From Freelance Writer To In-House Leader: Meet Aja Frost
To work freelance or to go in-house? That is the question.
And the question is trickier now more than ever – especially for content marketers.
According to our State of SEO 2022, freelancing is an increasingly attractive path, with almost 45% of freelance and contract respondents earning salaries above $75,000 per year.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the only viable career path for content marketers.
In fact, the future looks bright for in-house professionals as more businesses are finding ways to integrate SEO into broader marketing efforts.
So, which way do you go at the fork in the road?
Gain new insight from this Q&A-style interview with Aja Frost, who started her marketing career as a freelance writer making a monthly income of roughly $6,000.
Now, she’s the Director of English Growth at HubSpot, where she helped its Sales Blog break an 18-month traffic plateau by employing an “organic-first” strategy.
Read on as Frost shares her experience of becoming an in-house content strategist, go-to SEO techniques, and tips for building a rewarding SEO career.
Becoming An In-House Content Strategist
What has it been like transitioning from an established freelance writer to an in-house content strategist?
Aja Frost: “My transition from freelancing to in-house was six years ago, but I remember it was challenging.
I had to relearn a lot of my instincts – for example, your manager and teammates tend to want more frequent/detailed updates than your clients, who typically only care about the high level. I was far less autonomous than I’d been as a freelancer.
In addition, I had to figure out the dynamics of working inside what, at the time, felt like a big organization (~1,700 people). Now that sounds small, as HubSpot has 7,000+ employees.”
What unexpected skill or experience has helped you as a marketing leader and SEO strategist?
AF: “Active listening and observing is probably my most-used skill.
I spend five to six hours per day in meetings, and being able to interpret how someone is feeling, what they’re saying versus what they’re not saying, if they’re convinced or skeptical, etc., is incredibly valuable.
To facilitate this, I make Zoom full-screen, hide my own box so I can’t get distracted by my face, and turn off all notifications.
If I’m in a larger group, I keep scanning faces, so I’m gauging everyone’s reactions. And I consistently repeat back what I’m hearing so I can challenge my assumptions and make sure I’m interpreting clues correctly.”
Go-To Content Tools & Techniques
What is your favorite feature within the HubSpot platform, and why?
AF: “I’m so excited about the free website builder HubSpot launched a few months ago.
It’s actually a drag-and-drop website builder that’s super easy to use (I’ve built a few test sites for fun), and it offers free web hosting and no cost for connecting a custom domain.”
What trends are you seeing in how AI impact keyword research? How do you take and turn these trends into topic-cluster-driven search strategies?
AF: “AI-driven keyword research is helpful as a foundation.
It’s far faster to use a tool to come up with relevant longer-tail keywords than manually dig through the SERPs or even Ahrefs results.
However, nothing beats an SEO’s intuition and expertise for figuring out which keywords belong together in an article and how those articles should be grouped into clusters.”
How does globalization affect your planning for content strategy?
AF: “Content that has traffic and demand potential in multiple markets will be created in English first and then localized into Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and/or Japanese for our regional blogs.
Our localization team is incredible; for every piece of content they localize, they’re translating not just the words and meaning but matching HubSpot’s style and voice to the target audience.
For example, when localizing an English post to German, the team will replace “greatest,” “best in class,” “incredible,” etc. with “it’s good, and it will help you.”
A lot of content is created in-language (meaning the keyword research is done in Spanish, and the content is created in Spanish). This ensures we answer the questions unique to our target market.”
What’s the most effective SEO technique you’d recommend to someone wanting to improve the results they are getting from organic search?
AF: “Focus on quality over quantity. It’s far more effective to publish one well-written, in-depth piece of content with unique insights and original research than 10 higher-level, derivative pieces.
If you’re not getting the results you should be when you look at your keywords’ target MSV (monthly search volume), slow down and spend (way more) time on each post.”
Helping Women Run The SEO World
Any tips for SEO freelancers who have a tough time selling themselves with no past clients under their belts for reference?
AF: “Create samples for hypothetical clients, ask another freelancer if you can do some free keyword research or content creation for them in exchange for training and your name on a project, and make sure your website looks professional and your own content strategy is impeccable.”
What advice do you have for a woman pursuing a career in SEO? For a woman aspiring to a leadership role in the industry?
AF: “Being a woman in the SEO industry and a female leader in tech is getting a lot easier… but it’s still tough!
My support group has been invaluable for helping me vent when I experience sexism, pushing me to take on new challenges, and brainstorming strategies to get more airtime in meetings, get people to take me seriously, and advocate for myself.
I highly, highly recommend building your network of peers (both inside and outside of your company) to call on.”
What empowers you as a strong female leader?
AF: “I’m empowered by the trust and respect I share with my wonderful (or, for German readers, “good”) colleagues and manager. And, of course, the live version of Beyonce’s Formation.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of Aja Frost