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Strategies for Visibility and Engagement in Google's Search Generative Experience

In Conversation with Lee Wilson

In this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Lee Wilson, Service Operations Director at Vertical Leap, Located in Portsmouth, Hampshire. Lee shares valuable insights into his extensive digital marketing journey and Vertical Leap’s evidence-led marketing approach. The conversation delves into the impact of Google’s Search Generative Experience on search results and the industry’s shift toward meaningful metrics. Lee discusses the role of AI as a tool that enhances efficiency and complements human expertise, addressing initial concerns about job security among team members.
Watch the episode now for more insights!

Change is the only constant in marketing; it’s about adapting, learning, and finding opportunities.

Lee Wilson
Service Operations Director at Vertical Leap
Lee Wilson

Hey, hi everyone. This is Ranmay, your host for today’s episode. And today we have Lee Wilson, who is the Service Operations Director at Vertical Leap with us. Hey, Lee.

Hey, yeah. How are you doing?

All good, Lee. Thank you for taking the time and doing this with us. Appreciate it, man.

No worries.
Looking forward to it.

Great. Lee before you move forward, why don’t you talk us through your journey thus far, you have been associated with Vertical Leap for quite some time now. So, talk us through what Vertical Leap is all about, what are your core offerings, and how the journey started, and then we can take it forward from there on.

Yeah, sure. So, I guess my sort of digital journey started when I finished university. I studied business management and communications and just naturally fell into marketing when I came out of university a couple of decades ago, in the early 2000s. And then I made sure that I was the go-to in my first main marketing role for anything new.

So back then there were different paid platforms, things like paid advertising were pretty much just Google at that time. And then SEO and paid naturally dovetailed together. So, it became a sort of a key area to start learning. And I think, for anybody if they’re just starting their career, I think it’s really important to be that kind of person that wants to learn and wants to share that knowledge and impart it with others.

And so, for me in the early days, it was more about, I’d learn something, I’d figure out if it worked for the business, and then I’d probably become the manager to then outsource it to another business. And then I’d. Learn the next thing. And very quickly I’d built a team and then we were growing into external markets.

And then back in it must’ve been 2015 no, 2013 and a half years ago, I started at Vertical Leap. Vertical Leap had been a customer of a company I used to work with before. I’ve met some of the team. Yeah. And it was I was brought into the culture of the company and where it was headed and wanted to be part of that sort of growth.

And then, yeah, vertical leap. So, we’ve been going around in the industry pretty much since as early as Google’s been around. So, we’re 23 plus years now. Our main services are search marketing. So, SEO and paid are the largest part of our business. We’re evidence-led, so we’re very much about using data to inform decision-making and making sure that you’re present across the sort of full life cycle of marketing.

So, from acquisition to engagement, right the way through to conversion and on top of SEO and paid, we’ve got lots of other kinds of enhancing services, if you’d like. So content, social media website development, CRO, and other areas too. And I should say that we’re also part of a wider group of agencies.

So, we’re part of the largest independent group of agencies called the sideshow group. And each agency in the group has a distinct sort of specialism. We’re very much the search marketing element of that group.

Lovely, quite a journey. You have been on both sides of the table that way, from being a client to handling a client.

Yeah. Great. And then considering your leadership roles in both in-house and agency-based digital departments, like you mentioned, what key practices do you believe contribute to a high-performing client-focused team within a digital marketing agency? And because you understand the expectations of the other side of the table as well.

I love that question, right? Because I think it, it pretty much resonates through most of the things that I focus on in my role. So, I think the first part of that is, having a clear stance on your business culture and the expectations you have both for yourself, but also everybody else in the business.

And I’ve always looked to have a high-performance team mentality in place. How I define that is having a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents that are aligned through a common purpose, right? And it’s also about making sure that people are consistently able to collaborate and innovate to deliver a better outcome.

So whatever area of the business that’s in, whether that’s marketing or finance or anywhere else, it’s really about having that mentality of how can we be better, right? And then if we break that down a little bit more, we’d recruit people for specific roles based on their talents but also their potential within their specialism.

And we’d also be thinking about those complementary skill sets about what we need within the wider team. And often that’s humanistic skills outside of just the marketing skills, which you would expect somebody to have, whether they’re SEO or paid or social media or any other area. And then it’s our common purpose to make things better through applying our specialist skills so that we can grow our capabilities, and positively impact our customer goals and objectives, but also make sure that they’re aligned with our business goals and objectives too.

So, there’s nothing better, as an expert, than working with companies and growing as they grow. So, you can see that sort of the value you’re providing and then obviously they return that in regards to taking on additional services or growing into new locations or building new websites or expanding their marketing activities overseas and areas like that.

Lovely. And you have contributed yourself to industry-leading publications. How can agency owners leverage thought leadership to attract high-value clients, and then what steps should they take to position themselves as the top voices in the industry?

Yeah, I think every business should focus more on showcasing their credibility.

Any successful business has key staff and experts. They can bring a huge amount of value to the industry, as well as support the company’s commercial goals and objectives at the same time. If we think about Google, for example, they place first-person experience as a fundamental part of its ranking guidelines now, and the more experts are empowered to be present in all of the key online and offline niches in their industry, the better the steps that leaders should take are going to be pretty varied.

But it begins with an objective look at where the company’s strong and where the companies are weak. And then it’s about needing to identify and support key expert voices in the business so that they can become better known in the industry. So, through their opinions, through expert commentary, and just generally through imparting their experience in whatever forums they feel happy with.

So, some people might be better at public speaking or events and exhibitions. Others might be more suited to written forms of insight sharing. But regardless of where the skills are, it’s important to maximize all of these in a way that enables various forums for imparting that knowledge. And also, I think there is a massive untapped area of companies.

looking at their website, their own social media channels, plus all of the key digital assets they have, whether that’s creating article pieces, blog posts, whatever that might be. I think it’s one of the most untapped opportunities for them to become more known within their market, but also to support sales, right?

Every piece of content you create for your website, whether that’s a vlog or a blog or an audio snippet, whatever it might be, there’s an opportunity there to get in front of people, but in a meaningful and useful way. And I think a lot of it comes down to, if you’re good at what you do, there’s an opportunity to educate and inform.

But also, to make things more accessible and easier for people through the content you create by just sharing some of that offline experience online. If you think about it, historically people would generally pick up a telephone or walk into an office and talk to experts about things people don’t want to do anymore.

They want to have access to people 24/7. They want to have access to information now. They want to have access to details on the move, on the mobile, whatever they’re doing. And so, it’s really important that companies bridge that gap between offline and the online experience and also just recognize that there’s an opportunity here to be a consistent and ongoing kind of point of value within your market, not just now, but for a long period.

And I think, what people probably underestimate sometimes is that to become a kind of an x, a bit of a credible voice within the marketplace, whatever industry that is, it does take hard work, but it also takes like consistent effort. Every industry is fairly competitive now, whether it’s online.

Mainly online, but also offline, but people need to go into these things with the mindset that it’s not just something you’re going to switch on and switch off, but it’s something that needs to be a consistent sort of focus area. And if you’re inviting people to contribute towards these areas, they need to go into it with their eyes open, knowing that it’s not going to be a one-off phase of activity, but something that’s going to be part of their job, probably for the foreseeable future.

Lovely point, a very valid one. We marketers market our clients a lot, but, at some time, we forget to market ourselves, and the space that we all are in, right? So, it’s a very valid point there. And then, with Google’s SG search generative experience, which aims to provide direct answers, to search results, to potentially reduce the number of clicks.

 How do you feel, we can change our, or, formalize your strategies or adjust them to maintain visibility and engagement in this particular context?

 Yeah, I think such a generous experience is huge, right? It’s a bit of a game changer, but then You know, if you think about the amount of change that happens in SEO specifically, it never stays the same.

 And so, such generous experience and AI and all the different types of content creation capabilities and all these things, for me, it comes back to the fundamentals of Google, right? With search generative experience, it’s really about understanding there are a lot of queries that are very difficult to answer and so the more complex and the more layered the questions are, the more difficult it is for a search engine to say, here’s one piece of content over here that answers all of these facets of your information.

 Actually, what it’s trying to do is to say. There’s a body of conversation that can happen. That conversation can happen before we share additional information or alongside additional information. So, links within that answer and things like that. And it’s another form of conversational search.

 So, it’s saying that rather than trying to send people to a website, that they then bounce back to Google and go to another website, or they then go somewhere else and they’re dissatisfied with that service because they’re having to manually trying to figure out all of the different elements.

Google’s saying. Hang on. Wait a second. We understand your query more effectively. Now we’ve got these large language models. We can interpret your different differing intent through these more complex queries and a better way of servicing them is by having that conversation and that conversation can happen within the search engine or a graphical user interface within part of the search engine.

And then once you’ve Had that conversation, they can qualify you more effectively, and then we can enable you to go somewhere else to have your conversion to make your purchase to phone the company. And so realistically, what you might start to see is that you might get fewer clicks, you might get reduced impressions, but What you get from the users and from the traffic that comes to your site is better qualified and higher quality traffic, right?

 Which is ultimately a bit more realistic than all of the vanity metrics. And so, it’s not too dissimilar to when Google starts to introduce. Rich results in the search engines and people also ask and all these types of areas and everybody was in upheaval saying, oh, Google are going to take all the traffic away from my website and we’re going to lose all of our sales and all this type of stuff.

And what happened is there’s an opportunity through structured data and different content type creation and through incorporating conversational search into your content and position it differently to target these areas that you become as visible, if not more but also you bring your brand in front of new audiences in different ways.

 And so, I think Google search generative experience is a similar thing, right? There’s an opportunity to be included in it within that conversation but in a different way. And there’s an opportunity to make sure that you’re servicing all of that potential intent and new types of opportunity on your website too.

And I think. Any areas in which Google evolves to introduce your business to people with various types of needs and wants and pain points. There’s always an opportunity as much as there’s a threat. It’s just about pivoting, understanding your audience, and repositioning things slightly to make sure that you’re eligible for it, that you remove barriers to being present, but also that you service that intent fully and properly as well.

In terms of what are you being shown for versus, being shown for to the, to a relevant audience and what they’re looking for and getting a more qualified lead versus just numbers, on a sheet or, on your search console it’s better to have those phone, phones ringing and your products selling.

Versus, just those clicks happening and people and then just grabbing those eyeballs is not going to help anymore. And then I know it’s also good for end businesses because now, agencies will also, marketers would work towards real metrics and, business owners are going to make real business or money, real traffic getting into your website.

So yeah, it’s a win-win situation, right?

Yeah, 100%. It’s about meaningful metrics and measuring what matters and has a commercial impact rather than measuring everything because there’s an opportunity to say we’re increasing over here. But then the next question is, so what, right?

It’s okay, we’re increasing over here, but the phone’s not ringing, or we’re not getting more form completions, or we’re not selling more through our website. And so, it just helps facilitate that mentality of meaningful marketing.

Absolutely. A lot of our clients talk about, hey, this agency has committed, did commit so and so numbers they delivered, but then why did fire that agency?

Because the numbers were not happening, there’s no money in the bank. And, but the metrics were good. The traffic metrics are looking good. So why did you file an agent? There must be something, that is not, we have to stitch a story together, right? And it cannot be just one piece that is taken care of and other dots are not getting connected.

So, as a marketer, we have to look at the entire story being stitched together. So yeah, we also experienced a lot of Businesses coming from other agencies and talking about, just metrics, there’s X amount of traffic coming to my website, but zero sales happening, right? So, what’s the point?

So yeah, that’s a valid point there. And you touched upon something really interesting and. AI, right? And you have been in space for quite some time now. I have seen a lot of summers and winters and a lot of Google’s updates, right? So, what is your take on it? It hit us last year around the same time and quite has been a rollercoaster right till now.

But where do you think we are headed with AI machine learning?

Yeah, I think it’s a massive topic, right? And it’s interesting because technology always has an impact on marketing. And so, we’ve seen it with mobile devices and smartphones and all of the mobile-first indexing and that was a big one. Yeah. And then all of the security stuff.

So, when Google said, yeah, you sure site should be HTTPS and everybody’s site is then HTTPS. And then we’re seeing it again through technology, through areas like AI. And for me, it’s about how you can collectively work in combination with expertise and technology. AI is fantastic for supporting people to achieve things faster.

Yeah, I’m, if I’m an expert in SEO, that. It doesn’t mean I’m the best technical SEO, the best at writing regex, the best at doing 301 redirects, the best at doing sitemaps, the best at doing all these other things. But through technology, I can effectively work with technology to be the best in those areas, right?

And so, AI helps you to facilitate that. that much more. And so, for me, AI is a huge value add to any marketer, but also that value is passed through to the customers, right? It means that regardless of your budget, you probably have access to more things being done, more expertise, and more areas of your website being looked at and supported than what you would have had just with a human being on their own.

And I always look at it back to You wouldn’t go to an accountant and expect them not to use a calculator. You wouldn’t go to a marketing expert and expect them not to work with AI now. I think that’s where we’re at.

 Absolutely. Still, what do you feel about, when it initially came through, content writers, a lot of marketers, they felt that they felt scared for their jobs too.

Now, those being the major adopters are users of AI, ChatGPT, and other tools, right? So that has been this shift in terms of being scared for the jobs to now the best-paying ones are the ones who use AI and have become tech savvy. In this transition, you must have seen, not only the industry but in your agency, right?

So how do you feel about that? Your team took it on the head and battled their way through. Talk us through that experience.

Yeah. I think with any change there’s always some level of kind of concern, right? So, people have to learn something new and it takes effort and energy and all of sudden things are changing and the way of doing things is slightly different.

 And there’s always a level of anxiety with that. But I think you can look at it in two ways. One is This change is happening. So, either I become an early adopter and I jump on board and I run with it and I become somebody that learns how to use prompts effectively with ChatGPT or whatever it might be.

Or I take a step back and let all the change wash over me and then I still have to learn and adapt and jump on board, but I’ll be behind everybody else. And I think it’s that mindset of. Okay, this is happening regardless of how I perceive it. Either I’m going to make that change as painless and proactive as possible or I’m going to take that, I’m going to worry about it and still not be able to change it anyway.

And so, I think with us, it’s more about making that change accessible to people and helping inform and educate them. And also, just having that sort of cultural mentality of, there’s always going to be change. Change is the only constant, really, especially in marketing. Technology should be your best friend when you’re in marketing because there’s always new technology, technological changes, and growth and opportunities.

And so, you can either look at change in regards to a threat, or you can look at it in regards to an opportunity. And when you’re in an agency and you work with lots of clients, realistically, technology is your greatest opportunity. to dovetail alongside your staff and your expertise because it makes you more efficient.

It removes a lot of the mundane, repeated activities, and it just makes you better at what you do. And if you think about chat GPT and these other areas, if there are areas that you’re not particularly great at, whether it’s coding or CSS or whatever it might be, all of a sudden chat GPT. does the heavy lifting on all of that.

And so, you can dovetail with that and you can drive that forward. And it’s almost become a partnership. As such, you can focus more on the things that your expertise is needed for, which is understanding the objectives, understanding the data, understanding the strategy, and then applying and prioritizing all of these hundreds of potential other things you could be doing in a way that’s going to have the most meaningful impact on your current focus.

Well, whatever the specific goal or objective or topic area you’re focused on. And so, I think it, really people should find it more empowering rather than threatening, but it’s human nature, right? That everybody looks at things in slightly different ways. And so, at my level within the business and within the culture it’s generally about alleviating those anxieties and just making it more accessible and open to everybody.

 I think.

Lovely version of it. And I loved it when you said, you had to have to adapt to this change, it’s on you, whether you want to start first or later, or the last, right? So, after the changes happened, yeah. So great. And we adopted it from, let’s say, day two.

So, we know how it is, right? So great. Yeah. Lovely. Lee, it has been a great conversation, but before I let you go, I want to play a quick rapid-fire. I hope you are game for it. Okay. I cannot ask your favourite sport, a favourite club because I know that and I’ll let everyone know that you’re a Tottenham fan, a complete Spurs so yeah, your last Google search Lee.

Oh, last Google search. Oh, geez. You say a quick fire. It’s one of the last Google searches to do a sales review. So, I was looking at some local SEO. Okay.

All right. And let’s say if we were to make a movie on you, what genre would it be?

I would like to think it’d be a hybrid between SEO and high-intensity action thriller.

That is who you are. We can bet our lives on it. Okay. The last one what did you do with your first paycheck? First paycheck of your life.

I bought a clock for my mom and dad. 

Oh, that’s sweet. That is sweet. Great Ali. Thank you so much for doing this with us. Yeah. Thanks for taking your time. Appreciate it.

No worries. It’s a pleasure. Great to meet you as well. 

Thank you.

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