10 Questions with Nadya Khoja on Digital Marketing
When it comes to marketing, there are so many articles and resources for what you search, but the chances of finding what might actually help you are quite rare. There is so much wisdom out there that it can be a little exhausting.
That’s why we came up with Freshmarketer 10. This is our own humble attempt at fighting this marketing clutter and delivering a little value. We ask 10 questions each to marketing professionals who’ve been there, done that. So you can learn from the pros!
We’ve talked about different marketing topics with marketers who’ve had hands-on experience. We go over marketing campaigns that worked and didn’t. Also, there are great tips and advice in there as well. All of that in 10 questions. No more, no less.
10 Questions with Nadya Khoja on Digital Marketing
Our next marketer is Nadya Khoja. She heads marketing at Venngage, growing acquisition and monetisation by 2000% for the company. She has been featured in Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, The Next Web, Forbes, and more.
1. From being a digital marketer in Venngage to becoming its chief growth officer, what you think helped you through this journey?
I have a background in theater, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was the 4th employee at Venngage, so we’re pretty small. We don’t have a lot of funding. In fact, we
haven’t raised any series rounds. We’re pretty much a cash flow positive business. One of the things that I would do when I first started was if I saw a problem, I try to fix the problem and focus on that.
So figuring out and identifying problem areas for revenue and how to amplify that revenue was something I was interested in. And as a result, I started to not only oversee marketing, but I also look after people and operations. So, it was kind of a natural transition.
2. Tell us about your current role as chief growth officer in Venngage? What are the kind of challenges you face?
The role operates more like a chief revenue officer. And we just worded it growth because revenue is a little bit weird. So as the chief growth officer, my role kind of encompasses revenue being my main metric.
I oversee acquisition and retention, new acquisition or new revenue and existing revenue. This is relatively recent. It’s only a few months ago that retention moved over to me. And then I also oversee HR and operations. So it’s kind of a chief of staff role. It makes sense as people do lead to a lot of the growth of the company, and hiring the right people, understanding the best processes for training those people, and ensuring that they’re given the right type of performance assessments, improvement plans, and type of feedback. So it kind of encompasses all of those things.
In terms of challenges, it’s a new role for me as well as the company. So a lot of it is just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. One thing I’ve realized is that as we grow and we think of solving one problem, we create multiple new problems that also have to be addressed. So we’ve definitely been experiencing a lot of growing pains. Even as a chief growth officer, it’s still hard. You can’t just make a decision. You have to get buy-in from the whole company. So now you’re not just trying to get buy-in from one person at the top; you’re trying to get buy-in from like 50 -60 other people and making sure that they’re all aligned and working towards the same thing and in the same direction.
3. Is it possible to boost your SEO ranking with an infographic?
Yes, it is. That’s exactly what we did to start out. As I said, I didn’t really have any experience, so doing cold outreach and asking for links wasn’t really working for me. Since nobody knew who I was, and nobody really wanted to help me because why would they? So we started to offer free custom infographics and other visual content for people for their sites..
We would see sites that were performing relatively well and we would get information about the kind of engagementthey were seeing, their bounce rates, etc.
We actually did an in-house study where we focused on a group of users who are reading our blog. We were trying to understand what type of content they were most engaging with and what they’re most interested in. We found that one of the main correlations was that they liked articles that had a lot of visual content in it. Part of the reason was that it helped them skim through that content faster. And even though they were skimming the content, not necessarily reading it in-depth, they were spending more time on that page. So overall, the rankings were boosting, because we had higher time on page. It was easier for us to generate backlinks because it’s easier for somebody to repurpose a visual piece of content rather than plain text.
So that’s one of the main strategies that we used and we just created these Gusto Graphics (what we call them for other people). This helped us establish a relationship early on so that later was a little bit easier for us to help our own SEO growth.
An infographic template from Venngage:
4. According to you, What is digital marketing all about?
After theater school, I did a master’s in digital media. Theatre is a bit of a dying art. If you go to a conventional theater, it’s all old people just sitting and passively watching a show and taking in information. I was bored with that, so I decided to do a thesis on audience engagement. I wanted to see if there is a way to close the gap between that passive viewing experience and making it more engaging. ow do we create, take performance, and add this layer of technology to it to make it more interesting?
As I was researching, I started reading a lot more about different formats of audience engagement. I didn’t even realize at the time, but a lot of what I was reading was marketing books for my thesis. Books talking about – how to engage audiences, ,YouTube engagement, why YouTube is such an engaging platform, and more.
So it was like this anthropological view on technology. The more I read, the more I understood — oh, this is marketing and I like this idea of how do I engage audiences and how do I get people to want to consume my content, and what kind of content are people interested in consuming?
That’s how I started, but it wasn’t a very linear path to success. There were a lot of road bumps and I did not know what I was doing for at least 6-7 months. I was told to “go get links” and I had to figure out how to do that.
So everything I did was kind of trying to figure out how to get links. So I think that’s the commonplace between theater and marketing. At the root of it we’re all just trying to get people to engage with something and to entertain in some way. Despite trying to sell something, we still want people to want to buy it. So inbound marketing kind of aligned with that pretty well.
5. Can you tell us about some of the successful campaigns you’ve run?
A lot of people often ask me — what is the one tactic or campaign that led to success? Honestly, I’ve never thought of things being a one-off campaign that leads to success.
One of the biggest things was, early on when we had finally figured out how SEO was working for us and how to leverage that as a good channel that led to growth, we started to see considerable increases in traffic and conversions.
Then the thought was, hey, let’s go after other channels and start applying the same logic to them. But again, we’re a really small team. We chose not to take that route because we wanted to have more control. Why should we try to go after something new when we know what’s working right nowg and we haven’t tapped it out. You’re never going to tap out SEO; people are searching for it, it’s all intent-based.
So I think one of the biggest and the best decisions was to double down on what was already working rather than trying to get distracted by all these trends or other random campaigns that we could run.
In terms of that, the biggest thing that changed was more of a strategic change in how we approached our organic traffic. We started to have more of a holistic view of how content worked with conversions rather than thinking of them as two separate entities. We started to restructure how we did our content, SEO, and how we built our pages.
I started to think “How do we change the structure of this page while also impacting the metrics?” Or, how is every decision we’re making impacting multiple people at the company in multiple metrics rather than just our goals? Because we understood that if just one of us hits our goals, we’re not actually going to hit our common goals. Everybody at the company needs to succeed in order for us to scale.
So that was one of the main decisions – to double down on what we knew while paying attention to all of the other metrics as well.
6. Tell us about the campaigns that didn’t do that well?
We were trying to leverage other campaigns and mediums that people in our network told us would be successful. We tried Facebook ads and a couple of other things. We realized that it’s going to take too long for us to optimize other channels and actually succeed in it with a positive ROI.
We ended up spending some money on it — not enough that it was a big deal. It was more of a waste of time because we didn’t know how to approach it and we just thought we would copy what other people are doing. We realized that’s not the way to do things. What works for one company may not necessarily work for you. So just because somebody says this is the next thing to do, or Gary Vee is yelling “you have to do it like this” ,that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you.
So it helped us in keeping that mentality and really thinking more critically about the decisions we were making.
7. You recently spoke about content marketing at the Torontotech conference. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The event at TechTO is actually hosted by April Dunford. She just launched her book on positioning. I basically talked about content and search, but it was more about how so many companies are going after keywords on Google Analytics and paid ads, like ‘content distribution platform’ or ‘content marketing solutions’, and when you actually look at the number of people searching for terms like that, it’s really low.
For instance, 50 people globally are searching for content marketing solutions, but the cost per click is $19. That means people are spending $19 a click, when nobody’s even looking for this thing. So there’s clearly a disconnect in what and how people understand their audiences and what they’re trying to focus on. So it was mostly about that, and also how understanding success in growing your platform and actually driving sales doesn’t start with thinking about the sale, but starts with thinking about what the user wants and what they’re looking for. It’s about figuring out — how can I take what they’re searching for and tie it back to my solution or my product rather than trying to push my product to people.
So ultimately it was about how we need to stop chasing customers and using outbound sales tactics. It doesn’t work anymore. People are disconnected from that type of marketing now. And people are searching for solutions on their own, so why don’t you just leverage that?
A lot of companies who are just getting into marketing think they need a content distribution platform, but real marketers don’t use a content distribution platform. They just know how to do marketing.
So you’re probably targeting relatively new people or big enterprises that are just starting to think about digital marketing and starting to go digital. If I think about the audience that way, and understand what are their problems and what are they trying to solve, content creation and distribution come naturally. If the target audience is not online, then. write about how to establish an online presence. Or if they’re starting out with a blog, write around — how do I start a blog? How do I get followers to my blog? How do I write a blog? How do I promote a blog? How do I create content?
Those are more of the problems that they’re searching for. So rather than going straight for the thing that they don’t know is the solution, go for the things that they identify are problems and create content around that. So that when they come to your content, you can say, hey, I’ve got this content distribution platform. And they know that’s what they need..
And then, maybe, they’ll look for a content distribution platform just to validate that you’re an actual solution. So that’s kind of where it ties in.
8. What are some of the ways to make content more engaging?
We take a very growth marketing focus on everything that we do, even with our content team. So even though they’re content marketers, I actually consider them as growth marketers that do content.
So everything is an experiment and we create hypotheses around everything.Then the way I look at it is, if product decisions are made based on what a user wants — you do a lot of user testing, do calls, measure their behavior, and run different experiments to influence that behavior. It’s surprising that content marketers are not using the same process. Realistically it’s the same thing. We’re creating something for somebody else to consume. It’s never about what we want.
Keyword research gives us an idea of what people are searching for and the intent. We don’t know what they’re trying to solve. They’re just searching for because they think that’s what they need to search for in order to find a solution. So rather than just going out and creating as much content as possible to try to rank for anything, we wanted to attract the the right people who would actually use our product and stay for a long time.
So one thing we did was, we started doing user testing and user calls, but from a marketing point of view. We wanted to see what people were searching for, what problems they wanted to solve, and understand the language that they were using so that we could use that to kind of guide how we created the content.
Then when it comes to making it a little bit more engaging, we would look at popular trending topics and tie that into the solution. For instance, say we want to write an article about -how to create an effective mind map, or, how to build this competitive strategy analysis. We wanted to create something that stood out from all of that existing boring content. Because luckily for us there is a lot of boring content in the realm of strategic analysis or visualizing these complex ideas. As a platform that sells the idea of using visuals to engage audiences on these ideas rather than just convey information, we tried to understand what they were interested in and how we could correlate those things.
So for instance, for mind mapping, we created a Game of Thrones mind map of all the betrayals that occurred. So how do we kind of tie those two things together? Yo you’re still learning about something but in a fun way.
9.What is digital marketing in 2019?
I think it’s pushing farther and farther away from outbound sales tactics. Look at how much it’s costing to run ads now. It’s way more expensive than it was five years ago, or three years ago, too. And newer companies that are coming up don’t have the budgets to do that.
A lot of solutions are becoming more and more niche and specific. So I think what’s going to happen is that more people are going to have to rely on really listening to their audiences, paying attention to very specific niches in the market, understanding who those people are, and really focusing on creating solutions for those people rather than trying to cast a wide net and attract as many people as possible. That’s not going to work anymore.
I think in 2019, we need to double down on paying attention to what people are already looking for and focus on inbound. You can already see SEO is becoming more and more competitive, but even social media now is transforming from brands talking about their product to having genuine conversations and engaging with people on a one to one basis..
10. What advice would you give marketers who are just starting their careers?
The main thing is that you can’t expect people to hold your hand and tell you what to do. If you want to be successful in this career, you have to just identify the problem and figure out how to solve that problem.
One thing that’s helped me is talking to people who are solving that problem already and learning from other people rather than just relying on my CEO or my team to help me. Because the reality is, people you work with are going to have a very siloed view of how to solve problems because that’s what they’re working on all the time.
So the biggest thing that new marketers can do is reach out to as many good marketers as possible, learn from them, and build more of a larger depth of knowledge that you can take back and apply to your own problems rather than just isolating yourself and focusing on the same tasks on an ongoing basis.
That’s our 10 questions on digital marketing with Nadya Khoja. Do you have more questions apart from what is discussed here? Just leave your question in the comment section. We’ll get them answered by experts. Make sure they’re related to digital marketing 🙂
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