Interview with Lee Wilson, Head of Services & SEO at Vertical Leap
Lee Wilson is Head of Services & SEO at top 10 UK search and digital agency Vertical Leap, and has led digital marketing departments since the early 2000s. Lee is a multiple published author with marketing and digital titles including ‘Data-driven marketing content’ and ‘Tactical SEO – The theory and practice of search marketing’.
Your Journey as a Marketing Professional.
I graduated from Winchester University with a business and communications degree (with honours) in 2003 and immediately went into marketing roles.
My first seven years in the industry were within the UK financial services sector, predominantly in-house where I contributed towards business digital expansion into international territories.
I knew immediately that marketing was going to be a constant in my career fairly early on, and was extremely fortunate to have worked closely with c-level staff that had high expectations and aspirations for the companies I was involved with, as well as being trusting enough for me to steer what my career path looked like and could turn into.
I quickly went from marketing executive roles to senior management roles and put myself forward as the ‘go-to’ person to learn new things for the business. This led to a wealth of personal and professional learning and development over a short timeframe covering everything from new paid marketing platforms and SEO, through to direct marketing and social media management (I even ran fax marketing campaigns early on).
My approach was to learn the marketing tactic/channel/opportunity directly, make it work from a commercial stance, and then lead/influence the decision on whether to employ staff to run the new marketing requirement, or outsource to external agencies.
The key here was developing the experience to prove the ROI value of the channels/tactics to correctly make those decisions and then manage the relationships moving forward.
I went on to set up and run my own website marketing and development company prior to the working agency side of marketing (giving me the full mix of in-house, self-owned and agency experience).
I joined Vertical Leap back in 2010, taking over (what is now) the Enterprise SEO service and department, and now I oversee all of the delivery services that we provide as Head of Services.
In my current role, I have the privilege of working with an amazing (and growing) company of specialists who are achieving fantastic things on a daily basis as part of a high performing team.
In line with my agency work, I am also a published author and have had three books published to date covering SEO, data-driven marketing, and wider business marketing. I also have plans for future books to follow as I love to share my expertise and help others progress sooner.
What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?
Initially, my expertise was in paid advertising and primarily Google Adwords (now Google Ads) and Bing.
As I was self-taught through online learning and ‘on the job’ development, I wanted to compare my performance to agencies to sanity check what optimum performance looked like, and self-assess any gaps in my own knowledge. What this taught me was that the marketing value differentiator often comes as a result of a deeper understanding of the companies you are working with combined with high frequency (incremental and ongoing) refinements driven by data. This advice has remained true throughout my career to date.
The majority of my marketing focus since 2008 has been SEO. Since 2010 I have been actively leading, managing, and delivering SEO services for a top 10 UK search and digital agency, Vertical Leap.
SEO can be as all-encompassing or restrictive as you make it. For me SEO has always been the channel that integrates and interacts with all others, taking care of total website needs and joining the dots between disperse tactics and channels.
Having a mindset like this enables SEO delivery to enhance the performance of all channels, directly improve website health and technical performance, ensure that total site progress happens sooner, and that delivery has both focus and agility required to adapt to the changes happening all the time (including technological, industry and user-driven).
What are some of the important marketing software that you have used and found to be really useful for your company?
We have been actively developing our own data insights platform (Apollo Insights) since 2001. Apollo gathers all the data sets into one place, applies intelligent algorithms and machine learning capabilities to the data, and enables our experts to work at much greater scale – delivering repeatable results, faster.
Some of the marketing data and analytics staples include; Google Search Console, Google Analytics, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Majestic, and lots more.
Other tools such as Screaming Frog, AnswerthePublic, Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, Chrome DevTools, GTMetrix (the list is almost endless) have great specific marketing use which helps with quick isolated action taking outside of the deeper work that Apollo assists with.
Which companies, according to you, are your competitors. How do you differentiate against these?
There are many agencies and independent providers of search and digital marketing solutions however, I genuinely don’t have specific brands, people, or organisations that I see as ‘like for like’ competition.
Our experience, expertise, amazing team of people and Apollo Insights provide us with a key competitive advantage and genuine differentiation.
As an example of this in action, Apollo programmatically identifies threats and opportunities in search marketing campaigns at a scale that would be impossible to achieve manually; and then advises our experts on potential areas to act on – it is the experts that then translate the opportunity into real-world action taking, turning the untapped potential into realised end results and marketing value for us and our customers.
Our approach means we spend more time implementing a finely targeted set of activities that are quantitatively proven to get the greatest impact, as well as on the details that will yield the greatest results. Effectively this means that we spend more time on what matters most.
Your 2 line advice to people entering in the marketing domain.
Don’t limit what you can achieve based on any preconceived perception of the role you are doing or the marketing channel you are working with. Think practical and prioritise actions, but never restrict what is possible by putting confines in place which are not needed. You can achieve amazing things in marketing!