How to use industry awards to gain credibility and accelerate your growth – an interview with The SEO Works

You have good reason to be confused about digital marketing; it’s a world that keeps adding acronyms, tools, and technologies at a frenetic pace. We interview some of the top boutique digital marketing agencies to highlight their specialties and share their insights to help you grow! Today, we interview Ben Foster from The SEO Works.

NXT: How did you build your business?

The first challenge was getting our name out there, so we networked with local businesses to build credibility – through events, personal connections and business partnerships.

It’s very much about the connections you build with the first couple of clients. Then, when you’ve gained a bit of traction, you need to have effective outbound efforts.

We started with SEO campaign management, and expanded into new areas as our clients grew and needed more services.

It’s easier for them to have one vendor that they trust to manage everything.  And it’s easier for us to grow by adding services rather than finding new clients all the time.

NXT: Who are your ideal clients?

We have developed an expertise in the health industry, professional services, manufacturing, education, and eCommerce sectors.

Within these sectors, we have 2 types of client personas:

  1. A client that is just starting out in digital, who doesn’t really understand or is cautious of the digital field. We help them see the value of digital marketing.
  2. Or someone who has been doing digital campaigns for a while but there’s a lack of return and they’re looking for a newer, fresher approach.

NXT: How are you differentiating yourself?

Ultimately, we help our clients get more customers online. I think we’re at a tipping point in business where you’ll fall behind if you don’t have a digital strategy or nurture your digital activity.

One way we stand out is that we’ve been applying for industry awards in the last 3 years (right now we have 14 and counting!). It really helps you gain credibility when the industry recognizes your achievements. This is how our growth really took off!

NXT: What was it like with your first award?

The first award is always intimidating, because you’re putting yourself out there to be judged like an open book.

Our first entry was for an organic search campaign award, and we won the best B2C campaign. We were immediately hooked from that experience and wanted to apply for more!

Awards make you look at what you’ve done and celebrate success, which helps boost morale as well.

Our direct inquiries increased a few months after the awards were released, which helped inbound traffic. People are searching for a partner that is credible in the industry, and the more you’re listed online, the better.

NXT: What’s next on your award radar?

Recently, we applied for a local business award and a national one in the search industry. It helps to raise our profile locally and nationally, and we never want to alienate one over the other.

It’s important to build up the experience over time and know what the judges are looking for: compelling stories and compelling results.

NXT: What works best in B2B marketing?

In the consumer world, 93% of Internet users do research online and that’s become the ‘default’. But it’s slowly extending into the B2B experience, known as the “consumerization of B2B marketing”.

67% of the B2B buyer’s journey is now done digitally! For example, in my previous role, I researched heavily for a type of platform we wanted to use, and I depended heavily on the info on the vendors’ sites, review sites, and online comparison articles.

After sourcing 10 potential suppliers, we shortlisted it to 3 based on what was on their website – product features, industry experience and case studies. I pretty much knew who I wanted to work with based on the research, and this was all done digitally before actually speaking to anyone.

At The SEO Works we now regularly get business inquiries saying “we’ve seen what you can do and have shortlisted you as a company to work with based on what we have seen online about you”.

So if you aren’t thinking digital, you need to. Depending on your industry, at least half of your marketing budget should be digital, then test and learn different channels and strategies.

NXT: If you had a $10,000/month marketing budget, how would you allocate it?

I would use 20-30% on organic search expecting a medium term return, and the remaining 70-80% in paid media and looking at social platforms to make sure you have a presence there. This includes display ads, paid search, and paid social e.g., LinkedIn. (This is something that we’ve seen really take off for our clients!).

You’ll also need to focus on developing useful content for your audience, which should be part of any online marketing strategy.

NXT: But… LinkedIn is so expensive! How do you make sure you don’t waste your budget there? 

You can’t just batch and blast on LinkedIn, where you think you can just click ‘promote’ and hope for the best.

What’s nice about LinkedIn is that it doesn’t need to be huge to be effective, so be careful about picking out a target audience and be as granular as possible.

Utilize InMail, paid content (through feeds), and paid adverts to hone in on that audience and make sure you’re enriching them to maximize your budget.

NXT: What are typical results to expect from different marketing channels, or benchmarks to decide whether a campaign is working?

If you’re looking to do organic search (SEO), it depends on the competitiveness of the market and site strength. Try and set your expectations for it to be a medium term investment, where it’ll take anywhere from 6-12 months to see progress (if the market is competitive). Generally, you should expect the 1st year to be an investment, and in the second year it starts to become sustainable.

If you launch a paid search campaign in Month 1, your CPA in Month 2 may increase, but in Month 3 you will begin to see how the campaign will start to drive value. It’s important to make sure you’re tracking your paid search campaigns, because it will be a waste if the clicks are not converting into leads or sales.

Location based marketing is becoming significantly more important, and optimizing Google Maps-based results is something that we work on with local clients like lawyers, spas, and plumbers.

Local businesses should aim to be in Google’s 3-Pack, the “maps” area on the first page which is kind of like a mini search engine within Google. The first 3 results on that inquiry are important, and there are techniques to increase your chances on appearing on 3-Pack more regularly.

The 3-Pack results are completely organic, and I would recommend starting with a well-documented Google Map Business Profile and then get citations across key websites on the web.

Ultimately with whatever digital marketing you undertake, you should make sure that your web analytics are set up to track conversions.

These might be different for each business – inquiries, whitepaper downloads, subscriptions… But if you aren’t tracking your KPIs you won’t be able to decide whether a campaign is helping.

NXT: What worked in the past for B2B marketing but not anymore?

In SEO, the old-school tactic of buying links is really bad. You have to allow time for your business to grow organically, and Google will know if you buy links.

In email marketing, sending batch emails is now less effective, because there has to be some level of tailoring to engage your audience. Advancements in machine learning has gotten to the point where a website can automatically populate the content of an email based on what I’ve read. Things will only become more granular, so rethink the ‘batch and blast’ method!

Increasingly we are seeing things like face-to-face events attendance dropping, and it’s well documented about the shrinking use of trade magazines and newspapers. It’s also very hard to prove the value of many offline methods. How do you know if someone called your business from a newspaper advert? With online, every click is measurable.

Business owners need to work with someone who is a digital expert and understands your particular sector. It is getting extremely overwhelming for one in-house marketer to handle all the marketing needs.

NXT: Any tips for business owners that want to keep the marketing in-house?

If you’re going to do marketing in-house, you need dedicated marketers to keep up to date with Google, social media, technology, and the digital marketing world.

Business owners should look to hire “T-shaped” marketers, these are people who have general experience across all types of digital marketing but have extra deep expertise in one specific area. The well roundedness is really important for an in-house marketer, and you need someone who’s creative but is also a technologist.

Dedication is also very important – often we see business owners juggling lots of different things. Marketing really needs at least one person’s full attention, so it’s very rare for a business owner to be able to handle things on top of running the business.

NXT: You offer a free site review… what type of assessments do you do?

Free site review is a very high-level review. We look at online visibility and social profiles, conduct basic technology checks, and give a health score. Anyone who takes the free test will get why they’re strong or weak in certain areas and hopefully go on and make some changes.

NXT: What can clients expect when they work with you?

Friendly service from a group of experts, who can help you push forward in measurable ways.

We like to identify KPIs for specific types of businesses. If a B2B client is focused on selling their services online, the KPI will be around conversions. For a client in legal or professional services, the KPI will be the number of online inquiries and phone calls made to the office.

We usually start off by benchmarking their current digital maturity, then come up with a game-plan after looking at the tools in our locker and the client’s budget.

NXT: Is there a case study where you helped a particular client dominate their market?

We worked with an industrial manufacturer that specialized in making slurry pumps, and they wanted to get onto the first page of Google search.

The goal right from the get-go was very much about awareness and visibility. This project was purely SEO, and we needed to get ranked for industrial phrases.

The phrases were low-volume but even if only 100 people searched for that phrase per month, they’re not messing around! (You don’t need a slurry pump everyday…)

Our slurry pump client ended up signing a six-figure contract with an international client, all because they did a search on Google and our client popped up in the top 3 results.

NXT: What are you investing in? Where do you see opportunity in the next few years?

For us, it’s about building out credibility in the core sectors that we have expertise in, and we are looking to target more national opportunities within that.

We’re investing in machine learning and big data to see how automation can improve the effectiveness of online campaigns.

We’re also growing our service offering by keeping on top of the latest developments in the market. Ads are getting smarter, and so is Google, so we need to keep at the forefront of this to continue our growth.


A huge thanks to Ben Foster at The SEO Works, a UK SEO agency that started off in Sheffield and has now expanded to London and Leeds. SEO Works is the recipient of many awards, including the UK Search Awards “Best Local Campaign Winner”, Google Partner Awards “Top Performing Agency (Top 2)”, and Summit International Awards “Marketing Effectiveness Winner” to name a few. Take a look at their trophy cabinet here.

The SEO Works


Tess is a Business Development Associate at Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. She's passionate about B2B business models & marketing, and spends a lot of time working on partnership development, content marketing, and scouring for the best business books for Her blood type is an authentic caffè macchiato.

Add comment