Simon Dalley is the Founder of the SEO agency GrowTraffic, which is based in Lancashire and South Yorkshire. Originally from Chorley, he currently lives in Bacup (East Lancashire) and works between Rossendale, Manchester and Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Simon has developed a wide breadth and depth of experience in online marketing over the years, working in both B2B and B2C spheres, both agency and client-side roles. Simon is also a director of Cunliffe Hall, a historic social institution in Chorley, and is a committee member of Friends of Real Lancashire, which is the organisation responsible for organising and co-ordinating Lancashire Day.
Please tell us about yourself, where you work and your role at your company.
I’m Simon Dalley and I’m a director and the founder of GrowTraffic. I have over 16 years of experience in marketing, most of it is in the digital marketing industry.
I started doing some freelance work in 2008. To begin with, the freelance work I did wasn’t digital. I had transitioned to a wholly digital role in my corporate marketing career and I wanted to keep my offline skills fresh and some of my contacts in the automotive industry had been in touch to ask if I could help them with some market research and analysis, this seemed like a great opportunity.
Throughout this time I was blogging about marketing on the now-defunct blogging platform LiveJournal. I blogged on LiveJournal using the handle GrowTraffic and by the end of 2009, whilst working in the marketing team at hosting provider UKFast, I decided to create a blog on the domain GrowTraffic.co.uk.
Within weeks I’d started turning it from a blog about marketing into a website for me to attract work on a freelance basis. I focused on the term Freelance SEO Consultant and I held position 1 on google.co.uk for that term for years. I got enquiries from all over the place and got to work with some really interesting businesses.
It was several years before I was able to give up my Head of Marketing salary to join the business in a full-time capacity. I bring a certain level of digital and search marketing expertise and understanding to the business, and my range of skills offer additional breadth to the team and clients, but on the whole, my role is to help drive forward and grow the business.
How did you get introduced to digital marketing, more specifically SEO?
When I was at university in 2000, I built my first website, so had a basic understanding. My first role after university was in a marketing agency. It was all offline, to begin with. There was a lot of database analysis, direct mails, display advertising in magazines and press releases.
Initially, I started I managing a couple of web builds. Around the same time, I was put in charge of a PR campaign for one of the smaller truck manufacturers .
In 2007, I started managing Adwords’ campaigns. I quickly jumped over to one of the UK’s largest automotive multi-brands where part of my role was to be responsible for managing their Adwords campaigns, which totalled something like £200,000 a month. I’ve managed Ads accounts with speeds of up to £90,000 per month ever since then.
Whilst I’ve always done PPC and I’m good at it, it was the other side of the search marketing coin SEO that really excited me. Organic traffic has been a huge part of, and generally the focus of, everything I’ve done over the last 13 or 14 years.
How do you think SEO has changed over the last 10 years? And, how do you think year 2019 will shape up for SEO industry?
In a lot of ways SEO is fundamentally the same and in other ways, it has changed massively over the years.
I think a lot of that change has to do with the amount of competition there is out there. I remember back in 2005 when I could send out a press release with a link in it and I could pretty much guarantee that I would be able to make a webpage go straight to the top position in Google. Or when I could create a blog post for a client and could always find topics that had traffic, that no one else had created content for and again, get it straight to the top of Google. I’ve seen the rise and fall of exact match domains, microsites, private blog networks etc etc etc.
On the other hand, whilst coding has evolved over the years and there is a lot more to consider from an SEO perspective, at its heart, a lot of the time we’re still working on things like page titles, h-tags, alt-tags, body content, anchor text and hyperlinks. And it’s not just the impact of evolution in coding and the sheer volume of businesses online creating content and promoting it digitally, there are external forces having an impact too. Social media has taken a big chunk from search marketing and I expect that to continue as social media platforms get better at understanding and predicting what we want before we know we want it.
Mobiles have massively changed things too, and local search results have reduced the effectiveness of SEO for many businesses because it’s much harder to achieve the top spot in hundreds of localised search results and even if you do the search volume is much lower than most people anticipate.
Also, the advent of smart speakers and voice search is now having an impact on the search results and I predict these will have the biggest impact of all because they take the agency away from the searcher to select from a range of results in a SERP by providing one answer.
What are the services you provide to your clients and what do you think makes your business stand out among your competitors?
We’re an SEO agency first and foremost, but we do provide a whole spectrum of digital marketing services. We often talk about ourselves as being the antidote to traditional SEO agencies. Our core values are honesty, integrity and transparency, and we focused on those because many people don’t trust SEOs and have no understanding of what’s being done and why.
We use an evergreen/compounding content marketing approach as part of our ongoing retainers, which means we deliver a tangible result that clients can promote in their marketing activities on an ongoing basis, even if they decide not to continue a contract with us. Also, we don’t over-complicate things and we spend a lot of time educating our clients in what we’re doing and why, and training them to do SEO themselves. Of course, even those who try to do it themselves do tend to come back to us after a few months but it helps gain trust in what we’re about and provides a level of openness and transparency.
Furthermore, we lay it on thick that this is going to hard work. We don’t promise results but agree on a course of action backing up our reasoning. Ultimately it’s just time on our part and our clients understand what they’re paying for.
Who are some of the remarkable people you connected within the industry who’ve made a memorable impact on you? (And how they have helped you stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the marketing/startup industry).
There have been a great number of people who have had a huge impact on me as a marketer, especially as a search marketer and more particularly as a content marketer and SEO.
To begin with, most of what I knew about SEO was learned in the trenches and at the coal face. I learned when things worked and did more of that. But I have to be thankful to all those people who have published great content on a wide range of SEO orientated blogs throughout the years, I’ve spent countless hours reading and interpreting, and testing the things that I’ve read.
I can name a few people who had an inspirational impact on me and my love for SEO. I worked for the hosting provider UKFast for a year and a half, and the CEO there Lawrence Jones probably had one of the most profound influences on me in terms of my thinking about business, marketing and SEO. People I’ve worked with who have helped me hone my skills include the big list of SEO consultants, developers and marketers I’ve worked with. And then there are the clients who have unleashed me on their websites.
It’s also quite fulfilling to now be working with SEOs who used me as a mentor or sounding board over the years, as they come back to me with new ideas – or even ideas that I gave them and I’ve forgotten!
Everybody knows what you have achieved, I would like to talk about your failure stories and how they impacted your professional life. (As we know Rome was not built in a day)
I sometimes refer to myself as a reformed spammer. I’m not in the league of many of those ‘blackhats’ but I’ve done my fair share of dark magic over the years. I’ve tried virtually everything over the years and I lived through the pain following the Penguin update. I saw how the things that so-called SEO experts were doing had not just damaged websites’ rankings but also damaged a lot of businesses.
I did a lot of remedial work for a lot of businesses, operating for a while as an SEO recovery specialist and I swore that GrowTraffic would only ever carry out sustainable SEO and whilst I know content is only part of the SEO mix – and to some extent is a smaller part – it’s at the heart of what we do for our clients because of I always wanted us to be ‘whiter’ than ‘white-hat’. Given the choice between two paths, we always take the long way around.
Additionally, in the begining – because I worked as a freelance and had a full-time role – I wasn’t that concerned with, or perhaps found it more difficult to maintain good relationships with clients, so I accepted that client churn would be high. But it’s not a good way to run a business and it does nothing for building the kind of reputation that generates word of mouth business. This is the reason we provide training as part of our SEO services. We decided we wanted to part with clients on good terms and we felt the best way to do that is to demonstrate how they can do the work themselves and encourage them to bring it in house, safe in the knowledge they would often come back to us and that we would at least remain on friendly terms.
What would your advice be to people who are looking to take up digital marketing as a career choice?
Marketing is a great career. It has enabled me to meet some amazing people and be involved in fantastic projects. It’s sent me all over the UK and to various other parts of the world as well.
Digital marketing is fast paced and there is always someone after what you’ve got to offer. You need to be willing to constantly learn and develop yourself because most of the official courses out there are out of date by the time they are being taught, and because the best practices you learnt a year or two ago could have become a bad practice in that time.
It’s also competitive and if things don’t go well, it can be ruthless, with people regularly being laid off or clients moving on when things don’t quite go to plan.