By Michelle Hiskey
When Jenny Munn worked at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, she traveled to Latin America to persuade people and companies to visit Atlanta. Her message relied on her fluency in Spanish.
Today she’s 31 and no longer needs a passport for the global reach of her language skills. Her expert fluency these days is in search engine optimization (SEO) – the way we find what we are looking for on the Internet, and how businesses use our word patterns to connect with us.
“SEO does have its own language, with basics that you need to understand to become more fluent in it,” said Munn, a native Atlantan who went to Lassiter High School and University of Georgia. “Once you get the ‘code,’ you can break down the barriers.”
Munn’s successful reinvention in the fast-developing world of SEO copywriting is noteworthy as a story of professional and personal opportunity in the digital age. As a plus, she shared valuable tips on how your business can leverage the right language rise in the search rankings – including what not to do.
“SEO used to be restricted to tech people and webmasters, and so many people were so intimidated they didn’t even give it a go,” she said. “Today more and more people understand that they need to be visible on the Web, but they don’t know how.”
Think of your last Google search. Did you venture past the first results page? Few of us do. Munn makes her living making sure businesses get on that first page, including her own. Type in “Atlanta SEO copywriter” and the top result is Jenny Munn.
Also impressive: she runs her thriving business out of her home while she is expecting her third child. With all the recent rehashing of women “having it all,” Munn has mined technology and the power of words for the benefit of her family.
“It’s a good balance,” said Munn, who works 35 hours a week and relies on some childcare outside of her home in east Cobb. A business coach has also helped her strategize for success and balance.
“I always feel like there is more I can do, but I feel good and lucky and it all keeps me driven as well.”
At the heart of her success is the understanding of getting in front of people with a message that is genuine and full of passion.
Before hearing Munn speak at the WordCamp website-building conference in Atlanta earlier this year, the term SEO sounded like computer gobbledygook to me. She explained its power so simply and enthusiastically – even with slides of her 3-year-old — that SEO translated well to non-techies.
“Google likes to be fed in consistent spoonfuls,” she said as we saw a picture of her cute kid in a high chair with a messy face. A successful, highly ranked website will have consistent fresh content.
Munn minored in Spanish at UGA, and after graduating in 2003 with a degree in international business, went to work for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In her three years representing the city in Mexico and Central and Latin America, she knew that in communicating what her hometown was all about, there was no substitute for face time.
“La cara del ACVB,” said a headline in La Vision, an Atlanta-Spanish newspaper that heralded her appointment. “Cara” means face.
“Hiring an American who speaks Spanish shows that the ACVB wants to demonstrate that Atlanta is a diverse city, ready to talk to its visitors in their language,” reported La Vision.
As frequent work travel lost its appeal, Munn knew she enjoyed writing, and she was happiest in jobs that involved great change.
Through copywriting work for an association for marketing professionals, she wanted to market herself better. She wanted her own website to be on the first page.
“There’s so much noise out there,” she said of SEOing her own site. “For a little bit of effort, I saw so much return.”
Hers is an industry that has risen from the fact that the Internet is a common mystery for most of us: How can I quickly find what I’m looking for? How can I avoid scams?
Behind the computer screen, Munn had walked into SEO — which was like entering a theatre halfway through a movie. Without subtitles.
Everyone in this drama was speaking a new language, where ‘cloaking’ and ‘cramming’ have a very different meaning, and new terms like ‘keyword’ were of intense importance.
In this new frontier, with Google as the main sheriff and clever villains (spammers), she saw SEO as the way to help businesses who needed to attract customers safely and quickly, and keep them engaged.
“We are at the mercy of what Google wants,” she said. “It will get mad [at spammers] and start searching for things completely differently, but I think changes help the searcher. No one wants to pull up sleazy websites by mistake. Google uses the Panda and Penguin updates – the cute animal names for [countering] vicious attacks – and that’s a good thing.”
She synthesized her knowledge into an e-book sold on her website, which she updates as needed.
She shared these tips:
- The words people use to search for your service or business are more important than the words you use to describe what you do.
- Competitive research is one of the most important steps in “optimizing your home turf,” as she put it.
- Putting a celebrity’s name, such as Queen Elizabeth II, on your website only helps in the long run if your website actually focuses on Queen Elizabeth II. Google gets mad if you try to trick people to visit your website.
- Your location and previous searches are becoming a greater factor in search results.
- Learning about SEO is more about being open to change.
- Don’t resist negative comments on your website. “If a customer can’t talk to your face or remedy their complaint [online], they’ll post it somewhere else,” she said. “There are so many benefits to being open and authentic about your business on the Internet. If a customer is not happy, you can do something about it and post that where others can see it.”
- Social media can help your website rank higher. Think of Facebook, Twitter, etc. as your ongoing conversation about what your website is about. The more vibrant that conversation – through more people mentioning your website – the higher your website will rank in searches.
- Internet search engines are always changing, and she keeps up with latest trends and ethical issues at websites such as www.seomoz.org.
Munn no longer makes her living with her Spanish skills, but her advice for leveraging SEO echoes a wise language instructor.
“Participate in it as a way to engage in your niche and community,” she said. “You can’t just read about it, you have to get on the court and do it.”
Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and writing coach based in Decatur. She can be reached at [email protected]