In Part 1 of a special, 2-part episode, hosts Peter Reynolds & Damon Adachi explore the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with travel blogger and SEO specialist Nina Clapperton, discussing the importance of SEO in building a strong online presence and attracting customers.
Nina shares her journey of turning her travel blog into a successful business, highlighting the strategies she used to achieve a $30,000 a month in income. Part 1 emphasizes the need to consider the consumer and user experience when creating online content and provides valuable insights into effective SEO strategies.
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PETER REYNOLDS: Hi, I'm Peter Reynolds, and welcome to Pros and Conversations, the podcast that explores what it takes to be successful, whether you're from the world of business, science, or the arts. Having a strong online presence is crucial to the success of any business, but with so many websites and businesses competing for attention online, it can be really challenging to stand out. And that's where SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, comes in. Improving your website's ranking on search engines, driving traffic to your site, and ultimately attracting more customers to your business. Today on the podcast, we're going to be doing our own search for answers on how to use SEO to achieve your marketing goals, whether you're a blogger looking to make a living from your passion, or a business owner looking to expand your online presence, and someone whose presence always expands to film whatever room he's in, and that's marketing consultant Damon Adachi. Damon, how you doing? I
DAMON ADACHI: I'm great today. How are you? I'm very good. I'm very good.
PETER REYNOLDS:You know, I think in, in my experience, you know, business owners, you know, they, they hear about SEO. They know they have to have, you know, a strong online presence, but other than creating their website, they don't actually know where to go from there.
DAMON ADACHI: Yeah, it's a mystifying topic for older guys like me, because it's a new science and it's, you know, it's a whole new discipline. Um, and the understanding of it is a specialized skill. So, you know, we think we know something, you know, we think we're informed, but it's the difference between being afforded and educated is, is a long way. So, uh, we really need to talk to experts who are fully versed and crafted in the field.
PETER REYNOLDS: Absolutely, and I think we found the perfect expert for this topic. We're going to be speaking with Nina Clapperton, who is a travel blogger and SEO specialist. She's turned her love of travel into a $30,000 a month business. She's the founder of SheKnowsSEO, and she joins us today. Nina, welcome to Pros & Conversations.
NINA CLAPPERTON: Hi, guys. Thank you so much for having me.
PETER REYNOLDS: Nina, would you agree that people understand the need for an online presence, but don't necessarily know how to get there?
NINA CLAPPERTON: Oh, 100%. I used to work at law firms before I actually left it to do this full time. And the amount of times they'd say, well, we have an online presence. There's a website that it's been down for four years and has a little construction guy on it. And they were like, so we've checked the box. We're fine. I was like, no, you're not. So I think you guys are right on the money.
PETER REYNOLDS: It's interesting because I probably would say it's the same as, you know, you create a flyer for your business and it's gorgeous and beautiful. And then you go back to the designer a year later and you say, it's just not working. I don't understand. And you say, well, what have you been doing with the flyers? Oh, they're sitting on my desk. You know, and they, they're absolutely beautiful, but I haven't, you know, you haven't handed them out. You haven't posted them anywhere. So definitely this idea of just creating your website is, is, is only the very first step.
NINA CLAPPERTON: A hundred percent. And I think people also make the mistake when they start working for themselves of like what they would want or what they currently feel like doing. So I know like I had a blog for four and a half years before I saw any meaningful traffic or success. And that's because I, number one, treated it like a hobby. and number two, did what I felt like. So I remember I was sitting in the bed in Singapore, writing a post about like how exciting it is to have gotten to Singapore and see my mom for the first time in like eight months or something. She was in the bed next to me, like Even the one person who might've wanted to read that was in the experience. She didn't wanna read it either. And I see that a lot with other businesses too, is they set up a blog the way they feel, or they set up their website the way they think, and they aren't thinking about their consumer or their user. And that's where you kind of get, again, that pretty flyer that no one's seeing because you hadn't figured out how to disseminate it to other people. And just doing things for you is not the way to be successful in any business ever.
DAMON ADACHI: Well, I'm a hundred percent guilty of that because my site is an atypical design. Um, it is not built for a search engine optimization and it is not really getting a lot of eyes on it, but I use it for like a presentation tool more than, uh, you know, uh, prospect sourcing. But I can only echo what you're saying because, uh, you know, you've got to understand the attention span is so short for people now. And if you're not coming up so early on search engine results, you're never going to be found.
PETER REYNOLDS: I wanted to get into the benefits and the strategies when it comes to SEO. But first, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your journey. I started the podcast by saying you turned your love of travel into a $30,000 a month business, which is unbelievable. And I'd love to hear that story.
NINA CLAPPERTON: For sure. My story, I think, is similar to a lot of digital entrepreneurs, where I just didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. I guess a year before I started the blog, I was trying to figure out what to do after I graduated university. I had a double major in medieval literature and creative writing. And it turns out no one will hire you with those two degrees. I applied to 198 jobs because I have nothing if not tenacious. And even the pyramid scheme turned me down and said, like, no, we don't we don't need you here. So that was pretty disheartening. I decided to go with my backup, which was law school. So which I know is weird to say it's a backup, but my family are all lawyers. So you want to do what your family don't do. I applied to law school, did the LSATs, and then you had to wait about six months to get that result back. So I decided I'd go to Europe for a year and just like hang out, see what happens. So I started volunteering my way across Europe and realized that's what I really love to do. And I was really dreading coming back for law school. So I had this chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks in Germany, because chocolate chip cookies are very North American, very hard to find in Europe. So I had it and I was more excited about like that really stale, not very good chocolate chip cookie. Then I had just gotten the acceptance to law school. I got a full scholarship. And it wasn't even just the scholarship. It was that like the life I had now mapped for myself was not what I wanted. So I found a $200 flight to New Zealand and moved there instead and started the blog. But at that point, I knew nothing about blogging. So I was writing just to write basically, like I would wax poetic about blue penguins in New Zealand or yeah, about meeting my mom in Singapore, about what clothes to wear in Canada. I was really all over the map and had no strategy, had no idea what marketing really was. So I didn't succeed. So for about four and a half years, I think my total that I made the total of the entire time was 83 cents. And I still haven't been paid that because it's locked inside of a Google AdSense account, and you don't make it till you hit $100. So I did not make money. And It was really disheartening. And then I figured, OK, it's not for me. I went to did my master's in publishing in Oxford for a year. The pandemic hit. And I think a lot of current digital entrepreneurs, their pivot really was forcing them to during the pandemic. So I was forced back to Canada, living in my sister's basement, and needed a way out of that. So I started blogging in earnest, learned SEO. Then I got a puppy, so that slowed things down a little bit. You got to deal with the puppy. And finally, December 2021, I sat down, got really serious about all of this. And within a year, actually within six months, I had my first $10,000 a month. And then within a year, I had my first $30,000 a month. And yeah, here we are. I'm about to hit, I actually am like $2 away from hitting $100,000 within the first 90 days of 2023, which is mind boggling to me.
DAMON ADACHI: I think it's mind boggling to all of us. It's absolutely amazing. Was there a moment you said, I'm going to start doing it in earnest? Was there that moment where you could see it starting to work? Take us a little bit through that.
NINA CLAPPERTON: Yeah, so honestly, it wasn't working when I decided that I think I got tired of my parents who are like, they're very loving and supportive. But you know, at a certain point, when you see your kid, like, falling and hitting their head on their bike for the 1000th time, you're like, hey, maybe bike riding not for you. Like, maybe it's just not your thing. And they were getting to that point over and over again of like, okay, how about I have a friend in communications. You should talk to them. I have a friend in advertising. Here are all these people. Go get a real job. Stop doing this." And I kind of sat myself down and was like, if I really want this to work, I, number one, have to treat it like a business because I think I was still treating it very much like a hobby at that point. I didn't really understand how to invest stuff in it. I was pretty terrified of spending any money on anything, but especially on a startup. And I didn't really have a marketing plan for it. I started to develop one a bit by that point. So I was getting about 5,000 monthly sessions organically. But I made a lot of mistakes along the way. So about a month before that, I had had 30,000 page views. And people are like, oh my God, 30,000, that's amazing. But I was spending 80 hours a week in Facebook groups, liking and commenting on other people's stuff in order to get them. So I got sick for a week, because I have a terrible immune system, so I'm always sick. And immediately, those vanished. So that to me said, I need something sustainable. I need something… I need to learn from people who know how to make this sustainable and I need something that'll help me do that. So I invested about $12,000 in different courses and learned everything I could learn and then spent six months implementing like crazy. Like my therapist said it was unhealthy and I was like, I get it, but I've got a goal. So I'll be unhealthy for six months and then I'll be healthy again. It'll be fine. It'll be totally fine.
DAMON ADACHI: Well, I'll say that my takeaways from this are, you know, like the revenue stream you've got there shows that the market potential is massive because it's globalized now. It's everybody's on the internet. Everybody's reading these, these, uh, pages and blogs, and there's so much, uh, availability of market out there, but that means that each one of us is just a micro element in a massive market as well. So how do you stand out? How do you get the views and how do you start to drive traffic to build up your business?
NINA CLAPPERTON: The very first thing is niching as far down as you can. So becoming really specific. So for example, I'm about to move to Europe with my dog. He's 70 pounds. Everything I've found online is for Americans. I'm not American, is for small dogs and are for countries that we are not going to. So having a blog about traveling with a large dog abroad, it sounds like you've picked something really, really, really small, but there's so many questions people have around that. And if you were looking for, let's just say medical advice, even if you're looking for like, okay, I need the right eye drops because my eyes get really dry. I don't want any random medical doctor. I want someone who's like an eye specialist talking about this. And if there's an eye specialist who further specializes in dry eyes or whatever the cause of your needing for eye drops is, you're really going to want to listen to them. And I think in most other branches of business or medicine or things in society, we are used to seeing people hyper niche. So think about that kebab shop down the street. They just do kebabs and maybe a salad, maybe, but they do one thing and they really, really focus on it and do it well. And the same thing has to start your online business. Now, as to it being oversaturated, there's just a common metaphor in my circle where it's like, think about water bottles. Think about plastic water bottles and how many plastic water bottle companies there are. Realistically, is Fuji doing anything Evian isn't? Is Evian doing anything that, I don't know, whatever, Dasani isn't? Not really. But it's all about the way that they've marketed and built their own brand loyalty because in some way they are offering something specific to their people, even if we don't really see it from the outside. And honestly, also it proves that there's just room in the market for more options. So like I am not the only travel blogger, I am not the only travel blog SEO coach out there. Like there's tons of us. I think there's tons of room for everybody to get in on these because you have different perspectives. You have different life experience that you can bring to it. But also because there are so many places with those hyper specific questions that just aren't being answered. So like even like the law firm I used to work at, they only did a state law and like our bread and butter was like wills, trusts. That was it. And people would come in and ask for like, oh, will you do our divorce law? No, that's not what we do. And we kind of need to get into that mentality as online business owners. Because even for myself, what I did wrong a lot of the time is I was like, okay, you have money to give me. I don't care what I have to do to get it. Let's go. And then that's how I ended up trying to like do web design for someone when like I can't do web design or I would do very active income sources, like doing a ton of copywriting and things like that, which didn't align with where my business was going and gave me no time to work on my business.
FEMALE NARRATOR: We hope you're enjoying this episode so far. Pros and Conversations is brought to you by For the Record Productions, providing video production services to corporate and nonprofit clients for over 20 years. To learn more about how we can help your business, visit videosthatmatter.ca. And by The Business Alliance, a professional peer group that helps you grow your business through networking, collaboration, and sound advice. To learn more about how to become a member, visit jointhealliance.biz.
PETER REYNOLDS: I tell you, that is such a great piece of advice, this sort of niche marketing, but really challenging. So just to pick a personal example, so when I started my video production business, we worked with nonprofits and disability groups. That was our niche. And to this day, if you type in nonprofit video production Toronto, we are on the first page of Google. And I get calls all the time. But as the business started to grow, I really wanted to branch out. I felt like I was restricting myself by focusing only on nonprofits, looking at, oh my gosh, look at all these potential corporate clients out there. I really need to focus on them. So I shifted my website to basically say nonprofit, corporate, government, trying to be everything to everybody. If we look 10 years on, since I made that decision, if you try to search out corporate video production Toronto, I am nowhere near, I don't even know what page I'm on. I don't even know if I'm on Google. It's so far down. But that nonprofit still is there, is still my biggest client. So I think that's a real struggle, if you would agree, where people, particularly at the beginning, you want to be everything to everybody because you don't want to turn down that potential income.
NINA CLAPPERTON: Oh, 100%. And I think a great example of this are book publishers, because if you think of certain book publishers, you know, they only do certain things. And it's been a while since my publishing degree, so I don't, I'm going to get some wrong. But if you think of like Bloomsbury, the thing that we first associated with is Harry Potter, because they're the publishers of Harry Potter. And so immediately, you're like, okay, like, young adult, kind of easy reads, light reads, everything like that. Same with Penguin, Penguin's like typical brand are kind of good books that are not going to like academically massively challenge you, but then they have Penguin Classics and that's where they put all of their Dickens and their Brontes, everything else. And they've created sub niches inside of one company, but that's because they've created these imprints that can handle it. And I see that happening a lot in different businesses. And I totally understand the desire to do everything at the beginning. And I don't think it's worth it, especially for like us small business owners to start, pardon me, 12 companies that act as imprints or something, because like you've got to manage 12 companies then. But you can create like arms of the business. So even if you go to like most law firm sites, they have divisions who handle certain things and dividing it up that way is very helpful. But I also always tell people, I'm like, start with one thing and fill that cup first. Because it's like when you were a kid and you had your penny jars that you were saving up for stuff. Some people had piggy banks, which were fancier, but I never wanted to smash my piggy bank, so I just did jars. And the first jar was that princess dress. The second jar was a puppy. The third jar was going to Disney World. And if I filled them each, one penny each at a time, I was waiting three times as long to get anything. But if I filled one up to the top, I got the thing. And then it almost became like a high interest savings account, bringing me dividends so that I could then have money overflowing into the other two. And that's how I think of like niching your business. is you are not cutting yourself off at the knees for future opportunities. You're actually focusing on one to then use that to finance and grow the others. Because if you become known as the best nonprofit video company, then if people really like the quality of those, you can then pivot that And it's going to be a little bit more challenging. You will be starting again from below for that new niche. But you then have all these acclaims that you didn't have when you started the nonprofit one that you can then use to buoy you up. So I always think of all of it as interconnected. And as humans, we do want to do more than one thing. None of us are like, I only ever want to do this one thing for the rest of my life. Those people are super lucky if they have that, but I feel like most of them are serial killers or something, so not ideal. I think it's just about picking one thing for now and then knowing that you can expand and adjust it over time, but really giving one thing your all until it is bringing you enough profit that you can then pivot to other things.
DAMON ADACHI: Oh, so where were you 14 years ago? Because my company, Sevenfold, is actually based on the idea of seven different service buckets, and that's how it started in day one. So that was obviously a learning curve that I had overcome. And your specializing in micro-niching is excellent advice, especially because some of our listeners, small businesses, They're not going to be able to monetize traffic just from, you know, non discerning views. They have to turn these, these opportunities into actual clients and they are looking for a specific type of client. So, you know, Peter and I have talked about, you know, you put a Google ad out there, you're going to get a bunch of garbage calls too, just because you got views and somebody reacted. But when you're hyper niched in what you say you do, then the only calls you should be getting are the people that are exactly the clients you're looking for, right?
NINA CLAPPERTON: 100%. That's really why I do niche down so far. So like, I get tons of people, my site, she knows SEO, it's all about SEO for travel blogs. And I will still get people messaging me like, Okay, will you do SEO for my law firm? And I'm like, Nope, I don't do that. That's not, that's not my area of genius. Also, because I want to run as far away from law as I can now. I'm like, not my place to work, do not want to do that again. And I know they won't listen to me based on past experience with one law firm. But I know that for me, my dream client and the people that I want to work with are typically female travel bloggers. And that's just because the travel blog niche, we have a lot of women in it. They're typically people who want to work from home. They probably have another job. I literally sat down and I think this is something that's important for any marketer to do. sit down and create your ideal person. Like I have like a little like notebook with like a little it's not a stick figure drawing anymore because it was it was really bad. So I took like a photo off Unsplash. And it's like a photo of this woman. It has her name, her interests, her job, her age, what her family life is like, all of that stuff. And every time I get those like shiny object syndrome moments, I think to myself, like, would this help her? Is this actually something relevant to her? Or am I just like having a moment of doing something different. And that really helps keep me on track. And it can even be your younger self. For most people, they choose a business that would have helped them 10 years ago. So having a picture of 10 years ago you with like notes about what you struggled with to be able to focus on that. Because yeah, you can't always monetize traffic. The traffic can then, I can talk about that as well, like how it funnels to sales. But you basically need to know who the person is first before you can do any of it.
PETER REYNOLDS: So really understanding your customer, which we've talked about, Damon, on previous episodes. Can we step back a little bit? Because I know we've been throwing out a lot of terminology, whether it's monetized and SEO. And for the person maybe that's watching that has heard the term really doesn't understand it. Could you maybe just sort of give us a general explanation as to sort of what SEO is and why it's important, how it exists within your website?
DAMON ADACHI: Yeah, just demystify SEO for us. Not no big deal.
NINA CLAPPERTON: I've gotten pretty good at doing it, to be honest. So SEO is search engine optimization, and it is essentially a dialect of English that Google speaks. So it's very much like if you go from Toronto to Newfoundland, they're still speaking English, even if you're like, are they actually speaking English? And they just have different terms that they use and they process it differently. So Google is the same. And it's all built around these things called keywords. And now a keyword I know is a bit confusing because it can actually be like a sentence someone searches, but basically it's anything that you type into that search bar is a keyword altogether. So, for example, why do my golden retriever's toes smell like Tostitos? That was a thing that was like big on TikTok for a while. That would be your search term, which is your keyword. And so the way that we get onto Google is that we optimize for Google's dialect of English. And that involves a few different steps. So first, it involves knowing those keywords and then writing for them. And a lot of people think that if they just put the keyword like once in their post, bing, bang, boom, I'm done. I'm perfect. I've like solved SEO forever. You haven't. Um, there's a lot more to it than that. Typically there, um, you have to consider like how many times you need to use the keyword. You will also need to consider the ways in which you are writing. So for example, Google processes, um, our language a little bit differently. So, for you or I, if we were given a paper that said at the top, this is about golden retrievers' feet smelling like Tostitos, they never have to say that altogether again below. I know that's what it's about. But Google doesn't. So you have to repeat it to Google a couple times throughout the piece. And then Google sometimes wants you to figure out like, okay, what are some other ways to say this for me? Because I have like some people searching that one, but I also have some people searching Tostito toes, golden retrievers, because everyone searches differently. So that's where you start getting into this like kind of level up realm of SEO, which is secondary keywords. So you're adding more than one of these like Google special words into your post, naturally, just that way you're telling Google, like kind of putting a little signpost beside it, like, Hey, Google, remember, this is what we're talking about. And then you can go from there. There's also other elements like, um, there's different things you need to do with linking to external sources, linking within your own site, um, how to write the paragraphs. Google like hates academic English. Like your old third grade English teacher and Google are basically at war because you're, you were told to write these like massive paragraphs, like everything should be all together. Google wants paragraphs that are one to three sentences, like super short. And that's partially because from my one psychology class I ever took, I learned that people skim, like really intensely people skim read. But when they skim read, the way they do it is they're not skimming the whole sentence. They are looking at the first three to five words per sentence. So the more sentences you give them in these paragraphs, the more, pardon me, it wasn't sentence, the more paragraphs they can read those first three to five words per paragraph. And you've now given them a better understanding of your piece than you would if you had three paragraphs on the page and each one takes up a million, million, million pages on mobile when you scroll. So SEO really is all about user experience just from Google's perspective. And Google's way that they understand that is something that is easy to read, that is about the topic, and the way we tell Google that it's about the topic is we use these keywords, and something that actually provides helpful information that you are an expert on. So, like, I could never write a whole blog about being a heart surgeon, because I'm not a heart surgeon. I have no idea about any of that stuff. I also wouldn't write one about owning a cat because I've never owned a cat in my life. My mom had one and I actively hated it. So like, I am not an authority on that. So really for SEO and to get your business in front of Google's eyes, you have to start playing by Google's rules, because those rules are ultimately meant to serve users so that a user will come to your site, get what they need, and then leave satisfied, rather than coming to your site, seeing that the background is lime green and the text is lime yellow, and there's a bunch of things flashing in their face, and actually none of this was about law, like even though the term that they searched was law health. They don't want that. So they want you to work with them to help people.
DAMON ADACHI: And so your genius is that you work within all of those rules and still make creative content that is easy to read and conversational and engaging without people realizing that you're just bombarding them with keywords and string sentences that are going to rank high on Google.
NINA CLAPPERTON: 100%. I mean, I think most of my posts have, I think I put in 50 to 100 keywords per post in about a 3,000, 4,000 word post. I also put in these special words called LSI words or must words, which are essentially words that Google found the other people in the top 10 using that they feel everyone should use to be relevant about the topic. So for example, if the post was about things to do in Paris, And I never mentioned the Eiffel Tower. Google's like, do you know what Paris is? Even if like you think it's super overhyped or something, you have to at least reference it. And that's where you get to be creative with the keywords and must words, but you also, there's so much room to be creative. Cause if you're on topic throughout the post, repeatedly mentioning, there are so many things to do in Paris, or like, look at all these Paris activities, or, um, this is a must do when you visit Paris. All of those were keywords, but they're things we would commonly say. So it's just about like translating yourself for Google while still getting to be informative and helping people.