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Navigating the Complexities of Modern SEO with Gerry White

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Gerry White

Gerry White, VP of Growth at Mirador Local & Co-organiser of Take It Offline Conference

Described by peers as an "unconventional innovator," Gerry White's career trajectory in digital marketing and web development illustrates a dynamic blend of technical prowess and strategic growth expertise. Beginning his journey around the turn of the millennium, Gerry discovered his knack for web development while at university, quickly mastering the art of building and hosting commercial websites. His technical journey deepened as he integrated tools like Dreamweaver and various payment gateways, setting the stage for a diverse career.

Gerry has taught web design and development, sharpened his skills in local and national government roles, and made significant impacts in various private sector positions. His stint at the UK government's Directgov (now UK Gov) steered him towards SEO, leading to his role at Razorfish where he honed his expertise in analytics and search engine optimisation.

His leadership in SEO was further solidified through roles at major organizations including the BBC and Just Eat, where he became a recognisable figure. Gerry's diverse experience spans several high-profile companies and agencies, including Rise at Seven and Oda, a Norwegian supermarket, where he led initiatives to grow the brand internationally.

Currently, as VP of Growth at Mirador Local, Gerry drives advancements in managing Google Business Places at scale through innovative SaaS tools. He is also an author, having penned a book on Google Data Studio, reflecting his deep engagement with data-driven decision making.

Outside of his professional roles, Gerry is a passionate co-organiser of the Take It Offline Conference, an event that champions the unscripted exchange of ideas within the digital marketing community. His events in cities like Amsterdam and Bulgaria have connected professionals around vital industry conversations and community building.

Gerry's philosophy of delivering outstanding results has benefitted clients ranging from the BBC to McDonald's, and his commitment to both learning and leading in the digital arena continues to shape his distinctive and influential career path.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Gerry White

Watch the interview

(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(54 minutes long)

Unscripted Modern SEO Q&As with Mark A Preston and Gerry White

Who is Gerry White, the SEO?

It has indeed been a lengthy journey. I began exploring the world of web development around the year 2000 while at university, where I discovered my ability to build and host websites. This led to mastering the technical aspects of website development, particularly focusing on commercial sites integrating tools like Dreamweaver and various payment gateways. Over the years, I transitioned from teaching web design to working in both local and national government roles, enhancing my project management skills and steering me towards SEO. My career has included positions at Razorfish, where I focused on analytics and SEO, and prominent roles at organisations like the BBC and Just Eat. Now, I am the VP of Growth at Mirador Local, managing Google Business Places on a large scale and co-organising the Take It Offline conference, which fosters community and cultural exchanges within the industry.

Has being known as an SEO who works for big brand names helped propel your career?

Absolutely, it has. Being associated with large corporations, such as Google, certainly boosts one's profile. It provides a trust factor and a certain prestige. Although I left Just Eat a few years ago, and have since been involved with other significant names like the BBC, these associations continue to benefit my professional image. While I am keen to be recognised for my current contributions, the reputation from past affiliations remains valuable.

What was it like working on a government website?

Working on a government website was both brilliant and challenging. My role primarily involved enhancing onsite search functionality, which offered profound insights into user behaviour and search patterns. For instance, common terms like "will" posed unexpected challenges due to their status as stop words in our search engine. This role highlighted the importance of user-centric design, especially when working with civil servants who initially perceived the internet more as an annoyance than an essential tool. The experience was invaluable, and I still maintain connections with many talented individuals from that period, most of whom continue to work in government or charity-related fields.

Is it important to understand how your customers search?

Yes, absolutely. Search behaviours are constantly evolving, and people are becoming more adept at using search engines. It's fascinating to consider how searching has changed from simply entering text to retrieve relevant pages, to now posing questions to Google about recent events or unique queries. During my time at the BBC, I had access to a vast array of search data, which revealed not only popular searches like 'Top Gear' or 'Doctor Who', but also a myriad of unusual, long-tail searches that resembled conversations with the search engine. This insight into how people interact with Google—often receiving accurate responses to seemingly obscure queries—highlights the sophistication of modern search engines. Despite criticisms that Google may prioritise less reliable sources more frequently than before, its ability to understand and interpret complex queries remains quite remarkable.

Can SEOs benefit from real-time changes?

No, you certainly cannot always predict or benefit from real-time changes; however, sometimes we do have the opportunity to shape outcomes. By employing techniques such as digital PR, SEO professionals can anticipate and leverage trends. For instance, the buzz around the new Fallout TV series has been a prime example. Are you familiar with it? It's quite a sensation among fans of the game and has become a focal point for generating engaging content and discussions online.

What is a great example of a Digital PR newsjacking campaign?

A prime example is the recent TV series released on Prime, which has captured considerable attention. This surge in interest has prompted many content creators to produce related articles, guides on the game series, and features about the actors involved. This proactive approach to 'newsjacking'—leveraging current trends to enhance visibility and engagement—has proven highly effective. However, the extent to which some newspapers exploit these trends can be overwhelming. I once discussed at a conference how after the royal wedding, an overwhelming number of articles appeared about Pippa Middleton. Contrastingly, at the BBC where I worked, we maintained a more reserved stance, focusing instead on the broader media reaction. Normally, my role is more aligned with the technical and product aspects of SEO, though I closely collaborate with teams involved in content-driven strategies.

How valuable is craze-driven content after the craze has diminished?

Generally, it's not that valuable. Most content doesn't garner significant traffic over time; it's usually a static amount. However, tapping into current events can lead to substantial traffic spikes, particularly from platforms like Google Discover. Many companies focus specifically on this type of traffic, and if you time it right, an article can hit a peak moment and draw huge numbers. While this burst of traffic rarely leads to direct conversions, it can significantly boost brand awareness and engagement. For example, at Mirador Local, capitalising on trends related to Google Business Places can enhance our visibility. So, in moments, it's crucial for raising awareness and potentially leading customers to consider our tools when they need them.

Where do you now fit within the SEO space?

Currently, my focus is largely on local clients, but my background in international SEO, like implementing hreflang, still plays a significant role. I recently developed a bookmarklet to extract hreflang attributes because existing tools didn't meet my needs. Although Mirador Local primarily offers a specific service and doesn't sell SEO services directly—especially to clients referred by other agencies—we maintain a comprehensive approach. I also keep myself engaged through freelance projects, conference speaking, and meetings, ensuring I stay connected across various aspects of SEO, not just locally but internationally too.

Is it important for SEOs to understand what is happening outside of their individual SEO bubble?

Yes and no. Specialisation is beneficial and often necessary for deep expertise. For instance, focusing on aspects like web performance or international SEO can be crucial. However, it's equally important not to become too insular. Over-specialisation can lead to a narrow view where one might attribute all changes to their specific focus area, missing broader impacts from other SEO facets or even digital marketing elements. Understanding the entire digital marketing spectrum, including how search engines display results (like showing a brand's social media profiles), is essential. This broader knowledge helps SEOs make more informed decisions and integrate their efforts effectively with other digital marketing strategies.

How can SEOs understand the impact of the work they are doing?

The crux of it lies in comprehending your analytics and the broader data landscape. Since the advent of the latest Google Analytics, my proficiency has admittedly declined; I was once very adept with the platform. Now, I tend to extract data into Looker Studio for deeper analysis. It's crucial to understand not just the apparent data but also the nuances—like the often-misunderstood 'direct' traffic, which is frequently just unrecognised referral traffic. Recognising how different traffic sources interact and focusing beyond mere conversion or bounce rates are key. True understanding comes from considering the entire user journey, including interactions with platforms like YouTube and Twitter. It's about seeing the user's full pathway, from initial contact through to conversion, which is rarely a straightforward process but rather what Google now terms 'the messy middle'.

What do you think about the idea that SEO is not just Google?

I wholeheartedly agree. For instance, consider 'nasi goreng'—an Indonesian dish. Searches on this don't just yield restaurant options but recipes and local eateries too. The search results can vary widely, from recipe pages to Google My Business listings, and even include video content from platforms like TikTok or YouTube, depending on the device used. This diversity in search results shows that SEO needs to encompass various platforms, adapting to where and how people search. The relationship between SEO and social media is evolving; understanding the user's intent and journey across all these platforms is crucial for effective SEO today.

How important is it for SEOs to be adaptable to change?

Adaptability is absolutely critical in SEO. The notion that 'SEO is dead' is more about SEO being in a constant state of evolution rather than becoming obsolete. Google's search algorithms and interfaces are perpetually changing, often without much notice, keeping us on our toes. Being adaptable means staying informed and ready to pivot strategies at a moment's notice. This dynamic nature of SEO makes it both challenging and exciting, requiring continual learning and adjustment to stay effective.

What do SEOs need to be mindful of with the shifting search landscape?

The search landscape is constantly evolving, and staying updated is crucial. I experiment with various AI tools like, ChatGPT, and CoPilot, which keeps me abreast of changes. While these innovations are exciting, they also come with challenges. For instance, AI often relies on existing content to generate answers, which can sometimes be inaccurate. I've encountered instances where AI provided incorrect information on specific software issues, highlighting the risks of misinformation. This is especially concerning in fields like medicine where the stakes are high. There was even a time when Google mistakenly claimed that horses have six legs! Relying solely on AI for accurate information can be precarious.

What is your thought on fact-checking and trusting the information search engines provide?

The necessity of fact-checking cannot be overstated, particularly in an era where misinformation can spread rapidly. A notable example is the dangerous belief propagated during the Trump presidency that drinking bleach could cure illnesses, leading to hospitalisations. Misinformation can have real-world consequences. As digital marketers, we might find amusement in harmless pranks like the mythical spaghetti trees, but for users, the ability to trust online information is paramount.

Do users have more or less trust in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)?

Surprisingly, trust in SERPs seems to have increased. Many people believe that if something is on the internet, it must be true. However, anyone can publish misleading information online. I often encounter situations where clients or colleagues reference articles as authoritative without considering the experience or credibility of the author. For instance, there is widespread confusion and conflicting information about hreflang tags in SEO, which varies based on individual experiences and expertise. While my mother, like many others, might trust something she reads online implicitly, it's important to approach online information with a critical eye, recognizing that it may not always be accurate.

Is there a solution for fact-checking search results?

Realistically, no perfect solution exists. I rely on trusted sources, especially for crucial information like medical advice. While the NHS provides a solid starting point, its content isn't always the most comprehensive, though legally it must be accurate. Retailers like Boots also offer reliable health information. That said, for everyday ailments like a cold, even non-expert advice like the popular TikTok remedy of whiskey, lemon, and hot water might seem appealing. It's about balancing credible sources with common-sense home remedies.

Have you seen lead generation done well through TikTok SEO?

Personally, I haven't managed such campaigns since most of my clients are in different sectors. However, I've observed trends where viral content on TikTok significantly boosts product demand in e-commerce. While none of my current clients have experienced this, I'm aware of cases where TikTok influencers have driven substantial sales. For instance, there was a promotion for hiking shoes that sold out rapidly due to a viral review. The power of influencer endorsements, despite my reservations about their authenticity, can indeed be very effective in generating leads and driving sales.

How can an SEO influence a brand search?

Influencing brand search can sometimes yield surprising successes. For example, my personal interest in coffee led me to explore this niche deeply, particularly through platforms like TikTok, where I spend a great deal of time. This exploration can quickly evolve into a strong brand presence if you consistently provide knowledgeable, entertaining content. Success on platforms like TikTok hinges on consistency and the ability to engage with your audience repeatedly on a specific topic. Those who can maintain this consistency, offering valuable and interesting insights, often see their personal and associated brands thrive.

Do you feel that the authority or trust of a brand directly impacts the level of organic growth?

Absolutely, it significantly impacts organic growth, which is tough on smaller businesses. For example, when shopping for a mobile phone case, if the first few results don't seem trustworthy and one of them is Amazon, I'll likely opt for Amazon. We've witnessed the rise and fall of many brands due to a single bad experience that discourages future clicks. Google increasingly considers these purchasing signals in its rankings. The EAT principles—expertise, authority, and trust—are crucial here. People tend to return to familiar brands like Amazon because there’s no doubt about product delivery or authenticity. Unfortunately, this dynamic makes it challenging for smaller players to compete, undermining the internet’s potential as an equal playing field.

What are your thoughts on people piggybacking off non-authoritative sites?

Leveraging platforms with high authority, such as Amazon, to establish a market presence can be a smart move. An example is a product that gained fame from a TV show like Dragon's Den and turned into an international brand. Initially, many brands build their reputation by associating with reputable sites and then eventually establish themselves independently. This approach allows smaller brands to gain trust and visibility. While partnerships and strategic associations can be beneficial, they pose unique challenges and require careful planning to ensure they align with long-term brand goals.

Is it beneficial to partner with a business that shares the same audience as you?

Partnering with businesses that target similar audiences seems sensible in theory and is often a good strategy initially. However, maintaining control over customer relationships is crucial. For instance, while at Just Eat, we explored a partnership with Google to facilitate orders directly through Google, bypassing our site. This arrangement wasn't financially viable in the long run because it hindered our ability to engage directly with customers, such as offering discounts or promotions. Thus, while such partnerships can drive short-term gains, they may compromise long-term customer relationships, which are vital for sustained business growth.

What are your thoughts about the buying cycle of a takeaway since you worked at Just Eat?

It's quite disheartening to see that for many of my friends, especially those in London, the term "delivery" has become synonymous with ordering a takeaway. They tend to say, "We're going to get delivery," regardless of the cuisine, whether it be Indian, Chinese, or a curry. I'm not keen on the idea of "delivery" being used as a verb in this context.

Was it a good move for Just Eat to include fast food chains in their brand?

I wouldn't speak ill of my former employer, but honestly, I've always been puzzled by the inclusion of fast food chains like McDonald's in Just Eat's offerings. There's so much variety available, why settle for something you can easily get from a drive-thru? However, from a business perspective, it was effective. I recall the launch of McDonald's on Just Eat, particularly the campaigns for KFC which drew massive coverage and orders, surpassing my expectations. Initially, I thought Just Eat should focus on smaller, independent takeaways, but the high demand for well-known fast food brands proved me wrong. Nowadays, seeing queues of delivery drivers at McDonald's is still a strange sight to me.

Does really understanding the customer's motivations help to open new opportunities?

Absolutely, understanding the customer's motivations is crucial in content marketing, especially when considering page construction and conversion rate optimisation (CRO). For instance, I worked with a client who couldn't understand why Amazon always outranked them for their own products. Their product descriptions were basic, simply describing the item as a Wi-Fi radio for internet stations. In contrast, Amazon’s listings included detailed uses, like streaming Spotify podcasts and sharing playlists, complete with engaging videos. This comprehensive approach not only improves customer understanding but also enhances Google's likelihood to prioritize these results. Recognizing the customer journey, using features like "People Also Ask," and providing enriched content that guides users through their search queries can significantly improve engagement and increase overall sales value on a site.

Have you noticed changes in buyer intent within the SERPs?

Absolutely, if Google detects buyer intent, the search results are overwhelmingly dominated by product listings and category pages, almost always directing users straight to e-commerce sites. It’s a relief that keyword-stuffed pages at the top of category pages have fallen out of favour, as they provided a terrible user experience. In the past, even when removing such spammy content led to a drop in organic traffic, we worked hard to reintroduce it more appropriately. Google is now much more focused on intent, and if the intent is to purchase, you'll find yourself navigating through e-commerce and product listings. It's striking how these listings can sometimes feel as if you're shopping directly on Amazon rather than Google.

How can nationally based businesses benefit from having a local SERP presence?

There are two main benefits. Firstly, it's crucial for any online business to establish trust by displaying clear local signals, such as a physical office address and phone number. These details reassure customers about the legitimacy of your business. Secondly, if you have a Google Business Profile, ensure it's fully optimized with photos, posts, FAQs, etc., to enhance visibility in your local area. Even for a business like Mirador Local, which has offices in London, Leeds, and the US, it’s important to actively promote each location to boost local search rankings and demonstrate our on-the-ground presence, thus avoiding any perceptions of the business being a potential scam.

How important is a company's Google Business Profile?

It's critically important. A company's Google Business Profile, which includes key details like the VAT number and other company information, significantly influences my decision to engage with them. I would never input my credit card details into a site without a clear understanding of the business's legitimacy. This profile is a cornerstone of building trust with potential customers; it assures them that they're dealing with a reputable entity. Sharing personal information, even beyond payment details, necessitates a high level of trust, which a well-maintained Google Business Profile can help establish.

How important is it for SEOs to study the capabilities of AI?

It's crucial for SEOs to familiarize themselves with AI technologies like ChatGPT. While it's exciting to explore these capabilities, it’s vital not to rush into using them recklessly. For instance, producing a hundred articles a day via ChatGPT and publishing them on a WordPress site is not advisable, especially not on your main or commercial sites. Instead, focus on the basics which remain critical: understanding coding, JavaScript, and the mechanics of websites. As much as technology advances, the necessity for fast, efficient, and functional websites does not wane. In our rush to embrace cutting-edge tools like AI or the latest social media trends, we must not neglect these foundational elements that ensure a website's effectiveness.

What conversations would you like to have with people and where can they find you, Gerry?

If you're interested in discussing the Take It Offline conference, you can find us on Twitter by searching for 'Take It Offline conference' or visit our website at For those curious about Mirador Local, we offer demos at to show how our tool can efficiently manage Google Business Places at scale. Personally, you can find me on Twitter, now known as X, under the handle @dergal, or connect with me on LinkedIn by searching 'Gerry White SEO'. I once ranked as the 'UK's sexiest SEO', which was more of a playful challenge than a serious title, but these days, I focus more on tangible SEO discussions and less on novelty rankings.

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