As SEO Manager at Carbonite, Cameron Muir is constantly advocating for the voice of the customer. For our Humans of Marketing series, Cameron spoke to us about his successes, his inspirations, and his biggest piece of advice — “don’t deny the data.”
Christine: I’d love to start at the very beginning, because that’s a very good place to start, and ask you what got you into marketing. How did you get started here?
Cameron: When I was in high school, I had no real concept of exactly where I wanted to go with my education. I thought maybe business. I thought maybe advertising. But it was a very unsolidified, kind of gelatinous idea. When I went to college, I entered in as a Global Communications major and had minors in Marketing, Spanish, Anthropology, and Sociology.
Cameron: Yeah. I wanted to touch upon all of my interests, and I felt like they all sort of complemented each other. I felt like having a Spanish minor made me more marketable. Anthropology and Sociology were always niche interests of mine, but I also felt like they applied to many different areas in terms of understanding how people work. Marketing was because I have always gravitated towards media and commercials and the way that we consume media.
Then I began an internship at a company called Retail Project RI, which was a startup led by a man named Soren Ryherd, and the initiative behind that startup really spoke to me. I’m from Newport, Rhode Island, and Rhode Island is a very small state that also has a very localized economy. During the 2008 downturn, it really suffered.
This startup was designed to create niche brands in areas where there wasn’t an obvious online competitor. They’d create a company around that niche and build up profitable and predictable margins that could then be turned into brick-and-mortar stores to revitalize the Rhode Island economy. It was a very cool initiative. I came on as an intern and then was brought on immediately after graduation as a full-time employee.
I might have been a little bit ambitious in the sense that I graduated May 18th, moved into my apartment May 19th, and started my full-time job May 20th. I had a very rapid-fire initiation into my career, and I was able to try on literally every hat you can imagine. I was doing PR. I was doing wholesale outreach. I was doing product marketing. I was coding. I was doing paid search and SEO. I was doing the actual packaging of products that we were sending out to people. I was literally doing everything that the business needed.
That was where I discovered SEO as a content outlet. I love reading. I love writing. This was a really interesting way to combine my creative side with a productive and comprehensive marketing strategy.
Then I moved on to iProspect, which is an agency that handles organic and paid search, as well as display advertising.. I began in paid search, working with clients like Staples, Microsoft, and other large brands. That was a really exciting opportunity to see the other side of things. I had worked with paid search before, but never with such large budgets.
It was really exciting to see just how the paid space works, how competitive it is, and to see the different types of strategies that people employ to take advantage of every opportunity. But I did feel that there was a mentality out there that the more money you throw at something, the more you’re gonna get back, and that really limited the creative input that the marketers had.
Eventually, that moved me into a role on the SEO team. I worked with Merck pharmaceuticals, I worked with Lilly Pulitzer, and across several other verticals and worked my way up to a specialist role. That was where my love for SEO really began to flourish. Not only am I able to have a creative outlet, I’m able to see how content has the power to promote your product.
I was with iProspect for about two years. From there, I wanted to see what happens when you take a concept from ideation all the way through to deployment and reporting.
I came to Carbonite, where I’m currently the SEO manager. I’ve been here for about three years, and it was an entirely brand-new role when I came on board. I’ve had to build up the entire SEO program. That required educating people about what SEO can do, but it also required me to learn a brand new vertical.
Carbonite specializes in data backup and recovery for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as personal computers. That was a new field for me.
My career path really all started around that idea — that I could have a creative outlet in a way that was interesting, flexible, and very fulfilling, all while being a powerful tool in terms of pushing and promoting our business.
SEO was never my intentional professional direction. It kind of fell into my lap, yet it has been such a safe space for me in terms of comfort and growth. People are now, more than ever, understanding the power of SEO and organic search, and we’re moving away from that “paid is best” mentality, which many businesses still maintain. So it’s been a winding career path, but it has led me to exactly where I want to be, and I have so many amazing opportunities to work with incredible people and do what I love.
Christine: Can you talk to me a little bit more about how you get creative in SEO?
Cameron: It can be challenging, particularly if you’re working with a product that is not terribly sexy. There’s nothing terribly wild and exciting about data backup, but there are situations where it becomes something that people take very seriously.
We’ve had people send in feedback, and I frequently read testimonials and keep track of reviews. People have these amazing stories of being caught in a natural disaster, or a hurricane, or a fire, or a flood, and these people lose information that is either critical to their business or their lives — you know, photo albums of their grandchildren. When you take in the personal elements of what people are protecting and what people are storing on these devices, you can actually make data backup into something extremely personal.
This is certainly all within the context of my current position, but creatively, I think that understanding the service that you’re providing to people and believing it is one of the ways that you can get really creative with your messaging. You can transcend the transactional approach and say, “I am not doing this for your money. I’m doing this for the benefit of you.” That really resonates with people, and that’s where you build up brand loyalty. That’s where you build up brand recognition, and that’s part of the challenge and the reward of being a content creator.
That’s one of the things that inspires and motivates me to be creative, because it’s not just about the money. Businesses are obviously trying to make a profit, but if you go in there as a creative content creator with the idea that this is just transactional, you lose the heart of the product, and you lose the heart of the whole initiative. That’s one of the things that I’ve tried to maintain and hold onto, and it has really led to some of my greatest successes.
Christine: It seems like understanding the people you’re helping and connecting them with solutions is a big driver for you. If you were just getting started, what would you tell your younger self? What piece of advice would you give?
Cameron: My greatest piece of advice for younger me, and for anyone going into pretty much any position within marketing, is: don’t deny the data. I’ve run into this with stakeholders, people far more senior than I, who begin many of their pitches with “I feel,” “I think,” “I believe.” We all have a bias towards our own opinion that often leads us to say, “I know what’s right,” or “I know what’s best.” But so often we’re caught up in our own concept of what’s going on, or we’re so close to the product, we forget that not everyone has the same level of familiarity.
One of the things that I’ve learned, whenever you create a pitch or suggest new content, always have data on your side. Because data gives you insight into who your customer is, what they care about, and what resonates most.
Whenever we have individuals say, “I want to do this because I feel like this is the best approach,” and my data suggests otherwise, it’s up to me to advocate for that data. Younger me would not have done that. Younger me would have said, “Sure, you’re my superior, you know what’s best. You know the product better.” But the data doesn’t lie. So I’ve learned to advocate for that — don’t deny the data. It may be counter to what you believe and what you think, but it’s really important.
Someone came in the other day and brought up a great example, which was JanSport. JanSport was selling a new bag for laptops, and they called it a technology bag. But people had no idea what that meant. Inside the JanSport community, they all knew what that meant, what it referred to. It was basically a laptop case.
So they went to market calling it a technology bag, and it didn’t perform well. And when they tried to explain it to people, they said, “Oh, well, it’s laptop case.” Well, I know what that is.
Because they went into it with an industry knowledge that was so internal, they forgot the customer voice. Keyword data and search volume and all of the key ideas that SEO revolves around could have informed that decision and avoided that kind of issue.
And we’ve done that internally, as well. We went to a conference at one point with a new product that we had launched, and internally here at Carbonite, we were saying, “Oh, everyone will know what we’re talking about.” And we went to this conference. We were talking about it at our booths. We were selling it. It was on all of our promotional media. And everyone there was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And these are people in the industry. These are experts in their field. And they had no idea what we were talking about.
When you bring it down to the level of how people are actually talking about something, then they’re like, “Oh, well, why don’t you just call it that? I totally understand what you’re talking about now.” The data can really help you avoid mishaps like that. Being a voice for the metrics is key to building a successful program and avoiding mistakes can cost your company time, money, and frustration.
Christine: This is something we talk about sometimes — part of an SEO’s role is being the voice of the customer in the room. We have conversations all day within our organizations where we’re speaking a language that would make others ask, “what are they talking about?” It’s hard to shake that internal speak.
I would love to hear more about the ways you discuss SEO in your organization. How do you evangelize the ways SEO data can help other teams?
Cameron: I like to think that SEO has a place in every part of the marketing organization. And that may be my selfish interpretation, but I truly believe that having someone who can advocate for the customer voice, someone who can really be that that grounding force within a room of experts, is essential.
When I came to Carbonite, SEO Manager was a brand new role. We had people who were familiar with SEO, but not experts by any means. They knew keywords were something that we should track, but nobody really knew the ins and outs of how to optimize and promote and develop an SEO strategy. And so my first year of working here at Carbonite was all about evangelizing SEO — speaking with people who had been working here for several years, and not only educating them, but showing them where in their individual processes I could fit and benefit them.
For about a year, most of what I was doing was that education, because people were resistant to the change. That’s something that many organizations struggle with — you bring in something new, you introduce an additional step, and people are hesitant to adopt it. I got down to each person’s level and said, “Let’s get together, look at what you’re working on,” and then I showed them where in the process I should be involved.
Evangelism of SEO really begins with education, telling people how they personally can integrate an SEO mindset, and then giving them the tools to do a lot of it independently. Conductor has been a phenomenal partner for us. I’ve done trainings with people across the different organizations so they can arm themselves with information and we can come up with the best ideas to promote our business. People have really begun to integrate organic search into their creative process.
Before our content team even begins writing, whether it’s a blog post or a new page or piece of social content, they come to me and say, “This is our idea. Is there any traction around this concept? Are people even thinking about this? What kind of words should I utilize? How will this really perform?”
I’m able to provide them with the tools and the resources they need, and they build off of that information. And then they come back, and we review it, and it becomes a more collaborative environment, where people are more comfortable with the concept of SEO.
It’s been fun to educate people, and I continue to do that with new users, interns, anyone who comes into our organization. I try to make sure everyone understands SEO is an essential part of any digital strategy.
Christine: Tell me a little bit about Carbonite specifically. What makes it a special organization to work for?
Cameron: Carbonite has a phenomenal organizational structure that allows us to be cross-functional and collaborative across teams. We all work within silos on the surface, but the great thing about the Carbonite culture and the Carbonite structure is the ability for me to stand up and run over to someone on our paid search team, and say, “Hey, can we quickly huddle up on what keywords you are paying for right now, to make sure that we’re not cannibalizing each other?” Or when we’re trying to develop a new landing page, I can run up to the content team and say, “What are you working on? Can you include me on your drafts? Can we review these together?”
Having such a close-knit relationship with teams cross-functionally allows us to move through projects far quicker and far more efficiently. There’s no hesitation to reach out to those who are personally responsible for something and say, “Hey, can we talk about this? Can we collaborate? Can we work together to make this as successful as possible?” That makes this organization incredibly special.
Christine: I would love to know — what have you worked on at Carbonite that you’re most proud of?
Cameron: We sell products that can be bought online directly from our website, as well as products that need to be customized by speaking to a sales representative. For several months, our marketing leadership wanted to streamline our website for transactional sales. This ties back to that idea that sometimes people think they have the answer, but it’s not really backed by data. Our marketing leadership said, “We want to cut out as much content as possible. We want to streamline the buying process, and we want people to get distracted as little as possible so they get to the website, go to purchase, and buy without any deviation from that buy flow.”
They thought that was the right direction for the business. And that sparked an immediate reply from me, because I know that content is power, and content is visibility. I outlined the risks of removing certain pieces of content — “we’re going to lose visibility here. We’re going to lose rankings here.” But my voice can only be so loud.
So we took the orders that were given, and we reduced the amount of content that was produced. Our homepage essentially became a portal for purchase. We removed informational content, and we removed supplementary pages. People were pretty much left with the option to buy or leave.
A couple of months after this was done, the same marketing leadership returned to me and said, “We’re losing rankings. We’re losing visibility. We’re losing traffic. Why is this happening?” The sense of it was, well, I told you this was going to happen. You’ve removed all content that informs users, that informs search engines, that gives context to our products.
And they said, “Fix it. We need to do it fast.” In a couple of days, I did a complete content audit of our site. I reviewed which keywords had fallen off of page 1, off of page 2, and out of striking distance. I looked for performance gaps, and looked at what our competitors were doing.
I’m not a graphic designer, but I created a complete mock-up and a wireframe of a brand new homepage based off of data around domain authority and page authority. I found through analysis of click-through rates and heat maps that there were massive areas of our homepage that were being completely neglected. There was zero click-through rate. So I went through and I identified the areas of key importance to promote in terms of path-to-purchase. I created informational pages to provide context and information and build consumer confidence to complete the purchase or the trial registration.
Typically, whenever we do a change to a landing page or anything like that, we test it, which is wise. But in this case, our marketing leadership said, “Do it. We love it. Do it.” So I worked with the content team, the product team, and our tech developer, and we were able to get out a brand new homepage in a month and a half.
In the two months it has been since we launched the new homepage design, we saw 108 non-branded keywords return to page 1, most of them ranking in position 1. And 132 keywords have moved into striking distance.
We’ve seen massive increases in traffic. Organic has actually moved into its sixth consecutive quarter of significant growth, significant being anything over 10%. And we’re seeing conversions and traffic moving upward at a significant rate because of these changes.
Of course, I can’t take full credit — it was a collaborative effort. But it was my design, it was my creative concept, it was my pitch, and it all came from an organic perspective. And it really showcased the power that organic has, and SEO has, to capture visibility in the search space.
The page had all of the power and authority to rank highly and perform well. We just hadn’t given it the right material. In adding that to the site, we were giving it back the vitality that it needed. That was an effort that I spearheaded, and the fact that the organization has really benefited from it is something that I am extremely proud of.
Christine: Let me switch gears a little bit and ask — what do you do outside of work that makes you a better marketer?
Cameron: I don’t really consume as much media as I probably should, but I am always paying attention to nuances, whether it be on the train, or while I’m walking. I look at the way that people promote and advertise different things. There’s marketing everywhere, and it’s impossible to avoid.
One of my favorite examples would be the Wendy’s Twitter account. I don’t know if you guys have ever followed them, but it’s a very interesting new way of interacting with the consumer. Before, it used to be all about professionalism – you wanted to come off as an upstanding brand. And now Wendy’s is getting into fights with other brands, and that’s a fascinating development.
When it comes to inspiration, I can find it anywhere. And I’m always trying to think of the different ways I interact with people as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about them. I’m a vocal defender of the consumer voice, so tapping into the way that people are speaking and interacting is a constant inspiration.
Whenever I go over to a friend’s house, it’s always “Alexa, please do this,” or it’s a Siri, or a Google Home. And because I’m a nerd, I think about the way these devices are changing the way people are searching with Google. People are no longer typing in, “Ariana Grande new music,” they’re typing in, “What is Ariana Grande’s new song?” Their search is more of a conversation, and that’s been something that we really have to develop and move with.
Christine: What’s the one song you have on repeat right now?
Cameron: As peppy and as social as I like to be, I do live alone, which is a godsend. My music goes from ’90s music, techno, and europop, to depressing, sit-in-a-corner-and-just-cry. The song that I have on repeat right now is called “Hold Me While You Wait,” by Lewis Capaldi, and it’s about this guy who says, “I’ll wait for you while you date other people, and I’ll just be sad.”
Christine: Do you read or watch or listen to any specific marketing publications or thought leaders?
Cameron: I like to read books and marketing-centric media that present a new point of perspective. There’s a great book called “Golden Arches East,” about McDonald’s. When they moved into Europe, they were able to maintain their menu, but when they moved into the Asian market, they weren’t selling any hamburgers, and they weren’t sure why. They did some deep studies, and it turns out, in many Asian cultures, if a food has bread in it, it’s considered a snack, but if it has meat in it, it’s considered a meal. So consumers didn’t know what to consider a hamburger, because it had meat and bread, and they were considering it as a snack. This meant that they weren’t purchasing it in the same volumes as people who considered it a meal. So McDonald’s had to completely redo their menu to be more localized, and in accordance with the customs and perspectives of the Asian audiences.
That was a fascinating read, because we often go into things thinking that there’s a universal best practice. That’s a great book that explores how brands have to adapt to different environments, different consumers, and different areas of a business.
I love books and podcasts and media that are able to showcase the challenges and the differences that corporations have to go through in order to find success.
Christine: Our final question today is: what’s the weirdest work-appropriate thing you’ve googled?
Cameron: Oh, gosh. So, as someone whose job it is to google things, I’ve looked up some very, very weird things, largely based around what our users are searching for. But what are some of the weirdest things that I’ve googled?
I really love surgery, operations, and the medical field. My mom used to watch “Inside the ER” with me when I was five, which was probably a terrible idea. I was having surgery on one of my knees about a year ago, and I watched the whole process — live surgeries — so I could see how it worked. For some people, that’s vomit-inducing, but I find it fascinating. When I had my surgery, I asked my doctor if they could film it and if I could get pictures of the inside of my leg, which I know is really weird. I’ve watched hip replacements, because my grandma had one, and I wanted to see how it worked.
Christine: What’s a brand new skill that you’re working on, or looking forward to learning about, this year?
Cameron: There are always new things to be learning, and SEO is constantly changing. I love to continue to refine, continue to learn, and I like to get deeper into the coding itself. I have a very strong technical background, and can provide sample code for canonical tags or ahrefs or schema markup, but I’m certainly not a coder. I’ve been taking some online classes in my spare time, and I’m trying to be a more comprehensive and aware technical marketer.
I have someone who literally sits right next to me who is able to implement the coding that I suggest. I have that direct line, but not everybody has that. If you have the ability to do it yourself, it’s really beneficial.