An SEO Interview with Michael King (aka iPullRank)
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the brightest up and coming SEO’s in the industry. Mike King (aka iPullRank) is a Philadelphia native turned Brooklynite and the SEO capability lead at Publicis Modem.
With experience in software and web development, as well as a 10 year stint as the best rapper ever, he makes it his goal to bring interesting perspectives to inbound marketing (especially as it applies to the future of the music industry). You can check out Mike’s blog here.
He’s written some of the most popular SEO posts of 2011 and fortunately today has agreed to answer a few questions…
1. Hey Mike, could you tell us a little bit about your career background and how & when you got into the SEO industry?
This is something I love about the SEO industry, there’s no one way into it so everyone has some sort of incredible story to tell and you get to meet a lot of amazing people due to it.
The short version of it is I went from software dev/hacker to web dev/rapper to SEO guy by accident.
I’ve been involved in the internet since before the web was a public thing. Back when calling long distance to bulletin board systems on 2400 modems was the thing to do. I was a really bored kid so I taught myself how to code in QBasic when I was around 12 then moved to Pascal and then C++. When I was 14 I keep rooting this web server and the owner came on the Linux chat and said look “Can you please stop hacking my server, I will give pay you to work for me” and so he paid me $200 to write Perl script tutorials and I bought a pair of Jason Kidds.
To speed this up my first web job was high school internship at Microsoft when I was 14; that’s how I know Jamie Steven from SEOmoz. Jamie and I built something called InternWeb while we were there and it got us featured in the MS newsletter. From there I just did a lot of freelance web development and design, went to school for computer science, had internships at some startups like WildTangent and DigitalPersona and then decided I didn’t want to do it anymore because I wanted to make music.
So that’s what I did full-time from 2003 to 2010. I kept doing freelance web stuff here and there but in 2006 I’d gotten into a bicycle accident and I had no insurance so I needed a job and the first place to hire me was an SEO agency.
SEO has outgrown what people think SEO is so I think I’m quickly transitioning into a Digital Strategist role in order to be able to do all the things I need to do in order to make SEO work.
2 – You mention that SEO has outgrown what people think it is and that nowadays to be successful you have to be a Digital Strategist. With that in mind how has the role of an SEO changed in the last few years?
Well the thing is that for SEO to be effective you have to do more than just SEO because companies typically put SEO in a silo where you can only touch a few pieces of the digital marketing strategy.
You have to at the very least understand how to attain synergy with other capabilities through content strategies of CRM, PPC, Social Media and basically everything in the inbound marketing spectrum. Honestly for SEO to work well you need to be able to have a hand in everything digital except for maybe display media otherwise those capabilities will go rogue and not support what SEO is trying to accomplish. For example if your team runs a PR or blogger outreach campaign with no SEO considerations you’ll end up missing a scalable link building opportunity. What if they seed infographics with no embed codes? What if they put out new videos but only host them on YouTube with no video sitemaps? The problem is companies see SEO’s role as being something for more limited than that so in order for SEO to be done properly especially on the enterprise level we need to step into the all encompassing Digital Strategist role to get that accomplished.
Beyond that I think Strategy teams have the 10,000 foot view on what Search is, they work from personas, social listening and need state analysis to get a bigger picture of the audience. Typically SEO does not do that but to be more effective and connect Search to conversion better we need to embrace these things.
3. Over the last few months you’ve written some of SEOmoz’s most popular posts of all time as well as writing excellent posts for Distilled and Unbounce, where have you been hiding?!
Honestly, I didn’t really take SEO seriously when I first started doing it. I wanted to be good at it just like anything else I do but it was still just a job to me and music was my main thing so I never really wanted to be involved in it. Once I finally landed in at a big agency I enjoyed it more and I also realized I approach it in a way that a lot of people don’t since I think both like a programmer and an artist. So I haven’t been hiding, just looking for the write place and time to make my contribution and now that I’ve found it I’m just trying to add to our collective thinking.
4. You’re an SEO who embraces the technical side, what books/blogs (SEO or otherwise) would you advise I read?
I obviously love the Distilled, SEOmoz, and Unbounce blogs but I also read a lot of stuff outside of just SEO. I spend a lot of time on Hacker News just seeing what new ideas are sprouting up and Stack Overflow when I’m looking for hacks or code to see how other people have figured out my coding issues. As far as books I really just identify a subject I want to know something about then see what the good folks at Hacker Books are saying I should read or I just go in a bookstore and grab something that looks good. I still like physical books for some reason. I also love to read Bill Slawski’s blog, patents and white papers are very insightful. For example I found this white paper Microsoft put out on Spam Determination very helpful for a tool I built for link classification.
5. How do you get prospective clients to understand the value of SEO?
Seriously, I use colorful extended metaphors and graphics just because as you can tell from my posts and presentations that’s just the artist in me and that’s how I know to make things relatable. The most important thing is to tailor it to your audience, explain it to them in terms of what their competitors are doing well and how you help them grow their business. I explain the opportunity without going overboard with forecasts and appeal to their values. So if you’re trying to sell a roofing contractor on SEO, don’t explain it to them in terms of “internal linking structures” and “meta descriptions” explain it in terms the benefit for example of rankings turn into leads.
6. What advice do you have for finding, recruiting and training people for the world of SEO? If there were 5 skills necessary to work for you what would they be?
1. Creativity/Imagination – You can’t teach this and I need to be surrounded by people that think beyond what they are reading on blogs so they are always coming up with the new things and challenging the conventional wisdom.
2. Hustle/Drive – This is a much underrated part of being an SEO because you simply can’t be a good white hat SEO if you’re lazy. If you’re a link builder you need to have the hustle of a successful salesperson or real estate broker. If you’re technical you have to have the hustle to stay on top of what’s going on and to keep challenging what we already know. You really can’t phone it in at all if you want to be good at this.
3. Agility – The algorithm is inherently protean so you have to be able to move with the times. When the rate of change outside of your organization is quicker than that inside of your organization it’s a wrap!
4. People Skills – If you can’t deal with people you will never get shit done. You need patience, empathy and general understanding because you will have to deal with several stakeholders of varying levels of savvy to make things happen. If you can’t navigate that you will not be successful.
7. Larry Page has been sensationally sacked and you are asked to replace him . What are the biggest things that you would change with how they evaluate on page relevancy and link authority?
First thing I would do is make Larry signed an iron-clad Non-Compete Agreement then I’d make it so Google gave us actual rankings for every site so we can stop inflating the search volumes as explained in Dave Minchala’s awesome post. Then I would immediately overturn this decision to take out search referrers from logged-in users. The next question answers what I would do to improve page relevancy and link authority evaluation.
8. What do you think will be the next major metric/algorithm/factor?
Last week I was ranting on Twitter that rel-author is Google’s way to associate authors with their content to better determine the relevancy and authority of content and links in that content. Simon Penson actually wrote a great post on SEOGadget on the very same idea. I think Google placing your picture in the SERPs is a way of incentivizing the embed of the rel-author tag but ultimately they would use similar to my keyword-level demographics methodology. Google would model users based on the content of their Google profile and determine the topics that which you were an authority and then would apply a sliding scale of authority to links from the given user. That is to say if Google sees John Doherty is always talk about rock climbing, lives in New York and checks in to Brooklyn Boulders on Foursquare very often they would then apply more weight to the things he links to in rock climbing articles and place his content higher for “new york rock climbing” queries. I personally think this is an awesome idea because it takes a lot more effort to build and maintain a legit social footprint across several sites than it does to build links.
The Social Graph just gives marketers so much granular data that we never had before. Google is embracing it so if you want to get ahead of the algorithm, you need to embrace it as well.
9 – I totally agree, building a community and social footprint can be incredibly time consuming in strategy and implementation. Do you think that SEO’s are currently seeing a good return on investment in this regard or do you think that it is more in preparation for an improved/future algorithm?
It depends on how they are using social. If you’re using social just as a launchpad for putting content out I’d say that the ROI varies immensely depending on your reach and such but if you use it as a place to gather data about your audience and engage with people for link building then you are simply a Search jedi as far as I’m concerned. People are giving you so much about themselves everyday, using that data for targeting is incredibly insightful. I think social media is the key for Search Engines and Search Marketers because ultimately Search is about fulfilling needs for people and what better way to know what people want than to have them tell you? So if you want to futureproof your content against the algo invest in social media.
10. What are the best 3 things an SEO can do to improve a website’s linkability and brand visibility?
I could just say “make amazing content” and leave it at that but that’s what everyone says so I’m going to go a little deeper with that.
1. Give people what they want not what you think they want. You can be an awesome SEO and get #1 for any term but if you can’t get the people to complete a goal once they get there you are a terrible marketer. Social media gives us a lot of insight on what our potential customers are looking for, it is imperative that we use this data to give them what they are looking for in the form that they expect in order to successfully market. Use social listening to figure out how your potential customers are identifying with the product or service and in general just learn the market before you start building things.
2. Invest in great UX/UI – It takes just as much time and effort to do an ugly site as it does to do a beautiful site so do whatever it takes to make an awesome site that is easy to use.
3. Make sure your technical SEO is airtight. Technical SEO I feel is the admission price to even start playing the game. If you’re site doesn’t complete a basic audit checklist what are you even doing?
11. There are thousands of SEO companies offering differing advice and levels of service. How does an agency/consultant stand out in an industry that is over saturated?
It’s exactly like Rand said become thought leaders I can’t say it any better than he said it.
Thanks for your time Mike, really appreciate it and look forward to reading more of your articles in the future!