Growth Hacking Interview Series #42: Marcus Miller

Marcus is head of search marketing at Bowler Hat in Birmingham, UK.

Marcus has worked in and around search for over 15 years and focuses on search strategy, SEO, PPC and helping business implement effective, unified digital marketing campaigns.

Oh, and despite the name, we don’t sell hats (despite having people turning up now and again to buy one).  I encourage you to connect with Marcus through LinkedIn and Twitter.

What is your primary marketing goal when it comes to delivering results?

It is hard to define a single goal that encapsulates every single project that comes through the doors. Goals range from awareness to clicks to engagement to good old fashioned sales and leads.

What we like to do is help the business evaluate the proposed goals and ensure the campaign goals are well aligned with the business goals.

We like to advise and really nail the strategy first. At the end of the day it is all about increasing revenue and cutting costs – keyword rankings and traffic mean little without results.

What type of links do you believe are the best links to get?

Again, it is not easy to generalise here and the best types of links to get are the ones that you need.

Links are still very much the currency of web authority and they have two direct jobs to do being to send visitors via clicks and to help the search engines judge the relevance and authority of your site for a given topic.

A link that may help one site may do little for another site so it really does need tailoring to the task at hand.

Often best links to get are the hardest ones to get and certainly that are not automated in any way. I am still a big fan of guest posting if it is done with a triple A mentality.

That is creating extremely high value pieces of content on sites that are at absolute top of the ladder in your topical area and as an example I have a column on Search Engine Land.

The pieces I put on this site are highly visible around key terms and send a boatload of referral traffic.

They have branded links in the bio and often a link to specific pieces of content on www.bowlerhat.co.uk that expand on an area mentioned in the article.

These pages themselves get thousands of shares and earn links themselves theoretically increasing the value of the links from this page to my own site over time.

Ultimately, any links that are built purely for search engines are likely to be devalued and problematic down the road.

That’s not to say they don’t work as we still see lots of the typical link network fodder in the small business space but this is not a strategy that is building value and long term sustainability.

To determine the right kind of links for any given project or goal you have to do the research and understand the competition, marketplace and niche and build/earn/incite the kind of links your competitors can’t just copy.

What SEO Tools do you have experience with and which ones do you prefer and why?

I have used a bunch of tools over time. I like anything that saves me time. I like elements of the Moz toolset.

I like the Whitespark and Bright Local tools for Local SEO. I like SEMrush and Majestic. I like Keywordtool.io and Ubersuggest for keyword research.

My favourite tool of all has to be Screaming Frog – it’s like an SEO Swiss Army Knife and just so, so useful for everything from audits to verifying analytics code is on every page.

All that said, I am kind of old school and I tend to use Google and an array of advanced query operators more than most of these tools.

What kind of “white hat link building strategy that scales” that you recommend?(What makes it your favourite one? How to execute it properly?)

This is kind of a boring answer, but the best approach is always to create an absolutely stunning piece of unique or highly valuable content and let people know about it.

You can supplement this by talking about the content on highly authoritative sites and greasing the awareness and link cogs but nothing works better than this long term.

An honourable mention has to go to contributing on the very top tier of industry blogs and digital PR via tools like HARO.

You really want to keep things varied and just have a focus on quality to ensure you are building a solid foundation for today and tomorrow.

How do you scale this favorite white hat strategy of yours?

Create more content. Be more aggressive in letting people know about it. Be smart and give folks a reason to link to it.

Promote your content with paid social promotion. This is almost the fun bit and there are generally so many options it is just a case of where to start.

What is more important: Onsite blogging or content marketing?

Both are important but depending on your current standing they may have different places within your overarching digital strategy.

I could create a piece of content and place it on my site and see it languish on the 2nd page of search results or place it on Search Engine Land and see it in #1 or #2 position.

So, whilst blogging on your own site is useful and will provide more traffic and should be your long term goal often utilising industry blogs provides folks with more exposure early on.

The SEO industry is an extreme example and many industries don’t have strong content marketing so you may always want to do both for the additional exposure.

What is more important; rankings or converting traffic?

What came first – the chicken or the egg? If I had to pick one it would be converting traffic as great rankings mean nothing unless they are converting into clicks and leads, awareness, sales etc.

Among the Google algorithm updates what is the most challenging one that you’ve encountered?

I have been in the game one way or another for a long time now and whilst I would love to trot out the typical holier-than-thou white hat response of “if you do things the right way then the updates don’t matter” type of response, I can’t do that as the response would be total bullshit.

We have clients coming through the door now that have worked with several agencies over time and don’t even know what has been done historically. Certainly, we see folks still struggling with Penguin related issues.

I tend to find the qualitative updates are tending to all blend together at this point and you really have to be focusing on quality to play the long game.

Everything from your brand, to your technical SEO, to your content to your link profile has to put quality first.

I really like the five SEO super signals proposed by Alan Bleiweiss of Quality, Uniqueness, Authority, Relevance & Trust – make that your mantra and you can stop chasing the algorithm which I don’t always find to be a mindset that leads to success.

What is the most important stage of SEO for you and why? According to other SEO’s each SEO campaign has stages from where to start and how to start it, my apologies if the question is a bit fuzzy but just to rephrase it, if SEO is about stages (ex: onpage audit, offpage audit, linkbuilding, content creation, onpage seo, etc) what do you think should be given more importance by an SEO given the current Google Algorithm updates? 

I always want to start with a comprehensive SEO audit and we have devised our own in house SEO audit process.

Whether this is a local business or an eCommerce site selling worldwide. The audit allows us to truly understand the current website, marketplace, competition and everything else relevant.

Whilst the client may have an idea of the problems we need to do this to move beyond assumed problems and get detailed on the strengths and weaknesses.

From this we can build a plan of attack that has focus where needed be that links, content or technical fixes. The audit provides the intelligence to enable you to advise and do the job – everything else grows out of this.

If there’s one SEO Guru you’d recommend who and why. 

There are a lot of good folks out there. When it comes to gurus, I am not really sure. The really big names are not truly gigging SEO’s any longer so I am not sure I would throw out a recommendation there.

I like some of the guys in the middle. Folks that are still doing client work and sharing their insights from the trenches.

I think Phil Rozek has the best local SEO blog going. He constantly publishes great content that can help real small businesses so happy to throw a shout out to Phil.

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