Gareth Simpson

CEO, Seeker Digital

In this podcast, Charles and Gareth Simpson talk about Ex Machina, discussing true A.I and how machine learning will affect the future of the SEO industry. They also talk about the best ways to grow an SEO business, including how to fool-proof your recruitment process.

  • Gareth Simpson
  • Founded in 2016 by Gareth Simpson, Seeker Digital was born out of passion for all things SEO (and a frustration with traditional SEO agencies). We love what we do, and we do it with love.
  • Britstol, United Kingdom

Gareth Simpson - DFY Links Podcast Ep. #2

In this podcast, Charles and Gareth Simpson talk about Ex Machina, discussing true A.I and how machine learning will affect the future of the SEO industry. They also talk about the best ways to grow an SEO business, including how to fool-proof your recruitment process. 


Gareth Simpson is CEO of Seeker Digital. Seeker Digital is an independent agency that specialises in outreach, link building, onsite content, and technical SEO. The company was founded in 2016 but by just Gareth and Kayleigh Toyra but since then has gone on to grow to a team of 20 that does outreach for some huge clients, including many listed on the New York Stock Exchange.



Charles: Hey guys, Charles Floate here, welcome to DFY links podcast. This is episode 2 and I’m sat here today with Mr Gareth Simpson from seeker digital. Gareth is an outreach and link building content optimization specialist. He is probably one of the best outreach in the entire world, absolutely renowned for it. 


He has done many talks and actually done workshops for Brighton SEO and a few major companies and organisations across the world. This includes ink500-ink5000 companies


Gareth: Thanks mate, good to be here, cheers.


Charles: It is sunny Birmingham today with a lovely background.


*The two look towards the window with sarcastic smiles*


So, as you’ve progressed in SEO and in the state of digital marketing how has it evolved over the last couple of years. Where would you say it is heading over the next couple of years?


Gareth: Good question, I guess its link building. As you said, Link Building is something that I’m really into. I focus a lot of my efforts there. 


How do I see that evolving in the future?


I don’t listen to so much industry hype anymore erm, and day to day ground level that changes and updates and stuff. Yeah I am trying to think about the bigger picture stuff.


As you know, I have been experimenting and using AI and machine learning tech in our work. That’s been really insightful, mostly for understanding how the algorithm could work in future or how it works now… Even though I’m not a dev and I’m very amateur at AI.


I’m a hobbyist really but it has been effective in our work and taught me a lot about how the [google] algo works. I can see it…


See how it would behave, how I would design it, how I would use things like NLP – natural language processing. I can see how they would crawl links and use that data to index and categorise search results and things. 


I see it going more and more that way in terms of the tech being a bigger part of it. Links will still be a massively powerful factor for a very long time but data points used in those links is just going to increase.


If you think back to the original PageRank algo and you know it was really 10 years ago, I was building links 10 years ago and it was literally quantity.


I would ask for submissions and all that stuff. It worked really well and then now there are more quality measurements and metrics built into those algorithms.  


For argument’s sake, say 1000 data points are factoring in to measure the value of a link, that could become 10,000 or 1mil.


Neural networks and things run these calculations on mass much quicker than what the current sort of algo can do.


Charles: And A.I itself is pretty scary in general but specifically scary for SEOs. When true A.I comes out it is going to be significantly harder to beat than the traditional algo with those fewer data points. 


The difference is that the algo will be able to change itself when it has true AI and adapt to different industries and niches.


Whereas current algo does have some specific SERP peculiarities like distinguishing why and where niches that it reacts to differently. It doesn’t teach itself to treat the actual niches differently. True A.I in the next 10-20 years will actually be able to do that…


Infinitely scary for people like me and you right?


Gareth: Yeah, that unstructured machine learning vs structured machine learning is key.  Algo is just given one goal by the processor: to put the best website in front of that query. 


Charles: Googles dataset is so huge as well.


Gareth: Yeah, then you’ve got that data which they use to process. The test there is user engagement.


Did that site serve the user query or serve the search intent? Like you say it will factor in so many different data points that we won’t even be able to interpret what that looks like. 


It will find the best result from what it perceives it to be or what it finds are the best datapoints to measure. so yeah, that’s it, that’s gonna be massive. 


And then, I think that’s when the algo will really start to align with the search quality rating guidelines which we know there are lots of misconceptions of what that means. 


They’re not ranking factors as you’ve said they are [the search quality guidlines] the ideas google wants to the algo to be able to identify without manual raters doing it themselves. 


That gap between Google’s aspirations and wants of a website and what they can measure at scale, will close to the point where the google algo will be able to follow those guidelines. This is as tech exponentially increases.


So yeah, whether they achieve it, I guess we’ll see.


Charles: That true AI, It’s all about commercial quantum computing so… right now processors can’t operate in an effective way to run machine learning. 


You need quantum computing because that works in the same way as a human brain, allowing you to do multiple things at once.


But right now it’s like 200 million dollars for one quant processor. 


So it is gonna be a while until they will make it commercially available but I think it’s getting closer and closer. Tech improves so rapidly today that it may be a matter of a decade.


Anyway, moving away from really  techy, nerdy stuff:


Onto the business side of things: you’ve expanded massively in the last two years, three years.


I remember about 3-4 years ago when you were one man, one employee… now you’re up to nearly 20 employees. 


How has it been going from 1 man band to operator of a medium-sized company, exponentially growing and continue hiring people? How has that transition been and how have you embraced it as you have succeeded with doing it. 


Gareth: it was 3-4 years ago when I was in the proper PBN group… I had just quit my job. I’d been building up to it for a long time, worked for 4 agencies throughout my career. 


I was in hardcore development agencies and a couple of SEO agencies, did an inhouse SEO role and, yeah, then I transitioned like “wow I have to bite the bullet”.


It was my 29th birthday. I was at home like: “I need to hustle, to pay my rent.”


I hadn’t ever thought about checking facebook for communities. I was in the old forums and things and yeah I jumped into Facebook.


I thought I’d do a couple of searches… came across the group… wicked, connected, joined the group, and just started getting involved in chats and convos going on. 


I started to learn a lot, especially about the business side. I had already always had interesting inroads and I’ve been very lucky enough to have been working for an agency that taught me content marketing.


 I took that and got a bit more aggressive with that and became a bit more SEO focused techniques and other users in the group seemed to need work for clients and affiliate sites. 


There was a lot of people struggle with link building so that was really lucky. I started that, that got me enough income to pay for my rent which was the number 1 thing.


That group… if I was to give any advice for anyone going at it… cash flow is king. 


Network: get in the groups, the communities, come to conferences, do the training courses. lots the people there 3-4 years ago just starting out gave me that initial bit of work. 


I went there to pick up some big clients. they wanted more and more. so I moved out of my house and got an office instead and hired a small team of writers to start with.


 I was doing all the technical stuff. 


I outsourced the first thing slowing me down and that was content. 


Charles: Yeah it’s hard to do content.


Gareth: At first I was doing content myself.


*the two laugh *


Yeah, ridiculous, not worth it at all. It was taking hours.


Yeah, so I started outsourcing content. It wasn’t till I was about 6 people in before I bought another SEO into the business


Charles: Oh, okay.


Gareth: So I could do all the SEO myself. 


The workload was just about enough to manage but it was at that point that I thought it was too much.


I needed another SEO. I brought in a junior. He was awesome. 


And er, really freed my time up and unlocked a load of new potential


Charles: Nice.


Gareth: And from there the growth from that point 7-8 to now 15 well er.. 18-19 people and some positions outstanding.


There is growth that happens without me now. It is just kind of going on its own because everyone knows what they need to do.


Charles: That was actually my next question, about hiring… because I know a lot of people at home actually find hiring really difficult whether that is VA’s or people in the office. How have you found hiring, have you got any tips for people wanting to hire? any specific people you go after?


I know for a lot of people it is very difficult hiring and firing people because it is quite an emotional part of it.


Gareth:  Yeah definitely, its a cliche. It’s hiring slow but fire fast.


It is so true, you have to be brutal with it. Especially in early days where there’s no room for mess-ups and for carrying those people through. 


So, yeah specific to link building, definitely, writers… you need that to scale. That ratio was like 6:1.  6 writers to one SEO.


*Charles laughs*


Shows the difference in where the skill sets should lie…


I’d say just map it out and just start to segment tasks. Map out whole operation and start to finish the outreach process in the business then write the tasks down and competencies needed for task and mould that into like job profiles, job specs.


That’s how you start to figure out who you need to hire and give them that one specific job and as grow, break that down even further. 


One SEO but then as more SEO work comes in they become senior and you get juniors and they start passing off the grunt work and the low-level stuff to them.


Charles: That is something Todd Foster does. He splits his SEO team into specific specialities. Someone specifically doing outreach, specifically on-page audits, specifically advanced technical, code-based SEO.


 Is that something you do or do you just kind of have the jack of all SEO trades?


It has got to the point where being an SEO is so much more than just being an SEO.


Gareth: Oh yeah it is defo segmented. I kind of see that back in the earlier days, SEO was technical. Tech SEO’s were just running the show. 


Because the industry has evolved so much there is creative SEOs dealing with content. 


More like PR backgrounds… that is who we recruit for outreach. So much more for outreach than SEOs. It is about how they come across in pitching and negotiations. 


Really segment it out and make sure everyone is working on the most appropriate task for their natural talents.


Charles: And as someone who is based in the UK, with the current UK climate of economy, how have you found the… how can I say this politely… economy around you?


 I know you have had exponentially growth and things but how have you found the clients and things specifically in the UK. Are you targeting UK clients or going for the international scene?


I know a lot of UK clients are trying to build dollars so they can get it back in pounds because you are getting way better conversion rate at the moment.


Gareth: Yeah it’s an interesting one, I think, I remember last recession going back. I had friends that were losing work and stuff in construction and I was in SEO then, doing web design and build agencies.


I had no problem getting a job whatsoever. The web industry and tech world, despite the recession, was one area that kept growing and growing and growing. It didn’t affect me then and it was a great choice getting into this industry. 


Even now, It doesn’t really affect us in terms of prospects and things and that is because we do diversify. 


We get a big mix of clients from all over the world. Stateside and a healthy mix in the Uk. Spreading around so there’s no single point of failure. If it was all UK market, I’d probably be a little more concerned.


Where it might affect things is, you know, if things start to get a bit disruptive in supply chains as clients get affected. If this affects their interest in investment in SEO, so yeah, but I just try and focus and do what we’re doing. 


We are very lucky to be in this industry.


Charles: Yeah, I think the UK is very well represented in the SEO industry. 


It is probably the powerhouse of SEO in terms of the world. 


We have the biggest SEO conference in the world. Brighton. We have some of the biggest people, like yourself, Matthew Woodward, Craig, who was on earlier. 


We’ve got these huge names and things… it’s almost as if we’re over-represented on the stage. When you go to Chiang Mai, there are more British than anyone else at the conference in Thailand which is quite amazing.


 I wonder… I don’t really know why it’s that why. 


Have you got any insights into the UK scene?


Gareth: Funny isn’t it, especially in link building. I heard it from Sam 

Oven and big brands and those coming over from states, the big companies exhibiting… I ask them where they rate Brighton SEO and other UK conferences and they say its just, it’s such a massive scene out here and lots of attraction and lots of capability, especially on links.


We are a bit more aggressive, braver and more open to it. Probably I dunno, maybe its… er … just a British thing. 


And yeah, content, I think we’re a bit big on that scene. 


Charles: Yeah, most of the major newspapers are British owned, even on the world stage. The biggest website for news is New York Times but then second is the Guardian and third is the Independent. We own like 4 out of the top 5 biggest newspaper. The Daily Mail is another one, so it is very interesting seeing all the journalism and stuff coming into it now.


We’ve actually made our first hire who has a journalism and politics degree…


That’s a very interesting world around news SEO and that kind of thing. We actually had Barry Adams in the office a couple months ago. 


Some of his clients, the sun, daily mail, fox news and to see the scale that they are operating on. 


Millions and tens of millions of pages worth of high-quality journalistic content… Well, I say high quality. *Charles laughs*


It is interesting to see how the tech industry has grown into that and how these organisations have adapted to google’s algo because if you look at recent algos sun and daily mail was hit horrendously. It had gone down to a fifth of their traffic previously. 


How do you see these large corporations and enterprises, because you work with them daily, how are they adapting to SEO and google’s algos. Google is almost forcing their hand in having to adapt to it because their traffic is so reliant on google.


Gareth: I think I’ve seen a big resurgence of outreach and content marketing and link building. PRs are shouting about it. 


The more editorial focused skillset is becoming key. There was obviously link building got a bad rep for many years, put companies off. 


It’s going full circle. 


Basically, quite rightly so, the industry was cleaned up and now the focus in on quality work and on brand stuff. You can sit in a boardroom and talk about outreach and link building campaigns because they get it. Because they see the other tangible business cases and justifications in terms of brand awareness, education, comms.


Charles: And results at the end of the day.


Gareth: Yeah and results, exactly.


Yeah, so it is going a full circle in some ways and big brands are starting to get into it again and we are winning some big contracts as SEOs and in-house users are looking at things, irritated that no one has been looking at links for five years.


We need to get into the firm to start auditing, start protecting and building you know links. In terms of wider SEO field, obviously, all the  EAT stuff is what is being championed.


Obviously, they are not ranking factors but again, going back to what search engines want and things. And really, you read through it and things do make sense. You know, you should have these T&Cs, social proof and stuff.


Charles: One of the things people forget to look at with regards to google quality guidelines is that Google has released examples of sites they want to see.


Gareth: Yeah I’ve seen one.


Charles: I read all of them, they have it for different niches,  they have fashion and travel and things and it correlates very well if you look at the examples given, from 2017 or so, and if look at sites now, they are ranking phenomenally, doing very well. 


So whilst those documents don’t give away specifics, you can take away with an educated guess of why they are doing well.


I think those docs were more beneficial to me as SEO than the quality guidelines. Because guidelines were just giving an overview of what manual rate is looking for. While it offers a good idea of how to future proof your site, I don’t think that its the ranking right now. I just think, what I’ve always told affiliates is that you should read it and make it so that Google can’t get you.


You know exactly what Google is looking for and can actually remove elements that Google is looking at when determining whether to remove an index. It is giving me, as a grey hat, a benefit of being able to see what to remove which google will use to see us as not trustworthy. Beneficial to prevent penalties.


Gareth: That’s it, it is reducing your exposure to that scrutiny and things.  I guess, for us, it depends on the client, how we prioritise stuff. And these techniques and things. 


Yeah, for big brands they’ve got the budget, so we could go through the whole document, ticking off things you have. I can’t say it’s gonna help, but they say: “let’s do it, sure”. 



But on mid-level, lower-tier clients we are focusing on rankings and revenue, then I am probably just gonna go a bit harder and do what I know will rank that site. And erm, with mitigated risk. No more risk at all really. Just prioritizing the biggest wounds.


Charles: Ok well thank you for being on the show, hope you enjoyed sitting down with us. 


Is there anything you’re up to in next few months?


Gareth: Yeah, so big one would be the link building course at Brighton SEO which is coming up next month.


 That’s quite a new thing, evolving, getting better every time.


 I’ve got content coming out. That should be pretty good, spent a lot of time on it and yeah some speaking gigs too.


Yeah, will be putting it up on profiles.


Charles: Well all you have to do is Google Gareth Simpson, he is an SEO after all.


Thank you for coming on the show once again and make sure to like comment and subscribe in the section down below. Hope you’ve enjoyed this video, I’ve been Charles, this has been Gareth Simpson.