital ad insertion or tracking of any listeners, other what's provided from the podcast platforms, so apple and Spotify. They aggregate the analytics, so you can get some basic idea of geography, listening platform and number of downloads per episode, but there's no personally identifiable information or tracking. Transistor is the platform that other privacy companies like base camp also use. Podcasting was already a major part of my marketing strategy. I was already using a privacy focused podcast hosting platform. For the purposes of my experiment, there really wasn't anything for me to do to change there.
Susan Boles (03:34):
Just keep doing what I was doing, but it is still a major part of this privacy focused initiative. I wanted to make sure I mentioned it here as part of the experiment. Then we come to SEO, search engine optimization, which is the focus of this episode. It was the next big piece that I added into my privacy first marketing initiative. Up to this point in my business, I hadn't really paid much attention to SEO, assuming that it was mostly for businesses larger than mine and that it would be something I added someday. In light of trying to figure out how to still get traffic and leads, while not tracking folks or paying advertising dollars to companies that I really didn't want to support like Facebook, investing in making my content more searchable and pulling people to me, just made sense. They were already searching for that content anyway, why not be the answer to their questions?
Susan Boles (04:26):
To do this, I needed some support though. I didn't have time or, honestly, much of a desire to learn the nitty-gritty details of SEO. I'm a huge fan of finding experts who are fabulous at what they do and using their knowledge. I wanted to hire somebody to do it for me, and I needed them to be someone who was going to be on board with this whole privacy-focused thing as a concept. Enter Kim Herrington. Kim is an SEO consultant and the founder of Orsanna, which is a marketing agency for law firms, financial services and other professional services. I found her by listening to a podcast episode where she described the work that she did for Paul Jarvis, who you will remember, is the co-founder of Fathom from two episodes ago. Because Paul is so committed to digital privacy. I knew that Kim would be well acquainted with the privacy first approach I was trying to take. Kim has been instrumental in helping me execute this marketing strategy, and she keeps me up-to-date on changes in the marketing and digital privacy world.
Susan Boles (05:27):
Kim and I talk about what she's done for me behind the scenes at Scale Spark, why SEO is the perfect strategy if you're concerned with data privacy in your own marketing, and some big changes that are coming with Facebook and Instagram and data tracking that we should all know about. Hey, Kim. Thanks for being here.
Kimberly Herrington (05:44):
Hey, thanks so much for having me, Susan. It is an absolute pleasure to get to talk about SEO and intent-based marketing.
Susan Boles (05:49):
Yeah. I think this is going to be really fun. When we met, I basically came to you with this idea that I wanted my marketing to be focused on privacy. I wanted to experiment and see if it was actually possible to market and grow a business without relying on social media or ads, and kind of the major elements of that experiment were going to be this podcast, which doesn't have data tracking. I use Transistor as my host, which they're a privacy-focused company as well. Then SEO as the main marketing channel for my website. That's how we met, was me basically being like, "Hey, you're a marketer. Can we like not market?" What was your kind of first reaction to that kind of, this is what I want to try. What do you think?
Kimberly Herrington (06:32):
Well, you're not actually the first person that's ever come to me with that proposal before. The very first person that kind of raised my awareness about the need of privacy marketing was actually, Paul, was my first client, Paul Jarvis, who you have another episode with that people should also go listen to, about how to actually track data while respecting people's privacy. That it was before he had started his kind of foray into analytics and was thinking about how do I do this with respecting people's privacy? He wrote an email about growth hacking and why it really is not good for privacy and consumer protection and said, "I really hate SEO because of this." As an SEO professional, that really rubbed me the wrong way. I said, "Hey, Paul, actually, that's not true." I reached out to him on Twitter and said like, "You can actually do growth hacking in an ethical, honest way. It's really more focused on making sure that you understand the reasons why someone is looking for a product or a service rather than necessarily who they are."
Kimberly Herrington (07:39):
Because while we have kind of the demographics of our ideal clientele that we want to target, say for instance, are in a certain age bracket, certain income, certain area of the country, we don't have to know those things to be able to market to them. Because if it's someone that say, for instance is going to Google and they're searching with the intention of finding a specific product or service, most of the time, those people already share those common traits. Then the marketing message that you use can self-select and help you define which people you work with. It's more about understanding the intention, the reasons why, and the problems behind someone of why they're looking in the first place and it all has to do with the intention.
Susan Boles (08:22):
Talk to me a little bit more about, expand on this idea that SEO is kind of really the perfect option for marketers who want to be respectful of data privacy.
Kimberly Herrington (08:34):
Think of it this way. Everybody uses Google for the most part. It's the most popular search engine, and when you go to Google, you plug in whatever you're looking for. It's based off of keywords. Now, 13 to 15% of all searches that are done every single day in Google are new. Google's never seen them before. Google's job is to figure out the kind of seed reason why you're putting those words into search, to figure out what you're looking for to match up what you're looking for with a website that meets that, what was called searcher intent the best, and that provides the best value. From a marketer standpoint, it's not about thinking more who that person is that searching, but about that intention. Because of that, we can actually strip out the need for data, that the data that we rely on from an SEO standpoint, while demographics is helpful, it's actually more about what keywords they use and what page they land on, and then what actions they take after that.
Kimberly Herrington (09:38):
While we do have that data right now, and it is helpful over time, we might not, and that is called dark traffic. More and more over the year of 2020, I noticed that lots of my clients were starting to have more dark traffic, that they had privacy blockers on, and that SEO still works. Even when we don't know that information, we can make really strong inferences about the actions that they're taking. Whereas if you think about social media, the only way to get in front of someone is knowing what their demographics are and how they interact with apps. Then you have to make your targeting based on off of their interactions, their engagement and who they are. You have to say, "Hey, I'm here," and kind of shout loudly, versus SEO is more about being in the right place at the right time and offering the right value.
Kimberly Herrington (10:26):
That's not dependent upon who is coming to your website, so much more as that intention behind the search. That's why SEO is such a good thing for respecting privacy, because as marketers, we can kind of dig into the reasons why, of the thought process by doing customer interviews, having people opt in, rather than making them opt in, just by the standards of how our products work, how our websites work, how they track people. From that perspective, it's that the center of SEO and intention based marketing is not demographics. It's not who the people are that you're trying to get in front of that matters. That makes it work.
Susan Boles (11:06):
Yeah. It's interesting that you kind of put it that way. I never really thought about the fact that on social media, you do have to know who they are. You have to know where they're coming from. You have to know how they interact versus just what they're trying to figure out. It makes me kind of think about the customer persona kind of idea of when people ask, "Who's your ideal customer," and you're supposed to start off with demographics and age and all of these things that ultimately really don't necessarily matter.
Kimberly Herrington (11:41):
Right, because who actually buys may not fit that profile, because you always have outliers. Then do you really care that they're an outlier or so much is that they're paying you, they're qualified and that they're a good person to work with, or that's going to buy from you. It's less about that. If you think about kind of the history of advertising and marketing, marketing is relatively new. We actually haven't had it that long. It started as advertising and where demographics came from was that they couldn't know anything about the people that they were showing their advertisements to, other than say, they read National Geographic versus Women's Digest. The demographic profiling was so important because you would know, okay, the person who's going to buy this dish soap obviously needs to be in Women's Digest, not National Geographic, versus camera equipment should be in National Geographic because they travel. They want to take pictures.
Kimberly Herrington (12:30):
Thinking about kind of the history of advertising, that's why it's so centered on demographics for advertising. Whereas for marketing, it's not, it doesn't have to be. That's kind of the differences between marketing and advertising. When you really think from a marketing standpoint of that, you're not doing paid ads, necessarily those demographics are less important.
Susan Boles (12:51):
Hmm. We've been talking around SEO a little bit, but kind of give me a short and sweet overview of what "SEO" is anyway. We're all supposed to be doing it. We're all supposed to care about it, but it can kind of feel a little bit like the secret sauce that only big companies can use to or something that we know we should be doing, but just never gets done.
Kimberly Herrington (13:18):
How SEO works is it's the process of making your website kind of more authoritative, more valuable in the eyes of the search engine. That can be Google. That can be Bing, that can be DuckDuckGo. It doesn't really matter which search engine. I talk about Google, because that's the majority of search traffic, comes from Google. That's where my specialty lays, but it's about kind of meeting what the expectations are for search engines in a way that makes sense to a robot. Then thinking about how that robot is designing itself, because they do design themselves through machine learning and artificial intelligence now, that it's responding to human interaction. It's kind of a chain process of, if you think at the beginning of the human process, if someone goes to search, this is what they're putting into a search engine. This is what they're looking for.
Kimberly Herrington (14:10):
Then you can adapt the content and how you present that content on your website, because that's really the core element of SEO. You have to have the content on your website first to be able to rank at all. If it doesn't exist, you won't show up because Google has nowhere to send someone. Then the second bit of SEO, that's the other kind of pillar of it, there's three pillars. On-page SEO, which is content. Then you've got off page SEO, which is the perspective of search engines of your website in the holistic whole of the internet. Is it an authoritative website? Does it have links from other websites that are also authorities? Does it have brand mentions, not just even links, but sometimes when you were companies mentioned by name and an article, Google also counts that as well. There's an authoritative source and it can connect your website to that brand mention through what's called entities.
Kimberly Herrington (15:00):
The third thing is technical SEO, and this is where most people think that they should be spending their time, but it actually has the least impact for most small businesses. That's where corporate SEO really comes in. Most of my corporate clients, they focus on technical SEO because they have such a high brand value already. They don't have to worry as much about back links and they don't have to worry about as much on as on page content, because they're a big brand that gets lots of mentions and that back links have a lot of value when it comes to how you rank in search engines.
Susan Boles (15:32):
Is SEO something that only big companies should be investing in or can small companies kind of take advantage and benefit from it as well?
Kimberly Herrington (15:40):
Well, companies can absolutely take advantage of it. If you go and take a look at say what you offer for service and you actually put in, what's called a long tail keyword. That's something that's four or five words long, that's more of a question about what you do, you're probably going to notice that most of the brands that are in search results are not big companies. The reason why, is big companies don't invest in content marketing as much. They're starting to, but that's an opportunity for small businesses. As well, small businesses are more connected to their customers. Since it's less about demographics and more about the reasons why someone's going to search because you know your customers so well, you can create content that really narrows down on those questions that you get all the time, that maybe in a big company, the salespeople know, but the people who do the marketing have no idea that those questions are being asked routinely and they don't have that connection because of corporate structure.
Kimberly Herrington (16:32):
You have that opportunity as a small business because you're so small, because you know your customer so well, to take advantage of that ability. The other thing is that small businesses think, "Well, I can't build back links. I don't have a big enough profile. People don't know who I am." The thing is, it's much easier to sell a story that has a human interest piece into it, than it is to just say, "I'm a corporation. I'm here." It's much easier to generate that type of PR. It's something that you can actually do yourself too, through networking and making connections with other people and being on podcasts, sharing resources, back and forth and supporting other small businesses out there.
Susan Boles (17:11):
Hmm. Interesting. I love the idea of kind of a community focused aspect of small businesses supporting each other, actually kind of everybody rises up together.
Kimberly Herrington (17:24):
If you have all these different small businesses that deal with different niches, because only one really can rank at the top for each search, that's where making connections across different niches is so important. Because then if you say, for instance, for me, I work with high ticket service providers, generally speaking, when I do SEO for small businesses. I've made friends with people who do high ticket sales coaching, or high ticket branding. Because we don't compete against each other, we can support each other in that we don't feel like we're hurting our businesses, while simultaneously giving each other referrals and helping each other with backlinks. The key here is that reciprocal back links don't work. Say that all three of us linked to each other, those basically cancel each other out. It's important to understand that you want to make your network bigger than just a kind of what we call link scheme of linking to each other.
Kimberly Herrington (18:15):
That doesn't work. It's more about creating real relationships with other people that are small business owners. That way, not only are you getting back links where it makes sense, you're getting referrals and then using that to springboard from there and say, "Hey, you got a feature in such and such publication. My audience is the same as yours. How did you do that? Can you connect me with that person that helped you? I'd love to share my story too." It's asking for support from other small business owners in the same niche that works super well for generating backlinks.
Susan Boles (18:45):
Awesome. That makes sense. Hey, there. It's Susan. If you've been listening to this interview and it's making you think about some of these issues and ideas, and you wish you could talk to some other real live business owners about it, I wanted to invite you to my free monthly round table, Dollars and Decisions. Once a month, I get together live with a group of amazing business owners just like you, to geek out on money and operations and workflow and software, all that stuff that you hear me talk about here. The round table is kind of like a live interactive version of the podcast. I would love to have you join me. To sign up for the next round table, head to Scalespark.co/dollarsindecisions, no spaces, no hyphens, or you can just click the link in the show notes. Hope to see you there.
Susan Boles (19:39):
Let's talk a little bit on the return on investment of SEO. Like podcasting, it's a little bit of a long-term game. This is something that doesn't necessarily have an immediate payoff. How long do you typically think you need to kind of think about investing in SEO before you kind of expect to see some return?
Kimberly Herrington (20:01):
It usually takes at the three month mark where you start to see some movement in terms of it producing customers for you, and six months is usually where it starts to produce leads consistently. Now, this always depends on your website, what you're starting with. the SEO that you're starting with and the competition that you're up against. If you are up against that in the top 10, it's all big corporations with huge blogs of hundreds and hundreds of pages of content. It could take years before you can rank. It's all about figuring out your opportunities when it comes specifically to keyword research and figuring out which keywords that you can rank for, what types of searches you can rank for. When I'm saying keywords, it's not really specific word for you this, but more so topics, because SEO a lot more topical focus today than it used to be, because Google understands that we use a lot of cognates in different word orders to mean the same thing.
Kimberly Herrington (20:56):
It's identifying those topics where there's opportunity that lines up, not just with people that are searching, but also your sales systems and your sales process and the customer journey from them discovering that they have a problem, learning about solutions, all the way down to when they convert and actually become a customer.
Susan Boles (21:16):
It matches up with kind of in my own head, when I decided to invest in an SEO, how long I expected things to pay off. For me, we actually, it was really fast. [crosstalk 00:21:27].
Kimberly Herrington (21:27):
After three months, I think, is when you got your first lead from SEO.
Susan Boles (21:32):
Yeah. It was much faster than at least I had expected, because I had kind of approached it with the same idea I did when I invested in the podcast, which was don't even think about paying attention to it until six months, more realistically at like the year mark, let's reevaluate and see the actual investment return on this kind of area. For me, it was much faster than I expected it to be.
Kimberly Herrington (22:00):
Yeah. That's because as well, you're in an area, although your website didn't have a lot of domain authority about virtual CFO services, your competition didn't either. That's when the opportunity was a good one that we found for you, of doing virtual CFO services of what you got the lead for, was a good opportunity. Whereas some of your other products and things that you offer, those are going to be harder and a longer haul to get to rank in the top four. That's where picking your battles is really important, and working with an SEO professional to identify what those opportunities are, certainly you can learn to do keyword research on your own, but it is a little bit of an art form and it takes a while to get good at it. It just does, unfortunately. That's where kind of picking and choosing where you're going to see that return on investment in talking with an SEO provider who understands how businesses, how you make your money, conversion rates, average customer lifetime value, all those sorts of questions should go into how you're thinking about SEO.
Kimberly Herrington (23:03):
To think about the privacy of your customers, to bring it back to that all this information because someone has opted in, they've become a customer. You know this information because they've decided to do business with you. You don't need to know things about people that you haven't come in contact with to do this kind of SEO planning and do this analysis. It's available information that we know just from Google that they provide for us of the average total number of searches. They've done a really good job of making sure that we can't track individuals as well, and that continues to decrease of what we can see. Over time, we've seen the individual keywords that people are putting in to get to websites, less and less information there.
Kimberly Herrington (23:45):
We can't know the exact terms or ways, especially for conversions. A Google search console is the tools that we use. You can see, "Okay, I had X number of people that clicked," but then the reports won't always show you what keywords they specifically searched to get to your website, to click, to prevent you from being able to identify specific individuals. That kind of privacy process is already built into how SEO works because of the data that we are given from Google.
Susan Boles (24:11):
Yeah. In terms of conversions, the way that I track, and then I started doing this a long time ago, honestly, because podcasts are very hard to track conversions on. As I ask people, when they book a sales call or one of my questions is, "How did you find out about me?" That's how I'm tracking actual conversions.
Kimberly Herrington (24:34):
Yeah. It makes sense to do that too, because analytics can be wrong. That even for me, for my own business, I'll have people that will convert different ways of that they'll fill out, they'll search on Google search. They'll find me, they'll convert. Then they'll contact me on Instagram, not remember who I was because they just converted straight away and then also convert on Instagram. Also, remember that people don't always convert the way that the analytics thinks that they do that. Sometimes they come in and they may have looked on a cross-device, that the first time they actually saw you was something else. Then they found you a different way than they used another device and manually typed it in to get to your website. It's not always super consistent that there's always some variance in any data that we have, either from Google analytics or any other analytics platform.
Susan Boles (25:20):
Yeah. Interesting. I hadn't really thought about that. Is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on yet?
Kimberly Herrington (25:26):
Yes, because I know that most of your listeners have probably been thinking about the aspect of social media advertising in their businesses. I want to encourage them to start to think about how that impacts their overall conversions, because Apple's app transparency update that's part of iOS 14 Plus, is coming as well as consumers are becoming more aware of how their information is being used, that we're starting to see that direct and dark traffic go up and analytics. If you go look at your own analytics reports, have you used Google analytics or any other analytics provider, you're going to see the trackable sources of where your traffic is coming from. It's not as good as it was two, three years ago. It's getting continued to decrease either through this app transparency update, which allows people to opt in to data sharing for ad personalization instead of just being automatically opted in or having to manually opt out that, that's going to impact a lot of how we have data on consumers and privacy data.
Kimberly Herrington (26:30):
Small businesses in particular are going to be affected by this because we don't have the cash to buy credit card information from data providers to match up with individual profiles in person, the people that actually coming to our websites like large corporation scan. It's going to be a disadvantage for small businesses in that the cost per conversion from social media ads is likely to go up. This isn't just coming from me as a biased SEO professional. Facebook is actually taking out full-page ads in newspapers right now. This update is probably going to happen. I don't foresee that Apple decides to pull it. We need to anticipate that this is going to happen. We need to diversify our traffic channels and make sure that we're thinking about future-proofing our business for consumer privacy updates as things continue down the line.
Susan Boles (27:14):
Hmm. Interesting. Yeah. I think as consumers, we're getting a lot more aware of how our data is being used. What is happening behind the scenes. We had the whole thing with Tik-Tok this last year and the Cambridge Analytica and all of those data breaches and concerns that I think at least people are starting to-
Kimberly Herrington (27:42):
Their awareness is increased.
Susan Boles (27:43):
Yeah. They're starting to be aware that these big companies can identify you individually as a person.
Kimberly Herrington (27:52):
Yeah. I can remember when credit card data became a thing and how freaked out that made some people of before credit cards were really commonly used, we didn't really know much about people's buying habits, but now that we have credit cards, you can buy credit card information, know people's purchasing habits. That's also how they figure out lots of major data information for big corporations, that they do lots of data processing about credit card information, and thinking about kind of the reaction to that. Then people just kept using credit cards. They're very easy. It's much easier than using cash. It's faster than checks, but people didn't necessarily know. It took privacy regulations to really change that, either through class actions and through mass tort law or through regulations that went through the government.
Kimberly Herrington (28:36):
Thinking about where we are right now, consumer privacy is going to be an issue, whether or not it comes from government regulation from app opt-ins, from consumers changing. It's happening, whether or not we are ready for it, it's coming. That's why I urge everyone that's listening to this to start to think about consumer privacy and how it affects their business, because it will eventually get there.
Susan Boles (29:04):
Hmm. I think that is an excellent place to wrap it up on. Where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?
Kimberly Herrington (29:11):
The best place is my website, which is KimberlyHerrington.com. If they want, they can get a guide to help them figure out a method, to start generating some more sustainable traffic from diverse sources, and really actually calculate out how much traffic they need to achieve their business goals, and really tie it back to, this is exactly the number of visits you need based on your conversion rates and go through that process that an SEO professional does in the very beginning of doing an SEO consultation. They can get that at KimberleyHerrington.com/guide. I will say, Instagram is my favorite, so I'm always on Instagram and you can always ask me questions in DME and reach out. I'm more than happy to answer specific SEO questions that you have.
Susan Boles (29:51):
Thank you so much for being here and for chatting with me about this, Kim. I think this is a really interesting look at just data privacy and what we should be thinking about for the future.
Kimberly Herrington (30:03):
Well, thanks so much for having me, Susan. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you as a client. It's been amazing to watch her progress and to watch you really think about privacy and how it affects your business and make changes in your own business of how your marketing.
Susan Boles (30:17):
Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure to work with you.
Susan Boles (30:20):
Deciding to build SEO into my marketing strategy as one of the main focuses along with this podcast, has been pretty effective when it comes to bringing in new leads. As you heard Kim and I talk about it, didn't take very long before the return on that investment started to pay off for me. Now, it's only been about six months since I added the SEO focus into this experiment. It's still pretty early days, but the best part of spending money on SEO is that the return keeps gaining over time. Seven months into this experiment, SEO and podcasting are still the primary marketing channels for me, still the main focus of my efforts. So far it's paying off. I haven't noticed any reduction in clients coming through the door. The focus on privacy hasn't been a limitation in any way, just a benefit.
Susan Boles (31:08):
Next week, I'm talking to Nathalie Lussier about how she removed the Facebook tracking pixel from her website and left Instagram, both personally and professionally. I'll also talk about how I'm approaching my social media strategy and some of the other privacy initiatives that I still have on my list to tackle. Be sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player, so you don't miss it. Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMillan. Our production coordinator is Lou Blaser. This episode was edited by Marty Sefeldt with production assistance by Kristin Runvick.