SEO has become a big picture initiative, yet most businesses still operate in silos. Affectionately referred to as the SEO’s Don Draper, Mike King (@ipullrank) explains how to think about your SEO holistically to accomplish exponential growth for your business.

Inspired by his popular blog post on Moz, “The new SEO process: stop being Kanye,” Mike delivered an entertaining (and highly educational) guest lecture

stop being kanye

Credit: @ipullrank

to graduate students at NYU highlighting the major shifts in how businesses need to think about their SEO strategies.

In the video below, Mike shared a number of timely and actionable SEO tips for businesses and SEO pros, including:

  • How holistic SEO fits into your business startegy
  • The best ways to leverage market research for SEO
  • The best SEO tools and when to use them
  • The role of SEO during technical development
  • How to get the buy-ins from stakeholders to deliver your SEO recommendations
  • How to do keyword research with your audience in mind
  • How to profile your audience and develop personas

Big shout out to Lavall Chichester (@mrchichester) of for editing the video, and to Dan Lee (@deelee91) for helping me clean up the transcript below.

The holistic SEO process

Video transcript (with some paraphrasing) 

We’re going to talk about the holistic SEO process, opportunity discovery and where that fits into content strategy. Next, we will discuss technical development, how that fits into SEO, and then social strategy, which you can also call link-building; but we like to think of it from the people aspect rather than just the links and keywords. Then, ultimately, we’re going to talk about metrics in optimization.

SEO is the calculus of marketing

Shortly after posting the Moz blog post, I got this question: “You still do SEO? That’s like the calculus of marketing.” It makes sense, because you’ve often got to give a lot of effort in order to make something happen. After all that effort, you might get a small, incremental change. It’s kind of like in calculus, where you do all these differential equations to get an answer. But if you choose your keywords right, go after the right people, and make the right content, you’re going to get exponential growth.

So yeah, SEO is the calculus of marketing.

SEO is the calculus of marketing

Typically, SEO process lives in a silo

Typically what the SEO process looks like is this: you figure out what your keywords are and what the site’s doing wrong, fix it, use the keywords more, build some links, and then keep improving. It leaves a lot out of it. It doesn’t really fit into the brand relationship model as it stands.

Typically, when people do SEO, it completely interrupts what’s going on in the marketing mix, rather than fitting into it.

What is the brand doing? What is the organization doing? It’s really just like, “Okay, let’s throw some keywords and links.” That’s not marketing, that’s just tinkering with websites.

It’s way more powerful to do SEO from a standpoint of marketing, but the thing is, Kanye is not doing market research.

Kanye is your typical SEO. He’s not going to do market research to understand the consumer who typed in the keyword. Kanye is not sifting through data all day trying to learn about the people visiting your website. Who are the people behind the search? That’s kind of where holistic SEO differs from typical approach. We try to understand who the people are behind the search.

Typically in SEO, these are your kickoff questions. What analytics package are you using? Do you have any other domains? What SEO efforts have been happening? Who are your competitors? Do you have social media accounts? They just ask these really standard questions that don’t really focus on the fact that there are people searching.

I think of that as like phoning it in. You’re just like, “Okay, let me go through the motions, I’m doing my SEO.” But you’re not marketing, and this is a marketing function, so stop phoning it in. Let’s do it the right way, right?

Kanye doesn’t care about your audience, but Mike King does.

kayne market research seo

credit: @ipullrank

Who are the people searching keywords?

So we’re going to talk about the fact that the standard classifications of keywords in SEO are not enough to understand that there are people behind these searches.

Typically SEO says, “Are these keywords informational?” Which means somebody is looking for something (that’s a really broad definition). Navigational, people that go to Google and type in Yahoo, who are these people? And then they’re transactional, you’re trying to buy or do something really specific.

Now, that really just says that every search on the Internet is doing these three things. No, they’re not, that’s not enough.

You can’t start thinking about keywords until you think about the people behind them.

SEOs are just like, “Hey, let’s go onto Adwords, let’s figure out what the keywords are, what’s the search volume?”

No! The questions you should be asking are: What’s the purpose of this site? What are you trying to get users to actually do once they get there? Who is your target audience? You can’t answer those questions just doing keyword research.


Choosing the right keywords for SEO

Ranking is not a business plan.

A lot of clients come to us, “Yeah, we want to be number one for TV.” Why? What are you trying to do with being number one for TV? When I get you number one for TV, that’s terrible traffic. When people type in “TV”, they’re just trying to find information about TVs. They’re not trying to buy a TV. If what you want to do is get more TV sales, you don’t want to be number one for “TV”. You want to be number one for something that’s farther down in what they call “the chunky middle”. So that’s probably something like “LG Cinema TV” with a model number. That’s when somebody’s most likely looking to buy something.

Use those free keyword research tools to develop your keyword list.


Typical SEO will disrupt your marketing campaigns

Kanye will disrupt your campaign, and so will most SEOs, because we typically don’t get brought in at the beginning.

We get brought in towards the end, probably a day or two before launch, and they say, “Hey, can you guys press the SEO button? Oh, it’s more than meta tags? Okay, we’ll call you six months in advance next time.” Then they don’t call you six months in advance. What happens is, if we do get engaged, we basically need to tear your whole site apart and say, “Okay, you did this wrong, this wrong, and this wrong, and this, this, and this,” and you’re supposed to fix them. And what happens is, we end up pushing your campaign back pretty significantly. So, that’s not what we should be doing here.

Credit: @ipullrank

Credit: @ipullrank


We should be figuring how we can supplement what they actually have and make it better.

The problem is, we think as though SEO is the only traffic-driving channel. That’s not true. All these things drive traffic. Some considerations for the website are not about SEO, maybe they’re about social media or UX. Maybe they’re about the fact that this is a campaign that’s going to be driving traffic from traditional media. For example, LG had a campaign about how their TVs were rated three times better than Sony and Samsung, and they ran print ads in the Times. They had a vanity URL driving to that site, so it didn’t matter if they had search or not, because they were going to get traffic to meet their goals anyway.

It’s always good to have search, for example a year or two ago, I worked on Progresso, and they were running these ads that weren’t too obvious that it was Progresso. The thing is, Campbell’s was number one for the keyword “soup”, so if the Progresso campaign resonated with you at all, and you typed in “soup”, you’re going to go to Campbell’s, because you’re not sure who it was. We were actually able to see that when the client’s campaign started on TV, a lot more traffic went from search to Progresso. It is important to have search when you’re doing these other channels, but sometimes it’s not the brand’s purpose.

Credit: @ipullrank

Credit: @ipullrank

Kanye doesn’t care about your marketing. He’s got his nice car. He feels like what he’s doing is cool.

“Why do I care about what social media is doing, why do I care about what PPC is doing? I’m trying to be number one.” Because that’s all he wants to do, is be number one. And I’m sorry, but that’s not going to work.

The main point here is that search is about fulfilling needs.

People search because they have a need that they’re trying to fill, whether it’s informational, transactional, or whatever it is. They’re trying to do something, and you’ve got to make sure that when you’re creating stuff for search, that you’re helping these people do it. Now, these’ll be less about the “what” and more about the “who” and “why”, and at iAcquire, that’s exactly how we do it.

Leverage social media in SEO

So you might have heard about the Knowledge Graph, where Google is figuring out what things go together and they’re putting them in the right rail and trying to figure out what entities are. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, except we’re trying to understand that for the people that are searching.

The sweet spot for Holistic SEO is the part in the Venn diagram between search and social.

This is because in social media, people are telling you all day, every day, all the things they want, they care about, what they like, how they speak, and the vocabulary they use to describe things.

. You can then use that as a research channel to figure out who the people behind these searches are.

Learn more about identifying your audience through social media with Mike King’s Slideshare presentation.


The New Holistic SEO Process

This is what the new SEO process looks like. Here’s where we start, from market research and strategic planning. We kind of call that opportunity discovery – understanding who the people searching are, and pulling all the data we can find from various channels. Then, we put together a digital strategy around it.

We approach SEO as if we are “digital strategists”.

From there we put together a content strategy, creating the concepts that these people want, the things that are going to resonate with them so that they can meet the goals that our client is looking for.

Credit: @ipullrank

Credit: @ipullrank

From there, we do the technical development. This is probably where you see most of SEO, the site audience, some canonicals and 301 redirects, things of that nature. Here we do our link building, but we call it content marketing, or social strategy (again, it’s not just about the link, it’s about talking to people and getting people to link to you). From there we measure, making sure we’re hitting all those business goals, and then we optimize. We do our A/B tests, our NBTs, trying to make things work better, because…

…it’s not just about driving traffic, it’s about hitting those goals.

That’s why brands need a holistic approach to content marketing that emphasizes creative (content) and performance (SEO) equally.

Opportunity Discovery in SEO

Now, we do all of this stuff to figure out how we’re going to hit those business goals. That’s market research, audience research, asset inventory, competitive analysis, keyword research, measurement planning, all of that. By the time we finish our opportunity discovery, we know everything going on in the space, we can speak to the space as though we’ve worked in it already, and we know exactly where we’re going to go after.

Business goals are the most important part of any opportunity discovery.

What are you trying to do? When people land on your website, what do you want to happen? In this case, let’s say we’re talking about LG, sell more 3D TVs, get more shares in social media, occupy more of the conversation. These two can be intermediate goals to hitting number one, but these are easy to measure. So if we get more of these, we know that we’re going to get more of these. So when we do our measurement planning, we would lay this out and show how we would measure that.

Leveraging user personas for SEO

Then, what we do is market research (again, this is Norris’ job). We’d create what we call these client dossiers, or audience reports, about these people. Now, we had a one-sheet version of these where it was just the objective for the clients, who are the personas, what’s going on in that space, what are the market insights, what are the customer insights? How do they feel about this space? What are the hot topics, what’s going on, what are the resources?

Credit: @ipullrank

Credit: @ipullrank

Then, we had a list of the influences, but ultimately we’ve broken these out to two… We use Experian Simmons and Nielsen Prizm as our basis for our consumer insights, these are both market segmentation programs that we use to build our personas on top of. Then what we do, since those are all based on offline surveys, we use social APIs from, for example, LinkedIn’s PBC tool, or Facebook’s ad tool, or Twitter’s ad tool, to see if these offline segments are valid online. At that point, we have all the demographics and the psychographics, we build the user story and the engagement insight, and boom, we have personas.

User personas are going to fuel everything else that you do in SEO. 

For more information on the topic of personas for seo and the tools discussed, view the slideshare deck Mike King created for PubCon 2012

Tools to build personas

So again, Nielsen Prizm is an offering by Nielsen, where they have segmented everybody in the United States into 66 core groups, and essentially they’re pre-built personas that we can pull from to build our own personas. If you’re doing local search, these are really awesome, because you can just throw in the zip code and then you have an instant persona for that zip code. Here’s what one of these segments looks like.


Credit: @ipullrank

We also use Experian Simmons, which is quite expensive, but it’s also pretty cool, because we can slice and dice all the questions in the survey and figure out how these people correspond. They have 71 personas or segments prebuilt.  Based on the survey questions that we choose, we see how well they correspond with those different attitudes, and we can build the personas on top of that. An example of what one of those personas would look like, we have the user story, key traits, and the digital behavior engagement insight. These are all things that are going to filter back into that content strategy, as well as that link-building strategy.

Experian also has a tool called Hitwise. You can essentially put in any site that you want, and it’s going to give you all the keywords that people have used to get to that site. What’s nice about it is that you can get that data in context with the mosaic types. So essentially, you get the keywords at the demographic level, straight from this tool. We actually did a case study on the data that you guys should check out. Yahoo Clues is another free tool that you can throw in keywords and get the demographics behind the people searching.

Matching content with searcher’s needs

What we really want to understand is not just the person searching, but what they need.

Where are they at in the consumer decision journey? That’s awareness, familiarity, consideration, purchase and loyalty. Where does their search have them at?

We map that back to the keywords. So in this case we’re talking about flowers. Looking for flowers is a really high funnel. People don’t know who they want to buy flowers from, but if they search “buying chrysanthemums”, they’re ready to buy something. They may not know who they’re buying from, but they know they want to buy right now. We treat these people different, we know that this person is different from the other person. This person is a high temperature persona and that one is just like, “Oh, I’m looking around”.

Then you have somebody who’s like, “What flowers for a first date?” They’re in a consideration phase. They’re trying to figure out who they’re talking to, or what to do for this first date. So our content will reflect that so when they land on the page, they’re going to be like, “Oh, this is exactly what I was looking for” so that they’re more likely to take action.

Credit: @ipullrank

Credit: @ipullrank

We also map the content that we create to that position in the funnel. We know that people in an awareness phase, are more likely to be looking around, so an infographic makes sense, because we can engage them at a higher level, and they’re likely to share something, and then may influence someone else to come back to our site and take action. But we know that somebody who is in the purchase phase is more likely looking for a guide on what to buy and how to buy it. So this is more useful for them, and it’s more likely to get them to convert.

When we do our measurement planning, we choose the KPIs based on what makes sense for each of the user journey phases.

It doesn’t make sense to measure an infographic on how well it sold something, it makes more sense to measure that based on social sharing, because it’s more likely to do that, and we know that we’re using this as brand awareness, rather than a “Hey, let’s get you to buy something right now.”

To learn more on keyword demographics, read Mike King’s blog post on Moz here:

Is the landing page relevant to the keyword?

You can also mine your analytics, and this is really useful, especially if you have onsite search set up. You can see where people landed on your site, and what they searched for instead, so you can understand what they were actually looking for when they landed on your site for a given keyword. We use this to get a sense of who is already coming to the site, and how engaged they are. If they type in a given keyword, and we see that their visit duration is three minutes, okay, this keyword is satisfying these people for this landing page, but if it’s 31 seconds instead, maybe it’s not. So you know that’s an optimization opportunity, and we can also get some more information about how people are thinking when they’re landing on the site.

Below is the full deck that Mike King presented.

Check out more awesome content marketing tips and SEO strategies from Mike King.

3 replies
  1. Dan
    Dan says:

    This is a great post! In a fairly new industry, SEOs must learn to adapt to innovative changes and this is the perfect article to help us! The SEO process is beginning to integrate Content Marketing. It is not about ranking for keywords, but giving the searchers what they’re looking for. Cant wait to learn more!

  2. Dan Kujanek
    Dan Kujanek says:

    Agreed, on all points. If Search is brought into the beginning of the marketing mix, it becomes easier to develop the way people will search for your brand/product.

    Mentioned in the video, understanding the person behind the search is essential. Utilizing social influences in real time to optimize accounts will benefit in the long run. Staying relevant and as active as your searcher keeps things in perspective.

    Kanye does what Kanye does because Kanye is Kanye or usually whenever your client presses SEO instant button. Kanye is a continuous ever evolving industry that needs to adjust to the people who search.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *