Getting to know you: Michael Chidzey, Founder of John Cabot

Michael Chidzey, founder of London-based, digital marketing agency John Cabot which specialises in SEO (search engine optimisation) speaks to Business Matters about his journey and ambitions.

Here Michael discusses how to grow an organisation online,Texas barbecue and how important it is to never stop learning.

What do you currently do at John Cabot?

What I love. It may sound cheesy, but seriously! SEO is a challenge I always enjoy jumping into, but what I love the most is how every day is completely unique. That’s thanks to every client being unique, from their goals and capabilities to their challenges which require individual solutions. One day I might be upskilling an inhouse team or executing a PR campaign, while the next I’m overseeing a website migration. Luckily, I’m not alone, I surround myself with a great team of experts.

When I’m not working on a project, training or problem-solving, I’m learning and testing new things out for myself. Google, the web and technology in general are always changing, so in my industry, it’s incredibly important to constantly learn, test and adapt, especially when advising clients or delivering training.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

Five or six years ago, when I was the marketing director of events company, Chillisauce, I attended one of the world’s best conferences. It was here I quickly realised that everything we were already doing was so much more creative, different and achieving better results than the case studies on show – I had to be doing something right.

To give you an idea of what I mean, links and coverage from national newspapers is generally the exception, not the rule, but at Chillisauce we’d come to expect that level of success from our team and campaigns. The speakers were talking about infographics, guides or surveys as creative ways to get other websites to link to you. That year we, however, had launched an X Factor-style competition for the first-ever Team GB competitor in Germany’s Naked Sledding World Championships, opened up the real Big Brother House for parties and events, and built and sold the Guinness World Records’ World’s Largest Bra on eBay for charity among tons of other campaigns.

What I love about SEO and Google is that you are rewarded for doing things that are hard and difficult for others to replicate, for being the best, being creative, and standing out. When you get it right, the internet can do your job for you. I wanted to start an agency that helps organisations grow online focuses on what really matters to them and, by extension, the people behind our clients’ search queries. I had no agency experience, only my insights from the client-side, leaving me free to build a new kind of SEO agency.

Who do you admire?

Without question, Aaron Franklin – Texas BBQ pitmaster and owner of Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin, which has grown into one of the most popular and famous barbecue joints in the world. Every day, people get up early and line up outside Aaron’s restaurant for hours before lunch. They’ve won every major barbecue award there is. Despite this overwhelming success, Aaron would rather have a single, thriving restaurant than a huge chain. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

The food is so delicious. Not only do I have to visit the restaurant whenever I’m in Austin, but I’ve read Aaron’s books, watched his TV shows, even completed courses by him. But what makes him different from any other pitmaster in Texas? It’s the combination of his personality, work ethic, his skills for understanding how things work – he is always designing and tinkering with his smokers for optimal smoking – and his attention to detail when it comes to cooking meat – every log on the fire and every brisket is cared for, as is every person who visits. That’s the same level of dedication I aspire for us to bring to our clients.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Say “no” more. This business is not a popularity contest, and instead, it’s better to work with good people that you can genuinely help instead of being swayed by those huge budgets. Earning and maintaining those top positions is already a constant battle to win and it really does help if the company deserves to rank. Unlike others, we won’t promise a prospective client those top rankings if we don’t believe it possible simply to make quick cash. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wake up every Monday morning actually looking forward to what I do – what more could you want?

What defines your way of doing business?

We’re all about choosing long-term growth over short-term wins, where every day we do what we can to advance closer to our north stars.

At John Cabot we help people present the best possible versions of their organisations to users and search engines so that they increase visibility across the search results and generate leads/sales. When it comes to the search results, it’s Google’s mission to organise the web and provide the best possible results to satisfy search queries which is why our secret to better rankings is to help the organisation to deserve it. Be the best, just like Franklin’s BBQ. Offer a website that looks great, is easy to use and contains high quality, genuinely useful content. Get people talking. Realise that building trust and credibility takes time. We don’t rely on hacks or gimmicks, just what we believe is the best approach to doing well online.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Be patient. If you want to get good, it’s through experience, learning and, of course, making mistakes. Not everyone is prepared to wait that long, but I really recommend it. I gave myself a 10-year window to learn about this industry, and I have by no means achieved anything I want to achieve yet. It’s just the start. Slowly bit by bit, I started to have more hits, more successful campaigns, sold websites, learnt from failures. Seeing your client achieve their goals for the first time and transforming their business is the best feeling in the world. Truly incredible.

But to get to that point you have to always be learning and testing to get really good.

How do you see John Cabot progressing over the next year?

I always say that clients and results pay the bills. It is as simple as that. At the end of the day, you can’t survive without clients moving towards that number one ranking or at least close.  We’ve got to be delivering results, whether our clients are looking to increase sales, leads, donations, sign-ups, get bums on seats, appointments, votes or reduce advertising costs, our goal is to help them achieve that and do better online. If our clients are in those tops positions in search, getting high quality scores and implementing winning a/b tests then we are doing great at what we do – and that’s all we aspire to be. For me personally, I want to make sure I always know what I’m talking about thanks to learning and tinkering.