Have you ever considered working on the road? Being a digital nomad is easier than what you expect. In this podcast, Melissa shares her experience and her tips to make sure that you are all set to go on the road.
Melissa is a digital marketing strategist with a passion for technology and travel. She coaches her partners to connect with their audience through content optimization, to retain more loyal visitors, create brand ambassadors, and increase conversion goals.
🧡 Many thanks to Melissa for sharing her experience with us.
Listen to a genuine story of what it is like to work as an SEO Specialist and Digital Nomad:
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Getting in touch with our podcast guest, Melissa Popp
Follow Melissa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/poppupwriter
Follow Melissa on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissapopp/
Check Melissa’s website: https://www.melissapopp.com/
WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Melissa Popp
Isaline: Hey, folks. It’s Isaline. I’m thrilled to record another episode of WorkInSEO podcast, a podcast where we explore the diversity of career path in SEO. We interview amazing people to learn from them and help you find your way in your SEO career. I’m Isaline Muelhauser, SEO nerd and content strategist, founder of the SEO consultancy, Pilea.ch
Today, I am joined by the brilliant Melissa Popp Friendly Neighborhood Content Strategist at RicketyRoo. Melissa has a long career as a content writer with big names and funny anecdotes on ranking with informational content on words queries. Hey, Melissa. Welcome.
Isaline: How are you doing today? More importantly, where are you?
Melissa: I’m doing great. I’m starting my day here at home in Denver, Colorado. My home office. My home base, if you will.
Isaline: This is, today, WorkInSEO podcast with Melissa Popp. We discuss how to work on the roads or how to be a digital nomad. That’s the keyword today. During this podcast, you will learn why and when it is a good time to go on the roads. Of course, we are going to discuss the challenges to have you prepared if you want to switch to being a digital nomad. The fun, of course, the good thing, and the bad thing.
Melissa, can you tell us a little bit more about you and when you got into the beautiful world of writing and of SEO?
Melissa: I have always been a writer since I was 4 or 5 years old. I loved writing short stories, poems. Everything I could get my hands on. I love getting assigned essays in school. I love just sharing my thoughts with people whether they wanted to hear them or not.
I went to college for journalism. During that time, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent to go overseas and share other people’s stories because I felt sharing stories is very important, especially when it’s outside of our view of the world. During my college time, I took my year off to find myself like many of us do. You’re not sure what you want to do. You’re not sure if you’re happy with what you’re studying.
I picked up a few freelance writing gigs because friends had recommended, “Hey, you’re a writer. You can make money this way. Why don’t you do that?” For me, at first, it was just writing kind of as SEO was starting. I realized, “Holy cow, if I can figure out ways to combine SEO with writing, and I can do it on my own time, I don’t have to be tied and chained to a desk like many people do once we get out of college and find a job.”
From there, I started working, continued freelance gigs. I’ve worked in-house doing SEO and content marketing. I’ve worked on the agency side, but I’ve done a lot of this on the road, visiting friends, being able to move here and there as I please. I’ve traveled by Amtrak, the train, throughout a lot of the U.S. from college to now.
I’ve lived at the beach for a couple of years. Beach bumming and writing from the sand. I do a lot of camping. All these opportunities I’m given is because our work is really incredible that we can do it from anywhere.
Isaline: To give our audience an idea of how uniquely you merge creative writing and SEO, I have read the anecdotes in LinkedIn about the plumber. Can you share this with the audience? I think it was a beautiful example of how you write and how you take the best of each world to write content.
Melissa: The plumber story is when I share in interviews when I’m looking for work, just with people in our industry. One of the things I seem to be really good at is pulling out the micro-moments of a particular story. Whether I’m writing something creative or I’m doing something for SEO. I’m always looking for opportunities where I can find something that nobody else is writing about. I had a local plumber here in Denver and I was creating a content strategy for them. In Google Search Console, I see that he’s getting a lot of traffic to his website for people searching for what to do if you get your hand stuck in the garbage disposal.
I don’t know about everybody else, but if I got my hand stuck in the garbage disposal, I probably wouldn’t be going to Google to figure out what to do. Somehow, people were searching, and they were coming to his website for that. The thing was, he didn’t really have any content on his website about that, but somehow Google was making a correlation. People were clicking on his site so he was ranking for it. I was like, well, what if we created a blog post to give people the guide they need that if that happens, what they should do so that they don’t get injured, or hurt, or whatnot. I wrote up this awesome blog, five things to do when your hand gets stuck in the garbage disposal. It immediately ranked top 3 in Google, eventually number 1.
To this day, it was the number one traffic driver to his website. What was even crazier is that on many occasions, it was converting and he was getting business from it. This is a story I love to tell because so many of us are focused on trying to find what’s going to drive the most volume? What’s going to be the most relevant traffic to a website?
Sometimes, that’s not always what works. I love trying to find those moments like I did for this plumber to find unique ways to drive traffic. That blog post, for all I know, really helped someone who got in that situation not get injured or lose a hand. That’s exciting to be able to find those ideas that are outside the box for clients through content strategy.
Isaline: That’s a wonderful example of how to use the tools and the data. How to be creative about writing. I just certainly love this example.
Let’s go back to today’s subjects. When did you decided that you wanted to work on the road? What’s happened at this point? What’s happened between the moment you decided that you wanted to do it and that you actually did and left?
Melissa: I would say probably about 2005, 2006, I was still living in my college town, not going to school. As I started picking up freelance work and with tools like PayPal to get paid, and the different project management systems and communication systems that came up, it became a lot easier to work with clients one-on-one versus sitting in an office doing work.
As I started thinking more about that, the first thing I thought it was, “Well, wait a minute. I can live anywhere. I want. I don’t have to stay in this college town and find a job and work. I could literally move anywhere I want.”
From there, my best friend at the time, her family was going through some struggles. I decided to help them out and move in with them at the beach. I lived at a beach house, probably about a 10-minute walk from the beach. I could work from the house, help them out where they needed, and then work from the beach like the literal feet in my sand, laptop on my lap.
That was the first time I realized the freedom of what we do. Now, back then, I mean, we’re talking 15 plus years ago now, a lot of jobs weren’t allowing you to work remotely. Your traditional 9:00 to 5:00 wanted you in the office, wanted you collaborating that way. We didn’t really have a lot of tools back then to be able to work the way we do all remote now.
At first, it was more about, “I want to move somewhere and not be tied to a desk.” From there it evolved that I realized, “I have friends in DC, I have friends in New York City, I have friends up and down the east coast. I can travel to get there.” Amtrak’s a relatively cheaper way to travel versus flying everywhere. I was like, I can take Amtrak. The cool thing is if I do an overnight trip on Amtrak, I can also work on the train. This opened up a whole world of possibilities of if I wanted to go for a week and visit friends in DC, I can work from DC.
If I want to go camping for a weekend and I need to do a couple of things, I can do that as well. The possibility just kind of opened up. That was like, I really can with a laptop and a phone. As long as I have a stable internet, I can work and go anywhere. It doesn’t just have to be a coffee shop or a co-working space. It literally could be in the middle of a national park surrounded by nature, just enjoying the world. For me, that kind of really opened up all these possibilities of, I don’t need to be tied to a desk. I can make it happen as long as I plan and stay consistent with what I’m doing so that whoever I’m working with is getting what they need in a timely manner.
Isaline: What did you need to prepare to go what’s in your bag, basically? To have the adequate set up to deliver.
Melissa: For me, I mean, the number one thing is a stable internet connection. That was a little bit harder back when I started. You didn’t have mobile hotspots the way they do now. 5G and those sorts of things weren’t rolled out where you had unstable signals even in the middle of the woods. As long as I have a stable internet connection at some point during the trip, that’s important. Having my laptop. I have a higher-end laptop that could do video, all of that. Having my phone so that I can use that as the hotspot, but also communicate if I’m not at my laptop. Maybe I’m at a restaurant. Maybe something comes up, not during non-working hours. For me, those are the core things I need. I do all of my stuff virtually. All my notetaking is done in Evernote. I use my own project management tools like Trello and Todoist to manage my tasks. A lot of what I do is within our virtual world online. As long as I have access to those things, I can still work.
One of the most important lessons I learned at the beginning is, “Well, yeah, if we don’t have the internet, what are we going to do? We can’t work. We can’t communicate with the clients.” I made sure when I’m working, I use the cloud to see all of my work. But if I know I’m going to be away from an internet signal, I make sure that I have access to all those documents offline. So, I don’t get in a situation where I may not have internet and I literally can’t work. But as long as I can work offline, when I get back online, then I can go ahead and send things to clients, communicate, all of those things.
Isaline: The first important thing would be to check that all documents, everything necessary, is accessible offline. Also, I noticed that in the setup you need, you did not mention headphones. I wonder if you have a super ability to concentrate on your work, or if you are one of these people who listen to lots of music. Some people likes to have noises around. How do you deal with not being concentrated on your work?
Melissa: I’m a bit of both. I definitely carry headphones with me, but it’s interesting that if I could only have five minutes to pack my bag and just only take these items, they wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing I grab. I do use my Bose Quiet Comfort Noise-canceling Headphones. I also use my Samsung Galaxy Buds as my everyday headphones. Those do come with me when I’m traveling, whether it’s a coffee shop or not.
I’m a people person. I love to watch people. Depending on what I’m doing, I’m invigorated by the noise around me. Yes, I totally am a person who is constantly listening to music or have a podcast on in the background. Of course, it really depends on the tasks you’re doing. If you’re doing data analysis, and content strategy, and those sorts of things, your brain can probably process what’s going on around you while you’re doing that. If I’m writing or editing, that’s what I need more quiet time and potentially would put on the headphones. It’s interesting because headphones have never been a deal-breaker for me when working. I’m one of the unique people that can work in those situations.
Isaline: How do you handle communication with clients? I expect that you had some differences in timing like us today. For me, it’s late afternoon. For you, it’s in the morning. Do you prefer asynchronous communication? How do you manage to be on-call, sort of available, but also in a time that is correct for you and the place where you currently are?
Melissa: That’s one of the great things about what we do is that we get to meet people all around the world like us connecting today. I just finished my morning coffee. I’m sure after this, you’ll probably get ready to go to bed. It’s incredible what technology can do. We were able to find a good time that works for both of us that either of us out.
I’m a firm believer that if you’re working with a client, you can find and may compromise on both sides. I think addressing that from the get-go is super important. I’m very communicative with my clients outside of my day job. I make sure they know whether I’m not available for a day because I got a headache, or I’m going on vacation, or maybe I’m going to go off the grid for a few days.
I let them know well ahead of time that, “Hey, I’m going to be gone in these dates. If you need anything, feel free to email me, but I won’t get back to you until I get back.” I set those boundaries, as I think we all should. I very rarely, because of the way I work with my clients, have emergency situations, luckily, where all of a sudden something’s happening that, “It’s an SOS, you have to get on something.”
Luckily, when you’re doing content marketing, you usually don’t have SOSs like you would in SEO and web development. That’s nice. But I’m a firm believer in being upfront, honest, and not oversharing what’s going on, but you’re enjoying life too. Your clients want to enjoy life too. If it’s a right fit for you when you’re working with someone, they should understand that. They want to set boundaries.
Isaline: How long in advance would you send an email saying that you would be unavailable?
Melissa: I try to give five to seven days notices. That’s just been my standard in general. I’m actually getting ready to go on a three-week vacation at the end of this month. Probably next Monday is when I would start letting the handful of my clients outside of my day job know that, “Hey, I’m going to be unavailable, but I’ll be checking in on these days.” That sort of thing.
Obviously, if you have something, my iPad pings where a friend would call and be like, “Hey, do you want to go to the mountains for the day?” “Let’s go gamble at a casino for a day.” As soon as I know that, I’ll send out an email and be like, “Hey, this is what’s going on. Just to let you know, I’ll be out of touch for the day.” Very rarely have I ever had anybody — again, because of the way I structure my relationships with the clients, they already know what to expect when it comes to reporting, deliverables, that sort of thing. I think that’s a really key thing for anybody looking to live a nomadic life with what we do. Your processes and your schedule, your clients want to understand the consistency there. As long as you deliver that, whether you take a day off or a month off, they’re going to know what to expect. You’re not going to run into issues. Whether you take a random day off or you want to go off the grid for a month or two.
Isaline: I hear that it’s really about clearly communicating what you’re doing and having a strict process that you would always follow so people can understand. “All right, if she’s doing that, I can expect this and such things, right?”
Melissa: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the most critical thing that separates people who can work from home or work remotely from people that need the structure of an office. There’s nothing wrong with either of those. A lot of people right now want to pit everybody against one another. “Well, my boss wants me to come back to the office. I don’t want to. I’ve liked working from home.” I think, really, the key is what works right for you. Not everybody can work from home. Some can do a hybrid where they can kind of work a couple of days at home, but they also need that structure of the office a couple of other days. I’m a big believer in finding what works for you and not trying to force something that necessarily is going to cause trouble for you with work. This is one of those things in life that until you try it, you’re really not going to know what you’re made of and what you can push yourself to do to start enjoying the world around you.
Isaline: I find it really interesting that you say that you enjoy being on the road and that you are a people person. Because I had this idea that I really like enjoying from home. It’s been really game-changing for me to not sit in an office and organize my own day. I would say that I’m more of an introvert and I like deep silence to work. I don’t need that much interaction. I’m happy to have moments of interaction outside of work. I really liked that you say basically the exact contrary, which means that it’s a way of life that suits both. I had this idea that when you work from home, you might be more alone. But actually, no, you can also be really with people and meeting people.
Melissa: Oh, definitely. What’s really interesting is I love working from home. I definitely feel like I’m more productive, more focused, and I get more done working from home by myself. But I love being in an office as well.
During COVID, the job I had at the time was an in-office in-house position where I was commuting every day to work. We had our three months at home doing our quarantines as the state shut down here. I was talking to people all day. I’m on Slack, I’m on the phone. I was like, let’s just get on a Zoom and see each other’s faces. Not just people with work, but my friends, my family, that sort of thing.
For me, now that I work at RicketyRoo full time, I’ll go and work from a coffee shop and talk to random people at the coffee shop. I’m the worst person traveling because I go to the airport and I’m the person that if I see an opening to have a conversation with someone, I’ll have that conversation with you. It’s been a very interesting transition to work from home full-time again for me because I was so used to that office environment, I thrive in it. But, I find new ways now to get that social contact. With my coworkers at RicketyRoo, we’re leveraging Slack, Hangouts to talk to one another.
Now that things are loosening up with COVID and more people are vaccinated including myself, I’m going out to dinners with friends. Like I said, I’m going on this three-week vacation in a couple of weeks to actually see my best friend that I lived with at the beach. I’m super excited because we all were able to get vaccinated and actually make this trip happen. That’s going to be exciting.
I find different ways to get that social contact. For anybody listening to me that’s thinking, “This sounds really cool. I would love to get on the road. But, what about all those times I’m not around people?” Go and find your people. Go out to a restaurant or a bar. Go to a social event. Go to a concert. Put yourself out there. You will find people to have these moments with and interact with that will keep you satisfied if you need that social contact. Don’t let that stop you from going out and trying to be on the road.
Isaline: Did you mostly work traveling in the U.S., or did you go also to other countries?
Melissa: Unfortunately, I have really only traveled within the U.S. so far. That’s more of the financial constraints than anything else. I’m hoping in the next couple of years, a lot of that changes. If we can get past COVID and more things start opening up, I would love to figure out a way to — I mean, I’ll be in my 30s now, but I would still love to do the young kids backpacking through Europe adventure. I would love to go to Australia. It’s been a dream of mine to swim in the oceans and explore the reefs there. The U.S., there are so many beautiful things here just like every country has these wonders of nature. My big dream someday is to own an RV and be able to travel all through North America. Go to places in Canada in the national parks there and the national parks here in the U.S. that I haven’t been to and really get to explore. Sometimes we forget when we travel how much really is at home as well as what’s there when you leave.
Isaline: I really liked this idea because spontaneously, when you say, “digital nomads,” you imagine someone at the beach or in some faraway country that is not home. But today, speaking with you, I realized that I could travel in my own country. That would be on the roads too. That would be probably less complicated than going to another country. That would still be some kind of adventure. Given the current circumstances, it’s actually easier to stay in our own country.
I think it’s provided us a really interesting wider perspective than what I had at the beginning when I started speaking with you. Now I feel like, “Hey, before I go to some far-away place, I can actually just try going around my own country and visiting friends and family. That would be a good starting point also to test the organization if I like it or not.” If you have an advice for someone who is thinking about going on the road, what would it be?
Melissa: My biggest piece of advice would be to just try it. Stop letting your job, your friends, your family, the world around you, and your self-doubts let you believe that you can’t do this. Just like you said, you don’t have to go to the end of the world to be a nomad. There are going to be things in your own city, probably within 5 to 10 miles of where you live that you could go do for a day. Even a little bit further out there that you could do for a weekend. Start with something like that. You’ll know right away. If you can do this or not, or if you even like doing this. Maybe you just want to get away and not even touch the computer or talk to anybody. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But, don’t let the fear that you can’t do this, or it’s going to be too much stop you from trying. That would be my very biggest piece of advice. Don’t let that self-doubt get in your way of traveling.
Second, it really depends on your work setup. I’m really lucky at my current job that we have a fully flexible schedule. We’re trusted to get our job done. Whether we’re traveling. Whether we’re sick. Whether we just want to take a day off for our mental health. I’m really lucky because not a lot of people have that with their day job. It’s finding ways how you make your job work with what you want to do. For instance, I’m going on this trip in a couple of weeks, and I’m taking a full week off. But then I’m going to work pretty much part-time the rest of the time I’m there. I already know that my friend has two kids. We’re going to be seeing friends. We’re going to be going to the beach. We’re going to be doing these things. Once I know what that schedule looks like, then I can start planning. “Okay, I need to do this many hours on this day. Maybe I’ll work at night instead of the morning this day.” It’s tackling what your schedule is going to look like. Then holding yourself accountable to it.
At the end of the day, whether you’re working at the beach, whether you’re working in Iceland, whether you’re working from your mom’s basement because she’s driving you nuts upstairs and you got to get away from her, you still have to get your work done. Planning around what you’re doing versus just saying, I’m not going to do it. That’s really the key to success to getting the work done.
The other thing probably that I would advise for people is if you’re going on a trip, and you need that trip, and you thought you could work during it, don’t force yourself to work if you actually need that time away. Again, it depends on your job and how lucky you might be with flexibility.
Obviously, if you’re a freelancer and a contractor, you can set your own schedule. Be honest with yourself about why you need to take these trips. Because if you go into it and you’re not getting work done, and maybe you just need a break. It was too much work to take on the road, don’t beat yourself up. Be honest about what happened. Be honest with your clients and your job. Then, figure out how you’re going to stop that from happening next time. Maybe that’s how you’re scheduling things. Maybe that’s used too much. Really take the time to figure out what works for you so that you don’t set yourself up for failure in a way that’s just going to keep making this nomadic lifestyle happen the same way.
You want to enjoy your time. You want to get paid. You want to have fun. If you’re not getting it either by hitting the road, then you’re doing something wrong with how you’re setting yourself up for success for this lifestyle.
Isaline: I heard first start simple and try it out. Then one has to be very clear with one’s expectations. Have very clear boundaries and goals, and really be committed to them and to getting the work done. Also, being very aware of one’s needs. “Maybe I want to be in the road because I need time off.” It’s a completely different setup and environment I might need. It’s really about having this personal awareness of what we need, really. It’s a beautiful perspective. I really liked today’s podcast. It’s also very hopeful because it’s actually easy to do it. We can do it very close. I feel there’s lots of self-development that can be done and to set oneself up for success. What would be your next step now? I suppose you said you were vaccinated. You have this big holiday coming up. Do you see another big change in the coming month or years or something else you want to do or go?
Melissa: First, I think we need to get through COVID. Then, we can really start figuring out where anybody wants to go. For me, this trip that’s coming up, this is a mental health trip as much as it is as a holiday. I haven’t actually left Denver since January, 2019 due to a series of events with both my career and then COVID. I need to get out of Dodge. I’ve done all the things. My best friend has done all the things that we can to make this happen, and do it safely, and not worry as much about what’s going on with the pandemic, which is nice. But from there, I’m hoping next year to make a couple of different trips.
I would love to go see my mom who lives in North Carolina. She lives in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina, surrounded by beauty and colorful trees. That’ll be a great trip. I’m hoping to make it to New York City at some point next year. I love New York City. It’s one of my favorite places ever. Right now, those are the two big things as far as I can see in the future for now because of what’s going on in the world. But from there, the sky’s the limit.
I’m hoping as a global community, we can get a grip on COVID and more people can start traveling. At that point, I think I feel more comfortable looking at destinations in Europe. I would love to go to Greece. I would love to go to Rome. I think right now, the focus is really for people who want to be nomadic is what can you do locally? What can you do within your own state, your own province, your own country that will let you see the world and do it safely? I think, really, that’s where my travel focus is right now because of where we are with the world.
Isaline: Thank you so much for sharing. I see that time is running because it’s so nice to talk to you. I have one last chapter that I like to do in the podcast episodes. At the end, is there someone you think I should invite next in the podcast who’s also someone you want to mention? It’s the moment now to just share the love and maybe a little bit of visibility with someone.
Melissa: I recently took part in the Women in Tech SEO mentorship cohort. I was paired up with Tiffany DaSilva who is just one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. Over the three months we were together, she really pushed me out of my comfort zone, what I thought of myself, and helped me see the world in a different, better place. She’s awesome. She’ll probably hear this and shy away from it. She’s an awesome inspiration to me. I think she’d be an awesome inspiration to anybody who would get the opportunity to talk with her.
Isaline: Thanks so much. If people want to continue chatting with you and keep on discussing, where can they find you?
Melissa: I pretty much exclusively live on Twitter. That’s pretty much where I communicate with people, especially in our industry, where I share my thoughts on all things, content, SEO, video games, travel. If people want to follow me there, the more the merrier. My Twitter handle is @poppupwriter. Maybe we can share that so it’s easier for people when this goes live.
Isaline: Yes, I will add everything you mentioned in the transcript, in the notes of the show. Thank you so much again for being here. Thank you everyone for joining us. That was a brilliant talk. I want to go tomorrow, take my cats with me, and go on the road.
Melissa: Do it. Absolutely.
Isaline: Please, if you have any feedback for me, do reach out. I have a Twitter account. It’s @WorkInSEO. Any feedback, reviews, and comments, just let me know. I’m looking forward to the next podcast episodes. Thank you.