Blog Post

Lauren McSwain-Starrett Interview

Interview with Lauren McSwain-Starrett

Job Title: 

Director of Content Management

Place of Work:

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)

Industry or specialization: 

I direct SEO strategy and manage website content for CCL (which is a top-ranked, global nonprofit that delivers leadership training and is based in Greensboro, NC).

What got you into Web Design/Development/working on the web?

I would answer this question in 2 parts: 

First, I volunteered to build a website for my a cappella group way back in college, but since I didn’t really know how to do that, took a free HTML class at the library to learn. I fell in love, staying up late into the night playing with the code and rearranging the site nav and perfecting what was, in retrospect, a pretty ugly website. But weren’t they all in the early 2000s?!

Eighteen years later, I was working in a content marketing/content strategy role and was asked to spearhead my organization’s enterprise SEO strategy. I knew very little about organic search at the time, but just as before, I just said yes. Then, I set about learning everything I could on SEO best practices and the almighty Google algorithm.

What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?

In any given week, I’m doing lots of different things. I’m collaborating with colleagues and stakeholders to plan, create, publish, and optimize site content, sharing recommendations based on SEO keyword research, organizational priorities, and brand standards. I’m partnering with our director of web services and the UX team for A/B testing to increase conversions and optimizing page templates to improve load speed. I’m working with our digital marketing analyst and web developer to ensure pages are coded for meaningful tracking and correct attribution in our performance dashboards. I’m ensuring all content in our WordPress CMS has the proper taxonomy, tagging, metadata, and cross-links to maximize its findability. I’m monitoring which pages are driving the most traffic and where our site may have gained or slipped in the organic search rankings. I’m constantly refining our content’s target SEO keywords to differentiate pages from each other, reduce cannibalization, and ensure alignment with searcher intent. And I’m copyediting proposed SEO optimizations so that our site works even better for both robots and humans.

What types of web technologies do you work with most often?

I’m in WordPress all the time, tweaking content and updating taxonomies. I use Yoast Premium to manage our SEO keywords, titles, metas, etc. I use BrightEdge, an enterprise SEO tool, to monitor performance, as well as tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. And I’m often scanning the horizon for new content ideas we could pursue in Google Trends, Moz, and AdWords.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I absolutely love SEO. It’s so satisfying to spend a few minutes optimizing a page and then see that work pay off in the form of more traffic and conversions—sometimes just a few weeks or months later. Often, we’ll find a recently optimized piece of content has been rewarded by Google and moved up in the rankings, sometimes even being pulled into Google Answer Box or being featured in that “People Also Ask” section. So SEO always feels like time well spent!

What do you wish you could change about your job?

At this point, not much. My responsibilities have shifted several times in the past 8 years. I really like where my job is now—it’s the perfect balance between quantitative and qualitative for me. 

Where do you see your section of the web development/design/etc industry going?

I’m really curious to see how AI affects content development and the search experience. It feels like we might be at the dawn of a new era—Alexa, Siri, and ChatGPT are just the beginning.

What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?

I always wished I knew more CSS. That would be handy sometimes. And it would be great if I knew a bit more about UX and design systems. I plan to learn more on that in the coming year.

What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?

With SEO, we can never stop learning. Google will come out with a new algorithm update and everything changes. Suddenly our content is rewarded or punished, and we have to go look at that and stay on top of it at all times. 

What would you tell someone to do who’s looking to get into the industry? How should they best prepare themselves?

I think if you want to go into content strategy or SEO, it’s totally possible to be self-taught. You don’t necessarily need a fancy degree. Just read all you can about the disciplines, take an online course, follow the experts, go to conferences, talk to people, ask them questions, and hone your skills!

What questions should I have asked that I didn’t? (Please also answer it)

I think I’d add, What is your proudest accomplishment? To which I’d say: Back in 2020-2021, I led a massive site overhaul and relaunch project. It was very complex and on a tight timeline. I conducted a site audit and oversaw content migration. It was a 10x reduction in the size of the site—going from 7000 low-quality, duplicative, and outdated pages to just 700, each of them differentiated to target unique SEO keywords. In addition to being much prettier, the new site has performed dramatically better for us than the old one. Organic search is now the #1 marketing channel for us by far, with 70% of visitors coming from search. That’s gratifying.

Is there a way people can get in contact with you to ask questions etc?

Nothing other than my LinkedIn, thank you!

Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?

Hmm, this is probably a dumb question, but do zombies eat the brains of people they dislike to harm them, or do they eat people they like, to become closer to them for all time? I honestly don’t know! If the latter, I guess I’d say my family—but if the former, ew, that probably sounds pretty gross! I guess I need to learn more about zombies in the coming year too.