After graduating from Cambridge University, Will Critchlow founded Distilled in 2005 with business partner, Duncan Morris. Starting out in web development, the focus soon migrated towards SEO and PPC, when Will’s brother, Tom, joined the team. In 2010 they joined forces with SEOmoz to create on of the most successful SEO organisations in the world. Distilled now have offices in London, New York and Seattle offering internet marketing services, especially SEO, to businesses of all sizes, up to Fortune 500 brands. Heavy Chef was fortunate enough to get some insight from Will this week.
Hi Will. So Distilled began as a web development agency. How did the focus shift to SEO and PPC?
We have always been very focussed on the business benefits of what we do. Back when we were building websites for small businesses, we built our USP around the commercial awareness that was sadly lacking in so many of our competitors.
That naturally led us to talk to our clients about how they could make the most out of their websites and we started offering them SEO advice and running marketing campaigns. As our confidence and skills grew, we started offering stand alone services in these areas. It was around this time that Tom, my brother, joined to head up our new search department. It grew quickly and we found ourselves growing our profile and working with larger and larger clients.
Quitting the web development business was a hard decision, it was how we got our start, after all. But from a pure business perspective, it was pretty straight forward when you looked at the numbers.
In your opinion, when is it best to use SEO over PPC and vice versa? Do you follow a basic checklist when deciding which will be more appropriate?
I don’t see them as alternatives particularly. Many businesses use both with great success, and it’s worth noting that even if you don’t do SEO, you still are likely getting organic traffic from the search engines.
The biggest times where I tend to advise avoiding a specific channel are where overnight success is important, and budget is not a problem, as only paid channels can bring you instant results. And secondly, where revenue models work on the basis of very low amounts per visitor. For example, ad-supported business models, where it is rare to find paid visitor acquisition successful.
What challenges have you faced in this business that you have learnt a valuable lesson from?
As described above, quitting the web design business was a very tough decision, as it was where we started from. We were very worried about many of the details but as soon as we actually did it, we knew it was the right answer. This was an example of a lesson we are still learning. As soon as you are 70% sure about something, you should go for it.
We know that you teamed up with SEOmoz. Can you explain what this partnership meant for Distilled?
The SEOmoz partnership has been huge for us. Here is some more information from back when we announced various parts of the evolution. The biggest and most exciting part of the whole thing is that we continue to see the future of online marketing in very much the same way as the SEOmoz crew. That makes me happy as we look to the future.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to start a digitally focused business in an industry that is always changing and evolving?
Hire the smartest people you can. Things change so fast that you need people who can keep up. I explained this to someone the other day as specialist generalists. You need people who can broadly do anything, but who focus on becoming specialist in a chosen area at a time.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Heavy Chef, Will. You continue to inspire us as Distilled grows from strength to strength. Follow Will on Twitter here.