Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with fellow SEO (search engine optimsation) consultants in which I’ll be asking them about SEO and what they do in helping businesses achieve success online.
For the launch of this new feature, I’m delighted to introduce Marc Heighway of Expert SEO Southampton who discusses his route into SEO and plans for a forthcoming book on the subject. Let’s get into it…
Hi Marc, many thanks for being the very first SEO consultant to respond to my new interview series. Could you first off give the readers an intro to yourself with some background on how you became an SEO consultant?
Thanks for the opportunity Adrian. I’ve been involved in web marketing since I graduated from University many years ago. I started out as a web designer and then progressed into project management, managing online projects for the likes of Orange and Sony. My career progressed on to being the European Online Marketing Manager for Garmin – they are a US company who deal in GPS. I was out in Switzerland working for them and managed a team all through Europe, some of whom were working on SEO campaigns for me.
I’d always been interested in SEO myself, and in my spare time started dabbling in affiliate marketing – essentially ranking my own websites in Google to earn myself an additional income via referred sales and commissions. It got to the point where my side projects were actually more profitable than being employed so in 2013 I decided I should really go it alone and start up my own business.
Due to my successes with search engine optimisation it made sense to offer those services to clients – as it was something I was confident in doing well. So I moved back to the UK with my family and set-up in business… initially setting up an SEO company in Bournemouth as I’d lived in that town for many years… and then more recently opening up a new SEO company in Southampton as that was home town from when I was a kid growing up. I’ve spent the last 12 months positioning myself as well as I can as a leading search engine consultant on the south coast with talks at seminars as well as agreeing to interview requests.
This has given a really good platform to the Expert SEO side of my business as it’s given me some great exposure. It’s all part of the master plan to be viewed as the best SEO Company in Southampton which is something we’ve already achieved in Bournemouth at time of writing this interview (just search “SEO Bournemouth” to see for yourself).
SEO is ever changing, so I’m interested to find out how you stay up to date with the latest algorithm changes and techniques? How do you keep your ear to the ground, and more importantly, how do you know what you’re hearing is right?
For me I don’t take anything at face value until such time that I’ve tested it. I’ll give you an example; 6 months ago there was a huge amount of online chatter about how SEO was dead and that the act of link-building no longer worked. Whist I appreciate that Google have moved the goal posts to a certain degree, those statements could not be further from the truth. The reason I know this is because I test, test, and test again. That’s the best way in which you can ever know how to run an SEO campaign correctly… just keep trying new things.
At the same time, you do need to be very aware of what is happening. Google make over 500 changes to their algorithm every year – so it’s my job to be completely on top of that so the clients that I offer SEO to in Southampton and Bournemouth get the very best performance for their money.
I am lucky enough to be in a group of peers globally who all share ideas and strategies on SEO and search engine optimisation meaning we usually keep each other abreast of the latest techniques and methods.
Have you ever had to turn a prospective Southampton SEO client away? If so, why?
Yes, I do this all the time. The ideal client for me is one that trusts me to get on with their SEO with the least fuss. I get results for my clients thankfully, which means they do trust me to just get on with it. I’ve got a bit of a sixth sense now when the phone rings and I speak to a potential new client as to the kind of relationship we are going to have. If it doesn’t feel right to me then I won’t work with them.
My time is really precious and I like to provide a quality SEO service. I need to keep the low return on investment stuff to a bare minimum. This approach means I am quite selective with clients from both a personality side, and a price point side.
What methods do you use to gain new clients? Have you tried in person networking events?
I’ve never been to any networking events as such. I tend to work off recommendation or in the simpler route where clients find me online. I have recently been playing around with LinkedIn advertising and sales funnels – but generally speaking I am not a sales person. I’ve never made a sales call in my life and thankfully haven’t had to do that.
I think with SEO, the proof is really in the pudding. If you are ranking your own business SEO website above all the other agencies then there really is no higher recommendation – after all, you are beating other experts at their game. Clients see that when they do a Google search for SEO Southampton or SEO Bournemouth and decide you are the person that they want to work with.
Just as a side note, I get real success through video – here’s an example one that I put together for Expert SEO Southampton. It really converts well into a potential sale. If you are a business and you aren’t video marketing then you are missing a trick I promise you.
There have been a lot of algorithm changes from Google over the last year. I am sure that you’ve had many potential clients come to you with ranking issues due to past SEO practices they might have undertaken. Do you have any top-level advice for people who have seen their websites take a dramatic hit recently, or incurred a penalty?
Panic. I’m joking, although in all seriousness it can be quite a daunting issue. It really depends. I have seen websites make a perfect recovery via a process of having links removed, content re-written and the dreaded disavow process – and sometimes this can be a quick fix. But there’s sometimes no real science behind it or rationale from Google as to whether a penalty will get removed.
There have been occasions where I’ve worked with the client and literally told them that they have the option of ripping it up and starting all over again. For well established businesses though this isn’t always an option due to the brand equity they have in the market place… if that’s the situation then we follow a prescribed path I developed for SEO penalty removals – thankfully it’s always worked for clients, although the timeframes differ from job to job.
What sets your SEO agency apart from the competition? Are there any unique aspects to your consultancy that gives you a competitive advantage?
Probably a personal service, with an actual real-life SEO consultant on the end of the telephone. Most web agencies offer SEO as an afterthought and are staffed by a couple of kids straight out of college who will follow a tick-sheet of SEO tasks… which most of the time are out of date and have no real strategy behind them.
At Expert SEO Southampton every client is different and needs a unique approach to getting search engine results – and that’s what we give them.
Apart from SEO, are there any other digital marketing services you provide?
No. It’s purely SEO. I don’t like to dilute our offering or expertise with anything else bar great value and results-driven search engine optimisation.
What’s the one single thing you enjoy most about your SEO business now?
The fact that it gives my family and I more freedom than we’ve ever had before. Because it’s my own business I can pick and choose to a certain degree when and how I work. As an example, later this year we are going to go and spend 6 months in the United States on a “staycation”. I can work remotely anywhere in the World so can get to travel, whilst still fulfilling the needs of my SEO clients and my own personal online projects.
I’m guessing you have multiple SEO projects on the go at any one time, how do you stay organised? Are there any software tools or methodologies you use?
Despite working in the Internet industry I think I am actually quite old-fashioned in terms of organisation…. I have two white boards on the walls of the office with all the projects split up and noted on. For me it’s the easiest way to keep track of what’s happening with my own personal projects as well as the SEO projects I am doing for clients.
I find it so much easier than logging into a tool or getting email alerts from software – mainly because my inbox is always so clogged up with stuff that isn’t important.
Let’s go back in time, it is 1999, and knowing what you know now and what you’ve achieved, what advice would you give your 23 year old self?
Ha… I think I would tell myself to keep enjoying what I was doing… and not to get too hung up on my nine to five job because ultimately my destiny was in my own hands at that point, even if I didn’t realise it! Back in 1999 I was more interested in going to dance music events and promoting hard house club events in Bournemouth… I don’t think I would change that though – it was a hell of a lot of fun for a few years.
And lastly, are there any other websites or online projects that you want to tell us about – or perhaps any social channels or things you are working on currently?
At the moment I am writing a book about SEO. I planned to get it published earlier this year, but other things have just got in the way. That probably sounds quite grand doesn’t it! I can promise you it’s not though! I plan to self-publish it on the Amazon platform. You can write your own digital book for Kindle and publish it yourself and then anyone in the World can buy it – so that’s what I am going to do when I get the time. Just a bit of fun really. I don’t think it’s going to be the next Harry Potter – but small business owners might find it useful when I finally get it completed.