Today’s guest, Jason Barnard brings an eclectic mix of blue dogs, punk and SEO with this wildly varied and interesting conversation. 

Jason is a man who has chased life experiences and is full of amazing stories including many interesting connections with UK 1980’s pop heroes. We also discuss mental health issues and losing the rights to his beloved identity as a blue dog.

A Call To Self Expression

Born in Leeds UK, Jason’s childhood in a tiny, remote village on the legendary Yorkshire Moors was pretty lonely. School was “big on Rugby, big on fights, violence and mutual torture between children” so Jason turned to punk as a way of expressing himself. 

Moving to Liverpool was liberating and amazing where he realized he no longer needed to be a Punk. The city welcomed him and gave him a place where he could be whoever he wanted to be. Jason joined a blues band called “Stanley The Counting Horse” which came with an opportunity to play at The Cavern Club (of The Beatles fame).

Punk & Travel

By age 21 he was ready to move on from Liverpool and was offered an opportunity to play and travel with punk band ‘The Barking Dogs’: 

“We need a double bass player.
If you can learn to play in 30 days you can join the band.”

So that is what he did. He learned to play the double bass in a 2-hour lesson, and his tutor gave him some valuable wisdom and a great metaphor for life. Joining the band started a 10-year career in folk-punk and beer drinking. As you will hear, drinking was a requirement of the job.

Life on the road was a constant journey, travelling to gigs and busking on route.

“We were completely convinced we were going to be rock stars and play in stadiums.”

Although they never made fame they performed 600+ gigs and 3000+ street appearances. This meant 8-9 years covering 100,000 km a year in a van. Their destinations included Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Zurich and Milan where they found themselves competing for an audience with U2.

After ten years living this way the band eventually fizzled out as everyone left to find new directions. The party was over and Jason was left wondering what’s next?

Blue Dogs

Going it alone, Jason moved to Mauritius and started writing children’s songs. But the record companies wouldn’t take him seriously because of his background in punk. So he recorded them himself and his wife Véronique created some cartoon characters to go with them. 

That was the birth of Boowa and Kwala, with Jason being the voice of Boowa (the blue dog) and his wife being Kwala (the yellow koala).

In 1998 they created a website and launched a CD-ROM for kids, which was basically children’s songs sung by a blue dog and a yellow koala. By 2007, they were getting 5 million visits a month and had built a company that was doing very well. This led to making a TV series with ITV International.

However, in 2008 the blue dog journey ended in a disagreement with a business partner. The ensuing court case, frustration, depression and loss of income was tough for Jason and the family. They lost the business and were stuck in Mauritius with nothing. His only option was remote working and so began his journey to becoming a Web and SEO consultant.

Transitioning from Boowa to SEO

Losing the company meant losing all rights to his identity as Boowa. From our conversation it is evident that this was a particularly hard blow for Jason. It was like having his soul ripped out, and whilst that part of his life is gone, he still has countless memories and retells some heart warming stories for us.

At this point in the podcast we learn how he dealt with depression and the tools he used to maintain mental health. It touches on some raw nerves so I appreciate his willingness to share his experience. Even with challenges, life doesn’t stop, and Jason had to pick up the pieces and move on. 

Living in Mauritius, it had been difficult to recruit experienced programmers and web developers for Boowa & Kwala. Recognising that some of the MYSQL his developer had written just wasn’t right, he bought a book and taught himself what they needed to know.

“Over several months… I would read at the weekend, then come back in (to the office) and sit down with the developer… so we learnt together”

Also, whilst living in Liverpool, Jason had graduated from University with a BA (Hons) in Economics and specialisation in statistical analysis. This combined with his experience promoting Boowa & Kwala gave him a good foundation for what was to come.

On Top Of His Game

Today Jason is at the top of his game in SEO and has a podcast dedicated to the subject. So in addition to his wild and varied lifestyle he has also created some unique management systems to influence how Google reflects a business. He is known as “The Brand SERP Guy” and is now becoming known with his work in “Knowledge Panels”.

It’s technical stuff and not for most of us mortals, but if you are a digital agency serving clients, Jason is the man to speak to. 

Our full conversation explores Jason’s journey over 30 years in ten-year jumps. He is a wonderful storyteller and this podcast is longer than usual so I considered splitting it. In his words: 

“The first part will be the bonkers mad person, and part two will be the digital marketer.”

That is not a fair description of our conversation. It is a beautiful journey of a man playing the game of life, learning loads of stuff and reinventing himself along the way. I do hope you enjoy this conversation about blue dogs, punk and SEO with Jason Barnard. All his links are below.

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