#Passion2Action: Interview With Michael Chidzey Founder Of John Cabot

John Cabot is an SEO agency founded by Michael Chidzey, alongside his other business EventOrganiser.com, a London event specialist. We discuss quitting his job as marketing director at one of the UK’s largest event companies to start his own business from scratch, tips to growing a business online and how a new business navigates (and survives) a global pandemic.

S: How have the last few months been for you and your businesses?

M: I’m actually really good at the moment, especially with the headlines in recent papers all being about the vaccine being rolled out first in the UK. It really feels like the beginning of the end of all this, which is exciting.

In terms of business, Coronavirus has obviously devastated some industries, including the event industry, which has hurt clients and had a knock-on effect on agencies like us. When we went into lockdown for the first time round, I read the book The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday and was inspired to use this time as an opportunity to rethink, reflect, restructure, and do those things that I’m always saying I never have time to do. I personally tried to remain positive and focus on doing right by our clients and the people around us.

S: There are literally thousands of SEO (search engine optimisation) agencies out there. What makes John Cabot different?

M: Rather than coming from an agency background, I was previously marketing director inhouse at one of the UK’s largest event companies for over 10 years. This means I’ve personally experienced and understand our clients, their challenges and how important every penny is. Having never worked for a digital marketing agency, everything John Cabot does is entirely unique to us, including our values and methods.

Our clients are very much the heart of all we do. It sounds corny, but we do genuinely believe it. That’s why we’re always brutally honest with any prospective clients if we aren’t right for them, or they aren’t right for us. Our ambition isn’t to become the biggest agency, just one of the best and one we can be proud of, that’s why if a business comes to us with a bad product or copycat website looking to grab some quick cash, we’ll probably politely decline if they don’t deserve better rankings – it’d be a crime not to.

We work incredibly hard and take the time to listen and understand our clients, which means we’re also honest if we don’t feel like we can do them justice and never feel threatened referring them to our competitors if it’s what’s best for them. That’s not to say we’re not also extremely competitive.

S: Are you personally competitive?

M: Very. I’d be lying if I said I’m fine with numbers going down sometimes – I just don’t like it. To work in SEO, you’ve got to be incredibly competitive. Whether you are in sports or business or doing what I do where we help organisations grow their business online, nobody does this to be 30th. You always have to strive to be more successful than your competition. And the day that stops, you have to stop doing SEO for a living. To be good, you genuinely have to have that drive.

Even as a child, if I was losing Monopoly, I’d persuade the other players to allow me to take IOUs from the banker to extend the gameplay until I’d win. Giving up was never an option.

S: How does it feel when a client reaches the top spots on Google?

M: It validates everything we do day-to-day, and reassures us that our process works. We’re constantly learning, testing and adapting our own websites to discover what actually works so we can apply it to our clients. If they don’t succeed, we have to take a step back and reassess everything. If none of our clients had grown or sold any more products, however, we have failed them.

When a client is doing well it reminds me personally why I do this in the first place. Yes, we get more traffic, we earn more money and everything is fantastic – but if we are not doing what we set out to do and actually promised, then we have failed ourselves too.

S: Why a career in SEO?

M: I like it, it’s as simple as that. Helping train a team and seeing them earn their first pieces of coverage in a national newspaper or helping an exciting, growing business find and choose a new team member – it’s great. Plus there’s the buzz of never knowing what Google will do next, new challenges and especially businesses deciding to rebrand or launch a new service.

It’s incredibly rewarding when our campaigns get nation-wide attention and you’re a big part of something people are talking about. Nothing beats the feeling of hearing from friends or family that they came across one of your stories or tells me about a cool new business they’ve come across that happens to be one of my clients. I genuinely love it.

S: What made you choose to start your own business?

M: I absolutely loved my last company, the people, the role, the opportunities. It was a never-ending adventure, from partnering to open the Big Brother house for parties and events and building the largest bra in the world and hanging it from the ITV Tower, to working with ex-football legends and letting celebs take over our email campaigns. We even founded Team GB for the Naked Sledding World Championships in Germany.

All good things must come to an end, and I felt like I’d grown as much as I could there. I wanted new challenges and being able to wake up knowing everything was within my control with my own business. I’d always aimed to be good enough at something that I become my own boss, and it feels great to have made it from the weekends and evenings I spent using Ace Hotel’s lobby as my office.

S: You launched not only one business, but two. What makes EventOrganiser.com different?

M: We’ve tried to come up with a model where there is literally no reason not to use us. It costs the same as going directly to venues or suppliers yourself. It’s London-only. This means we can personally view and vet everything before it goes on our website. No one can pay to be featured, so it’s entirely based on our expert opinions. London is the best destination for events in the world so I want to earn the right for our clients to believe we are genuinely the best people to come to for events in London. Last year, our first event was a Middle Eastern company looking to host the Mixed Martial Arts World Championship tour at London’s Velodrome Arena. We very quickly hired experienced event partners to bring the client’s vision to life so that I could continue to focus on SEO.

Obviously, with lockdowns and coronavirus, we aren’t getting to host our usual parties, team building days, weddings, gigs, conferences and meetings, but I have no doubt events will be back soon. I just hope all my colleagues, friends and suppliers from across the industry have been able to weather this dark period for the events industry.

Also, the company works perfectly as my playground to test things out in SEO. Continuous testing is essential, but your clients don’t want you using them as guinea pigs, so having projects like EventOrganiser.com means that I can test the things I want to try.

S: What is a typical day like for you?

M: I’m often up at 5-6 in the morning to start phoning clients in Australia to catch them before they finish for the day. Working with clients across the world who choose us is an absolute honour, so of course I’m happy to wake up a little earlier for them. I then work in chunks throughout the day, and I can easily work until 10 o’clock at night watching conference videos or reading SEO blog posts. I’m lucky that I really enjoy what I do, I’m able to focus when I need to, and we’ve got experts all over the world that we work with.

S: What are your best tips for improving your website’s SEO?

M: Primarily, you’ve got to have somebody in the organisation who knows what they are talking about. When it comes to anything technical, you’ll want to make sure you get the fundamentals right. I’ve seen it where people can get caught up about the wrong things, launch a website and their rankings tank overnight because they focused on images and copy rather than whether Google Bot can access, crawl, index and rank the new website. You should also consolidate any microsites into one all-powerful website as it’s easier to do one thing really well then manage multiple websites.

I think it’s really important to understand your users, their tastes and their pain-points to make sure you actually deserve to rank. I don’t think you can create websites or content well unless you can see it from their perspective. It’s essential to think about whether this is something they would genuinely want to read or watch. That also means the content and user experience has to be better than your search competitors.

Patience is key – if you want to be rewarded in search it does take a while and I recommend you make major changes in stages, rather than all in one go. I find the more teams enjoy the getting there, the more successful they tend to be. Take time to come up with creative ways to build links and decent content – earning valuable links is so important. Remember rankings are out of your control, and you are probably going to get fed up, disheartened and people will say this is useless. You have to learn how to do it well, manage expectations and stay on track at being the best option online just like you do in real life.