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Matt Fraser interviewed Natalie Henley, CEO and owner of Volume nine, for this edition of Ecoffee with Experts. Natalie reveals the most critical components for achieving a high Google page rank, with an emphasis on the importance of creating a content strategy based on sales data about your target audience, and her thoughts on artificial intelligence. Watch this space for some advice on producing evergreen content.
When you’re thinking about your evergreen content, just know that it doesn’t have to be set it and forget it. Like always watch your data and adapt to change.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
A huge nerd. So, yeah, I know like lots of people go back to like, oh, I was so cool. I was not cool in high school. I was in the band, which was basically the coolest thing I did. I was the vice president of the Latin Club. I was, you know, AP classes, super driven, I never ditched class, never tried alcohol in high school. I was super straight-laced like the bass nerd. I would describe myself as a nerd.
It is. I loved it. I mean, I had a great time and I had a lot of friends and band and fellow nerds. When we all went to college together, it was great.
Oh, my goodness. I wish I had a cool story. I was like, Yeah, I vandalized something. Like, I just got nothing.
Yeah, for sure. So, I went to Chapel Hill and I was really fortunate because I was a super nerd. I watched Chapel Hill on a full ride. So, at the time, like, I was just like, I’m super driven. What do I want to be? Everybody around me is like, you’re super type-A. You should be a lawyer, so. All right, cool. Well, I’ll get a political science degree because I care about politics, and I really love studying political science. It was a lot of fun. I really wish someone had pulled me aside like a counselor or just a professor and been like, Hey, so here’s the deal. Local science is a lot of fun, but this is not a useful degree. Like, gets to throw something else in there, you know? Yeah, thank goodness. At some point, I tossed in a minor in business administration. But yeah, political science was so much fun but like I can tell you how few times game theory comes up in the average conversation or workplace. So, but I was sure, I was going to be a lawyer and then I graduated and I was just like I was ready to not be in school anymore. I was ready to get out, and do something. And I was talking to a lot of lawyers and I just couldn’t find a lawyer that was like, this is great, you’re going to love this. And I was like, all right, well, maybe before I invest grad school, I should, like, spend a year or two just getting into the workforce, make a little money, maybe work for a lawyer, just make sure I like this. So, I had this idea, like, maybe I’ll be a paralegal or something like that. And then like so I graduated in 2007, basically right into the Recession. So, when I graduated, I got a job on a campaign, there were so many reasons why that was a terrible campaign. He was running way too early, blah, blah, blah. But I got a job. I paid I got paid like a couple of hundred bucks a week, which was enough to basically cover pizza and beer. And we were sunup to sundown six days a week. Knocking on doors, going door to door, and then from there, you know, I was just a really hard worker. That’s a work ethic thing that just like my family is still with me, we’re a family of immigrants. And, you know, my great grandmother, came through Ellis Island and she was a full-time maid. We are a family of hard workers and salespeople. That’s who we are. Whatever job you do, do a great job. I did great on my $200-a-week door-knocking job. That landed me a job at a mailing company and I got paid minimum wage to stuff envelopes and I did that for about a month or two and by the time I decided to kind of go to the next thing, the guy was like, you know, I’ll put you in charge of this whole thing. I hired you an entry-level and you’re you reorganize processes, you’re stuffing envelopes better than everybody else and you’re not taking breaks and you are grammatically editing your letters that you’re writing. I was like, no, thanks but I had met who’s my now my husband, my boyfriend on the campaign, and he had gotten a job up in D.C. and I was like, well, you know what? I kind of want to go up to D.C. with him. So, the guy who owned the mail companies like well, I know a guy in D.C., let me talk to him. And he talked to him and I got an internship and I was actually paid below minimum wage. Let me tell you how hard it is during a recession to be paid minimum wage in a city like Washington, DC.
It’s not, we got a basement with a bathroom. Basement suite, and we basically crammed ourselves in the basement. We lived there for a year. I did really well in my internship, so I got hired at this market research company and it was super fun. It was called Strategy One Edelman. So, Edelman is the largest privately owned public relations company in the U.S and so I got hired in the D.C. office at Market Research. And part of it is, I mean, now we’re like the recession’s roaring. Everybody wants to work at Edelman because it’s this cool, big PR agency and you need agency experience. But nobody wanted to work at strategy one because it was the nerdy data division. I work in market research and I got to do not only sales, but I got to design discussion guides, I got to work on surveys, I got to analyze data. And again, I just worked my well myself up. I learned a lot and it was super fun it was really amazing to me how little value a lot of marketers put on data, but how impactful it can really be. I think that was the moment in my career that I was like, Oh my God, I’m data-driven. Like, that’s the way to do marketing. You could always throw a bunch of marketers in a room and they could come up with really fun, creative ideas when they’re drinking beer. But that’s not really where the best marketing campaigns come from. It comes from research and data but at the time I remember how expensive it was because there was just very little data you could get without surveys or discussion groups and all those groups. Then my husband and I moved out to Denver, and I got a job back. Back down to, like, minimum wage at this little, teeny, tiny digital agency called Profitability Group. And this girl, Heather was building up this company business. She was a speaker, she knew a lot about paid search, and so she decided to make this little agency. I was officially hired to manage a schedule. I think I was like a speaker assistant was my first title. I was like, wow, nobody here knows how to sell. Turns out I come from a family of salespeople. Why don’t you let me do the sales? So they let me do the sales. And then I was like, hey, nobody here is doing social media for clients. They’re asking about it. I know how to do social media. Why don’t you let me do it? And it was really cool. Like, basically Heather just wanted to speak and she just sort of tossed me the keys. She’s like, Oh, you’re excited about social media. Oh, you’re interested in scaling a company. Neat. Oh, you want to start a department, you want to learn SEO, and then she started to become a really successful speaker so that she wouldn’t take free speaking gigs. I was like, Well, I’ll take them. I know I’ll go to a beat-up and teach people how to do SEO. I just started taking everything she didn’t want and it just became this really cool thing. By the time Heather realized that she really didn’t want to own an ad agency anymore, she just wants to speak. I essentially tripled the size of the company and by the time she sold it, we had more than ten employees. I still think I was the fourth employee when I got hired. She sold it over to this guy named Chuck. Chuck at volume 9. Well, what it really was that Chuck had already started volume nine, so his agency was already in existence. What he did is he just absorbed one viability group and he took on the clients and all that and hired the team over. And I remember like early on like we had so much trouble figuring out what my title has been. I don’t think I have ever at my time at volume nine had a title that existed before I had the title. And every time it’s been like some weird title. He hired me on to run the marketing and then I did marketing and sales, and then he promoted me to vice president to run client services and I just started like working my way up 4 or 5 years ago. One of the things that was super awesome about Chuck is that and our partnership over the years is that Chuck is one of the people I’ve worked for that just has such good self-awareness of where he’s strong and where he’s not strong and what he likes, what he doesn’t like. And he knew that like what he didn’t want to do is have to manage the team that is not, that’s not his Dharma. He likes to mentor, he likes to teach people, but he does like to manage. Operating a company is just not what he wants to do. That’s how it is like he designed volume nine originally around a system like he likes to build systems. That’s his thing. He’s kind of that classic if you know that like the EO break breakdown. He likes to be a visionary, he likes to have ideas. So, a few years ago, I think he may be president and CEO. And I remember later we couldn’t really tell what the difference was, but it was basically he was like, I don’t want to have to run this.
So then I think it was June this year, Chuck asked for a meeting at my house and we sat down and he basically was like, I think I want to be done. I took over as a part owner right before COVID and haven’t gotten the agency through COVID together and all that stuff. Sat down in June. I’d already had part of it. He’s like, you know what he’s like, I think I am done just running an agency at all, like being involved in an agency, like having a team trying to grow it. He’s like, I kind of want to go and consult with start-ups and get his hands a little dirty and digital again. And he’s got the expertise. He just wants to be like that rock star dude that you bring in to make things happen. That’s what he wants to do, there’s just not a spot for that at the agency and especially like where we need you to stay, build systems and build your CRM and all that stuff. He’s just like that’s not the direction. He told me at the time I remember a joke June I laugh because he said I don’t feel like let’s call it the first of it like I think that this will be my two-year plan. And I was like, I have never seen you make a dramatic life change. Do it in less than 90 days or more than 90 days. He decides, he does. So, we started the conversation in June and by August 1st, we shook hands and signed paperwork. I bought him out.
Nothing about marketing and political science degrees, even.
That was it. I didn’t have a magic idea; it wasn’t like some cool app that I made that was big or even like some magic sauce at the agency. I got a Steve Martin quote on my wall “to be so good, they can’t ignore you”. Whatever job you’re in, just do the best version you’re at. Go way beyond that. Make sure your schedules are on point. I never once in my career felt constrained by my job description. It’s like job descriptions, your starting point of letting me do. You gotta just let me be awesome because I’ll work hard and do great things.
Oh, my gosh! That is such a hard question and that’s such a fair question. I feel like I was asked in all my interviews, too. What are you passionate about? For me, I think data is a big one. What’s weirdly fun for me is I love that it is with every client it’s like there’s, you know, all the best practices, right? Like I’ve got this wide breadth of knowledge across. I mean, I would say maybe not every single digital channel, but wide multiple breadths and but every client, it’s like this different puzzle that you’ve got to put together to make it work. Getting that puzzle together. And then there’s, we always talk about it. There is a moment that we have with clients that forget it when we’re putting the puzzle together and all of a sudden, they see how it would fit together, all and it’s working and they’re excited and we’re excited and it’s like that. That’s like they go, I get it at that moment. Sometimes it happens early on, sometimes it takes a little time. But I think when you get all those puzzle pieces fit just right into a strategy, it’s working super well, it’s making them a lot of money. And they’re like, I believe all this nerdy stuff that came together to work really well and it didn’t have to be like a splashy TV commercial. It wasn’t even necessarily like sometimes in, like, social media that gets a little splashier, but it’s something you can tell people and show a lot of diagrams of how all this stuff connects, actually to finally get it set up and working and knowing people through that funnel and having it sustain is a really fun moment. Because sometimes it takes longer. It’s not an immediate thing. It’s not like a paper click where you turn it on. It’s where they’re getting clicks and they see it. It could take you time.
It’s like I made that happen for you.
I have noticed that.
For women who are thinking about what they want to get in this field just start doing what the rest of us did, pick a spot and start digging. Right now, the demand for digital marketing at every level is super high. People want freelancers, agencies need employees, and people need to hire team members. They needed it at every level. So, like this is a great time and honestly, especially for the working moms, who are like, I got kids, I need a nontraditional job, but I need to make a little money. Digital is the best way to get into it and they’re usually great at writing content. The worst thing you could do is hire somebody who’s classically trained. It feels like a classic SEO content that’s a terrible person to do content development and they don’t want to do it either.
Honestly, strong content will overcome the weaker parts of SEO. So even if your site’s technically not great, or maybe your domain authority is not where you want it to be and all such things. Strong content will overcome all of that.
This is such a loaded question.
Yeah, right. Well, you know, one day my hope for the world is we could all start talking about Ranking because it’s not a real thing, there’s no such thing as number one ranking. It’s never what for who? That’s why Google reports on an average top position versus position because it’s not a real metric. But I would say in general, like so we’ve always talked about like three core buckets for SEO. Which is technical and Google talks about this a lot, the way they talk about it is trust, but it’s just done you have a good technical site? And there is a whole lot that goes underneath that. But it is how are you delivering the information on your website? Is it mobile friendly and is it secure? You got that element and then the content is I would say the core piece of it. Do you have really great content? And by really great content, I don’t mean did you super optimize your content. That’s not really good content, but are you doing a great job talking to your audience and answering their questions? Then there’s always this third box to what I like to call brand signals because it’s a little more encompassing than just links. Yes, links as a part of that. But it is in general who’s talking about you? How big is your social audience? Who’s linking to you? How are you going to cover it? Those types of things, and are people talking to you? That is a piece of it, are you on third-party platforms like Google My Business, all that stuff? Is this like a whole category of how is your brand being developed off of your core website? In those three buckets sort of together, our representative of a really strong SEO strategy. But I would say far and away content is the medium, if they’re me think you’re going to just nail it’s the content you want to nail.
I think you got to start with who we are talking to and why are we talking to them. It has to start with your user because it’s not about getting a billion people to your content, it’s about getting the right people to your content.
Right. And then once you understand who are we talking to and why we’re talking to them? And then you can start filtering that into a strategy. For example, Where’s the gap in our content now? In terms of a content strategy, It starts to turn into like who you are as a company. eCommerce has a very different content strategy than a B2B business. When you think about your content, you want to start with a minimum viable product because looking at a comprehensive content strategy can be really overwhelming. It’s like a minimum viable product. Let’s say our target audience is on our site. Do they have the content they need to feel comfortable taking your next step? If the answer is no, that’s the concept you want to start with. So, on B2B that almost always grabs your sales team and goes, let’s talk about the site. What questions are we getting? Does this site do a great job getting someone to feel comfortable to fill in our lead? Forbes Stats tells us that 60% of the buying process is done before they fill in that lead form. Is the site successfully getting our prospects through 60% of the buying cycle for most B2B businesses? It is not, That’s where I want to start. On e-commerce, it almost certainly starts with your product detail page, which is our product detail page doing a great job. Some of the advice I give was like “I’m having trouble”, So you have a strong Amazon strategy. Most eCommerce sites do. Amazon forced you to put all this great stuff on your Amazon listing page. Go look at that and go look at your product detail page and make sure that the core substantive information that you’re putting on Amazon, you’re also including on your product detail page because Amazon is requiring that because it’s good for your user copy is good for you because it is for you as a user. Do the same thing. The reason they require you to put all this information about your product specs is people want them to buy your product.
The reason why they’re requiring reviews is that people are more likely to buy your product if they read reviews. That’s why it’s all there. It’s not because amazon has got a strong SEO strategy, it’s because they know that’s what people buy off of. That’s what you really want to think about like, before we go nuts on a content strategy is the core content on our site where it needs to be, and every business is different. We work with a lot of brands in the natural space. Do you have a really strong “about us” page if you’re an actual product, that doesn’t matter for a lot of eCommerce. But it does matter in nature. Because your audience wants to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you believe in. That’s critical. So, it’s like, do you really want to think about, who’s our audience? What kind of content do they need to feel comfortable taking the next step with us? And if that’s not there, that’s where we go. Then from there, you can start layer again. How do we want to get in front of more people? Maybe our competitors are developing content that we are not? What are things that we know more about than other people? Where do we want to be thought leaders? Where do we want to start connecting with our audience? So you really always think about your content strategy in context with how do we connect with our audience and then yes, where you can work SEO in. But I would never advocate long-term for a content strategy driven by SEO. You want a content strategy driven by sales about your user and then wherever you can with the SEO and great. SEO should be a helpful tool B2B is a great example.
And there are some tools and some processes we have actually I just gave a keynote on that SEO. Oh yes. We have a lot of tools and cool things available for SEO content. But what some of those tools do is they give you a window into what your audience wants. Like this is back to like being data-driven. For example, a classic approach to SEO is, that we want to rank for used cars Denver. I’m going to go to an SEO tool and the SEO tools are going to tell me all the words I got to weave into the used car page Denver. I’m going to create this shallow page about used cars Denver, I’m going to shove the word use cars Denver in a bunch and then this thing told me there are 30 words I got a weave in going to shove those into. I want to build a footer of links to link to my site and all the different trucks I got. I’m going to watch that thing. And it does SEO. That’s a classic content strategy SEO. What I would advocate is that we want to talk to people in Denver and we sell used cars. Let’s create a great page about our philosophy, how we approach things, the types of cars we have, etc. Like let’s create a great experience, and then, okay, we really like this keyword used cars Denver and We’re pretty sure that’s exactly what our audience is searching for. Let’s run it through the tools and then this tool is telling me that there’s this category of words that I don’t have on the page, and the words are things like Ford, and Nissan as people want to know what types of cars you carry. Let’s talk about it or there’s a word here financial, that tells us people are interested in financing options. Let’s make sure that the key information and so instead of just shove it, you could cheat, you can go we offer to finance. Check out today. You could go. No, the reason this is showing up is people are genuinely curious about finance.
Right. You might find, like, a sales process. Why is that in there? And it’s like, oh, you know what people are worried about when they hit the lot? Am I going to get besieged by your salespeople and are they going to plague me through the like? There are all these concerns, so it’s just like you want to make people feel really comfortable. You want to make it feel really easy, just whatever your experience is, what’s special about your dealership and you use instead of just shoving those words into the game the system, use it more as a map of like, these tools exist and this, these words are coming because artificial intelligence is telling us that these are relevant concepts and let’s think about why this is showing up and work that relevant concept. So that’s how I would advocate, it’s a very secondary step. But when you do that, so we do this with all of our clients. We discovered this years ago. We were working on an account. This is part of my keynote it was a rafting company and we did this exact process and they wanted to rig for Colorado rafting if you know anything about it. It is a highly competitive industry. It becomes more and more competitive every year because there’s no barrier to entry. You can’t rent the river. So basically, get a bus, get some rafting, got rafting, outfitting company, and fun fact, fewer and fewer people search for rafting every year. It is a less popular sport than it was ten years ago.
Right, unnecessarily competitive, it’s really hard to win in this category. So, you get this rafting company, we run them through these tools and we’re seeing this stuff pop up like a weather outfit and it’s just like bad. We got to cheat it, we have to make it like we had great weather, sunny Colorado, come check us out. Instead, there were these words popping up. We went back to the user persona. I was like, all right, we know that the person most likely to book a rafting trip is a planning mom. That was our core persona, right?
Right? She’s our super planner and mom won’t know everything. They want to know where they got a part. They want to know if you’re going to give their kids snacks. They’re going to want to know what’s going to happen if their kid needs to go to the bathroom halfway through the rafting trip, all these questions. So, we knew, all these words are popping up because they want to know the answer to these questions, they don’t want to just known generically about the weather, they want to know what our weather policy is. They want to know what the best time of year is to book one of these things. We decided to give all this helpful information. We really went through and were like, what are all these questions that people are asking about rafting trips? So, was it successful from our SEO standpoint? Yes, like rankings and organic traffic and some of the metrics and expect to see from a successful SEO strategy. But then we saw metrics that you would not expect to see from a successful SEO strategy, which is that we had higher conversion rates on the page and we had a higher average order value, which is not typical in an SEO campaign. It was great and what we realized is that we were improving conversion rates and increasing average order value also by the strategy. So yes, it was great for SEO but it was also great for the users, which made it great for the Rafting Outfitters. It all comes down to you doing a great job writing content for your user. Good things follow if you do that.
So I’m all in for AI to give me a window into stuff. There are some tools, clear scope, SEO surfer, Sem Rush does this where they kind of give you an idea of stuff you should cover contextually. This should be in your outline, these are topics you should be thinking about. I’m all for that stuff. I have yet to see content created by a robot that I loved and honestly, I think a lot of it’s about to get a major step backward with some of the new updates like this new helpful content updates Google. I’m I have yet to see artificial intelligence content that I love and I mean honestly it just when you take the time to write good content, good things happen. That’s hard to do via a robot.
Well, it depends on what your industry is and brand all that stuff. Usually, evergreen content is a topic that comes up more with B2B companies, because you have your like core stable content, and I’d say the biggest thing is you start with great website architecture, that is minimum viable, like what content needs to exist on a site and how do we make this a clear site to navigate and get to. And when you’re thinking about your evergreen content, just know that it doesn’t have to be set and forget it. Like always watch your data. This is actually a great pickup. I think a lot of us are grumbling about GA4 because that’s really complicated to install. But, once it’s installed, what’s really great about GA4 is, as Google’s moving from this like cookie-based tracking system to an event-based system. You can now track like, so let’s say you have an evergreen page, you can now really track in more detail what’s happening on your page. Are people scrolling down? Are people watching my video? Are people filling in my contact form? Are they downloading this white paper? What part of this page are they reading? So you’re going to get a lot more data about how to really make these pages better. That would be my big approach to evergreen content is, to look at your evergreen page, make sure you’ve got great events because you’re going to have to set events for every element on the page that you want to track, but then go back and track like what is happening on this page? Is this working the way that I want?
I hate it when you say active link building. Are gaining links important for SEO? Yes. I am not a huge advocate of 95% of what you would put in the category of active link building.
Yeah. I would say overarching only. Links are always going to be, I think, a part of Google’s algorithm. And you have to be really, really careful about any sort of link work that you do. Even like how much Google’s starting to talk about links. Again, you’ll notice that Google goes in waves, where all of a sudden, they’re cracking down on links. So, for the last two years, we’ve seen more and more overstuffed content make its way into SERPs, and Google’s finally going, “Okay, boom, hit you down again”. I’m bracing for when they do the same thing on likes, but not bracing for a second because we don’t do link building, not from that perspective when we talk about links as an agency, there are different tactics that work fire in a way, the best tactic by far that I’ve seen for links is link earning via great content. I can’t tell you, when we write content, how many links I just watch for it from our content. Like there’s that part of it. And then yes, I think you could do a little bit of outreach, keep your friendly partners in mind and all that stuff, guest blog posting strategies. Anybody who’s charging you for a link, I’d be really leery of that. We know that over the years, Google quietly devalues, like some of these well-known guys who are selling links. The link on Forbes is not worth what everybody thinks it is. It sounds great but Google just knows what they’re doing, and they’re just quietly like ” that’s why you have it, we don’t care”. And then you know what I mean? We know that Google pays attention to how many people are searching for your brand, and what’s happening on social media. Like there’s all these signals that happen. Now, that being said, if you’re a brand-new baby company, you got to get that profile built up like you. There are no two ways where you got to find a way to do a little PR, to do a little outreach, you do some nap consistency stuff like you need to get the wheel going. But I would always be super-duper leery of anybody who’s just sort of selling active link building.
I don’t know, we seem to be on a constant SEO rollercoaster. In terms of the future of SEO, I think we’re going to keep riding this Google algorithm wave. I think where things are going to get really interesting as we get more into web 3.0, where people are okay with data tracking. Honestly, I would be so stoked to see a predominant search engine that isn’t Google, that isn’t collecting data long-term and I believe that’s going to make us SEO even more impactful and stronger because now SEO doesn’t depend on storing your data, in like having personal data. I think it’s going to emphasize the importance of SEO and other channels, which I think is going to be great. I would love to see a world long term where we’re not beholden to the great temple of Google. I don’t know if that’s really where the future’s going, but that is my hope. My hope is that in ten years, we don’t have to be talking only about Google and Amazon, which is kind of weird predominantly.
I know, the business now should be getting really comfortable, even watching this video, because soon we’re going to have to all get comfortable with virtual reality. But it’s a nice step into that, consumers more and more want to consume their content via audio, via video, not having to read everything so on, and really thinking about that because SEO will continue to adjust for that as well, that there are different forms of content that people want to consume and it’s not all just text on the page.
Well, it’s where the world is headed and the biggest advice, I give companies is just start. Everyone is so worried about the video quality, is it’s perfect or not. You got to start to get your toes wet, just try it. Give it a shot.
You know what the best way to connect with me online is either, to come to our Website v9digital.com or I’m most active on LinkedIn as a social platform, find me on LinkedIn.
Awesome thank you, Matt, really appreciate it. It was fun.
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