Episode
18

Meagan Morris

Scaling Leafwell to 2 Million Visitors Per Year and Building Trust In A Regulated Industry

October 4, 2023

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Meagan Morris for the eighteenth episode of the Optimize podcast. Meagan is the Director of Content and SEO for Leafwell. Meagan has worn many hats in the digital world, from Yahoo! and Metro US to Hearst Magazines and Hurrdat.

This episode covers a variety of topics important to developing a content channel that is resilient to algorithm updates, establishing trust with your audience, and developing site authority organically. In this episode Meagan and Nate discuss Leafwell’s journey from o to over 2 Million visitors per year, dissecting the strategy, tips, and insights Meagan has learned over the last two years.

Meagan also shares her process for creating content briefs that enable freelancers to deliver fantastic content every time. Rounding out the episode, Meagan and Nate get tactical with link-building campaigns utilizing link bait and PR. Closing out the episode is our popular lightning round of questions!

What to Listen For

03:00 Meagan’s Background and Leafwell Intro

08:57 Creating processes to manage publishing 60+ blogs per month

10:45 How Meagan found and vetted freelancers

14:36 How to internally track and coordinate a robust content creation strategy

16:01 Crafting the perfect content brief: do’s and don'ts

20:07 The importance of sourcing in a regulated industry

22:05 Setting SEO KPIs and their evolution over a channel’s lifespan

23:29 Tips for Optimizing CROs and CTAs

26:21 Revisiting old content and the importance of updated publishing dates in SERPs

30:47 Benefits of location-based pages and location-based SEO

33:44 How to strategize after a positive algorithm update?

35:02 Meagan shares tips for building backlinks with PR and Link Bait

37:49 Is SEO becoming more competitive compared to the 2010s?

39:44 Is SEO going to fundamentally change with Google’s SGE or other AI influences?

41:20 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

00:00

But it's something about like, what's the overview of the topic? You know, what's the benefits, drawbacks, you know, very simplistic things and then adding as go along. And that's honestly all I really added into it. I expected the writers to do research on their own, as far as what else is ranking in the top 10. I didn't give that to them per se, but I wanted them to look at what other people were doing. I don't want to copy. I think that's kind of the advice that was given for a while. It's like, look at what's ranking and kind of copy that, but I don't want a repeat of what everybody else has. I want to make sure that we're covering the topic and giving users what they're searching for. So look at it, but don't use that as a prescription for the whole article.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

00:43

Hi and welcome to the Optimize Podcast. My name is Nate Matherson and I am your host. On this weekly podcast, we sit down with some of the smartest minds in content marketing and SEO. Our goal is to give you perspective and insights on what's moving the needle in organic search. Today, I'm thrilled to sit down with Megan Morris. Megan is the director of content and SEO at LeafWell, a telehealth platform that allows patients to get doctor approval for medical marijuana. She has built an incredible content and organic search channel, and today, LeafWell is generating nearly two million page views per month. In our episode today, Megan and I will discuss a variety of topics, ranging from topical authority to content production, algorithm updates, buyer journeys, and the nuances of building in a regulated space.

Ad Spot

01:30

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Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:26

Megan, thanks so much for coming on the Optimize podcast.

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

02:29

Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to speak about the subject I love most,
which is SEO.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

You've done such an incredible job in the last two years at LeafWell!
It is very rare that you see a company go from relatively zero to 2 million page views per month with like content and organic search being such a big focus. So you've done such an incredible job. And the first question I always like to ask our guests is how did you get into the world of content marketing and SEO?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

03:00

Well, it's a long journey and one that I never actually planned on. So when I graduated undergraduate, I have degrees in international business and broadcasting undergrad. And I thought, okay, I want to do something in business, marketing maybe, didn't really have an idea, had a couple positions, didn't really love what I was doing, but somewhere along the way I learned I had a real knack for writing. And so I did some freelance writing back in the stone ages before Upwork, when it was like Elance, and I did some of that type of work and I really loved that. And I started learning about more about writing for the web and how to really use keywords. And that was back when you know you had to have a certain density, repeat the main keyword, you know, the first paragraph and so many times throughout the article. But I really wanted to like write for women's magazines and kind of be a reporter and do that whole online publishing and see my name in print. So I went to grad school at City University of New York. At that time it was affiliated with the New York Times. What I didn't realize when I went to graduate school is it's very focused on traditional news reporting. Soon after I started freelancing for different websites like sheknows.com, I worked for Cosmopolitan, all kinds of women's magazines, so I did achieve that goal. But somewhere along the way, I mostly wrote for digital publication, or the digital side of that. I have some print bylines, but mostly digital. And somewhere along the way, I got an article on the front page of yahoo.com, and it had something like 8 million page views within two days. It was about Kim Kardashian, it was like breaking a story, it was kind of crazy. But I was like, I love this feeling. I had tons of emails, but I love the feeling of like, a lot of people are reading my work. How do I get this feeling again? Well, if you don't get on the front page of Yahoo every day, but that's when I really delved into SEO and understanding how to construct articles that are not only telling a story and giving people the service of the information that they want, but also helping people find them and getting more of a chance for people to see them. And so I started reading more about SEO and the whole idea, and that kind of evolved from there. My next step, I found an SEO specific position with an agency. And there I really focused on the SEO tactics, less on the content creation. And so I really was able to hone my skills on creating off page opportunities through backlinking and everything like that. Had a good two-year run there, but I was really looking to have a position where I could own the strategy and really utilize my talents to see grow over time. With agency work, you're limited by the scope of the project, or if the project ends, you don't really get to see that, and I can't really say I had ownership in it. So, Leifwell, I was looking for positions, it kind of fell in my lap, and I remember thinking, like, this is too good to be true. Like, you're really going to let me drive the strategy from the beginning. You're going to let me do everything with it. And they were, yeah, absolutely. So I had presented my strategy to them. And they're like, great, go for it. And so this was two years ago. And they left me alone to create the content and to really move it forward. And the first couple of months with SEO, kind of the cliche is that it's a slow burn, and it always takes a while. And I'm not gonna lie, they understood that SEO does take a while, but I wanted to produce results for them. And so I was like, okay, stay on my strategy and continue on and something will click, and it just did. In January of 2022, we started ranking for this keyword Sativa and Indica. So Sativa and Indica are two different types of cannabis varieties. That's a whole other subject, but basically it's a keyword that had something like 300,000 search volume per month at the time, and we started ranking within the top 20 for that keyword. And that's when I knew, I was like, we turned the corner, this is working. I do know what I'm talking about, and I do know that my strategies are going to work. And from there, hockey stick growth, and that's kind of where we got to where we are today. So it's been a wild ride, but it's been an amazing one for sure. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking) 

Yeah, and you've moved so quickly.
Has it been just you the last two years or have you built a team around you?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

06:54

So when I started, it was myself and there was a couple other people who had written some content for the site. They had some content already published. The main problem with that content is that it was written for a very high level audience. It wasn't written for the person that really wanted to learn about cannabis and marijuana, medical marijuana as a treatment. So it was more, I would say like college level, and it was written by somebody who is incredibly intelligent, understands, I call him the walking cannabis encyclopedia, because I can ask him any question, and he'll be able to give me the answer like within a second. But I think it was just too high level for people, so they weren't sticking on it, and it just wasn't getting the views that it should. And so my first step was to take that content and make sure that dial it back and write it to a more general audience or write it to people who are beginners. And then so I was able to do that, but then also use that to help build the content authority. So it was myself mainly and a couple of freelance writers for the majority of time that I've been here.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

07:53

How much content did you or have you created in the last two years? It sounds like you've created quite a bit.

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

07:59

Oh, wow. Yeah, I wanna say that we have created within the last two years, at one point we were publishing 60 articles per month. So I want to say we have somewhere between 400 to 600 articles that we've published. I know our full library is like 750 articles. So it could even be more than that at this point but it's a lot of content in a short period of time. Sometimes I look back and I wonder how we managed to do that, but we did. And it's good research, thoroughly fact-check content.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

08:29

Yeah, and I felt in my career, like at my first company, we were creating about 70 pieces of content per month at its peak, and we hit like a whole lot of breaking points at that scale. And to me, it's often felt like running air traffic control. Like you have, you know, content coming in, content going to editors, content going out, content being updated. What are like some of those like processes you put in place early on to ensure that you could get to this scale over time?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

08:57

It all came down to identifying all of the keywords that I needed to make sure that were represented in the article, but also brief creation was critical for us. I didn't want to leave. My freelance writers were excellent, and they were very talented in writing about cannabis, but as far as the SEO side and understanding how to structure an article correctly, that was a little bit less of the strength of theirs. So I immediately changed how we did articles before they were able to just kind of interpret things the way they wanted to. I immediately put a stop to that and I created every single brief from the day I started onward. And I wouldn't say they were formulas, but there were certain categories of articles that I had certain templates for and structures for that streamline a little bit of that process and made it easier to get the briefs done. Having the keywords in the briefs were essential and that helped the writers essentially do the research and do any interviews that they were needed and it will allow them to fill in the blanks more or less. And so they weren't necessarily trying to recreate the wheel each time. And I think that really helped with our production speed and our ability to get content out the door quickly.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

10:04

Yeah. I often say to our customers and to you people just starting in SEO that like people often make SEO more complicated than it needs to be. 85% of the work that you do is doing like two things right, like picking the right keywords and the right topics to go after and then creating awesome content. And if you do those things right, consistently, you'll get, you know, 85 to 90% of the way there, I think. Of course, like in certain industries, like building back links, like you mentioned, might be more or less important. But my next question is on freelancers and like freelance talent. It sounds like you worked with freelancers pretty intensively at LeapWell. How did you find these writers? How did you source them to work with you?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

10:45

So a couple of them were, they predated me. And so they were already working with the team in a limited capacity beforehand and they had cannabis industry experience. So they were instrumental in understanding the subject matter because I came in very fresh. I knew a little bit about CBD, but as far as cannabis as a subject, I was no expert. So I really needed to make sure I could rely on those writers. A lot of it was looking on LinkedIn and seeing who was writing for the publications. Some of the bigger publications in our industry are like Weedmaps.com and Leafly.com. And so it was almost knowing that a lot of them were also freelancers and asking them if they were looking for more clients. But LinkedIn was kind of the holy grail for me of looking at individual profiles and seeing even if they weren't cannabis industry experienced, did they have experience writing on health-related topics? Could I look at their samples and say that they understood how to interpret content in a way that people can understand. So it was really one-to-one searching rather than putting a job ad out there and getting 300 people to reply for it and going through all of those. I kind of lucked out in a way, but I was very, I've always heard that I'm very direct and up front, and I think that kind of helps where I tell people what I expect of them, and this is exactly what I need from you, and that sets up that relationship in the beginning, so there's no question about what I'm needing from them or what they're supposed to supply me.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

12:08

I love that you went and found the group of freelancers and you've sourced your team. I think Upwork is a great platform, but like you said, you'll get 300 people who will apply, and oftentimes those people don't actually have direct experience or knowledge of the space that you're in or the topics they're writing about. And I do think over time, like, e and just, you know, the quality of content written by actual experts has become more important. And so that I love that you went out and found these folks to join your team, you were proactive and finding them instead of just allowing people to apply to like an upwork job posting.

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

12:45

No, I think being a writer actually helped a writer in the past and a freelancer, helped benefit me when I was looking for those writers because my pitching myself to clients, I understood what works that way. And so I kind of reverse engineered it there, but I also knew how to evaluate their writing to say like, oh, they say they can write these articles, but they're not saying quite the right things here, or something doesn't feel right. I think it really benefited me to have that writing experience first, versus maybe just coming into it from like a technical background into SEO and trying to work with content. I feel that was definite advantage.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

13:19

I always like to ask for pre-edited samples and then post-edited samples. So I can compare like the before and after of like a freelancer's work. As far as like the editing process goes, did you also bring on like an editor as part of this content creation process or did you do all of that editing in-house in your role?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

13:39

In the beginning, it was all me. So I did all the editing and the final editing. We did one of my team members, the one that I called the walking cannabis encyclopedia. He was our fact checker. So he had to basically go through all the content, make sure all the facts and the information was solid, that we had, you know, research to peer reviewed research to back up any claims that we were making. So he was instrumental in that process. I eventually did bring on editors to help with that because as my duties kind of expanded as the company grew, there was just not the bandwidth for me to do it all. So yes, there were some editors that came from a more editorial background and traditional lifestyle publications that helped with some of that work. But yeah, it was a lot of work. In the beginning, it was very much me doing the whole process from beginning to end.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

14:24

And where do you track this entire process? Is it in an air table or a Google Doc or somewhere else? What tools are you using to actually track the content throughout all of its stages?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

14:36

That's a good question. We have a Google Sheet that's a content calendar, but we also use Asana as our project management platform. So we have the Kanban board set up that have the whole publishing process from topics identified to brief creation to the writers, writing, editing, final edits, fact check, et cetera, all the way until published. And so it did take a little while to find that sweet spot or really get that flow going, but once we did, it was a very smooth process. And when I finally was able to get my project manager involved that oversees our whole marketing department now, that was a game changer too, because that helps another person to manage some of these tasks, because it wasn't only the creating the briefs and managing all the writing, it was making sure that we had a card for each one and that it could be represented on a content card. Yeah, it was quite the undertaking. Sometimes creating the Asana tasks were more of a pain than something I didn't want to do. So when she came in, it was so much easier for me to get the rest done.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

15:35

Yeah, you have to break it down into each stage of the creation process, especially at that scale, like 60 pieces a month. I mean, alone posting 60 pieces a month just to a CMS takes a lot of time. And as far as like briefs go, I just wanna touch on briefs really quickly because I think they're so important. What goes into like your content briefs? Like what information do you include for that freelancer before they start onto that piece of content?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

16:01

You know, I've seen a lot of examples recently of people on LinkedIn or influencers or just people posting on LinkedIn about the ideal content brief and things. And I look at those and I'm like, wow, those are a lot more complicated than I had mine. You said earlier, simplicity is really important and it's people overcomplicate things. And I'm very much of that mindset of like make it as simple as you possibly can. And so with my briefs, it had all of the basic information on there as far as what the meta title was, meta description, what the slug would be, the headline or the H1. If I had a targeted word count in mind, I'm not a big believer in word counts, but it helps to give writers kind of something to aim for in general. And along with any keywords that I would like to have and see represented as much as possible. I didn't, obviously it wasn't prescriptive of like you have to have these in so many times, but these are the articles that competitors are ranking, or these are the keywords that competitors are ranking for. Try to work these in if they make sense, but of course write for the user no matter what. And then I would also have reference links, so any peer-reviewed research that I could find that was related to the topic, I would include those. You know, a few of them, I didn't want to be too prescriptive and try to lead them down a certain path before they had done the research. But then it was really outlining all the different H2s, H3s, so everything I would declare that. So when I kind of talked about formulas, if it was something like an overview article, it would kind of go into, it really would depend, but it's something about like, what's the overview of the topic, what's the benefits, drawbacks, very simplistic things, and then adding as go along. And that's honestly all I really added into it. I expected the writers to do research on their own as far as what else is ranking in the top 10. I didn't give that to them per se, but I wanted them to look at what other people were doing. And I don't want to copy. I think that's kind of the advice that was given for a while, is like, look at what's ranking and kind of copy that. But I don't want a repeat of what everybody else has. I want to make sure that we're covering the topic and giving users what they're searching for. So look at it, but don't use that as a prescription for the whole article. But the introductions, one thing I really noticed about a lot of articles is that people would kind of write introductions to articles where it's like talking about some personal story or something kind of just random, and then it would lead into the article. And one thing we found a huge success with was whatever the query was, like if there was a question in the title, answer it right in the introduction and then go back into it. You can kind of repeat it later on, but that helped with gaining a ton of featured snippets from directly answering what the query was. And we found that didn't impact how people interacted with the article. Like a lot of people were worried that that would mean they would just bounce immediately. I didn't have that experience. And so it was really important for me to like give all the information up front and then the supplemental information in the rest of the article.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

18:52

I hate introductions because they're always too long.

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

18:57

And nobody cares.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

18:58

No one cares. They wanna get their answer quickly and then you need to sell them on why they should keep reading. And you can often do that in like three to four sentences. And I'll see companies write these like three to four paragraph introductions that don't actually answer the question or the search intent. And it drives me nuts.

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

19:17

Very much on the same wavelength here because that's, I, there's nothing I hate more than that. And it's just a lot of word salad. And then they repeat, they're like, in this article, we're going to tell you XYZ. And it's like, yeah, they're kind of know that already if they're reading the article. So I always kind of found that stuff redundant. So I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only one that feels that way.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

19:37

Yeah. And you mentioned in your outlines, like sourcing and referencing, and I think in any like, regulated space or a space that could have a big impact on someone's life, for example, like your money, your life category, like health or finance, like we do need to be proactive in our sourcing. As far as being in a regulated space goes, because I know Leafwell is in a regulated space is is sourcing like even more important whenever you're making a claim?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

20:07

Yeah, it really is. I don't accept any sourcing that's either not a link to something that's a PubMed or any sort of scientific peer reviewed journal or a first person source like a medical doctor or somebody with actual licensing in the field that can speak authoritatively. I don't want to Joe Blow's cannabis weed blog, whatever it is, we're not gonna link to that because that's a person's opinion. And we really don't wanna perpetuate the whole cannabis stigma or kind of the weed culture, stoner culture thing. That's something that, there's nothing wrong with people being part of that, but we're a medical platform. And we're coming at this from a perspective of people's health is very important and we wanna take it very seriously. So I'm very strict about the types of language we use on our site, but also sources. Even if it's an article, say from Healthline, right? Healthline, they link to authoritative subjects, but we're not linking to their article. We're always going to link to the scientific studies behind it. And we're also lucky that we built a database, and this, I can't take credit for this by any means, but we have a full database of every study that's been done about cannabis, that's been published in a peer-reviewed format. So any science, you know PubMed all those things we have everyone listed. So it's it almost makes it I wouldn't say easier, but we have everything at our fingertips. It's separated by subject and cannabinoids and I can get into all the nerdy cannabis science at this point. But that really helps too because we have all that at our fingertips in addition to all the different journals that are out there. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

The next question I want to ask is on KPIs. I think KPIs are notoriously hard to set for content and SEO teams. One, because like you've described, like there's often a delayed impact. And also too, like there are algorithm updates and changes in the direction in which the wind is blowing. And so I'm going to ask you, like how do you set KPIs for this channel? Or like, what are some of those KPIs like you're tracking to know if it's working or not?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

22:05

It's been an evolution. At first, we were really looking at the KPIs of user acquisition, where it was getting people on the site. We just needed to have more eyeballs on the site so we could hopefully turn them into, educate them and turn them into patients. So at first it was how many keywords were we ranking for? What page views were we getting? How many unique visitors? I would say that's, that was the first year or so. And then as we went from a very early stage startup to kind of building out our different departments, this KPI is focused a lot more on now, like how are we converting these to leads? So basically how are we taking these visitors and getting them to become patients or take advantage of our services? Now that didn't go all the way to conversion. For me, it was specifically, how do we get people once we're on the site to enter their email address to book an appointment, right? So they went from our website to our HIPAA compliant medical platform, and once they entered their information and they went to our medical card platform, that was considered a lead for me. So that's what I'm most focused on right now is how do we get all of these people through the funnel and to get them to convert to at least make an appointment or show that they're interested in becoming a patient with us.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

23:18

You should do a follow-up episode just on conversion rate optimization, but really quickly, maybe, what are one of those one or two learnings you've had so far on like the CRO side of things?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

23:29

So that I think has been the biggest learning experience for me too. Traffic was the simple part, almost, if it was like really understanding how to nurture them through the flow. So it was really looking at the CTAs, or the calls to action that we had on the page, not just having everyone of like, get your medical card, but it was more of how do we tailor this to their specific part in the journey? So is it related to that they need more information? So getting them from that to, here's how our doctors can help you get that information. So really tailoring that messaging, and we're about to introduce a new platform, or new software, Braze, that will help us do that even more intuitively now, but it was very much a manual process. But also to understanding experimentation was really, has really been a huge learning for us as well of constantly be testing. They had to redesign the site right when I joined. And I remember seeing our medical card pages. These are essentially, we call them medical card pages, but they are our state pages, but they are a product page, right? This is how we get people. This is our service page. This is how we get people to convert. And I remember seeing the design and it had literally no content on the page. And I remember going to the CEO and saying, I will die on this hill. We have to put more content on these pages or nobody's going to find it. And so really getting them to understand that content was important on the page. But also we can't just make these pages and let them sit. So it was a huge optimization was how are we testing CTAs, how we're testing the trust signals, simplifying the forms. That really helped us with our optimization of getting these leads to actually convert for us. And so that was, it wasn't necessarily something I didn't intuitively know, but it was something that until we put it into action, I didn't realize how powerful it could be. We had the people, but we just had to convince them and give them the, give them the information in the right way to make them want to become patients with us.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

25:19

Yeah. There's so much to unpack there. I totally agree that like testing CTAs is one of like the highest leverage things, if not the highest leverage thing you can do once you already have traffic coming to your site. At my first company, we have like a full-time dedicated person whose singular job was just testing CTAs across all of our different pages. And I found that a big mistake startups make is they use the exact same CTA across every single page. Whereas for a page high in the funnel, that might be best served by a signup for our email newsletter whereas someone who's very deep into the funnel might want to buy your product or sign up today. And so I'll always tell startups, think about the stage in which that piece of content falls and then tailor the CTA to that stage. And the one other thing I totally agree with you on is going back to old content and like continuing to improve it and refresh it. Do you find like as like a content team, you spend a lot of time going back to the content that's already been published?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

26:21

Yes. And I wish we could even do even more because we are a small team and we built this behemoth library. I remember quite a few months back looking at it and thinking, crap, you know, we have this amazing content, but it's like, it's a living thing to me. It's not just set it and forget it. But with limited bandwidth, I kind of had to split between the two. I think we should be constantly updating content, not only because it's a obvious ranking factor, but because information changes and new research comes out that may further, you know, prove our point that we're trying to make, that we're making in the article, or dispel our point, and we don't want to put inaccurate information out there, especially about cannabis. So I feel that every piece of content should be reviewed and updated at a minimum at every six months. Looking at what new research has come out since then, you know, what's the consensus, and especially with laws as things have rapidly changed within these two years as far as acceptance of cannabis and legal changes we have to even think about that even more because I don't want to have inaccurate information out there and somebody is relying on that to help inform them about if they can grow cannabis for instance or If they can use tele telehealth to get approved for a medical recommendation recommendation. So constantly has to be thinking about that and have that at the top of mind. And I think that goes across all industries. I can't think of one that you would just set content and forget it. It's going to eventually erode your rankings at the very least, but also your authority.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

27:51

Yeah. Like we have a lot of customers in like the developer tools space and like those technologies are changing constantly. And then for any company in like a highly regulated or like a your money, your life category, like finance or health. And I started my career in finance and like we marketed financial products and the rates and the terms and the signup bonuses and all of those things changed every month. So we needed to make sure like at scale across 2000 plus pages, they were accurate. And we spent so much time ensuring that they were. And I think like you said, it is a very positive ranking factor. And I'm not sure if Google, like I think Google has maybe come out and said, like your published date doesn't matter. And like that might be true, but then it also must be like a very direct, like ranking factor from like the SERPs. Like when someone Googles for something and they see like an updated date on your article that's from 2023 to versus an article from 2021, I think someone's going to be a lot more likely to click on your result from 2023 or even last month. And then that would have a really positive impact on like the click-through rate of that page and then the organic search performance of that page. Really quickly, so like in your view, published dates definitely matter. I think they do, but you see the same?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

29:11

Yeah. And I've seen, it's quite funny because I think I'm not sure how to pronounce his last name John He's a search liaison with Google I don't think he's purposely giving information, but I think he's giving information in a way that he understands it But then you talk to other SEOs or in your own experience It's like, you know, I don't know if that's actually reality but I think freshness is a huge factor because just as you said if I'm seeing an article that was published three days ago about a topic versus six months ago or a year ago or five years ago, I'm gonna click on the one that's most recent because I know it'll have the most recent information on it. So if it's not directly a ranking factor, it is just from a user. They're seeing the people clicking on that more so it rewards people with the time on page and just the click-through rates on it. I think that has some sort of influence whether that's direct or indirect.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

30:01

Yeah, that's my experience listening to John, is like he'll be asked a question on if something matters and it might not directly matter, but it might have a very important indirect impact on a ranking factor that does actually matter. So he'll answer the question directly, but then like he's not fully answering the question. And I think it often confuses a lot of people. And that's why we need to talk to other SEOs and like we're doing on this podcast. And my next question is on state-based pages. Like, cause you had mentioned them. Like how important have those pages been to like the Leafwell strategy? Like I saw, for example, there was a blog post on your site about Ohio medical marijuana. Are those pages like fairly effective?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

30:47

Yes, they are. And they're essential in our industry in telehealth. Because cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, it's a very controversial subject, but it's basically considered to be a highly addictive, no medicinal value, which we know is not true, but it's highly regulated at the federal level. That means states are allowed to make their own laws about it. And so every state with a medical program has different laws. And some states allow telehealth, some states don't. So we have to have that individual information for each state. Otherwise, we're not giving our patients or potential patients the information that they need because somebody in Ohio is gonna have very different laws than somebody in Georgia, for instance, or Louisiana. Every state is so different, and it can be kind of maddening at times, just seeing how different every state is. But we wanna give information that's most accurate so they're informed up front. But also it's a very much a focus on our patient success team or our customer support team because they're answering all these questions and we want to be able to answer as many of those up front so they're not having to answer so many on the back end, especially because it's not just getting the medical recommendation. Then they have to go to their state and actually apply for their cards. So it can lead to a lot of confusion if we don't give them as much information up front as we possibly can. It's been essential from a patient education standpoint, but also from an SEO standpoint, because not a lot of our competitors are doing that well at all. So I feel that that's one of the ways we set ourselves apart.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

32:20

It sounds like content is at Leafwell like a very cross-functional channel or has like a very cross-functional use case. So it sounds like on one end of the things you might be acquiring new customers with content, but then also that content can serve a secondary purpose in like further educating users as they are actually going through their journey to ultimately become like a patient or to get access. Does that sound right?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

32:45

Yes, because our patient success team is amazing, but we want to make sure that we are giving people everything that they need. And we recently, from our patient success team, I just was able to bring on or kind of promote somebody into a role where she is just helping us with any content that's related to like law changes or process changes. And so she has been a key, you know, helping function across departments where we have the most accurate information because she knows it in and out much more in depth than I do. So that way we are giving the most accurate information. And so she's been an essential bridge for us to make sure that we are doing the best with that content.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

33:24

As far as algorithm updates go, because I know there was just like a core algorithm update here in August. And from the looks of it, it looks like it was a positive one for LeafWell. What have you noticed so far? And then maybe more broadly, like what do you do after an algorithm change? Or what do you do after an algorithm change that has a really positive impact on the site?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

33:44

So I think it's always funny when SEOs talk about like algorithm or there's a core update or any sort of algorithm change and people focus on the negative and it's always that, you know, they lost their traffic. I remember speaking to somebody that was in a, is in cannabis industry, but in a different kind of business. And they're like, oh man, we're having to clean up the mess. And I'm like, yeah, we're fine. It's always really rewarding when you would go through one of these updates and it's like we're come out unscathed or knock on wood, always either consistent or growing. I wish I had some sort of understanding of why we are, but what that tells me is that we're producing the right content, we're serving the people that we need to serve. And we're not trying to do any sort of gray or black hat techniques. That may be the longer play of doing things the right way and building the right content and getting the right backlinks and it's served us well. And so I've seen definite websites within our companies in our industry where huge peaks and then giant valleys. And we've never had that, save for a couple of times when we've had some challenges. But to me, it's like business as usual. We're going to keep doing what we know is the right thing. And I think that's really the key.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

34:55

You mentioned backlinks. How important are backlinks in 2023? And is that something you spend time thinking about?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

35:02

I think they're more essential now than ever. I think it honestly comes down to content and backlinks, more or less, but not just any backlinks. I mean, we all get those emails every day that are like, I can sell you every link on this list that you want to buy. Yeah, I can get those all day. But it's really looking at the authoritative publications within the industry that are within the niches that you want to, or niche, however you want to say it. I'm really focused on the high level backlinks. That's getting the New York Times as the health lines of the world. Things of that nature where there's an authoritative high domain rating. We can argue about whether that's important or not, but they're viewed as high authority publications. And I'd get those all day versus just a link on a blog, because I can buy links all day, but I can't get these high authoritative ones through any other means. So it's not traditionally a thought about just building backlinks, but more about how can we think about digital PR? So like, how are we creating news? A real big push for us now is using our original data to help create stories that people want to naturally link to. We do that some on our own. We've been utilizing an agency, Search Intelligence out of the UK to help us build some of that data back stuff and do the actual pitching for us. And we've seen a ton of success with that. But that's how I'd rather view back linking is more of a PR effort versus just getting a link and paying for it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

36:26

Yeah, data-driven content for our listeners is by far the most scalable way to build backlinks. This was something at my first company that we did on like a bi-weekly basis. We would publish like a new survey or report or we would license data or we would find free data online. It's really amazing like how much free data there is online that if you can tell like an interesting story around, actually makes for a great story. And it's the most scalable. You can hit home runs where you'll get like 100 plus links, but often like you can really consistently hit singles or doubles and get you know, 10 to 20 links per piece versus trying to like piece together like eight guest posts. 

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

37:04

Oh my gosh, I, guest post, I don't, oh my gosh, such a, that's so much work involved in something that may or may not have any impact. So totally agree there. One campaign we did, we had like 60 links out of it. And there's some that's just a handful, but I take five over 75, 100 low quality ones any day of the week.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

37:25

Yeah, and it's also great for building like brand, like you're in the news. So like, yeah, the primary incentive might be like building backlinks for some companies, but you're also putting the brand of the business in all of these like amazing outlets with that data and that story you're telling. And as far as competition, because I know you're in a competitive space, would you say that SEO has gotten more competitive over the last few years?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

37:49

Yes, I think so in a number of ways, because I think companies have gotten smarter about how they're doing it, and I think there's just more competition overall. Specifically within our industry, I think that there's some that do it very well and some that don't do it well at all. And I think that's probably very similar for any industry. I think there are certain companies that are doing SEO well and larger companies have more resources to do it. I think what happens a lot of times in smaller companies is people think they understand SEO, and they might, but they might not have the fundamentals lined up. So it can be kind of hit or miss. I do know that our within our industry, we are beating our competitors hands down, some of the even longer players in the industry, specifically with SEO, they might have more recognition right now in the industry, because they have more longevity than we have. And they are maybe doing some more top of funnel kind of like brand recognition activities within marketing. But I think very few understand SEO very well. And the ones that do, they really double down on it. And that's why they get even more successful because they are able to put the resources into it. You know, I've seen this multiple times where people are like, I want to do SEO to my website. Well, it's like, you can't do that once. And it's not just one activity that you do. It has to be an investment for the long-term. And I think with, you know, budgetary challenges, SEO tends to be one of the first things that are cut. And I think that's a huge mistake. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking) 

As far as like, where we go from here, I've been in the industry for about 10 years. And even back in 2014, people were saying like, SEO is dead. And in 2023, like a lot of people are saying SEO is dead or going to be dead soon. Like what do you make of like Google's new SGE? Like is search going to fundamentally change in like the next six to 12 months?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

39:44

That's hard to say. I think that is funny because I do every six months or every few months you hear people saying, should I get out of SEO because it's dead or SEO is dead because there's new algorithm update. I don't think it's ever going to die per se. Has it changed since 2000, you know, it changed, it's changed dramatically in the last 10 years with, you know, Penguin and Panda updates that knocked a lot of those content firms out of the rankings. That was kind of a fundamental change, right? But I think ultimately, it just evolves to help the user more and more. And that's what Google was originally created for. They're here to help the user. They're not here necessarily to help us. I guess you could argue, they're not here to be something for companies to use SEO to get to the top of search engines. They're trying to help users. And I think with like the AI, SGE, all of those different things that are being introduced, it will change fundamentally kind of some things that we do with SEO, but I think the basics will always be the same. I think it's just how people react to it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

40:43

And I found that like SEOs tend to be like the good ones tend to be like the most adaptable people, always looking to learn and always looking to change with the times. And like I said at the start of this episode, I think SEO has gotten simpler than it was in 2014 because a lot of like the tactics or the levers that you could pull no longer work or no longer exist. And I like, I do think that it's gotten simpler in the sense that like creating awesome content is probably the number one most important thing to do. And I think there's always going to be a place for fantastic content, even if that retrieval engine might change, but we'll see.

Lightning Question Round:

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

41:20

This has been such an awesome episode. And if it's okay with you, I would love to ask you like five or six rapid fire questions. Does that sound good?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

41:27

Absolutely.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

41:28

And I come up with these as I go. So we've got a couple of interesting ones. The first one is on AI content. Is it something that like we should be using? Should we be using content from ChatGPT as part of our strategy?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

41:42

Not out of the box. Now, I would be lying to you if I said that I never used AI content. I'm not gonna say to what extent. We definitely don't use that as the norm on lethal.com, but I love everything about AI and ChatGPT and the potential it has to help speed things up and streamline processes. You can never just say, write me an article on what is medical marijuana and then publish it right from there. But if you give it the right prompts and you give it the right tooling and using it with a human fact-checking and a human editor that's helping to massage it a little bit, you can produce some pretty amazing content from ChatGPT. And so I know writers are going to hate me for saying that, but it's true. And I've seen the results myself, but it's all the inputs you give it It's not necessarily it's going to just do it for you because I think that if you could just say ChatGPT write me this Article and I can publish it as is that would be pretty scary But you have to know what you're putting in to get the right stuff out of it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

42:41

My fiance is a huge Kim Kardashian fan, and I'm very curious What story did you break on Kim Kardashian on Yahoo?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

42:50

Their plan definitely didn't work, but the story that I broke was this random press release I got one day where they were trying to formulate a boycott. It was right after, this is gonna kind of date me and show how old I am, but it was right after she had married her second husband, I believe, and they were divorcing after 72 days, and there was this huge outcry about it, and they wanted to organize this boycott. Nobody had written about it before before me. And so it broke the story. And it got so many page views after that. It was insane. Literally insane.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

A lot of SEOs have like a number one keyword. I know there are many keywords we care about, but is there like a number one keyword in your book?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

43:26

No, I don't think I've ever thought about that before. Anything that I can easily rank for, I suppose. Does that answer the question? 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, no, totally. Working with freelancers. Is it best to pay them like a flat rate for a piece of content, an hourly rate, or even by the word? What's the best approach to working with a freelancer? 

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

Hands down, flat rate, because it can set them up for... They know up front how much they are going to be paid, and it also helps from a client side because you know exactly what you're going to be paid. They're not writing more than you had budgeted for. From a writer's side, I always preferred flat rate because there was no questions about it. An hourly rate, no, I don't wanna do that at all because if somebody writes really fast, they can actually end up earning more per hour, technically, with a flat rate than they could. If you're a fast writer, it's gonna punish you for being a fast writer if you're writing by hour. So flat rate all day.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

44:24

Trust signals, what are they and how do you quickly deliver them to a person who's never been to your site but has just arrived?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

Trust signals, the biggest one are reviews are on platforms that they know that they cannot be modified. So you think in Google, my business, Trustpilot, any reputable platform where people are reflecting their real experiences of the company. That's huge. I know I always look at reviews as a customer myself and that's a big, you know, and I wanna see balanced reviews. I wanna see, I don't wanna see all five star. I wanna see, you know, four stars, three stars, even one stars are important. So I never try to hide any of that cause we wanna show balanced, but also, you know, are they being mentioned in the press? Trust signals are also, do you have social platforms that are active because those show that you're not just a fly-by-night website? So I think those all play into it to varying degrees.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

45:13

This has been such a fantastic episode. Thank you so much for coming on. At a minimum, you're going to get a backlink from us in the show notes today, and we will link to your LinkedIn as well. But is there anything else you'd like to say to our listeners?

Meagan Morris (Speaking)

Just keep it simple. Honestly, it's all about creating good content and answer what the readers want to know with your content. And you are 95% of the way there and much further than most people are.

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45:46

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More Ways to Listen

Optimize Episode 018: Meagan Morris on Scaling Leafwell to 2 Million Visitors Per Year and Building Trust In A Regulated Industry

Oct 4, 2023

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Meagan Morris for the eighteenth episode of the Optimize podcast. Meagan is the Director of Content and SEO for Leafwell. Meagan has worn many hats in the digital world, from Yahoo! and Metro US to Hearst Magazines and Hurrdat.

This episode covers a variety of topics important to developing a content channel that is resilient to algorithm updates, establishing trust with your audience, and developing site authority organically. In this episode Meagan and Nate discuss Leafwell’s journey from o to over 2 Million visitors per year, dissecting the strategy, tips, and insights Meagan has learned over the last two years.

Meagan also shares her process for creating content briefs that enable freelancers to deliver fantastic content every time. Rounding out the episode, Meagan and Nate get tactical with link-building campaigns utilizing link bait and PR. Closing out the episode is our popular lightning round of questions!

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Head of Growth at Definite

The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

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CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev
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