March 26, 2013
I've known Dianna Huff since at least 2007, but she's been helping B2B companies get their websites in good order since 1998. From the best way to market your content via mobile devices to how to write content that appeals to a B2B target audience, Dianna has got it nailed down. What I like most about Dianna is that she doesn't wait for others to tell her "do this" or "do that." Most of what she knows and applies to her business and clients she has learned from real-life experience and trial and error. Personally, I have always found that to be the best way of obtaining knowledge.
If you're a marketer or struggling to become one, I hope this interview with Dianna will inspire you to reach greater heights, as she has done.
JW: I know that you and I were both recently reading Sheryl Sandberg's new book, "Lean In," which is about women in the workplace, their ambitions and careers. We had different reactions to it, which isn't too surprising because we progressed through very different circumstances. For example, I never had any intention of having a career and mostly fell into mine while being a mom at home (which was my main ambition growing up!). Can you talk a bit about your thoughts on Ms. Sandberg's book and how you got to where you are today?
DH: My secret ambition growing up was to be a writer. As a kid, I was a voracious reader -- still am. I started college as a pre-nursing major -- not so much because I had a passion to be a nurse, but because I thought it would lead to a good job. I knew I wasn't cut out for it when we had to dissect the fetal pig. Then I became a business major, but that wasn't a good fit either.
I started taking English classes because they were so easy. Read a book and talk about it! [Laughs] I could do that well enough and pull up my dismal GPA in the process. One professor, who happened to be one of the top short story writers in the U.S., told me I had a real talent for writing and that I should become an English major. I thought about it for a few months, and since I was so unhappy in my business classes, I switched -- and never looked back.
I've been writing in some sort of capacity my entire adult life.
With regard to Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In," I did enjoy it and agree with her on principle. The thing that bothered me the most about the book is that it seemed to have a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" message. I know she wrote it from a corporate perspective, but I do believe that women entrepreneurs have a much different perspective from their corporate sisters. Why? We're not playing in a sandbox developed by men. (This isn't an anti-man statement -- just a fact).
Women have been supporting their families since the dawn of time through home industry (aka entrepreneurship) and through their writing. Aphra Behn, for example, is considered one of the first professional female writers -- she began writing for pay in 1670. To put her achievement in context, Shakespeare died in 1616. Because I studied women writers in college (for my master's degree), they're partially what inspired me to be who I am today. So, while I understand where Sandberg is coming from, her ideas don't resonate with me.
JW: I also want to point everyone to your recent blog post that was inspired in part by the "Lean In" book: For Freelancers: Take Advantage of Your Own Unique Experiences. The post gives even more details about your progress.
Moving on, when I first met you years ago, you seemed to be mainly a B2B copywriter. Is that still the case? How has what you offer clients changed through the years?
DH: Yes, I started my business in 1998 as a copywriter, mainly because it was an easy way to juggle raising my son and working at home (he was 12 months old at the time). I learned about SEO in 2001 from a good friend -- and funnily enough, your SEO copywriting book (the one you sold through MarketingSherpa) was one of the first books I read to help me learn more.
[JW: I think that must have been my good ole "Nitty-Gritty of Writing for Search Engines"!]
As I learned more about SEO, I realized that I could no longer separate SEO and the copy I was writing for websites. Companies would call asking if I would write Title tags, but that never made sense to me, so I began offering "optimized" content. Around 2005, I realized I was getting more and more of what I call "website overhauls." I would help companies redo their really bad existing sites.
I LOVE helping companies make their sites work for them, so in 2012 I made it official -- I now specialize in Website Overhauls. I do everything from project management, strategy and messaging to SEO and content. I don't do the design. And yes, I still do a lot of writing -- I write all the content (from scratch) that goes into my clients' new sites. I also ghostwrite books and am in fact ghostwriting one now.
JW: I was at the SEMNE event last week where you were talking about marketing content via mobile. I noticed you put your slides up for that here. With everyone on their smart phones and iPads these days, it's obviously a hot topic. How did you come to know so much about it?
DH: As with SEO, sort of by accident. A few years ago a small-business owner called because his website wasn't generating any inquiries. When he called, I just happened to have purchased my iPhone, so I looked at his site on my phone (vs. my desktop computer) while we were talking -- and OMG -- it was all done in Flash! I told him, "I can't see your site on my phone -- did you know it's all done in Flash?" He had been sold down the river on this expensive site that did NOTHING for him.
That experience is what got me to look more closely at mobile issues. Most of what I know about mobile is simply based on what I observe: at the gym, at shopping malls, even my own use and behavior. To me, it's all common sense.
JW: I love your newish website! It shows that you practice what you preach. It's well thought out and well categorized, written concisely but always with the visitor in mind. Exactly the stuff you (and I) always tell others to do. I'm assuming it wasn't simple or quick to redo everything. How long did it take you to figure out how you wanted the site to be designed, to write the content and get it all online?
DH: Thank you. I built the site around the simple idea that I would drink my own Kool-Aid. [Laughs] I wanted my site to be an example of what I can do for my prospects. So everything, from the photography (no stock photos!) and the content to the SEO and custom WordPress design, is based on all the things I tell companies to do.
So many sites look and sound the same these days due to WordPress templates and stock images. I recommend to small businesses that they create custom sites with professionally written, optimized content in order to stand apart.
Once I knew what I wanted, it took me, I would say, about two months to get it all up and running. I wrote all the content myself in my "off" time -- nights and weekends. It was a lot of work.
JW: That's so true about many sites looking and sounding the same these days. If we as human beings can barely distinguish them, I don't know how the site owners figure that Google can!
On a more personal note, I follow you on Facebook and am often exhausted by just reading all you manage to accomplish in a day -- another area where we are completely the opposite! How do you do it? And how do you stay sane?!
DH: I don't watch TV much. And last year I made the decision to cut way back on social media, which has helped considerably. I also make a list each day of the things I want to accomplish and then plan out my day by time slots. A few years ago I made the decision to structure my days on how I want to work. So mornings are my writing time, when I do the stuff that hurts my brain. I don't take calls or do meetings (for the most part). Afternoons are for tasks, calls, email, research, etc. I stay sane by going to the gym three or four days a week!
JW: Sounds like you've got some really good time-management skills there!
And just for fun: What is something that most people wouldn't know about you and might be surprised to find out?
DH: Oh dear. I read romance novels. Yep. I used to hide this fact. After all, I'm an English major [snort]. But one of my clients, one of the top experts in her field and super smart, reads them too. We were talking one day and realized we read all the same books. So I figured it was okay for me to come clean. She turned me on to Susan Elizabeth Phillips -- love her!
JW: Hey, there's nothing wrong with romance novels! Well, as long as they're well written. I'll have to check out that author!
Dianna, thanks so much for fitting me into your very busy schedule!
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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