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Building an effective remote team

An Interview with Jeanna Barrett

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

In today’s episode, we have Jeanna Barrett with us. Jeanna is the founder of First Page Strategy, an award-winning online marketer and an expat entrepreneur.

With a combined 17 year experience in inbound marketing, she left her handsome job to start First Page Strategy. Based on a solid remote team, a strategic mindset, and a long-term, holistic approach, Jeanna has built an international growth company focused on long-term, sustainable growth.

SEO is just one piece of the pie of the larger marketing matrix, and it all needs to be done and thought about as someone moves down the funnel to be done correctly..

Jeanna Barrett
Founder First Page Strategy
Hello, everyone. Today we have with us Jeanna Barrett, Founder of First Page Strategy. Jeanna thank you so much for taking out time and doing this with us.

Yeah, I’m happy to be here.

The excitement is not that I'm interviewing an SEO agency owner, but the excitement is more about your story. The way you started the First Page. Your prior experience is amazing. You were doing good at your jobs, you have a good marketing experience, and then suddenly you just leave everything, you go off like a digital Nomad, and then start First Page. It will be great if you introduce yourself, and tell us more about the journey, how it happened and how First Page started.

Okay. So I’m Jeanna Barrett, Founder of First Page. We started about five years ago. In my career, I started in Seattle and worked in tech companies there. Then, I moved my way down to San Francisco, spent about six years in San Francisco, working for various fin-tech companies, from big to capital lens technology arm to small start-ups and leading inbound and SEO and content for various companies. I just realized in 2016, I kind of hit a wall. I was going on vacation and working a lot. I drank the Kool Aid at the company I was at. I was giving up everything. My friendships and my lifestyle and what I did in my evenings, they were all wrapped up in my job in my office. I went on vacation, and I felt like most people do when they want to go on vacation, the whole world melts away. I was like, “Why do I want to feel this good only four weeks a year?” I want to feel this good every single day that I wake up.

So I really started to look at. It was hard at the time. I was at a technology company that was a unicorn or whatever that is they use in Silicon Valley, and I didn’t want to leave. But life just kind of worked itself out, and I found myself moving to Belize. I decided to start the First Page. I’ll briefly tell you the story of how we got our first client because I was just going to be a freelancer on my own. I was like, “I don’t want to work for anybody anymore. I’m disgruntled. I don’t care to make any money. Blah, blah, blah.” I wrote an article for Fast Company that talked about how I left my job to work in Belize. I outlined how other people and other digital nomads could do this. I gave all the steps that I did, and one of them was linking to a service that I use to set up my business. They reached out to me and ended up hiring me and asked me to pitch them to do their SEO because they just got rid of their SEO company. Anyway, that’s how I started an agency kind of backwards and from another country.

The story is amazing, and even the journey from there has been amazing. You have grown nicely and the trajectory is still upwards. All the best for that.

Thank you.

It's not easy at all to leave a good career, a good job. There is fear, and there is nervousness. There is excitement. How do you overcome that? Did it just happen? Was it difficult? How did it happen?

I get that question a lot, and that one is hard for me to answer, because I have naturally been more of an adventurous or kind of brave person I think than the average bearer. So, I didn’t feel nervous. If there’s anywhere in my life that I felt the most comfortable, it was my career. You talked to me about dating or any of that, and I’m like the most nervous person on the planet. But my career, SEO, content marketing, I know it. I’m confident with it. So I felt confident in starting my business.

But, at some point I reached a point where I was over my head in terms of being a marketer versus being an agency owner or a business owner. That has taken constantly, never ending, me admitting that I don’t know what I’m doing anymore or that I don’t know everything and that I need help and reaching out to business coaches or colleagues or other people that have done what I’ve done before grown agencies sold agencies. That was like the turning point in me figuring out how to be a better entrepreneur and a better leader.

I understand. There's always this..., some call it inspiration, some call it an idol or some call it as a mentor. What has been your inspiration?

An inspiration as an entrepreneur? I took a sales course in the second year of my business and they asked us to put together, like almost a visual mood board. I still have it on my desktop today. It’s been on my desktop for four years. Financial and independent freedom is my inspiration. I want to be financially independent and location independent, and my business is the thing that allows me to get there. So that’s what motivates me.

Awesome. Well, this is turning out to be more of a chat. Let me ask you an official question. What do you think are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

The biggest one is the one that I mentioned, I think is the ability to admit you don’t know everything and ask for help. You also need really good leadership skills because a lot of people are going to look at you as being the leader of the company or the person setting the vision. So I’ve had to spend a lot of time reading various leadership books to level up and become more of a leader in those ways in front of a group. And then, a willingness to learn and not think that you know everything and dig into areas that you don’t understand and constantly read books and constantly take courses. It’s interesting. I think entrepreneurship and leadership is such a journey, and every year is different. Entrepreneurship is like building blocks to become better and better. It never really stops. It’s really fun.

I understand. As a company, we kind of tried, not tried actually implemented traction last year. I'm not sure if you have read the book Traction.

It’s been recommended to me so many times. It’s in my audible queue, but I have not listened to it yet.

Okay. It's amazing. We had read it. All the partners and the directors had read it. We decided to implement it. Again, one suggestion, whenever you plan to implement it, it's better to ask some outsider to implement it for you because you yourself kind of are biased to your business. Anyways, we implemented traction with external help and all of that. It was still easier to implement traction remotely because we did it two years back when Covid started. It's a model, like an operating system and all that stuff. It has rules. But, when it comes to company culture, It's so difficult to kind of have it in everyone. You have people who have been with you for years, but when you have new people joining in and suddenly everybody is remote how do you ensure you still have that company culture in everyone? You are a perfect person to answer because you believe in that remote model. It's not COVID that has got you. You believe in that. How do you ensure culture and remote teams?

Yeah. I could spend the entire interview talking about this. This is what I am personally the most passionate about. I’ve kind of, like, evolved past marketing, and I let my team do it and I focus on remote culture because it’s so important. It does have a little bit of what is perceived to be more difficult because people aren’t in one location with each other. We spend a lot of time. I personally spend a lot of time. We have a small team, and I have a personal touch with every single person on the team. So realizing that your remote team is likely from many different cultures. They have cool life and culture and all these things that they do outside of working for my company. So getting to know everybody on an individual basis and making sure that they understand that I care, I interview every single person that comes into the company.

We send, like, personal touch points. We send an onboarding box to everybody that gets a personal note from me. They get a personal email when they start. There’s that kind of personal touch so you don’t feel like you’re just a number in a country that nobody knows about. We also focus, like many remote cultures, on how we get people to connect with each other. A lot of people are very pivotal for us for that. We have a lot of fun slack channels. We have a binge worthy slack channel, where we talk about Netflix and podcasts. We have a pet and dog slack channel. So really seeking the fun in that because a lot of people want to connect with their colleagues.

We also have a business book club where everybody meets once a quarter on video and talks about books. We do an all hands on video where everybody in the company once a month is on video, and we do team building at the beginning of that. So just making sure that you’re really giving people an opportunity, highlighting the people working at the company and communicating across all these cultures of people is really important as well.

I know I’m rambling a little bit, but I’ll say one more thing. I make sure that I define what is not allowed in our culture. I think about all the things that happened in office jobs that made me feel really bad when I was in an office job, and I try to make sure that those things don’t exist in our culture. We definitely don’t have passive aggressive emails or all that icky stuff that happens at companies and in offices. Those are some of the things that we do to keep people connected.

Well, amazing. I'm sure there are just some other things you mentioned, considering the time constraint. But it speaks volumes about the way you're trying to make sure that people don't feel just as a number. So thank you for sharing that. As a leader, I'm sure you get asked this a lot. We still kind of are now not sure how the new variant is going to pan out, so I think this question still remains relevant. As a leader, what would you say was your biggest learning from the pandemic?

Yeah. We were already remote before the pandemic. So, in a lot of ways, it just felt like business as usual from a professional standpoint. But I think the pandemic reinforced what I already knew and the reason why I left my full time job in corporate America is that I believe all the things that make humans strong and healthy connections with our loved ones, with our family members, is doing things that personally make you happy hobbies, whether it’s like the sourdough bread thing or all the different fun hobbies that cropped up during the pandemic. A lot of those support systems and entertainment and love exist outside of offices. You don’t need an office or colleagues to get those things and that those are the most important things in life. If you’re able to find a working environment where you can foster that a lot more like we all were able to in the pandemic, I think that’s where people are the most happy.

Right. Tell us your favorite client story.

So my favorite client story? I already shared that at the beginning. It was how we found our biggest client, who now we’ve worked with for five years. I use it as an example of the power of content marketing. We try to tell our clients you need to write blog articles, you need to link to people, you need to do these things, and that’s how we got our biggest client. That is the reason that we are growing and as large as we are now is because we wrote a blog article and we linked to them. They read the article and discovered our little tiny company of two at the time and hired us. The power of content marketing is really great. It can lead to new business.

Absolutely. Well, my next question, I know there's no copy book answer to it. Every business is unique, but still as a process or as a strategy, what does your SEO process look like? What are the main things you look at? How is it different?

Yeah. I would say that our SEO process or philosophy, if you will, at First Page is really centered on two things. The first one is that SEO is content and content is SEO, and those are not two different channels, and you cannot build an SEO strategy without a ton of content. You cannot build a content strategy without optimizing it for SEO. So when we build plans and proposals for our clients, a large content strategy is built into our SEO.

The other thing is that we don’t focus on keyword volume. I think people get stuck in like, “Oh, we want to rank for this keyword. It’s got 900,000 search volume a month or whatever.” But we really focus on purchase intent keywords. You could have high purchase intent keywords or really successful keywords that have a volume of 100 searches a month or whatever it is. So, we focus on content and we focus on high purchase intent keywords.

Absolutely. I remember one of our clients again, it was a client of an agency. We had a discussion where the problem was that they were ranking in almost like, 90% of the target keywords that they had given, that they were targeting. When they came to us, we were discussing and they were like, "hey, a client has lost interest in SEO. He thinks that it doesn't make sense because they are ranking in almost all of the keywords that they want to rank on, but they're not getting business." I haven't seen the website. I was just having a discussion. The person that came to me was, "Maybe you're not focusing on CRO. Maybe your pages are not right. You're not converting or whatever." When I got the details, I looked at it, I realized, there were some CRO issues and stuff like that. But, what I realized was those keywords were not actual purchase intent keywords. They had volume, but almost half of those keywords that were ranking on the first page was a blog page. People were just reading those keywords to get more information. There were a bunch of keywords where actual business was and they were not focusing on it. It's all about finding your buyer persona.

Then writing content with keywords for every stage of the funnel. So a lot of people, it sounds like what they were doing was focusing on the top of the funnel, people want to read about, learn information, whatever, but they’re not in the bottom of the funnel, ready to purchase, ready to specifically look at that company. They needed to write more bottom or middle funnel keyword content.

Right. Again, there's no right and wrong, but I think a lot of people or marketers still consider, let's say, SEO as SEO. I mean, just kind of working on keywords ranking, then paid campaign as a paid campaign. But depending on the business, depending on the keywords, depending on the funnel, sometimes you make a piece of content rank, but then your retargeting is so less expensive, then it makes sense to do some retargeting on those pages and that will result in focusing on the funnel.

Yeah. That’s a large reason why we’re trying to move away from branding ourselves with Jocks and SEO agencies. SEO is really a great tool. That’s part of the larger pie. Retargeting, inbound has so many different tools in the marketer toolbox and to pull one of them out and to hire a company to do one, but then handicap them to touch the rest really doesn’t work. We have had clients in the past where they’re like, “No, we only want you to work on SEO. You can’t touch our lead-gen team. You can’t talk to our social team.” I’m like, “How are we going to distribute the content that has the keywords in it? How are we going to put a CTA that then captures a lead on the content and focuses on the keywords.” SEO is just one piece of the pie of the larger marketing matrix, and it all needs to be done and thought about as someone moves down the funnel to be done correctly.

Trying to rank for rich answers has a lot of value. How do you strategize for it?

We specifically build content plans and budget around all the things to put in our content that would help rank for rich snippets. We do lots of multimedia-infographics, videos, images, checklists, bullet points like all the things that are going to come up in a rich snippet, and then just making sure that we’re clearly answering the question that matches the search intent and making sure Schema is involved in all of that.

Right. Looking at various forms of content, I think one thing also which people miss out on is they don't look at the power of repurposing content, right? There are a lot of B2B businesses that write so much content. I came across a business. They were writing almost around 50 odd blog articles a month, creating guides and stuff like that. There was so much content already. And then again, converting it into a video, embedding a video on that article. Video is still easier to rank as compared to written content, and people are not using it. So it surely makes a difference.

Something that’s really easy and relatively inexpensive is creating a blog summary video of your blogs. We’ve found inexpensive help on Fiverr to create text, videos or text recaps, or you can have someone on your team do a recap or read out the recap of the blog and then posting that again on YouTube. It’s really like a double search because YouTube is a search engine and so is Google. You can put that video in the blog, and it could potentially help with rich snippets. So that’s definitely a great strategy to expand the reach of the blog post that you’re doing.

Right. How have you seen link building change over the years?

People that have been involved with SEO for a long time know about the whole black hat, and white hat stuff. Link building, I think, has likely one of the richest histories of marketing of how it has evolved. Recently, when we started First Page, there was still a lot of purchasing of links happening, and I do still see some of that going on. I would say that in the last couple of years, we have specifically shifted away from that and moved into content creation and outreach and building a massive team that does outreach and works with partners and other brands to create content and work on linking on our site on their site or whatever it is. That outreach team is what I think is more of the way of link building is going in addition to just creating content that generates links, which is sometimes hard. If you think about what content can we create that isn’t evergreen, that hasn’t been created a long time ago, for us, those things are like data surveys or tools where someone can analyze their website and get a number back or a calculator or whatever it is. Those things that aren’t created all the time often generate a lot of links as well. So we’re more of a content focused link building place. I’ve seen that kind of a change that we started out purchasing and we’ve moved into content link building.

I understand. According to you, what are the most common mistakes inbound agencies make?

I see a lot of inbound agencies have these one stop shop packages. They’re going to create one offer for you a month. It’s going to have a landing page, a blog post, a form or whatever it is. I honestly don’t understand how that works for brands hiring that because in the five years I found every single inbound lead that I’ve had, every sale that I have worked on, every founder I’ve talked to, who’s looking for marketing support or inbound support, none of them are the same. They all have pieces of a marketing plan and need other pieces, or they’re at one point and that another brand is at another point. They need this team member. They have this internally or not. This kind of package approach, I don’t see how that works. I think that’s a mistake. To be successful, you need to create a custom plan, a custom team. You need to work like you’re sitting inside of that company, and that’s not going to look the same for any two brands that you work with.

What are your thoughts on optimizing for voice search?

Voice search? I honestly don’t think it’s any different than what you should be doing in SEO for anything else. The strategy is the same. It’s going to be the same as what I just explained for rich snippets. You want to make sure that you’re clearly answering the question, that you understand the keyword intent, you understand the content and the search intent. You’re building that into a schema and into your content. Whether we’re talking about ranking for rich snippets or ranking for voice search, it’s really those key pillars of SEO in 2022 are going to get you the same results.

Any special tips that you would like to share with our audience that they could use and benefit from?

Any special tips? What I don’t see enough brands doing is stepping back and understanding their brand and doing the brand work to define your brand and your messaging. Who you’re trying to go after and the different personas? Where they are and who are they? How are you going to reach them? What products do they care about? There’s a lot of foundational work that should happen before you’re doing marketing, and even before building your website. When you build your website, don’t build it without having an SEO involved. And, that happens so much too. We get these websites and we’re like, “How did you build this website?” It was like, “No SEO was involved whatsoever.” The links are not correct, there’s no meta in the website. Make sure that if you’re building a brand or if you have a brand, it’s time to step back and do some foundational brand work. Make sure that your homepage and your website is built with SEO in mind.

Jeanna, I know we are short on time, but I like doing this quick rapid fire at the end. So I have a list of three to five questions. Play like a sport. Whatever comes to your mind just answer. Are you ready?

I’m ready. Like a game show.

Describe yourself in three words.

Oh, my gosh! Creative, strong and funny.

Texting or talking?

Texting

Who is your favorite superhero?

Oh, my gosh. I’m like the girl that doesn’t watch Marvel or whatsoever. If I had to go with any superhero, it would be Wonder Woman because I believe strongly in female leadership.

I love her too. Are you a morning person or a night person?

I hate to say it. My mom was right. Now that I’m almost turning 40 in January, I’m a morning person, even though I used to be a night person. But now I love getting up at 06:00 A.M. and having my home morning before I start working.

Well, Jeanna, thank you so much for being here. It was fun having you.

Yeah. Thank you. Bye.

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