This week we speak to Katherine Ong, Owner of WO Strategies, about large scale website migrations.
Where to find Katherine:
This season is sponsored by NOVOS. NOVOS, the London-based eCommerce SEO agency, has won multiple awards for their SEO campaigns including Best Global SEO Agency of The Year 2 years running. Trusted by over 150 global eCommerce brands including the likes of Bloom & Wild, Patch and Thread, NOVOS provides technical eCommerce SEO expertise with a creative edge by specialising across platforms like Shopify & Magento. They have been named as one of 2021's best workplaces in the UK and with a diverse, gender-balanced team are a culture-first agency. Check them out on thisisnovos.com or follow on Linkedin @thisisnovos
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Areej: Welcome to a new episode of The Women in Tech SEO podcast, thank you so much for joining us. I'm Areej AbuAli and I am the founder of Women in Tech SEO. Today's episode is all about helping large websites with their SEO website migration's. And I am joined by the brilliant Katherine Watier Ong, who is the owner of WO Strategies. Hey, Katherine.
Katherine: Hi, how are you?
Areej: Yeah, I'm great, thanks. It's so good to have you here.
Katherine: Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Areej: I think you host a podcast of your own, don't you?
Katherine: I do, yeah. I have 2, I decided to be an overachiever. I have one that's an Alexa flash briefing. It's a daily SEO tip though, although over the summer it's been very not daily. And then I have another podcast called Digital Marketing Victories where we talk about the soft skills you need to be successful as a digital marketer.
Areej: Oh, I love that. I know that you shared a few of those episodes and yeah, I love them. And how does it feel to be on the other side?
Katherine: Oh, I mean, it's great. I help clients with podcasts and so it kind of made sense to do a podcast myself. And then I used to do a lot of speaking at the Voice Summit. So again, it sort of made sense to have an Alexa Flash Briefing. So, I know the ins and outs of how to do that work, too.
Areej: Yeah, awesome. Well, I'm happy to have you here with us. You are a super, super active member of the Women in Tech SEO community. And I would love everyone to know a little bit more about you and how you got into the world of SEO.
Katherine: Sure. Yeah. So, I've been doing SEO for 17 years, though I've been marketing forever. I planned my first conference, and I was 13 and launched a non-profit when I was 16 and got press coverage and did events and, you know, eventually a newsletter anyway. And for the last five years, I've been running a solo organic traffic consultancy. So, I focus on anything with a search function in it and help clients be found organically. So that's Google, YouTube, Bing, Facebook, that kind of thing, but those are the three big ones, Google, YouTube, and Bing. Yeah, so that's me I love SEO, before I started my consultancy, I ran the online marketing and analytics team at Ketchum, the big PR firm, servicing their clients globally. So, my first year there, it was just me. They'd never have anybody that did SEO or analytics. So, they thought one was enough for all their clients globally. They have like 12 offices in China. So, I had sixty-five clients my first year and they weren’t small, Gazprom and ConAgra, you know, this large. Anyway, eventually, we had a team of nine.
Areej: Wow. How did it feel moving from such a big type of company and just starting your own thing?
Katherine: You know, I mean, I love the experience at Ketchum for sure, but also agency work can just burn you out. And I joined Ketchum because I was following Tim Weinheimer, who was the head of a digital strategy there. After all, I just wanted him to be my next boss. He met me when I was speaking at an AMA event in DC, and we just clicked. And then I frankly stalked him trying to find a role underneath him so he could be my next boss. So anyway, he was my boss for five years, but then in the end he moved to Austin with his husband, and it was becoming clear he wouldn't continue to be my boss. And, you know, I didn't join Ketchum because of Ketchum, I joined Ketchum because of Tim. And I kept telling them, you get rid of Tim and I'm going. So, he provided a lot of great I mean, he's where I got a lot of my soft skills from, frankly, and he provided a lot of great covers and allowed me to be disruptive because I needed to be. But it was just, you know, sort of my time to go. Also, when you're at a big agency, you often don't have a chance to pick your clients. I remember I was on a new business pitch, and it was just, frankly, for a client that was opposite of my ethics, and we go out to this pitch. And I was in the car with the team, the teams like, oh, my God, I hope we win it. And I'm sitting there going, like, I hope we don't because I don't have to work on it. And we didn't win it, thankfully. So, I got close, but not quite working on a client that I just thought was the opposite of my ethics. So, I have a lot more fun now because I can be selective and I can pick clients where I love their mission and I love the people I work with, like my direct clients. I on purpose pick people that want to learn SEO. And it's great because I love teaching my team, everybody but two on my team at Ketchum came to me directly out of college with no background in digital marketing, and I train them all. The paid side was trained by somebody else on my team, but all the organic stuff and the analytics was me. And, you know, they're doing great things. A lot of them work at Google, one is the head of entertainment partnerships at Facebook and Instagram, one worked as the Head of Brand at Reddit, one's at Twitter. I mean, they're just rock stars. And I love teaching people about SEO, so I love that I get to do that through my clients. I can pick clients that they're it internally. They just never really had an SEO on their plate before. Now they do. And I particularly work with science organisations where I can't write their content because there's some subject matter expertise there. And so, it makes sense for them to own the SEO internally. It doesn't make sense for an agency to take it over, how could you? Especially with Google, knowing whether you are, you know, an expert in your topic when you write? Right. So anyway, yeah, I love what I do now. And it provides great balance and I'm making as much as I made at Ketchum, but I'm working part-time.
Areej: Oh, I love that. And I relate with what you're saying, I had the same thing when I was agency side as well and decided to move on to the client side because I didn't have the flexibility of saying yes or no to certain clients. And at least when I moved client-side, I was able to say, OK, this is the exact brand that aligns with my values and I'm comfortable working with. So, I love that you touched on that. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Katherine: Yeah. And I also still get the variety. So, it's not just one thing that you're slogging on, because I was in-house too, before I went to Ketchum I was in-house as the director of Internet marketing for a couple of non-profits. And so, you know, I did that. There's pros and cons to both. I like what I'm doing now. I have had experiences in my career where you're the expert when you're the consultant, and as soon as you become in-house, you're not the expert and people stop listening to you, which drives me crazy. And so, I think it's a better fit for now for me to be on the expert side than to be in-house where my expertise would magically disappear as soon as you cut my paycheck.
Areej: Yeah. And what advice would you give for women who want to start their consultancy?
Katherine: Oh, yeah, I have very clear advice and I sort of did this. So, when I decided to pivot from traditional marketing to digital marketing, this is early, this is when I started going to Georgetown was like the early 20s early in my career. I sort of did it with this long-term dream of being a digital nomad. I liked the idea of being able to work from wherever, as long as there's an Internet connection. Also, as a marketing person, you get laid off a lot. You know you don't stay anywhere very long. It's just the nature of the beast with marketing. And after going through that a couple of times, I thought, this is kind of crap, I want, you know, more consistency in revenue. I don't like the fact that you lose a paycheck and then you're earning nothing until you get that next job. So, I started freelancing in between my jobs, mostly out of, frankly, need. I just needed the money. And so, for years, that's what I would do. And I would transit. Sometimes I'd moonlight on the side. Sometimes I freelance in between. And so, by the time I got to Ketchum, I had clients and like referrals from clients. So that was one thing. Do it before you even leap because that way you've got some experience about how to pitch your work and how to put together a proposal and some other things. And if you do get a chance to work in an agency, I'd recommend it, especially if you're younger, because you learn a ton, a ton about how to do proposals and price things and all that kind of stuff, which would be very useful for you if you go off on your own. But then the other thing I did at Ketchum was because I had to grow my team and because it is very time-intensive to start with somebody fresh out of college with no background to train them up. I was desperate to see if I could find somebody mid-level that I could maybe steal from somewhere else. So as a part of that and as background, PR companies don't invest a ton in training their employees because that's just not part of their model, which is heart-breaking as a digital marketer. As you know, you learn so much from live events pre covid when you could attend them, right? So, I want to make sure that the people on my team got that experience, but I couldn't send them the show. There was there were no budgets to send them to shows, only budgets for me, which is crazy. And even for me, I had to fight. So, what I did instead was I sort of took over a meetup because the person that was running it was moving on to the real estate. So, he was moving out of the digital marketing space. But I did that for six years. And so, I got a chance to do two things. One, that because we hosted it, my young people got to sit there and listen to other people that were doing digital marketing and learn from other people. I also got to stack the event. So that way it was a variety of levels of information. And I could even pick speakers that I thought maybe my team needed to learn more about or I frankly wanted to learn more about. And then three, I got to massively expand my network in the D.C. marketplace because you can just blindly do a LinkedIn request to a random person because you think they'd be a great speaker and most of the time people accept that, even if they're not free to speak, they're like, OK, and then they're part of your network. So, it helps build your network exponentially. When I left Ketchum, I was looking for full-time jobs and I realised it just wasn't going to work because every job I've had in my entire career has been an intrapreneur job. So brand new position, build something from scratch. I'm good at it, but frankly, exhausting. And I didn't want to do it again. And so, I was beginning to realise that was the only thing that I was going to get interviews for or offers for and that freelancing might be easier. So, running my consultancy would be easier than that. So, I put a note out to my network, the same one that I ran these meetups with, and I said, OK, I'm going to do my own thing. And I got my first client in like two weeks. And of course, it would be a website in Saudi Arabia and the client is hiring me from Dubai. And it’s half in Arabic, which I don't read. And it was massive. I was like this place to buy and sell new and used cars. I had no background in cars, but whatever. Of course, that would be my first project. But yeah, from there. So basically, my network is what helped me kick off my consulting and I still get referrals from that same network.
Areej: Yeah, I think that's such good advice because it feels like you did all the legwork and you set everything up before you decided to make the jump and that made things helpful.
Katherine: Yeah. I mean, it was also kind of obvious that because of my career, if you are looking for a full-time position, which is an intrapreneur position. Right. Build your own thing, starting from scratch, whatever, it's hard to land those jobs anyway. The best way you land those jobs is via a referral. So, you know, somebody, you know, like people talk like, oh, I need somebody to build this new marketing programme. Who would you recommend? And somebody goes, oh, Katherine. Right. So even full-time jobs, I was sort of getting through my network more than just randomly applying off the Internet. And so that was the other reason I was building it for sort of two reasons like if I wanted a full-time job, that's how I'd get it. And then it turns out that getting clients that way is also the best. So, yeah, that's what I would recommend. Well, if you even have like I did an inkling like I wasn't planning at all, I just had this twinkle in my eye, this dream, right, that I'd be this digital nomad. And if you've got that, start now doing side freelancing and building your network.
Areej: Such good advice. So today we want to talk about all thing’s website migration. And I know I mentioned this to you before. I just love the way you fill the pitch form because you specifically said you wanted to talk about large non-e-commerce sites and what kind of work you do with their website migration. So, can you tell us a little bit about some recent projects and what kind of websites you tend to work with most?
Katherine: Yeah, so this is partly a cost-effective crawl because a lot of the websites I worked at a Ketchum were also in the same sort of bucket. So, part of the reason I got hired at Ketchum is as a consultant, I helped them write the digital strategy portion of this RFP that won them the entire business promoting electronic health records for Health and Human Services for three years. So, they won the business. And then I think they turned around, we’re like, oh, we have no idea what she wrote in this proposal. We're going to have to hire her. So anyway, I built out the team and the strategy and the website with the help of obviously of our developers. But we built out healthit.gov and supported it. And this is the thing that drives me crazy, everybody thinks just because you have a .gov extension, you're going to rank well in Google and it's just not the case. It's a brand-new website. It goes through the same process as any other website where gets suppressed for six months. And you must build links to it like it needs to have a presence on the Internet and online footprint and all the rest. So, yeah, but there's no e-commerce there, but it was relatively big. And then from there, I moved on as a consultant with my own business helping cancer.gov, very similar. Well, similar but sort of different. Vet sites like to populate a ton of subdomains. I'm not quite sure why. I think they thought it was a good strategy. Anyway, when I helped them initially, they had 150 subdomains by different departments on different CMS systems at various stages of repair or disrepair. But then even just the main cancer.gov site was huge, but no e-commerce. And I've since worked with the Fisheries Department of NOAA, which is also big. NOAA when I looked at them, they had something like the entire infrastructure of NOAA.gov had was it 400 to 500 different subdomains, sub subdomains, which I've never seen before. I didn't think you could do them, turns out you can. Again, not a strategy I would recommend, but there you go. So anyway, all of those federal websites build out internal infrastructure too, so cancer.gov for instance, when they brought me on board, they were like, hey, we've lost Google traffic. We can't figure out why. And mind you, it was partially because Google rolled out those symptom panels. So, all that basic information about symptoms of cancer was now in Google search. Right. Instead of a click through to a website. So, part of it was that. But the other part, which I noted right off the bat because I'm snarky that way, I was like, all right, you have like 11% of your traffic that's from social media. And you have a team of, you know, two people internally, an entire outside consultancy helping you. And you have 80% of your traffic coming from organic search and you have nobody managing SEO. Perhaps you might want somebody managing SEO. So, I help them find their first SEO. Yay, my network. And she worked there for like three years or so and now has moved on. But so, they had, I think one and a half SEO's and then at fishery's similar, they assigned me people that had more of an inkling on SEO. And so, this same idea, like let's get some infrastructure internally because a lot of this stuff, you're going to have to interact with your writers. Right, because it's expert writing that I can't help you with. It needs to be written by your scientists. So, you need somebody internally to help manage some of that. And then somewhere along the way, I started working with associations and their academic journals. I'm not quite sure how, but also big websites, really, really big websites and similar where they have an online publishing manager type role that needs to know quite a bit about SEO. They have a huge technical problem because it's great expert content, but man, that technology can get in the way where it won't rank in Google because they have crawl issues. So, the first one I worked on, I had seven different subdomains, I think I'll total up maybe about two million URLs or so, and they've just collapsed it into one, which is why I know it's about two million URLs. But their initial crawl issue took me a while to troubleshoot, but it turns out they had a relative link that was not triggering a 404 and instead kept adding folders. It was this epic crawl trap where just like the bot could not get past it because I was like, why is this journal not performing better than it should? So anyway, even though the developers were, it was hard to get tickets to us, it just pushed this one. So, we pushed the one. And within about a month they got a thousand more keywords ranking page one on Google. We didn't change anything else. So, the most recent site that I helped with their migration, had 18 different subdomains or 18 different journals and they collapsed it into one. And they have about 1.3 million URLs. But a backlink profile of 35 million. So spent all summer looking at spreadsheets with URL mapping. I love SEO, but that might be the part I like the least.
Areej: That specific example you gave. I...