Lessons Learned from Two Weeks at Distilled

My name’s Ed Fry, I’m 16 years old and I’ve had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the Distilled office in Cannon Street, working with the SEO team. Besides learning more advanced search optimization skills, just commuting across London at rush hour was a mission in itself - I ended up hopelessly off-course on my first day - oh, and mastering underground etiquette was another new and alien experience.

Anyways, this post is a lil’ documentary of what I did and learnt.

Day 1 in the Distilled Office: “Lost in London”

Late, sweaty and slightly lost, I arrive at 72 Cannon Street and press the buzzer. A click announces the door hath been opened and I made my way up the stairs. Lynsey, who handles most of the HR at Distilled, meets me in the stairwell and welcomes me with a smile.

Walking through the doorway, the SEO team are sat on the sofa’s brainstorming this weeks blog posts. Distilled spend some of their time creating content for the Distilled blog but also for SEOmoz blog and recently Search Engine Land. Tom Critchlow, Head of Search is first to jump up and introduces himself, with the rest quick to follow.

The Distilled folks have an awesome office. As you walk in, there’s the sofas with an array of web-related magazines. To the right lies the boardroom and to the left, the main office space. Going round the corner, you pass the web dev team and enter the kitchen - when plentiful supplies of tea, coffee and fruit can be found.

 

 

distilled office

A mockup of the Distilled Office

Next, I get shown to my desk (yeah, my own desk!). Basking in the morning sunlight lay a souped-up dual-screen computer - my home away from home for the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a glass of water and stationary appears on my desk. So far, not too bad right?

Later that first morning, after setting up dozens of Google apps Distilled use, we got a two-hour ‘SEO training for n00bs’ from Tom. I say ‘we’ – Distilled had taken on two trainees, Mark and David who were learning SEO from scratch, and they were starting on the same date as me. So we bunkered down in the boardroom to learn how to do SEO, and how Distilled do SEO - yes there is a difference.

The afternoon brought about a talk in the boardroom with Duncan, where he sort of asked me what sort of stuff I had done before and what I wanted to get out of the two weeks. It was then also I asked about SEOmoz PRO membership. Moments later, I was staring at the SEOmoz PRO dashboard on my own account. If you’ve read about SEOmoz PRO before, you can see why I was excited about this.

So I sat around and played with the Moz toys (I love the juicy link finder)… until Tom approached me. He was planning an SEOmoz blog post on conversion rate optimization for newspaper paywalls and he needed to enlist some help in acquiring data to make an interesting and awesome post. Paywalls are a hot topic right now, especially since The Times Online has only just started charging for content here in the UK.

Finally, before I left on that last day, Lynsey comes up to and very politely suggested I take Exit 8 at Bank in future. Thank you!

Day 2 in the Distilled Office

I took the tube to Bank on Tuesday morning, yet I still emerged at Monument? None the less, I found the office on time and powered up my supercomputer. Distilled do SCRUM meetings in the morning, where management, web dev and the SEO teams will get together separately to discuss what each individual did yesterday and what they plan on doing today. It’s essentially a way of managing what other people are doing and keeping each other in the loop.

The SEO SCRUM netted me more work. Melissa, one of the SEO consultants was working on promoting a quiz to bloggers and aficionados in the entertainment industry – an relatively easy task; give fanatical fans exactly what they want! Matt Smith - Apple fanboy - then ran an introduction for Mark, David and myself to a new tool Distilled are trying called Toggl. Toggl is basically time-tracking software for small companies, the idea being that users log their time on each task in order to work out how many hours should be billed, staff utilization rates and how tasks are broken down over time.

Day 3 in the Distilled Office

I witnessed my first conversation on the Tube. It was in spanish. That says a lot!

The Wednesday morning saw me logging times in my Distilled Toggl account, detailing the day’s plan in the SEO SCRUM (read PRO Guide to Viral Marketing and Linkbait on the web + draft a YOUmoz post about growing up in the SEO ninjahood. Yeah.) as well as taking on more work. One of the Distilled clients was trying to promote a contest using Twitter and I was tasked with running the Twitter account.

Twitter is new to me. Sure, I have an account – but only to follow people, like you would with Google News. Tweeting to no audience (except perhaps bots) doesn’t appeal to the best of people, so all this contributes to the cause that this is new and alien territory… but I was here to learn something new, right?

Coming up with interesting tweets, enough to keep followers interested, whilst blending in blatantly self-promotional tweets was tough! I ended up using tools like Trendistic to see what people were talking (sorry, ‘tweeting’) about and to map my awesome facts and finds on top of that.

Day 4 in the Distilled Office

With some spare time, a quick message to Tom ‘unlocks’ another task. Distilled also do conversion rate optimization for their clients and having done previous successful work for someones internal page, they wanted to redo their homepage, confident in achieving better click-through rates.

Tom introduced me to a tool called Balsamiq. It allows you to create graphical mockups of webpages which you can then send to a dev team to code, and it takes about five seconds to figure out how to use. Left to my own devices, I produced a couple of new homepage mockups based upon the clients business objectives – more subscribers and more click-throughs. Socking great big subscription boxes featured heavily.

“There is such thing as a free lunch!”

Since the search team had taken on so many people that week (Lexi – online PR superstar – had also started) Tom arranged for us all to go out to The Banker, a favourite haunt for Distilled. The challenge? To eat a whole half-chicken; served on a board with chips and coleslaw.

 

 

The Banker

Some of the SEOmoz and Distilled folks at The Banker previously...

So there is such thing as a free lunch; and a good laugh! Issues that arose from the casual lunch:

  • Extraordinary lack of knowledge by the n00bs about memes - the  subject of a future Brainy Beer ‘o’ Clock
  • Need for an expedition to “the basement” - apparently terrifying (says Tom)
  • Need to come back to The Banker again – tasty grub! that is all.

Many thanks to Tom for arranging this!

Bloated, we returned to the office for an afternoon which included the infamous Distilled “Brainy Beer ‘o’ Clock”. The company gathers together and one of the team does a little talk on something new or of interest to the team – oh, and it’s an excuse to drink beer in the office.

On that note… Melissa (from the USofA) was tasked with taking everyone’s orders, and that lead to the inevitable conversation; “So, uh, what’s the drinking age over here?”. The answer’s 12 right? I ended up with a coke.

Will gave this weeks Brainy Beer ‘o’ Clock on the Microsoft IIS SEO Toolkit (which he also followed up with a blog post about it) whilst also revealing details on a new and exciting project that Distilled are working on – stay tuned.

Day 5 in the Distilled Office

The first Friday was an unusual one. Distilled introduced Summer Hours starting this week whereby you can work an extra 45 minutes each day from Monday to Thursday so you can enjoy a halfday on Friday. Nice, but for a guy on work experience it made no sense at all!

Each Friday, Distilled do a roundup of each person so everyone can see what’s going on in the company shared over the company Intranet. Everything from what deals are closing to technical problems on a client’s website. A fun and interesting read, with lots of new additions from Lexi,  Mark, Dave and myself.

So the morning saw yet more new stuff. Distilled had taken on a new client who wanted help with local SEO, and I was tasked with researching keywords for them. In the SEOmoz toolset, they have a Keyword Difficulty tool which pulls ‘Demand’ data from the Google Adwords database, and creates a percentage difficulty for each keyword based upon the current top 10’s data.

The tool can only process 5 keywords at a time – a bit of a bummer - but you can create a reasonable overall picture of whether or not a keyword is worth going after. Still, we should at least be able to upload a list of keywords and get a CSV with results emailed later that day? (Mozzers, are you listening?)

Friday lunch saw the office more or less empty, so when when Lynsey and some of the team invited me to go with some of the team to Borough Market for lunch, I jumped at the chance. Borough market incidentally – is fantastic. The Chicken ‘manwiches’ could only be described as “epic”

I did return to the office, where a handful of people remained – amongst them David, one of the new trainees. Spotting a set of SEOmoz Advanced Training DVDs (filmed at their PRO Seminars), we sat down to an afternoon of watching SEO experts geek out…

… or so we thought. The first video we tried to watch was one of Rand Fishkin talking about SEO for Content. His jokes wore poorly with David who went back to experimenting with his own site, whilst my mind began to wander back to my YOUmoz SEO ninja post. I spent the afternoon getting it up to standard so I could submit it. Maybe, just maybe it would be live by the time I returned on Monday and all 70,000+ SEOmoz followers would be buzzing about it.

Just maybe.

Day 6 in the Distilled Office

Monday morning again, and I found myself finishing up the keyword and SEOmoz paywall blog post research. It was Monday again; blog brainstorm day, and David volunteered to do a possible post on YouTube Insights for Search – basically really interesting analytics for YouTube users.

The afternoon saw me reading, particularly about local search. David Mihm (the Local Search go-to guy) collaborates the thoughts of the best minds in search and publishes their thoughts on local search factors. It takes about half an hour to dig into, even a little, but by the end of it I’d figured out – local search is a whole new kettle of fish!

Day 7 in the Distilled Office

Fire! Well it was a false alarm, but proved valuable “work experience” none-the-less. The fire alarm interrupted Tom’s ninja training on how Distilled do technical site reviews (he goes into some of the stuff in this Whiteboard Friday video) with Mark, David and me. The gist of the talk was that you should be smart about how you do a site review, and although he has a checklist of points to consider, the talk basically was about outlining different techniques you can use to find problems to address.

Tom goes into some of the stuff in this Whiteboard Friday video. It’s a bit umm... old err... ;-)

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday-SEO Site Reviews Step-by-Step.

The site review training was preceded by a demo from Sam on how to use some very clever Excel/Google Docs scripts and formulas which allow you to find exactly where a website is ranking for a list of terms without having to do it manually. Given loose reign, I think it took me about 5 minutes to break :-/

 

Day 8 in the Distilled Office

Wednesay saw the real beginnings of a new client. With lots of hours allocated to it, us n00bs were called in and given tasks to cover some of the early tasks Distilled do in a consulting project:

  • Benchmarking – Where are they and what are they doing?
  • Competitive Analysis – Where are their competitors and what are they doing right?
  • Technical Site Review – What is happening on their website?

I got the benchmarking task, and set about experimenting with some of the SEOmoz Labs tools including the Custom Crawl Prototype as well as picking through their Google Analytics account. Consulting companies in general like to be able to please clients with quick results, and so being able to spot potential “quick wins” where a little effort could leverage a large reward is encouraged. For example, a site which is strong on ‘head’ keyphrases could work on getting ‘tail’ keyphrases ranking.

Day 9 in the Distilled Office

The last Thursday was an exciting day for Distilled. John Varney recently joined the Board at Distilled and he came in for the morning to enlighten the team and gain insight on where Distilled is heading. It’s an exciting time at Distilled, with the Seattle office recently opened and a bunch of new faces in the office.

Off the back of Wednesday’s research, I began to analyze some of the keyword data, looking for trends amongst keywords. By the end of the day, I had prepared a draft of my quick win recommendations for the client with pretty graphs and things. Lunch = time for angry birds, and it’s not unusual to see at least handful of iPads in the kitchen. Another app which featured prolifically on the last Thursday was Talking Carl. This video sort of sums it up nicely:

Brainy Beer ‘o’ Clock this week brought about Meme Training by Sam Crocker, one of the SEO team. Memes (pronounced ‘meem’) are where a viral idea evolves over time by variation between different contributors. One of the examples cited by Sam and Tom at The Banker was the Leeroy Jenkins episode.

Whilst nerds engineer the perfect ambush on World of Warcraft, a member of the group breaks off with cries of “Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeroooooooy” and ruins the carefully crafted plan. Epic - more so when it is applied to other scenarios, such as the invasion of the Black Gate in Lord of the Rings. Of course if means nothing to people who aren’t “wiv it”…

(The video goes funny at about 1:10)

Last day in the Distilled Office

I arrived that morning with a token box of chocolates for the team. After SCRUMs, I set about making my quick wins document all neat and presentable and sent that off to Sam and Tom on the SEO team. Wrapping up the rest of my two weeks work ate up time until the exciting 11 ‘o’ clock.

Caitlin handles all the sales enquiries and meetings; front end stuff with prospective clients and today – Friday – had agreed to let me sit in on a meeting with a potential client. Under the guise of “note-taker” I watched a seasoned pro explain the benefits of SEO, how Distilled do SEO and why Distilled are so much better for their company as well as answering tough questions, along the lines of “what results will we get and when”. I was wowed.

Like all these things, they over-run and by the time we were out, most people had left for summer hours so armed with a sandwich I started to prepare this post. And after that, I wrapped things up with Will, which happened to involve picking his brains on business advice and what I should be doing next (now you can tell he’s a consultant!).

I left the office with a lump in my throat, quite blown back by the generosity and the fact that I was taken seriously, included in day-to-day business and doing genuine client work. Distilled are IMHO world class SEO and web marketing experts and it was really a blessing to have worked with them. A simple thank you is of course not enough, but it’s a start.

Thank you.

Take away points

If you’ve been following Distilled for even a few weeks, you’ll have picked up that they’re hiring at the moment. If you’ve got a gut feeling that Distilled is quite possibly the place for you, then get your application in now.

If you’re considering Distilled as your search marketing agency, you’re already missing out. As a small business, they can only take on so much work and have a strict policy of not selling more than they can do. Start by getting in touch.

And if you’re young and looking for work experience or an internship of sort, start by fishing out the experts in your sector. For me, Distilled made a lot of sense. I’d been following SEOmoz for about 18 months and the Distilled posts stood out; after investigation it turned out they were a London SEO firm and after Distilled took over SEOmoz’s consulting business they were firmly implanted on my ‘radar of opportunities’.

They weren’t even the first people I approached. I actually tried contacting the marketing department of a travel company I’ve grown up going on holiday on over the years. They never got back to me. Persistence here is important, especially when you’ve found some experts who know there stuff about stuff you actually care about.

And the secret to making it all happen? The hidden formula…? It’s very simple, and it’s this:

Just ask.

One more thing...

My YOUmoz post got published. Yeah! Growing Up in the SEO Ninjahood

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11 Comments

  1. Great post, the entire Distilled team will be proud!

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  2. As a student currently mid-way through a SEO internship elsewhere I found this post rather interesting. You managed to get through a lot of different things in just two weeks (once you'd found the office!) including the obligatory false fire alarm.

    The point you make about not receiving feedback from companies you applied to is a good (if sorry) one. I applied to three firms at the same time, by the time the second got back to me I had already had an interview with and agreed to start work at the first. The third never got back to me - I'd much rather a rejection than nothing.

    Good luck for the future!

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  3. Ed, I read your post just before leaving work (which, given that it was already gone 7 and I really wanted to get home is already testament to how good a post it is) and now I'm home I feel compelled to comment. It's a great post - funny, engaging, informative and full of great resources. The fact that you've used your work experience, that most people - certainly when I was at school - find to be a complete waste of time, to not only take the opportunity to learn from a company so well-respected within its industry but to also contribute to that industry through your research and blog posts is really quite inspiring. I wish I'd been more like you when I was 16... or 18... 21... 25... (I'm still 25 for 2 months, maybe I can turn it around!) You've clearly got a great future ahead of you and I wish you the very best of luck!

    Erika

    P.S. I once decided I'd walk from Euston to my office in Camden. It was only when I started seeing WC postcodes that I realised I'd been walking for quite some time in completely the wrong direction ;)

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  4. I hope you stick around long enough so that you can enjoy the Brainy Beer O'Clock, sounds like fun!

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  5. Wow! Thanks for the comments guys -- fantastic points. About work experience being a "complete waste of time", it really is to do with the approach. I kind of get the feeling that people feel it forced upon them - at my school, it was compulsory - and that changes the whole situation.

    What if it were put another way - "What company would you really like to be part of?". I reckon that would change the way people approached 'work experience'.

    @Erika -- love the getting lost story :) So even Londoners get lost?!

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  6. An interesting post about you're work experience. I spent a week in a sweaty video game store for mine..wow that was a long time ago now :(

    Good luck with your career in SEO :)

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  7. Absolutely fantastic post. To have two weeks with the Distilled team is fantastic - the amount of knowledge you will have picked up (obviously noted in your post) is invaluable.

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  8. I love internships too!

    I found a photographer I liked and contacted them via email. When they saw the other sites I had built they realized that I fit well with their brand. I secured an 8 month internship and learned all about having a photography business. Invaluable experience!

    My advice-for other teens. Don't wait for a formal internship opportunity-set one up yourself!
    Chase

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  9. Kumar

    Nice post. Especially the video from SEOMOZ. I guess, I must follow them closely on twitter.

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  10. Great post! nice to see you enjoyed you time at Distilled wish you all the best in your marketing career.

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  11. Creeping on old posts, found a broken link: http://victorian.fortunecity.com/finsbury/254/tuberules.html

    Curious, you guys are using 'dozens of Google apps'? We're using Google Apps as well, but I've got to say that I haven't found use for very many beyond the core suite (gmail, calendar, drive, voice, groups). I'd love any extra detail on that you're willing to divulge (or better yet, a blog post :) ).

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