commit: fb200d8 - #595 (2014-04-14 00:44:57 -0400)
Hi everyone. I'll be on here answering questions from 2pm UK time for a few hours and then again around 2pm PST for the US crew.
I founded Distilled with Duncan Morris in 2005. We are an online marketing company with offices in London, NYC and Seattle and about 60 people. Most of our revenue is from client work (consulting and creative). We also run the Searchlove conference series (we're coming to Boston in a couple weeks: http://www.distilled.net/events/searchlove-boston/ ) and the DistilledU online training platform for learning SEO: http://www.distilled.net/u/
Over the years, I've had most of the jobs at Distilled - selling, finance, consulting, management, marketing - you can ask me about any of those. You can also ask me about whisky or basketball. Or about how I balance work with a young family (my daughter is 3 and my son is 10 months). Or about anything really.
For the work-related stuff, I expect some of the other Distillers will drop in to help me answer.
The reason I'm doing this today particularly is that we are running a virtual open day for DistilledU - register for a free account and for today only you can access all the text, interactive and video content completely free until midnight PST: http://www.distilled.net/u/
I look forward to some interesting conversations.
Hi Will, what does your project management process look like? Is agile marketing
We have a lot of different processes all running at once - our teams all work and collaborate in different ways. We have learned a lot from agile and from lean methodologies. We also look to personal productivity approaches like "getting things done". It's a bit of a mishmash really...
Great stuff here, love the discussions taking place. I know I'm more than a few days late and a pound short, but I have a few questions with regarding snippet tagging and their best uses.
1. Should all link outs from a company blog or website make use of the no follow tag?
2. Proper use of the rel="author" and rel="publisher"? I bring this up because I see a lot of my competitors are using the Author tag on their websites for all pages, so that they're picture appears next to all their indexed pages. I don't think this is the appropriate use of the tag, so I used the Publisher tag which is suppose to be for brands and businesses. Since doing so I've seen a jump in my ranking placement. I'm not 100% sure that the publisher tag was the reason, because I'm writing new content and building new pages, but it does seem sudden since adopting it. Oh and I passed my competitors in ranking after doing so. I'd love to get your feedback on this.
3. Other snippet tags which you've seen Google paying attention to to help rankings?
1. No! As a general rule, I would only add nofollow to links to advertisers or links created by third parties (e.g. commenters)
2. Sounds like you're doing it right - I'm with you; I don't like blanket rel=author for every page on a company website
3. I haven't seen much evidence that rich mark-up has helped actual rankings - the biggest effects I've seen are clickthrough rates with video and review mark-up
Hi Will. Who was the first person you ever saw speak at a conference and what was it that inspired you to start speaking?
I don't remember the first session I saw at an SEO conference, but I do vividly remember some sessions from early conferences I went to. In the early days I travelled to the west coast of the US with Duncan and with Tom to attend SMX West and SMX Advanced and I remember seeing people like Oilman, Sugarrae, Greg Boser and Stuntdubl. They were so cool on stage. Confident, funny, engaging. I particularly remember Oilman and Boser giving Matt Cutts a hard time on stage over whether he could really detect certain tactics at scale. Good times.
Those guys, Rand (of course) and Danny Sullivan were big influences on me.
Thanks Will for an interesting reply and for doing this AMA. Some of the best speakers (certainly in the US) do certainly seem to bring a natural humour and vitality to the stage. When I first started training to speak my goal was emulate some of the amazing US speakers I'd seen as they make it look so easy. I hope everything is going great with the open day.
Good afternoon Will. When building a team from scratch how do you prioritise the number and types of people you need to add and to what extent is this a proactive process?
Planning (or rather sticking to plans) is not my strong point. For me, it's always been a case of "who do we need next to get where we want to go?" and (more rarely) "holy wow, this person's so good, we're hiring them right now".
As we "grow up" we are doing more planning and we have annual hiring plans. Reality never looks like Excel though in my experience.
I did some capacity planning at one point - forecasting growth and availability - but then hired ahead of the curve...
(1) Redirecting the homepage of a site according to the User-Agent is not cloacking at all ?
(2) Is it consensus that after Penguim, it's not advisable to write all the anchors with the exact keyword phrase but only say 50%?
(3) Is there a consensus on kw density already ?
(4) Can Googlebot already discern dates?
(5) Directories as well as Digg, Linkk e Dihitt are still worth a shot?
(6) How much of Facebook posts is able to be indexed by Googlebot ?
Thanks in advance!
1. if you treat googlebot UA differently to equivalent UAs then yes, it's cloaking (e.g. it's ok from a guidelines perspective to redirect mobile user agents as long as you treat googlebot-mobile the same)
2. after Penguin, it's advisable not to be in control of (even 50% of) your anchors
3. yes. It's never been a factor. [Keywords are, density isn't, certain things that are similar to density are]
4. yes (see a search for any breaking news topic)
5. I wouldn't expend much energy on any kind of general directory. Things like the SEOmoz recommended list are the kind of thing that could be called a directory but is genuinely valuable
Jumping in on this one...
1. In general you want the context between what the search engine thinks you have, and what a user see's to match. If you're changing the content AND context of the page completely, that's a problem.
But if you're changing content within the same context, for instance to render a mobile version of the site, or include an extra call-to-action for different browsers ('best viewed off IE6'), or if you're rendering AJAX content on the client-side and want to show Googlebot a static version of what is rendered - that may be okay, but it's best done on a case-by-case basis.
A good litmus test would be to display what you're displaying to Googlebot to users in a live user text. If they go "WTF?" you should stop.
2. Anchor text is an indicator, but more important is the source. Unless you've got excessively high ratios which are harming you (link removal might be for you), I wouldn't worry about it. Instead, focus your time on building real, lasting brand signals - Wil Reynolds did the canonical piece on this. Watch this video here (scroll down) if you haven't already: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/2012-mozcon-videos-are-here
3. Keyword density is so easily manipulated, search engine's don't give it weight. Rather, include relevant terms in the title, headline and a few times on the page where it makes grammatical sense, but otherwise focus on making your pages to please humans. Humans share, humans link and human interaction drives the vast amount of what Google is trying to measure. Keyword density really won't help you here.
5. Generic directories, not really. Niche, specific directories and lists of "curated resources" yes - but only to get you started as a really new site. See the video in point #2
6. Broadly, public posts on public pages can be indexed. More details can be found in their robots.txt https://www.facebook.com/robots.txt
Whooops... my bad thought it was skipped.
Nice answer. High five!
Hey Will, do you prefer to do work at home so you can be with your family or do all your work at the office so when you come home it's exclusively family time?
I'm a terrible multi-tasker so I *try* not to do both at once (I don't always succeed). When I'm doing both I'm a poor businessman and a terrible parent.
My typical day looks like:
- 6.30am get woken up by one child or the other
- 6.45-8.15am get them breakfasted and dressed (ideally myself as well)
- 8.15am-9.30am get myself ready and get to the London office
- 9.30am-4.30pm work, meetings etc with London / NYC
- 4.30pm-5.30pm overlap with Seattle (G+ hangout, gchat etc)
- 5.30pm-6.30pm travel home
- 6.30pm-7.30pm get the kids to bed
- 7.30pm-10pm dinner, conversation, tv etc with my wife
- (not every night) 10pm onwards - email, work with Seattle, focussed work time (presentation prep etc)
Thanks Will! That's great advice. I think taking a break probably helps you be a better businessman too, since you have a chance to see new perspectives
"Ideally myself" - literally lol'd
This is almost my schedule exactly, only Pacific time and it's warmer here than London :)
When your in deep and plugged in, what is your playlist?
Some kind of trance (not something I listen to when I'm not plugged in) - like this:
Agree - trance for working is frickin' incredible. Armin van Burren => work = done
This is tight. Thanks Will.
Hi, Will, my question is: Which question would you absolutely dread being asked here and - if you were forced not to answer it diplomatically - what would your answer be?
This. This. Except now that was easy so I don't dread it. Is that a paradox?
I think dread only exists before an event, so probably not a paradox.
I think I failed to underline the 'no diplomatic answers' bit heavily enough though ;)
Wait can we make it Ask Dan Anything? Run a dual AMA???
Dual AMA's are an interesting idea - will bring it up with the team this week!
I would say "cunning" rather than "diplomatic" but I see your point.
Well, the further you push me down the "dread" route, the less I'm actually going to give you an outright answer. I'll think some more...
Hi Will. What is the differentiation point of your company against other consulting companies? Reporting, strategy?
- We hire the smartest people we can find (who can also get things done)
- We often hire inexperienced and coach / support them to become great
- We give our team a platform to build not only their skills and their experience but also their visibility - they speak at our conferences and others', they write for our blog and for SEOmoz - too many companies hide their best people away but we believe that letting them shine both improves and attracts great people
I'll come back to this more later if I get a chance.
To follow up on what Will said I think one of the most important components of why people come to us is communication from our team. We don't have account managers, you talk directly to your consultant who thinks about your project every day (on average our consultants have 2-4 accounts they lead).
This enables us to really customize everything we do to the business we are working with, I think that's a very hard thing to accomplish. We work with Fortune 500 companies, bootstrapped companies and VC backed startups because of this and I think we benefit from that range of experience.
Hey, just wanted to add one more thing to what Chris and Will have already said. I think one thing that we pride ourselves on as an agency is honesty.
A lot of people come to us looking for a certain type of project, but if we think we can provide them with stronger ROI from taking a slightly different approach - we let them know. We also don't sugar coat situations and people reaching out to us can expect to get back honest feedback on what we think they need to do to improve their situation, even if we know it isn't going to be a popular or easy solution. I think this is refreshing to a lot of clients who are looking for a real solution rather than just lip service to get the contract.
Having worked at Distilled and moved on to other things, I have to agree that this is one of the best things about Distilled. They bet on and take a chance on a lot of people early in their career. Working at Distilled will absolutely make you better at your craft, and they'll give you the platform to demonstrate yourself publicly. This carries on as an alumni as well. They still have me out to events and even helped me make it out to London in October.
first, thanks for your time, Will.
- love to know some ideas for content re-creation (ex: have a client with a solid cannon of content, but would like to reprise/reintroduce)
- been a Johnnie Black rocks guy for years. what are some of your whisky-blend go-to brands?
I'm going to take the whisky question first - I mainly go for single malts. My favourite blend is probably something like Monkey Shoulder: http://www.masterofmalt.com/whiskies/monkey-shoulder-blended-scotch-whisky/
Reworking content - something I've been thinking about a lot recently - because I think that I've been too guilty of always moving onto the next thing rather than seeing all the different ways that a piece can be repurposed.
A few top tips:
- focus heavily on design (this is my favourite article on the importance of design recently: http://www.firstround.com/article/How-design-thinking-transformed-Airbnb-from-failing-startup-to-billion-dollar-business )
- think about channels - so for B2B I love repurposing things as blog posts / articles, slide decks, videos, emails etc
- incorporate feedback *explicitly* - i.e. reference the person who gave the feedback - this is a form of ego-bait and it's worked really well for me in the past
Would you ever take someone up on a 3-point shoot out?
... for search love tickets :D
Haha. No. Literally no-one would have to pay. I'm terrible from downtown.
Or just terrible from everywhere. </trolling>
Come in the post and say that
Anytime! Didn't you get a chipped tooth last time I came in the post?
Didn't I win anyway?
Alright, guys, here goes nothing.
I sent this email to Will Critchlow on Friday, April 26:
Bethany - sounds like you've got a story :) I guess the real question is "if you were starting off again with no money and no fame, what would you do" ?
Perhaps start a separate discussion in the community? Something a lot of people might have actionable tips for...
Looks like Distilled U has been a great success. I imagine this question might be on the minds of a few people - do you ever think that Distilled U's syllabus model might be translated into a "recognised" degree from UK universities and US colleges? Has anyone approached you specifically on that matter.
It seems odd that in a world of Equestrian Psychology BSc that there isn't a BA/BSc in SEO. But moreso, do you personally have an appetite for such a degree? I'm somewhat torn on whether having a degree offered from universities here would increase industry awareness and make teens and students aware of SEO as a career choice.
No-one's approached us.
I would love to build something that people could point to having completed (we have some plans in the works to be able to do just that). At the moment the closest we have is (optionally-public) profile pages with badges: http://www.distilled.net/user/willcritchlow/
I have mixed feelings about certification. As you might well know, it's been a hot topic in the SEO space for a long time. I'm not desperate to have our course recognised by a traditional university but I would love to have something that was good enough that it could be.
Cheers for the answer Will.I think I'm in agreement with you - I think in terms of industry awareness and actual suitability, I'm not sure a certified degree is the best thing for it. Furthermore, in the UK at least and hopefully you'll agree, I think we've seen a shift away from a degree being the "be all and end all" about getting a job - due to recession, increase in fees, vocational job demand - so I think more people may be aware of it anyway.
Awareness is the key thing and I think there's better ways to do it than a degree. Once people are made aware, however, I reckon a whole lot of people will look at Distilled U and think "I'm gonna do that" - particularly if you can showcase like in a system you're talking about.
/rambling over. Thanks again for the answer! Just realised as well how close the Distilled office is to my flat as well, groovy!
My roommate in college started his own Wall Street training class which combines both online and offline training. Through the right hoops, connections, and timing, he was able to get a top-notch US university temporary teaching position... while he was still in college ;)The problem he solved was that modern US universities don't prepare you with the right skill sets banks need. I think Distilled U could be positioned the same way if someone chooses to hustle in that direction!
Personally, as I work with numerous universities on day-to-day basis, I'm not too convinced with the SEO degree. There certainly would be enough material for it, or at least for a module in (online) marketing degree, but unfortunately most universities are know for their lack of agility, and we wouldn't want 2013 SEO grads we are considering to hire to preaching us about the new kids on the block, like "article spinning" and "directory links", now would we?Also completely agree with @CaitlinKrum that SEO as an industry is fascinating partly because of the mix of people, skills and background, that join this party of ours. Not sure how much a BSc (or BA, that would be an interesting debate! :) in SEO would accomplish.I think for training potential SEOs, a better appoarch might be the one that BrightonSEO (coincidelly my home town too...) are doing in collaboration with agencies, a traineeship scheme:http://www.brightonseo.com/traineeship/
I wanted to jump in on this as I was speaking with a few other people in the industry about this over the weekend. I'd like to argue that our industry is so interesting and flexible due to the varying amounts of skills and backgrounds we attract. I don't know a lot of other industries where you would get people from a Marketing, Video Production, Acting, Maths, Journalism, PR and Artificial Intelligence all working on the same team.
I think the wealth of experiences we all have (from University or just from other career paths) helps bring a lot of different perspectives to the table, which is fantastic when the industry is constantly shifting.
In regards to attracting new blood to the industry. I think the talking at Universities to people from backgrounds like creative, journalism, marketing, math, science, and communications would be a good start. But then again the great thing about our industry is we are also open to people who haven't gone to university if the skills and the curiosity/passion are there.
Hi Will -
We recently created an Inbound Marketing Assessment landing page on our site: http://inbound.microarts.com/assessment.
Is there anything you would recommend to help improve our conversion-rates?
Couple of thoughts from me on this one Adam...(based on things me Critchlow has taught me over the years)
I'd ask people who have had the free marketing analysis what almost prevented them from signing up. In doing so, you'll probably get a flavour for the general areas of weakness that you need to work on.
From a knee-jerk perspective without having had a look at any data - I'd suggest that you really need to look at making it clear what individuals are getting in with the analysis. Is content creation something you get as part of the package? I assume not, but it certainly reads that way in the bullets.
Additionally, it's not clear to me who your brand are and therefore why I should trust your opinion. The domain is microarts, but the header image says "growing brands" - so who exactly is doing this analysis? I think you should look at better explaining to the average user who you guys are and why the analysis will be worthwhile for me as a website owner. In short - who are you guys and why should i trust you?
Hope that's useful!
Yep - the top two for me are "who are you?" and "what do I get?". More about your brand (people?) and more specifics on what the output is would be where I'd start.
I send you back in time to 2005, you have a pre-paid credit card for £50 and 7 days to get rich. What would you do?
Play the lottery. Then spend £49 on beer while I waited.
Hi Will, would love to know your thoughts on switching from SEO to inbound marketing.
And one question that's been in my mind for long is, why did SEOmoz switch from consulting to software development. I know the latter is not directly related to you (somewhere hoping to get Rand's response too) but probably you'll be having some idea. :)
Ironically (given the site we're on) I have some issues with the "inbound" label. I prefer to focus on the channels themselves. I'm a huge fan of search (obviously) but I also love email and enjoy social. At the same time, I'm a big fan of a well-executed advertising campaign (see, for example: http://www.quora.com/Which-are-some-of-the-funniest-most-clever-advertisements )
I'll have the argument with Rand and Dharmesh about the "inbound" label ;) [love you guys]
I think Rand's talked publicly about the "why" of quitting consulting (see for example http://www.seomoz.org/blog/the-end-of-consulting-a-new-partnership-our-focus-on-software ). They focussed on subscription / software services because it was the route to the growth they needed to achieve their objectives. It was incompatible with doing any consulting because the blended revenue would have been heavily discounted by investors and prevented them raising the money they needed to compete.
Thank you for the answer, Will. I'm with you on arguing against the inbound label. ;)
Hi Will, If you had the chance to go back in time and start Distilled again, what would you do differently and why? Thanks!
1: before you start, don't trust previous contacts who promise contract work unless you have a written contract...
2: hire sooner (see "people" answer above about Distilled's differentiator)
3: keep trying the scalable elements - don't let failures put you off trying again for so long (many early product attempts failed before DistilledU)
Actually though, the real answer is that I'd do something totally different - not because I don't love Distilled (I do) but because I hate doing the same thing twice.
Very valuable :) Thanks for your answers!
Hi Will, would you mind elaborating on #1 please, maybe an example? I'm not 100% sure what you mean but think its hugely relevant to something I'm going through at the mo. Thanks! :-)
Oh - just something that happened to me. Probably turned out for the best in the end. When I quit my job, I had a 2-day-a-week contract lined up to keep some money coming in while I started our thing (Duncan had a 3 month notice period, I only had 1 month). It was done on a handshake. It fell through the day after I quit.
As I said somewhere else in the thread, cash >>> signature > verbal yes
Ahh gotcha, I see what you mean. Good advice though. Thanks! :-)
Hi Will, could you clarify for us how many Paddy Moogans there are?
Just the one.
I'm good friends with Mr Elstob and I've previously worked with Steve Ollington at Bronco.
Not that any of that is relevant to my question.
I noticed you studied maths at Cambridge, do you use that a lot for identifying potential ranking factors? Or is there anywhere else you use your maths knowledge to help with SEO?
Not really RE: ranking factors - I would say I probably have a deeper understanding of PageRank than most (because I understand eigenvectors etc) but that doesn't change much day to day.
I studied probability and statistics so things like regression analysis are up my street, but I don't actually get to do much (though I do enjoy reading about them).
Probably the biggest help RE: ranking factors is that maths taught me a lot about algorithms so I can imagine what *kind* of factor is likely to be something that Google can calculate efficiently and apply effectively. Things like machine learning (panda) and text analysis are hard algo problems.
But honestly, the biggest help in SEO in general is that it trained me to think logically and to solve problems.
Cheers Will :)
You've seen Evan Miller? http://www.evanmiller.org/linear-regression-for-fun-and-profit.html
In your experience, does a responsive website rank better?
There isn't a hard and fast principle here, so it's impossible to give a proper answer. Do responsive websites rank better.... than what? Non-responsive websites? or websites that have a mobile site instead?
It's somewhat feasible that there may be a small bias on mobile search towards sites that handle smaller screen-sizes in a mobile friendly way, but whether that's through serving a mobile site, different HTML or just responsive design probably shouldn't matter a great deal in terms of the "ranking factor" per se.
Responsive is great as it prevents the duplicate content and cannibalisation issues that often occur with mobile sites - but I think you'd be hard pushed to claim it was some sort of ranking factor.
I am trying to break ground in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I am from Pakistan (currently residing in KSA) and have quite a lot of experience in managing market research projects, client management for IT solutions company, business analysis and strategy devising etc etc.
Question: 1) Does one have have extensive experience in digital marketing in order to startup and run a digital marketing agency? 2) Why do clients hire your agency instead of so many others in the market?
1. no. But if you don't, expect it to take a long time. Neither Duncan nor I had experience before founding our company except what we had learned running freelance projects. We started the latter in 1997 and founded our company in 2005. It took until 2007 before we really started growing (and even then from a very small base)
2. See my answer above entitled "Nope. People."
Will - You did a presentation on Things I Wish I'd Known - http://www.slideshare.net/willcritchlow/things-i-wish-id-known-8414438.
Looking back on the year since then, what else do you wish you had known?
Two off the top of my head (though this question is going to stick in my head all day):
- You're right to believe in the growth potential of brilliant but inexperienced people but don't underestimate how much awesome can be added by advice and support from truly great people who've done it all before
- Just because something didn't work when you tried it in a company of five people, don't assume it won't work at 50 (see: weekly all hands meetings, annual budgets, forecasting etc)
What is the dumbest piece of advice personal & business that you were given and glad that you ignored it? Is there any plans to publish a book on dumb advice you have heard clients accepting on face value without researching or testing it?
Hi Will - a couple of questions :)1. What will beat content?What do you think will beat content in the long run for an inbound channel that costs little to distribute, but can still deliver an incredibly low CPA?
2. What would you invest in Distilled if...
...a cheque made out to Distilled for £10 million arrived in the office. Assuming the source doesn't matter, what would you spend it on?
3. If you could hack the Google algo...
Under the cover of darkness you parachute into Mountain View, and infiltrate the Googleplex undetected. Gaining access to the master repo, you have just 2 minutes, until the guards patrol comes round to your sector, to rewrite one change to the algo one new change to the algo - what would you do?
4. What if we all turned our lives to crime?
Continuing on the espionage theme above, if the entire lineup of MozCon/SearchLove etc., all the agencies, all the in-house SEOs, social media marketers, content writers and everyone in this community turned their lives to crime a) what would we excel at, and b) who specifically would do what? I'm thinking Ocean's 11/Italian Job-style team here :)
Thanks for joining us on here - looking forward to your answers!
This is hard. I'm going to dip in and out so I get to answer some other questions.
1. the only thing that I think beats "content" (though it's hard to define exactly what is and isn't content) is permission. I would rather send an average email to a massive list than an incredible piece of content to a tiny list
I'm not sure that's a fair answer though - because permission is typically earned through content in one form or another. Erm.
Hey Will, thanks for doing this AMA on Inbound! Love Distilled and will be seeing you in a few weeks in Boston.
I know Distilled started out as a web development business early on and then transitioned into a SEO company. At what point did you decide to stop taking new web development projects? and why? Was it because a higher percentage of your revenue was coming from SEO consulting or did you see more tangible, marketable services existing in the SEO world?
I ask because my company is at a similar crossroads. We seem to be using our web dev skills to support the on-page efforts and content strategies we are creating for clients but still have people asking us to build full-scale websites for them. We prefer working on inbound marketing strategy/execution and have begun to shy away from large, often nebulous, web projects (which we would have salivated on before).
Thanks in advance!
We completely stopped in late 2011 but had been winding down for a while before that.
The main reason we stopped was because we couldn't, with any honesty claim to be world class at it.
We were in a strange halfway house. We started off offering websites to very small businesses. As we grew we started working on bigger and bigger projects but we didn't scale up the support required. We had some great designers and developers, but we didn't invest in all the account management and processes needed to consistently deliver what was required. The lack of account management led to scope creep which made the whole thing a vicious circle.
It boiled down to a choice between stopping web development, or investing a lot in the support we'd need to continue to work on the bigger projects. Given we weren't passionate about web development it was an easy choice. Focussing on SEO is one of the best decisions we ever made.
Thanks Will - appreciate the insight - sounds a lot like what we are going through now.
There is one company I worked for, I suggested the same for them but oh well! you have one less competitor Will ;)
Thanks for the opportunity for this...
Which would you rather fight: one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
Is there still a duck of awesome at Distilled?
Yes. But it's now the size of a horse.
There are a number of ducks around actually, but each office does have a duck of awesome. I have a three year anniversary duck too. https://twitter.com/katemorris/status/319124569686429696/photo/1
Man....no one can beat 100 of anything. Haven't you seen City of God?
The industry has changed as such a pace over the last five years
and agencies (and clients) have had to innovate heavily to tap into new revenue
streams, this has in some cases involved a great amount of change internally.
How have you managed to keep your business on track, make the right hires at
the right times and maintain baseline revenues while being innovative? It would
be really interesting to hear how you made the decisions with your team and any
I don't think there's any magic - it's all happened through a lot of debate and great people.
Duncan's really great at hiring (both identifying the roles and finding the right people).
We love change (perhaps pathologically) and so we are always looking for where we want to push ourselves next. Rob (Ousbey - COO) is instrumental in this and Tom (my brother who left Distilled last year for pastures new) always pushed hard. We have a mantra for our senior staff - "Be right. Visibly and often".
Having said that, we aren't very hierarchical and so most of the pressure to get these things right comes from the guys on the front line - especially those working with clients. I can't count how many times I've been pulled into a meeting room or onto a G+ hangout with a consultant because "we just aren't good enough at XYZ".
Regarding maintaining "business as usual" through the turmoil, we've built a pretty complicated business for its size (three offices, multiple business units). As such I think we have had to develop reasonably good processes around forecasting and pipeline management. Huge credit here goes to our client development team who work with those who make enquiries and help bring the right ones onboard as clients [shout out to Caitlin, Shelley, Ron, Steph and our newest hire Amanda]. Over the years they have been *exceptional* at hitting numbers when it counted while maintaining phenomenal relationships with our consultants and refusing to compromise on the kind of client / contract we want to work on.
Great insight into your progression and a demonstration of the caliber of your team. I echo your stance on refusing to compromise though really important.
What is the single greatest piece of advice that anyone has every given you on how to be a better leader?
Two pieces of advice (from the internet, rather than face to face):
Management is a service:
"Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering, [that line is] crossed when you become a VP."
Also, want the ball. When it's going down to the wire, you've got to want to be the one making the calls.
Right on, thanks for the great answers. Glad to see you link a post about Jobs, he is definitely what I define as a passionate leader.
Dig the "Want the ball" approach. I've always personally been one to "lead from the back" kind of manipulating without sticking my own head out, but in certain times I would step up and make the call. Somewhat of a "cometh the hour, cometh the man" mentality, yet this is something I'm working on consciously, to be more of an affirmative leader consistently.
Thanks for doing this AMA, Will -- we really appreciate your time and energy. :)
My question: what was the genesis of DistilledU and how did you decide to invest your and your team's time and resources in creating it?
Thanks for stopping by.
I've written a couple of posts that go into more depth on the early stages of DistilledU:
The pitch: http://www.distilled.net/blog/seo/distilledu-public-beta/
The why (part-way through this long post): http://www.distilled.net/blog/distilled/video-in-distilledu/#why
I came up with the idea on a plane ride from Madrid to NYC. It had been a comedy of errors throughout. Duncan and I were delayed by 24 hours by a cancelled flight and got stuck in Madrid (there are worse places...). Unfortunately, we were only scheduled to be in NYC for 48 hours. In the end I think we were back at JFK less than 24 hours after we arrived. That was my first trip to New York.
To add insult to injury, there was no in-flight entertainment. With a lot of time to think, I just ended up on the idea that our future depended on being able to develop our people in the best possible way. We'd tried to invest in creating learning materials before and always failed. I thought that by making it paid-for, we'd be forced to invest in it properly.
Duncan liked the idea and we hashed out the early stages. I pitched it to our exec team. They liked it. Then it didn't go anywhere for a few months.
Finally, I built a prototype on my train journeys to and from the office and just started writing content. Then we shipped the earliest of early alpha versions on a hack day at our Distilledathon in early 2012 (see: http://www.distilled.net/blog/distilled/announcing-distilledu/ ).
It was quite lean (even though I *still* haven't finished reading the lean startup). It was the 1,500 people who signed up on the launchrock announcement page who convinced us that we should invest time and effort.
Since then, the energy of people like John Doherty, Paddy Moogan and others too numerous to name has pushed it forward hard. [Also huge props to Tom Neville, Adam Malinowski, Austin Platt and Richard Westenra who are behind the technical wizardry].
Hi Will and thanks for doing the AMA!
What are the top 3 must have apps in your toolbox?
What kind of apps? For marketing generally? For my job (including management etc)? For SEO specifically?
Thanks for your time on this Will, My questions:
- How to win in the sites which do not produce high quality content or neither they have budget to produce such content.
- Define Inbound Marketing in your views? :)
- What you think about Indians?
- I hope those sites don't win - there's plenty that can be done when you're starting out with no budget (pro-tip: get writing!)
- The definition of inbound is its weakest area IMO - it's the main reason that (while I'm a huge fan of all the channels) I'm not a fan of the name - I prefer to just think about online marketing and focus on things that work regardless of whether they're inbound or outbound
- You mean people from India? The relatively few I know personally are great but I wouldn't like to generalise to an entire population!
Thanks for your feedback Will.
1) Who would you consider selling Distilled to and why?
2) *If* you sold Distilled, what would you do next?
Jeez. I've written about 3 answers to #1 and they all sucked.
I'd consider a lot of people (bigco e.g. Adobe, IBM down to startup e.g. moz, Hubspot) but I haven't yet thought of a scenario that preserves people and culture that makes sense from a business perspective for both sides.
Maybe we'll square that circle one day, but to be clear, we're not looking....
#2 - I'd start something new. I'd be too impatient not to. I have no idea what it'd be - I'd love to do something in the consumer space, I also think there's a lot broken about publishing that I'd love to fix, I could even imagine some kind of not-for-profit or campaign-based thing. Dream-land, I'd love to do a hardware startup (lockitron / nest style) - I always wanted to be an inventor or an astronaut.
Hi Will! Happy to see you here.
A couple of questions:
1) What of the young guy, who founded WandD with Duncan, do you feel is still boosting the passion you have for your job?
2) Distilled has three bases: London, Seattle and New York, and it seems very centered to clients in the "English speaking" markets. Any plan of expanding further the International presence of Distilled, maybe in markets other the English ones?
1. yep - I love my job - it's way better than it used to be when we started. When we started, I sold websites door to door (literally). Now I get to do things like this :)
2. we have some European clients serviced from London and we've obviously talked about expanding into Europe. Most of our focus is on growing our English-speaking presence right now though - did you see we confirmed our West Coast Searchlove location? http://searchlove.distilled.net/ [spoiler: San Diego in September]
Hey Will!1) Do you ever find it challenging to decide on a unique topic or view to talk about at conferences? It appears that a lot of industry experts are all pushing the same advice these days, and sometimes it's difficult for a paying attendee to decide whether a particular conference is worth attending..or if specific speakers are going to offer something new.
2) Would you ever grow a beard like Rand? I think you'd look cool with a beard.
Hope I can offer bits of insight on this too...
1) There is a hell of a lot of work and internal debate that goes into finding topics and building presentations for conferences - both Distilled's own SearchLove and when our speakers are performing elsewhere. We have a very collaborative process where topics are critiqued ahead of time, speakers are encouraged (sometimes physically forced) to rehearse intensively and slide decks are tweaked and adjusted in the days and weeks before performance following feedback from numerous others in the company.
In honesty, It is really hard and it normally takes a lot of work. Will is particularly good at coming up with new angles because he's naturally a "big picture" kinda guy and is great at setting himself hard questions which he'll then spend days weeks trying to answer. His findings and thoughts from that research often form the basis for a lot of the content you see him perform on stage.
2) In spite of what he might add to this thread, Will is unable to grow a beard good enough to match "The Fishkin". Evidence: http://www.distilled.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/distilled404-tight.jpg
Thank Phil - Perfect answer to what I wanted to know. I'm sure there's a significant amount of pressure on you guys to deliver something beyond what has been covered before, and then find the balance between actionable advice and insights into the industry at present, and how you perceive the future will be.
I think what would be great to see DistilledU evolve into (or just add to the fold) would be workshop sessions training SEO practitioners. While the online resource is an essential learning tool for everyone, I (among others) would love the chance to even have a more personal approach to learning from you guys directly. I'd pay the equivalent to a conference ticket price for that.
Oh God, that mustache is tragic :)
I'll do a TL;DR response since Phil did the thoughtful version:
1. yes - it's really hard
2. no - my facial hair sucks
Hi Will, thanks for this AMA.1) If you see a couple of SEOs in an agency
are still working with all old practices (directory submission, bunch of
articles on 100 of directories, 100’s of social bookmarkings etc. in short
packages selling) which are all dead. After the specific time, they return with
little increase in rankings and some good rankings for low competitive
keywords.* What do you think about such Agency and SEOs involved in
these short-term and harmful practices?2) Every website/industry is
different. But using the same strategy for every website i.e. all those packages
work. How you would education/guide them?
1. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them to be honest. I know they're out there (just like bad mechanics, bad hairdressers etc). But I don't let it eat me up (relevant XKCD: http://xkcd.com/386/ )
2. We don't really work or think in packages - one of the few downsides of having a company full of creative smart people is that you can't get them to do something the same way twice if you try ;)
what are the first actions you are doing when you start a SEO job?
get to grips with the clients business model - what are their USPs? What assets do they have? Who works there? What makes them good? What does success look like to them?
Hi Will,1. Who do you see as competitors to Distilled U? 2. How did you propose to your wife?3. Do you think SEO tests that use "unnatural" keywords like "sreppleasers" and "leasreepressmm" hold any weight to real-world applications? (Reference to the link value of press releases)
1. People like Market Motive do a great job but I think its biggest competitor is free information - everything we learned is available somewhere out there on the web for free - we are focussing hard on curation and trust and putting our brand behind it
2. Overlooking the Bridge of Sighs at St. John's College, Cambridge (where we met): http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4071/4318975603_c9b05b3d07_z.jpg
3. Yes - I think they can be informative, but I'd be wary of drawing firm conclusions from them. I prefer statistical analyses of the real world even though they come with all kinds of other downsides.
I think you're spot on about branding in 1. It's free out there but there's a lot of disinformation.
I'm WOWed by 2. That's beautiful and romantic!
I feel the same EXACT way about 3 but most of the time it's statistically insignificant/need a larger data set/confounding variables. I mean, it sucks when Google the internet is a data set that constantly evolves in unpredictable way, but here too is where the excitement lies.
Thank you for answering my questions Will :)
A virtual cheers to you good sir!
Hi Will! I am curious about agency hiring practices and have a questions related to that. Obviously It's not going to be the same across all agencies but as an industry leader, I'm sure Distilled is close. As someone who has worked in-house and freelance in the web marketing field for a few years now, what would be the best path to try to get hired on at a top agency? And a quick follow up, what are some skills you think that will become critical in the web marketing field in the coming years?
Also, when will there be more information about SeachLove: West?
As someone who managed it with absolutely no experience in SEO at all, and two years later is now involved in the hiring process.. I can hopefully give some insight into how you get a job at Distilled. Whether that is mirrored in other agencies, I don't know.
Basically - you have to be able to demonstrate exceptional independent thinking and self motivated action. We have a phrase to describe our prospective hires which is "smart and gets shit done", and that's more or less exactly what we look for.
I also think an element of polymathy helps - especially if you have some creative flair combined with technical skill. Will talks about something called a "full stack marketer" and at Distilled all consultants are pushing to get better at understanding content creation, PR as well as the classic technical marketing skills typically associated with those in SEO/development. That doesn't mean that we're all trying to become PR's as well as SEOs, but having at least basic knowledge in the tangential marketing disciplines of content, advertising, PR etc as well as SEO is going to be critical for any web marketers in the future.
Thanks Phil! It's good to know you had absolutely no experience at all before joining Distilled, as your video from SearchLove Boston 2012 and other content about video marketing have become core to our video production team.
I think Phil covered the "getting hired" part. Also - you're a marketer - so you have the skills to stand out - don't think that all jobs come via applications via job boards...
RE: Searchlove West Coast - we've quietly started letting bits and pieces of info slip out: http://searchlove.distilled.net
Thanks Will! I definitely don't think all jobs come via applications and job boards, especially in this industry. I have fought hard to get conference budget approved to be able to network with peers, this year will be my first MozCon and I will be going to Search Love west as well. I have also started building out research to start pitching for speaking spots at industry events etc. etc. It can just seem daunting, maybe even more than it needs to be, since I learn tons from people involved in these various agencies regularly (like Phil whose work with video informs our entire production team).
How much do you think links could be devalued eventually, & could they be replaced altogether?
I like links as a signal in one form or another for the next 3-5 years. God knows what the web will look like past that point.
I do think they will be augmented by all kinds of other data (authorship, social, usage etc).
Hey Will, thanks for doing this. My question revolves around building an agency. Was there anything you wish you knew in the early stages of building Distilled that you know now? What were some early lessons/hard times you experienced, if any?
John linked to a deck I presented at my high school on "things I wished I'd known": http://www.slideshare.net/willcritchlow/things-i-wish-id-known-8414438 (not particularly about building an agency but many are relevant - particularly slides 12, 17, 18, 21).
I also mentioned a couple of new lessons in my reply to John above.
- Everyone hits a cash crunch at some point - either because you're not growing yet or because you're growing too fast (or because you get your tax planning wrong or a big client goes bust or...). It's close to the only thing that can kill a business instantly. I'm not sure what the lesson is - but watch that cash!
- Screw ups tend to happen on the biggest, most high profile projects at the worst possible time. You'll have some tough phone calls / meetings. That's why you get paid the big bucks (or rather why, one day, possibly, you might get paid some bucks...).
- Unless you're prepared to sue your prospects (pro-tip: this is not a great business plan), signatures mean nothing. Cash in the bank account is the only thing that counts [see #1]
- None of these are really hard times in the grand scheme of things. Remember that. :)
Thanks Will! Good advice.
As an American, I say "math", but as a Brit, you say "maths". I find that endearing, and also dumb. Sorry, I guess this isn't really a question.
Seriously - back in 2007-ish (when a bunch of us were getting established in the industry and SEOmoz community), did you ever think you'd be where you are today? How do you keep your perspective, in a broad sense?
Why ya always gotta make fun of the Brits?
To be fair, us Brit's use "math" to take the mick out of each other. Typically singing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa8U0nL-KXg :)
I always thought it weird that Americans don't have a word for "fortnight" given that you typically get paid every other week (we typically get paid monthly in the UK). But whatever. That isn't really an answer to your question...
Did I think I'd be where I am today? No. I am terrible at predictions. I once said I could imagine Distilled growing to "six, maybe eight" people. It's been a blast and I'm so thankful for all the people who've helped and joined in along the way.
Two big things help me keep things in perspective:
- My family - I know you know what I mean there but kids change your view on the world so fast
- My friends - who give me stick about the same things they always have (my jumpshot.......) and who are also uber-successful in their own rights and constantly make me feel the need to level up. You become who you surround yourself with - I'm lucky to have friends who've been successful in business, politics, charity work, teaching, all kinds of things
The thing I find hard is balancing my belief that almost can grow a successful enterprise from nothing with a consistent application of effort over a period of years with the incredible amount of luck I feel that I've been a recipient of. Different emotions rise on different days - sometimes I think that if you're prepared to start selling door to door and put in the work over 8 years you could build something just like I have and other days I look at the lucky breaks along the way (the relationship with Rand and SEOmoz, big client wins, avoiding all the things that could have exploded the business in the early years) and wonder how naive and optimistic you have to be to think that all the pieces will come together and work out...
I don't think your relationship with Rand or SEOmoz was a lucky break. You had to have the chops (and integrity) to earn that relationship.
I suppose the hard work often creates the luck, and avoids the explosions.
Thanks, Will. I wonder the same thing a lot - what was luck, and what was what I did - not so that I can take credit, but so that I can replicate my own successes down the road. So much of it is just pure perseverance and learning to somehow balance humility with just enough bravado (and even, on occasion, stupidity) to keep pushing forward into territory that you have no business setting foot in.
And yes, given the ridiculous things we have words for on this side of the pond, I agree that the two-week interval deserves a name. I actually do say fortnight on occasion. Also, why does "biweekly" mean either every other week or twice a week? That's stupid. Someone just pick one.
Hi Will. Looking forward to sharing a pint in Boston.
What characteristics do you feel are most important in a leader?
As someone who has been "lead" by Will, I would love to share a few characteristics I value in him as a leader at Distilled:
- Incredibly good at not micromanaging and a wiliness to let other people put forward suggestions or ideas, regardless of their position or time with the company.
- Good at asking critical questions that allow for reflection and self critique
- Leading by example. Will and Duncan both strive hard to practice what they preach and are constantly looking to self improve while asking others to do the same. Distilled wouldn't have been able to grow if Will and Duncan didn't lead the way in their own constant responsibility and leadership evolution.
Thanks Caitlin. I appreciate your feedback.
My flippant answer: "Being right".
That helps solve a load of other problems.
- Communication skills and open-ness
- The things Caitlin said (thank you CK!)
Okay, so I've more questions. I guess if other people have other questions, they should go first. But if you have time... #greedy
5. The future of interfaces?
What interfaces, in what contexts, will beat "the screen"? And how can we as marketers get ready for that? (Websites in the age of tooth implants etc.?)
6. Did your Whisky site get hit by Penguin?
And what's the next step for your trade in whisky? http://www.adramintime.co.uk/
7. How would you order the likelihood of Distilled doing the following:
i. post-SearchLove "Hackathons" in an away location for a small, select group of people to implement and ship everything they've learnt at the conferences
ii. Distilled "Campus London/New York/Seattle" and do what General Assembly/Google Campus London does, but just for online marketers. DistilledU in real life, co-working space, ducks etc.
iii. Put one of the Distilled team into orbit
iv. Buy links.
8. Avinash was our first AMA guest to completely crash our servers with traffic.
Do you think you can do the same? ;-)
Regarding Q7, Part iv: Have you met Paddy...?
5. head up display in contact lenses. I can't wait.
6. I don't even know if we have analytics on there - you certainly can't check out online - embarrassing really. Ah well, the less we sell, the more there is for us ;)
7. I like ii (and iii actually).
8. No. Sorry. That guy's a rockstar.
Low priority: Favorite Doctor? And favorite Companion? :)
Weirdly, I've never been into it. Heresy.
MJ or Lebron?
Dude. MJ. Seriously?
It was a test. You passed.
The real question is not MJ or Lebron (no comparison)...but MJ or Kobe?
When building a SEO team, do you prefer to get all rounders or specialists such as link builders, technical, content etc?
T-shaped - Mike explained it well: http://www.distilled.net/blog/seo/building-a-t-shaped-skill-set/
What's your favorite business book, or book that inspires you about business?
Good to Great
If you could have 24 hours in analytics and webmaster tools of any 3 sites, which ones and why?
I've been lucky enough to see into quite a few.
I'd love to see into Facebook, Twitter and Google's analytics (whatever platforms they are using)...
What are some of the "culture hacks" you have at Distilled? Small things you do as a company that are unconventional -- but effective.
We use Google+ (with posts restricted to the GoogleApps organisation) as our primary platform to share random ideas, thoughts and questions - confining email to only essential communications that need a direct answer.
We also have a "portal", that is just a skype call constantly running on old monitors between the London and Seattle offices. Although there isn't a huge cross-over in terms of office ours, we can wave to each other and generally catch up face to face through the portal, which is situated in the social areas of each office.
You know about the duck of awesomeness (http://onstartups.com/tabid/3339/bid/40478/Startup-Culture-Memes-Do-You-Have-A-Duck-Of-Awesomeness.aspx ) and memes in general.
Phil mentioned G+ which is one of my favourites.
Some more off the top of my head:
A weekly email round-up (I got this from Rand). We're still (just) managing this to be all hands but it's creaking and groaning. A short summary of the most significant thing from your week.
Weekly all-hands meetings (short presentation and Q&A) - shamelessly stolen from Google and not very unconventional.
"Happiness budget" - everyone gets £750 ($1,200) / year to spend on anything that will make them happier / more productive at work. Many use it like a "stuff budget" (headphones, bigger monitor etc) but it's also been used for all kinds of things including things that have positive externalities like wall stickers for the office.
Distilled-athon - getting the whole company together every ~18 months (we've only run one so far but we're planning the next) - this is a pretty big deal for a bootstrapped company like ours.
Beer o'clock - Friday ends with beers in the office
I'm sure I'll think of more...
Some other things that Duncan reminded me about:
We ran a "dragons den" (shark tank in the US) at our last distilledathon which let people pitch for how to spend £5k ($8k) on improving distilled. The winning pitch was to give everyone kindles with some curated books on them. All new joiners now get kindles on their first day.
We try to have fun with target-setting - we've bought new coffee machines, done a whisky tasting and taken people on holidays for hitting targets.
We call our brown bag lunchtime training sessions "learnches" (learn and lunch). Not sure that's a hack, but I like it :)
I love the idea of internally sourced business case development for how to spend a chunk of development budget. I'm going to see if I can steal that idea and put it into use. Thanks for sharing that!
Have you guys heard of https://www.uncover.com/ - Discounts/rewards for employees - allow for employee to choose.
I hadn't - will check it out. Thanks
I do indeed know about the Duck of Awesomeness. Thanks for sharing that -- and some of the other hacks you have in place. I like "Happiness Budget" -- good idea.
Great answers! The Happiness budget is a cracking idea, we might steal that ourselves...
Love this question ;)
I am about to launch a brand new site with a ton of very high-quality content in the travel niche. What should the first couple of months look like from a link-building perspective to increase the likelihood of success long-term? Thanks.
I would think less in terms of link building in the first months and more in terms of audience building. This is my favourite post on that topic (from Rand about his wife Geraldine's travel blog so relevant to your interests):
Thanks Will. I appreciate the answer and you taking time to give back so much to the SEO community. I'm looking forward to hearing you speak at mozCon.
thanks for taking the time to do this - some really good and insightful responses so far.
let's begin with whiskey first - have you ever tried canadian blends like crown royal and canadian club? i know the latter's around a bit here in the uk but a friend brought back crown royal and i was really, really impressed
secondly i wanted to hear some of your thoughts on education in digital marketing -- obviously you're passionate, as shown with you driving distilledu and while i know you've already said earlier in this very AMA that you're not desperate for 'certification' just yet for it but what about where we could go further in terms of courses in higher education (e.g. 18+) in digital marketing? i'm really just interested in hearing more thoughts on this as something that i value about our industry is that up until now, the hugely varied academic (and work) histories and journeys that have brought people into the digital marketing space makes it particularly interesting as there's such an open and broad scope in how we go forward too, and if we set a path in stone of how people arrive into these careers, it might narrow that down - well i don't fully back this argument but it's just a concern i have.
I haven't tried much Canadian whiskey. I have enjoyed a rye once or twice, but I wouldn't call myself an expert [always open to trying new things though].
On the education space - I tend to prefer vocational training on the job and have higher education stuff be more academic. I'm not someone who subscribes to the idea that everyone necessarily needs to go to university. I had an amazing time, but that was partly because the stuff I was good at and wanted to do worked well in a university setting. I'm not sure everything does. I'm not too worried about the diversity of our industry - I don't think that's going away any time soon...
i know you've called it a night will but i'm going to respond to these comments in case you feel free to have the time to reply in the future regardless.
so, the whiskeys i mentioned were indeed rye ones so yeah - please take my question earlier as a recommendation of something to try!
with regards to the chat on education -- okay let me go about this a different way, what if in ten years time digital marketing courses are part and parcel of university/college education - how would you go about that?
because in my mind that's inevitable right? so i feel like we should, as an industry, already be planning ahead to accommodate it - i mean, we all agree digital marketing (seo/link building) changes year on year yeah? so how do we future-proof it or are we expecting what we do to be purely vocational training post-traditional academia? because i'm not sure if i agree/or like that sort of strategy at all really, in the long term-not that i'm saying it's your responsibility to worry about it, but i'd just like to a wider discussion about it-although i appreciate this may not be the place for that.
thanks for the reply in any case.
What was the process and motivation for deciding the free day of Distilled U? Was it an effort to show the community a deeper look in the the content? Were you just at a pub and decided to go free for a day?
Also, what changes to the infrastructure (hosting, content delivery) did you implement in order to handle the increase in traffic?
I can't honestly remember (so maybe it was in the pub!).
I think Duncan had the idea of a $1 month (inspired by http://www.conversion-rate-experts.com/seomoz-case-study/) and I decided to try taking that to its logical extreme.
We didn't change anything technical (apart from the changes needed to open it up for a day) - the spike is way lower than we've had to the blog in the past. We've been working on speeding things up generally though - hopefully you'll all notice that it's zippier as we roll out some changes in the coming weeks.
Thanks for the AMA, Will.
What would you say is the hardest part(s) of starting an SEO agency?
Starting? Getting clients.
Shortly afterwards? Making / keeping those clients happy...
Hey Will, Nice work here really illuminating questions and answers.You mentioned surrounding yourself with successful friends etc motivating you, to what extent do you think your time at Cambridge and Oxbridge education in general instills a culture that leads to later success?
I think it's huge. Probably one of the most lasting effects of my education.
I think it had a big impact on my attitude in a couple of ways:
- holy shit everyone here is waaaay better than me (not true; I was middle of the pack academically - but quite a change from being a big fish in a small pond at school)
- look how much fun it is to be surrounded by people who are good at shit [Cambridge runs the gamut from zero social skills to the classic "well rounded concert pianist olympian" - both are fascinating]
- Supervisions (1-1 or 2-1 tuition) are brutal preparation for real-world feedback and for hard (sometimes unsolvable) problems
- Success is nonlinear - the people who are really good at things aren't a little better than you and me - they are an order of magnitude better
- Smart != successful - you need to be able to get things done as well
- Understanding something is not the same as explaining it - I will never forget my algebraic topology lecturer who was fields-medal smart but couldn't explain anything worth a damn [see: conference presentations]
- You can fit into any social situation with a little effort - from fancy dinners (which way to pass the port?) to mathematicians' society garden parties (aaaaaaagh)
- There's always a Hungarian in the audience [Cambridge mathmo joke, sorry]
Hi Will, nice one for doing an AMA.
hreflang... Seen you guys at Distilled talking about it, and I know it's also covered in DistilledU (I was the guy who thought you'd written to exercise wrong, but turns out it was me)! :-) What's your take on it? Worked with many clients on it? Any case studies/success stories? What can Google do to help webmasters and SEOs to implement it more pain-free and properly?
Also, what are your future plans for DistilledU? It's a great resource! Just wondering if there's anything in the pipeline that you're happy to disclose at this stage...? ;-)
I'm not the best person to talk about the intricacies of hreflang (I know the principles, but @dsottimano is probably the guy to hit up for that).
Plans for DistilledU:
- Public roadmap of modules here: https://trello.com/board/distilledu-public-roadmap/4f27ebb65ddaf2d9782e0290
- Some kind of testing / multiple choice exams coming soon
- Integrating it with the rest of the Distilled site (so you can comment on the blog with your DistilledU account etc)
- Toying with some more things to help job seekers
Thank you :-)
Who's your favourite wrestler?
I don't think I have a favourite wrestler. Who should be my new favourite wrestler (and why)?
Some agency-specific questions for you:
1) How do you set job performance metrics and expectations with new consultants during year 1, particularly for consultants starting with minimal experience? How do those expectations change after a consultant becomes more experienced?
2) What do you consider to be the best business level metrics to track for an agency? That stuff that comes to my mind would be common consulting financial metrics such as revenue per employee, and metrics regarding client churn and average client history length, but I'm curious to know what Distilled prioritizes and how that's changed as you've grown.
1. formal performance metrics is actually something we are only really just getting to. Up to now, we've grown fine with relatively informal continuous feedback, on-the-job development and rapid levelling-up. Different people progress at different speeds - some move quickly to become expert in specific areas, others become comfortable in front of clients quickly, others build a name and a reputation for themselves (discover, implement, share). We push them through that loop just a little faster than they're comfortable with.
For our more experienced consultants, a lot of things boil down to client happiness - you should bend Rob's ear about it next time you see him.
2. at the very top level of the business, Duncan drives the business through weekly reports from his direct reports (including me in this instance). Most of the critical ones are actually relatively unrelated to the specifics of the business - they tend to relate to "how close to the plan are we?" [whether that's marketing, sales, finance, operations].
Our KPIs change depending on which areas need the most attention, but might include things like:
- Capacity vs. booked work
- Pipeline coverage (i.e. what % of our open opportunities do we need to close to hit budget)
- Cashflow forecast (especially 13-week minimum)
- Levels of leads / opportunities coming into the business (also things like ticket sales for upcoming conferences)
But actually, I think we're finding that the executive summaries are more important than the figures in many cases. Smart people pulling the numbers and then reporting on the *story* is the important part - and that changes week to week / month to month.
Thanks for your time - that's a helpful response. Although, my team may not appreciate this snippet: "We push them through that loop just a little faster than they're comfortable with."
Really enjoying this AMA Will! Didn't realise you were a Cambridge grad, I used to live nearby and graduated from Durham a couple of years ago (yes I was a Cambridge reject...)
John mentioned that you guys were discussing the FullContact API a while ago - I'd imagine that there would be a lot of potential to use it for segmenting large email lists, market research and plenty of other cool hacks! Just wondering what your perspective was on scraping social data and whether or not you have already/intend to integrate with them at Distilled?
I have a starred email from them telling me that I have access to the API but I haven't had a chance to do anything with it :(
We do have a daily email digest of new signups to DistilledU - which would be the obvious place to integrate with it.
How much for a link?
Well actually Matt, what your site needs isn't more links, it's better keyword targeting, maybe some "quality content" on the homepage. You might want to mention "search engine" in your title tag. That kind of thing.
Bahahahaha! I don't like sharing my name with anyone but you're ok sometimes.
What's your general perception of your brother's performance as leader of the Labour party? Do you think he stands a chance a realistic chance of taking a majority in 2 years time and if not, could you foresee yourself coming back into the fray to challenge him for leadership at any point in the future? If so - under what circumstances?
Can you talk about pricing your services? Say you have a number of clients and you need/want to raise prices as you grow. I think most of us know that most good SEO firms are growing very rapidly now. How do you get from 1 or 2 employees to 10 while raising prices and keeping current clients happy? Grandfather them in? Sign X length contracts and it's new pricing after that? (Everyone I'm doing is month to month so I have a lot of flexibility. I don't want to lose them all but I do need to near-about double pricing...which is scary. But I'm overwhelmed with work so I want to keep that coming.)
The man to listen to about consulting pricing is Patrick McKenzie (patio11 on Hacker News). Start here:
- Put your prices up for new clients
- Tell your old clients you have done so - but don't force them to re-up or leave immediately - assume many will not survive multiple rounds of significant increases and look to find them a great new provider when you can afford to lose them (it's then just a bonus if they want to stay)
Thanks Will! Appreciate the time.
Hi Will,I really enjoyed your post about mathematical ideas for marketers. Some of those things such as time series for example. I have been using in a practical sense with my work and analysis tools I've been building. I've also been recently pushing myself to code, specifically Python to continue building more awesome things and handle more data. I've heard you also like to roll up your sleeves and code too. My question is - Do you have any other practical examples of tools you or your team have built or ways you have implemented more complex mathematical ideas to more efficiently do something or analyze data with Distilled or on your own time? Sort of just looking for more ideas of what I can be doing with this great power.
Hmmm. I think I gave away my best ideas in that post. I would really like to try some machine learning (@tomanthonyseo is our machine learning guy).
I really enjoyed Ian Lurie's presentation on the topic:
Thanks Will. The machine learning definitely sounds interesting and practical.
Right. I'm done. Thank you everyone. I'm calling that a night (past midnight here in the UK).
I really appreciate everyone who came and asked questions. I hope you enjoyed the answers.
I'll leave you with three links:
Searchlove Boston is coming up in a couple of weeks: http://www.distilled.net/events/searchlove-boston/
DistilledU is still free for a few hours (until midnight PST) and then it's back to it's normal crazy cheap price: http://www.distilled.net/u/
Register your interest in coming out to Searchlove San Diego in September to get exclusive discounts: http://searchlove.distilled.net/
Late to this one but interesting read...thanks!
How much of Whiskey can you drink in 'one go' aka one night o nthe computer when you dont have to wake up too early
Working? I'd rarely have any - occasionally one. I'd rather drink it with friends. Also - I always have to wake up early (see: kids).
I contacted your company for SEO consulting, and Stephanie Coles said you guys aren't accepting new clients. True?
I believe we are currently booked through till July / August. Sorry about that.
Hi WIll, I hope you are still taking questions. Considering i have 6 months left to apply for a post in distilled(for SEO), how should i prepare myself to become distilled ready?
Some great articles written on the subject by colleagues and friends:
Thanks for the Reply Will. I am already an inhouse SEO(2 years) for one of the biggest non-profits in the world. I was asking specifically, if there's someone who is looking to join distilled and have six months with them what should they do other than being smart, get shit done and technically inclined and being a social geek(stole these from your job description for SEO analyst ;) )
I was wondering how your agency has been handling the iOS6 issue of SEO traffic being shown as direct? Have you found any good reporting to get around it?
I'm not sure there's really anything to be done at a detailed level - Shahzad's write-ups are the best coverage I've seen:
Hey will a few questions:
1- Can you tell us about your transition from just SEO to Online marketing and how you went about it especially on the client side (I saw your tagline changed, when you guys mention work at conferences it tends to encompass a lot more than SEO etc...)
2- What's the goal with DistilledU? An attempt to get out of consultancy? A way to get more leads for consulting work? A pastime for a bored business owner? A real ideal you want to push out?
3- Can you elaborate on the way you train people up the "distilled way"
4- How do you go about switching client's attention from rankings/traffic/link built to building a brand, customer engagement and long term assets?
1. I would tend to say that the label has changed (in both directions) more than the work. We have been very focused on overall business metrics since before we spent all our time talking about "SEO". We tend to expend a lot of energy on education - we want our clients focusing on their businesses rather than some made-up metric that won't drive real success for them. We're not there yet - we still get enquiries asking for a specific number of specific link types - but more and more of our projects have a remit that includes conversion rate, non-search channels, branded queries etc.
- short-term and medium-term - of course it scratches an itch, it adds some revenue but it puts our money on the line regarding something we truly believe - that sharing knowledge is a good thing for our brand, our people and our industry
- long-term - we see it as a true differentiator of Distilled in two key ways: 1. we get an improved gross margin giving us flexibility and power to discover and implement new things and 2. as today's digital marketers become tomorrow's marketing directors, VPs and CMOs, the fact that we helped so many of them get started will come back round to us a nice virtuous circle
3. It encompasses a few ideals:
- Sharing the best knowledge we can
- Believing in the power of curiosity - all our training requires people to be self-motivated and to go out to dive deep into specific areas of interest on their own
- Focusing on an understanding of real business drivers - whether it be understanding margins or the need to focus on things that are big enough to move the needle in a large organisation
4. We actually spend a lot of time and energy on working with the right clients - not everyone is ready to make the leap. For those who aren't ready yet, see my answer to q. 3. When we have clients who are keen and smart but not quite there yet, we focus on pitching the big picture and how the world could be different for them but importantly also on shipping the smaller things that get immediate tangible benefit for them, their bosses and their businesses.
Hope that helps!
Thanks Will that was indeed helpful!
Hi Will,I currently work in organizing an event called Startup Weeked of my beautiful city, Medellin, Colombia.It is an event for entrepreneurs. This is my question:What do you think is the best inbound marketing strategy for start-ups? and How do you motivate entrepreneurs to not surrender in event that their strategy is not working?
Thank you very much and great admiration for his work.
Distilled/U/ (Y) <3
Strategically, I believe that startups should be building permission assets - groups of people who are excited to hear what they have to say (tactically, I'm a big fan of email marketing).
The best ways of building those groups is typically some combination of activity (content production, community management) and channel (search, social).
To answer the second half of your question - I talk about flywheels and my personal experiences (see: http://www.willcritchlow.com/post/11620060678/flywheels ). I have plenty more examples just like that one...
Hey, Sir Will Critchlow, Do you teach Search Engine optimization? If you do it, can you teach me? hope you won't mind. :) Is it the first step to internet marketing? I really adore the world of internet marketing. I admire lot of great digital marketers like you. I am really into digital marketing. How much time will it take me to learn the whole process of digital marketing. I am much involved in it haha!
I don't personally run training (or only rarely for our consulting clients) but I write a lot of the material in our online training platform: www.distilled.net/u/
Not really a question, more of a request...if you decide to play hoops at Mozcon, can I get an invite? I share the ball, talk on defense, and get offensive rebounds. Thanks for doing this AMA, I got a ton out of it.
I have no idea if I'll get a chance to ball at mozcon. I'm not there for that long. I'll definitely tweet out info if I do so watch for that and drop me a line to coordinate...
Will do, look forward to meeting you there. Thanks!
Hey,what is the good strategy to promote the b2c portal which sells the chemical , It is going to launch in few days,
Hope for good advice and help from you.
Hey Will. If you were to start a company from scratch, what would be the top 3 things that you would prioritize in terms of marketing that new company on the internet? Thanks.
We all know that Google are against paid links but here is something that I was thinking about. If Google use social based links in the same way as normal links as a ranking factor - what happens if you pay others to promote your services on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc? Will Google see this as paid links or just as paid advertising as all links are pure URL based? I am not talking about spammy $10 shares but real genuine advertising from real business networks.