Interview with Craig Bradford of Distilled

Can you tell us about yourself a little bit? What was your path to SEO, I know that your education had nothing to do with anything digital or marketing.

Yeah, like most people I don’t come from marketing background, I just studied engineering and then yes, I started working on websites while still at university. But then I figured that just by launching the websites we couldn’t get any traffic, so I started walking down the trap of SEO. I started working for myself, so I was self-employed for a couple of years, working with small businesses, which was great, because it allowed me to clear out all the main stuff and get paid for it – that was a big-big plus!  And then a couple of years ago I applied for a job at Distilled and it was a great success really, as I am working here for a couple of years now and it’s awesome, I love it!


So now you are both a consultant at Distilled and somehow involved with SEOmoz, right? How did it happen and what do you do for SEOmoz?

Sure, a few years ago SEOmoz and Distilled partnered basically. SEOmoz moved from consultancy just to software and then they made an official partnership with Distilled. It had something to do with referrals and finally they gave back any client work to Distilled.

From my personal point of view it is a great experience, as we were helped out with some clients and then we sent some speakers to talk at MozCon, other stuff like that, and also they came over to speak at our conferences as well. Lots of day-to day things, like SEOmoz Q&A that we help out, the content creation and lots of this kind of things where we can just jump out and help.

And what is the history of that friendship of SEOmoz and Distilled? Do you know how that happened?

I think, Distilled were involved in SEOmoz community just, you know, literally for years and has been commenting, actively writing blog posts and that sort of things. And then I guess Rand came to London, well that may be wrong, but I am sure, it was Rand who came to London and Distilled took him out for a dinner and then they just got to know him really-really well and then when the time came they just managed to launch that idea.  I guess it was just classic networking – just take people out for dinner, make sure they like it, be smart. And it seemed to have worked for them.

Cool! And to the questions that are most crucial nowadays. Do you have some clients at Distilled that suffered from Penguin Update and if yes, what do you do about them? Did you manage to help them somehow?

I have not personally worked on Penguin hit clients, but we have a lot of people phone us since that happened because a lot of the low-level stuff does not work anymore. But we have been doing that for years, we have been telling a lot of people to focus on long-term; and for a long time it was frustrating to see the spammy stuff still working. But now it seems that Google have taken the tame and it’s working, they’ve actually managed to eradicate a lot of spam. With Penguin hit we did get a lot of clients that jumped forward and started calling us.

Again I have not personally worked on rehab, but I’ve seen some sites to recover, but it’s a long term stuff it is not just the case of swapping some big changes and getting back to the stuff you’ve been doing before. The biggest, the hardest pitch is actually convincing the business owner that what they’ve been doing wasn’t good for their business, – they were spamming for years, and I think that is the hardest thing – changing the mindset of the business owner to make them draw a line and say we need to stop here actually, forget all the stuff we’ve been doing before and we need to start investing into quality ads, nice design, fresh and good content, remove as many of the bad links as you can and really put good effort in that.

You have to cope with yourself.  Don’t just submit the re-inclusion request, because it is just going to be rejected, you have to make some effort at least. Remove as many of the bad links as you can, keep a record of all the things you do, if you email webmasters make sure that you include the screenshots that contain all that, – was it replied back, what they said; submit in your reconsideration request as much evidence as you can to prove that you’ve changed and that you really mean to invest in better SEO. If you’ve been using a bad agency you need to mention it as well, you know that, but it’s up to you really.

So, do you believe that for Google to lift the filter it will be enough sometimes just to start doing a better SEO and quit your bad SEO habits and with time good stuff is just going to overweight bad stuff?

Yes, I do. But I think that you need to understand what you have done wrong and try to fix that and let Google know about it. It’s not like you need just say sorry to Google, you have to actually work very hard. And we have seen people submit re-inclusion requests and they came back when they still got some links to clean there, but that was not a big mess. Actually Google want you to tell them what you have been doing wrong and be completely honest about it and try to clean the bad stuff you’ve done.

And have you see or maybe heard about some sites that were unfairly punished?

I’ve heard a lot. But..

You don’t believe it?

It’s very-very rare.  I think that most businesses for shorter or for longer period of time have done some sort of low-level link-building. And it was just because at that time that worked. You can imagine those local businesses or small business owners; they didn’t see that there was anything wrong with that! I think that it’s not just that they’ve been unfairly punished; the thing is they just don’t realize what they were doing.

So with all that updates like Panda and Penguin you are on Google’s side, you think that was a very right decision?

Yes, definitely.

And as for Distilled as a company, have you started getting more clients after all those updates?

We have, but we are really picky with what we get, because sometimes if the site is so bad and the business owner’s expectations are that we are going to change it just like that (snaps his fingers), it’s not going to happen.

Obviously, I understand that people have started getting less traffic, making less sales and to make things better they need to invest even more money and that’s surely hard. But we have certainly seen a jump in a number of sites who are investing in better SEO they do not want to do the old stuff anymore and we took our benefit as a result. 

Yep, it is difficult to compete honestly, it hurts…

It’s a very hard argument to have, yeah, and it usually goes like: “No, we can’t buy a link. – Why not? They are doing it and they are ranking number 1. Why can’t we?” It’s unfair in lots of cases, but you are building a business, not just a website. If you are going to start something up and stay online just for a month, that’s fine, go buy links, because that will work! And you might even rank number one, but the next day if it burns and if you don’t want to end your business then don’t do it. If it’s just an affiliate site and you can afford that – fine, but if you are actually going to invest in something then don’t get stuck on that stuff, because it will not end up well.

You’ve mentioned that you do not work with everybody at Distilled, so what are your criteria for the clients? 

Well, our sales team are really good at those kind of things, so we do not just work with anybody who comes, they discuss it with us SEOs, like – do you think we can help them? Will it be interesting for them? What we can do for them?..

But the main thing that we are looking for is sites that can actually change something. I don’t want to go work with a company where if I ask them to change something they will send me over to wait in their dev queue for another 6 months, you know. I don’t want to do that. So that is the first thing, – we make sure that people are actually going to make changes. And the second one is that it’s a long-term strategy that we are doing. So we can’t get focused on rankings month over month.

You know personal relationship matters really much. We had some successful projects in the past that we cancelled, because we felt hard towards the company or some things were slowly implemented. It’s just not a good framework, as they expect results, but they don’t want to do any changes, so yeah, they have to be willing actually to get the stuff done.

And if we are talking about some sites that are using aggregated content and techniques like that and you understand that it is obviously very bad practice, but it is difficult to change, will you accept them and try to help them or you will just let them go?

Well, we have offices in London, New York and Seattle and I am no always aware of what clients they’ve taken on that has been spinning content,- I’ve never had to work and try to fix something in sites with thousands and thousands of spammy pages, yeah, thankfully! 🙂 But if I was, it depends. If it has not been hit already…

Funny story I did have a client that has recommended another site that they spinned content on their site and they hadn’t been hit yet, but it was obvious that they were going to be hit. But if they just removed all the content they wouldn’t be getting any traffic, so in that scenario what we actually decided to do was – leave the content, but start updating it, so that instead of having tons of crappy pages, keep those pages, but start making them good pages.

We tried to work on those pages, invest in them, do it as a high priority, it should be a number one thing. But don’t just chop off all your pages, because you will lose your traffic anyway, do it sensibly, start working on a better way to do it.

As a consulting company, you are not doing any link-building, am I right?

No, why? We do, we build links.

And how does it work is there some kind of a team working at each project? or you are working on all the aspects of your project alone?

Yes, we do have certain teams, that’s right, but a consultant typically plans a project, but we also sometimes build links if our outreach team. People who are specializing in creating great content and getting it accepted at other sites, but if they are overloaded with other projects, so I will have to do it myself.

So we typically do link building. And typically the type of link building that we are doing is content; it’s good pieces of content that get links, because of what they are. It is not like we go and submit sites to some places, this is not the kind of link building that we are doing. We make content good enough so that people would want to link to it, so we spend time reaching people, contacting sites, exposing the content to them in many ways, so that it eventually gets links.

And when you are building links does it matter for you is it a do-follow, no-follow, branded or keyword-rich anchor text?

A do-follow is always better, but if you get a good piece of content on a good site, you’ll get traffic from it anyway. So in lots of cases I do not care about the type of a link, but it depends on a project.

The search engines are smart enough to realize that, they treat it like citations, so I do not believe that do follow or no follow really counts that much, if you are generating the right things and you are placing them in the right places, certainly the search engines will know that you are doing a real business stuff. And I was also thinking and what I was seeing over the past few years that a lot of what is used in traditional off-line marketing is now working online.

It’s the same with being mentioned in the newspaper, you are a brand, so why shouldn’t it work online if it works offline? So whether it’s a link or not (surely the link is going to be better still), but you shouldn’t get fixed on that.

And as for smm (social media marketing) do you offer it like a separate service?  Or you are doing it in a complex?

We are doing all that ourselves at the moment, we don’t have a dedicated team for that, sowe don’t sell it as a separate service, but most of consultancy if not all of it at Distilled is something social anyway. So typically it is just a part of the process, when a consultant is supplying a project it goes from content generation to design, can go social whatever version of that is.

In most cases if you are getting a link, then you are getting social, because that’s what we are working hard on. A tweet or a share is less important than actually having some good stuff on your site and get it linked. So basically we think that if we are really doing a good job then the social aspect can take care of itself pretty much. But we do sit at all the usual social platforms to try and attract traffic from all those kinds of stuff.

The last question. I saw at Distilled site that you are looking to hire people with no experience in SEO whatsoever, is it so? And what are other requirements for the candidates?

Yes, most of our consultants don’t come from an SEO background. But the main thing we are looking for is getting stuff done, you have to be productive and smart and you have to be willing to work on your own. Because a lot of the training that you get at Distilled is not just someone sitting down and teaching you how to keep a research, it’s more like someone is saying go and keep a research and you are doing it on your own.

So you really should train more your own self and of course ask questions if you don’t know how something is done. But we are all self-organized and although we do work in small teams, but everyone is pretty much his own boss, so it’s basically when you get to a consultant level you can do everything you want.

Thank you very much!




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Interview with Craig Bradford of Distilled

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