One on One with Alex Tachalova - Digital Olympus & the Role of Women in SEO/Digital Marketing
January 31, 2017 |
The Digital Olympus online conference
gears up for its fourth installment on February 6th. This up and coming free conference series is masterminded by none other than digital marketer and frequent industry speaker, Alex Tachalova. In a one on one interview, Alex outlines how the Digital Olympus conference series has evolved and how it offers unique added value for those seeking to broaden their industry know-how. She'll also discuss the importance of gender equality within the SEO and digital marketing industry, as the latest conference is headlined solely by women in what has been dubbed as the "Female Edition" of the conference.
How did ‘Digital Olympus’ get started? Where did the idea come from?
To be honest, I had been involved in various conferences, and I am a huge fan of BrightonSEO, which is not surprisingly in Brighton. I love their idea of bringing together great people and sharing great content free of charge. The problem with BrightonSEO is that they of course have limited capacity. Also, people from different countries have various limitations, making it a bit complicated to coordinate everything and come to Brighton. As a result of these two factors, not all people can be involved in the conference.
I was inspired by the idea of sharing great content without restrictions, and that's why I decided to do something similar to BrightonSEO, but online. The idea behind Digital Olympus is to give people relevant content, high quality content, for free, that is accessible by each and every person.
I understand now why you created the format, but why should an SEO or digital marketer tune into the conference other than the format itself? In other words, what do you hope they walk away with from Digital Olympus?
I've been working for quite a long time in the digital marketing industry, but still I was a newbie when it came to organizing events. We definitely faced a lot of problems at the onset. First of all, the problem with having a decent level of user engagement, especially when it comes to online events, is that right now the digital marketing space is overcrowded with content, and for sure with webinars as well. An online event such as Digital Olympus would also be classified as a webinar, making it hard to market the conference. We do have a couple of ideas however that should help us build a competitive edge and help us to overcome this issue.
Another difficulty we've faced so far is the quality of the content that our speakers present. We've started to implement various strategies that help our presenters gear their content to what the audience is interested in. (As an aside, so far I feel that we are doing pretty well with having great minds and top notch experts join us.) Attendees are mostly interested in real how-tos and actionable tips that they can use in their daily working process.
That's why we decided to run our next edition in a different format. We are going to have one tip from one expert, a really short one, not more than ten minutes maximum. This is all part of an effort to ensure that the tips and content our speakers present are really and truly actionable. The plan is to supplement these 'expert tips' with a moderated discussion based on questions from our listeners. So, we are going to collect questions from Twitter and from Inbound, from various sources, in order to make the conference really actionable and engaging.
We are experimenting! We are really striving to make the digital marketing environment a better place by offering each and every person access to content that really solves their problems and teaches them how to deliver their services in the most effective way. We are trying to find the right approach that will allow us to provide that content.
On your last point, this revamping of Digital Olympus, this new approach, is that based on your own analysis? Is that based on feedback you've gotten from previous conferences? How did that come about?
Actually, some time ago, we had a really meaningful conversation on Inbound.org where we asked the community what kind of topics they want to hear. People were mostly interested in presentations that are practical in their orientation. So that's why we are trying to adjust our current content and current ideas, in accordance with this information.
At the same time, we also asked for feedback from our listeners as well. We actually ran a survey that allowed us to understand the level of satisfaction experienced by our attendees thus far, which can tell you a lot. The combination of all those different channels provided us with this understanding.
Universally speaking, do you think these sort of conferences or webinars can have the impact you mentioned? How is it that someone can come in, listen to a webinar, go to a conference, and in one or two sessions walk away with what you want them to walk away with?
As I've already mentioned, we are not going to have 30 minute speeches like we had in our previous editions. Listening attentively for 30 minutes, even when you're at an offline event is difficult enough. When it comes to an online conference, maintaining that focus is that much more difficult. Because we have a lot of tasks that we process simultaneously while engaged in a webinar, it's really hard to keep a listener's attention. Top-notch speakers know how to implement hooks and triggers, but online events don't allow you to establish that emotional connection with an audience. It's hard to truly see how your audience is reacting to your speech.
With this appreciation, I've noticed that roundtable discussions, where experts can engage attendees in a really interesting conversation, seem to be the most conducive format for procuring engagement, both for offline and online events. I think that the most interesting things happen when you are having a really interesting conversation between experts, when they share their opinions. This is what we want to start implementing with Digital Olympus.
I noticed on your website, that the next edition of the conference is a 'Female Edition', could you elaborate on what that means?
Definitely. It's something that I had been dreaming about for quite some time, since I've joined the digital marketing community. Well, we have a lot of female speakers in our digital marketing community, especially in Europe. However, if you go and look at the speakers listed at European events, you'll see only a couple of female speakers on the program. It's not the same in the US, but I think the inequality, perhaps to a lesser extent, exists there as well. That is, we haven't overcome the issue at this point.
The main idea behind the female edition of Digital Olympus is to showcase, to the digital marketing industry (and event organizers as well), just how many great digital marketing female speakers we have. Their content is relevant, their level of expertise is incredibly high, etc. Basically the idea was to attract people to the conference itself by providing access to some incredible talent, while at the same time promoting those ladies [who will be speaking at the conference].
Personally, I know how it's hard to become visible in the digital marketing industry. And for sure, especially if you're a woman!
This is a personal issue for you then?
It's also personal, definitely. Everything is personal, even business should be 100% connected to and in line with your personal interests. In general, I'm certain that we do our jobs much better when it's connected with our personal interests. It's much easier to bring value to your work when you're truly inspired to do what you do.
Of course the issue of women's equality however, hits close to home in a unique way.
Is there anything to the timing of this edition of the conference? Is the timing pertinent in any way or did this just develop naturally?
No, more or less it was natural, based on some feedback but mostly based on the availability of the speakers. Because, as you can see, we have a lot of well-known speakers and we had been coordinating the event's date with them. We're a free event, which is why we try to be as flexible as possible, understanding that our speakers have other revenue generating projects that they are involved in. So the timing of the 'Female Edition' of Digital Olympus just sort of worked out for everyone involved, for the most part.
While we're on this topic then, do you feel that the SEO and digital marketing world sort of lags behind including the voices of women more than other industries, or is this part of a general and larger inequality?
Well, it's hard for me to say, only because I'm not really aware of different industries and how the issue plays out within them. What I can say is what I see for myself. Simply go to Digital Olympus' Twitter account, and look at the ratio of male vs. female followers. More than 60% of our Twitter followers are men, I think that number should be much more balanced. I would venture to say that this trend is pretty consistent across the board.
I would go so far as to say that the general trend, because SEO was initially connected to coding, is that the majority of people who started doing SEO were from the development side [implying they are men], but right now it's really changing because we have a lot of people from the content side, social media as well. So I think the trend may be starting to shift.
I was participating at the Inbound conference in Boston, and I was really surprised and amazed because the majority of listeners there were female attendees. The trends are changing, but it's not in all areas of digital marketing. I would speculate that there are still a lot of conferences, like SMX for instance, especially in Europe, that don't have a diversity of male and female speakers. So there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.
Because this is a personal issue, what would you say to a young woman trying to enter the SEO/digital marketing industry? What advice would you give them?
That's really hard actually! There's no secret recipe at being successful or something like that. I'm not the right person to ask, I'm not so well-known. For instance, I would say definitely, Alyeda [Solis], she has much more to say, what she does... that's amazing! I really love her, not only because of her digital marketing success but also because of her personality. I've had the pleasure of working with Alyeda on a couple of projects, including Digital Olympus.
But if I had to offer some advice I would say that everything is reachable if you know how to set the right goals, as well as [how] to measure your progress. However, I would say that it's important to be ready to see minimal progress, especially at the onset. In order to become visible in the digital marketing environment, you don't need to necessarily speak at events, you can just write blog posts as well. I think there are two ways of achieving a decent level of visibility. The first way is to speak at events. The second way is to just gradually build your presence by contributing high quality content to well-known sites. By doing this, at some point, you can obtain a good amount of visibility, which would result in the events seeking you out - at some point.
For instance then, take the case of Brian Dean. He is not a familiar case necessarily, but the thing is that he started his own blog and he wasn't really into the idea of speaking at different events. But at some point he has become so popular that events started coming to him. There are a lot of ways of getting into that sort of position. I would also add that it's crucial to be a part of the right community and stay connected to the right people. So I would say, the combination of hard work as well as being connected with the right people will give you the right results.
What impact do you think having the 'Female Edition' of Digital Olympus will have on the industry - either short term or long term, or both?
It's hard to say. Right now we are a small team. For sure we don't have enough resources to promote this event as widely as we would like to. We're going to try to do our best and hopefully, with the help of our speakers, who are really supportive of the conference and I'm really thankful to them, and with the help of Aleyda, we will have a positive impact on the industry.
We want to help improve the knowledge and skill set of our listeners. From this perspective we hope they'll find the content that our speakers will be sharing really useful and actionable.
I want to get to a larger SEO issue in that what do you think the main issues facing the SEO and digital marketing industry are, going into 2017?
I think the main problem here is that we have a lot of different content, a lot of different experts, a lot of different approaches and strategies that we can follow. Part of the problem is justifying what really works. Because from my point of view, the majority of content that I observe, well sometimes it makes sense, but in the majority of cases it's not really useful because the environment is constantly changing.
Also, if you know how to do some particular thing better than others, from which you are generating revenue, are you going to share it? No. So I think the problem here is that there are not really a lot of people interested in developing our industry. We are all interested in promoting our brands. We are all interested in becoming visible. It's only a small minority that are actually interested in sharing something valuable that's going to change the perspective of how you actually approach digital marketing, even in a small way.
So I would say, the problem in our industry is that we don't have a lot of innovation. It's happening, there is innovation, but it's happening informally. There are always going to be some people who are smart enough to discover new approaches, but they are not generally willing to share them.
Is that how you see Digital Olympus, as a solution in terms of allowing the sharing of ideas?
Yes, part of what we are trying to do, besides for offering great content and tips, is to change the overall environment as well. We are trying to attract people like independent consultants, and we hope they will share something really useful. This is part of what is behind our initiative to have real life conversations as part of the format we present to our listeners.
I'll give you the last word, is there anything else you want to share, explain, or otherwise divulge about Digital Olympus?
We're really striving to make our brand, as well as the digital marketing environment, better. Insofar as we are not connected to any kind of sponsors, we have that ability and flexibility to create our own path according to our own vision. Hopefully, we will not be related to any kind of those companies that will financially support us for quite some time in order to build a relevant community around us, to sort of set the tone first.
For me personally, it's a balancing act. Yes, Digital Olympus doesn't generate revenue. At times, that's why it's hard to give it the same priority that I give to my clients, I really try to keep a balance here!
Register for the Next Edition of Digital Olympus
The next edition of Digital Olympus, will be held on Tuesday the 5th of February 2017. Registration
is simple, all you need is your name and email address. Don't forget that the upcoming event is the 'Female Edition' of the conference. So, besides the opportunity to pick up some great tips, you'd be supporting an important cause that we in our industry should rally behind. If anything the timing is perfect, the day after the staunchly testosterone filled Super Bowl Sunday.