top of page


Erika Varangouli on Blending SEO, Brand, and Content for Success

  • X
  • LinkedIn
Erika Varangouli

Erika Varangouli, Content Marketing, SEO and Branding Specialist

Meet Erika Varangouli, a luminary in the realms of content marketing, SEO, and brand marketing, with over a decade of transforming insights into substantial growth across a diverse spectrum of industries including SaaS, Fintech, IT, Travel, Retail, and beyond. Her strategies are not just theories; they have consistently generated millions in revenue and traffic, showcasing her profound impact on the business landscape.

Erika's journey is a testament to her versatility and pioneering spirit. At Semrush, she led the charge in elevating the company's organic and brand visibility on a global scale, navigating through roles that spanned from the head of SEO and branding to director of organic search. Under her stewardship, Semrush saw two- and three-digit year-on-year growth rates, a reflection of her ability to craft strategies that resonate and deliver. Before Semrush, her expertise benefited powerhouses like Paddle, Capterra, Asics, Symantec, HSBC, and many others, proving her capacity to adapt and excel in varying corporate landscapes.

Her origins as a journalist and editor in Greece laid the groundwork for her content-driven approach to digital marketing. Recognising early the seismic shift towards digital, Erika leveraged her editorial skills to carve a niche in the online marketing world upon her move to the UK. This transition was sparked by her foresight into the evolving nature of press and media, coupled with the desire to explore the burgeoning field of online marketing amid Greece's economic challenges.

Erika's entry into marketing was marked by a role as an online marketing executive, where she cut her teeth on diverse projects and channels, setting the stage for her future successes. Her fascination with SEO and content marketing grew from witnessing the power of organic growth and the potential of content to drive visibility and engagement. This curiosity and dedication led her to become an indispensable asset to agencies and a vocal advocate for Semrush, even before joining the company.

Beyond her professional accolades, Erika is a celebrated public speaker, webinar and podcast regular, marketing tutor, and awards judge, sharing her wealth of knowledge and inspiring the next generation of marketers. Her passion for coffee, the enigmatic tunes of Nick Cave, and the iconic storytelling of The Godfather, add layers to her dynamic personality, reflecting a blend of creativity, tenacity, and a touch of nostalgia.

Erika's narrative is not just about the roles she's undertaken but the journeys she's embarked upon, the challenges she's embraced, and the changes she's spearheaded. It's about a relentless pursuit of excellence and a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of content, SEO, and branding to not just predict the future of marketing, but to shape it.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Erika Varangouli

Watch the interview

(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(53 minutes long)

Unscripted Content, Brand & SEO Q&As with Mark A Preston and Erika Varangouli

Who is Erika Varanguli?

I am Erika Varanguli, until recently the head of SEO branding at SEMrush, and before that, director of organic search and head of international brand at SEMrush, where I spent four years. My expertise lies primarily in content marketing and brand marketing, although I have extensive experience in SEO strategy and communication strategy. Before joining SEMrush, my career was predominantly agency-based, allowing me to work with a diverse range of clients, from start-ups to large corporations. I'm currently transitioning into a new phase of my career.

What has your journey been like in this industry, Erica?

Given my age, I could recount endless stories, but to keep it succinct, my career has been quite varied. Initially, I embarked on my career in journalism and editing for major publications in Greece, my home country. The shift to SEO and content marketing occurred when I moved to the UK in 2012, spurred by the changing landscape of the press and economic challenges in Greece. My intrigue in online marketing led me to forgo journalism for a role as an online marketing executive at an agency. This position offered me a broad exposure to various clients and marketing channels. Over time, I've merged my journalistic skills with my growing expertise in SEO and content marketing, leading to significant roles at agencies and eventually SEMrush, where I've embraced several roles and tackled numerous challenges, particularly in global content strategy, organic search, and international brand and SEO branding.

Do you think that having a background in journalism has helped you progress in this industry?

Absolutely. The foundational skills and experiences I've gained from journalism have been pivotal in my online marketing career. Journalism has endowed me with a keen understanding of audience engagement, storytelling, and content creation, all of which are crucial in SEO and content marketing. This background has also instilled in me the discipline necessary to produce not just appealing, but effective content. Therefore, my journalistic skills are deeply intertwined with my current work, enhancing my ability to navigate the digital marketing landscape effectively.

What are your personal thoughts and opinions on the digital PR industry at the moment?

Having experienced both sides of the industry, I hold a nuanced view of digital PR. Beyond the pursuit of links and authority scores, the essence of digital PR is to amplify a brand's reach and reputation. It's crucial to target authoritative platforms that resonate with your audience to achieve genuine engagement and reputation building. The industry's focus has shifted towards metrics such as engagement and total views, which has influenced content strategies and the quality of links. The challenge lies in balancing immediate goals with long-term strategic vision, ensuring content not only captures attention but also builds lasting authority and relevance. The dynamic between brands, journalists, and publications requires a thoughtful approach, emphasizing quality and strategic alignment over sheer volume of links or viral campaigns.

Is there any point in getting your story published where your audience doesn't hang out?

The relevance of your audience's presence on platforms where your story is published cannot be understated. Despite the allure of understanding search algorithms in depth, the fundamental goal is to engage meaningfully with your audience. Instances where links or campaigns lack relevance but achieve virality raise questions about their long-term value. The primary objective should always be to enhance a business's bottom line through strategic SEO and content marketing efforts. Reputation and audience alignment are paramount, outweighing the superficial benefits of high authority scores without genuine audience engagement.

What was one of your initial insights within the SEO sector?

Indeed, I have a similar tale from my early days in my first agency role. I was managing a client's account, focusing on link building – a practice not as frowned upon back then. I was tasked with generating a set number of links each month. One time, I discovered a mention on The Independent without a link. After some persistence, I secured a link on that article. Additionally, I created a profile for the client in an industry directory, complete with a website link. Upon reviewing the traffic and conversions, it was the directory link, surprisingly self-made and less authoritative compared to The Independent, that performed better. This experience taught me to look beyond simple metrics like follow/no-follow, the prestige of the publication, etc. It's about relevance, building a reputation, and connecting with your audience in meaningful ways, not just accumulating links with high authority scores.

Do you believe agencies should bear more responsibility for their impact?

Although I haven't worked in an agency for five years, my conversations with friends in the industry suggest a significant shift in mindset towards more responsible practices. During my agency days, it was often challenging to steer client discussions away from quantity of links towards more meaningful metrics. It's not just about the cost per link but the strategic value and long-term impact. There's a growing awareness among business owners and marketing professionals about what really matters, which is encouraging. This shift towards a more holistic understanding of authority, expertise, and the broader implications of SEO work is a positive change from the past.

How should SEO professionals approach content?

The strategy depends greatly on the stage and resources of the business in question. A universal truth, however, is the importance of not working in isolation. Collaborating across teams – from social media to design – is crucial. Content marketing encompasses much more than just SEO-focused content creation. It's about understanding where the greatest opportunities for growth lie, which may not always be SEO. Prioritising, testing, and being open to adapting your strategy based on what works is essential. The aim is to build visibility and connect authentically with your audience, not just to rank for a set of keywords.

What are your thoughts on SEOs creating topic hubs?

As a content marketing advocate, I see content as more than just a tool for SEO. It's about attracting, engaging, and converting your audience through various formats and channels. Topical relevance is crucial, but it's also about understanding your audience, your products, and the broader conversation around your brand. Content should not be created in a vacuum but as part of a comprehensive strategy that includes product offerings, customer feedback, and a deep understanding of your market.

How do you see brand integration within SEO?

The interconnection between brand and SEO is profound. Your online presence encompasses both the search visibility of your products and services and the public perception of your brand. These elements are deeply intertwined, affecting not only how you are found online but also the trust and reputation you build with your audience. Effective marketing strategies look beyond the narrow focus of ranking for specific keywords, recognising the importance of building a strong, reputable brand as part of a comprehensive SEO approach.

What would you say to those SEO professionals who argue that brand has no influence on SEO growth?

I once endeavoured to demonstrate the impact of brand on SEO through a correlation study, but the lack of sufficient data meant we couldn't definitively prove the relationship. However, the question isn't just about 'impact' in the narrow sense. The assumption that brand searches directly influence rankings remains speculative, as the inner workings of Google's algorithm are unknown to us all. My approach is more holistic, considering how businesses, their products, and services meet the needs of their audience. It's impractical to view marketing channels in isolation as it overlooks the compounded benefits of integrated strategies. Even seemingly straightforward connections, like linking top-funnel content to product information and trust signals on your website, play a crucial role in building brand recall and affinity. Marketing is a cohesive effort across all facets of a company, aiming not only to attract but to convert and retain customers at every touchpoint. I'm sceptical of the separation of brand and direct response strategies; they're all part of a unified marketing effort.

Is there a disconnect between SEO and Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)?

Indeed, there is a notable gap between SEO and CRO, which often stems from an overemphasis on specific metrics or a narrow focus within teams. The pursuit of organic traffic growth, while commendable, misses the broader business objective if it doesn't lead to tangible outcomes like sales or conversions. This issue may arise from teams prioritising their own success metrics over the company's overall goals or from a lack of comprehensive strategy at the leadership level. A holistic view is essential, considering how different channels and team efforts contribute to the overarching business objectives. It's crucial to balance traffic growth with conversion efficiency, often requiring a shift in strategy or focus to address current challenges and market dynamics effectively.

If an SEO's efforts increase organic traffic without a corresponding rise in leads, is it a failure?

The situation is complex and shouldn't be reduced to a binary outcome of success or failure. The real issue often lies in the alignment of expectations and objectives between SEOs and their clients or employers. A responsible agency or SEO professional should challenge unrealistic goals or misaligned strategies, proposing more effective solutions based on a thorough analysis of needs and opportunities. The disconnect might also relate to a misunderstanding of the conversion timeline and the nature of the traffic being attracted. It's crucial to educate stakeholders about the nuances of SEO and the varied impacts of different types of content and strategies on conversion rates. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that SEO efforts are not just about attracting traffic but about attracting the right kind of traffic that aligns with the business's conversion goals.

What is your opinion on industry studies within the SEO field?

I find SEO industry studies fascinating and a valuable source of insights. They serve as intriguing starting points for discussions and can inform hypotheses for further testing. However, the value of a study largely depends on its methodology and the clarity with which its findings are presented. It's essential to approach these studies with a critical mind, understanding their scope, limitations, and applicability to your specific context. While studies can highlight trends and potential areas of focus, they should not dictate wholesale strategic shifts without further investigation and testing within your own business environment. Transparency in methodology and limitations is crucial for the credibility and usefulness of any study, encouraging a more informed and nuanced application of their findings.

How should SEO professionals handle the information from studies with limited context?

The key is to approach such studies with a critical eye, paying particular attention to the methodology and openly discussing the limitations. When I was involved in conducting a study, we made a concerted effort to detail our methodology and explicitly outline the study's limitations to prevent misinterpretation or misapplication of the findings. Encouraging transparency and pushing for detailed methodology and limitations from study publishers is vital for the SEO community. This approach fosters a more informed and critical use of study data, ensuring that SEO professionals can make nuanced decisions rather than jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information.

Can SEOs make informed decisions based on SEO studies?

I believe not, unless it's a study about your own website and your competition and landscape. However, I do think it can serve as an excellent starting point for hypotheses and for identifying potential trends, right? So, how does this influence your strategy? It's not a straightforward application. Just because a study highlights a trend, it doesn't mean you should directly implement it. You need to approach it with curiosity and a critical mindset. Nonetheless, in terms of revealing new hypotheses you could test and new trends you might want to explore for your own business within your own context, yes, they can be incredibly useful.

How can SEOs move beyond just the SEO box?

Well, I'm not sure what the audience might need, but one principle I've consistently tried to apply in my work is the recognition that SEO, particularly when it works in isolation, has its limitations. It may suffice temporarily, especially in the early stages of technical SEO setup, and even then, you probably need developers. However, my encouragement to the world and those listening to us is to think outside the box. Look beyond just one or two channels and grasp what organic visibility means, what brand visibility signifies, and where these different aspects intersect. Attempt to build cases for businesses to try new approaches. Historically, businesses have been quite poor at experimenting. But nowadays, especially, this is where you can really make a difference.

What does the future hold for you, Erika?

You're catching me at a moment where the honest answer is, I have no idea. But what I can say is that I have a passion for content, brand, and SEO. I'm always on the lookout for a good challenge, not just any challenge, but a worthwhile one. I believe I'll be seeking that next challenge, but also, perhaps now that I have a bit more time, I might set up something of my own as well, something I've promised myself for years but never had the opportunity to pursue.

bottom of page