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Arnold Ma

How did you Get Started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

16th Feb 2012 SEO 22 minutes to read

StartWhether I’m at a digital marketing conference or trying desperately to generate some small talk with friends of friends, to break the ice I will often ask how they first got started in the industry they are working in. It may seem like a weird question to ask, but more often than not, it yields an interesting and unique story that really deserves to be shared!

So, in the true spirit of sharing, we approached some high profile and experienced people in the industry. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds and covering a full spectrum of roles, everyone was asked the same simple and open question “How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?”

Unsurprisingly, we got a fantastic response, including some genuinely surprising and inspiring stories. Here is a list of people we interviewed, click on a name to jump to their answer:

Andy BettsTwitter

Andy has over 11 years experience in international digital marketing, working with numerous blue chip companies.

Having worked with brands such as Google, MSN, Apple, HP and HSBC, he now specialises in helping large companies and marketing departments to grow and mange their growth in business structure and digital offerings.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

It was back in 2001 when I applied for a job at a company called Corporem Global (which became Latitude).

At that time little was known about search in the UK and I applied to be an Account Director. On taking the job I was told ‘erm – would it be possible to bring in some new business first so you can manage that’. It was really a case of teach yourself PPC and teach the client, then sell and manage.

Naturally over the years standalone PPC deals turned into joint SEO and PPC projects. I was responsible for winning and growing this type of business. I helped manage some of the industry’s biggest campaigns such as Tesco Personal Finance, A+L, Bet365, and Saxo Bank

Note: I have never been a technical implementer and I am not a technical coder. My focus was, and is, on strategy and best practice working on PPC and SEO campaigns for the majority of the business.

The business went from £300,000 turnover to £18million in 5 years as was the fastest growing company in Europe.

After that I went to work at Performics, Doubleclick (2007) working with sales, marketing, and client service teams on digital, search, and SEO projects with clients such as VisitScotland, Lexis Nexis, HP, Corel, Ladbrokes and also with some of the industry’s largest agencies on search technology.

We got bought by Google for $3.1bn and I became a Google employee for a while before we were then spun off to Publicis.

I then worked across Publicis with Starcom, Digitas, zenith, zed digital on integrated SEO, PPC, and digital campaigns. My role slowly merged into a marketing-focused role and pitch management role.

I began to work with agencies and advertisers promoting search, SEO and digital media whilst also consulting and working on marketing and social projects with companies such as Dentsu, IgnitionOne, Experian working closely with Google and Facebook on many projects.

Since then I have focused on promoting digital and SEO and its business value, ghost writing , writing, and helping organize conferences and speaking projects/pr for companies, and branding/re branding and product marketing in the search and display technology space.

You could say that “I brought up in a marketing and sales environment within the fields of search and digital”.

Now, I have developed into an integrated marketer with search as my core role.

I currently consult for a number of companies on the convergence of digital search, social and SEO strategy and help companies structure their organisations effectively.

I love this industry and the amazing stories that people have to tell.

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Ben NormanTwitter

Ben Norman is the founder and Managing director of Koozai, where he is responsible for the strategic direction of the company. Thanks to his extensive knowledge in the industry and his vision to expand the business, Koozai has now been recognised as of the fastest growing tech companies in Europe.

While not expanding the business at Koozai, he is also a successful author. His book has helped businesses to utilise SEO and has sold over 50,000 copies in English speaking countries and is now in its third edition.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I am a self-taught SEO and started my learnings back in 2005.

When I started out my career I couldn’t have been further away from marketing. I started off in electronics and worked my way into a laser company building lasers. Form there I was head hunted to work for another bigger laser company running a team. The problem was the .com bubble had burst and the company was still growing, but my career prospects were not looking like going anywhere too far in the foreseeable future. I also became immersed in the Internet and the dream of working within the digital industry as I believed that was where the future was.

I then spent the next 12 – 18 months studying business, reading books, doing courses and reading blogs, teaching myself web design and business skills. Alongside this I was doing projects in my spare time working with mainly web design projects.

On top of the above I had to learn SEO as the companies I was engaging with were doing it very poorly and I felt I would need to learn more in able to correctly source suitable agencies to work with.

The more I learnt about SEO the more I enjoyed it and the more I started utilising these new skills until I was mainly doing SEO rather than web design. This ended up being a very natural progression and I soon found myself being sourced for more and more SEO projects.

I eventually ran out of time after only a few months and took the decision to go full-time as an SEO Consultant and leave my other job. This freed up some more time but that quickly got filled. On top of this I was offered a book deal to write on the subject of SEO by the leading UK book publisher In Easy Steps and this was taking a big part of my time.

I then took the decision to move away from being purely a stand alone SEO Consultant and create a proper company as I was out of time again and needed extra resource to service the new clients coming on board. This enabled me to grow from just myself in a bedroom part-time with a handful of clients to a 20 strong company with offices in both Southampton, Hampshire and Covent Garden, London and a client base of over 130 active clients.

For me SEO is an amazing industry to be in where even your competitors can be close friends, also the exchange of information is unlike any industry I have ever known.

Koozai is now finally getting the recognition it deserves as a thought leader and I feel privileged to be working with such great people on a day to day basis.

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Dan TaylorTwitter

Juggling many different roles, Dan Taylor is primarily the SEO manager for one of the largest online comparison websites, moneysupermarket.com. In his spare time, he is also the Owner of SEOwned – an SEO agency based in the north west of the UK. If that’s not enough, Dan is also the Owner and editor of searchbloggers.co.uk, publishing articles with the latest industry news, guides and how to’s.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I kind of fell into SEO really, I was a freelance web developer/designer, and I use the term freelance lightly as I wasn’t making very much money at all. I had been for an interview at Click Consult a few years before I joined but decided that the opportunity was not right at the time.

How I joined was something of a fluke, I decided out of the blue to email the MD to see if they had any jobs, he promptly replied with a polite ‘no’. However the very next day the incumbent SEO decided to have a hissy fit and resign. Matt called me to arrange an interview and the rest, as they say, is history. Once at Click Consult the SEO bug bit hard and now I love the daily challenges that going sword to sword with Google et al provides. I still undertake the odd design or development job through my own company SEOwned but the majority of my focus and passion is now with SEO.

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Gus FergusonTwitter

Gus Ferguson is the co-founder and director at Quad London where he is primarily responsible for business development, while managing all areas of the organisation and developing new products. Quad London is a platform solution providing clients with a portfolio of publishers for online PR distribution. Gus also had vast previous business development experience working within online industries, holding senior positions for some of the biggest digital marketing agencies in the UK.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I’ve been working in various online disciplines for the past 10 years covering affiliate, online lead gen, email and online media planning and buying, so was always picking up bits and pieces of info about search, but was never actively involved until being recruited into the role of Business Development Director at Forty2 Digital in 2008.

Forty2 was the original media-based content distribution network, and as first market mover there was an incredibly steep learning curve in order to be able to effectively discuss what we did with the SEO industry. This is where I really got my teeth into marketing SEO (as opposed to technical SEO), content creation and distribution. The generous knowledge sharing culture of the SEO industry was vital to the growth of this business, and I made a lot of great, very smart friends whose brains have been consistently rich pickings! Along with a fair amount of trial and refinement, this collaborative assistance and experiential insight has built the basis for the popular content-based SEO-PR products that we run at Quad London today.

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Jackie HoleTwitter

Jackie Hole, an experienced search engine marketing strategist, has over 12 years experience in the digital industrial working on both web design and digital marketing. Jackie is currently an independent search marketing consultant specialising in paid search, conversion, and organic for USA and Canadian markets. Jackie is also the director of Carnival creative.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I actually started in SEO by accident after a chance website purchase made me want to know more!

It started in 1994 – having never used a computer before I thought I should, so I started Multimedia & Interface Design degree. After term 1 I was offered a job by my tutor so I was lucky enough to work in industry and study. After several years working with Director, Flash & Photoshop for blue chips, I set up my own multimedia company and moved to York in 1999 which was without a doubt the turning point for my career path.

I started buying domains for project ideas as I thought it would be good place to start, then one day I suddenly started receiving 5,000 hits, 10,000 hits to a site and I had no idea why. I discovered that I was getting misspelled traffic from the band Hearsay, so I created a series of joke animations that went viral but again I had no idea what I was dealing with or how to harness that traffic. I remember thinking if only I knew how to make something out of it. My family had also said to me ‘We looked on that new Google thing so how do you get on there?” so I decided I should find out the answers.

At about the same time, I met Paul Reilly a fellow Yorkie working on a music project, we got talking and he introduced me to Search, Affiliates & Domaining and we set up a lot of projects, some successful, some total flops, but lots of fences tested for SEO/PPC and conversion. I then moved back to agency as ‘Head of Search’ for smaller agencies to hone the skills and the rest, as they say, is history!

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Kevin GibbonsTwitter

Highly experienced in the online marketing industry with over 10 years web experience, Kevin founded SEOptimise in 2006 while spending a year living aboard in Australia, it has now grown to one of the leading search marketing agencies in the UK. Also a highly respected blogger Kevin has had speaking and writing opportunities in some of the biggest conferences within the industry.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I got into SEO during a 1-year internship whilst working at a web design agency back when I was at uni (quite a while ago now!).

I went back into my final year at uni with a bit of SEO knowledge (always dangerous!) and ended up using my .ac.uk web project area to great effect, ranking number one in Google for a range of local queries and making some well-deserved beer money from the nice guys at Google AdSense! Haven’t looked back since ;-)

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Martin MacDonaldTwitter

Martin MacDonald is well-known in the industry after founding the second largest SEO community worldwide seoforums.org, at the time when he sold it there were 25,000 active community members. Martin now spends his time writing and talking about his vast experience in large search industry events and conferences. A list of his speaking roles can be found on his personal website.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

How I Got into SEO?

I guess pretty much everyone, including myself, that has been involved in natural search for the last decade or longer fell into it pretty much by mistake.

From my perspective, I had worked in a start-up ISP in the mid-nineties, building servers, configuring modems, and crucially – building the odd website for clients.  Back then online marketing didn’t really exist, you did have to submit your sites to the search engines, and we regularly stuffed keywords and used things like white text on a white background.  All really very “early spam” tactics, that have long since died out.

The search engines back then were the likes of Altavista, Lycos, Infoseek, HotBot and ofcourse yahoo (which was still a directory, rather than a crawler based engine).  Stats were pretty much resigned to just trawling through server side packages, or if you were being really clever something on statcounter – and the world was a simple place!

Thinking that “this whole online thing” wouldn’t really take off (honestly), I took a job in offline marketing which I did for a couple of years, before getting back involved in online marketing during the online gambling boom in the early 2000’s.

I ended up leaving my cushy marketing job to launch my own brand poker room, after all – how hard could it be?  Pretty soon I realised the answer to that question: very.  Paid search went from competitive to illegal (google banned advertising from gaming companies) and natural search was as competitive then as it is now, just in a different way.

In order to protect my investment in the poker room software, which was 100% my own having had zero external funding, I needed to learn how to “do” SEO quickly, or risk losing every penny I had invested.  That was a pretty good incentive and I dived head first into building networks of sites targeting dozens of gaming micro-niches.  Those that worked I replicated and worked for several years at scaling them, those that didn’t work I abandoned pretty quickly.

The truth is that it probably took two to three years of working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with barely a holiday before I was in a position where I knew almost instinctively as to what would work, and how hard you can push things.  The fundamentals have never changed since then, just “the last 10%” which tends to vary dependant on where Google is heading at any one point.

The nice thing though, about starting in gaming – every other niche I’ve worked in since then has been easier!

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Paddy MooganTwitter

Paddy is an experienced SEO consultant at Distilled London. He has worked on a number of medium to large Ecommerce websites across the UK. Paddy is also well known in the industry having speaking and writing roles in a number of conferences and large communities such as SEOmoz.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I got into SEO by accident really.  I had always had an interest in the internet since I built my first website when I was about 14 but had never really got into the marketing side, I just loved building things.  That changed when I was at University doing a Law degree and I needed to make more money!  I started buying and selling DVDs on eBay to make a bit of extra cash on the side, this led me to a few forums to learn more about Power Selling on eBay.  It was at this point that I realised I could make more money through building my own website rather than relying on eBay and it was around this time I learnt what AdSense and Affiliate Marketing were.

So I started to build websites again and naturally wanted to make money from them which meant getting them to rank well.  I did this through some shadier techniques until I got one site banned from Google and another one banned from the AdSense program!

After University I ran my own business for a while then ended up starting to do “proper” SEO at Pin Digital in 2007 which was the start of my career as a full-time SEO.

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Richard BaxterTwitter

Richard Baxter is the CEO and Founder of SEO Gadget, a UK SEO company specialising in large site architecture, CRO, SEO and Social. He has over 8 years experience in SEO working with clients from a broad range of industry sectors including: retail, publishing, travel, finance, and automotive.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

In 2002 was working for a B2B ecommerce company who supplied raw materials to building retailers. I’d been hired to launch and manage their website. Back then I was making product videos, writing web copy, but probably making some classic mistakes, SEO wise. The then Managing Director asked me about Google and how to rank for his favourite keyword. I didn’t know much about the topic at the time, so I set about researching and playing around with the site. I was working with the front end of the site on quite a regular basis, so HTML obviously wasn’t a problem. As soon as I got on to the idea of titles, descriptions and keywords, I was all over it! Looking back I know I was making mistakes, at least by today’s standards – but then, that’s how you learn.

Amazingly, the first site I ever did SEO for is still ranking on page 1 (not 1st place any more, I’ll point out). I wasn’t a “full time” SEO back then, probably devoting about a quarter of my time to it. In my second job at an international engineering company, I increased my SEO time to about 50%, performing audits on the 40+ sites the company had in their network while upgrading and migrating their sites to a new CMS. This was around 2004 and gave me a solid background in content management system specific SEO issues. By the end of 2005, I’d travelled all across the US and Canada doing SEO and web development and felt I was ready to move on, so I took a job in London as a full time SEO Manager and took over (what is still) a successful SEO operation inside a mid-sized web development company.

At the time, some of the sites in their network had taken a kicking from Jagger, so my first task was to sort out a lot of link and duplicate content issues. That suited me rather well, tackling issues like sessionID’s in an aging CMS network and dealing with clients in my first agency job. I was very proud to be using UA detection to weed out indexed session ID’s from Google’s index, even though some of my colleagues thought it was “black hat”. I still think it wasn’t!

Anyway – eventually I got a call from a recruitment consultant who was recruiting for an SEO position at Cheapflights. I decided to join and ended up looking after the UK SEO operation until September 2009 (I’d just set up SEOgadget LTD) where I changed to a part time member of the team until I left in December 2009.

From January 2010 I worked in our spare bedroom on early SEOgadget clients, until I decided to get a desk in a shared office in July (a decision made in part to avoid going completely stir crazy). That turned out to be one of the most impactful decisions I’ve ever made in my life, as it gave me the confidence to hire, and grow. So, one desk turned into two desks, then three, and now we have our own offices and a 10 strong team in Shoreditch, London. Working with the folks at SEOgadget is awesome – I always look forward to our next birthday, banana cake, SEO Forum Friday, company Nando’s, big day out (Hannah was 1/10th faster than me in our last Karting session – not happy!), and generally chewing the fat with a bunch of driven and talented people.

I’m glad I got into SEO – I’ve met and made friends with the people who inspired me as I learned my trade, and watching SEOgadget grow up is such a great feeling. I’m looking forward to this year, a lot!

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Sam CrockerTwitter

Sam Crocker is the associate director of OMD UK, one of the world’s largest marketing agencies, with fast expansions into the digital industry. At OMD UK Sam is responsible for managing and implementing a number of client campaigns across various niches. He has been brought in specifically to build a search marketing team at OMD, working closely with paid search and social media teams.

How did you get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

I got into SEO in a really roundabout way. My educational background was in International Economics (undergrad) and Public Policy (MSc) but by the time I finished studying I was a bit disillusioned with the whole international development/policy direction that I had initially planned to pursue.

I was really into blogging (about fashion, music and art) around the time I finished my masters’ degree and also looking for a career after taking the plunge into the real world.  I came across Distilled’s job advert on GumTree and immediately thought it sounded like a really cool place to work and sounded like an interesting career. At the end of the day I never really saw myself doing it for the long term if I’m honest – I wanted to learn a solid skill to complement my marketing/people skills (to the degree I had any) and thought it an invaluable opportunity even if not a future “career” in the truest sense.

As it turns out I thought my interview with Distilled went horribly and called my Dad right after the fact to let him know. I didn’t hear anything for a few days and went into another interview with a brand management consultancy. The interview was initially for an administrative assistant role (anything to pay the bills) but obviously that interview went a bit better as they quickly dismissed the idea of hiring me for that role and offered me an internship as a policy advisor and assistant planner instead. The day after I started I got a call from Distilled offering me the job but the agency I was with was keen to keep me and offered me a full time contract so I decided to see out the opportunity.

After a few months at the agency I had grown a bit homesick and felt like I’d really missed a huge opportunity at Distilled. I had found out whilst at the brand management consultancy that I had a great deal of success on social media and blogging on behalf on the agency and again felt SEO would be an invaluable skill to help me promote my own current and future projects. I had a coffee with Tom, explained my situation and he tipped me off to the fact that Distilled were going to be opening up shop in the US. All things considered it seemed like the right move – an opportunity to learn, a fallback opportunity back in the States, and a young company with a bit of panache- so I took a paycut and a leap of faith and didn’t look back.

I’ve learned a lot since then and know that I have indeed gained an invaluable skill and met a load of genuinely great people along the way. Lord only knows where my “career” will take me but I certainly have no regrets about the decision I made and am extraordinarily grateful for my circuitous and serendipitous path into SEO.

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That’s it, hope you have enjoyed reading this [long] post and find it useful, even if just to serve as a bit of inspiration!

So, How did YOU get started with SEO or Digital Marketing?

Now it’s your turn. Let us know how you got into the industry and what motivated you to do so. Say as much, or as little as you want in the comment section below about your own SEO background. Whether you’ve just started or have been optimising websites since the turn of the millennium, we want to hear your story.

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The Start Line via BigStock

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