I recently attended SMX Sydney where I had the absolute honour & privilege of meeting one of the biggest & hardest working superstars in the SEO biz, Mike King aka @iPullRank. Mike is the Director of Inbound Marketing at iAcquire and former hip hop maestro – juggling beats & spitting rhymes like no other – sometimes even blindfolded.
I first heard of Mike last year when I read his post on SEOmoz (Agency vs In-House vs Freelance SEO: The Endless Debate (starring Mr. Men)) and felt instantly connected. I’d just left an agency at the time, had been involved in a number of projects & dealt with each of these characters. So as you could imagine, the post resonated well (in particular the Little Miss Stubborn & Mr Lazy personas). Not long later, just after MC Hammer announced that he would be releasing new search engine WireDoo, I saw my Twitter feed get blasted with news of “iPullRank killing it” in Tweets regarding his appearance at Distilled’s SearchLove. I really wanted to see what was going on & what was behind all the hype.
In a non-creepy kind of way, I’ve since kept my finger on the pulse and have followed his professional movements, read his posts, listened to his webinars, viewed his decks & learned a few things along the way. I highly recommend you do the same. So naturally, I tried to push for his appearance at SMX Sydney and did a little happy dance when I heard he was announced as one of the speakers. So I got in touch and asked Mike for an interview to which he replied “Oh hell yeah!”
We hung out after the conference boat party on day one (where the vino did flow) & arranged a time to meet up the next day. So, I finally got to meet the man one on one and ask him some questions. It went a little something like this…
Woj: Hey, Mike. How you doing?
Mike: Hey Woj, I’m fantastic… chilling out here in Sydney, Australia.
Woj: So, you have a very interesting background, not only in SEO but also in music. Let’s talk about that. How did you get into hip hop and who are some of the cats that inspired you?
Mike: I got into hip hop because my parents moved me out of Philadelphia to go to High School. They moved to Connecticut, which is very suburban, and I just started doing a lot of different hip hop things because I wanted to still feel connected to my urban roots. So I started out doing graffiti, then I started break dancing, and then I started listening to Wu Tang. I was a big fan of Wu Tang so I bought Method Man‘s first album and I was like “Wow, this is awesome. I can do this too.” So I started rhyming and then started DJ-ing. But then I realized that you can’t be the best at all four of those things so I stuck with the thing that I was really, really good at.
Woj: So Method Man was an inspiration?
Mike: Yeah. Early on it was Method Man. I’ve been a fan of Rakim since I was 7. I loved LL Cool J.
Woj: Eric B?
Mike: Yeah. Of course. And while I was in High School, I was really into Canibus and Lyricist Lounge, all this really underground hip hop stuff like Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch – those were my favourites coming up.
Woj: I like Pharoahe Monch
Mike: He’s awesome.
Woj: He’s tight. So who you feeling at the moment musically? Musically in brackets…
Mike: I mean, it’s hard to say because I’ve just been so busy with search stuff that I don’t really keep up as much as I used to but I obviously still love what Pharoahe’s putting out. I love this guy, eLZhi. He’s really tight.
Woj: Is that what’s on your current play list?
Woj: Do you branch out as well & check out different genres?
Mike: Yeah. Of course. So I listen to a lot of soul music and stuff like that. I listen to Electronic stuff here and there. I was always a big fan of Aphex Twin (Richard D. James and all that). It’s kind of some of everything but not so much where I’m like “Oh, I’m an Indie Rock fan.” But my girl listens to a lot of really interesting stuff, too. She put me onto Florence + the Machine. I like that.
Woj: They’re a good band.
Mike: Yeah. Definitely.
Woj: Do you like drum n bass at all?
Mike: Yeah. But, I mean, I wouldn’t be able to tell you too many different artists. I just know what I like when I hear it. Actually, I did a record with a guy out of the UK called Animals on Wheels. He used to be signed to Ninja Tunes, and we did like a ‘whole different types of electronic music’ record. It was called “Robots with Hearts.” It was pretty cool.
Image courtesy of MySpace.
Woj: Nice. I’ll look it up. So tell me about your set up. Do you produce the tracks yourself?
Mike: I can and I used to. When I started I would make my own beats, but I know so many great producers and it takes a lot of time to make a great track. So I just let them do it and I just handle, you know, the words.
Woj: Cool. So you are currently working on the new album?
Mike: Yeah. Really slowly but, you know, it’s coming. Again, like I said, it is really hard to prioritise music because this is going so well. You put more into music than you get out of it and obviously I do it because I love it but, at the same time, I get a lot out of this… Out of doing search and inbound marketing. I get to help people and there’s a direct response to everything I do. Whether it’s a client that does well or people like my post or they can take the things that I come up with and turn them into other things. It’s less crowded on this side than it is in music. Everything resonates in inbound marketing but not everything resonates in music.
Woj: And you can kind of enjoy that resonation from the comfort of your couch. It’s less noise. What can we expect from the new album?
Mike: The new record is a new sound for me because I always do sample based music. But I really wanted to come out with something that was new to me, that challenged me, so we’re combining everything I liked about electronic music, everything I like about soul samples and trying to come out with a sound that’s definitively mine. Not only are we doing that but a lot of my music was really like punch line focused for a long time. It’s still going to be clever but every other line had to resonate in a certain way. Now it’s more about me just saying exactly what I wanted to say.
Woj: Sure. So you’re not constructing or rhyming so much. It’s just going to flow…
Mike: Yeah. I mean, there’s still going to be a lot of structure to them because that’s how I write and how I rap. I match a lot of syllables. There’s no one syllable rhyming in my stuff. But it’s just not going to be so much about “Oh, is this line going to make people go Oh!.” It’s more about me saying exactly how I feel and telling a story.
Woj: Nice. So are you going to be singing on the album, at all?
Mike: LOL – Honestly, I can’t sing but I love singing so much.
Woj: Some chorus lines, background stuff?
Mike: I kind of did that on the last few records, rapping in melodies like that and even singing on some songs but I just realised I can’t sing. So I should probably do less of that.
Woj: I really dug the last two minutes of that ‘God Amongst Men’ track. That was cool.
Mike: Thanks, man. Yeah. That’s some pretty older stuff. That’s from 2004 so that’s kind of indicative of what I was saying. Every other line had to be a powerful punch line type thing and I was really big on my rhymes being able to stand alone, without a beat. And I’m still like that – I want everything I say to mean something. But it’s not necessarily like “Oh, is this clever or not?” It’s just got to be something and mean something.
Woj: It’s got to be like an instrument on its own – your voice needs to stand alone.
Mike: Yeah. Definitely.
“Humble” – MiC K!NG & Chum – Cool-Aide
Woj: So have you got any collaborations in the mix?
Mike: Not really, I haven’t thought that far. If it’s natural and if it works, then I’m going to do it, but, I used to plan it out, like, OK, I’m going to get this person and beats from this guy. I don’t really need that. I mean I’ve met a lot of my favourite rappers or I’ve hung out with them or some situation, I’m ending up in their car riding around the city. So if I really want to make it happen, I can make it happen, but I want it to be organic and natural rather than paid. LOL
Woj: Yeah, if people want to work with you, it’ll happen. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.
Woj: That’s when you make the best music. Before I left Sydney, I’d met up with a friend who used to sing in a band & play guitar in the UK. I had just bought a Micro Korg so I was playing around with that and then we just jammed a couple of times and recorded like three tracks. It happened organically. It just happened, we jammed and we made good music.
Mike: There’s actually a couple of producers that I’ve worked with from Australia that I probably want to work with again. There’s a guy named M-Phazes and then there’s another guy named Styalz Fuego and some of the best tracks I put out were with them.
Woj: Was that one of them, Dinosaur’s Anthem?
“Dinosaur’s Anthem” – iCON the Mic King, produced by M-Phazes
Mike: Yeah, Dinosaur’s Anthem – M-Phazes did that track. He’s actually, he’s been doing a lot here. He’s been working with a lot of artists in America. In fact, he even did some tracks on Pharoahe’s last record.
Mike: Yeah, I just want to reconnect with him and see what we can come up with because he has some really tight tracks.
Woj: Nice. So do you have much time for Aussie hip hop?
Mike: I don’t like actively go what’s going on in Aussie hip hop, but I check it every once in a while because…
Woj: Obviously the roots of hip hop are in America so what do you think of the sound…?
Mike: So, from what I understand, at least last time I was here, there was this big feud going on between people that used American accents when they rapped and those that don’t.
Woj: So what do you think, does it matter, does it add to it?
Mike: Honestly, I think that people need to have pride in where they’re from, so don’t rap, don’t sound like you’re from America if you’re from Australia. Sound the way you naturally sound. Otherwise where does that end, what else are you going to do because other people are doing it?
Woj: It’s just that basic philosophy of keeping it real.
Mike: Yeah, exactly.
Woj: Just be yourself.
Woj: I saw this TED talk on vulnerability recently. It was really good, and it was basically saying that a lot of people struggle to accept themselves and that’s why they get depressed. That’s why they go through all kinds of shit… so it’s important to accept & be yourself.
Mike: I mean, to that point, that’s another thing I love about being involved in SEO and stuff. I don’t have to come in here in a suit. I’m here in a t-shirt, jeans and Nike’s, and everybody’s like, “well, as long as he knows his shit, who cares.”
Mike: So I really enjoy that part of this community.
Woj: I’m just happy that Banksy did a panda with guns.
Mike: LOL. Yeah, that’s a tight shirt, I like your shirt.
Woj: Thanks man. OK, so here’s the transition question. Has free styling helped with SEO or vice-versa? I’d imagine you’d be getting a high click-through-rate with some META descriptions you’ve come up with.
Mike: LOL. Yeah, I mean just the way I write is naturally, really clever, and I’ve always presented my ideas and context of other things that people understand. So I do a lot of co-relevant things in my posts like I’ll explain an idea with a really extended metaphor, analogy or something like that. So the way I wrote my rhymes is the same way I write my posts. Or I write my META descriptions and page titles and stuff, but I think what freestyling has taught me and performing in general is what makes, if I’m good at all with speaking, I think that’s why, is because I’m used to being in front of crowds. I’m used to coming up with things on the fly and being able to fluently explain an idea and incorporate things that are going on right now and stuff like that, so yeah. I feel like I kind of have an unfair advantage in that respect because I’ve had to explain thoughts that rhyme and be clever, and now it’s just like, oh, I just got to talk. LOL
Woj: LOL It’s even easier now. That’s good man, you’re very inspiring. You’re good at what you do, doing a good job.
Mike: Thank you.
Woj: So I guess you’ve answered this one, but how do you find time to still make music, given your crazy speaker schedule.
Image courtesy of Distilled.
Mike: Well, it’s just one of those natural things. I would just find myself rapping to myself when I’m on a plane or something like that, and I don’t want to give you the whole Jay Z spiel “I can just remember without writing it down”, but I can remember a lot of it and then when I find a piece of paper, or I’ll just whip out my phone or iPad, oh yeah, let me jot that down. All of a sudden I’m 16 bars in, I’m like “Oh, well, I guess I just wrote a verse”. So it’s not like I plan to make it happen. It just kind of hits me.
Woj: Subconscious thing?
Woj: You would be watching T.V. and all of a sudden your mind sort of drifts off?
Mike: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, even when I’m walking by people and I’m eavesdropping on a conversation, just naturally like you hear people. My mind automatically makes it rhyme.
Woj: LOL That’s Interesting.
Mike: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to turn it off in a way, so it’s like you train your brain. It’s kind of a muscle, in how to just come up with rhymes on the spot, so sometimes it just happens. I’m like, “oh, that’s a good rhyme scheme, got to remember that.”
Woj: I think there’s your talent and then you can teach yourself focus and endurance, but you can’t teach talent.
Mike: Yeah, that’s true… true.
Woj: So your recent piece of research on link building via email outreach was great.
Mike: Thank you.
Woj: What’s it like over at iAcquire? Are you enjoying yourself in your new role?
Mike: Yeah, I love it. It’s awesome.
Woj: Your boss seems pretty cool.
Mike: Yeah, so I essentially have two bosses. They’re both co-founders, well, co-founders/managing directors. And they basically don’t manage me. They’re just like, “OK, do what you need,” as long as it makes sense, there’s pretty much no push back. They’ve given me the latitude to spread my wings essentially, and anything I’ve needed, they made it happen, and we’re having a lot of fun.
Woj: Yeah, yeah.
Mike: Oh, and it’s also really exciting because, I’m like the centrepiece of expanding the offering. So, we mostly do just off page stuff and I’m expanding it and it’s a content strategy and doing more on page things and just digital strategy in general. So, we can approach everything holistically like, I’ve been talking about in posts because that’s essentially what the bigger agencies do, they approach things holistically but they kind of forget about SEO so it’s more like were trying to do a holistic SEO.
Woj: Yeah, nice and I’ll just throw this one in there because it’s nice and fresh – Gary and Cogswell, how did that concept come about?
Mike: So, in our logo we have two gears and I was like it would be really cool if we turned those into characters. So, at first I was just thinking about one character and I was like Gary, like Gear-y and then…
Woj: And “Cogs”, that makes sense.
Image courtesy of iAcquire.
Mike: Yeah, and then our front end dev guy who also does a lot of the imagery, all the images in that study I did, he did all those. He’s like, well, there two gears, you should have two characters. I was like alright Cogswell. So essentially what they’re going to be is one’s going to be kind of like a white hat and the other one’s going to be gray and black hat and we’re going to do things like, first of all it’s going to be funny. So it’s going to be something you want to read every day. And we’re also going to do things like teach lessons in link building and stuff like that like through the story. So it’s kind of medicine in the Twinkies type thing. Still have fun but still teach things, and just have fun with it.
Woj: Nice. Yeah that’s good. So it’s a daily thing.
Mike: It’s a daily thing.
Woj: I noticed you got some interest from people wanting to do guest stories already?
Mike: Yeah, so, Ian Laurie from Portent Interactive said he would be interested in guest writing a few and I think that would be perfect. Because the way he writes with his sardonic wit, it would fit perfectly with what we’re trying to do with it. So, I want to establish the characters a little more then I’m going to reach out to Ian and be like “do your thing, you have a whole week”.
Woj: I guess it’s a good way because news on Twitter is so immediate but it’s good to cover some issues that happened that day or put them straight out there.
Mike: Exactly. I mean it’s kind of like a political cartoon in the same way, but we’re also making fun of the powers that be and stuff. So, I feel like it’s just a good outlet. There’s been cartoons before, comic strips before but there’s never been a daily one that’s just SEO.
Woj: Yeah, none for search specifically. You got Dilbert, but that is sometimes a bit too “poindexter”. But yeah, you need something. I think it’s good. I was talking to someone from Dejan yesterday, I think they were talking about doing one themselves or they had one in the pipeline but I don’t know if that will get canned or not. LOL
Mike: LOL – Sorry.
Woj: Got to get in there first.
Woj: So, what are three weapons in your SEO armada that you couldn’t live without?
Mike: Screaming Frog.
Screenshot of Screaming Frog.
Woj: Oh yeah that Dan Sharp – he’s sharp.
Mike: Yeah. Follower Wonk and My Brain.
Woj: So tell me about Follower Wonk. I’m actually very curious about your methods in using that because I’ve used it but keen for some tips.
Mike: So essentially what I do is I build out personas and identify characteristics, right? And the characteristics pretty much match up with keywords or things that people are interested in and what have you and I can essentially search for those people in Follower Wonk. And it’s not just limited to Follower Wonk but Follower Wonk is kind of like the best because it gives you Twitter right there. But there’s other tools or other providers that aren’t necessarily for this like about.me or Zerply, sites like that where people put in their interests and it has their social profiles there. You just search those things by the keywords that are characteristics and you can quickly identify people that are in your audience.
Mike: So that’s basically what I use it for.
Woj: And I think you mentioned need states, buying states as well so I guess that helps identifying different broad keyword match types, their intent and finding the personas?
Mike: Absolutely. So, when people are talking about these things or you search for specific users and then their keyword, you can see how they’re using their keyword… So how they’ll think about that keyword when they search for it… So, what are they specifically looking for when they think of this keyword?
Woj: Cool that makes sense and it ties in perfectly with my next question.
Mike: This is well planned.
Woj: Thanks. What’s your favourite persona apart from your mum?
Mike: LOL – Well I actually have personas for the iAcquire site and I guess I can’t really tell you who they are. But, you know, like, I’ve essentially categorized the whole…
Woj: I guess, funniest or like most interesting persona to target.
Mike: Well that’s the thing, I always tailor it directly to the campaign so I never re-use personas.
Image courtesy of Mike’s deck “Building an Effective Ad Campaign & Facebook Page”.
Woj: Personas that appear a lot?
Mike: I mean there’s always your mommy bloggers, but even those I tailor them to the campaign. I don’t want every mommy blogger I want the mommy blogger that talks about their son that plays guitar, or something like that. So, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to use them twice.
Woj: Yup. I guess America is quite a bigger market then Australia. So there’s a lot more people on Twitter actively using it, so that’s why I think things like Follower Wonk may be a bit harder in Australia… to really tap into Australians using Twitter is a lot harder.
Mike: Well, that’s why I say use about.me or Zerply because those, they’re kind of agnostic with what the platform is.
Woj: So, like Facebook, LinkedIn etc?
Mike: Yeah, all those things. Facebook is a walled garden, so you’re not going to be able to get all that data from them unless you friend them or they sign into your site with Facebook. So, as awesome as Facebook is, for data it’s not that great as far as identifying influences. But what it is good for is, if you use the Facebook ad creator the same way that you would use the Ad words keywords, you will basically see what the inventory is per persona. So, you can really tailor it to those key characteristics and see exactly how many people are out there in your area.
Woj: My wife runs a café and I did a Facebook ad targeted at single dads over 30 and within 10 kilometres of a particular suburb and it was really targeted, and it worked.
Mike: See, I love Facebook ads.
Woj: Nice. OK, this is a bit of an odd question but I’ll ask anyway. Tupac was recently resurrected. Is there a place for holograms in search…
Woj: …conferences maybe, broadcasts, speak across the world remotely?
Mike: LOL That would be tight because, for example, I was just going to say, I had to fill in for Rand at a talk in Silicon Valley. He could have just projected himself or like when Matt Cutts couldn’t make it to South By South West it would have been pretty cool if they did that. The really funny thing about the Tupac hologram is, my friend, a rapper named Dos-Noun, who actually happens to be Gillian Muessig‘s nephew and Rand’s cousin, he said in a song in 2003 “See me on tour with a hologram of Tupac.” And it happened.
Woj: Wow. Ahead of his time.
Mike: Yeah. It’s funny how my worlds collide.
Woj: Yeah. You must bump into a lot of things from the past that crossover now.
Mike: Yeah. It’s random, like some guy hit me up on Twitter from Arizona, I think it was, and we were talking, and he was like “Yeah, I was at your last show in Arizona. Now, I do search.” What?
Mike: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Woj: What do you think about all of this negative SEO stuff? Dr. Pete has an interesting idea regarding a “Disconnect” directive in the robots.txt file to potentially block inbound links as a flag to Google to say “we don’t want these links to be counted.”
Mike: If Dr. Pete says it I agree with it.
Mike: But, it’s something that has gone on for a long time. People have been able to do it. Everybody always says “no, it’s not possible and Google is making sure that if you have a good back link profile you are probably protected.” It’s an algorithm – you can always game it any way you want as long as you attack it the right way.
Mike: I don’t really think it’s something everybody should be paranoid about right now. If anything you should have always been paranoid about it.
Woj: Yeah. Focus on good content.
Mike: Yeah. Make good content, build good links, and it’s business as usual.
Image courtesy of Mike’s Noob Guide to Link Building.
Mike: If there is an issue where people are sending you shitty links, there are ways to report that. It’s not a big deal. Just do it.
Woj: Yeah. Nice. What’s your perfect formula for anchor text distribution in a back link profile? Let’s say it’s all white hat, how many parts exact, how many parts broad, how many parts brand, how many parts naked, or scrap that mentality all together?
Mike: Of course, you want the exact match anchors, but I don’t go after those as hard as most people do. When I’m link building I really just want a link. I found that your internal linking structure affects that heavily. Obviously the exact match inbound links mean a lot.
Mike: So does your internal linking structure.
Mike: As long as that’s on point, I’m not so worried about the exact match anchors. But it really depends on how competitive the space is. What your competitors are doing, who has more exact matches etc., etc. I really go based on that, to determine how many exact match anchors I want to go after. There’s not a blanket answer, like, you want 25% exact match and so on and so forth. It’s really situational.
Woj: Absolutely. OK. You are now MacGyver. Alright?
Woj: Some bad dudes just blind folded you and locked you up in the closet. Just before they did you grabbed three items in this room. What three items did you grab? What’s the name of a device that you assembled to help you escape?
Mike: Your phone, head phones and I need something sharp.
Woj: You just gonna sit there and rock out?
Mike: LOL! I’d just hang out. And, the glass on the table.
Woj: Or call for help I suppose hehe
Mike: Glass on the table, small table. It’s not really about me putting it together. I break the glass so I can cut myself out.
Woj: What’s it called?
Mike: Also, breaking the glass would cause a noise so people walking by might stop, and, be like, what’s going on in there. I could call somebody. I don’t know. I would try to pick the lock with your head phones. LOL
Woj: LOL. Yeah. I was hoping to make an instructographic. I’m not sure if I can do that now. But, I’ll put a picture of MacGyver up in the post (or not…)
Woj: OK You are now in a pop group called “Link Direction”.
Woj: Who are the other four members from the SEO community, in the group?
Mike: Rand, because, I heard that he can sing. Rhea Drysdale, because she would be an awesome performer of some sort, and, Tom Critchlow, because he’s got a finger on the pulse of the hipster community.
Woj: Oh nice. I think we need one more.
Mike: One more. Jen Lopez, so she can lead our dance unit.
“What Makes You Searchable” out June 2012
Woj: You are now Chuck Norris.
Woj: No. I’m just kidding. That’s it. Thanks for your time man.
Mike: Cool. That was fun. Thank you.
What a top bloke – as we say here in Australia – really laid back & nice. He was even nice enough to drop a few tips and a little exclusive work in progress that I think is going to tear the SEO world apart.
Extra hints & tips:
- Codex.getstat.com – this repository keeps track of rankings across some of the biggest sites around the world across a number of different verticals. This is a great spot to check after an algo update to check the impact on rankings in certain categories.
- You can use Zerply or About.me as an alternative to Follower Wonk for prospecting
Exclusive: SEO Cookbook – there are so many SEO tools out there. But, which work best together and at what part of the holistic SEO process? Keep an eye on Mike… he’s plotting a master site that will take care of it all.
Thanks again Mike – all the best in your travels, keep smilin’ and helping people