FOR the first in an ongoing series, we talk to an MMU graduate who in just three years has built an SEO business with an annual turnover of £1.2million.
“In 2003 when I started at MMU I didn’t even own a computer,” laughs Gareth Hoyle. That’s some admission for an SEO specialist (Twitter handle: @search_magician). Hoyle is the boss of Manual Link Building, the company he founded in 2009 and which is now one of the world’s biggest SEO outsourcing companies, employing over 150 people across three continents. Last year it had a turnover of £1.2million. And the course Hoyle was starting, sans computer? BSc (Hons) E Business.
This 31-year-old from Wilmslow, who graduated in 2006, is clearly a man who likes to confound expectations. “I was 23 when I went to uni,” he says. “I lived with my partner, had a mortgage – I had to save up for a couple of years before to get a bit of capital behind me so I could do the course.”
So why, Gareth, would someone who doesn’t own a computer decide to do an e-business course?
“Going back ten to twelve years, I worked in a bathroom shop and I used to spend hours with people designing their bathrooms, planning it all for them – then they’d just bugger off and buy it online for less! So I thought, hang on a minute, this Internet thing is pretty good. That’s what made me go to university.”
Were you a good student?
“I was top of my year. I started my PhD immediately after graduating, but then decided it wasn’t for me. I think, to be honest, I was a bit sick of not having any money.”
What did you do after graduating?
“I started a web design studio with another student, which lasted about two years. In the end I went my own way, and in 2009 I created Gareth Hoyle Ltd. I was basically an SEO freelancer and I was doing alright. In the end though I just got sick of talking to end-user clients who didn’t understand Google – the next step was to try and find services that I could sell to SEO agencies. That was when I started Manual Link Building (MLB); I looked at the work I was outsourcing and effectively replicated the outsource model, but instead of English agencies going direct to India they’d go through MLB. I’ve been learning Hindi for the last five years – I’m still not very good, but the staff in India appreciate it, and I employ about 150 there now. There are also eight staff the UK [Hoyle has an office Altrincham] and two in the US.”
Have you always been very business focused?
“As much as I am commercially minded, I am also a bit of a geek. As a freelancer I was doing everything, so it’s not as if I don’t understand it. Everything that the guys I employ do, I can do. My mentality has had to change a hell of a lot over the last couple of years though – I run a business now so it’s very rare that I do any coding.”
What’s the biggest challenge for you as a company?
“I work in a very changeable industry, and I think you always have to remember that. Our product offering has changed in the last few months. We have to be very reactive – what’s working now is working now, but as soon as Google does an algorithm update we have to adjust our strategy to make sure that what we’re selling is working.”
What’s your next business move?
“We’re about to launch SEO Outsourcing. As MLB we’re link building suppliers, whereas SEO Outsourcing can do the social media, the pay-per-click management, copywriting, etc. So it gives us a broader scope of the market and, ultimately, it makes us a lot more attractive as an acquisition target. But because we’ve got such a reputation as MLB, we’ll run them next to each other.”
What’s the most important thing going to MMU taught you?
“What uni opened my eyes to is that if you can be bothered to get off your arse you can do anything. But I guess that’s also me – I just keep cracking on.”