We had a chat with Senior SEO manager James Wardleworth about his journey from entering the industry as an apprentice, his progression through to his current role and what he loves about being an SEO.
I find the difference we can make to a brand, and ultimately their customers inspiring. I thrive on showing the results/impact of a change to clients. It's always nice to have a few 'we did X and saw X% uplift' in your back pocket.
James Wardleworth, Senior SEO Manager
First of all, what do you do as an SEO in a digital agency?
I manage all aspects of driving success through organic for clients. Help ranges from developing SEO strategies and roadmaps, solving specific SEO problems for clients or acting as a sounding board on various SEO projects.
My role tends to vary. One day, I could be focusing on content, and the next solving a technical SEO issue. It's a cliche, but no two days are ever the same, which is one of my favourite things about my role.
I love being part of the SEO team; this is an integral part of my role, working with my colleagues to continually develop and extend our knowledge and service offering, which improves the service we offer clients.
What inspired you to get into the digital marketing?
I was unsure of what I wanted to do when I left college at the age of 18. I found an apprenticeship opening at Fresh Egg, and the many facets and learning opportunity sounded exciting. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to gain experience in the workplace.
I find the difference we can make to a brand, and ultimately their customers inspiring. I've always enjoyed helping people or solving problems, which is a massive part of digital and SEO in particular.
What was your career path into SEO?
I studied graphic design and photography in college; however, I was unsure if I wanted to pursue this as a career. Not wanting to commit to a university, I applied for an apprenticeship at Fresh Egg to gain workplace experience.
I gained exposure to multiple digital marketing disciplines through my apprenticeship, including paid search, inbound marketing, and SEO. I took to SEO in particular and was fortunate enough to be offered a job as an SEO assistant within the search team. From then on, I progressed to become a manager and now senior manager.
What is your proudest achievement as an SEO?
I was nominated as a rising star at the Wirehive 100 awards a few years ago, which still fills me with pride! As far as specifically within SEO, I thrive on showing the results/impact of a change to clients. It's always nice to have a few 'we did X and saw X% uplift' in your back pocket.
The world of SEO is ever-changing; how do you keep up-to-date with changes?
The most important thing for me is to continually learn from what we do, being open-minded about questioning what we are doing and why we are doing it? Did it work or not work? Why, and what can we learn and apply from that going forward.
As a team, we always keep an eye on the (seemingly) non-stop announcements from Google and other industry news sources. As a group, we share and discuss these to understand what they mean for us, and most importantly, our clients.
What do you think makes a great SEO?
Be critical, thorough, willing to learn, and open-minded to learning new ways of doing things. Understanding and catering to your clients overarching objective is vital, putting SEO recommendations into the context of the broader piece of the picture.
What tips do you have for anyone at school/college about making a career in digital?
My personal advice is to get straight into the work environment if possible, either through an apprenticeship, work experience etc. There are so many facets to digital marketing. If you have the right attitude, are tenacious and eager to learn, you'll find something you catch a bug for, and that fires your imagination.
You can only pick one SEO tool to use; which one would you choose and why?
Without a doubt, it's Google Search Console (GSC). I use it daily. I love data, and GSC provides the purest data, and it is direct from Google. With all the available information on how a website performs in search results, I don't think I could do my job without it.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around working in search engine optimisation?
It is the misconception that it is just links, keywords, and changing a few heading tags. While all important, SEO for me, as I've learned over the past six years, is a great deal more than this. It's about understanding your audience, what they need and how we can give this to them in an engaging and useful format.
In your opinion, what qualities does someone need to be effective in an SEO role?
For me, being thorough, critical, willing to learn and open-minded are key. Alongside this, the ability to adapt communications to explain complex SEO issues or recommendations effectively is crucial.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for SEOs?
This one is common in SEO circles, and it is getting things done. I don't think it's an industry secret that SEO's can struggle to get technical fixes implemented. Learning how to business case in the context of other activities and priorities is vital.
Proving performance can also be tricky. SEO is not an overnight fix. There is a surprising amount of effort to maintain current performance, let alone driving additional gain on top of this. SEO performance (in my opinion) is about the sum of all its parts rather than individual parts. Yes, a Page Title change could influence CTR, but the cumulative effort of all SEO changes over time is where the focus in proving performance should be.
Does your mum understand what you do? If no, what does she think you do?
She does know it's broadly to do with what people look for on Google. However, my dad thinks I'm a graphic designer, which always makes me laugh!
Read the ultimate guide to mobile SEO written by James
Depending on the type of website, you may find as much as 75% of traffic coming from mobile devices. Understand why Mobile SEO needs to be a key part of your overall SEO strategy.