053: Effective Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurial Endeavors with Sarah Stemen

C: Podcast

Join us in this episode as we hear about Sarah Stemen’s journey from programming through in-house digital marketing to starting her own business. From unexpected mentorship lessons to the art of being an accessible mentor, Sarah spills the beans on agency struggles, the power of conversation in consulting, and her unique approach to Google Ads. 

Key Points + Topics

  • [2:04] Sarah Stemen says she started working in digital marketing before the field of work truly existed. She always knew she wanted to stay close to home, so she went to an in-state school. She got her Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems from Bowling Green University in Ohio. She thought she’d become an accountant. Then she learned she was decent at programming, though determined that wasn’t the field for her. Later in her career, during a period of reflection, she got her MBA from a local college. This helped her figure out how to move from technology to marketing. 
  • [4:40] While getting her Master’s degree, she believed she would eventually be in an executive position. One of her professors told her, “You’re never going to be an executive. Your heart is in the right place. But many execs are power-hungry, and you’re not. You want to do good.” Hearing it then was certainly a bit of a gut punch. But she eventually realized it had a basis in truth. Sarah cares. She wants to do good. She sees this every day in her business. Potential clients hear it the minute they get on a prospecting call with her. She admits it can be a challenge to communicate that passion early in the customer journey to get them on a call. 
  • [8:50] In recent months and weeks, Sarah has ruminated over what it means to her to be a mentor. She’s now realizing that she has friends who are becoming mentors for her. This is shifting her definition of mentor to be more community-focused. She has had more “traditional” mentors in the past who’ve simply sat in a conference room with her, answered technical questions, and helped further her career. 
  • [10:00] Chris is well-known in the SEO world. When Sarah first met Chris, he was working for the agency performing marketing for the company she worked for at that time. He would sit in a room with Sarah and a couple of others on the team and just answer question after question about SEO. She now sees that people who are hungry to learn make the best clients because they’ll advocate for you. 
  • [13:45] Sarah’s husband says, “Giving someone access to you is the best gift you can give.” She knows that’s how she approaches mentoring others. When she mentors someone, they get access to her. If they have a problem at 11:00 at night, they can text her for advice. She probably won’t answer till she wakes up at 5:00 am, but she WILL respond. Approachability and offering nonjudgemental advice are key to a good mentor. You can’t ghost your mentees. Sarah’s mentees know they can text her late at night, and even if she doesn’t respond immediately, they trust she will respond as soon as she’s able. 
  • [17:30] There’s a saying, “The cobbler’s children wear shoes with holes in them.” Marketing agencies performing their own marketing is a similar situation. Like many agencies offering marketing services, Sarah struggles to market her business. When it comes to paid search for her agency, Sarah knows she simply doesn’t have the budget for it right now. So that’s easy to cross off her list in her mind. For content and SEO, it’s very hard to be objective about your own business, so she’s happy to outsource those when she has the budget for it. 
  • [19:53] When consulting on marketing with professional marketers, Sarah has to counter some friction at times. She knows it all comes down to having a conversation and education. There are some people who simply don’t want to learn. So, you must find SOMEONE on the team that’s interested in learning, and that can be your foot in the door to making change. To ensure she doesn’t get overwhelmed with work, Sarah has built in a limit to her agency. The maximum number of clients she will have at any given time is four. Having that number and knowing her reasoning behind it is powerful. Kirk Williams (the first guest of The Digital Marketing Mentor) wrote a book, Stop the Scale. In this book, he counters the general notion pushed at agencies that size equates to success. You don’t have to just grow, grow, grow. Staying small and niche can bring you success. 
  • [23:02] When kicking off a new project, Sarah doesn’t have a strict checklist or first step. She just knows where to find things now. Generally, she’ll start by looking at location settings, then display network options, eventually working her way through the hidden, overlooked niche settings for optimization. Next, she’ll review the ads themselves and ensure the headlines are capitalized, and the copy makes sense. Then, she’ll sort everything by budget and deep dive into where the most money is spent. She equates her approach to the video game player who’s just a “button masher.” She goes into Google Ads and clicks every button. That, coupled with her natural skill at spotting issues and patterns, leads to success. 
  • [27:40] If you listen to conversations of professionals in digital marketing focused on tracking, a topic that is often debated is that of attribution. Which model of attribution is the best, and how do you ensure your tracking is set up to gather that model’s best data? This debate has been had for years. Sarah doesn’t start looking at attribution models. She’d rather use the human brain. She’ll review the data for a given client, then ask the business owner what they see happening from their point of view of the business. Then, she has to find a way to make the data match reality. Sarah and Danny both know that while many say things are less clear in Google Analytics 4 (GA4), it’s really telling the same story the data has always told – There’s no such thing as perfect data. And if you ever doubt or want alternative data sources to GA4, be sure to look into your hosting backend, the server logs from your website platform, or the backend of your Shopify or Squarespace. 
  • [36:15] Sarah has recently become an entrepreneur and launched Sarah Stemen LLC, where she consults and educates about digital marketing for agencies. When she was working a traditional corporate role, she was on calls all day, and when her kids returned from school, she’d just be sitting at her desk in the evenings. These days, she admits she works just as hard as she did then, if not harder. She’s in 3-4 meetings daily, though not always with clients. However, running her own business has given her a much deeper understanding of business in general and, therefore, increased the value she can offer to clients. 
  • [38:12] Starting her own business has been a journey. She knows she’s not as present as she idealized when first starting out. But she knows that’s the goal. She has a vision of the future and something to aim for while knowing that starting something new often takes more work at the beginning. 

Guest + Episode Links

Guest + Episode Links

Full Episode Transcript

Danny Gavin Host 00:05

Hello everyone, I’m Danny Gavin ,founder of Optige,Marketing Professor and the Host of the Digital Marketing Mentor. Today I have Sarah Steeman, Owner of Sarah Steeman LLC. With 15 years of experience as a paid search manager, Sarah is passionate about creating and executing effective online marketing campaigns that deliver results for clients. She has a strong background in Google Ads, Google Analytics and SEO, and is certified in Google Ad Search and Display. These days, she’s just launched Sarah Steeman LLC, where she’s consulting and training agencies and brands to run and optimize paid search campaigns. Today, we’re going to talk about PPC for agencies and entrepreneurship and motherhood, also known as work-life balance. Hey, Sarah, how are you?


Sarah Stemen Guest 01:05

Good, how are you?


Danny Gavin  Host 01:06

Doing so well. It’s so nice to have you on. You, sort of like, have popped up into the LinkedIn scene and you’re like a PPC influencer. I had the awesome opportunity to meet you at Brighton SEO, so it’s really such a pleasure to have you here today.


Sarah Stemen Guest 01:22

Well, thank you so much for having me, and all the things you just said about me are super flattering. That’s what I’m hearing. From others Like, oh, you’re a PPC influencer, I just write from the heart.


Danny Gavin Host 01:34

It’s kind of interesting because I think people feel like to become an influencer, especially on LinkedIn. It’s like you got to be this and do that, but really it’s about tapping into your soul, tapping to who you are and just sharing what you think and feel. That’s actually hard for some people to do, but the people who can do it, I think they’re the ones who are able to get the message out and have that following.


Sarah Stemen Guest 01:56

Yeah, yeah. No, that’s been exactly my approach.


Danny Gavin Host 01:59

Well, it’s fun to watch you and I can’t wait to continue to watch you.


Sarah Stemen Guest 02:03

Thank you.


Danny Gavin Host 02:04

So let’s jump right into your educational background. So where did you go to school? What did you study?


Sarah Stemen Guest 02:09

I always say that I started all this before our field was really invented. So I went to school at Bowling Green State University. It’s in Ohio. I’ve stayed in Ohio my whole life and I’ve always just known that I want to live close to home. So I went two hours away to a state school. I got my degree in Management, information Systems, and then also I had a minor. It was called Information Systems, auditing and Control.



I thought I was going to become an accountant but lean towards that technology side because I also liked programming. So it turns out I was actually a pretty decent programmer but it was Kobalt actually. So Kobalt if you know programming languages it’s pretty straight-lined. So once we started to get into the object-oriented, the more technical side, it started to really for me. I just didn’t like that side as much. So I was okay enough as a programmer but not good to really have a true career in that. But that major got me started. So I am glad for that major. And then I did also do a master’s degree as well. I did that at Audubon, a small local college, and I did that just during a period of time of reflection in my career and I thought I like what I’m doing. I really like the technology side, but I truly like marketing. So how can I move from technology into marketing without making that look funny? The MBA did that for me, I think in a lot of different ways.


Danny Gavin Host 03:49

So interesting, just with me. So I also got my MBA. And when I went to get my MBA it was also with the focus of marketing. But I kind of decided I didn’t want to just take the marketing classes. So I actually took one MIS elective and it was all about database management and design and honestly it was one of the best classes I ever could have taken for the rest of my career. So I’ve got a little love towards MIS people.


Sarah Stemen Guest 04:14

Thanks, yeah, no, I’ve done some database work. I have built HTML pages based on databases that spit out things. So I mean I’ve definitely gotten my hands dirty in the code and, to your point, it’s really helped, I think, make me better at SEO and TBC. Because I have that technology background. I’m not afraid to view sources and I know what I’m looking at.


Danny Gavin Host 04:40

When you look back at your experience at those two universities, are there any experiences that you had, whether it’s inside or outside the classroom, that you kind of looked today at saying, oh, that really influenced me, that was a pivotal moment in kind of just pushing me in a certain direction.


Sarah Stemen Guest 04:56

So I had a professor in my master’s degree and a lot of the professors when you’re doing a master’s program they work in the field of their executives. So I did have someone in my master’s program and he looked at me and he said I’m not going to be an executive. He’s like I heard some right place. He sort of explained to me it felt like a little bit of an Oc but he said and this is no Oc, I’m like true executives in Fortune 100 companies. But he explained to me that a lot of those executives are more power hungry and that I am a good person, like I want to do good and I now see that as one of my biggest assets and I just want it in. So I think it’s okay. Yeah, no, totally.


Danny Gavin Host 05:41

Look, I hope and I feel that it is changing a bit, but it definitely has that stigma where it’s about cutthroat and yeah, so when you heard that from him, was that like running into a brick wall. It was like, oh my gosh, I thought maybe I wanted to go there and now it’s like that’s been taken away from me and I know it’s kind of weird.


Sarah Stemen Guest 06:08

Yeah, I mean, I thought so and I still, I think, to your point. I think it’s changing. I think I mean I probably am dating myself, but man, I did this MBA hush. This was really 15 or 16 years ago at this point, right. So I mean, or I think COVID changed that.



I think a lot of the hustle culture, people turning away from that has changed that, but I think it definitely stung at the time. But I think it also had a little bit of a basis in truth, because I do care, I do have a passion and I see that every day when I’m building my business. I think it’s another case where it’s a good thing and a bad thing. I think the good thing is the minute I get on the phone with a potential client. They can’t help but see that passion that I have. But I think the hard part is to even get on the phone. Putting that into writing and articulating is sometimes hard. So it’s always that balance of like how do I get in front of my customer and show my passion and show how much I care, and how can I articulate that to even get that person in that conversation? But that makes sense.


Danny Gavin Host 07:22

Totally, and I think you’re doing a great job now doing that through. Yeah, no now. Yeah, yeah now, Definitely.


Sarah Stemen Guest 07:28

Yeah, yeah, and I think it’s just a lot of that started when I just started putting myself out there, and every day I get stronger and stronger, and you’re cringy, you’re cringy, but I care.


Danny Gavin Host 07:42

But I think it’s good for especially for the listeners, that it is hard in the beginning. It’s not easy to put yourself out there and to try to look in the mirror and say, okay, what is special about me and how do I tell people about? That without like. I still want to be humble, right, but I also need to let people know.


Sarah Stemen Guest 08:01

Yeah, yeah, and you know my husband. So my husband is the opposite of me. He doesn’t very well in corporate America. He loves the structure of corporate culture. So he works at a big company and he will sometimes give me different advice as well and I’ll take it for when it’s worse and either choose to apply that or not if that makes sense. But he did tell me at one time exactly what you said. When you want to talk about being humble, he’s like we’re humble people. He’s like in sales. You need to come out and tell people you are the best. So I’m comfortable with that. But you sometimes have to say and I think the part that I am the best at, I’m okay saying like you are not going to get many people who care as deeply as I can. I care, that I know.


Danny Gavin Host 08:49

So, Sarah, how would you define a mentor?


Sarah Stemen Guest 08:52

That’s a great question Because I think when you start NEPAL and we talked about being on the podcast I immediately have people that came to mind and I’m happy to sort of share who my mentors have been and I think even over the past month or even two weeks I’ve had people who I think are now turning into mentors that are also my friends. That Dua mentorship has shifted in my mind and it’s more a community that feeds each other and we all lift each other in different ways, if that makes sense. But when you asked me on the podcast, I was thinking about just really traditional mentorship where I have had people that have sat in a room with me for hours on a consistent basis and just answered technical questions or technical questions and really gotten my knowledge of, but then they’ve also guided me in that mentor type fashion. You should have joined this board or this organization.


Danny Gavin Host 09:55

We should talk a little bit about both your pre-business experience and post In the world of pre. I know you’ve mentioned Chris Boggs. Jason Tabling would love to hear a little bit more about their influence and how they mentored you.


Sarah Stemen Guest 10:10

Chris. He’s pretty well-known in the SEO world. He worked for the agency and I think Amalia is sometimes called the younger foot. I was a baby marketer, in fact. I think I had just finished my MBA when I started working in digital marketing. He would come down as the agency that was executing on the strategy and we would sit in the conference room and just talk and ask questions about SEO. Now, looking back at that, when that built my career, he taught us we also as a team, because it wasn’t just myself. We had an intern. We had other people that were learning digital marketing for the first time. It wasn’t just me, but I can see 20 years to pass looking back.


That must have been really rewarding for him as well, because you want a client that wants to learn. Those people that are hungry for the learning are the best people the clients have because they didn’t intern advocate for you. I’ve definitely, in my approach to client management, I have met my mission to empower my clients in the same way. Sometimes you can’t teach that. I try to articulate it for people at the agency because I sometimes wonder why do the clients love you so much? I don’t want them to be caught in a hallway conversation that they can’t answer. I’m willing to have that conversation in a kind and compassionate way because I know that when your business partner comes and asks you why impressions go down, you’re not in the account to hand and day out and you don’t know, necessarily, that answer. That can be a very hard question because we can rattle it off like this. They can’t. I hope that that makes sense.


Danny Gavin Host 12:02

No, totally. I think your average agency people are just doing what they need to do Correct but they don’t necessarily look at the client and say how could I really help you more? Yes, just being able to give that little bit of advice. I was on a call yesterday. It’s a pretty big sports store. I was speaking to their VP of Marketing and she had some issues with GA4, and I have no idea what to look at. Obviously, I’m trying to get the gig to be pitched, but I literally spent, I think, 30 or 40 minutes of the meeting just helping her out with some of the main problems that she wanted to hire me for. Yes, some people might say, oh, danny, you basically had a meeting and you didn’t charge her and you just gave all this information. But it’s the opposite. It’s like, hey, I want to help you and I’m ready to help you and I’m going to do what I can. That’s, I think, how you gain people’s trust and how people see that it’s not just about billing you, but it’s also like you want a relationship.


Sarah Stemen Guest 13:04

Yeah, no, absolutely. I think those conversations are always the best because you can actually see that team develop under your guidance, the team I always have in the top of my mind. By the time I wasn’t working with them, they weren’t able to open Google Ads and they would answer questions and then come back to me and be like, hey, I found this in Google Ads. Can you just validate that it’s correct? I’m like you did it. I’m so proud of you. They’re answering their own questions and just using me for validation every subreddit time and they’re happy and it just works better and better. It becomes a well-oiled machine.


Danny Gavin Host 13:45

Let’s talk about your mentorship style. Obviously, you’ve mentored, I’m sure, co-workers in the past, but now it’s more people who have hired your services. Love to know what’s important to you when it comes to mentorship.


Sarah Stemen Guest 13:58

Forget actually I do. I know Guts told me this because I think he is now connecting with someone I know, but it was actually someone that was fairly young to me and it had to do with because I was starting to date my husband, and the comment he made is giving someone access to you is the biggest gift that you can give someone. And that is what I’m talking about, because so, when I’m truly mentoring someone, they have access to me. That means that, yes, I have people that are junior that do text me at 9 and 10 o’clock. Now I may not get that text until I wake up, but I usually wake up at 5 or 6, but I’m always going to respond to it.



Okay, I was sleeping, I went to bed at 9am, but I did get your text and then they’ll apologize. Don’t worry about it. If you are having a problem, just reach out, it’s okay, and then just get on the phone guiding them through that. So I just give them access. There’s just an approachability about it that you never make someone feel bad forever. You’re asking, you need to put question. You’re always just answering, not ghosting them.


Danny Gavin Host 15:02

Yeah, totally, and so I think those points of non-judgment granted people access and really empowered them, like that’s so, so cool. Yeah, that’s the. I like how you’re also open, letting them text you at any time and then they know like okay, just because they didn’t answer you right away is on a problem, but just to have that it’s just a normal, healthy relationship, right.


Sarah Stemen Guest 15:24

Yeah, exactly yeah, it’s just that and I find that just in mentoring you get as much as you give, because it’s especially sometimes when it’s and I guess I’m referring now to people that are a little bit more junior, they’re fresh in their career and they just need that hand-flipping and that reassurance, and sometimes it’s how to phrase an email, how to things like that. So it’s very sometimes can feel heavy-handed at the beginning, but you can see them ease off but then you do get in return, because the younger generation is actually very, very, how do I put it? They have a lot better boundaries than a lot of the people in my generation, because they’re not as people-pleasing. They’re very much like this is my wall and the boundary that I will cross, and whereas we’re sort of like how can I help you, how can I please you? So it’s, you get as much as you give. In a lot of these cases they’re very emotionally mature. They just need some of that technical and the business acumen.


Danny Gavin Host 16:29

Yeah, and I think each generation can learn from each other. Right, like we should have more boundaries, but then they also have to. I say think a little bit more about the people around them.


Sarah Stemen Guest 16:41

Yeah, like, maybe get on the phone, because I’m not like the fat, like when it goes to like 15 text messages, like I’m about to have a conversation. I also learned voice memos from them, which, like it’s funny, julie Bacchini and I the other day were using voice messages back and forth. Oh, you know what? No, you know what?


Danny Gavin Host 17:04

It was actually a breath of fresh air, because yesterday we were chatting a little bit and you sent me voice messages and most people don’t, but that was fun, like that was good.


Sarah Stemen Guest 17:12

I love it yeah.


Danny Gavin Host 17:13

Because we actually got a lot of information across and we didn’t have to text a million. It was great.


Sarah Stemen Guest 17:19

Exactly, exactly and tone and you know all those good things. So we can think that the younger generations, for that, all the people I mentor- Love it.


Danny Gavin Host 17:29

All right, so let’s jump into paid search for agencies. So, for a very meta start of things, Optige is an agency, Sara Steeman LLC is an agency, and part of our offerings for clients is PPC advertising. However, there’s the old adage the cobblers kids shoes holes in them. It can be very difficult to do for ourselves what we do for our clients. How do we overcome those challenges of PPC advertising for our own agencies?


Sarah Stemen Guest 17:54

First way I overcome it for me and I can’t remember what you talked about this so I just can’t afford to do paid search advertising for myself.



I just do not have the budget for it right now. So that is an easy way to overcome doing it for myself. But I think that that is another case, and I’m actually talking more on the SEO side. And even just the content side on my website is very, very hard to be objective about yourself, and so those are things, when I have budget, that I am more than prepared to offload, and I think a lot of those connections that I’m making, like meeting you, is the type of thing after I have these conversations where I’m like you know, can you do my SEO for me? I have budget now. Can you look at my website? Can you help me make sure that it’s not only SEOed, it’s actually converting for me? So again, I think that you know, as marketers, it is like very easy for us to do someone else’s marketing, but sometimes the hardest to do our own, because being good marketers or just like internal thinkers or creatives and you have to put yourself in and another person to shoot is when you’re doing it for yourself.


Danny Gavin Host 19:12

Yeah, and that’s why I always hate. I’ve been on calls with like a competing agency once and it’s like, well, if they were so good, look at their website. Why isn’t it so great? And if anything, it’s actually shows because, like, we’re so busy. But I love, I think, what you’ve just said now about. In a way it’s like giving permissions to agencies to potentially go to other agencies to help them out, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.


Sarah Stemen Guest 19:36

Yeah, no, like I would, I don’t want to do my own SEO, you know, frankly, I don’t even want to write the articles, right?


Danny Gavin Host 19:45

I agree. No, no, no, yeah, no. I love that. I think we’ve got to make that more of like a standard and a norm. I love that. Are there any challenges of consulting on advertising for people who have their own ways of providing advertising so, for example, like the doctors, they make the worst patients? I know my father-in-law. When you’re consulting with advertisers, like, is it ever difficult?


Sarah Stemen Guest 20:06

It’s exactly what you said when they just have preconceived notions. Or if you have moved up extremely high and you’re in charge of marketing for a large organization, you’re clearly extremely gifted and want to make that impact. But I’m very tactical and so having those two minds meet like as strong as they are leadership and strategy-wise I’m not strong tactically and strategically in my own area, and so sometimes those minds don’t necessarily meet and it can be challenging. So just being able to say like this is not guaranteed. This is how it’s worked in the past, this is how it’s worked for other clients.



And then having the question come up well, what’s a benchmark? What do you expect? What do you expect? There’s always that tension there, and so I think how I’ve personally overcome that actually kind of full circle to what we’re talking about today, and it’s having that conversation and teaching and there’s some people that don’t want to learn, and so it’s getting hopefully that great to someone on the team that wants to learn and then forging that relationship so that that marketing team can be effective. If the entire marketing team doesn’t want to learn, it can be not the best.


Danny Gavin Host 21:26

And I know you’re earlier in the game, but could you ever imagine yourself saying hey, like this is just not the right client engagement with me. It’s not an engagement with me because I don’t have the right partner?


Sarah Stemen Guest 21:36

Yes, and that mentality has been built into my business. So for me and everyone has asked me, like what are your goals? What are your goals? So with my model of business? Like, the maximum number of clients I want to take is four. I know that number, I have a reason for that number and that’s the number Now, around the two, three mark, we’ll start evaluating that. But that ends what I have for what I’d like to build from my business, knowing that is powerful.


Danny Gavin Host 22:08

Totally, and I don’t know if you’ve read Kirk Williams’ book Exactly.


Sarah Stemen Guest 22:12

I was just going to say I think everybody in our industry talks about that book. Yeah, I think of it.


Danny Gavin Host 22:18

Yes, yeah, and for those who don’t know so, kirk, he was our first Guest  on the podcast and Kirk has a wonderful book about agents. I forget the title right now, but we’ll put it in the notes below Stop the scale, stop the scale. And the idea is, in agencies, we’re naturally like we’re on this escalator or on this elevator and there’s this feeling we have to grow, grow, grow, grow grow. But his premise is no, like it’s okay to remain small, it’s okay to niche down and focus, and I think there’s room for both. But the point is, more often than not, sometimes we you know being an agency owner or being a consultant we define the size as being success and that’s really, really not the case.


Sarah Stemen Guest 22:55

No, yeah, yeah, not. That’s not for me and that’s never going to be for me.


Danny Gavin Host 23:00

So so when you have a new client, are there any setup 101 steps you take when first optimizing a new or existing campaign?


Sarah Stemen Guest 23:07

Kind of just know where to find the potential things at this point. And if you know, on my LinkedIn you’ll see it, I’ll say it Like the first place I’m going to go is this location settings. I’m just going to make sure that, like we’re not vulnerable to other countries coming in for, with our target ending, some of those little sneaky like the discipline network checked you know when is a search campaign? So just all of those little sneaky. It’s going through each and every campaign. So that is, like bare bones, the first place that I am going to start. Probably the second place is going to be those ads and just because a lot of times I do see just not capitalizing on all the headlines, all the descriptions, and then from there, you know, you can’t believe I can just rattle this off this a little bit, it’s just when you’ve been doing it so long. So I go in and I sort by budget, right, so I’m looking at all my campaigns top budget and then I literally look at the click through rate, right, so here’s the budget, here’s, and that just bare bones is going to tell me, like what is that relative to everything else? Where should I start focusing in?



And then, as I focus in. You know I go out down into the ad groups and the keywords, and then you just continuously start asking questions that go down and up and back around and circle through. And then you know I am and I probably said this, I think, on the panel, the conference that we got to finally meet in person that I gave the analogy of somebody who plays a video game and they’re like a button masher where they just click me in Google ads. I go in Google ads and I click on every button, every send, I’m always expanding it and I’m looking what does this mean? What does this mean, what is this doing? And I just cycle through that. I almost call it cycling. I mean it’s helping my ADHD brain, slash, dyslexic brain that tests to see it, and then I just have that for spotting things, and so that’s my process.


Danny Gavin Host 25:05

I love that and the best part is you just like relating everything that you do. You can see how much passion you have and I think that you know somebody like oh, like that’s all like technical things, but people don’t realize that, like in the world of digital marketing, and you know whether it’s Pate search or SEO, I mean it like you just fall in love with it and it’s exciting and it’s awesome to see that passion inside of you.


Sarah Stemen Guest 25:28

There’s like a little edge of competition on there. There’s a little aspect of like wanting to succeed, and then there’s, you know, like, add into it the magic of finding a new setting that the the entire industry doesn’t know about, because you know, so it’s like you have enough little gems to want to push you further. But your right SEO is quite similar and you know you’re looking at different things, like on the site and how long people are, different metrics, but very, very similar approaches.


Danny Gavin Host 25:58

So that fits in great for my next question, because I know you have a background in SEO and PPC I do, and you’ve landed more in the PPC. So what is it about PPC in particular that you like and enjoy or feel particularly skilled out, or you know you gravitated more towards it?


Sarah Stemen Guest 26:12

So I left SEO at a very pivotal time in the SEO world and so you’ve been doing this for forever so we can look back and talk about that. But I left him right around the time that there was no one page of search that to me, that conversation. You know where people were like what is my ranking? And I couldn’t tell them that. It was just an incredibly frustrating conversation to be having. I also left the time and I was actually because I was on my own actually consulting.



I consulted two small agencies directly as a solo for New York. I had a little bit of a different business model. I did it successfully for about two and a half to three years, from 2011 to 2014-ish. I think that’s about the time range. So in any case, I would have companies that would come to me for SEO but they don’t realize that I can tell them an entire SEO strategy and now you have to go spend a lot of money executing. It Can’t as one person. I could help guide the execution, but then we would get stuck to some of the fail. Now we need a writer and a link builder. You’d have to put together these whole teams and there wasn’t the budget for that necessarily. I ended up actually at that time doing very, very well with IT companies, so I wanted to build that as a service and I would teach the developers. So those websites were, from out of gate, sort of SEOed with some of those best practices and the developers loved it.


Danny Gavin Host 27:38

Is there any tracking that is often overlooked for agencies, in particular when it comes to PPC?


Sarah Stemen Guest 27:43

If you listen to the conversations in the industry, people talk a lot about certain attributions as being like this is the best one. I’m not going to name the company, but you do hear that. But then I also take a step back and realize that attribution has been a question since 2007. I remember when I was working on the corporate side nationwide, we put so much money into attribution and had perfect modeling and this, and that I’m still having this conversation many years later. So I’m just going to say our brains. The reason I say that is I can read what the data is showing in the platform and I can ask my business owner how is business going? And I have to align those two things. That’s what matters.


Danny Gavin Host 28:29

That’s very deep, because sometimes, yeah, a similar concept and I think we can break it down. That same call that I had yesterday. She said that my PPC agency is telling me I’m having this much ROAS and my Facebook agency is telling me I’m having this much ROAS. But if I had that ROAS together I’d be doing really well, and when I look at it, I don’t have it. So what’s going on, danny?


Sarah Stemen Guest 28:52

Yeah, what’s going on is exactly what she knows in her heart, that that’s not what she has. I’m proud of her, for that’s her first admission. So if I were talking to her and I’m sure you had that I’d be like, yes, you’re correct. Now let’s keep doing what we know are the right things from a marketing perspective and let’s see if we can directionally navigate and get these a little more online. But she’s right, that’s great.


Danny Gavin Host 29:19

So you know, what’s also interesting related to this point is I don’t think we have to get super deep into GA4, google Analytics 4, but in just a small point. I feel like, as we’ve gone into Google Analytics 4, it’s a little bit harder. It’s not as accurate, the data is not as clear, there’s thresholding, there’s this, and that it’s hard for some people, because a lot of people look at Google Analytics as the Bible and that’s what it says. So, in a sense, the fact that Google Analytics 4 is a little bit not as accurate, not as clear, it’s actually helping us portray this story, which has always existed. It’s been very easy to turn away and say, no, you can track everything and everything is really clear.


Sarah Stemen Guest 30:04

So I have a little secret nugget on that one to help people. I can’t do this unless when you’re going to like, you need to probably know this. So I mean, I have a square space, I have a WordPress and I also can get into the backend of my Host ing. So guess what is in all those Analytics? There’s analytics in my square space. That’s guess what. It’s a straight graph, right? I think you do not need to put your brain on. It’s what you want. Same with WordPress. You have like there I don’t know whatever they call it the C, the C panel.



I have a couple of different posts. I can look at my server logs and guess what, when Google is still crawling your website, even if it’s not indexed, there’s a difference between being crawled and being indexed. Google is absolutely visiting my site. They just have chosen not to index it because my quality isn’t good, you know. It’s just you know. So the data is there, you know. And if you’re feeling really insecure, just look at your server logs. And I actually like my square space one because I can look at my phone and I’m like, oh yeah, there’s my IP address every time, whereas GI4 makes it look like I’ve taken out internal traffic, but it goes up when I’m working on my site.


Danny Gavin Host 31:14

So much of that is like a square space, is like Shopify, I mean for, like you technically don’t even need to look at GA4, like you have so much information in there. It might not be perfect, but you know like the point is, there are options, right, it’s not a BL, and end all Trying to read those reports. When you first started working in PPC and I’m sure this is way back was there a particular report or data set that you reviewed that gave you that sort of a ha moment?


Sarah Stemen Guest 31:41

I mean back when I started, it was a lot of work. You know, it was interesting. I remember if I were to go back and say what would I have told people? You know that in 2012, I would say you actually need to be better at Excel than anything in the platform and that’s definitely changed. So I would say it wasn’t necessarily like an aha moment but, coming from an MIS background, it was very, very comfortable. And spreadsheets it was very, very comfortable with VLOOKUPs. They could write basic macros. So I think that gave me a little bit of an edge.



You know I don’t want to get too ahead, but we’ve talked a little bit about this. Like I did have a period where I stayed home and I wasn’t directly working in the agency. I remember when they came back, I think the first people that were on the call and so PPC chat and I remember Jeanne Marvin was on it I feel like a couple people were on that call and I announced I was coming back and they were like it’s a good time and it really was because I left all that behind and now I had the power of context. You know, while everybody else was dealing with the change, I just got to come back and have context behind everything that happened. So I think that’s when my career really switched.


Danny Gavin Host 32:56

And when was that Like what year?


Sarah Stemen Guest 32:58

2020-ish, yeah, 2020, pandemic.


Danny Gavin Host 33:02

And it’s interesting you mentioned about the spreadsheet, because I remember, like my pivotal internship that I had while I was doing my MBA in 2019, a lot of it was just like learning spreadsheets.


Sarah Stemen Guest 33:14

Learning spreadsheets, B-lookups, yeah.


Danny Gavin Host 33:15

B-lookups. Yeah, and that was a big part of it.


Sarah Stemen Guest 33:19

And concatenation, lots of concatenation, and we were building. So I actually like Google Docs and I was trying when I was trying to think of the LinkedIn post. Yesterday I was going through my Google Drive and I have Google Docs back from 2011, and I paid Search Keyword Docs and I had Keyword lists that were so big that I maxed out the length of Google and they were starting to. The spreadsheet was starting to freeze and so I had to get a license from Microsoft so I could build spreadsheets that were big enough to upload all the keywords into an editor, and I think that’s so like.



I’ll hear people in our industry talk about having imposter syndrome, and I think sometimes that’s why people who’ve been doing this for so long have a little bit of imposter syndrome, because we’ve seen like very, very good statistician in the paid search industry and that’s a skill that I hate saying it, but it’s not needed anymore that deep, deep data analysis. Now there are some people in our industry that have that edge and they’re able to incorporate it, but it’s not that key point of success at this point. It’s just understanding what’s going on in the machine at a high level.


Danny Gavin Host 34:36

Yeah, and just to clarify for the listeners who aren’t familiar, and that’s primarily because of the machine learning aspects and the automation. So then someone might ask oh well, if there’s all that, why do you still need someone to run your PPC? So what’s the answer, sarah?


Sarah Stemen Guest 34:52

It’s the context right. So, like I did a post today, but I’m trying really hard not to just talk to other paid search people, I’m trying to talk to the CMOs. I know what to look for. So those insights and things.



So yes, we can’t download it into a spreadsheet and turn it in graphic, but you know what I can do. I can use my brain and I can make a point of looking at it every day. And I think this is where my skill set comes in, because I know that if Google is showing that keyword and they are seven, not seven kind of half-choke-inch, but you have to expand those carrots, right, they’re not the easiest to get to in the platform. I know if I see a keyword theme there, I need to register that because those are where that real long tail stuff is. And then if I keep digging and digging and I look at those every day, I start to see trends. The unfortunate side is I can no longer graph it for an executive or quote-unquote prove it, but I can tell them what I’m seeing and that has power to it. You know there aren’t just other people doing that, because you’re right, they’re caught in the day-to-day of managing the campaigns.


Danny Gavin Host 35:57

And or they’re stuck in what they used to do and they’re not pivoting to what’s necessary these days.


Sarah Stemen Guest 36:02

So they’re like it’s a black box, you can’t see it. I’m like you can. You can absolutely see it, you just can’t download it and trend it and we get an exact science.


Danny Gavin Host 36:10

Yeah, so we’re going to pivot a little bit. You’ve recently struck out on your own and adventured into the land of entrepreneurship after working for other companies, brands and agencies for many years. What led you to make that jump?


Sarah Stemen Guest 36:21

I want to be there with my kids. I left at a time like I think I was on the six clients. It was very, very tough to be on calls all day, emotionally draining, and my kids would come home and I would just be sitting at my desk. I knew it was time to make that change and build that feel good business with the max of four clients and I felt like it was the right thing to do. Definitely scary.


Danny Gavin Host 36:48

So, now that you’re a few months in, how do you feel about it?


Sarah Stemen Guest 36:51

Sure, well, I work just as hard, if not harder. It’s pounding the pavement, it’s talking to people. I probably am in three to four different meetings a day, but not necessarily with clients, with other partnerships, but it gives me so much more value now to my clients. So if I were to go back today to talk to clients, I think I would speak a little bit differently, because I understand just more the business landscape. I understand payment terms, which I didn’t understand before. I understand cash flow. I understand having to make this or that decision, and my conversations with the people in my community are much different.



So, like, for example, yesterday I was talking to my friend’s dad and he has a very unique business where they build like $20 million buildings and I was talking about four clients. He’s like we actually only need one client. And he was talking about how he gets his business. He actually calls around to different architects or land planning surveyors. Like there’s different places that he calls. He’s like has anyone talked to you recently? So it’s just, it’s interesting getting to know people’s business from a question standpoint and then trying to think like, how does marketing fit into that? Like, could I even do PBC for help? That’s never the question. The question is getting into their business.


Danny Gavin Host 38:13

So, even though you’re working, maybe just as hard, but now, but you are a mom how has the shift to working for yourself changed that piece of things?


Sarah Stemen Guest 38:21

I mean I would definitely say it’s like more, it’s a self journey, so like just, I’m probably not as present as I idealized when I started out, but I know that that’s the goal. So I think I have a vision of the future. That is on there yet, but that’s okay. So it’s not perfect, but I’m hopeful.


Danny Gavin Host 38:43

Yeah, and I think, look, anytime you start something new, you have to put a lot of energy into it, and before you started it’s like okay, you looked at the end goal and you will get there. But in the middle it does take a little bit. So do you utilize any automation AI in order to help you do less of the grunt work of digital marketing and give you back some of your time to live the rest of your life?


Sarah Stemen Guest 39:07

Yeah, and actually that’s another thing that I feel like again it’s making me a better marketer. Certain things I didn’t like. I heard terms. I didn’t fundamentally understand them as intimately as I do now.



So I use a tool I’m not sponsored, but there’s other ones there but like the one I chose was it’s called Honey Book, essentially a mini CRM for a small business, and so it has a lot of power in it, and so it feels like every week I’m starting to stretch that power. When I first used it I only needed it for my invoice thing. So I send an invoice and then it has the payment processing and they can do a stripe, or you know, I think it’s an ACH end of the checking. But now so I use the lead form. So if somebody wants to book a call with me or I, the lead form is different than the discovery callbook game, or I absolutely use the intake form through the proposal, through to the invoice. So there’s just different automations and then, as you refine those, it makes that customer experience better, because that customer signs on, I feel they immediately want certain things to happen and it’s pretty standard, and so I’ve been enjoying that piece a lot. So that’s that’s what I use for automations.



And then I think you asked about AI tools. So Akville actually recommended Jasper to me. So just looking at something like that as well I think I’m on the seven day trial. I do use a little bit of chat, GBT4, but I love AI, but I don’t love it. So it’s just always striking that balance because it just doesn’t sound like me.


Danny Gavin Host 40:49

Yeah, and I think that’s totally fine. I think we’ve got to use it, but use it in a way that it’s going to help us. It’s funny that you mentioned that point about you know, when a client signs on, they expect certain things right away. We were having a team meeting today because usually we kind of have an on-boarding and kickoff at the same time and due to that we like wait a week after they sign the contract and we try to get information from them. But today we’re like who, maybe we should divide those two and have that on-boarding as soon as possible and then tell them what the expectations are, what you need, and then have like a kickoff, sort of more of getting into the weeds and of the details, and then, as you know, a week after that. So just kind of really top of mind right now.


Sarah Stemen Guest 41:30

Yeah, yeah. And the next part is with a lot of these platforms you can play with those animations and you can shorten the time. So I almost feel like building a business today, because I always look back and like, why didn’t I just do this in 2009, when I actually tend to build a different business back then? Why didn’t I do that then? And I’m like, but today it’s so much easier.


Danny Gavin Host 41:51

And you are. I mean, I’m sure you were valuable back then as well, but you put your value. Today you’re in a totally different place than where you were back then.


Sarah Stemen Guest 42:00

Yeah, I was more of a generalist back then, they don’t. I think my value was not many people were doing it, especially women.


Danny Gavin Host 42:07



Sarah Stemen Guest 42:07

But you know, now you’re right. I just have a lot more life experience and savvy.


Danny Gavin Host 42:13

All right, so it’s time for our lightning round. So you let me know that you are a reader and you love to read, but not only do you read, you read fiction, but then you go into the fiction and you learn lessons for your life and for your business. So I’d love to talk about the top three books that you’ve read recently or, in general, are like what you like.


Sarah Stemen Guest 42:31

So I really liked the Maid. It is a book about, you know, a maid who I want to spoil it too much she maybe is on the spectrum and she witnesses a crime and it takes me through that. So just really really well written, great book and just getting sort of the perspective and you know how her brain works and just what amazing human she is with a good book. After that ethic, another one that I loved and it’s highly popular. It’s by Kristen Hannah and it was, oh my gosh, so good. Four wins and it was a mom and her just going through the depression, the Great Depression during the dust storms, and it’s a very, very popular book. So if you have any women listening to this podcast, I’m sure they’ve either read it or heard. But it’s just like the emotion in it, the work ethic and the grind there. It was very moving and then just all that like self reflection and I don’t know. I could just go on and on about fiction.


Danny Gavin Host 43:34

Love it. And do you have a third or do you want to leave it at two?


Sarah Stemen Guest 43:36

Oh, a third. I mean I love a good romance. There was one I think it’s called like the love experiment. So I just went from like historical fiction to you know, mystery and now I’m going to go into something pretty superficial. It’s okay. So this was a girl that was a scientist. She was in a PhD program, you know, very academic. So when I started I was like, oh boy, you know, she talked a lot about her academic programs but it turned into a love story. But basically she, like this, was a professor. She was fake dating him so people thought she wasn’t only obsessed with her schoolwork, so totally superficial. It ended up being just great, but I loved it, you know, gotta keep it real.



Check it.


Danny Gavin Host 44:23

Totally, but it’s nice that. Yeah, I love the variety and that’s so cool. So, as we wrap up, what’s your next big project? What’s your big goal in 2024?


Sarah Stemen Guest 44:33

Well, I got my first client some profit, so I think Congratulations. Like whenever I get you down or sad, I’m like you know what? How many businesses in less than three months are profitable? There you go.


Danny Gavin Host 44:50

Most, not Never.


Sarah Stemen Guest 44:52

And with my brain and my blood, sweat and tears, so that I think is exciting.



So I think, going into 2024, I want to hire an accountant.



I think that will be my first big, you know business. I want to put an accountant on a retainer so I can just get rid of hats all together. And then I would love to scale up to, like I said around that I was for the floor client work and when I see four clients and we four clients that I would be managing their paid search accounts and then at that plate just make that choice, like, do I want to work on a CEO and then, you know, partner with an CEO company, do I want to partner with agencies and bigger clients? And I and you and I have talked about like my ultimate dream is I want to go in and really, really teach agencies to do this for themselves and help mentor those junior teams as well as even in-house teams and that’s sometimes hard because I think a lot of times in-house teams they don’t want to admit that they need some help, but I know they need help because they text me being that person in like a non-threatening way.


Danny Gavin Host 45:59

Totally, and I think it’s so, it’s so needed and I love that plan and I’m sure, and you’re going to, you’re going to make it.


Sarah Stemen Guest 46:07

Thanks, you too.


Danny Gavin Host 46:09

And this, yeah, and getting a good accountant, that’s really really important, especially early on, so I’m glad that that’s on your list. So where can listeners learn more about you and your business?


Sarah Stemen Guest 46:18

My website is thearahstemen.com and that’s because I really messed up my URL from an SEO perspective. I’m also always, always on LinkedIn. So LinkedIn and the X thing, I’m still kind of on there, but I’m transitioning to LinkedIn being my primary. But I also have thesarahstemen on Instagram. I also was motivated by Jill to do a TikTok, you know. So we’re playing with becoming a content engine.


Danny Gavin Host 46:49

Love it and I agree with you about being on the fence for X, but I think all the main people in the community have moved over to LinkedIn, but it’s always good to keep that door open just in case. Well, sarah, this has really been wonderful, just been so natural, and I really really love this conversation.


Sarah Stemen Guest 47:07

So thank you so much for having me.

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