Leslie Gilmour is the head of SEO at Cube Online Marketing, a digital agency in Ireland that has worked with companies such as Guinness, Sunway, Roadstone, Sligo IT, and many other companies in Ireland. We recently chatted with Leslie about online marketing, SEO, and social media and how businesses can benefit from them.

Tell us a bit about your career. How has your diverse background helped you in your work at Cube Online Marketing?

Like many in the SEO industry, I did not plan on pursuing this career. In my case, I had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, an 800 km pilgrimage route across the north of Spain traveled by more than 200,000 people every year. After I had walked the second time, I decided to build a website about my trip. That was 2006 and my first venture on the internet.

I learned HTML and CSS, and experienced all the backend problems that newbies encounter with their first website. I discovered SEO only after the site was launched and no one visited. That started me down this road of optimizing websites. That website is still running strongly; I have added a forum and have now published a guidebook on the main trail.

My background consists of sales and accountancy. Both have been helpful. The hardest part that many find with SEO is asking other website owners for something. My sales background has helped me network, which is a huge advantage in SEO.

How mature and robust are the online marketing and SEO spaces in Ireland and/or Europe as compared to the U.S.?

They’re just as robust, but smaller and a little less competitive. This is to be expected since there is nothing that now happens in one market that is not immediately copied and used around the world.

When I started Cube in 2007, my biggest problem was explaining what search optimization was to business owners. Now everyone knows and is investing in the area.

If someone were to say to you, “I’ve tried hiring someone to do SEO for my website, but after a few months I didn’t see any results, so I gave up,” how would you respond?

My first question is usually, what went wrong?

Although I don’t expect every business owner or marketing director to know how to SEO a website, I do think it is a great idea to know how to judge the results and know what your KPIs are when it comes to digital marketing.

The analogy I use is from accounting. Although I don’t expect every business owner to prepare their own accounts, most would be very comfortable with managing a set of accounts and understanding the information they contain.

If a business has come away from a search campaign that failed and it does not know why it failed, that is a huge error. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is very important. Many businesses I work with now have a good understanding of analytics, judging links, and measuring traffic and conversions on a daily or weekly basis.

All that said, a few months may be too little time in some markets and with new websites to see a significant improvement. Managing expectations is a huge task for anyone running SEO campaigns. Some client websites can be quite easy or quick to produce great results. But if the website is in disrepair, brand new, full of duplicate content, or has been penalized by Google, then showing results may take much more than a few months.

You mention something on your website called “Negative SEO.” That sounds scary – what is it, and how much of a problem can it be for small business sites?

Negative SEO is simply over-optimizing anchor text (links) that point to your website. Negative SEO can happen deliberately or simply by scrapper sites republishing content. For example, scrapper sites will steal the content from forums. If you have added a signature on your forum posts like “SEO Company” and linked that to your website, you run the risk of the same anchor text being used on many scrapper sites; and that over-optimizes your anchors for that keyword. This can result in never being able to rank for that keyword and/or other keywords.

Deliberate negative SEO is normally only seen in highly competitive areas, like sports betting, insurance, and some financial sectors. It is not something I have yet seen on a small business site.

What are the common types of Google penalties that you’re seeing nowadays, and how can companies avoid (or fix) them?

This year, the most common problem I have encountered is duplicate and thin content. Most of my work is with e-commerce websites. Think about it: how many times can you describe similar items and have great reading content? Because of this, many companies end up with near duplicate content or very little content on the page. Some of my biggest successes this year have been simply making sure the content on a web page is what should be there and what the user expects.

What types of businesses, sites, or industries are still underutilizing social media?

The best way I describe these companies are companies that would not do well on Facebook. Industrial, DIY, PAT Tester, lockout tagout, cement, stone, chemical tank cleaning – you get the idea.

When social media is mentioned, most people think of Facebook or Twitter. The connection potential on LinkedIn for many of the above companies is massive. It is the area where most of our in-house energy goes when promoting Cube. No other platform lets us contact business owners, marketing managers, and IT directors like LinkedIn does.

Since your company offers guest blogging services, could you tell us a little about your guess blogging philosophy and how you use this practice to help your clients?

Quality counts.

Our philosophy has alway been to get a great diverse link profile. This includes links where you would expect to see a company listed and then great written guest posts on well-linked sites. The best links are those that send authority and relevant traffic.

We do not think relevance matters, but we do stay away from the odd. For example, it would not be unusual for a company that sells anything in an online shop to write a guest post about conversion optimization. I would find it hard to tie a therapist with a construction company blog, but I would see it is as okay for a CCTV company to write on an electricians blog.

I now believe in the long term. So I focus on solid links from websites that have been around for a good while, websites that have a reason to exist, and ones that I think will be around for years to come.

What trends do you see in the future for SEO and online marketing?

In many ways, little has changed at the core of SEO; great content, great links, great user experience are still king. Google has upped its game, and so have those still in the industry.

I believe that continued free traffic from Google will keep getting harder and harder, especially for smaller business sites. Google is primarily an advertising company. The easiest way for the company to increase revenue is by populating the first page results with highly useful but commercially irrelevant results. This results in greater competition for advertisements, which consequently increases the cost per click. Next year, I expect to see title tags become almost irrelevant for ranking as Google becomes an expert at understanding page content.

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