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Interview with Sean Work – How To Actually Grow Your Website Traffic This Year – Episode #78
  • “Most businesses…they haven’t finished their site.”

    Since 2005, Sean Work has been the go-to internet marketing consultant for startups, universities and many other businesses. Additionally, as Marketing Director, Sean grew the Kissmetrics blog (its business-to-business publication) to over 1 million readers a month.

    Sean’s extensive knowledge of search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, copywriting, site architecture, and company building, makes him an invaluable adviser for any new venture or existing business looking to increase its numbers.

    Questions and topics we covered included:

    • What does it take to get 1 million dedicated blog readers a month?
    • The dangers marketers face by becoming the “yes person” to the CEO.
    • What are the essential elements of a successful website?
    • What are some noteworthy challenges that Sean’s faced while working at Crazy Egg?
    • His thoughts on how to stand out during your job search.
    • Do blogs still work in 2022?
    • What are some common misconceptions when it comes to keyword analysis?
    • His process for identifying opportune keywords.
    • How he aligns opportune keywords with content ideas.

    And more!


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:01  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people of the digital marketing podcast with your host, Kenny Soto, and today’s guest, Sean’s work. Hi, Sean, how are you?


Sean Work  0:14  

Good. How are you doing, Kenny?


Kenny Soto  0:16  

I’m doing very well. And before we started recording, I gave you a little background on the podcast and the audience on why we do what we do. And I wanted to get more background about you. So I wanted to first start off by asking, What does it take to get 1 million dedicated blog readers?


Sean Work  0:34  

Oh, wow. Okay, so things have changed a lot since then. But it definitely takes consistent, consistent blogging, to treat you gotta treat as a publication, I think that’s the real thing you gotta get in your head. This was a b2b marketing blog, we’re talking about the KISSmetrics blog. And, you know, especially if it was a product, it still is a product, actually. 


And the idea of having a blog for your company product, you know, is a normal thing to do. But to actually turn it into publication isn’t always an obvious move. And that’s kind of what happened. There’s actually an interesting story. When we started the blog, they were just doing it a couple of times a week. 


And some of the initial content that was already there before even got to the company, they had already started, like a couple of weeks before, a couple of months before I joined. They had found some really solid writers that were writing some really great copy, or sorry, blog posts, and I think a couple of guys were to copy they were writing for was it Copy Hackers at the time, I think. 


So we knew the right writers to get I think that’s one of the important ingredients. And so we kept going and one of my jobs was as marketing director, so I was like, Okay, keep the blog going, what kind of other things maybe try some pay per click, just doing all kinds of stuff. And the blog kept doing really well. We hired someone to help us do infographics. He just happened to be that was like his gift to the world. 


It’s amazing that we found this person. So then we had some really hard-hitting infographics, right when the timing for infographics was just it was the best time in history to do infographics bringing massive traffic, and great backlinks. So we’ve now been getting bigger and bigger. Everyone was like, wow, this is getting crazy. 


And then the CEO of the time was intense. And he had all these ideas and want to do things that do the IBM his calls for like, two hours sometimes about all these ideas you want to do. And I had to write them all down and figure out how to sort this out. And I just was overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep up with this, this demand. And it almost felt like I was doing a bad job. I wasn’t sure if that was impostor syndrome or just what was going on. But then his brother-in-law, Neil Patel, who was also part of the company, called me one day, and he just said, just focus on the blog, don’t do anything else just blog every day. Right. 


And that was one of the best movies ever, right? Because then it turned into a publication, we doubled down on our strengths. We’re keeping the quality up, we’re putting out content people really want to read and wanted to know about, especially when all this b2b startup stuff was just starting to take off a lot right after 2010. So it was just the right time, the right double down on his tracks, just going treating it putting all the focus into it. 


And I would actually carry this on when I would tell people about doing marketing for these types of companies. And if you’re going to be a marketer, one of the dangers is, is kind of being like a yes person to like the CEO or to everyone and trying to do everything under the sun, especially if you’re just a one-person team really. 


And it’s really important to be like, Wow, this one thing works well for us, let’s just, let’s just focus on that. And don’t take it as far as we can, right? And so that way, you don’t spread yourself out too thin, you’re not just being kind of mediocre, and everything, you just go to the thing you’re good at and just use that as your main channel for a while. So that is kind of like.


Kenny Soto  4:06  

There’s a lot to unpack there. But before we dive in, I just want to get more context on you as a person. So what got you into digital marketing in the first place?


Sean Work  4:14  

Yeah. So when I was in college in the late 90s, late 90s, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to start a skateboard brand slash skateboard shop online, right? And it was a weird time internet existed, but people kind of bought things online, but people still like, we’ll go to the website and like, get down, write down the address, send in a check and you’d send them a package in the mail. 


That’s how old school it was even though there was the internet. And I didn’t have the money or I didn’t think about going to the bank to get a loan. I was like, well, I’ll just do this stuff online. I’ll just figure out a way to sell these things online. So I started this brand and then I started this online shop and then I was trying to sell things on Yahoo ads, which was like a Yahoo, auction, sorry. And it was kind of like eBay. 


And that was starting to work. And it was getting momentum. And we’re shipping things all over the world. And then and my partner figured out how to get a Linux-based shopping cart together with the E-commerce and credit card authorization, and we got it all going. And it snowballed into this, like this crazy business acumen like this cult following. And I learned SEO. Because of this, I learned how to optimize the site to bring in traffic. That was the only way we were getting business really like doing auctions and then SEO. And that was it. So I got roped into that. And that became like, this crazy adventure I embarked on.


Kenny Soto  5:47  

Now tying back to what you talked about when it came to growing KISSmetrics. You mentioned that there oftentimes there will be a marketer who’s by themself, or maybe it’s a small team of two to three people. Yeah. And there are a lot of ideas coming in either internally within the marketing team itself, across departments, or even from leadership. Yeah. How do you figure out what are the tactics, channels, and even focus on? What are the signals that you’re looking for to evaluate that?


Sean Work  6:19  

Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, you have you you have your analytics, analytics tool open, right? You have this instinct and gut to feel what’s working and what’s resonating. You have to be really careful about saying yes to everything, you don’t want to say yes to everything. You can use data as a kind of, guide, and you can show people, Hey, this is what’s working, we should focus here first, right? 


And I think, the most important thing, really, and I see, in my agency, I’ve now always wanted to this, you know, everyone should have a marketing plan and a marketing strategy, a business strategy, a vision, right? Like, nail that down on paper or something in the news, that is like, what you’re going to how you’re going to go from there, right? Like what do you need to get done? What things do you need to focus on?


What do you need to work on? Mean? Are you working on making sure the brands are all nice and put together first, like before you just go try everything? So I think that’s actually a good starting point. Really, just make sure whatever you’re doing aligns with that. With that strategy that you’ve written down?


Kenny Soto  7:25  

Yeah, that’s good. That’s good to hear. And yeah, I think a good segue would be now just to dive a little deeper into your agency, what are you doing right now? What does your agency do? And who do you serve?


Sean Work  7:37  

So where I guess we’re kind of niche, like, we just focus on SEO, search engine marketing, you know, we’ll do some Google ads, we do some SEO, we write some blog content, and we publish it for our clients, we really focus on what we really try to sell people on is the written website content is really important. 


Not only does it help with getting organic traffic, right, the things that we create, but you also own the content, and it lasts forever, as long as it’s on your website, right? It’s going to bring in traffic every day, from here on out, okay? And then you can use this in your social media marketing and your email marketing. So yeah, this asset you can use over and over again, in multiple places. And we always notice, like most businesses, they haven’t finished their site, they haven’t, they’re not talking about their services, they haven’t really started a blog it’s been it’s kind of like, we’ll do it later thing. 


But when you look at it in terms of ROI, like, wait a minute, this is the stuff that you should knock out right away, because you get this out. And if you publish this today, it’s going to be bringing stuff in forever. So let’s do that. The only issue is a long-term play, and people want instant gratification, so.


Kenny Soto  8:47  

Let’s say I’m the first marketing hire, or at least the first person in the marketing team to get the task. We need a website. Can you make it? What are the essential elements of a website, both from a front-end design perspective? And also, more importantly, the nitty gritty SEO part?


Sean Work  9:08  

Yeah, as well. Yes. So this is really dangerous, like a potential bomb you can run into if there isn’t a site already, and they want you to build it. Because building a site, even the day can be a complete disaster, it’s resource-heavy, I take forever, you know, and you might outsource and hire someone to build it. You might have devs in-house, like, we can do it, but they’re gonna build in this really weird way that’s not user-friendly for anyone else. 


But okay, so let’s assume you can build the site fine. It’s not a big deal. And you can find the right outfits to do this. I think the number one thing, thing to think about too, is a lot of sites are not very text-heavy on purpose. And it’s usually from design and likes to make it pretty and like, you know, just aesthetic value. And I think that’s an issue we see is like, Well, you didn’t Really, you’re not really describing what you do on the site, maybe there’s like a, like, kind of like a benefit headline, a few points here and there. 


But from a surgery perspective, it might not actually understand what you do. So you kind of have to that’s like the first check. Like, if a robot reads this, they’re gonna know what we’re doing, right? You want it to be you want me you want humans bill to read it too. And to read well, and this is where it’s kind of art. You gotta go. Okay, is the search engine going to understand this? And like what we’re about? So that’s the first check. 


The second check is yeah, you gotta be fast, right? It has to be more responsive, and all those things. So you got to make, you know, a modern-looking site that still has just enough text on there, where it’s like, okay, surgeons are going to be able to digest and understand what the site’s about.


Kenny Soto  10:45  

What were some noteworthy challenges that you faced while working at crazy, Eric?


Sean Work  10:52  

So I think it’s interesting that crazy has always been a small company, right? And that’s, there’s a lot of really good things about that. There’s really easy communication. It’s kind of a family-style business almost. But being a small, smallish company, definitely, for me, it was just there was no headcount available, usually, to have people on my team. So sometimes we have a lot of contractors, and then occasionally you have a full hire. 


And then with these days, obviously, it’s so hard to like, keep people around, because everyone’s getting poached, you’re jumping ship, or trying new things in life and running off. And so that’s definitely challenging.


Kenny Soto  11:36  

Whenever you started a new position, what were some of the common threads, and habits that you had found to help you be successful that you leverage during your first 90 days, maybe even throughout the first half of your first year?


Sean Work  11:53  

Hmm. I think I think the most important thing is kind of like, you don’t really, I don’t know, it’s, it’s bad to say, but it’s like, you don’t really treat it as your job just a job anymore. And you kind of treat it as your baby. And you really take ownership in the business that you want to succeed in, right? And you kind of go through this transformation, where it’s your seriousness is, is at a different place now. 


And that’s always worked for me, it’s like when you get passionate about something, and you’re really involved. And then the reason why I don’t know, I’m saying that might not be good advice is like, I don’t know if people should be that, like, almost emotionally tied to a job or business. So it’s, it’s tough. Like, that’s how I, how it worked for me. And I don’t know if people should do it that way. Or if it’s just a thing do you know what I mean?


Kenny Soto  12:48  

Okay, changing lanes here. This is a two-part question. So the first part is, if you were a marketer today, starting your career, how would you stand out against the other candidate? In the talent pool? What would you do to make it this is like agnostic, so it can be any position, any industry, any business model, etc?


Sean Work  13:13  

Yeah. I take it from the position of like, I’ve hired people before, right? And one thing I always wanted to see in the people that are applying is like, they want do they want to be here. Like, do they really want this? Is it Do they seek us out? Do they love what we do? Right? So flipping that around, that’s what I would try to convey. It’s like, I don’t just need a paycheck. Or I don’t need to just sit here all day and like that, make sure I have a job. 


I like that I actually want to help you. Right. And I’m interested in what you do. And in the past, I’ve been very like Frank, like, I don’t like I’ve gotten all kinds of job offers. And I’m like, I don’t want to do this because I’m just not interested in the problem you’re solving. Right? Like, I’ve actually got up and left like, yeah, actually, this is not what I want to do. So I think when people can see that, like, oh, this person is supposed to be here, because this is like, this is what they want. And they really want to help enhance it a huge advantage, right? That’s how I would do it.


Kenny Soto  14:16  

Perfect. And then the second part of this question is, let’s put ourselves in the position of someone who’s been a marketer. Right? They’ve been working for several years in the field, and now they’re being tasked with hiring a team and setting up the team for the first time. Yeah. What are certain high-level points of advice that you can share with them as someone who’s done it before?


Sean Work  14:39  

Okay, this is what I used to say and hopefully, it still applies, but I would say this a lot. I’d say hire a person for each position for each. Again, I will call a position for now okay? In the way I’ve always framed my marketing team, you know, I want what if you don’t have a design again, have a great designer, right? If you’re gonna do email marketing, you should have one person that just does email marketing, you should have one person who has a blog. And then you have one person who should do like PPC pay per click. 


And you don’t want to have a team where everyone’s kind of like, like a bunch of chickens with their kids head out and running around trying to do everything, you want to have these like specialty people in each thing, and you want them to focus on a percent on what they do best. That’s my ideal advice for hiring. Instead of kind of, like, let’s get a bunch of people together that have general chops, and then like, we’ll just start solving problems together. I mean, you can do that. But to me, it’s like, let’s just get the right, the right skill sets in here. And then, you know, make sure they’re all aligned.


Kenny Soto  15:41  

Basically, specialization versus generalization? Yeah. Do blogs still work in 2022?


Sean Work  15:49  

Yeah. I mean, we see it all the time. If you publish content, that’s, you know, good content, you know, you make sure you’re looking you’re not trying to do something that’s really competitive, and it’s been packable a million times. 


They, bring in organic traffic, right? It’s, that’s still a thing. It’s nice to pair it with a video if you can. It’s something you got to be consistent about. And, you know, what, if you have good like, anything you write as a good lead if you post that in social, it’s a great way to get traffic and to get people you know, coming through to your site, so.


Kenny Soto  16:26  

What are some of your favorite martech tools?


Sean Work  16:31  

So, I love an H ref. That’s like one of my favorite tools ever is amazing. I don’t know if Calendly matters that count. It certainly does. Yeah, revolutionary. Yeah. I love those two and then we built our own tool internally for SEO stuff that I like because it does what we need to do. So those are the three I always Dennis banner.


Kenny Soto  16:53  

Perfect. And that was my follow-up question. What are your favorite SEO and search engine marketing tools?


Sean Work  16:59  

So yeah, again, just traps for ages. And then if someone wants to do keyword analysis on their own ago, I would just go to Uber suggestions and try and get a feel for it. But I do always tell everyone, like, you gotta hire us to do keyword analysis, because you have no idea how deep you can go, right? Do you think you found the right word that has like the right, a certain amount of traffic and competitiveness? Wait till we’re done getting through it, we’re gonna find stuff that you won’t believe.


Kenny Soto  17:27  

Great. So this is another great segue, what is? Let’s start off with misconceptions. What are some common misconceptions that come from the area of keyword analysis?


Sean Work  17:40  

Yeah, definitely. Okay. The first problem, usually, especially for a business owners, is they think they know what term they want to rank for. Right? And then I want to show up for this. And you go, Well, no one’s searching for this, right? Or they’re not really searching for it that much. They’re actually searching for this term. 


And this gets into just your customer, the language your customers use, like, let’s, let’s discover what that is. And let’s learn about this. Because this is going to help you with everything in your business. Right, your ads, your website, copy your print material, your sales pitch, and all this stuff matters. Like you got to know the language.


Kenny Soto  18:18  

Certainly. And to a certain degree, once you have your list of keywords, you have to segment them based on level of awareness, whether they’re actually considering the problem, even though in itself like, Are they aware of the problem, then? Are they aware of your competitors? 


Are they aware of you? And how does that fall within like what they’re searching for realistically when you’re doing keyword research for a client? What is your step-by-step process for figuring out and dissecting? What are the right keywords? And is that we don’t need to go as granular as this keyword based on this search intent. But just like from a high level.


Sean Work  18:56  

I think, okay, so for a lot of our customers, a lot of it will just start with something as simple as, let’s identify services you offer, right that you don’t have a page for, right? That’s the lowest hanging fruit, then the next step is really like what are some if we’re gonna do buy, we’re going to blog for them, like what kind of topics should we be discussing on the blog, right and going and doing that type of keyword analysis?


We all kind of call it contents analysis, though. So those are two the two areas we focus on the most. We don’t Yeah, we don’t get super deep and like, I don’t know, I guess buying cycle is where they’re at, or that’s the I don’t know, I don’t know how well that works. But I guess you could try that.


Kenny Soto  19:38  

Perfect and stepping taking a step back here. What’s one marketing problem or challenge that you think about on a regular basis?


Sean Work  19:50  

Oh, definitely. I guess it Yeah, it’s so silly. It’s just You won’t believe it. How to do videos easily All right. Why video? Okay, video content, obviously is one of the most engaging forms of content. And it’s everywhere. It’s like, a lot of the platforms are really designed for video first almost. And so but the trick is, it’s, it’s really time-consuming and really expensive to make a video, unless you’re okay with just filming yourself on iPhone, right? 


And the question is, I guess the dilemma I always have is like, Okay, how much are the brands suffering by doing it kind of just quick and easy? versus, like, how much energy and money are we putting into like a full-scale production? Right? So that’s always been like my thing grinding at me.


Kenny Soto  20:42  

Perfect. And my last question is hypothetical. If you had access to a time machine, and you can go back into the past 10 years, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?


Sean Work  20:55  

Yeah, that’s funny.


Kenny Soto  20:59  

I guess.


Sean Work  21:02  

There’s like this. There’s this old Dead Kennedys song, where one of the lyrics is like, all you think about is your career, right? It’s like mocking people that are obsessed with their careers, right? So the problem is, like, I’ve been, like, tarnished, or like, I don’t know, what do you call it? I’ve had that, that bad influence of like, punk rock and stuff. So it’s like, whatever career whatever, right? Like, just do what you do in your life. Right? 


And like, whatever happens, happens, right? Like, don’t stress about it too much. If I went back, it wouldn’t matter, I guess. Because my whole everything I’ve ever decision I made for the past 10 years has been better than because of my children. 


Like, what? Where I did not take jobs like Shopify, right? Because I’m like, I’m not moving to Canada. Because I have a family here. And my mother-in-law was down here. I can’t move away. Like I’m just going to do whatever fits with my family and like works for my life right now. So that’s, that’s the answer, I guess.


Kenny Soto  22:05  

Yeah. Being in this case principle of having priorities. Yeah. And making sure that they’re important to you. Really, very cool. Thank you for your time today. And if anyone wanted to say hello, online, where can they find you?


Sean Work  22:19  

Twitter is probably the best place. So at Sean V’s work.


Kenny Soto  22:23  

Perfect. Thanks, Shawn. And thank you, to your listener for listening to another episode of the people with digital marketing. And as always, I hope you have a great day. 


Bye thanks. 

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