Kate Morris

Otherwise know as @katemorris.com by friends.


Marketing Festival: An Application in Being the Best

I just got done at a marketing conference in Brno, Czech Republic and it blew me away. I got the honor of speaking there because I have a wonderful friend named Jonathon Colman*. He could not attend this conference and recommended me in his stead. I am forever grateful as this was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. Now I am biased, Distilled’s Searchlove conferences are fantastic and so is MozCon. But this conference, a first time conference for the organizer and for this area of the world, is right up there with them in my opinion.

The organizer, Jindrich Faborsky, went to a number of conferences in the 12 months (or more) leading up to his conference, talked to attendees, and found out what makes marketinf conferences awesome. Here are the things I think he learned and what made this conference so great.

If you don’t want to read the rest of this, at least watch this video, it sums up the conference well.


Speakers make or break a conference. They are part of your marketing and the reason people come back. They are the meat of the conference and should be a big part of your investment. Jindrich knew that and took the steps to secure some of the top minds in search. Jonathon would have been a wonderful addition, and again, I am lucky he recommended me, but this audience got to hear from Phil Nottingham, Michael King, Gillian Musseig, Cyrus Shepard, and so many more.

He not only worked on getting some great people, but he made sure we could come by giving us plenty of warning and investing in the speakers. Investing in your speakers is something that should be done by all conferences really serious about teaching. MozCon and SearchLove both do it as I know both want to make sure the speakers have everything they need to make the conference and their presentation the best.


The next thing Jindrich did was talk to every speaker about their topic. As a part of my talk with him, I pitched a few ideas and he was very straightforward about what this market was interested in hearing about. Given his knowledge of the market, we were able to come up with a topic that the audience was really invested in. It makes for a very happy and engaged audience.

It was also a one track conference, which I am a huge fan of when it comes to marketing centered conferences. You should not be focused on one topic as a marketer. Your job might just be focused on one area now, but in learning, marketers should be interested in the whole picture. This format provides that.

Networking and After Parties

The other thing people go to conferences for is networking. PubCon is still the best conference in the US for networking, but Jindrich spent the time understanding that and provided so much opportunity for networking at this conference. Any conference that includes Mike King rapping at an after party with Phil Nottingham as his side kick is one I want to be at. Period.

* On a rather somber side note, Jonathon lost his mother the week of the conference. Jonathon, my deepest condolences. Please know that our love is with you and your family right now.


Dear Lawyers: I’m Sorry

I just got back from a party with lots of friends. Few know exactly what I do for a living. I did recently do a training for many of them to teach the foundation of SEO. Some of my friends have lost their jobs recently and I wanted to introduce them to SEO as a possible career path. I know so many places looking to hire, it seemed like a good thing to do.

Tonight, my boyfriend was talking to a few friends that didn’t attend the training and he got to talking about SEOmoz, a dear company to me. I assume because he was talking to a software developer about perhaps joining them. I was in another conversation until I heard “Well that’s what Kate does for a living …” (said by boyfriend) and “I just think that making tools to do that is irresponsible because SEO is bad.” (said by friend) Now those aren’t direct quotes but that was the gist.

Tomsu, the German Shepherd lives with many oth...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perked my ears right up.

So I went to ask what was going on, see if I could clear some stuff up. I asked what was being said and got back from our friend “SEO is horrible. All you do is rank crappy sites for terms that I search for and I don’t want to see those. I like you but not your company.”

That sent me reeling. This guy didn’t know who I worked for and therefore I had no idea how he had an opinion of them. It turns out he misspoke, he meant “but not your industry”. But that didn’t sit well with me either.

After the initial argument about how he hated my company and why, I then asked why he hated the SEO industry. He went on to talk about bad SEO: gaming the system and ranking bad websites. I tried my hardest to explain what it was search marketers really do, but he’d hear none of it. In his book I was okay as a person, but not my profession.

I likened it to hating all lawyers. Lawyers get a bad rap overall. But not all lawyers are ambulance chasers. There are many that went into law to actually help people. So very many. But no one sees or talks about them and their hard work.

At the end of the conversation, after trying again to explain what we do at Distilled and how it’s not what he thinks, the last statement from him was “if that’s what makes you sleep better at night, awesome.” I wanted to cry right there. Yes, fucking girl moment and all. Okay, maybe wanted to punch something too, but you get the idea.

So lawyers, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to deal with this. The world’s view of all of you is tainted by a few assholes. They get press and you deal with the ridicule everyday. I’m starting to feel your pain.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not written to call out this friend (not in the least as I don’t think he’s the last person that will think this), it’s to think out loud about how SEO is perceived in the real world. We won’t be able to convince everyone that what we do is noble.


There are too many people that do that kind of SEO to change the public’s mind. Will I stop trying? No. I am too passionate about what I do. But I now realize that it’s going to just get worse and I need a personal plan for that. I need to work on calmly explaining what I do, and have examples ready to go. Know the elevator speech? I mean to build one that explains good SEO to the general public (and if you have one, I’d love to hear yours). I might not get everyone to understand, but I don’t care.

This isn’t about being right. Hell, this isn’t just about the SEO industry. I want the people around me to understand that an industry is not rotten. Not all congressmen are scum bags. Not all lawyers are out for the money. Not all MBAs are self-righteous. We are people.

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Big Data and SEO: My Outreach Project Updated

Big Data

Big Data (Photo credit: Kevin Krejci)

A number of months ago, I challenged myself to outreach to influencers in Big Data and get a quote for the audience at Seattle Interactive. I have been fascinated by the topic recently and I needed to show people at a show how good and bad outreach could be. I wanted to learn things about outreach and Big Data to share.

The presentation was a great success. I got a great response to the outreach lessons I taught but also to the big data lessons. I got a few more quotes after my session, so I wanted to take some time to review my thoughts on these quotes and thank the people that helped me out.

First, my slides:

Snuggie Guy

There was a gentleman that mentioned on Twitter that conferences were cold, so to get his attention, I sent him a giftcard for a snuggie on Amazon. By the time I spoke, I had not heard from him, but I did after the conference and this was his answer to the question “What is the one piece of advice you’d give someone just getting into using big data at their company?”

Foster a culture of curiosity about data within your company. Think beyond using data just to answer specific, BI-oriented questions about the past. Instead, set up a data science team within the company, and give them the tools, resources and freedom to *explore* the data you have. You’ll be surprised at what insights they’ll discover about your business, your customers … and even the future. And if you can empower them to create data apps that can be delivered to decision makers through the organization, you might find you have the power to  transform the way you do business through data.

David Smith, Revolutionary Analytics

I love the thought “foster a culture of curiosity.” What I take away from this is that companies should be looking to the future and allow their people to drive the future based on data. Thank you so much David!

Competitive Advantages

Another gentleman, Jeff Kelly, answered me after the session but had a great insight about how big data is the secret to your competitive advantage. I talk to companies all the time about their competitive advantage because without one, SEO doesn’t work too well. Big Data is a big driver in finding your company’s niche.

There is no vertical market or knowledge-worker that won’t be impacted by Big Data. Whether you’re a marketer at an online retailer, an analyst at a financial services firm, or a supply chain manager at a manufacturer, deriving insightful, actionable insights from Big Data to set and support both tactical and strategic objectives is now a requirement, not an option, in order to remain competitive. Make no mistake, Big Data is the new definitive source of competitive advantage across all industries.

Thank Yous

The Experts – These were the kind people that took time out of their day to answer my pleas. I want to thank everyone else on that list, even those not mentioned here. I am sorry if I harassed you, or my question was too broad. I am still learning and I intend on following you all for some time.

Shutterstock – For the use of a great photo of friends. I used it to make my point that friendships are not made overnight, unless there is drinking involved.

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A Life of Travel

Jamaica, the gem of the tropics. Beautiful, he...

Jamaica, the gem of the tropics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is for my friend, Jenny, like many other friends that want to know how I travel so much. I write this while on vacation in Jamaica. Sounds cushy, right? Flying everywhere, vacations in foreign lands. It has it’s ups and downs.

First, yes, I fly a ton. Mostly for work though. Conferences meant new connections and the chance to teach others. Working for Distilled, I have less time to spend at conferences than when I owned my own business. Now I travel the most to see clients. That means at least three trips a year to see them, if not more.

So traveling ends up in two buckets: for work and for fun. For this post I’ll break down how to do the two kinds of travel more often (if you so desire).

Traveling for Work
To get the honor (promise it won’t always feel like that) of traveling for work, you need a few things. One is a desire to travel. Not everyone does. Traveling is time consuming and tiring if you do it too much. If you are bored of your routine, I promise you traveling will make you want that routine back. It makes you see what is great about your “boring” life.

You also have to have the availability to travel. My clients come first right now, so I can’t do as much conference attending as I might have done otherwise. You might have a dog, cats, kids, family, or other obligations. You have to take those into account when talking to your company about how much you would like to travel. If you have such a desire and availability, make it known. They might actually be looking for someone.

Third is the opportunity to travel.

  • Do you like speaking? (no really it can be fun)
  • Are there conferences in your industry?
  • Are you willing to put the work behind the presentations (for at least a month up to the conference, right until the day of, PowerPoint will be your best friend and hated enemy) and networking before, during and after a trip?
  • If you don’t want to speak, or it’s not possible, do you have clients?
  • Is there a need to go see them?

You have to have somewhere to go that will be an asset to the company if you expect them to pay for it.

One final thing here is be aware that not all work trips are as glamorous as they sound. I went to Hawaii for a conference earlier this year. All I heard was “oh man, I wish my company would send me to Hawaii.” There is a ton of work involved (see above) and you are usually at the location for a short time. Why didn’t I stay longer?

You could combine your yearly vacation with a work trip. It saves you a few nights hotel and (your) airfare. Just remember, going to a top destination like Hawaii or New York will set you back about $300-500 a night. Your company might pay for the required days, but the rest is on you. It’s never really worked out for me to take a vacation around conferences (I’m usually so stressed before and so tired after), but I have done it around client trips.  You have to consider if the savings on flight and a few nights hotel is worth it. Sometimes it is.

Traveling for Pleasure
Alright, I know, it’s the Jamaica trips people want to hear about.

Vacation Time

It looks like I travel a ton because of one main thing besides speaking and clients: my awesome company. I get 4 weeks paid vacation a year. Yeah, that’s what you get for working for a British company. And we have to take it.

Now do I take all 4 weeks to go to Jamaica and Hawaii? Nope. I spend a week of it going home for Christmas, probably another week going home to Texas for other things. There is a week for actual vacation with Dallas and then the other week maybe skiing with my best friend and the random thing here and there. So I actually only take 2 weeks vacation a year.

So … if you want to travel to exotic places personally, the first thing you need is an awesome company that gives and makes you take vacation. I’m a big fan. The other thing is money. Yes, money. You have to get good at saving and be okay spending that savings. We don’t keep money after we die, so don’t horde all of it. Life is meant to be lived, vacation is part of living it.

Frequent Flyer Club

Alaska Air 737 Combi landing at ANC

Alaska Air 737 (Photo credit: Alaskan Dude)

One other piece of advice is to pick an airline. One that goes everywhere like American/Delta/Alaska (Alaska is who I fly, and I get the benefits on the other two), or United/Continental. I know there are more, but that’s all I can think of right now. But the point is, pick one. Join their frequent flyer program, and just use them and their partners.

With my trip to Jamaica, I will have reached Alaska MVP Gold next year. I don’t want to list all the perks, you can look them up, but it’s nice. I’ve been an MVP for 2 years now and it’s so nice. No baggage fees, early boarding, and more.

Oh and be a deal hound. We are staying in Jamaica on a Groupon deal. We stayed in Hawaii at a Homeaway condo. Be on the lookout for non traditional ways to travel and you’ll save.

I think that’s it for now. If you have questions, do ask and I’ll update!

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Get Inspiration from the Outside

This is going to be one of many posts, I think. I picked up a copy of Harvard Business Review on my way to Vegas (leave the nerd alone) … and man, the ideas running through my head right now. The first is after reading an article called “Great Leaders Don’t Need Experience.” The main findings were that candidates with lots of experience from outside an organization performed just as well as one inside the organization without as much experience. But the best candidates? The ones without experience and are outside the organization. They are the highest risk, but also the highest reward.

This appeals to me in a few ways, and applies to why I love working for Distilled as a consultant. Therefore I thought I’d share with the wider world. Do notice though that the author even states that hiring unexperienced leaders should not be the first choice hire.

“HBR: So should firms always hire outsiders without experience?

No, because those people are also more likely to crash and burn. Though the best leaders—Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln—were unfiltered, the things that made them so effective, such as their ability to think differently and not feel beholden to a certain way of doing things, often lead to terrible results. Unfiltered leaders are high risk, high reward.”

Finding Distillers

I talked to a few UW students this week and they asked me about working for Distilled. I remember being in that position … thinking about getting a job out of school, wondering what I should do to impress the companies I was interested in. I got to tell these students that we look for passion. We look for smart people. Distilled doesn’t care if you have tons of experience, we actually prefer people without experience.

Why? We want people that are good problem solvers. People that are creative and can approach problems from a logical perspective. Those things together mean that we ask much from one person. So experience doesn’t matter and I love that about my workplace. We all come from different backgrounds … and may clash now and then, but the sparks that result from the clashes mean great results for our clients.

Does that mean we don’t hire experienced people? No. I had 7 years of experience in search when I joined Distilled. Hannah Smith, Mike Pantoliano, and we just nabbed Mike Tekula. Experience isn’t bad, it’s just not everything. It’s not a predictor of talent.


Telling someone you are a consultant is getting to be as fun as saying you’re a lawyer. The “oh, one of THOSE people” looks appear more frequently as the years go by. We are those high paid outsiders that insiders sometimes think do nothing but state the obvious.

Well, sometimes that is true. We do state the obvious, but we also work to get the obvious enforced to help a company grow.

As this study pointed out, the best leaders, the best thinkers, come from the outside of an organization. As a consultant, I don’t expect to be in the every day business of my clients nor do I expect that we will be with that company forever. Does that make my company’s head of sale cringe? Maybe a little, but she gets it too. We are there to insert ideas, to inspire action, to give insight from outside and from learning from other companies. Once we have served that purpose, I, for one, am happy to leave.

Applying to Small Businesses

Hiring a high paid consultant might not be in your cards, but you can still get great ideas from the outside with less risk. I’d recommend a few things. First, go network. Make friends, and get some of their thoughts on your business. Second, trust your current friends and family. Their insights are usually invaluable. And even if they aren’t spot on (or understand one iota of what you do), the inspiration they can provide by not being IN your business can be the needle in the haystack.

I challenge you all to ask people outside of your business for help and ideas. Hire people that are passionate, not those that necessarily have the experience (though finding both is awesome). Take the time to invest in their training and you’ll probably get more ideas out of them than anyone who has years of experience.

As the study’s author said, filtered experienced leaders will grow your company steadily, but few amazing things will occur. But the fresh blood is a risk. Think about it. ;)