In this podcast episode, we interview Emma Valentiner, Director of Strategic Content at CanIRank, an SEO software platform that uses AI to provide specific action recommendations.

Emma shares how the platform supports B2B marketers with improving SEO, why it’s so important to layer SEO into other marketing activities, and why small search volumes in B2B can drive valuable and qualified leads.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Emma Valentiner – CanIRank

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Emma Valentiner

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing b2b Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today. Welcome to marketing b2b technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Emma Valentiner. Emma is the director of strategic content for CanIRank. Welcome to the podcast. Emma.

Emma: Thank you very happy to be here.

Mike: Awesome. Well, great to have you to join us and tell us how we can all rank on Google. But before we get there, you know, I’m really interested, can you give us a little bit of background about your career and how you’ve ended up with a career in SEO?

Emma: Yeah, so, I think probably like a lot of folks in marketing, it’s been a bit of a winding path, I started working in advertising and marketing in around 2004. So been hanging out for a while, I was doing copywriting. And eventually, that took me into working in marketing and startups, that took me into working for a very large corporation doing product content, and from and I was not an SEO at the time, so writing a lot of blog content and a lot of sales type content, but with no understanding of kind of where that fit into the ecosystem of SEO. Um, and then after I left that, I ended up interviewing with Kanye rank and getting this opportunity to learn kind of SEO from the ground up, they have a really great training programme for new employees coming on, you kind of learn about all the different areas of SEO, and it just was a perfect fit for everything that I was interested in and the things that I had done previously. And getting to kind of use that in a way that really helps clients get visibility.

Mike: Sounds great. But then you left and then came back to CanIRank. So tell us a little bit about what happened there and what you learnt in your little holiday from the company.

Emma: Yeah, so I was offered an opportunity to work with a startup that was based in San Diego, and they were doing some really interesting technology around AI. So kind of identifying your ideal customers using this really interesting AI software. So I was an in house SEO for them for about 10 months. And they did a bit of restructuring. And so I was, you know, on the market, again, looking for another opportunity and got in touch with a Kanye rank, folks. And it was just a perfect fit for what they needed at the time and what I thought I could bring to the table. So it was an interesting experience to go from working on the agency side of managing multiple clients and putting together different types of campaigns to doing kind of that in house work. And I think it helps me get a much better understanding of like the b2b challenges for SEO because it is a whole different animal. So I think I can come into my work with Ken, I rank clients with a lot more perspective on those specific challenges for b2b.

Mike: That’s fascinating. I mean, is there? Is there something you pick out that you see, agencies or technology suppliers not doing that really would help clients?

Emma: Oh, probably a few things. Um, one big thing that I think a lot of companies struggle with is, you know, b2b, the search volumes around b2b, the the, I’m talking specifically the keywords that matter to your business that are going to drive conversions. They’re tiny. So I, you know, I’m a huge fan of SEO, I think it’s a really important piece of a marketing campaign. But as a b2b, you have to kind of layer that in with the other aspects that you’re doing. And I think a lot of companies see those small search volumes, not realising the cost per click is massive. So they’re really great for conversions, but they’re like, well, it’s only got 50 searches a month, or 70 searches a month, that doesn’t seem worth our time. But it can actually drive really valuable and qualified traffic.

Mike: That’s a great point. I think, you know, from my point of view, the other thing that a lot of people forget in b2b is you don’t need huge numbers. If you look at Napier, we get you know, several 1000, over 5000 visitors a month to our website, we can only deal with about two new clients a month. So we actually care about a very small proportion of the traffic. Is that sort of typical, do you think with b2b Or do you think people just go for the big numbers? Because it sounds good.

Emma: I think that’s a problem kind of industry wide in terms of SEO. It’s a lot of focus on kind of those marquee keywords like oh, this has 40,000 searches a month. Yeah, but how many relevant people are going to come to your website from those 40,000 Because they’re so broad, typically those kinds of keywords that you’re getting a lot of traffic that actually doesn’t have value for you. And I think that kind of skews your data into terms of what people are looking at on your site, what they’re engaging with. And I think those smaller, more qualified, you know, visitors are going to tell you a lot more about who your target audience is and how to best speak to them.

Mike: Definitely. And actually, our websites are, you know, a case in point in that a lot of our traffic goes to a SMART goal generator that writes goals in smart, you know, the smart format. And it’s like, I can tell you, virtually none of those people are ever going to be clients of Napier. And most of them are students trying to pass their their various courses. But yeah, chasing volume doesn’t make a lot of sense in SEO,

Emma: You are doing good things for students and their goals. So there is a win there.

Mike: Yeah, actually, the truth is, I used to do some guest lecturing, part time lecturing, and actually produced it for the students because I got so tired of them not being able to write smart format for goals. Anyway, I think back back to your career and back to Can I rank so i You’re back at Can I rank? And now I’m going to ask you the question. Aren’t there enough SEO tools in the world? Why do we need another one,

Emma: I am a huge fan of can I rank all I’ll put that out, I use it every day. It is filled with data. So it can feel really overwhelming when you’re getting used to it. Because there’s so much to look at. And I think that’s in general true of marketing, there’s a gazillion things that you can do to get your company’s name out there and to connect with your people, or your future people. So it’s one of the things I really enjoy about can I rank, they have an opportunities feed, that tells you really quickly, I have one content piece that I can do this week, what’s it going to be and I can look at opportunities, feed and filter through opportunities that the machine has created for me, here’s a keyword that your competitor is targeting that you don’t have any content on. So you know, optimizations are also in there as well. And I’m also a big fan of that as a tactic. So I like it, because it gives me the information that I need. And I can run with it. I think a lot of SEO tools aren’t quite as good as that like actionable steps, piece of the puzzle. I also frequently use sem rush a lot for the visuals, I love to share their their kind of the keyword graphs. And when I’m reporting with clients, I think it’s really easy to understand and see really quickly where you’re at with a campaign Moz. Of course, I use Moz. Local a lot to see kind of where brick and mortars are struggling with their internet presence. So I mean, every there are a tonne of SEO tools out there. And they all do certain things really, really well. And there are certain pieces of data that maybe I’m not getting from them.

Mike: Now, you said something really interesting about can I rank because most of the SEO tools have got complex dashboards and things. And you talked about an opportunities feed. What do you mean by that? What does that look like in practice.

Emma: So when you first sign up with CanIRank you enter your website. It also works for agencies. So you could be managing multiple sites. And you’ll put in your homepage URL, you’ll put in your seed keyword that you’re going for probably some competitors. So once the software once that’s in there, the software kind of goes and pulls all of the companies that are ranking in that general domain. So if I’m selling a software, it’s going to go and pull from my competitors sites and see what keywords they’re ranking for. It’s going to pull from the the number one rank or the page, one rankers right now and see what they’re ranking for. And it’s going to score my site based on that information. So it will tell me, okay, compared to competitors, right now, this is your strength and content, this is your strength than con optimizations. This is how you rank in authority. And here’s how you’re doing and social. So I can tell really quickly, okay, so I’m, I haven’t about the same amount of content as my competitors do. But man, they’ve got a tonne of backlinks, their authority is really high. And I need to focus there. So all of that information is kind of crunched behind the scenes using algorithms I do not understand. But they’re magic. And it comes up with this opportunities feed. So you can filter that feed by content opportunities, promotions, opportunities, optimizations opportunities, and that’ll just really quickly say, Hey, here’s a great idea for a piece of content, it’s going to take you roughly this amount of time and this is the keyword target that you want to aim for. And then it will tell you what the value of that is if you write this piece, you have the ability to attract X amount of people to your website a year and drive X amount of traffic value. So super easy to use, especially if you don’t have a lot of time.

Mike: Okay, so you talked about three different opportunities. So content presumably is isn’t new page, so a new blog post or something? And then can you just talk through the the other two optimization I think there’s one other.

Emma: Optimizations and then promotions opportunities, so the optimizations people It will look at your existing rankings and give you ideas for where you can improve them. So you’ve got a page that’s ranking on page two or page three. And with a few tweaks, you can get it over to page one. And so then it will tell you exactly what you need to do add these related terms, use your keyword, this amount of times have this much content on your page, maybe answer these frequently asked questions. So it’s really robust in terms of the exact things they’re telling you to do, it’s not going to be broad, like, you know, use your keyword one time, and maybe use, you know, two or three of these related terms, like it’s very specific, you can see in the reporting down to how many times your competitors are using any given related term. So that’s really helpful. It gives you the keyword density, like, like I said, it’s a lot of data. So it has that in there, it has like high potential pages. So it might be a keyword that’s crazy valuable for you, it’s really relevant to your your brand, but you don’t have a page that’s really focused on that keyword, whereas your competitors do. So that one will, it’ll bump it up and say this is one that you should focus on. So that’s the optimizations piece, there’s a corresponding improve my rankings tool within the software that really helps you kind of dig into that. And then there’s the promotions piece. And this is probably the piece that I am the least familiar with, just because I don’t do a lot of promotions. But we have it connected to like journalists pitches tools. So it’ll say, hey, this journalist writes a lot about laboratory software. And since your client does that, you might want to reach out to them and see if you can get, you know, feature with them. Or, you know, here’s a guest post opportunity that might be a great fit for you. This corresponding tool for that is promote my content. And I think there’s about 20 different strategies that are listed in there that you can pursue. So, especially for promotions, folks, I think it’ll it’ll be really valuable to bubble up some stuff that they might not think of otherwise.

Mike: So it’s amazing. See, you’ve got a tool that from what it sounds like it’s giving you advice based on content you should create or how to drive new backlinks. But it’s specific to that keyword is looking at what competitors do. Is that Is that right?

Emma: Yeah. It’s specific to the keyword like your seed keyword in your industry. I think that’s one of the things that kind of sets can I rank apart from the other tools is that it’s very focused on No, not only like your industry, but your website and how you compare to the other folks that are in your industry and or ranking for the terms that you’re aiming for.

Mike: That’s cool. So, I mean, obviously, you’re working with a lot of companies and presumably talking to a lot of companies who are struggling with SEO, which is why they come to any vendor. I mean, why is it that so many companies struggle so much with SEO? Do you think?

Emma: Well, I think as an industry, we don’t do a great job for ourselves, we can’t, it’s kind of positioned as this dark art, with a lot of verbiage that most people are just like, I don’t have the time to learn another thing. Um, I think when I speak about it with, with new clients with, you know, folks that I work with on my team, I like to position it as like our job as SEOs is to help a search engine do their job better, they want to give their users the very best information for their query. So as much as we can do that provide that best information for the given query, the better we’re going to rank. So like, take all of the like the Voodoo out of it, that at the end of the day, we’re helping a search engine do their job.

Mike: That’s a really cool way of looking at it. And I mean, you hear a lot about the challenge of ranking and the number of people investing in SEO? I mean, is it getting harder to rank?

Emma: Um, I mean, potentially, I think that there’s a lot of a lot more companies are adopting SEO, there’s a lot more jobs for in house SEO is I think a lot more like compared to five years ago, 10 years ago, it is as a marketer, as a digital marketer, you’re expected to know, at least SEO fundamentals when you take on a job. So I think, in that aspect, we have a lot more people with expertise that are that are working for companies and working to get their companies ranking. And also, you know, SEO, it is it’s challenging. Like you’ll change something on a site, you’ll get a page one it’s very exciting, and then your competitor changes something and they take over your space. So it’s like a constant, constant dance.

Mike: And I mean, one of the things also we hear about SEO is the wide range of different ways you can appear on the search results page. I mean, how does Can I rank you know, look at those different opportunities, can it pick out opportunities to appear in different places rather than just the organic list?

Emma: There isn’t right now. So um, for like, if you look at sem rush, they’ve got it broken down by like the additional features So you’ve got like your featured snippet you have or position zero, you’ve got, you know, image links, you’ve got frequently asked questions. And can I rank doesn’t have that yet they have built out like a Frequently Asked Questions module for that improve my rankings, which I think from a content perspective is really helpful. Especially you’re looking at the blank page going, I don’t know how to write about this. And that’s kind of a good jumping point there. I would love to see the addition of those SERP features, because I think it’s, you know, we get so focused on like, I just want to get a page one ranking, which has now become, I just want to get a top three ranking, I just want to get positioned zero ranking. And it’s like, there are so many other opportunities to catch somebody’s attention. And you know, the old school marketing adage, you have to be in front of somebody X amount of times before they really recognise who you are. So I think any time you can get a SERP feature is going to be valuable.

Mike: But of course, I guess once you start talking about those features, it then gets more complex for people who are perhaps less skilled in SEO.

Emma: Yeah, I would say I think one of the best, best tools that’s just out there is using a search engine, like search your your target keyword, search your industry, see what kind of content people are sharing what their page titles look like, what their meta descriptions look like, if you’re wondering how they got position zero, go look at their code, and just get a feel for did they format that in a certain way? Did they say that in a certain way that made Google kind of are a search engine in general, pay attention? And give them that spot?

Mike: That’s, that’s really cool advice. I mean, it sounds, it sounds in a way that you’ve got to replicate, what can I rank doesn’t look at your competitors, rather than try and follow what’s deemed to be common knowledge? I guess?

Emma: Yeah, I think it’s one of those like, kind of fundamental easy things to do that people often forget about. We’re so focused on the data and what the data is telling us. And it was like, you have like, in real time, what a search engine feels is valuable for this query. So why not take advantage of that and see what you can learn from it? Are they looking for transactional pages, informational pages? Is this? Are these all local businesses that are ranking for this query? So there’s a lot of value that you can take from just doing a simple search?

Mike: And when you look at SEO, I mean, who do you see as being responsible? Is it is it responsibility of the SEO team? Is it people generating content? I mean, who do you think should be driving the SEO? Or is it or is it everybody,

Emma: I’m really biased, I work with a really great team. And we’re kind of everybody has their specialty area. I think it works best when everyone is working together. So I think you know, you have your director of marketing, or your director of SEO, that setting the strategy and then you’ve got your technical person making sure the website is working, right? Everything looks good core web, vitals are solid, all that fun stuff. You’ve got your content person that saying, Okay, what content is relevant in this industry that we can create that engages people that are searching for keywords, you’ve got your optimizations person that’s, you know, keeping track of the rankings and looking where those opportunities are? What can we do better here to engage people, and then you’ve got your, you know, either social or promotions, those kinds of folks that everybody is working together. So if I’m, if I’m optimising a page for sample tracking software, I’ve got my content person who’s writing a couple of supporting blog posts on sample tracking. So what what does a lab need to know about sample tracking and 2021? And then I’ve got my promotions person who’s going to make sure that that blog post is shared in relevant LinkedIn groups or, you know, other forums that are out there, maybe reach out to journalists and say, Hey, we’re writing about sample tracking, you might be interested. So I think it works to get much better together when everybody is rowing in the same direction.

Mike: That’s cool. I mean, I think one of the challenges I see particularly with our enterprise clients is everybody wants the same thing. But quite often, because of the sheer size and complexity of the website. You’ve got people who are not SEO professionals, generating content, maybe for blogs and things like that.

Emma: I’ve never seen that.

Mike: What do these people do? I mean, they’re not they’re not SEO experts. How can we do a better job?

Emma: I think talk with your SEO team, especially if you’re building out new pages for your website. I think we’ve we have a tendency to silo ourselves specifically for for in house SEOs. You’ve got your product marketing team, you’ve got your design team, you’ve got probably some you know, corporate marketing that’s wanting to make decisions and like get everybody at the table, including SEO and say okay, so we understand this is the design, we understand copy would really like this to be their h1. And here’s what we’re, what our data is telling us would be valuable here because I think you can have the best design in the world. But if nobody’s visiting your website, doesn’t you know where the value there is going to be hard to sell?

Mike: Yeah, and I think I think that’s a great point is the people who are writing a lot of the content who aren’t the experts, they actually really want people to read it so that they’re desperate for that knowledge. Yeah. So if we go back and talk a little bit about can I rank? I mean, you talked about the different people in, you know, the SEO team? I mean, who is can I rank designed for? Is it designed for, you know, content specialists in the team? Is it designed for people with other roles, or maybe people who are who aren’t perhaps SEO specialists,

Emma: It was initially designed for non SEO specialists. So a lot of like, we have a lot of DIY clients, we have a lot of like, smaller agency clients. Because we’ve all been trained up on it and and understand the data that we’re seeing, like it is a you know, it’s kind of our go to tool for everything that we do, whether whatever department that we’re in, we’re using Kenny rank in some format during the day. But I think it’s especially for folks that are new to SEO or don’t have a lot of time, I think that that’s when that opportunities feed really comes into play in terms of like, here’s what, what the priority is right now.

Mike: Yeah, I love the fact you sit down and the tool says, this is going to give you the best bang for the buck. I think that that’s a great feature of can I rank? So, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about the product. You know, it’s amazing. I mean, I’ve had a look at it, and I think there’s free trials on the website. But is it expensive?

Emma: Um, it’s, I don’t know, the price points offhand. I think there’s three different tiers. Um, I would say compared to some other tools that I use frequently, it’s on the lower end of that, I’m there, like with anything, there is a bit of a learning curve. So I would just let people know there’s a Learning Centre on each tool, that’s super helpful. So do take advantage of that. But I would say, you know, you’ll see some SEO tools that are 100 $150 a month for a single use licence. And that this is not that you can if you’re an agency, you can get your whole team on. And I think it’s I want to say like 200 a month, but I could be wrong.

Mike: Oh, so actually, in terms of cost, per seat, it’s really cheap.

Emma: Yeah. And you share the information. So like, for me, for my clients, we all share the same access to the client data. So because it’s based on a machine learning module, like everything, every keyword search that I do, that goes out to the whole team. So even if I’m not, if I’m working on content strategy, even if I’m not talking with the optimizations person, I can see the keywords that they’re looking at, and the things that they’re tracking and focusing on same with promotion. So it can be really helpful, especially if you’re, if you have a busy team, if you have a team that’s distributed and your time zones don’t quite match up, you still see what’s going on in the client account in real time.

Mike: Awesome. Actually, one thing I love that you’ve only just mentioned, machine learning, it seems like everybody has to mention AI and machine learning when they talk about tools. And and you’ve not done it in the first answer, which is brilliant. I mean, obviously, there’s there’s some AI or learning within the tool in order to work out what’s what’s important. But I mean, it sounds to me, like you kind of hide that and people don’t have to worry about it, it’s just about getting the results,

Emma: We could probably do a better job of messaging it upfront. But yeah, I think my my focus is on SEO can be really challenging and intimidating for folks that are new to it. And they don’t necessarily need to know what’s going on behind the scenes or care to know what’s going on behind the scenes, they want to know how they can get their website to rank and how they can start their organic traffic going. So I think it does a really great job of that kind of demystifying SEO for folks and you know, finding the like the grow my content tools, kind of our keyword research tool, great opportunities to drive organic traffic with like long tails in there. So I think that’s more of the focus on like helping people feel more confident, rather than like, the amazing technology that’s happening behind the scenes that does all this stuff.

Mike: I love that. I mean, the grow my content tool, so that that’s all about understanding your industry and then working out what people are looking for, you know, a company like yours will be searching for.

Emma: Yeah, so that’s, you know, again, if I’m selling software, it’s gonna say, Okay, you’re in this industry. So people are writing about cloud based software, desktop, software apps, you know, all those kinds of different things and it’s gonna bubble up even those longtail terms, so like software suites for laboratory software suites for healthcare, things like that. So it’s just kind of like a good brainstorming tool, but you also happen to get the search volume and the value that you might not get otherwise.

Mike: Amazing. That’s great. So, I mean, looking forward, you know, I’m interested to know, what do you see as the future of SEO? Where do you think the SEO industry is going? What do people need to know to be successful in two years time,

Emma: I would say to be as focused as possible on giving site visitors the best experience. So if you’re writing content for a specific query, be very clear on the information that you’re sharing, there is a time to be clever. And sometimes there is a time to just give them the information. So I would say as much as possible, like increase your page engagement include a lot of internal links to other relevant content, that’s something I think a lot of companies forget is there’s no internal linking. So it’s like, I found this great blog post, and I read it, and now I’m done, because there’s nowhere for me to go. So that’s something I think that that is gonna continue to be important. Um, Google tracks everything, they track your time on page, they track your bounce rate, they track your exit rate. So as much as possible, focus on how you can improve those numbers. So if you’re seeing a high bounce, something’s not your either your page is loading really slowly, or they’re not seeing the information that they expect to see. Or maybe your site design is a little bit old and needs an update. So I think just paying as much attention to the actual user experience, and I in my belief that will bubble up the best content on search engines.

Mike: That’s great. That’s really good advice. And, and in terms of the content itself, um, you talked a little bit about internal linking, making sure that you give someone somewhere to go after they read the blog post or whatever. Is there any other tips that you have for people generating content, that might help them rank a bit higher?

Emma: I would say I’m a big fan of the content spec. So that’s a process that we use for our clients. We’ll spend about 45 minutes before before writing a single word on deciding what that keyword is going to be doing research around that keyword. So, you know, what are the page titles look like? What kinds of pages are showing up in Google what common terms are, so I say related terms. So what terms would come up naturally, if I was speaking about this, as a topic, so I mentioned basketball a lot as my example, if I’m talking about basketball, if I want to rank for that, I’m probably going to mention hoops and net, and B ball and Michael Jordan, and you know, the Boston Celtics, all these things that would naturally come up when I’m talking about the topics. So I think, you know, creating a list that content spec has a list of about 10 to 15 terms that we want to work in. And then making sure that we’ve got really smart headers, so H twos and H threes that are the all the content is really clearly formatted. So it’s easy to read, adding images is really helpful just to kind of keep people engaged and on the page. And just think about your own search experience. When you land on a website, looking for information, and you see, you know, four pages of like 12 point, text, nobody, nobody wants to dig into that you want something that’s like easy to scan and that you feel engaged with. So, you know, consider your own search habits, when you’re doing content for your website.

Mike: That is brilliant advice. I really appreciate that. And we’re obviously coming to the end of the session that I guess, you know, is there anything else we should have covered, or anything else you feel, you know, people should know?

Emma: I would say don’t be intimidated by SEO, there’s a gazillion guides out there that will make it seem really, really challenging. But SEO like there is a tonne of marketing things that you can do. But SEO is really valuable for long term organic traffic. And I know we often call it free. It isn’t that it takes time and investment and resources and strategy to get there. But it will serve you for a very long time. I’ve got clients that i i optimise their page three years ago, it’s still driving the majority of their traffic today. So there’s a value there.

Mike: Definitely. And I would say you know, try some of the tools as well. I mean, if you look at Can I rank you know, I you log in, there’s a free trial. And it just says do this and things will be better. I think that’s an amazing tool. It just gives you a list of things that are going to improve performance. So it’s amazing. This has been really good. I really appreciate your time. If people have questions what’s the best way they can reach you?

Emma: I can be reached at

Mike: That’s great. Straight to the email.

Emma: Yeah, I’m terrible with social media. So if you blinked in me, it could be a long time before I get back.

Mike: This is has been an amazing discussion. I think it’s really interesting. And a really challenging subject. I mean, lots of people struggle with SEO, particularly people who are working with it, but maybe not the professionals. So I’m sure they will appreciate it. Thank you very much for being on the podcast.

Emma: Thanks very much for having me. It’s been great.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier b2b dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.