We spoke with Kristina Azarenko, the founder of MarketingSyrup, as part of our project to share what SEO specialists do in their day-to-day work.
You can listen to the full interview, the second episode in our new Real-life SEO podcast series, or read on for the key moments below.
“Over the past two years, I’ve dedicated myself to helping e-commerce websites improve their traffic and sales using SEO while at the same time teaching people how to do SEO.”
Based in Toronto Canada, Kristina has been doing SEO for over 10 years now. She is the founder of the boutique SEO consultancy firm, MarketingSyrup, and she is also leading her SEO Academy teaching people SEO the right way.
Stumbling into SEO
Without any formal academic training in SEO, Kristina actually began her professional career as a debt collector and stumbled into the SEO industry by total happenstance.
Kristina: One day, while working as a debt collector at a watch factory, I accidentally came across an SEO course in which I decided to enroll. I spent three of my paychecks to do so, but once I joined the course, there was an instant click: I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I took time off from my job to read everything I could find, to practice, and to learn all the things out there about SEO. About two months later, I applied to an agency and I was hired as a Junior SEO and that’s how my SEO journey began.
Oncrawl: What exactly was it that clicked for you, that made you so interested in SEO?
Kristina: I remember when I was just getting started, I was really fascinated by the technical aspects of SEO, and remember, at that time I was not at all technically minded. I didn’t even know what a website was. But I do remember thinking, wow canonical tags, robots.txt, sitemap xml, it’s all so interesting! I was so fascinated by it all and I was eager to learn how they work together. I quickly realized that I would never want to go back to a ‘normal’ type of job; I knew I wanted to pursue a career in SEO.
Big moves: from Belarus to Canada and from in-house to agency
Oncrawl: When you started working, you were doing in-house SEO, you worked in an agency and then you launched your own SEO consulting firm. What prompted you to make that move and how did you go about it?
Kristina: Before quitting my job in 2019 and starting my own agency, I worked both in-house and in agencies and I think it was really great to be able to get some experience from different ends of the SEO industry. Working at an agency has one set of challenges while working in-house has another set of challenges, so you learn a lot.
When I moved to Canada, I was already well-versed in SEO, but I wasn’t sure whether they do SEO differently here. I worked for one year at an agency and during that time I met a lot of people and I learned so much, so I decided I was ready to start something of my own.
In retrospect, I wouldn’t say I was as ready as I needed to be; I had a lot more to learn. But I wanted more freedom and more control over who I took on as a client. Additionally, I wanted to create my course and it wasn’t possible while I was working at the agency because the work was so intense and draining. So, I went ahead and quit and I figured that if it didn’t work out, then I could always get my job back. Thankfully, it worked out!
Oncrawl: So why Canada and why MarketingSyrup?
Kristina: Why Canada? It’s interesting, it actually stems from my childhood dreams. I don’t know where the idea actually came from, but from an early age I was convinced I was going to move to an English-speaking country. I really loved the English language and ultimately just decided to take the leap after hearing about my former boss’ experience moving here.
I had learned a lot from him about Canada and about the moving process: Canada has an amazing immigration program, so that facilitated my decision.
As for the name of my company, when I named it MarketingSyrup, there wasn’t a lot of brainstorming that went into it. Actually my initial website started as just my blog, where I would write and share my thoughts and my SEO processes. We’re in Canada, so the jump from maple syrup to MarketingSyrup wasn’t a big one and it works!
When I quit my job in 2019, I already had the domain name registered, so it only made sense to name my company the same thing.
Working with the e-commerce industry
Over the course of ten years, Kristina has developed her technical SEO expertise and mostly works with e-commerce type websites such as online stores, marketplaces and dealerships.
“I’ve worked with B2Bs and various other types of sites, but at the end of the day, I realized that e-commerce and technical SEO are the things that I’m really passionate about.”
Oncrawl: What interests you so much about e-commerce? Why e-commerce and not another type of industry?
Kristina: First of all, I enjoy e-commerce because it’s much easier to see the cause and effect of your actions.
For example, if you’re working B2B and you’re looking at Google Analytics or some other tracking system, it’s harder to definitively track your leads and determine if and when they converted. Overall, it’s a longer cycle. However, in e-commerce, such information is available much, much faster; it’s easier to see which clicks lead to what amount of money earned.
Secondly, e-commerce type websites present specific technical SEO challenges like dynamic stock or faceted navigation. It’s great to be able to create different types of content for B2Bs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would have a ‘playground’ to do any serious technical SEO work.
The day-to-day at MarketingSyrup
Oncrawl: Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day work consists of?
Kristina: I don’t have a specific to-do list or set of tasks that I aim to accomplish every single day. As my business and my mindset shift, my day-to-day work as an SEO shifts.
For example, if we were looking at my life and work one year ago, I had sales calls almost every day, I would take care of some client work and I was also doing SEO consultations. On top of all that, I was really active on Twitter and LinkedIn.
But currently, things are a little bit different because I’m shifting more from client work and to focus more on my MarketingSyrup Academy. I’m taking on a smaller number of clients and focusing more on maintaining and promoting my current course while also creating a new one.
[Ebook] Data SEO: The Next Big Adventure
The SEO Challenge and Tech SEO Pro
Oncrawl: Can you tell us about the SEO Challenge Course that you created? What prompted you to do that and what was the process of creating it?
Kristina: Well, I’m a teacher by education and on some level, that’s something that I still naturally lean to, teaching people. Even with my first job as a Junior SEO, within the first six months, I realized that I was really passionate about the industry so I learned a lot and in turn started helping others by teaching a few training modules.
Even when I came to Canada, I was the first SEO in my company and as soon as there were new SEOs, I would train them too. At that point, I realized that I wanted to have a centralized source for training so I didn’t have to do everything on a one-to-one basis. I wanted to provide something that was accessible all the time and that’s where the inspiration to create my own course came from.
In terms of the production process, people will usually spend months creating a course because you can’t sell something you don’t have. Luckily, at that point, I had started learning about creating courses and I quickly learned that you don’t just spend a year creating a course and then try to sell it. What happens if nobody wants to buy it? Then you will have wasted your time.
So I basically created a sales page that presented the overall idea as well as the structure and course curriculum. The only thing I didn’t have was the actual content. I was nervous about it and definitely felt a bit like an imposter, but a lot of people began to show interest and from there I began producing the content.
I think it’s amazing and I’m really proud of what I was able to do because I can help people fill in their knowledge gaps and help them to feel more confident about their SEO knowledge. When you are self-taught, as most SEOs are, my course can provide a stepping stone in your SEO career.
Oncrawl: You are also working on another course focused more on technical SEO? Can you tell us a little more about it?
Kristina: When I created my first course, it initially centered around technical SEO, but I realized there were so many other things that I could potentially include. I didn’t, however, want to overload people with too much information.
Therefore, the way I decided to restructure things is that the existing course, the SEO Challenge Course, is for a beginner/intermediate level and my new course – Tech SEO Pro – will cover technical SEO in greater detail.
I had my curriculum in mind for a long time, but I also questioned people to get a better idea of exactly what they wanted to learn. I also analyzed technical SEO job postings and looked at what people were discussing in the SEO forums to make sure the course was well rounded.
Basically, the current course is a stepping stone and the next course is targeted towards more advanced SEOs.
Launching a business pre-pandemic
Oncrawl: When you started in 2019, you could not have known that the pandemic was coming. Did that have any effect on your business or on how you do business?
Kristina: I think the pandemic has changed us forever. As I mentioned before, when I quit my job, I thought I was ready to do it alone. This actually happens a lot when people are really good at their craft; they think that they can easily start a business on their own, but they quickly realize that they also need some business skills. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
When I say business skills, I mean you need to be able to sell what you’re good at. It’s not enough to just be good at what you’re doing, you need to be able to show that you are going to help the company and help your potential clients.
So during the pandemic, I was able to use that time to start learning. I learned literally everything that I could and talked to as many people that I used to work with as I could to learn how to sell, how to track clients, and anything else I could think of.
The first couple months of the confinement were tough for business as everyone was panicking and no one really knew what was going to happen. But fortunately, things started to pick up a little bit and I got back to having a lot of work. Additionally, I was simultaneously working on my courses, so I had a back up plan.
Continuing to grow and learn in the SEO community
Oncrawl: Even after 10 years working in SEO, are you still learning, still finding new things in which to be interested?
Kristina: Of course! There’s always something to learn in this industry because things are constantly changing. For example, when I was getting started, SEO was essentially just some content about technical SEO and links, that’s it. Basically, every SEO would be the all-in-one SEO who would have to manage everything.
Now, there are so many specializations, some of which I don’t know much about, like local SEO for example. Personally, I don’t do local SEO, but there’s always something to learn from the people who do. The industry has grown so much and there are so many different niches and I find that really fascinating.
Oncrawl: You are very active on social media and have established yourself as an SEO influencer. Who would you say are the three people who influenced you the most?
Kristina: Aleyda Solis, 100 percent. I love her, she’s amazing!
There is also Jamie Alberico, she is amazing too and I would really love to finally meet her in real life!
And finally, I would say Areej AbuAli, who created Women in Tech SEO. She’s amazing! She has such a kind heart and at the same time she is really protective of her community. I think the things that she’s doing are really cool.
Oncrawl: Speaking of women in tech SEO, what kind of advice would you have for any younger women who want to enter the industry?
Kristina: I think what helped me when I started is not knowing that some things are hard, I just did them. I would say, don’t enter the industry with the mindset that it’s hard, just be yourself and do your best, that’s basically it. Unapologetically being yourself without thinking about what other people will think is for me the best piece of advice. I think it’s a life-long lesson that we all need to learn.
Takeaways from chatting with Kristina Azarenko
Speaking with Kristina, we learned that in an industry like ours, continued learning is always important. The SEO industry and its practices are constantly changing and the best way to do our best work is to never stop learning.
Additionally, she spoke about her passion for teaching. That passion drove her to create the SEO Challenge Course as well as the Tech SEO Pro course. Both courses have helped SEO professionals, be it self-taught, beginner or advanced, to fill in their knowledge gaps.
Kristina is a strong believer that both learning and teaching are two equally important parts of personal and professional development.
Finally, Kristina shared some great advice, not just on getting into the SEO industry, but in respect to any industry and any area of life; it’s best to be yourself and not focus on doing what you think would please others.
We’d like to say thank you again to Kristina Azarenko for taking the time to speak with us and for sharing her views on the day-to-day issues faced by SEOs everywhere.