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Misunderstood SEO: Tom Marriott, The SEO Punk, Reveals All

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Tom Marriott

Tom is someone who truly loves everything digital.

For the past 10 years, Tom has been helping businesses of all sizes with their growth through digital marketing. From building their website, to helping them grow their organic search traffic, and even sculpting some awesome paid ad campaigns.

Tom is currently the Digital Marketing Director at Ina4. A fast growing digital agency based in Wigan & Leeds.

Although Tom works with top brands, he has a personal passion for helping start-ups (the unknown brands), transforming them from having no brand presence into multi-million pound turnover businesses.

Tom Marriott is also known as The SEO Punk, talking about the misunderstood and misinterpreted when it comes to SEO. You will find his SEO Punk advice shared across LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok.

When you listen to this podcast, you will realise that Tom has a somewhat different perspective on SEO than most other SEO professionals in the industry. A perspective you really do need to listen to.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Tom Marriott

Watch the interview

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

Listen to the podcast

(55 minutes long)

The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Tom Marriott

  • What made you so passionate when it comes to the world of SEO?

  • Being The SEO Punk, what drove you to start sharing SEO advice from a reality perspective?

  • As you post a lot of video content around the subject of SEO, where does your subject ideas come from?

  • Do people prefer to watch SEO videos which are professionally edited, or just raw reality videos?

  • How can SEOs future-proof their long term career within the industry?

  • What specifically is it about SEO that personally excites you?

  • What is it you love about helping an unknown small brand grow and flourish?

  • For the smaller lesser known brands, what initial steps do you take that contribute to success?

  • What are your views when it comes to the mindset side of SEO?

  • What does an SEO need to do in order to get them away from the SEO by numbers mentality?

  • How do you see the traditional agency model adapting to change?

  • What sort of a relationship do you have with the businesses that you work with?

  • Do you need to have set communication boundaries with your clients?

  • What part of SEO have you seen create the biggest positive impact?

  • What do you think about building topic hubs to push organic growth?

  • What research tools should SEO professionals be using?

  • When it comes to SEO, what can the businesses who are not yet able to invest into an agency, do themselves?

  • Why do you think some SEOs are scared of or not willing to accept change?

  • Why do genuine bloggers who have no clue about SEO, drive a ton of traffic?

  • With the heavy lack of context within SEO educational articles, how do people know what advice they should be following?

  • How do you believe that AI is going to impact the world of organic search and SEO?

  • Why do you feel the need to launch your own SEO community?

The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Tom Marriott

Mark A Preston: Welcome to the unscripted SEO Interview podcast. Yes, it's 100% unscripted, 100% unrehearsed, 100% unedited, and 100% real. I'm your host, Mark A Preston, and our guest today is somebody I've known for quite a number of years. In fact, he came and spoke at one of my local events a few years ago. And since then, we've kept in touch, and I've followed him online. Well, let's just say he's blasting my feed, that's the way so I've had no actual reason not to follow him. But what I want to do, I want him to introduce himself because it's got such a varied background, and that welcome Tom Marriott. Hi, Tom.

Tom Marriott: Hi, Mark. How are you doing?

Mark A Preston: Not so bad. Well, for everyone that's listening to this, who doesn't know who you are, could you give an overview of your background in the industry and what you do now? Because I know you do podcasts, you do various things. So just to sum it up and make sure that, I don't mess anything up, I want you just to explain it.

Tom Marriott: First of all, thank you so much for having me on. I'm Tom, you might know me from blasting your feed, as Mark so eloquently puts it, as the SEO punk. So my time in the industry, I think I've had like ten years now. I think this is coming up to my decade in this industry now, and I started way back from the very, very bottom. Let's put it in the dark, seedy underworld of SEO and digital marketing starting at this questionable agency at the time of honing my craft, although I can't really call it honing my craft while I was there and I've kind of just worked my way up from agency to agency, moving along. I've always spent all my time in agency world because I love it, I love the variation of work, I love working with different customers and different clients and now, today, I am director of digital marketing for a digital agency that's based here in the north of England in Wigan and also we have an office over in Leeds called Inner Four, in which we work with a myriad of different customers and clients from small startups to all the way up to 100 companies. And as Bruce Wayne kind of has, I have a slight alter ego in that whilst when I'm not digital marketing director at in a four at night, I turn into the SEO punk, which is my persona of SEO on Instagram and TikTok, I decided that I thought I'd create content on Instagram and TikTok because like I said, I've dabbled in some podcasting. I did a quite a successful podcast called the digital marketing podcast for a while, that was cool and I thought I'd move into this medium as well, which was becoming really hot. And yeah, kind of got some traction on there as well creating content about SEO and trying to teach people, what SEO was actually really about because what I realized, when I was creating that content, looking at what other people were doing, it was largely this sort of surface level…nonsense, which I didn't necessarily agree with, and I wanted to be a little bit real and a little bit more truthful about what SEO was, so that's what I created. I started creating TikToks and Instagrams, and it started to take off a little bit and went a bit viral and here I am today.

Mark A Preston: Well, something I picked up there is you wanted people to understand SEO from a reality point of view. What do you actually mean by that?

Tom Marriott: So that's a really good question. Basically all the way through my career, I've had this thing where I thought that there's this surface level SEO, this sort of sound bite SEO, can I call it that way? It's a kind of soundbite SEO, which is just sort of people saying the easy things when they're teaching people, SEO. Do your meta titles and your descriptions, and these are all important things and everything, but it was so surface level and it didn't really push the boundaries of actually what SEO was in reality and there's a whole new level of SEO, which if you sort of crack that egg and break it open and understand it in reality in simple terms, and that's what it is. And this is the other thing, people can overcomplicate SEO as well. They can overdue it and I didn't like that. And it was almost like people were intentionally trying to overcomplicate SEO in order to make themselves sound more valuable and I didn't like that either. So I wanted to sort of break this down and introduce people to the realities of SEO. And I always harp back to the fact that really SEO and it's really core principles can be very, very simple and that's what I decided, I wanted to create content about. So that was what I was meaning when I said that.

Mark A Preston: Okay, so now you do create an awful lot of content on the subject of SEO, but how do you constantly come up with the ideas of what to record?

Tom Marriott: So this was a very difficult process of working this out and if there's anybody that's listening to this that is obviously is interested in SEO, but is interested in content creation in general, then heed my advice, okay? What I originally started doing was I just had ideas, they popped into my head, and then I'd go around and record it with a phone in my hand, and it was awful. It was terrible. And the problem with that is you'd have an idea, and then you wouldn't be able to really articulate what you meant, it would be a bit confusing. Didn't really have a sense of purpose when you were doing it and it was a bit messy and I didn't like it, and no one else liked it either, because no one would view it. So what I ended up doing was, I ended up trying to create a bit of a process and a system in the same way that I would with SEO. I just didn't put the two together, that you have to have sort of processes and systems in place to do this job well. We all have master spreadsheets that do all these things, and I didn't have that for my content creation, which was crazy. So I ended up creating a system, which is that I have an idea, and the idea would start with what would be the entity, the thing, the point that I'd want to get across. So whether that would be talking about Google algorithm updates, for example, and I would talk about the fact that people get all up in arms and go crazy about Google algorithm updates. And actually the reality is that Google algorithm updates have changed quite a lot over the years of Google. There used to be these big things, when we were talking about Panda and things like that. Now there are all these tiny little bitty changes that go along almost each and every single day. So I'd start with that, but even that how I've described it then was kind of very long and boring and rambling. So I'd then have to sort of put that into a Trello card, and I still use Trello today actually, to do this. I put it into a Trello card, and in the Trello description, I'd write my natural script. So I would script it out word for word, because you want it to be short, sharp, and punchy, and make sure that you try and get your point across as eloquently as possible, and then I'd move on to recording that, editing that a little bit. And now I have a whole process of being able to post this content out, which is still not overwhelming, although I have had moments where it's been very overwhelming for me to try and keep churning out content. But now it's got a process that I can actually run through which is less chaotic ,and I can do quite well and within a reasonably short time frame.

Mark A Preston: I spoke to a lot of people who want to start recording videos, short videos, and they always say, well, I can't make it look professional, so I don't want to do it. I mean, does it need to look professional or does people just want reality?

Tom Marriott: People now you've absolutely hit on a gold mine there. People now just want reality. I think where in the early days of Instagram and TikTok necessarily, there was this element, and there still is to a degree there's elements of it has to be finely polished and the editing had to be spot on, almost like it come out of some kind of marvel studio and actually that's not the case anymore. It can be much rawer highly (9:16) moved now my content, in particular over to a much rawer form I used to do it. I have a set up here where I'd have my ring light here and things like that, and I've got the lights in the background, which make a nice pretty background and even now I've started to move away from that because actually it's all about resonating with the individual, the person, and it's again taking learnings from SEO here. This is no different from how SEO works, you resonate with the content that you engage with and you interact with, and it's no different, the principles are no different here. So as long as your point and how you're putting that point across is done well, it doesn't necessarily matter about the quality of the recording or the effects and things that you put onto it. That being said, there are elements of video, short form video, which you need to ensure that you put in there to make sure that it is going to be successful and things like hooks, for example, ensuring that you say something within that first 2 seconds, that's not just going to make people go, yeah, moving on, they're going to go, oh, what does this person mean by this thing? And that's a really important element as well.

Mark A Preston: So, moving away from content side of it now, a lot of people that come to me at the moment on about, well, what do I need to do to future proof my job, my career in this industry? Because for some reason everyone thinks that robots are going to take the jobs. What's your persona on,

Tom Marriott: Yeah. So I'm getting a lot of those questions as well, so a particular strand of my content is about AI at the moment and how AI is affecting all marred different things in marketing. Actually, a lot of my job at the moment is surrounded by AI, and I keep getting asked these questions, and it the same thing that I'd say, let's go back to the Industrial revolution, okay? There was a big shift in how the workforce worked and things like that. Yes, there was change, and there was getting used to that change but at the end of the day, there were still people that had to manage and maintain these machines and manage and maintain these railways and things like that. There still had to be the people to do those things and this is no different in this entity. When we're talking about artificial intelligence, people coming, copywriters coming to be worried about the fact that their jobs are on the line; because AI is going to do copy. Well, the fact of the matter is, yes, AI can produce copy. It can do that, it could do quite a good job of it, actually. However, when we're talking about SEO, and when we're talking about rankings, actually, it's going to be the human based copy that's going to outperform the AI copy. We know this because of how Google have set out their principles themselves. They've turned around and said, our principles of copywriting and copy are that you need to make sure, that you have all these things in your expertise, experience, authority, and trustworthiness. These are all entities which really AI, without the appropriate input that you place into it, AI can't really replicate. You can't replicate unique experience and that was the reason why Google introduced it into your copy through AI, because AI as an entity doesn't have that experience. So we're all not out of a job yet, us as marketers, us as copywriters, whoever you are, we're all not out of a job yet. There still needs to be input into these machines, into AI to be able to produce these things and it's just about a case of adapting, and SEO is no different to this. SEO needs to change and adapt as we have done in the past, in the past ten years, in the past 20 years, to be able to keep up with what's going on. This is simply another one of those that we're going to have to make.

Mark A Preston: So, what is it about SEO that excites you? Why SEO?

Tom Marriott: That's a really good question. I always get asked about what sort of SEO is, and this kind of falls into it because a lot of people have this belief that SEO is a kind of manipulation. It's manipulating websites to make them rank higher. It's manipulation of content and things like that, or backlinks to be able to make things rank higher, and I don't like that particularly because that's not strictly true. You can call it manipulation if you like, but it's not strictly the case. How I like to think of it, whether you agree with me or not, is that what we're trying to do. Our end goal is we're trying to improve the websites that are within our ownership or within our sphere in order to make them more valuable for the users that go on it. It just happens to be a consequence of that, that if we do those things, then we end up ranking websites higher and they end up gaining more traffic. So I enjoy that. A particular entity for me, with SEO in particular, is you take paid ads and social media, all these things they're very roller coaster riding and SEO can be to a degree, too. But typically with an SEO strategy, if you do it right, it's almost growth and growth and growth and growth. It's an upward hill that you just go up and up and up and up, and yeah, it can be difficult and it can be a struggle to climb up that hill, but it's that upward hill that over a long, long period of time that I kind of love. And actually, I have a client meeting later on this afternoon. I'm going to be shooting off into the office, and I'm going to speak to one of my favorite clients, because that's a client that I've spoken to. It's my favorite client because of this very reason. We started with them when they were a startup, they were three young lads that had an idea and they wanted to do it and they came to us with this idea, and they entrusted us with it in order to build them an online presence, in order to build that traffic and their business as a consequence. And now, three years later, they are a 3-million-pound turnover business from organic SEO alone. And I love that, that's amazing. Granted, they're now driving around in Tesla's while I'm still on my Volkswagen, but it's still amazing to see. That's the part that I love.

Mark A Preston: So, do you enjoy creating something from the ground and building it rather than working with big brands that have massive budgets? We're in the sort of business arena from startup to macro to massive brands. I mean, whereabouts arena do you like working in.

Tom Marriott: I work in all of them, so I hope my foot seal on 100 companies are not listening at this moment. But I work in all of them. I particularly enjoy ,when they are small and to get that growth, that growth spurt, to get them to that medium, even to that medium level and really love that part of it. At the top level, how can I put this? At the top level, it's fantastic, it's great. You have basically unlimited resources to be able to do what you want, you can utilize internal resources within these enterprise companies to do what you require of them, whether that be content creation, you can advise on them and that's fantastic. But all you're really doing at that level is kind of changing the dial from there to there and doing all of those very micro manipulation optimizations, almost like almost like a Formula One car, okay? You make tiny little adjustments to all those fins to make it just that 0.0 milliseconds faster. That's essentially what you're doing when you get to that level, that's fantastic. But then there's kind of politics involved, where there always is in those large enterprise corporate clients and that can be frustrating and sometimes difficult. And then it's all about budgets and money and all that kind of stuff. So I enjoy it when you go to the other end in particular, again, I'll use this example of the client, I would say the name (18:04) Kicks, which is a trainer company that we've worked with; when they came to us with this idea of this market, massive market of sneakers of Jordans and Yeezys that are over there in America that were huge, they didn't really have a massive market here. When they said we want to bring it here, that's when we could go crazy because we looked at competitors that were like they were very clean and they were very modern and they were trying to be very corporate and businessy. And we just turned around and said, no, we're going to be with our content, with our SEO, with your social media. We're just going to be the exact opposite of that and I think we're going to find an audience who resonate with that, because these people that buy these things, they're all rebellious in those kinds. They're not necessarily all clean cut and modern and corporate and things like that. They're more rough and cut and things like that, they want to show off. They want to be pursuing the find that, they've got these trainers on which are really cool and awesome. So that's the bit that I enjoy, when we can start to be a little bit more creative and edgy. That's the word I was going for, edgy.

Mark A Preston: Edgy. That's the word, yes, I'm going to say because personally, I like to describe it as, I like to turn the unknown brands into known brands, that's how I see it and that's who I love to work with, because I love the fact that with very limited resources and very limited budgets, an awful lot can be achieved. And when you're there competing directly with the big brands, with the big pockets, the self-gratitude, or would I say self, yes, I've done it, that means a lot more. So, with these brands you work with that come to you and nobody knows who they are, what sort of steps do you have to take in those initial stages in order to start I suppose?

Tom Marriott: That's a really good question. First of all, you have to get to know them. You have to get to know the personality of what it is that, they want to achieve and understand that, because typically they don't really know yet, because in most cases, when someone's coming to you at that embryonic stage, they have an idea that they know, which is a business money maker, okay? That's the end goal for them, which is that's business, okay? That's how these things work, I get that. What we then have to sort of strip back from that is, well, what is the soul of that? What is the motivation of that? What drives you to do that? In the same way that you're asking me those questions, what drives you to keep to do these things? That's what I want to get at, so that I can create that core idea, that core style, that core message that we're going to create, and then we build upon that. So we start looking at what the competitors are in that same marketplace. What are they doing? Okay? What are they sort of pinning all of their hopes and opportunities on when it comes to SEO and things like that? We start to dissect that a little bit and when we start to ask ourselves the question, well, how can we perhaps take the same concept? Because the concept is clearly working, but move off in a different direction, be a little bit unique, be something that's going to grab more attention. So I try and strip that down a little bit more to try and understand, where they kind of fit in that greater that greater pool, usually of bigger fish and bigger sharks. That's where I typically start.

Mark A Preston: A lot of people in the industry, SEO professionals from your entry level write up, I feel as though sometimes they just don't get it. For me, that's the whole reason I am now an SEO mindset coach, because people are just not thinking about SEO in the right way. I mean, obviously, with all the videos you've done, and I do see that we've got a similar view on this, what do you think about it, the mindset side of SEO?

Tom Marriott: I think there's a huge proportion of people that see SEO very much as a recipe, okay? And it is to a degree, but you can follow a recipe, and that doesn't make you Gordon Ramsay. It just makes you produce the same that everybody else produces because they're all following the same recipe. And what the great chefs do is, they go and understand their ingredients, and they go and understand what those ingredients bring to the greater recipe and what those strengths are and it's no different to how you build a business when you have a business. So for me in particular, I've come into a business that's 20 years old, and I've had to sort of sit down, observe my surroundings, and figure out, okay, where are the strengths of this business lie, and how can we then try and use that to our advantage to gain competitive edge over the other people? It's no different with SEO. You have to identify what those competitive edges are within your customers, within your clients, within that website, within their content, within their tone, whatever it is, and try and use that to your advantage. And yes, the building blocks are the same. We still all make bread with the same ingredients, okay? But the quantities and perhaps the method and how we do it, doesn't have to be very much the same. It's like I was mentioning about, how I was absorbing all this content from other SEO content creators. And I was just inundated with people talking about keyword research and doing this sort of base level regurgitation of do your keyword research, make sure you're going for high volume, all this kind of stuff and I'm going, well, no, because keyword research very much, very much depends on where you are in your journey and which keywords that you pick you're choosing, and which ones you're targeting and which ones you're going to create a content within. Again, it's this SEO by numbers which doesn't really sit well with me, so I completely agree.

Mark A Preston: SEO by numbers, that's another thing, but what does the industry have to do in order to get out what I call the SEO robot mentality?

Tom Marriott: It’s is a really good question because I suppose I'm trying to be part of it, and there are individuals like yourself, like ourselves, and like other people in the industry that are trying to move the mindset of SEO, on a little bit and progressive a little bit. I know I'm putting myself in that pool, and that's a bit eager to ago, but I am trying to do that by just trying to even in my little micro niche of Instagram and TikTok creation, for example, just trying to move people on from this easy to absorb content to actually something which is of value. And there are people in the SEO industry that are trying to do that, which is great, much more than there were many moons ago, many years ago, there weren't many thought leaders that were willing to express and change the dynamics of SEO as there were. And hopefully now with the introduction of say, AI, and the ramifications that bring, the changes that Google is going to bring to potentially what's been recently announced as a new form of search, whether I'm not calling it a search engine yet, I don't believe that's the case a new form of search with what they're doing, these changes might be the shot of adrenaline, that is needed to start changing; basically putting all of that behind us, a little bit because the dynamics have changed. Look, we've had the same screen of Google for 20 years, okay? Yeah. For 20 years we've had that same screen and I think soon that going to change. As soon as that change, people are going to understand, okay, well, SEO is different now. SEO doesn't go away, I've had people come to me, said, oh, SEO is dead. No, it's not. SEO is not going to go away, it's going to change and it's going to go in a different direction, and hopefully these changes will start changing the mindset of SEO, not just within the industry, which does need to change, but also outside because there's still quite a negative mindset again, SEO by numbers around the SEO industry, people looking into the SEO industry, which needs to change and hopefully that's starting to happen.

Mark A Preston: Right, so you're a director within an agency, yes? Okay, now how is the agency model changing in the industry? Does the traditional agency model need to start adapting? 

Tom Marriott: It needs to start adapting 100%. Our agency model is already quite different in the fact that, I've been at agencies and the agency other agencies, and the mindset has always been very production line, okay. Again, SEO by numbers, we're just going to put the things in place that need to be put in place to get to, what we believe is the outcome and you end up basically with the same product on every single website, and it never works and now things are very different. So, the agency model that we kind of implement is that, we work so closely with our customers and with our clients that we are essentially that extension. We are merely a resource able extension to their business, whether you are FTSE 100, in which we go on client calls all the time on an almost daily basis, where we are essentially part of that team of that company, we are sat in a room with the team of all these other employees of that company, and then there's us and they see us as that. They see us as this entity of we're just an extension of this company, which absolutely needs to happen because you need to understand all the facets and everything that's going on within the company, in order to be able to pull all the relevant strings and be the puppet master and things like that. Be involved and ingrained in it, so that you can take what you need out of it and advise appropriately. And again, that's the other shift agency world now is almost more consultative than it is production line, okay? Just being that additional resource. Most of my job now and most of the job of my peers is sitting on calls going and people asking us questions about, what they should do next and how they should move next and our job is more consultative, which is a case of, well, we believe you should do X, Y and Z to navigate to where you need to go and we'll be able to help you with X, Y and Z service, but this is where you need to go. So it's more of an extension of the companies themselves rather than that outsourced arms reach partner that just go and do something, then we pay them some money and we'll leave them alone. That's how that dynamic needs to very much shift.

Mark A Preston: So when you think of that, basically you are just their, say, digital marketing department within that company. Do you believe that that approach has a long lasting impact and relationship rather than the short burst?

Tom Marriott: It really does and I'm letting out all my secrets here because honestly, what happens is that, I remember reading a couple of years ago that the average tenure of an agency with a client was like two years. And I remember sitting down and going, wow, the average tenure of my relationship with most of my clients is like five to ten. There are some clients that have been with this corporation from the very, very beginning. That seems madness to me, but I broke it down and again, talking about what the strengths of the company was and I realized that we had such strong relationships because of what we do with our customers, that they couldn't really envisage their business without us being there. They couldn't really envisage that at all. So we had these very long tenures and as a consequence of that, what ends up happening is in these companies, people inevitably move on and they go to other companies and then they go into their companies and they say, oh, well, you're looking for a digital agency. Well, I've worked with these guys and they're amazing and great and that's generally now how we generate new business majority by people moving on and going to other companies and going and saying, oh, these guys, we've worked with these guys and they're great and they're almost like part of the team. So that's essentially how our whole model now kind of operates and it's been very, very successful for us so far.

Mark A Preston: So when you work in this way, as you just part of them, do you still have to set boundaries? So literally ringing Europe on Sunday afternoon say, oh, Tom, do you have to stipulate boundaries?

Tom Marriott: Yes and yes, you do. What typically ends up happening, actually, you get past the point, so that does on occasion happen. In fact, this weekend, the weekend just gone. I had emails on a Sunday afternoon, I had three fall in at the same time. Now, to be fair to the guy, I emailed back and he said, why are you responding to me on a Sunday? Oh, sorry, I just thought you wanted a response, and that was my fault but to be fair, you get past the point, and they almost work with you in the same light as, well, I wouldn't email my colleague at this time, or I wouldn't call my colleague at this time because I know that they're off. So therefore, I'm not going to call Tom at this time. Occasionally, it happens, and I always accept it, if it's an absolute disaster, we still have infrastructure and things like that, that happens, things turn off. I accept that. But to be fair, again, we have such good relationships with these customers that their peers, their colleagues, they respect not just us as an outsourced partner, they respect us as part of their team, as part of colleagues that are helping them achieve their goals. So they typically respect as such, which is great.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. I want to bring the conversation back onto SEO somewhat, because it is the SEO Unscripted podcast, but I do feel like the agency conversations are important for everyone. But as far as the SEO is concerned. Now, what art of SEO have you seen to create the biggest impact for businesses?

Tom Marriott: When I talk about SEO, I boil them down to make it simple. Again, I was talking about how you make SEO simple earlier, I boil SEO down into three parts. You have your technical, you have your content, and you have your off site. Okay? Typically, everything kind of boils down, I call them the three pillars of SEO,and I actually stole that from a colleague of mine one day. And the biggest impact typically nowadays, it used to be technical. I would say there was a very technical led industry before, but then obviously there was a lot of weight towards Bad links, but very much seeing now the retreat of the impact of Bad links. Now, I'm not saying Bad links are dead, I know we see all of these things, bad links are dead, but they're not okay, they have an impact. However, what I really see make the biggest impact now, certainly in the SME space, the startup and the SME space is content. Okay? Content is absolutely key and absolutely crucial and it's all about not necessarily creating the most amount of content or generating quantity. It's about creating content which resonates with the audience the most and answers their questions. At the end of the day, all content is it's answering the questions and this is the reason why, I'm so hung up at the moment with how this is going to change as we move into AI and AI features embedding themselves into search and how that's going to sort of factor in, because it's going to be a real interesting one how this is going to work. But yeah, to answer your question, without diverting off into another alleyway somewhere, I would say content is the biggest key element of SEO at the moment. Write content which answers the questions of your audience. But before you do that, you've got to want understand your audience.

Mark A Preston: So, what's your ideas thought on the SEO industry heavily focusing on content topic hubs?

Tom Marriott: It's a strategy, it's a system, okay? It's essentially the same entity. It's all about creating content which answers the question, do I believe the hubs make an impact in terms of adding authority to a particular topic and making sure that, yes, probably, it probably does have an impact. However, I can't stress enough that I've seen enough cases of websites that don't have that raft of content that allows them to create that tree, those hubs. To know that if you just create good content, even a single piece of effective content that answers a query and a question better than anybody else is still going to be effective to rank and generate you a huge amount of traffic. So again, I don't think that the lean towards creating a huge raft of content is important. Again, and I know this is a cliche, but it is about quality and the quality of that content. And this again comes back to the point that actually quality content writers, sometimes with the support of AI tools, there's nothing wrong with that as a really powerful, powerful thing for companies at the moment.

Mark A Preston: So what sort of tools, as research tools should SEOs be using to find out what they need to get the writers to write about for the website?

Tom Marriott: I am a bit old school, when it comes to this. So the best tool to find this is using Google and typing in those words and reading, what is in front of you and seeing what's there and identifying the quality and identifying the gaps, the convoluted tools. There are top level tools which help you sort of look at things that are really top level. But honestly, for the majority of things that I do, it's about once you know that you need to rank for this particular thing, you'd want to gain traffic for this particular entity. Because it's a nice volume or it's a low volume, but it's a really niche one. It's going to really convert because there's going to be a lot of high interest, high intent traffic running towards that. Just start googling and just start reading and then start making notes and saying, okay, well, this person hasn't spoken about this, this person hasn't talked about this element. Oh, we've got some expertise in here, so we're going to talk about this and it'd be nice to do our video here. All that kind of stuff is so manuals, sometimes just better.

Mark A Preston: Okay, now, I really want to ask this question. Because there's lots and lots of business owners who cannot yet afford to invest on employing an agency or working with an agency. For those people, when it comes to growth, I say rather than just SEO specific play, what can they be doing themselves?

Tom Marriott: I love this question as well, because you're absolutely right. I don't like this idea that, there are some people that are within the embryonic stages of their business that feel like doing SEO is something that is beyond them. That's not the case, there are things that you can do. For example, I know that we're both very passionate about Wix ,as a website building platform. I love it, I think it's amazing. It has a history which has tarnished it and actually, I feel that that's extremely unfair because Wix, as a platform to build your website on is incredible, and I know there's going to be SEOs out there in the world that are going to absolutely tear me apart for this and I disagree with all of them, fight me. But I believe that it's an excellent platform to build, not even a simple you can actually be very, very complex and convoluted on Wix. You can build a website on Wix, that ticks every single one of the technical boxes, more so than any WordPress website would ticks every one of the technical boxes pretty much out of the box without too much input. Then you just have to focus on two things, writing content and all content is I know it sounds scary, but that's writing content, which is your expertise, what you know and do and love every single day. Write about it, and write about it, and write about it, and post all that content up and you'll get better and better and better at it as you continue to keep writing. And then you just have to focus on the off page stuff, which technically should naturally happen over time anyway. Yes, it might be a long burn, but it should naturally occur. You'll start to gain links, even if it's at the start from directories and things like that and Google My Business, you'll start to gain links from other places. If you're out there in the business world, in your local community, you might do local events and things like that. You'll start to gain local press coverage, perhaps, and gain a link or two there. So in its embryonic stage, there is a huge amount that you can do. What typically puts people off, is that there's this technical aspect of it. SEO is a very technical thing, and that's why I always push people towards a platform like Wix, because it's out of the box, extremely effective to build a website, a good website, a great looking website, and tick all those technical boxes then you just have to focus on, I just want to write on it. So big tick box for me and if there's anybody out there that's in that situation, go and go and think about it.

Mark A Preston: Well, yeah, I was probably the first SEO to move this website onto Wix and I did a case study which Rand Fishkin shared, let's just say I understand what negative awareness means back then. I got absolutely blasted, but I didn't listen and over the past five years, I've been working very closely with Wix, and I'm on there boards and everything and look at what it's become and I think that the reason people don't like change is because, look, you're literally saying, well, Wix do all this stuff you get paid a lot of money to do and I think that's the differentiator. I think that the industry needs to start accepting things rather than being scared of it, you know, things progress.

Tom Marriott: 110% I couldn't agree with you more. Look at Shopify, okay? We for years, as a shopping platform, we had options, which were Magento and PrestoShop, which not to take anything away from PrestoShop, but I hate it with a passion, but we had these entities and they were complex and they convoluted and they required developers, to be able to do these things and it would take a huge amount of time, and then Shopify came along and changed everything. Well, Wix is no different, is exactly the same. It basically takes all the technical stuff away from you, so you don't have to worry about it. You just focus on making something that looks great, add your content, and away you go. So much so that over the past 12-24 months now, I've been pushing the agency to move over to start building their website on editor X, I know this sounds like an advert for X now, and this is actually not what I intended to be, because I actually truly believe it. Editor X as a platform is amazing from an agency led platform. So we can go and do with the build but what we can do for small businesses, for SMEs is we can build small, simple and with complex features within it. Small, simple websites at a very low cost base, which is what our customers want to achieve. Because they want a starting block website, which they can grow and they can develop over time and when we were using other CMS, which required more technical infrastructure, that required building with databases, et cetera, in the background, we couldn't do that low cost because it required so much work in order to get to that point. So, editor X allowed us to build something, and then it just allowed us to create responsive websites and easily because its ability to be able to make everything responsive, bring everything down to mobile, it ticks so many boxes. So we push the agency towards basically delivering, that as our sole low level brochure kind of website. But even then, it allows functionalities like blogs, like shops and stores at a simple level to build upon its fantastic.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. I mean, I am obviously very much in favor of Wix, but I want to touch something I've asked people, I say to them, why do genuine bloggers, who have no clue about SEO drive a load of organic traffic. [Tom -Rather than paid traffic?] Yeah, literally, I've had bloggers come to me and say, oh, Mark, I've got this blog. And I just like, for instance, female solo traveler who just traveled the world just writing about our experiences, literally said, can you just have a look at my website? I looked at the stats and I were blown away. It's like the stats that SEOs would die for. But she said, well, can you teach me about SEO? I don't know anything about it. I mean, this goes back to the mindset side of it.

Tom Marriott: Yeah, exactly. People don't realize is that when you can strip away stop. Mindset. Mindset of SEO is still very much the very technical thing, and it's very complicated, and therefore it needs to be dealt with in this way and it's really not in its very simple form. It boils down to those three pillars, which I mentioned before and if you can tick off the technical pillar, which is less of an impact than it used to be, and you can tick off the out off page stuff, which again comes naturally over time. Especially if you're a blogger and you're writing about experiences which people want to connect to and engage to and point links at as well. Travel Bloggers is a great example of that, someone else will create a travel blog and said, oh, I was inspired to go on this on this trip because of this blog, et cetera and you create that links that way. Once you do that, at the end of the day, it's about creating content and all creating content means is resonating with the audience, that you want to attract and appeal to, and then Google will do the rest, because it knows and understands at this level at this entity which Google is at now, it understands what good quality content is. So let Google do the hard work and that's how you drive amazing levels of organic traffic. And I've seen I've worked with a lot of bloggers, in fact, and I've seen those incredible traffic numbers which they can achieve organically, and they don't have a Scooby Doo; they still come to me worrying about the fact that well, most of the time they come to me because their site's been hacked. But they do come to me worrying about the tiny minute. Oh, my CLS is now 0.03 more than it was four days ago, because they've read this very sound bitey SEO advice which says, oh, well, you shouldn't go beyond this point because it'll be absolutely terrible and catastrophic and that is not the case. Focus on the core principles of SEO, and if you can provide them, it will reward you. Don't overcomplicate it, keep it simple. Stupid, as they say in the agency world.

Mark A Preston: So you touched upon people reading things online. Now, what should the industry or even business owners be reading online about SEO. How do they know what they're reading? They should do because one of the biggest bugbears I have with SEO education content, there's no context.

Tom Marriott: 100%. Exactly. There is no context and context is everything when it comes to SEO. Where are you in your journey? Is usually the key question you should ask yourself before implementing anything. For me personally, and this is something that I'm currently working on, I believe that education about SEO is best done in I hate the word hives, but in groups, okay? In communities of people, that's why I did the podcast, because I wanted to build this community of people that wanted to learn. And it's why I've now created a discord group, a community called the SEO Hangout, which I want to invite anybody onto. If you're an expert, if you're just wanting to learn, because I believe that actually we all need to learn from each other. I've learned so much from you, Mark, over my career. I'm sure some points you've learned something from me, and I've learned loads from other people as well and that community has led and fed me as a professional to provide better results. And as a community which is much more open than it used to be in the past, we should now be trying to create communities of people, which can help each other learn SEO. And I try and to do that through my discord, just creating a small community at the moment, so everybody's welcome to that if they wish to learn from myself or any other experts that are in there. But if you're looking to learn SEO, I believe communities and learning from each other is the best way of doing it.

Mark A Preston: One hundred percent and I always say to everyone, no matter what stage in your career you're at in the industry, even me, after 20 odd years, there's always something else you can learn from other people. It's all about having those conversations. Now, the last question is, is there anything that we haven't touched upon, that you're really passionate about, that you think our audience should know?

Tom Marriott: Yeah, I'm super passionate at the moment, as I've mentioned, about how AI is going to affect search and I know there's a lot of talk and there's a lot of heat about it, but it's really exciting me at the moment, as we sort of move into this new world of SEO, hopefully this development, this evolution. And it's in some parts scary because we are seeing this introduction of generative AI and I hope, you know, a lot of people are asking me the question, well, you know, Google's just going to be replaced by chat GPT. Well, I don't think it will be, personally. I really don't think it will be because, I don't think we as humans believe that we are going to accept generative AI responses in search at all. Because we all crave options, when it comes to the material and the content that we consume, that's the reason we will have multiple news TV channels. It's the reason we have multiple newspapers. We all want options, when we choose to consume our content. So I don't believe that's the case. However, if it goes down that pathway, then there's concerns about content creation. Really are content creators going to keep this very delicate ecosystem of the web alive? If they're not going to get credit or traffic for the content that they create? These bloggers that we've already discussed, are they going to want to keep creating content? If generative AI responses are just going to generate all the responses that we could possibly need? I don't think we're going to move down that path. I think it would be very self-sacrificial of search engines for them to do that. However, it's going to be interesting to seeing, how that develops and how that moves forward. I think we need to see some kind of hybrid between a generative AI and traditional search, traditional search results. I think we need to see that balance between the two in not too distant similarities to how we saw featured snippets in Google and the uproar that zero click searches caused and things like that. I think we're going to end up seeing a balance between the two and it's going to be really interesting to see how SEO develops over that time. I say over that time, like it's going to be a long time, I think we're going to see this in under a year, maybe even two of how this develops. So that's going to be really interesting for me, and that's what I'm going to be sort of chronicling on my channels as well, to see how those changes really come into play.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Now you've given your time up here freely and you've dropped some amazing bombs of information. Now, is there anything the audience or anyone listening to this can do for you to say thank you?

Tom Marriott: As a thank you, I would love if you've listened to this. You've been interested in what I've said. Go and follow me over on TikTok, it's the SEO punk on TikTok. It's the SEO punk on Instagram. Granted, Mark said I will bombard you, but that's fine. Hopefully you will enjoy it and obviously, if you are interested in learning SEO or you are an SEO expert and you want to give back to a community, then I implore you to go and go over to those channels and you'll find a link on my links to the SEO hangout. It's free to join. I'm sort of trying to develop it, so I'm hoping to run some kind of communicative sessions. Maybe even some co working sessions, where we can all sit together in a room and work on our websites and together in a community setting like we are here and talk to each other about what we see and what we learn and perhaps share ideas and thoughts. That'll be awesome, maybe even do some podcasts with maybe Mark will join us on the stage one day, and we can come and talk on the SEO hangout, do some stuff. So I'm going to be developing it, but if you do, you're interested, come and join us on the SEO hangout and, yeah, we'll welcome you with open arms.

Mark A Preston: And to finish off, what is your SEO sound bite? To finish off.

Tom Marriott: My SEO sound bite is oh, cranky. Keep it simple. Stupid.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Well, on that note, I really like to thank you for joining us today and yeah, I want to say I'm positive the audience will get so much out of this.

Tom Marriott: I really appreciate it. Thank you, Mark, so much for having me. It's been absolute joy.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Cheers.

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