Ditto Digital Founder & MD, Michelle Symonds, appears as a guest on the Enterprise Doctor Business Podcast.

Listen to the podcast on Youtube or read the transcript below…



Mark Harris

Hello, and welcome to the next episode of the Enterprise Doctor business show. My name is Mark Harris. I am the Enterprise Doctor and I do mentoring and coaching for small businesses. And with me today is Michelle Symonds of Ditto Digital. How are you, Michelle?

Michelle Symonds

I’m very good, Mark. Thanks. Glad to be here. It’s been a long time we’ve been thinking about doing this; actually, I think before the lockdown. We probably said we’d do it and then it just never happens. I’m glad to say that’s because I’ve been busy during the lockdown – I’ve been fortunate to be busy during the lockdown. But here we are…

Mark

There’s plenty of people who would have liked to have been busy during the lowdown. And I think one of the things we might talk about is why that is. But what I did want to pick up on was the company name of Ditto Digital, the word Digital correctly gets the message across that you’re involved in digital marketing. Ditto is sort of interesting. Why Ditto?

Michelle

I’m afraid it’s nothing very clever or exciting. Of course, I wanted “digital” in the name. And I like the alliteration. But really, I was looking for an available limited company name and an available domain name that had “digital” in them. Although we’ve been in business for over 10 years the name was something else before so this was only about four years ago, when we changed the name. Of course, there aren’t that many domain names left or limited company names with digital in it and Ditto Digital was one of them. So it was as simple as that really. But I do quite like that alliteration.

Mark

Yeah, not only of the D for Ditto and digital, but the T’s in there as well. The sound is all very nice. And I like names that do what they say on the tin that say on the tin what the company does, I should put it that way round. I also like names that make people say so what’s that then? And I think that Ditto does that it opens up that conversation to digital marketing. We all know what that is, sort of. We will have our own beliefs perhaps that we know what that is. From your perspective, what is digital marketing and from the perspective of Ditto Digital? Do you cover all angles? Or do you have some specialisms under the umbrella of digital marketing?

Michelle

We very much are a specialist digital marketing agency. I have thought in the past that we could offer a wider range of services. And my background and experience would enable me to do that. If you don’t know already. I’m a scientist by background. I spent many years developing software and web applications for the oil industry and investment banking. So I could offer web design and development services, but decided very, very much to specialise and focus on search engine optimisation, SEO. It’s very much a logical process. I’ve got the analytical skills to really give some expertise in SEO, which I don’t think a lot of marketing companies do – perhaps people who have come from a marketing background don’t have those analytical skills and can’t provide perhaps the in-depth, complex level of SEO that we do.

Mark

Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that not only is digital marketing a big subject, but SEO is a big subject in itself, people can come at it from a variety of different angles. So you’re coming at SEO from an analytical angle? What do you actually mean by that? Is that a number crunching thing? Because I think, you know, SEO is a very clever tool. And it is about marketing your business. But the mechanics of SEO, is I think about number crunching and being, if you’ll forgive me, scientific.

Michelle

Yeah, well, I absolutely agree with that. I’m not sure about the number crunching. But there is so much data available to businesses. And it’s one thing for an SEO company to report on that data, report on key performance indicators and so on. But if you can look at that data, really analytically in depth, it often reveals opportunities that the business might not have considered. So there might be opportunities to target a different country, for example. And I think you have to be able to really analyse that data in depth – it isn’t enough to report on numbers of visitors or rankings, or how long your visitors stayed on the page.

Mark

Yeah. And that really leads us to the title of this episode, which at the time of recording, I haven’t quite got it straight in my head, because I hate ending a sentence with a preposition because I’m just that kind of guy. But it’s something along the lines of advantages of SEO that you might not be aware of. What you’ve just said, leads into that. So what are those things? What is it that apart from just you had 28 people on your page, and they were there for an average of 17 seconds? What are the advantages of using an SEO strategy and implementing and making it happen? What are the outcomes that I can get from that, and especially the ones as you’ve said, that I might not already have thought of?

Michelle

Well, there’s several main advantages, actually, for small and medium sized companies. It’s that exposure to a much broader audience, its exposure to a national audience or an international audience, if that suits your business. It’s very difficult to do in a traditional bricks and mortar world, if you’ve got one office in one town, to reach people across the country, let alone internationally. But online is what SEO is all about. Of course, there’s local SEO, which I probably don’t want to talk about. It’s not really something we do for our clients. But mostly it’s about broadening the potential customer base. It’s about businesses, finding customers who don’t know about their name, it’s about businesses finding customers who aren’t part of some extended network. There’s no reason why the best company for the product or service someone’s after isn’t 100, 200, 1,000 miles away from where they live or where they’re based. And that really is the key to SEO.

And more than that, it allows those small and medium sized companies to compete with really big brands. And when I say compete, I mean competes in organic search. And by competing in organic search, what I mean is ranking higher or very close to a major competitor. And I’ve got several examples of clients I work with where I can be so confident about the fact that this logical way of looking at SEO, and this this analytical process works, because I have clients who are small or medium sized companies, and they compete – often outrank – household names. And yet they’re not well known brand names themselves. To me, that’s what SEO is all about. It’s not about a local restaurant, attracting people from the town centre or close surroundings. It’s about really expanding your reach and really being able to compete with those big brands who almost certainly have got a much much bigger digital marketing budget.

Mark

I get that and I think that there’s probably two differentiating lines I would draw about the benefits of having SEO, depending on the nature of the business. That was a really convoluted sentence. Let me tell you what I mean. There’s a split between services and products. Yeah, I in my business, I sell my time. I can sell an hour of my time to somebody in Marlow in Buckinghamshire, or in Edinburgh or in Colorado, subject to a suitable time difference that we can both be on a Zoom call. It makes no difference at all. So the global marketing angle is valid there. If we look at products for me one of the restrictions is about the shipability of those products.

So I did some work with a company that sells furniture, tables, sideboards, that kind of product, they had an inquiry from Germany. And it turned out that the cost of shipping the oak table to Germany was more than the cost of the table. It brings into question their philosophy of global – what’s the point of marketing to somebody who practicality can’t buy from you.

However, what I completely accept is that’s really quite a small sector, because everybody selling services can market globally, and a lot of products are smaller than an oak table. They can also be marketed globally. So how do you – how do I – go about doing that? Are there for example, I want to cover first of all, are there really easy wins that I can do myself, that’re non technical, that’re just about wording on the website, or whatever it may be, to help me move my global reach forward. And then the follow up question is, if I, instead of doing those things, in my amateur way, came to an expert like you, I’m not going to ask you to tell me all your secrets, primarily because I won’t even understand them. But, you know, what will you do advanced as opposed to my basic homemade SEO?

Michelle

One of the, sort of, I guess, myths of SEO that I wanted to dispel was, it’s absolutely not just about the content on your website, or even technical aspects of your website. Yes, they’re really, really important. But there is much more to it. And I’ll come on to that as part of the second part of your question. But as far as what you could do, yes, of course, you could set some good foundations up by producing good content, regularly getting that new content on your website, that’s in the very simplest sense.

But it’s very, very difficult to avoid anything technical. When it comes to digital marketing, you really have to get stuck in with some technical stuff, or have a web developer who could do that for you. And that’s because, yes, Google and other search engines want to see great fresh, unique content regularly posted or published on your site., but they also want to see certain technical aspects correct, which are really important for good organic rankings. And then wider aspects, like the speed of your website, like mobile usability, there is no getting away Mark, I’m afraid, from having to do some technical stuff. But if you’re not going to do that, the best advice is produce great content, load it on your website as often as you can. But that really is only a very small part of the picture.

Mark

Okay, so the content bit I can take care of, because I’m relatively good at words, or at least I think so anyway. There are plenty of people who aren’t but then they’ll use a copywriter or somebody else to help them create words or create the words for them. If I come to someone like you to do that clever stuff for me, because I’m not clever. And I’m first put my hand up and say I’m not – I am in some ways, but not in this way, that’s for sure. The kind of things that you said, makes me think I’m talking about a one off payment, you’re going to make my website clever in the way that Google and whoever else likes it to be clever. And the pages will load faster with things you just said. But once you’ve done that, then you’ve done that.

Whereas a lot of people, I’m trying to avoid the word cowboys. But hey, a lot of cowboys who email me incessantly from their Gmail address, and they haven’t got a website, and they’re telling me that they’re going to increase my SEO, they talk about monthly fees for doing things. So I’ll be talking about a one off, let’s make your website slick from that perspective and then see you around, but are there ongoing things that should be done?

Michelle

In a way you set the foundations, you create these solid foundations right at the start by sorting out all the technical issues, making sure there’s a system for getting content, making sure it’s fast and good on a mobile. However, it isn’t a one off process. And that will bring me on in a second to that the second part of your previous question about more advanced approaches. It will never just be a one off, but it’s more about periodic reviews. So I would establish that really solid website and It doesn’t have to be a new website, mostly it’s just relatively minor changes that are very important to do, and a lot of people haven’t done. But because competitors change what they do, because the Google – or any other search engine – algorithm changes over time, expectations of users change over time, especially when it comes to speed and usability. Then those on site, technical things need to be reviewed periodically, every three or six months. So it’s not just a one off for those reasons. However, when you get the dubious companies trying to sell you a monthly service, there is actually a very good reason for them trying to sell you a monthly SEO service. And that comes on to really the off site work. And that’s another common misconception, I think, especially if you’re dealing with local SEO, that you just fix some things on your website, and you’re done and away you go. But that really is, again, a minor part.

You need to continually try and build, you might have heard that term, you know, “build the authority” of your website over time. And what that comes down to is building backlinks almost entirely. It’s all about building backlinks to your website. So another website, links to your website. And that starts to build your authority. But it’s not as simple as that. It’s not just getting a link from anywhere. And some people think backlinks are a bit of a dirty word in the SEO world, but they’re absolutely one of the major ranking factors.

And you need to look at getting links from other sites that have a good reputation, other sites that are relevant to your business. So, you know, for you Mark with Enterprise Doctor If you could get a link from the Guardian newspaper business page, that would be your ideal link with maximum authority.

Links from the BBC, or even links from the IoD or the FSB, they’re relevant to you as a small business, they’re relevant to your business and what you offer as a service.

There are some technical aspects of those links, I don’t want to really touch too much on the technical stuff but there’s two sorts of links. So sometimes you might have that link from the Guardian or The Times but Google doesn’t count it. It’s a flag that may or may not be on there. And if they don’t count it (and it’s to do with the link being followed or not followed in SEO jargon). So we would check (if we were running an SEO campaign for a client) first of all, we would be producing content. So we talked earlier on about you producing content well we actually do have two copywriters, and so we produce the content, then we’ll be trying to persuade a newspaper maybe to publish that bit of content or a business website to get the backlink. But then we’d be monitoring that backlink to make sure 1: it’s one of those ones that’s counted by Google, and also to check what sort of words are used in that hyperlink.

So we’ve all seen it on webpages, you know, it’s probably blue text underlined or, or some other colour that stands out from the text surrounding it. And we’re interested in what the words in that link are. We’re interested in how that compares to the surrounding text, how it compares to all the other links you might have. So that’s where the monthly – and I could go on a lot longer, I’ll try not to – where the monthly part of the campaign comes in. Because that is an almost never ending process – it’s a bit like advertising monthly in a magazine. If you only do it once, you might get a bit of benefit. But if you do it every month, advertising tin hat magazine, then the benefit will build up. And that’s really what the off site and backlinking process is all about.

Mark

And I have an interesting observation to make on a lot of what you just said, which is, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I mean, not in an uncomplimentary way. And I do clearly have some idea what you’re talking about, I have no idea how to make that happen. For me, there are three ways to do anything, you can do it badly, you can learn how to do it well, or you can pay someone else to do it. And hopefully, that somebody else is an expert. And with the subject of SEO, from what you’re saying, the average business person out there, which includes me, and maybe I’m better than average. But hey, who’s counting? The average business person out there can do some of the simplest stuff. They can try and persuade their mate at the guardian to write a little story with a link back to their website or they can join the Federation of Small Businesses and on the members page there is a backlink to their website.

So there are some things that they can do to make that happen. The content, yeah, as you said, it’s part of it, and therefore needs attention so they can make sure they’ve got the right words. It’s the generating the right outcomes from it. But when you get to some of those technical things that you’re talking about, really, and I’m not saying that in a questioning why I’m saying it in an in an admiring way, I’ve got a choice, I can do it badly or I can learn how to do it well, or I can pay an expert to do it. And doing it badly is really, really easy. Because you don’t actually have to do anything. If you do nothing that is bad. So that’s really easy to achieve. But does it help me achieve my business objectives? And I would say, depending on your business, and depending on whether the website is designed to secure business, or whether it’s a glossy brochure, or you know, but for a lot of people, that’s not a good way to do it, you can go away and learn how to be an expert and how to do it yourself and do it well, yourself.

And I would question with something like this, whether that’s a good use of your time, not because it’s not a valuable skill set to have precisely the opposite. It’s a hugely valuable skill set to have. But you’ve already got that skill set, why do I need to do it? You know, I’ve got an accountant, I don’t need to know the ins and outs of what he does. I just need to be happy that he knows what he’s doing. And he’s looking after my best interests and all that good stuff. So how easy is it for you given everything that I just said, How easy is it for you to get customers? Do people get that? Do they understand that? Number one, they need to do this? And number two, they’re the wrong person, you’re the right person?

Michelle

Well, of course, the clients that we’ve already got, of course, do understand that, but perhaps, perhaps not everyone does. And I think your analogy of an accountant is really good. And in fact, I was going to use something similar myself. Yes, we can all, you know, I have in the past and certainly could do all my own accounts. But do I want to? Am I interested in doing that? Is my time better spent doing what I’m good at? And I think loads of businesses, you know, perhaps in fact, they should view SEO and digital marketing as a service a bit like an accountant. Do they want to do it? Are they better off spending their time focusing on their real business?

I’d just like to pick up on what you said about some companies, their website is just a glossy brochure, I would question why anyone in this online world we live in today would just have a glossy brochure type website. Why is it not being used to get you business?

Mark

Let me tell you the answer to that question. And then I’m really happy for you to come back at me and tell me why that answer is not valid. If you feel that way. The reason that there’s a lot of reasons, firstly, it’s really easy. It’s like creating a PDF. It just gives information about your business. And it’s out there if anybody reads it. The question, of course, that you’re gonna say here, but who’s gonna read it? And the answer is, if we take my website as an example, it’s the people that I point towards the website, who are going to read it. So the lead generation, the outreach, the marketing, is in itself, driving people towards the website, which is then a glossy brochure that they can read. 2-3 years ago, I might have put a glossy brochure in an envelope and sent it to them, but not as junk mail because I know what happens with junk mail – it goes in the bin.

I have a conversation with people and they say, tell me more about that. And I say, let me send you my glossy brochure. Well, now I say, let me point you to the right page on my website that explains all about that. I do see some validity in that. However, where I see that that is not the best use of that cyberspace, is it as a tool is not the marketing; is not finding people; hooking them in? It’s marketing to people who I personally have already hooked in.

Michelle

Exactly and it comes back to the advantages we spoke about earlier in that SEO is about finding those people who don’t already know you. It’s a missed opportunity if you’re not trying to reach those people if you’re an ambitious business that wants to grow. Why are you just relying on referrals or people you already know for business? Why aren’t you going out and seeking those opportunities with people who don’t already know you? And that is fundamentally the, you know, the major advantage of digital marketing and SEO. It will find you that much wider customer or client base. And so that’s why I question – if you indeed are an ambitious business and you do want to grow – you’re just missing a trick if you’re not using your website to draw in visitors – to draw in those unknown unknowns.

Mark

One of the challenges that you face is when you’re engaging with a new client, and you’re saying to them, so what are you trying to achieve? From my experience as Enterprise Doctor, a lot of people struggle to answer that question. And they’re trying to earn a crust. But there has to be a deeper answer than that. Do you also find a lot of businesses, particularly the smaller ones struggle to find the answer to that question, which I would guess then makes it difficult for you to help them.

What I often say to people is I can help you get there. But I need to know where there is where you’re trying to get. And sometimes, part of the work that I do with people is helping them work that out going through that process of actually, what is he trying to achieve, and then we can work out how they get there. So for you, you can help them achieve their objectives using SEO, but only if they have objectives.

Michelle

That’s true to a certain extent, Mark, but also there’s some sort of overlap. And I appreciate what you’re saying with this sort of advice and support you give gets people to the point where they know what their objectives are. But part of SEO that we haven’t touched on, because I don’t want to go into too much technical detail is the research that we do upfront. So we can look at, I can, I do look at similar businesses, and look at what they’re doing online, what sort of audience they’re targeting, whether they’re being successful, how much it’s likely costing them. So I can guide potential clients and say, well, look, I can predict that this is what you could do if you take this approach and target the sort of customers with this sort of service or this sort of product. Because all of that information is available. And Google is, as you know, and I’ve mentioned before, Google is a huge, you know, resource of untapped information. The research that we do at the start of any SEO campaign can guide and determine more solidly what those objectives could be, if that suits the business.

Mark

I think that a lot of people are really sceptical about SEO, and the cowboys I mentioned earlier, are complicit in creating that scepticism. But I do think that they’re okay, let me rephrase that I have a clear understanding that there is an ethical and beneficial side to SEO, I don’t just think I know it for sure. And I do think that it’s something that more businesses should pay more attention to. Do you think that that’s one of your bigger challenges is, is actually getting people to take SEO seriously?

Michelle

Two parts that really, I have a number of clients now and I’ve had others in the past where they’ve suffered because of dubious SEO efforts on the part of a dubious SEO company. And therefore, I’ve been able to demonstrate what we do differently. So in a way, I’ve benefited from some of this dubious work that’s gone on, because I can correct it, I can point it out for starters. And you’d be surprised how many big companies outsource their SEO and don’t really know what’s going on either – companies themselves or big marketing companies. So in one way that, you know, those dubious practices can be a benefit, because I can show what I can do differently. I can identify them, and at least show them what’s been done wrong. Yeah. What was the other part of the question?

Mark

No idea – one of us should have been listening!

It’s about the challenge that you have in getting people to take it seriously.

Michelle

Yes, of course. Yes. So there’s the highlighting what’s been done badly. But I also have a number of case studies of clients I’ve been working with for many years, and even just a few months, and they’re happy for me to show their data to other potential clients. And I can show things like one of my clients, when I started working with them, they had 800 visitors to their website a month, they now get 30,000 visitors to the website. They will quite happily say and have said in testimonials that that’s down to the SEO I’ve done for them. That’s an example. That’s a B2B company.

Similarly, a B2C company, I can show examples of a company who compete with a really well known household name. And you won’t have heard of my client, but you will have definitely heard the household name. And I can show that in the search listings. This is my client, look where they are compared to this household name. That’s in B2B and B2C industries. But a newer client even in the last nine months, I’ve managed to drive their traffic up by 320 odd percent. In nine months on a fairly modest budget, and without some serious work elsewhere, I’m not sure you could achieve that without SEO.

You could probably achieve it with Google Ads if you had a limitless budget. But if you haven’t, then that’s a very expensive way to go about attracting those visitors.

The other thing about SEO that’s worth saying, Mark, as well is that it’s not just about any old traffic, it’s about proper targeted traffic, people with a high buying intent. They’re the people that SEO attracts. Because all the underlying research that goes into it, the constant reviewing every month, reviewing what’s happening with visitors, how you’re attracting them, and how engaged they are, you can really hone that so those visitors with a high buying intent are very likely to become customers. And if they don’t, if those visitors don’t convert, well, then, although it’s not technically part of SEO, we also do a lot of conversion rate optimisation work. And so if we’re getting the visitors in, and we see that they’re not converting to customers, or clients, we can work on the website to make sure that they do convert.

Mark

Yeah, and I do think it is a numbers game, the more people on the website, the more people get interested, the more people make an inquiry, the more people place an order. But they have to be the right people, as you say. Yeah, there are people who’re trying to sell me likes for my Facebook group. Well, what’s the point of that – they’re all fake profiles who aren’t going to buy anything from me. So getting the oodles and oodles of the wrong people to the website is pointless. But as you say, if it’s targeted SEO or if it’s SEO, that helps the right people to come to the website, then there has to be a significant plus in the top of the sales funnel. And then it’s down to the processes and procedures within the business to turn those inquiries and that interest into profit generating revenue.

Michelle

But as I said, we do work with businesses to get those conversions, because often, it’s just the experience on the website. And if it hasn’t got clear calls to action, in the right places, people might be interested, but they don’t know what to do next. And that’s another part of the data that we can see. Where do people go on the website? Do they find a call to action? Can they take it or is it hidden away. So we will work with companies and usually their web developers to do that. And we’ll test different pages. So there are tools, again, free Google tools that will allow you to test two different versions of a web page, different sorts of calls to action, different colours and see what works best. I guess, because of my scientific background, my background in software development, I’m a big fan of test something, look at the results, refine it, test it again, look at the results, refine it, until you’ve got the right visitors coming in. And they’re converting at a high rate.

Mark

I think I’ve known you for probably three years. So I guess something like maybe?

I’m confident this is the first in depth conversation we’ve had that has allowed you to demonstrate your expertise. And it’s not that I didn’t think you were expert before. So I didn’t have any evidence to go on. And as a scientist, you’ll completely appreciate that. Now I have evidence to go on. And you’re really good. So thank you for sharing some more of your expertise. Clearly not all of it. I found it really interesting. It’s given me a different slant in my head about SEO. And I’m gonna be honest, my website is broadly a glossy brochure. But actually, you’ve made me really question why that is, and why am I not using it more to potentially attract people in and with the world in which we now live?

If you go back a year, I would say maybe 1% of my consultations with clients were over Zoom, and all the rest were face to face. Right now that’s slightly different. And what it means is that I am actually much more accepting of it, and so are other people. So the potential for me to have a client in Edinburgh or New York or Sydney is actually – I can do that. But I’m absolutely not marketing to them. I’m not gonna meet them at a networking event and point them at my website. So it means I need SEO to do that. And maybe there’s other businesses out there right now listening to this thinking. Yeah, maybe I should be thinking more about that. So I want to thank you for being here. I want to thank you for educating me that you actually are experts. And like I said, I didn’t doubt it before but now I know for a fact and I want to thank you for the sparks you set off in my head and hopefully, in the heads of some of the listeners, too. I hope this has been an OK experience for you.

Michelle

Yes, yes. It has been – should have done it before, shouldn’t we?

Mark

Well, you know, I did ask. Hey, you’re a busy lady. And perhaps that says a lot about the quality of your own SEO in generating lots of business for you. So there you go. You’ve been listening to Michelle Symonds of Ditto Digital. In the podcast notes, you’ll find a link to her LinkedIn profile and her website. Should I be putting anything else in the notes there?

Michelle

No, that’s fine. That’s fine.

Mark

The best way to get in touch with me? Well, you know what, I’ve got a website. And I will put a link to that and to my LinkedIn profile also in the podcast notes. So if you want to talk to me about the mentoring and coaching and the help that I give small businesses, we can do that. If you want to talk to me about the podcast, we can do that. If you want to talk to me about almost anything. I like talking so feel free to get in touch. But for now, this is Mark Harris of Enterprise Doctor signing off…

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