Get to know Keith Koons, Founder & Creative Director of Upstate Synergy

January 31, 2018 | Interview

Keith is a veteran copywriter and digital marketer that has worked on campaigns for several of the world’s most prominent brands. He runs the digital branding firm Upstate Synergy in Spartanburg, South Carolina and has a passion for helping young writers develop their crafts. When he’s not working, he loves adventuring into the great outdoors for white water rafting and mountain biking.

Please introduce yourself and where you work.

My name is Keith Koons, the founder and Creative Director of Upstate Synergy. Our business model is a little different than your average SEO firm since the majority of our clients are larger marketing agencies serving Fortune 500 brands. So while my team rarely gets the recognition they deserve, we get to work on a lot of high profile campaigns and collaborate with some of the best in the business.
As far as where we work, we’ve broken the traditional mold to work remotely from all over the world. Instead of giving standard vacation time, our motto is to head to the beach today and live an awesome work/life balance throughout the year.

How do you think SEO has changed over the last 10 years?

That’s sort of a trick question because SEO hasn’t changed at all- Google has simply become a lot better at identifying quality websites. Their goal from the very beginning was to get the sites with the best possible information into that #1 ranking slot, and we’re now in an era where you can’t bluff the search engines anymore. Quality content, great images, fast loading times and true customer interaction are all major components that can’t be ignored.
The part that has changed the most is how we conceptualize websites. In 2010, we would think about a business’s major keywords as the focus for everything we do. But in 2018, we work that equation backward and ask what really matters to customers- what are they looking for? How can we ensure they have a great experience? Modern SEO is 100% about making people fall in love with a brand.

How did you get introduced to digital marketing, more specifically SEO?

Around the turn of the century, I was a small-town Italian restaurant owner that was watching my customers disappear. Traditional marketing seemed to be less and less effective, so I started looking for a company that could help me build a website and succeed online. Truth be told, I wasted tens of thousands of dollars on companies that were making huge promises and doing everything wrong.
Since I’ve always been a strong copywriter, I turned to sites like Upwork and Indeed to find leading SEO firms that were looking for part-time writers. This was on top of working 60-80 hours a week making pizzas mind you, but I was fascinated by the industry and the future that it held. I eventually sold my restaurant and transitioned to SEO copywriting full time because I was so passionate about it.

What are the services you provide to your clients?

A dozen years later, I’m proud to say that I provide full-service marketing and branding for businesses trying to create an awesome brand online. That includes everything from website design to organic SEO, sales funnels, email marketing, and reputation management. We also do a good bit of copywriting for print campaigns, sales videos, eBooks and everything else marketing.
The part that I take the most pride in is educating my customers so they never feel like I once did. Consulting and education is a huge part of everything we do, so I always try to leave myself a two-hour block each day just for phone calls and giving practical advice. These are often unbilled hours but they’re worth their weight in gold in terms of building strong client relationships.

What strategy according to you will prevail in 2018 for SEO?

Since a large number of consumers are turning to mobile devices these days, it’s essential to get your point across faster than ever before. Anyone can describe a product or service in 500 words, but can you do it in 20 words on the homepage? That’s what customers expect. Content is still king in the SEO world but we’re delivering that content in much more interactive, visual ways. In most cases, your brand lives or dies on that initial tagline that introduces the website.
The technical side of SEO is also super important- from overall loading times to reinventing a site’s navigation so that it aligns with how customers will naturally want to absorb the information. It should feel like a storybook and the homepage is just the table of contents. Only, it has to be the best table of contents ever since it has to generate hype, build interest, capture leads and convince the reader that you’re the real deal.

What would your advice be to people who are looking to take up digital marketing as a career choice?

A career in digital is tough starting out because you have to be able to see the full picture- that’s the customer ultimately making a purchase. If you’re a UI designer then maybe you’ll never write great copy, but it’s essential for you to recognize what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, it’s important to realize that digital marketing is all about metrics. It doesn’t matter what you personally think or feel, always focus on how people are interacting with your website.
Other than that, just keep studying every chance you get and surround yourself with successful marketers. Master the tests at HubSpot Academy, learn basic coding at Code Academy and subscribe to authority blogs that resonate with you. Just use every minute to learn and grow and better understand your customers- that’s the secret to becoming a superstar.

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