Colm Docherty: SEO hit so many of my criteria – there was a need to understand a complex algorithm, and you had to think technically to figure out the best way to work with and around it.

June 11, 2024

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Can you share the journey and inspiration behind founding Edge45, and how it has evolved to specialize in SEO, PPC, and CRO?

I fell into SEO by accident, after the trajectory my Mechanical Engineering degree put me onto appealed far less than I expected. I was drawn to Mechanical Engineering by a love for practical maths, problem solving, and technical thinking. But a succession of jobs in engineering and then finance left me cold, to the point that a few years after finishing uni I felt despair that I’d wasted my best chances of having a successful year..

At that point I started working for my friend’s company, doing a little bit of everything. It was a great change of pace and gave me insight into how dynamic and exciting it was to be involved in a small business where you hold most of the responsibilities.

In 2006 my friend handed me a book about SEO, along with the instruction to “learn that, because we need a website.” This is the moment my professional life clicked into place: I loved it. SEO hit so many of my criteria – there was a need to understand a complex algorithm, and you had to think technically to figure out the best way to work with and around it. I found myself feeling the things I’d thought Mechanical Engineering would connect me with.

I was also really keen for a specialism: after a period of time that felt like I was drifting between different things, I wanted to be able to say “this is what I do, this is what I’m good at.” After building and optimising for SEO my friend’s website we parted ways, as I’d decided joining an SEO agency would put me on that path to excellence.

If you’ve ever worked in an agency environment though, you’ll know that sometimes your values or ideas around the best way to do things don’t align with the company culture. I found it hard to work in agencies whose focus was, to my mind, not in the right place. These feelings gradually boiled down to a desire to try things on a freelance basis so I could create the service offering I thought clients deserved: something where the strategy is responsive to their specific needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all, and where communication is transparent.

These are the factors that led to me founding Edge45, and also why our service offering includes SEO, PPC, CRO, and various other disciplines.

Edge45 boasts impressive case study results, such as significant increases in conversion rates and organic leads. What do you believe sets your approach apart in achieving these outcomes?

Look at a lot of SEO agencies, and all they care about is rankings and traffic. They think this is a good enough focus, and that getting better rankings and traffic is worth a pat on the back.

At Edge45 though, we don’t see these things as the end product that people are paying for. Ultimately, our clients are paying to increase the size of their business bank balance, and they’ll invest in things, people, services, software, goods, whatever, that will help them achieve that.

That’s what we’re selling: a route to an increased bottom line. Getting traffic to the site is only one part of the equation: the rest is getting those people to take the action you want them to take when they’re on the site, whether it’s buying something, filling in a form, phoning a number – those are the commercial outcomes we orient our strategies around.

We also try our best to talk our clients’ language: very much, “here’s what we’re doing, and here’s how it will improve your revenue each month.” And if there’s an issue, we try to explain it in terms that make sense to them, rather than blaming Google or burying them with jargon.

Taking this approach has served us well as the industry has evolved: Google increasingly values quality, user experience, and so on, i.e. very much not just chasing the algorithm and ticking boxes to rank for a particular keyword.

We look at each client’s site, ask how a person will see it when they’re on it, and address those points. It’s a 2-for-1 approach: we help the site to perform better, and also lay the groundwork for weathering future updates.

The digital marketing landscape is constantly evolving. How does Edge45 stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology and strategy, especially with emerging trends like AI content creation?

This industry is constantly evolving, you’re right, and I’d say it’s probably experiencing its biggest ever shift right now. Usually the big changes happen when Google changes something big, but at the moment there are multiple things outside Google’s control that are driving changes they’re making.

To the point where Google – who for so long have called the shots and determined what the industry looked like – have realised that if they don’t move with the times, they’ll become irrelevant as a search engine.

It’s forcing them to do stuff they don’t really want to have to do: for example, the ongoing increase of user-generated content.

More and more people are using other platforms to find information they’re seeking. TikTok is as good as a search engine for young people. Or the same with Reddit. And you just need to look at Google’s recent deal with Reddit to see that they’re panicking a bit.

Then there’s AI, which is moving so fast it’s untrue.

Google are already serving AI-generated SERPs in some markets and there’s a very real chance these will be live in the UK before the end of 2024.

We don’t want to get buried under that wave without being prepared in advance, so to answer your question, to stay ahead of the curve we try to foster an experimental, collaborative atmosphere. All my staff are signed up to AI tools, and I tell them to experiment, to play with them, to report back whenever they discover something cool. We have regular conversations about how to refine and expand our service offering in line with these changes, and how to communicate the need for this to our clients that may not have the technical knowledge to understand how much things are changing.

SEO has always required constant R&D, now more so than ever

Collaboration and understanding client needs seem central to your strategy. Can you elaborate on how you cultivate strong relationships with your clients and tailor your services to their unique challenges?

A lot of agencies make the mistake of telling the client what they need. This doesn’t cut through, it doesn’t address their concerns, and it doesn’t lay the groundwork for a healthy working relationship.

At Edge45 we listen to the client. We try to understand their specific needs and pain points, to learn what they’re thinking, and to respond appropriately.

If something doesn’t meet their expectations, we would never say “that’s just how it is with Google, you’ve got to be patient”. Which, believe it or not, lots of other agencies won’t hesitate to say. It might be factually true, but it doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t make them feel valued or respected.

Say for example a client is worried that there’s no increase in inbound leads a couple of months into a technical SEO campaign. We’d hear that concern, and instead of telling them it’s the nature of the beast, we’d package the answer in a way that resonates: we might say, “SEO does take time. We’ve tailored our strategy to move the needle as quickly as possible, but in the meantime why don’t we do x y and z to get the leads coming in?”

Changing the dialogue changes the response: instead of parting ways with a sour taste in their mouth, they feel heard and valued, and we can achieve the results they’re looking for.

All of the clients we see the best results with, we’ve managed to build that kind of relationship.

Given the competitive nature of digital marketing, how does Edge45 differentiate itself within the York market and beyond?

I’ve addressed aspects of this elsewhere in the conversation, so my answer for this is simple: we hire the best people, we give them the tools they need to thrive, and we take on board their ideas and suggestions to refine and improve what we do.

There is no one else in York doing exactly what we do at the size we are. I’m incredibly proud of our team, what we’ve built, and the results we deliver.

Reflecting on your success stories, what has been one of the most rewarding experiences or project at Edge45, and why?

I never set out to set up my own business. Circumstances at the time forced it on me a little bit: things aligned in such a way that made it make sense to do it, even though I had little idea what I was doing.

When we launched I remember saying to myself – and to my mum, my immediate friends, everyone I spoke to – that “if I’m still doing this in 12 months time, running a business and making money off my own back, I will consider this a massive success”

Fast forward to where we are now: we’re doing well enough to employ good people on good salaries, people who rely on these salaries to pay mortgages, to feed their kids, to live their lives.

I, or Edge45, hold responsibility for that. That is by far the thing I’m proudest of.

Looking forward, where do you see Edge45 in the next five years, and what do you perceive as the biggest challenges and opportunities on the horizon?

I think what we discussed in question 3 defines the response to this question, too. The paradigm shift facing the industry – and maybe even society – will be the root of the biggest challenges, but there will be opportunities within it as well.

On a completely separate note, as a business owner I find it increasingly challenging to recruit and retain talent. With the rise of the gig economy, people increasingly want to be a master of their own destiny. And people who are good at digital marketing, at SEO, who want a traditional career are fewer and farther between.

Combining those, in the next five years, if the challenges and shifts don’t wipe us out, I’d like to think Edge45 would be substantially bigger both in terms of headcount and in terms of what we’re offering to our clients. I see us offering more value to our clients, delivered via relevant supplementary services so we’re not seen to be offering only one thing.

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