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#MarketingMinds: Interview with Lee Wilson from Vertical Leap

By Nadine Burzler 09 Aug, 2018
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

The #MarketingMinds series share real-world stories from marketers showing how digital marketing has helped them develop their careers or businesses.

Lee Wilson - Marketing Minds Interview

Marketing Mind:

Lee Wilson

I head up the SEO department at the UK top 10 search and digital marketing agency Vertical Leap. I've been in this role since 2010 and can be found writing expert commentary online tied to SEO, marketing, start-ups, and all things digital.

LinkedIn | Website

What is your background in Marketing, and how did you come to be in the position you are in now?

I started off in-house within the financial services sector and spent around 7 years leading the digital and direct-marketing department, helping the company grow into international markets.

After that, I set up and ran my own Ltd company providing website marketing, online content and website design. After a few years splitting my time between specialisms I became focused on SEO and started working with Vertical Leap.

Which technical skills do you believe are most important in your role?

There are many but initially, I would say; strategic thinking, as the ability to prioritise focus, understand business objectives and turn them into an action plan, and generally deliver effective digital marketing campaigns are paramount.

More than ever data is a skill that needs to be embraced and nurtured. From content ideation and delivery through to identification and enhanced of topic/term/page performance, you need effective data skills to lead your decision making.

Which soft skills prove most useful in your role?

Patience, caring, empathy, and genuine pride over what you do is a great start. These can be supported by the humanistic qualities that enable someone to develop and grow with the changing needs of the role including; self-drive, enthusiasm, motivation and passion for what you do.

Which markets do you operate in?

Primarily the UK / nationwide however, we often take on international brands and businesses and are certainly not restricted to the UK market.

Which Marketing or Business related book would you recommend to a colleague, and why?

'The Art of SEO' is always a good introduction to the SEO niche specifically. If they want something more technology marketing led, 'The Second Machine Age' is well worth a read.

What can be one of the biggest challenges Marketers face in the industry you operate in?

Staying on top of industry changes - notably those specific to opportunities and threats. It's easy to stick to what you know and become left behind compared to all of the new, exciting, creative, and changing; technological, integrated and data-driven opportunities that exist.

Always read about whats going on, focus on refinement and improvement, and never pigeonhole yourself based on a handful of tactics that have worked for you historically. Test, experiment, improve - if you never fail, you are not pushing yourself enough.

How do you and your team overcome the aforementioned industry challenges?

We have an open, transparent and trusted team (and company) culture. This facilitates experimentation of tactics, sharing of results, sanity checking approaches, and knowledge sharing of everything useful (and random fun things too).

We also like to share good reads and debate topics too - debating is a great way of working as a team and challenging the status quo regarding of role, experience and other factors that can sometimes impede confidence to have your say.

Describe what a typical day at work looks like for you?

Ha, I don't really have a typical day, but here are some of the common characteristics in a day.

- Start early and set priorities for the day and week. Consider the previous day/week achievements or failures and think about progressing them into wins

- Go through new emails and team/customer/service needs. Prioritise them within my expected focus for the day/week

- Log into Apollo Insights (more on Apollo at and take a look at the latest programmatic insights, opportunities and analysis on customer sites

- Take action - this is a key factor for every day. For any priorities, data changes, new insights or frustrations, the key thing is doing something to make an impact

- Communicate with my team, other teams, customers, and other.

Practical actions often include improving site technical performance and removing barriers to performance, increasing value and positive contribution of current content towards customer search objectives, and filling the content gaps in marketing approaches that give the audience what they need in a format and coverage that they need it the most.

My day is all about setting goals, assessing achievements and progress, communicating and making things happen (taking action).

Please share digital marketing tools that help you and your team accomplish your goals every day.

Apollo Insights - this proactively (via intelligent algorithms and machine learning) empowers me and my team to achieve more (scale, depth of data/insight) and do a more thorough job.

Google Analytics / Search Console (and associated Google data points) - data it everything and a great deal of data start from Google. The myriad tools and analytical data sets are hugely important for SEO, marketing, and general user understanding plus performance optimisation.

In your opinion, what are the most valuable skills a marketer in your role can have?

Passion, empathy, caring, self-drive, business acumen, a creative and questioning mindset, plus a need to keep improving.

What is your biggest career goal?

Happiness always comes first both professionally and personally. I take a great deal of pleasure nurturing talent, empowering my team to do an amazing job, and generally making working in this amazing industry fun, exciting and rewarding for all involved.

What are your most important KPIs (Key Performance Indicator)?

Customer sentiment and associated metrics specific to their relationship with our company. For SEO specifically, these will be tied towards unique business goals and objectives but commonly include metrics like relevant: - impressions/visibility - traffic/sessions/new users - goals/conversions - % organic search contribution And for e-commerce sites the expected revenue driven metrics.

What is unique about the organization you work for?

The people, culture, approach and Apollo Insights.

What are the most important attributes you look for in a Manager?

Honesty, enthusiasm, trust, experience and understanding.

Across the marketing mix, what medium has brought you the best results?

I am massively biased but, SEO of course!

Describe one of the most successful projects or campaigns you've worked on. Why was it successful?

One that stands out is a current customer that has expanded their business offline based on the successes online.

Hiring new staff, growing product ranges, building new warehousing and setting all-time performance levels every year.

I've had the pleasure of working with them over a number of years and take a huge amount of satisfaction setting new aspirations and targets based on exceeding those previously idealised years after year.

Why it works is based on mutual trust, a clear understanding of what they need, a great business model and products their audience genuinely love, and staff who work with us as part of an integrated team.

Added to that is the fact that we can deliver more expertise and insights (rather than just collating data and spending lots of time recombining data sets) due to the competitive advantage that we have with Apollo Insights.

Have you worked on a project or campaign that didn't go as planned? Please describe what went wrong, and the key takeaways from the experience?

Yes - I think everyone has that's been in the business a long time, and you always remember them and learn from them the most.

In my case, the business needed results extremely fast and did not have the budget or other key building blocks (authority, trust, established services/products, more) needed to realise the expectations set.

SEO was not the best fit for the needs, but budget restraints meant it was the only option available at that time.

All of this plus a very short time-frame for results meant that the project was extremely difficult to say the least.

Lessons include pushing back on taking on a project that is not the right one from the outset (despite wanting to help) and generally reaffirming the expectations are right from the start otherwise you are doomed for failure (or certainly a much rockier road).

What is the best piece of work-related advice you have ever received?

Trust yourself - you know what is right.

What do you see as the most exciting future opportunities in digital marketing that you are working on?

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice search and so much more!

By Nadine Burzler

Nadine is a multimedia content marketing specialist with extensive experience in startup and higher education marketing. Connect with her via LinkedIn

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