Kate Toon is the owner and founder of a group of three companies (The Digital Masterchefs, The Recipe for SEO Success, and The Clever Copywriting School) and is an award-winning business mentor, entrepreneur, digital educator, speaker, author and podcaster.
Kate has over two decades of experience in all things advertising, content and digital.
Kate has a passion for helping small business owners to create their own version of online success where she helps them build a successful, profitable, enjoyable business using smart, creative, simple digital marketing tactics they can easily follow.
Kate is no stranger to winning awards, including 'Australia’s Most Influential Small Business Woman 2022', 'Businesswoman of the Year 2020 by My Business Awards', and 'Training & Education Provider of the Year 2020 by My Business Awards' amongst others.
You can get inside the head of Kate Toon by reading her book 'Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur'.
Besides hosting three top podcasts (The Recipe for SEO Success, The Kate Toon podcast, and Clever Copy Chats) which has helped Kate to build up a community of around 20,000 members, Kate is the Founder of CopyCon - Australia’s first dedicated Copywriting Conference.
As if all this was not enough to keep Kate busy, she travels the world speaking at top marketing conferences and events.
If you could bottle content and SEO up into one powerful potion, you would end up with Kate Toon!
The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Kate Toon
Watch the interview
(click the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)
Listen to the podcast
(49 minutes long)
The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Kate Toon
What is your background, Kate and how did you get into the digital marketing and SEO industry?
How did you end up living in Australia as your accent doesn't sound Australian?
What is your personal experience and the reality of speaking at marketing conferences around the world?
What type of conferences should SEOs be speaking at?
Living in Australia, what is the travel time like for you to attend International conferences?
Does your CopyCon conference just focus on copywriting, or is it a wider digital marketing conference?
Is running your own marketing conference profitable?
As you are both a speaker and conference organiser, should all speakers get paid to present their talks?
What do your courses cover and who are they aimed at?
Are your SEO courses just set videos people watch, or are your SEO courses live and interactive?
How has having a background in copywriting helped you to really progress within SEO?
Regarding the Helpful Content Update, what actually is helpful content?
How much do you need to think about emotions when writing website copy?
What do you need to think about when writing copy that converts?
As you are a professional copywriter, I have to ask... What are your thoughts on ChatGPT and all these AI content tools?
As AI is not going away, how can SEOs use the power of AI content tools to help them?
What is the digital marketing and SEO industry like in Australia?
Is SEOs in Australia on-par with SEOs in the UK and USA when it comes to skillset, strategy and techniques?
When it comes to research and building up your own SEO related knowledge, what do you do or read?
Why do you focus on the education side of SEO instead of providing SEO services to businesses?
How much has building up your personal brand helped you to push your business forward and sell your digital marketing, copywriting and SEO courses?
Where is the line between knowledge you give away for free and what someone must pay for?
What do you say to those people who keep saying you need to give all your knowledge away for free?
What do SEOs need to do to gain long-term security within the industry?
As you are a published author, what books have you written and who are they aimed at?
How do you balance your time between running a successful business and family?
Do you think anyone can be a writer if they are writing about what they know?
What copywriting technique can people use who are not used to writing?
Is there anything that you think needs to change for the better within the SEO industry?
In order to achieve their SEO goals, do they need to know everything about SEO?
What is 'the' most important thing when it comes to SEO?
Is there anything our audience can do to help you with anything?
<<< Back to The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast
The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Kate Toon
Mark A Preston: Welcome to the unscripted SEO interview. I'm your host, Mark A Preston. And today, joining us, we have Kate Toon, the founder of Stay Tooned. And voted the most influential woman in Australia. Hi, Kate.
Kate Toon: Hello. Yes. What a day today, it was the most influential, small business woman. So not just woman in general, but still, it's a fun title to have.
Mark A Preston: It is. For those people who are listening and watching, who don't know who you are? Could you give a bit of an overview of your background and how you got into the industry?
Kate Toon: Yeah, so from an SEO perspective, I've been working in SEO for about 15 years. I used to work in big agencies both in the UK and here in Australia, Ogilvy advertising.com. On brands like Microsoft and American express. Working in SEO when it really was a new thing back in the day and I've always been working in websites and kind of digital. I worked on the first ever Martin Spencer's e-commerce site way back when, which is showing how old I am. Then I moved into copywriting, more specifically SEO copywriting, and took all the technical SEO skills I'd learned to, a couple of years later, set up the recipe for SEO success, which is an SEO course teaching DIY small business owners how to do SEO for themselves. We've had about 15,000 people pass through our courses, and these days more of a generalist so these days I'm more of a general digital marketer, writing books, running memberships. I've got a couple of conferences. So, yeah, more in the digital space but I still very much interested in SEO and especially all the exciting things that are happening around AI and language. So, yeah, that's me in a nutshell.
Mark A Preston: Okay, well. You are based in Australia?
Kate Toon: I am.
Mark A Preston: Your accent isn't very Australian.
Kate Toon: No. So I moved here when I was 24 as a backpacker. I didn't intend to stay, but I ran out of money after a couple of weeks, and that's when I got my job at Ogilvy. I was digital producer at Ogilvy, and then I've been here ever since. I did bob back for a couple of years, working in the UK, and then came back again because the weather is much better than in the Lancashire, Mark, I'm going to tell you.
Mark A Preston: Really, I would have thought that I was going to say, I can't remember when a few years back, I remember reading an article you did about your personal experiences and the reality of being a speaker in the industry.
Kate Toon: Oh, yes.
Mark A Preston: Could we just touch upon that?
Kate Toon: Yeah. So I've done a little bit of speaking. Speaking is a funny one because I think everyone feels like it's the holy grail of digital marketing success. If you're up on a stage, you've made it right. And I think that's because we have a lot of respect for people on stages, we're physically looking up at them and therefore they must be better than us and they must know everything. And I think for a while I was doing it a little bit to feed my ego, because it kind of makes you feel great. Look at me, I'm speaking at some fancy conference in London or wherever. And also, it's a good experience, it gets you out of your comfort zone, but it has its challenges as well. I mean, I'm a mum, I've got a now 13 year old, so to leave him and travel away and do conferences is difficult for me, and it's a hard choice. Might be sometimes easier for the dad in the family, I'm not sure. I think it's challenging for anyone who's a parent. The money side of it is tricky. Some conferences have paid me very well, others pay nothing at all. And so you have to be quite successful already to be able to afford to speak.
And it's a big drain. It's a drain on the adrenals, it's a drain on time. You go away or you're up, you're excited, you come back. It's like a big comedown, you're exhausted, you get sick from being on the plane. So it's a funny one, Mark. It's a double edged sword. And the thing that really struck me is that I was really speaking to my peers. You go to an SEO conference, who's there lots of other SEO, and they're not my customers. So while it was great for getting kind of peer respect, it didn't really make me any money. And really, I'm trying to sell SEO courses, so I'm much better off speaking at real estate conferences and architect conferences and being the only SEO in the room, rather than going to big SEO conferences and speaking. Does that make sense? I'm rambling a little bit.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, it makes perfect sense that it reminds me of years ago when everybody in the industry was begging search engine land to write for them. And I thought, well, why do I want to write for them? Because my customers don't read those articles. So I basically started a column in a local business newspaper, a monthly column, and it generated so much business for me.
Kate Toon: Yeah.
Mark A Preston: It was crazy.
Kate Toon: I think you have to think about what your goal is. And there's nothing wrong with speaking at conferences. You get to go to the conference, you get to meet all these amazing people, you get to learn great stuff. But if, like me, you're in the business of selling courses, trying to make money, then, yeah, I think you're exactly right, Mark. Business magazines, business networking groups, being the only SEO in the room is the better way, if that's your goal. So it really depends what your goal is. And these days, I'd rather stay at home. I'm too old and too tired to go. Gala vanity.
Mark A Preston: I know that feeling. I think this year, I've sort of took a step back from spending half my life, driving up and down the motorway and doing a lot more online this year.
Kate Toon: Yeah, I think. And you're lucky you're in England, so at least, you know, you've got Leeds, you got Manchester, you got London. It's all within a two, three hour drive, depending on how bad the motorways are. With me there is, like, one conference, SEO conference, here in Australia that's new. There was one for a while that went on, but it wasn't very good. And so, for me, I've actually got to leave the country, and to get out of Australia is an eight hour flight just to get out of Australia, and then you're still not anywhere. Do you know what I mean? So if I want to go to, like, Chiang Mai SEO or Brighton SEO, it's a huge undertaking, not something that's easily done. So, yeah, it's challenging.
Mark A Preston: Did you say you run your own conference in Australia?
Kate Toon: I do, yeah. So I run a conference, I've run it for the last four years, called Copy con, which was for Copywriters, you know, because that's what I originally was. And this year, I've changed it a little bit to be a bit more of a digital marketing small business conference. It's the misfit entrepreneur conference. Yeah, conferences are interesting, very, very hard work for not very much return. So I'm not sure how many more years I'll run that either. You have to try all these things out. I'm big into experimenting, but, yeah, as I get older, I'm a bit less willing to put all the effort into for not as much return their hard work.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. So coming from the other side of the fence, you've seen it from both sides, obviously, a speaker and a conference organizer for the people listening to this who are speakers, and they say, well, I should get paid for every conference, and I should this and should that. Could you just experiment a little bit of the work that actually goes in to put a conference on?
Kate Toon: Yeah, that's a great question. Should I get paid one is a hairy one, and it's funny seeing it from both sides. So conferences are expensive to put on, especially if you're a small business owner. You have to cover the venue, the AV, the catering people expect a lot, and then there's an amount you can charge for a ticket. You can't be crazy with the ticket prices. My attitude, though, Mark, is if you're going to pay for the AV and you're going to pay for the catering, you should pay for your speakers. So I do pay my speakers. I also give them accommodation for a couple of nights in a hotel. That is painful financially, but I think it's out of respect. Is it a huge, gigantic fee? No, because I'm not a huge, gigantic business. What I think is really revolting is when you see a conference that has big sponsors, you know, sponsors give you a fair amount of money. I'm not that good at the sponsorship part, unfortunately, but, you know, if you have a big software company sponsoring you, they've given a serious amount of money. And I think some of that should go to the speaker. I just think, why are people coming?
They're coming to see certain speakers. Should all speakers be paid the same? Absolutely not. If you got Rand Fishkin flying in, you know, he's a name. Neil Patel, Barry Schwartz, previous guests on your show, they're a name. They're going to sell tickets, right? Not physically themselves, but people are coming for them. Do they get paid the same as Kate Toon and Mark Preston. No. Do you know what I mean? That's fair enough. But I think you should pay something. I think people really underestimate that. That being said, I did two or three years of conferences and gigs where I got paid nothing at all. And I looked at the return on investment. I speak to a room of 600 people. All it takes is two people to buy my course $4,000. It's kind of paid for itself. So I actually might have a little spreadsheet where I can toggle the number of people in the room, the lightly conversion rate, the cost to me, and work out whether it's worth me going. And then after that, sometimes I just throw that away and go because I fancy going. So you can be all moral high ground about it. Like speakers should never not get paid, but it's up to the individual and what you're going to get out of it. And as long as you're getting something out of it, that you're happy with it's no one else's business.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, I agree.
Kate Toon: Okay.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, you mentioned your course. What course is it? Is it a copywriting course and SEO course? What type of course is it?
Kate Toon: Well, I've got couple of different websites and various courses, but my flagship course is called the Recipe for SEO Success. So that's a twelve week SEO coaching program that takes people through how to technically audit their site, fix call ability issues, responsiveness, speed, all that kind of cool web vital stuff, through to keyword research, SEO, copywriting, backlink building, content, marketing and measurement. And then there's a separate module for ecommerce and for local, depending on what type of business they'll say, you can choose one of those. So, yeah, I've been running that since 2016. We only take a small number in and yeah, we took about 80 people per round. So, yeah, we've had about, I think we do up to 1400 people on that course, but then we have a series of mini courses, like a ten day challenge, a free course, and we've had about 15,000 people pass through those. So, yeah, it's been going a while. It's going still going well.
Mark A Preston: So it's like a training event type of thing, rather than just, you know, signing up and you just get shoved on a load of videos.
Kate Toon: Yeah, I mean, you do get shoved on a load of videos, about 100 videos, but yeah, I think good courses live in or die by the support. And yes, there are a lot of great online courses teaching SEO, but the problem is SEO is what do we all say? We say it depends. It depends. So you've said, do this and this should happen, but it doesn't always happen that way. You've given people a speed report and said, well, look, if you change this and this, you should get your speed down, and they do all of that and the speed goes up and they're like, what? So being able to have someone there who you can talk that through with and over a period of time is really important, because everyone joins the course and is all gone oh, and then by week three they're like, oh my God, I haven't even opened it.
So you get lifetime access to my course and you get twelve weeks of support with zoom calls and whatever. And I think that's what's the point of difference, really? Is someone there to hold your hands because even as SEOs, we know that sometimes, especially in the early days, I was desperate for someone to ask questions to, but as you and I know, the SEO industry can be lovely, but it can be quite brutal as well. And some people aren't that friendly, and they're not open to you asking questions. And so I just wanted to provide a safe space where people could ask all the embarrassing stupid questions without someone going, “sure, you should know that by now”. That kind of attitude. So yeah, the support is really important.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. Now, you mentioned that your background is from copywriting and it may sound a silly question, but has been a background in copyrighting really, really excelled you into the SEO space?
Kate Toon: Well, I think my background is in advertising, so I was a producer in the advertising world and a copywriter. So I think my advertising background because that's design and copy definitely has an influence. It's had a positive influence and a negative influence because a lot of very techy SEOs will be like, oh, you're just a copywriter, as if a copywriter can't understand the techy stuff. So I think I'm often underestimated, which is fabulous. But then, I think from the copy point of view, a lot of the technical issues are very black and white. You've either got your FAQ schema or you haven't. Your site's slow, you speed it up. Good content, helpful content. I'm doing Air Fingers, is not so black and white. We're seeing this now, right? What you think is good content, I might read and go, Mark, what have you written that's terrible? It's far more subjective. So I think copy is kind of coming into its own, and it's definitely influenced because I very much take a human first approach to SEO.
But I always start with the tech because no amount of great copy can fix a technically poor site. You know what I mean? You can't out exercise bad nutrition, right? So I always start with the tech. Get it done. Get it out of the way. Thankfully, these days, a lot of the platforms are fixing the tech for us. When we started ten years ago, there were no plugins doing this, that and the other. We had to manually code all that stuff. I think the tech is getting easier. What's getting harder are the substitutes of Copy content, AI generated content, and making a connection with your customers. So I think Copy is going to be the superpower moving forward.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. Obviously, you mentioned helpful content. We've all mostly heard of the helpful content update. But what is helpful content?
Kate Toon: I don't know. Well, I mean, Google's been fiddling around with the content side of the algorithm for yonks. We had hummingbird and then we had BERT and MUM and all these algorithm updates, trying to understand natural language and helping us write. It used to feel like you had to speak like a robot. So ironic, isn't it, instant sentences, I am a dentist in Sydney, Sydney Dentist. And Google is trying to say, look, we don't need to do that. You can use pronouns and prepositions and we understand the subtleties of verbs. So I think the language thing has been there for a while. Helpful content. I mean, I think we don't need Google to tell us what helpful content is, really. We know. We know when we've written an article just to please the Google Gods. And we've been given three keywords to use, and I'm going to write a 500 word blog post that's been written a thousand times before. And it's like, what is an egg? An egg is this. Here are six users of an egg. Here is a picture of an egg and a video of an egg. It's like oh. So I think we know, right?
And I think what makes content helpful is really digging deeper into the insight of how to boil an egg. I mean, we all know that. But let's talk about what source pan you used and where that source pan came from. Your mum gave it to you in 1972 or not, that's a bad example. How to eat boiling eggs should be short and sweet. But if we're doing an article on the ten best pizza restaurants in Sydney, we can do the SEO article, which is a list of names, ego baiting the restaurants to try and get them to backlink to us. Or we can write a real culinary article that talks about the smell as you walk into the pizza restaurant and Giovanni is behind the counter and he's throwing the pizza in the air like a damp, wet, white thing. And it reminds you of your grandma when she used to make it's that experience, isn't it? And maybe a bit of an authority that you are a pizza expert and people love you because you talk in a relatable way so they trust you. It's that eat thing. I'm babbling, Mark but I think we know. I think we know when we read an article, whether it was written to please the Google Gods or to actually be an enjoyable piece of content.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, I love the way you describe that and I explain it as though. The emotional triggers, it's connecting with people on that emotional level.
Kate Toon: Yeah. So, right. Triggers is a funny old word. Hopefully we're not triggering people these days, in these cancel culture days. But, yeah, it's about I often say it's about it's sensory as well. Sensory, so what does the restaurant smell like? What does the table feel like? How do you feel after you ate the pizza? What was it like when you saw it coming towards the table. You know, this humanity, isn't it the taste of it? Was it greasy? Was it this? You want to evoke a feeling that you are actually there and that you can picture it in your mind. And therefore you need to use idioms and adjectives and similes and metaphors, and you need to have a flow and a cadence to the writing. Not just this ba,ba,boo,boo boo, 16 words in a sentence, again and again and again. You need that short sentence, the long sentence, a bit of a throwaway line of connection. What do you think? This is what I mean, right? Me and you have different opinions and similar opinions, but it's still very subjective. What's going to make you go, oh, might make me go, ooh, but it's interesting. That's why I love copywriting, because I think it's incredibly powerful.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. I think it's reading something and think, I want to go out there now. Can I book in?
Kate Toon: Yeah. An immediate reaction, but also that the copy is directional and helps you take the next step and complete. Because there's nothing worse than going and finding that the first article you read is only 300 words long. And you're like, oh, I've really got the full answer here. I have to go back onto the Internet, back to Google and find another article and another article. Sometimes I think people go over the top, some of the guides, like, 10,000 words. You're like, Seriously, I've got time to brush my teeth, let alone read this massive article. Take it down a notch. But you do want it to be complete enough that someone leaves that article better than you found when they found you. Do you know what I mean? You've actually helped and moved them forward in some way and given them a next step. I think that's really that's helpful, isn't it? Not just let them have to go back to the wilderness of the SERPs and start all over again.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. I don't want you to cringe at this next one.
Kate Toon: Oh, okay.
Mark A Preston: You can sort of imagine what's coming next with the state of the industry at the moment and what everyone's talking about.
Kate Toon: You're not going to use the C word, are you?
Mark A Preston: No.
Kate Toon: ChatGPT.
Mark A Preston: Well, you said it AI. Yeah. Personally, I just think everyone's gone bonkers.
Kate Toon: Me too. Me too. Well, I think me and you live in the land of LinkedIn that's how we found each other. And I think people on LinkedIn are just wild about it, because it's something new to talk about. It's a shiny new toy. Oh, look, I used this tool yesterday. I'm now an expert. I'm going to make a 20 screen carousel about the best scripts to use for Chat GTP, you know, but, you know, two months ago, these people were raving about Clubhouse, and then before that, they were raving about discord and then they were raving about voice search on Google. Do you remember when that was going to be the biggest thing in the world? It's like, whatever, calm down. And when you've been in the industry for a long time, and especially when I'm running a course, I have to be very careful about what I add to the course. I was a fool for making an SEO course because it changes a lot, but in truth, it doesn't change that much. So I really took a while thinking about whether I was going to put amp into the course. Accelerated mobile pages for those who don't know.
And I held off and I didn't, because A, most of my client sites weren't relevant to that. They're accountants. Do they really need amp? And then AMP's kind of come and gone and we've got to be so careful. A, Google gives us things and takes things away. B, the industry gets very excited about new things and then, isn't it? Clubhouse is a perfect example that was going to change the world. Who's on clubhouse now. Weirdo’s. I'm sorry. If you're on Clubhouse, I still quite like it. But you know what I mean, I do think Chat GTP is a huge leap forward, but they've been amazing copywriting AI tools around for ages. I mean, there's no one using word tune or phrase or Grammarly. They're pretty good. I think it's just a new way of spitting out the content and people just get excited. Let’s see I hate doing predictions because they're always wrong. I do think it's going to be woven into the fabric of digital marketing, but along with all the other bits of digital marketing. So, yes, I agree. Hysterics at the moment, especially on LinkedIn.
Mark A Preston: Yes. So you mentioned a couple of AI writing tools there. So if somebody going to use these tools, in what context should they be using them?
Kate Toon: So I think Chat GPT always got the T and the P the wrong way around. I think it's great for the blank page, so you just really got nothing. You're like, can you just give me an idea of something to write about? Hamsters, ten cool things about hamsters, and it will pump something out. I find the content it pumps out is pretty man scale. Yes, you can say make sure it's friendly, and conversational includes this, but it still comes out for me, stating the bleeding obvious. Hamsters are small mammals that live in the deserts of Syria. It's like, again, do you know what I mean? It's not like I had a hamster, he was called Bob, and my brother sucked him up in the vacuum cleaner and I was devastated. That's the way to start a blog post, you know, not hamsters off on Syria. So, again, it's lacking. It gives you the bare bones. I've seen some horrendous recommendations for using it for SEO to generate keywords, and it's like, what are you doing? You know, two word keywords, are you going to use that? And you're like, Whoa, you don't know anything about that keyword.
So I think it's good for the blank page and what I love using it for marg, which is a terrible use of it, is I like taking my little LinkedIn posts, I pop it into chat GPT and say, can you add some emojis? Does a great job of that. But in terms of real writing, I think I sometimes like to use word tune. Word tune has this thing called word tune spices, where you're writing some copy and you can click in it and you can add a fact and then you can click it again, add a quote, click it again, add an emphatic line. I like Grammarly because it actually teaches you how to be a better writer. You know, you've used too many adverbs, it's sentences too long. That's not how you use a semicolon, mate. You know, where are the full stops? That for me every time you're using it and you're reading the Grammarly pickups and you're correcting them, you're slowly becoming a better writer. Whereas I feel like with shattered GT P, you're just handing the writing over to a beast. And if you use that writing as is, I think you're going to have some issues. So you need to be a fairly decent writer. Everyone's saying this now, but giving you a hammer would not make you a carpenter, you know, that's what chat GPT is, the hammer.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. Now just deviating away from AI, she said no.
Kate Toon: I love talking about it.
Mark A Preston: What's the sort of industry like in Australia? The SEO and digital marketing industry.
Kate Toon: Oh, gosh, I'm not sure I could be the spokesperson. It's smaller. Way smaller. There are a few big names over here, here that kind of dominate a few big agencies. We had the SEMrush guys, girls come over and do awards. And that was interesting because we haven't had an awards. So they started about three years ago and kind of all these SEOs were, like, dragged out of the cupboard and put into black and black tie. And you finally saw who all these people were and, you know, there's quite a thriving industry. Obviously, we've got all the same big brands over here. There is, I think, a real sense that you want to use an Australian agency because they understand the Australian market, which is so much smaller. You try to do keyword research over here, the database is a lot smaller. So often we have to go to the look at US trends, UK trends, to inform the Australian market because it's just not enough people, you know, to make the data extrapolate in the way that you want it to. You know, you're doing searches and it's like zero volume for really good conversion keywords, how can this be zero volume? And it's just not enough people.
So, yeah, the industry is good. It's thriving. We've got some people you should get James on your site. James Norquay, who's trying to really bring an SEO conference to Sydney. He's got an SEO conference, I think it's in April. And he's managed to get some big players to come over, like Tim Soulo and Aldo Solaris. I think I'm saying her name right. So, you know, there's some people really trying to make SEO more of a thing over here. There's an SEO meet up in Melbourne, but it's nothing like the UK. I mean, with your brightness, SEO, and all your meet ups, it's a much smaller market.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. Regarding how can I phrase this? Regarding techniques [Kate Toon: Spit it out, Mark] techniques and the sort of level playing field. Are they fairly advanced in the market, or are they still a few years behind?
Kate Toon: Oh, no, I think whatever you're doing over there, we're doing over here depends on the agency. I mean, I still find some I think it's more the level of the quality of the agency. So there are some great SEO agencies over here, and there are some muppets that are still saying, you must use this keyword 17 times in the intro. It's the quality of the agency, I think, not the advance ness. So we got dodgy SEO agencies over here, just like you do over there, and we have advanced ones, but I don't think there's any difference in the level of the work that they're doing just as advanced.
Mark A Preston: So when it comes to the research side, is how do you tackle research? Where do you start from yourself?
Kate Toon: Well, you've got to remember that a while ago, Mark, I really made a decision about this. Much like the speaking decision, I decided to stop reading everything and be very intentional and understand my role in the SEO ecosystem. I no longer offer SEO as a service. So I'm not an SEO consultant. I am not a bleeding edge thought leader, when it comes to SEO. So I'm not doing experiments and testing this, that, and the out, and looking at 1000 sites and extrapolating results. My role, I feel in SEO is a translator, taking complex ideas and making them understandable, much like you, to normal people. So, in terms of my research, it's one of the reasons I set my podcast up. So I have a podcast. The recipe for SEO success. I've been running that since 2016. And I get to talk to really clever people on whatever topic I want. So if I'm like, oh, I don't feel like I know much about international SEO, I'll find a guest like, I spoke to Nisan and bring him in, ask him all the questions I've got.
Brilliant, thanks very much. And then I can kind of take that know how back to my audience, but break it down in a way that they understand. So in terms of keeping on top of trends, all the same things you do, I'm finding LinkedIn these days is a way better source than Twitter for sort of reading great articles. I follow some really amazing SEO people, and then I follow the down the rabbit holes of the source. And, you know, I read Google's updates. I don't do a lot of experimentation myself these days. I'll take three or four different opinions and bring them together. But generally I kind of keep on top of the trends. But as I said, I'm wary about passing them on. I like to see them settle in before I go passing them on to all the ecommerce, store owners, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Because 90% of this cutting edge stuff will never trickle down to them. And so I need to be very selective about what I research and what I focus on.
Mark A Preston: Yes. So why going to that space instead of servicing clients? Why going to sort of more the educational side of it?
Kate Toon: I think a couple of reasons. One, because I'm good at it. Lots of people can talk about SEO, but not in a relatable way, right? Lots of SEO is boring as batch it. And so I think I'm good at it, and I think it's a much needed service, and it's far more lucrative for me individually. I didn't want to have an agency. I didn't want to have lots of people working for me. You know, my course sells at about two and a half dollars a spot. I sell 80 of them sitting in my pants, in my back garden. It's an easier life. So, yeah, enjoyment, need, and financial return.
Mark A Preston: Right. So, personal branding, how much of a impact is personal branding for you in order to sell your courses?
Kate Toon: Huge. It's the main factor, and I didn't think that for a long time. Which is why I created a sub brand on Stay Tooned. I have Stay Tooned website, but my course is under the brand of the recipe for SEO success. And my other brand is the clever copywriting school. I've got about 4, 500 members over there. That's my other side of things. So I created a separation, thinking it would look more professional and people would take it more seriously. But at the end of the day, if you are going to spend twelve weeks learning SEO from me, you have to like me. You have to know me, you have to trust me. You have to feel like I have the authority and you have to like me. Like, it is to some degree, a popularity contest. Some people hate the sound of my voice because the more I talk to you, Mark, the more northern I'm getting. My roots are coming out. I'm from north of England. You have to like my intonation, you have to like my jokes, because you're going to be listening to a lot of me. You have to like my face, you have to like my T shirts. It just is you know what it's like.
You go online and sometimes someone just gives you the ick and you have no idea why. You couldn't really put your finger on it. If someone asked you, you're just like, yeah, I'm just not a fan of them. They're just not my style. Why are we drawn to some people more than others? It's a combination, it's not just knowledge, It's not just knowledge. It's how they carry themselves, how they come across their values. So it's been huge for me. And when I realized that really it was me and my brand, that we're going to make this a success or not was the thing. I've had people, Mark, who's come on the calls, who said, I've listened to all 200 hours of your podcast. I've spent the last six months sponging it. You've been with me at the gym at Morrison’s. You've been with me when I'm walking my dog. You cannot build that kind of relationship, unless you've got a bit of a brand. It's been huge for me, and embracing it was a big step because it's a bit hard to put yourself out there and be a person online. But you have to do it, unfortunately.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. So for someone like yourselves and me, who sells, basically sells knowledge, and the way we interpret that knowledge. What's your thoughts on the line? Where is the line to the things that you give away for free, in order to get people to sign up and pay? Where is that line? Because so many people have turned around to me and said, well, give it all away for free. But I'm very much saying, well, if I give it away for free, they're not going to pay me.
Kate Toon: It's a funny one. The way I worked it out for me was, I will give the what and the why away for free, but the how you have to pay for. So I give the what and the why for free, but the how you have to pay for. So I'll tell you what speed is, why it matters, all the different areas, but I won't tell you how to fix it unless you pay me. Yeah. So anyone can whizz through Pingdom or GT metrics and get their results, and that's fantastic. And you could even explain all those results, but knowing how to fix those results is a different kettle of fish. So it is a hard line, and it's hard for people like you and I when we are up against the SEM rushes, the Moz, the HubSpot of this world, who can make an entire free SEO course for nothing, because they're hugely wealthy and that's a tiny part of their mechanism. And then we're coming along, going, well, we've got a course, but you have to pay for it. And it's like, well, why would I pay for it when I can do theirs for free? It's a hard one.
And again, I think that's where the personal connection comes in. No disrespect to SEMrush, I think they're amazing. But if I do their course, it's not like I get to sit on a zoom call with you and talk through my problems and actually be heard. There may be coaching, but there's probably hundreds of thousands of people on it. My chance of getting something answered is minimal, and I won't be able to feel like I'm in a little community of learners on the journey together. So I think the line for me is the meanest, how much me is in the game? How much of me? So I've got like a ten day course, she's like, $150 and you don't get any me for that. It's a low price. You get a lot of learning, a lot of videos. A teacher had to do stuff. But if you want me to sit with you and talk to you, you have to pay a little bit more, because I've only got so many hours in a day and I have to value that. But it is a massive challenge, Mark. And the problem is, when you start giving people stuff for free, they get really antsy when you ask them to start paying for stuff, they're like, what? It's a hard line. People will just keep asking. And if you keep giving stuff away for free. They'll keep asking. Not because they're terrible people, because you've trained them. You've trained them to want it for free. So you have to train them to pay for things as well and value your own time, I think.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, I do think that's right. I remember years ago, when inbound marketing was all the rage.
Kate Toon: Yes, the resume was called. That was so funny. It's gone now, isn't it?
Mark A Preston: I remember doing a post on LinkedIn, not a post, article, whatever it is. And I just put, if you want my knowledge, pay for it. And I got absolutely slated in the comments.
Kate Toon: How dare you want to earn some money? But often the people who are saying that are in a position to not need money as much. And we're all at different stages in our journey. We're not all Neil Patel, but Neil Patel started somewhere. He was charging clients at some point. It's much easier for me now, my business is what it is and as big as it is to do more free stuff, because I've got income, regular income, coming in, I've built an infrastructure. So I think people need to be careful of who they take opinions from. Because they're probably not in the arena with you fighting the same lions, they are in a different arena. Small business, small problems. Big business, big problems. I get it. But regular working SEOs can't do the same things as entrepreneurs, with passive income and memberships and all that kind of stuff. It's a different ball game and they shouldn't comment on each other's stuff, if you ask me. But you put something up on LinkedIn and you're begging for people to come in and pick on you. That's what LinkedIn is all about. Everyone's got an opinion. What do they say? Opinions are like bumholes. Everybody's got them, so you just have to be careful which opinions you listen to.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, well, I didn't mind because I earned a lot of money from that post.
Kate Toon: Yes, thank you. Thank you for arguing with me. I love it.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. So, moving on to the future, I've had a number of SEO, maybe that recently got into the industry, and they're hearing all this chatter about all these AIs, all this new technology, all this changing and blah, blah, blah, and they're saying, well what do I need to do in order for long term security in this industry? What things should I be learning?
Kate Toon: Well, obviously, I've got a massive community of digital marketers and copywriters who are asking the same questions. And I think the thing is, you need to there's a few points. Number one, not be frightened of it. You've got to embrace it. You can't be a banging in the looms with a hammer. You've got to embrace it. You've got to learn about it. You can't just be frightened of it and put it in a box and say, oh, no, I don't do AI. I don't do it, I'm all organic. I like my SEO organic. So I think you got to embrace it. Number two, really, it's just a tool. And good businesses live or die by the relationship you have with your clients. They won't remember that the keyword ranking moved from twelve to nine. They'll remember how you made them feel. They'll remember whether they enjoyed having calls with you. They'll remember whether you had a giggle and a bit of a banter, and they'll remember that you were cared about their business and you were genuinely interested and you remembered stuff about them. So I think it's those two elements. Stay interested, stay curious, don't be frightened of it. But also really focus on the relationship, because relationships haven't changed.
You know, for years, businesses have been going, the industry will change, you'll change with it. You know, look how things have evolved in our lifetime. You know, mobile SEO wasn't a thing. You know, I was working when I built the Martin Spencer's website back in, what was it, 1872? Facebook didn't exist. Social media didn't exist. We've all survived. We're all still here. Things will change. We'll be okay as long as you focus on doing good work and being good to your clients, I think.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. So I read on your profile you are an author. How many books have you written?
Kate Toon: I've written three, and my fourth one is coming out in June. But there are mismatch. I've written a poetry book. It's hilarious. A kids book, which is quite successful. Kids Illustrated book. And then I wrote a business book called “The Misfit Entrepreneur”. And my new book is coming out in June, and that's called “Six Figures in School Hours”, how to have a successful business and still be a good Parent. So it's about meshing the business and parenting roles, or Mark's eyes just lit up. Yes. It's such a hard balance between the two. So, yeah, that's my book in June.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. I speak to so many people that just struggle with that balance.
Kate Toon: I'll send you a copy, Mark. I'll pop a copy. I'll pop a copy in the post for you.
Mark A Preston: Thanks. Oh, dear. Going back to content because that's your background, do you think anybody can be a writer if they know what they're talking about?
Kate Toon: Yes, I think anyone can become a writer. So a lot of people have subject matter, expertise, but they're not the best at articulating, but I think you can be trained. I think you can be trained. Say you're working with accountant, poor accountant, but you're working with an accountant who wants to write a post about tax time. If you talk to them, get their information clearly they know what they're talking about, they just maybe can't write it down. Also, people are much better at talking about stuff than they are at writing as soon as you sit down to write, there's this kind of like frozen moment where you're like, how do I start? So I definitely think it can be taught and I think that's the point some people have a natural ability, good for them, some people, just flows out, they find copywriting easy, like anything in life. Do you know what I mean? Like, I've started recently, in the last three years, going to the gym didn't come naturally to me, I'm not built for it, but I can learn it, will I be at the level of Arnold Schwarzenegger? No, I don't have the physical physiologically ever to get there, but can I become pretty good for me? Yes, so I think anything can be learnt, to be honest.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. When you see learning, say, for instance, someone's not used to writing. What are some of the basic techniques to actually get started?
Kate Toon: Get better and started? Yeah. Well, a couple of ones. I like to get people talking. So talk about your business as if you are talking to an educated friend and then get that transcribed on something like otter.ai and just look at what you've written. You'll probably be as good as something that chat GPT could possibly out. Right? And then I think it's about understanding basic rules of copywriting, thinking using tools like Hemingway app to look at sentence length. Sentence lengths are really important. You don't want to write really long sentences using tools like Grammarly to make sure you've used the right punctuation. Is this the space for a semicolon or a comma or a full stop? Even Word does a pretty good job of telling you grammar mistakes and typos. And then I think it's all about just writing less. I think it was Hemingway, we'll give it to Hemingway. I think it wasn't Hemingway. I'm going to get done for this. Whoever wrote Tom Sawyer said, I'm sorry, I didn't write you a short letter. I didn't have time, so I wrote you a long one. So it's the good copywriting is in the brevity, cutting it back.
Good copywriting is in the edit. So having the willingness to take your raw material and edit it, it's hard work. But the best way to get started, and this is my number one tip, is to go onto your Word, change the font to white and start typing, because you then can't see what you're writing. And yes, you'll make typos and mistakes, but you'll be freed up from the eternal problem of people writing, which is reading back what you've just written, feeling bad about it, trying to edit it and never moving forward. If you can free write as much as possible, then at least you've got something to work with. You can't edit a blank page. Is the idea.
Mark A Preston: Fantastic. I've never heard that before.
Kate Toon: Yeah, it's a good one. You look back and you're like, you have to be a pretty good touch typer, because you're looking at nothing. Do you know what I mean? But the biggest problem, I think, is I'm writing this book. I've written 75,000 words in four weeks, horrendous in the school holidays, and I just literally couldn't have done that if I read anything I'd written before. I had to just start from the point I finished yesterday and go, not read anything. And now it's the first draft is written. And now I get to kind of cut away the mess and the weeds and correct and fix and fill the gaps. So the first draft is meant to be crap. That's why it's the first draft. So, yeah.
Mark A Preston: Okay. Now, I asked this question to everyone and always get totally different answers.
Kate Toon: Oh, good.
Mark A Preston: So if you had a magic wand and you could change anything at all in the industry overnight, what would it be?
Kate Toon: Oh, God, that's a hard one. I think a lot has changed thing. If you'd asked me that question five years ago, I'd have had a very, very different answer. I'd have probably said something like more women in the industry, less gender pay gap, you know, I think less of a bitchy environment. So those would be the things I would have said. I don't know, I think the industry is pretty good at the moment. I'm seeing a lot of positivity and sharing and less stupidity, and I feel like the conferences are getting better quality. It's less of a boys club, it's less of a who, you know? So I think it's getting better. I'm pretty happy with it. I'm not going to change a thing, Mark.
Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Well, we must be okay then. That's it.
Kate Toon: I think there's always work to do to, you know, for more equality and more diverse voices to be heard. I mean, that's in the whole world in general, you know, so I think there's always work to do there. But, gosh, it's a lot better than it used to be. And I'm proud of us for coming as far as we have.
Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Now, is there anything at all you want to add to this podcast that we haven't discussed?
Kate Toon: Well, I could sing a song or no, I think if you're listening to this and you're a DIYer SEO world can feel pretty overwhelming. So I think it's important to pick a few voices like Mark, like me, that you listen to and kind of shut out the rest of the noise and rely on the people that you trust to deliver the information to you. That's important. You don't need to know about every single cutting edge aspects of SEO, because most of it probably won't have an impact on you. It's not aimed at the likes of you. You're not doing dodging nefarious stuff and trying to trick Google. You'll probably be okay, but just don't panic. I think that would be my final message.
Mark A Preston: What's the most important thing when it comes to SEO?
Kate Toon: Creating content that's relatable and human.
Mark A Preston: Wonderful. And on that note, I'd like to thank you so much for joining us. And because you give your time up freely to be on, is there anything at all the audience can do to help you?
Kate Toon: No, but you can go and check out my stuff. If you Google Kate Toon, one would hope that I'm somewhere near the top of the rankings. And, yeah, if you want to get started with some basic SEO, I have a little course called SEO nibbles, not nipples nibbles, which is a fun way to get started, but it's very at the beginning. So if you're an advanced SEO, it's probably not for you.
Mark A Preston: Okay, well, thank you so much. I know it's very early there, and thanks for joining us.
Kate Toon: It's been great. Thank you, Mark.
Mark A Preston: Thanks, Bye.
Kate Toon: Bye.