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Marketing and lead generation for SMBs

An Interview with Debra Murphy

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Debra Murphy President at Masterful Marketing Debra takes us through her journey from corporate to marketing and in this conversation Dawood speaks to her about on page SEO, building marketing for SMB, citation best practices and more.

Let’s not waste our time writing something no one’s ever going to find because no one’s looking for it, let’s be strategic.

Debra Murphy
President at Masterful Marketing

Hello everyone. Today we have with us Debra Murphy, President at Masterful Marketing. Hi, Debra. Thank you so much for taking out time today and being with us. Lovely to have you.

It’s my pleasure too. Thank you for inviting me.

Debra, before we dive deep into the questions, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and share what you do at Masterful Marketing with our viewers?

Sure. I started Masterful Marketing around 20 years ago. I finally got tired of “Corporate America” and decided to go out on my own and be a marketer for high-tech companies because that’s what I did in corporate. But I joined a networking organization when I first started to get out and meet people because cold calling sales is just not my thing. And I was deathly afraid that I would never get a client because I would never pick up the phone and call anybody. So when I was networking, I noticed that more people in the small business arena, the home services, the plumbers, the electricians. They all wanted to work with me, but they were afraid because I was a consultant. So I shifted the business to start working with many small business owners that I met, helping them define and implement marketing campaigns for their business. And that’s how it evolved from me going from high-tech marketing into small business marketing because they’re the ones who need the help. And there were many of them that were getting — I don’t want to say scammed — but they were getting scammed by a lot of people who are promising them the world and the first page on Google and paying them a lot of money but not getting the results that they need.

So I took it upon myself to have that ethical small business marketing help them out, get them rolling in the right direction. And if they can do it on their own, I’m perfectly happy to train and help them do it on their own versus having to pay an agency all the time. So that’s the agency. We work with small businesses. It’s great because a lot of my clients do home services. So when I need something around here, I know who to call – the painters and plumbers of the world.

I also work with a lot of small businesses like financial services, coaches, consultants, personal trainers, and people who are independent professionals. So that’s the focus of Masterful Marketing to help educate and help the small business do the marketing on their own when possible.

Tell us how Debra was as a child?

I was very self-determined. I knew way back in high school that I was going to be a math teacher. I always loved maths, and I always loved the Sciences. And I did go to school for computer science. For math, I migrated myself into computer science, which was interesting because the first computer science course I took, I hated it and never wanted to touch a computer again. And then I ended up getting a major in it.

So I double majored in computer science and math and ended up in the high-tech world and did what they called technical marketing. So I would go out and present to clients on the technology. Little did I know that my background in computer science and getting into high-tech would set me up for today’s world in marketing because knowing the technology, I sneak up on people because they don’t realize that they try to catch me on something technical. But it’s a unique combination that I understand the underpinnings of the technology that drives a lot of the marketing.

But I also spent many years in marketing organizations and actually as a VP of marketing and a small startup at one point. So it was a unique blend. And so I knew I wanted to do something in the Sciences, but I did decide in college that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and code all day. So that’s how I evolved into marketing because I like to talk to people.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

It’s very comfortable for us. It’s just my husband and myself, and he’s a software engineer. So he does his thing. We didn’t have a family when I started my company. I don’t have children. So it was just him and me, so it was a little more comfortable for me because he had a full-time job. So I wasn’t risking everything to start my business. I know a lot of people have. I give them a lot of credit, those who step out. I advise people if they are thinking of starting a business to stay employed while they get it started. And it is a lot of work. But you just have to have that determination. I think it’s gotten easier today to do that. Back when I started mine online, stuff wasn’t big. I mean, the first year, I sat there and went, “Jesus, I guess I need a website” because it wasn’t that popular back in the early 2000s. But today, the playing field has been leveled substantially for people to start a small business and be successful and become visible and do a lot of marketing on a very low budget because of all of the tools that we have available to us today.
So I think it’s a lot easier. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s easy to start your own business, but it is something that I know a lot of people are doing because I think everybody wants to have that control over their lifestyle, be able to do the things they want to do when they want to do them. And if you have a family, it just in some ways does make it a little easier because you’re more available to them when they need you to be.

What has been the most satisfying moment in business for you?

I get the most satisfaction when I see clients that are excited about the results that we’re getting. I can do a lot of things, but if they don’t get results, it’s pointless. That’s why somehow, I like to coach, but I don’t because if people don’t implement what we are coaching them on, I don’t get the satisfaction of knowing they’re being successful. So when I work with small business owners and they actually do the work, implement the activities and have their successes, that’s where I get my satisfaction. When I see the leads start coming in, when people all of a sudden are like, “oh, my goodness, this works!”. “This online marketing stuff does work for us”. That’s where I get the most satisfaction. There are personal satisfaction things, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is how my clients are gaining visibility, becoming more successful, and how their business is growing because of the work we do.

Debra, who has been your greatest inspiration?

Being the self-determined person I’ve always been; I’m actually into sports and not a great athlete, but I played many sports growing up. I’m a golfer now, and so my inspiration is always being up for the competition and looking at various athletes. And most recently, the person who inspires me the most is my coach I’ve been working with now since 2016. And that’s Todd Herman, who started the program “The 90 Day Year”.I discovered it through some email marketing campaign that he had affiliates sending out of people I was following, and I just saw a message that resonated. So I joined the program and got to know Todd and got into what he’s calling Champion Circle. And he inspires me because he also coaches athletes. And so we connected quickly because his language spoke to me because as an athlete, you think differently. And so that helped me a lot by working with him, and I still work with him today. He’s just a brilliant person. And I love listening to what he has to say and how he coaches other people. So I get a lot of value out of him coaching the group that I’m in, and I sit and just absorb it all. So it’s great.

Right. So your three-phase Masterful Marketing Game Plan, I guess, is based on the same plan you were talking about, right?

Yeah. The three-phase Master Marketing Game Plan basically is three phases. What is done is it is combined agency work where we build up the online presence for the customer because a lot of small businesses don’t know how to build their website and if they have, it probably isn’t working for them. So we make sure they have a great foundation, the website, social media platforms relevant to them. We brand them, make sure they’re consistent, and get the message. Then we work on a marketing plan to make sure we have all the right messages and all of the strategies aligned.

And then the third phase is where I’ve become a certified coach in “The 90 Day Year”. And I’ve used those tools as part of the last 90 days of the program to hold the business owner accountable. So we work together. It can be a training session. It can be coaching if they could come and say, “hey, I’m trying to do this program”, if they’re implementing it themselves. But we use the two-week sprint, and I take them through for 90 days, walking them through and making sure they’re successful.

And this goes back to where I mentioned that a lot of small businesses were taking advantage of. A lot of them don’t know what they don’t know. And so this program also teaches them enough to know when someone’s telling them something valid or if they’re giving them a line of bull. So that was my real goal is to educate them on what needs to be done. And then they have the informed decision whether they can do it themselves or need to hire somebody to do it for them.

And the goal of all of my programs is to ensure the business owner has the knowledge to know when they can do it themselves or need to hire or if they’re being sold something they know they’re being sold. They’re an informed and educated consumer, and therefore they’re not going to get taken by people who come in and promise in the world and deliver nothing. So that’s the emphasis of the whole program, because at the end of six months now they have a decision point. Am I going to do it myself? Am I going to hire even a virtual assistant? And I’ll train that person to do it, or they can hire the agency to do it. So it depends on what they need and what they’re comfortable doing. And so that’s the whole thrust of the online game plan to help them get established, do it right, set up the Google Business Profiles properly. All their social platforms are set up properly. They’ve got their consistent branding across. We look for citations out there and make sure that they’re somewhat consistent. The good news is it’s not as strict as it used to be. The search engines can now tell the difference between Masterful Marketing LLC, Masterful Marketing LLC period. You don’t have to be too anal with it. It just has to be close enough so that they can tell. But make sure they’re consistent, they’re claimed, they’re important, and just have that foundation ready to roll. So when you start implementing the strategies, you have all of the things you need to drive your target audience to your website. That’s the primary function of everything we do is to get them back to your website.

What would you say is the most important on-page SEO factor?

That’s a tough question to answer with a single answer because there are many different factors. You can have the best-optimized page in the world, but if the content is terrible, it’s not going to be worth it because there will be signals sent to the search engines that every time someone lands there, it’s not delivering what they were looking for. So to me, this is what I said to all my clients — your content is strategic because, without content, there’s nothing to optimize. There’s nothing to promote. You need to have good quality content. Less is better than more. It better be written professionally. Then we can optimize it. And then, we get into the on-page factors using the keywords strategically, but not like a robot making sure it’s written for the human, but well optimized for the search engines. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, but it isn’t as strict as it used to be. I mean, people get ranked for content and pages that have almost little to no SEO on them, but it’s using the language appropriately so that the search engines know what it’s about, what the intent is and then can deliver it to people searching for that intent.

Keyword research is the most important thing because you can write about stuff. I tell people “if you’d like to write great, knock yourself out Journal, do what you want to do”. But let’s make sure what we’re writing for your website is being searched for. Let’s not waste our time writing something no one’s ever going to find because no one’s looking for it, let’s be strategic. So to me, it all comes together. And that’s why inbound marketing combines search, social and content because you need all the pieces to effectively attract the right people to your business.

Absolutely. Talking about the actual search terms that people are searching and knowing about it. We also know that trying to rank for rich answers has a lot of value. How do you strategize for it?

That’s a great question. Featured snippets are a fun thing. When you find that you did rank for one, it’s exciting, and sometimes they just happen. There’s no strategy around it. It’s writing good content. But if you’ve noticed what people are doing now and we do it when we’re writing about a particular topic, it’s always good to start with a “what is” paragraph. For example, title it “what is SEO” and then answer the question in a very concise way and then move on with the rest of the content. Because if you’re going to get picked up for a featured snippet, when someone’s searching for “what is” or “how do I” — they ask a lot of questions in search now and those questions are what get the featured snippets. I have a client who is a financial advisor, and I don’t know if it is very localized, no matter what the search results are. So even though he has the featured snippet for what is comprehensive financial planning. Someone in California could have a featured snippet for that out there in those search results.
But he does come up when you search that he has the featured snippet. And again, we wrote that page because he assumed everybody knew what that was. And I just looked at him one day and said, “ask a few people if they know what comprehensive financial planning is”, and they all had this blank look on their face. So I said, “I think we need to write something about it”. So we did. So it was just the luck of the draw. But now that we know about featured snippets, we tend to write more content that starts with an explanation, a definition, an answer to “what is” or “what if” questions that people are looking for.
So you can do your searches to see what other content gets pulled for those features or the answers. Now there’s just so much stuff up there. It’s hard even to know what’s behind all those little questions. And as you click on them, more get loaded. So it’s really top-heavy. And so, we focus more on getting the pages ranked. And if we get a featured snippet or two out of pure luck, we’re thankful. But we do the right scheme of things and the stuff you need to do to help the search engines determine whether or not the answer is good.

I have a personal chef-client, so we implemented the recipe schema on some of her pages where she has recipes. I have to go back and check and see if they’re starting to rank because those will come up as someone’s looking for a recipe and if it’s got the right schema, it may end up as one of those featured snippets. So those are the things you just have to do. And I just don’t promise they’re going to get them because I have no control over it. We just do the best quality writing. We can optimize it the best we can and use the tools given to us by Google and other search engines.

Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, knowing or researching what the actual questions people are asking and using the schemas well. Now you have so many schemas that you can use. I think that is the best thing you can do. And if people are searching for it, you have everything in place, then maybe one or two of ours will also get featured.

If you have questions, you can create an FAQ, and I only use WordPress, and there’s a couple of plugins that you can do a content toggle in the block editor, and it has a Fax FAQ schema set up for it; you just have to turn it on. So it makes it quite simple to do it. You don’t even have to know how to code schema. A lot of the plugins now will help you do it and just be aware of it so that you know that those things can be done quite easily. So we make sure we do the FAQs on people’s websites and set them up. So if they do have a couple of good questions that are appropriately coded, that could result in a featured snippet as well.

Right. So since you work with a lot of local businesses, ranking on their locations and maps become very important for such businesses. So what are the key elements you look at while optimizing the Google My Business pages?

Just complete your Google Business Profile (once upon a time known as Google My Business) and it’s changing now. It will get much more difficult because I’ll still have a dashboard because I have a lot of my clients in the Google My Business dashboard, but the clients themselves are going to be taken away from them, and they’re going to be getting it. They search, and they’re going to get it at the top of the search results. So it may be easier for some people if they’re not familiar with today’s platform, but make sure everything is accurate and filled out. Just get as complete as you possibly can. And if you have images, if you have things you can upload to the profile, that works. If you have questions that people ask, you can do the question and answer things on the profile. I put out our posts on our Google profiles all the time, and my financial client and a couple of home services. One, we post weekly blog posts to their profiles. So that there’s always something there that if somebody finds the knowledge panel and they find them on the map, it’s interesting.

And, of course, reviews. You do want reviews out there. So Google My Business is very important for the locals and probably more important in some respects than their website. Although you still need your website, you want to drive people back to the website because I see a lot of traffic going from the local business, the knowledge panel back to the website. Now again, if you’re a plumber or an electrician and you have a good knowledge panel, they may just call you directly from that, and you do get the results. They do send you a report every month for people who called your business or visited your website. But most of the clients I see get back to the website, fill out a form, and get a lead for the business. So they’re excited. They love it. They don’t have to do any work. Business comes to them.

Debra, what are the best practices for doing citations? Which listings to go after? How many? How often?

I’ll share just the important ones. There are so many out there you could spend all day if you do find that you have a lot of citations out there that were created for you because remember a lot of them built up by going out to these listings and pulling in data. There are services that will go out and clean them up for you. I think Bright Local is one that I follow. I haven’t had a client that needed to use any of those. The important ones are Yelp. I keep them at arm’s length as much as possible if you find yourself Google My business is important. Bing Local has one. Yes, Bing is out there, and they still have a little bit of market share. Those are the important ones. And if you’re in an industry that has some citations, The Angie’s list, the HomeAdvisor, some of them have gotten a little bit not as good as they used to be. I used to encourage a lot of my home services folks to get on Angie’s list, but when they merged with HomeAdvisor, the service wasn’t as good as it was at the beginning.

People keep approaching me to join their lists and whatever, and if they want to set up a profile for me, great. And I’ll make sure that it’s accurate, but I wouldn’t go out and go crazy. But you do want to know what’s out there. This is something that I work with all my clients when we start working together. The first thing I do is a web presence analysis. This is another service I do offer. Often, it’s bundled in if I’m working with the client, but if somebody just comes to me, I’ll want to do that first only to see what’s out there because I’ve had companies come to me, and I do one quick search, and they have a couple of really bad reviews they don’t even know they have. So it’s really good to stay on top of what’s out there for your business, and it’s the first thing you should always do. Just go search the name of your company. If there’s not much out there, that’s not good. But the good news is there’s not a lot to correct, and we can build up the citations and the sites you want to be on.

But if there’s a lot of stuff out there, you just have to look at it. If it’s fairly accurate, you might just get somebody to claim it just so somebody else doesn’t. Just keep it light. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time because there’s enough to do in marketing your business online than to take on things that don’t have a lot of value. So we just have to assess what’s out there if they have some reviews on Yelp, reviews on Google My Business. There are other sites. Matter of fact, I just discovered one for one of the clients that I didn’t even know existed, but he has, like, six or seven reviews out there. So I want to go take a look and claim it for him and make sure he has control. There are some local neighborhood-type directories now that people are using next door and those other ones. It can prove to be a good search of your business. Just see what’s out there and where you’re listed. That should bring up pretty much the more important ones and then claim those and keep them under control.

Talking about content marketing. How effective do you find content marketing for especially small businesses?

Oh, very effective. Small businesses who write content, who have a blog, who promote the content through social profiles. I’m not even talking about paid ads. I am referring to getting the content out there, having it on the blog, getting it optimized and being found in search results. They rise above their competition because they’re showing the potential customer that they’re the expert in their field, that there’s content that they’re writing, and they’re educating the consumer. And especially when you’re in home services, I’m going to hire somebody to come do my landscaping. If all they have is Circa 2000 website, I may not consider them right away unless they become highly recommended by someone I know and trust. But if I find a business that has great reviews, has a really solid web presence, it looks like they’re active. They’re writing a lot of good content, not thin content. And again, I pity some of these businesses that hire these SEO companies that have duplicate content for every single client. They just change the city and state that they’re in the name of the company. And I found it in so many locations there are CPA firms that are being taken with this stuff. They’ve got to be penalized by the duplicate content.

It doesn’t work anymore. A long time back.

Let me share this. I was doing the site for a CPA, and I was doing a little research on a couple of his services because I didn’t quite like a CPA, and I found some content. I read it, and I found some more, and I read it, and I’m going, “wow, this stuff is the same”. And sure enough, at the bottom of their website was the link to the company, the same company that builds websites for CPAs, and they just completely duplicated the content across all of these. They didn’t even try to modify it a little bit. So to me, that’s what I mean about educating my clients. So they know this is something that they don’t want and have somebody build or write unique content for them. It’s okay if it’s similar; there are only so many ways you can say certain things, but let’s be somewhat creative and create the content for you. So those are the things that persist in the marketing industry and don’t sit right with me. I think a lot of people just take shortcuts, and that’s not good. Everybody that works with my firm has their marketing plan, has the unique strategies that they’re going to implement. And that’s the way it should be. Your business is different than someone else’s.

But every business has its USP. And there’s something that you can talk about rather than just saying what everybody is.

So that drove me in this direction. As I said, I saw them. A lot of small businesses that needed help were getting bad advice from people, copying their competition and not getting the results. No, your business is unique. Let’s figure out what makes you tick. Let’s make sure that we’re communicating that and letting people see that you have some value to add to the services you provide to the people that hire you.

How effective do you consider gated content for lead generation?

It’s very effective. I mean, this is the whole funnel thing. Top of the funnel, you want to give stuff away. And then when you start getting down to the middle where people are now have done their research, and they’ve educated themselves, and they’ve looked around. Now you have something like, “hey, you’re more interested now and you’re getting to that point”. You can put a little bit of, “hey, sign up for my mailing list”. Trade your email for this piece of content. It’s important because people just aren’t going to give you their email list just because they’re nice people. So you want to have something of value that people will sign up to get, and then if they want to opt-out, they can. It’s not that big a deal that tells you something about them. They’ll never work with you if they’re going to do that. They just wanted the free stuff. So I think it’s worth it because it’s good to build up your mailing list because the advice I give to my clients is there are only two things on the internet that you control, and that’s your website and your mailing list. Everything else is a rental property. There are still people who are only using social media, and that is so dangerous because the minute they don’t like something you say and they shut you down, or somebody hacks you. I know a woman in the program with me, who lost her entire following because she had everything on Facebook and somebody hacked her account. She couldn’t get back in, and she lost it. She had to start from scratch. And to me, that’s crazy. It’s nice to have followers on social media, but get them to your website to sign up for your list. Have something very valuable that you send out as an email only to subscribers that encourage them to sign up for your list. They can still be part of your Facebook fans and Instagram followers or whatever, but get them into that mailing list. So if something happens, you still have that. That is the best advice anybody could give each other. It’s like, do not rely on social platforms because they could take your business down in a heartbeat.

Absolutely. You can have all the control on your website. Why not promote that and use that to tell your brand story and what you offer.

Right. Send them everything you do. Even if you’re running ads, March them back to your website, get them to land them on a landing page, get them to sign up. Make sure they know where to find you. Even if they don’t sign up, now they know there’s another place they can find. Maybe they’ll see some other content that you’ve written or provided that helps them understand better what problem they were trying to solve. So become that person who provides that useful content becomes what they call, the hub and spoke. You’re the hub and you have a lot of things that you can direct people to. Sharing other people’s content keeps you visible. I do that a lot. I post a lot of other people’s posts on marketing stuff. Like, if I see something good. I share it, and I share a little bit of mine. So I keep visible by just being out there pointing people to good content from my audience. I just make sure they can understand it. I read a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t share because it’s like SEO stuff that dives deep into whatever, but there’s other content that I read that “Hey, a small business owner would find value in this”. It’s a nice guide or a step-by-step process or something. So I share a lot of that. So people always have good content to go to if they need some help.

Debra, in the end, I like to have a quick rapid-fire round with a set of 3-4 questions. Just answer whatever comes to your mind first.


Describe yourself in three words.

Determined. Perfectionist. Fun.

Are you a morning person or a night person?


Favorite day of the Week.


Favorite book.

I don’t read a lot of books right now. I’m too busy reading other things. I don’t have one.

If a book, let’s say, was written on you, how would you name it?

The Strategist. Because there’s strategy in golf, there’s strategy in marketing. There’s strategy in running a business. So I guess I spend a lot of time doing strategy.

Right? Well, that’s a beautiful name. Debra, thank you so much for doing this. Fun chatting with you. Thank you so much. And I enjoyed doing this.

Same here,



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