The Cat in The Hat Teaches SEO

By , July 27th, 2011 in SEO | 83 comments

I’m going to be honest with you. I think rap music sucks in other languages. I’ve been around the world and met a lot of talented emcees in various different countries and I’ve listened to people rap in Czech, Japanese, German and countless other languages that I can’t speak. I might smile and nod my head just to be polite but – I don’t like it. What makes rapping in English so awesome is the elegance of the English language and its beautiful ambiguity. However for Search Marketing that same ambiguity is a gift and a curse. I’ve invited a poet we all know and love to help explain how to conquer that ambiguity using A/B testing. He’s rhymed his way into saving the day before. No it’s not Johnnie Cochran.

Ladies and Gentlemen I’d like to reintroduce you to the one and only Cat in the Hat!

Like all inbound marketers the Cat in the Hat is no stranger to juggling many different talents simultaneously to get results. He’s also no stranger to navigating chaos to end up with spotless results. However he might be more fantastic than his inbound marketing counterparts because he can walk into anyone’s house wearing just a hat and a bowtie (that doesn’t actually go around his neck) and cause a ruckus without any repercussions.

Even so he’s taking time out of his busy schedule of home wrecking and cleaning to kick a few rhymes and help us argue semantics. Luckily he rhymes in English today.

Classical Keyword Classification

Typically in SEO we classify keywords into three groups: “informational,” “transactional,” and “navigational.” Briefly, informational queries are broad queries such as “plumbers” or “flowers” in which the user is just looking to find out more about the topic in a very general sense. Once the user is more informed and is ready to make a purchase the query becomes more specific and grows into something like “certified plumbers 19121” or “buy flowers Philadelphia .“ When this happens it’s called a transactional query and if your landing pages are great then your clients start thinking about naming their kids after you when these keywords get typed in. Lastly, navigational queries are for those strange people that go to Yahoo and search for “Google.” Weirdos.

This segmentation works on a broad scale but what happens if you are a store located in Reading, Pennsylvania and you sell both eyeglasses and drinking glasses? In both cases people may potentially search for “reading glasses” however this search is ambiguous and you don’t know what portion of those people is close to a prescription for medical marijuana and what portion is just trying to enjoy some lemonade. Stop it, I don’t smoke.

It would be a shame to put all that effort into building content, optimizing and link building to achieve the number one spot for “reading glasses” only to have an 80% bounce rate because you chose to highlight the product with the lesser demand.

So let’s find out how we optimize for the right term.

Know Your Audience, Know Your Keywords

Until our world starts to look more like something George Orwell and Philip K. Dick would have collaborated on there’s no way for us to know exactly what every user is thinking when they search or come to a site. However we can use social listening to figure out what words they are using to describe products, group users into personas and also determine their needs at each stage of search.

Social Listening

There are many awesome tools that can be used to tap into the existing conversation. You can also use mechanisms such as sponsored trending topics to artificially encourage people to talk about your brand or keyword. However in most cases it’s good enough to just pop your keyword into Social Mention and sift through the how people are talking about it.

Questions to Ask

  • What words/phrases are used to describe the product?
  • Would one of these words/phrases make a better target keyword for Organic Search?
  • Why are these users searching? What needs are the trying to fulfill?
  • What are the demographics of these users?

After cataloging this information you are ready to develop the different personas.

Personas

Personas are models of people that fit a specific ideal demographic. Depending how in-depth you want to go you can give each persona a name, location, ethnicity, the whole nine if you’d like. The point of a persona is to determine the target audience and use them as a reference point. Personas are typically employed in usability tests but as you may imagine their implications are far-reaching when applied to Search. There are plenty of tools that give you demographic data like Compete, ComScore, Quantcast and Google Ad Planner but in most cases social listening by itself is better because it gives you real conversation from real people. Adwords also allows for demographic targeting.

Example Persona

Keep in mind that developing personas is not an exact science and you may never represent all the groups that are visiting your site. Think of personas as great guesses that help define the parameters of tests against the performance of your landing pages.

Need States

Need States are classifications of goals that users are trying to fulfill when searching for a given keyword. Typically need states follows the AIDA Decision Making Process (Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action) although I have also seen it divided into Consider, Evaluate, Buy, Enjoy, Advocate (CEBEA) as well. Both systems are great but whichever model you follow it should be applied throughout your keyword list to improve messaging for the target demographics’ need state.

For example since “reading glasses” could mean that our friend Fisher Price is performing an informational search about eyewear the term could be classified as interest (AIDA) or consider (CEBEA). However “reading glasses” could also mean that Fisher is looking to buy eyeglasses or drinking glasses in Reading, Pennsylvania and therefore that search for this persona could also be Action (AIDA) or Buy (CEBEA). Maybe it’s the first. Maybe it’s the second.

Which is it?

Point out the Bounce!

Once you’ve identified keywords that fall into multiple need states you then have something worth A/B testing. In this case we have 3 things to test but we can easily accomplish them with an A/B test.

The questions that need to be answered are:

  • Is Fisher Price searching for information on eyeglasses?
  • Is Fisher Price looking to buy eyeglasses in Reading?
  • Is Fisher Price looking to buy drinking glasses in Reading?

Luckily the Cat in the Hat always has a few friends that are ready for an A/B Test.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 will represent our landing pages. Notice how aside from the numbers on their shirts they are otherwise identical. Build your landing pages the same way. Make sure the pages are laid out identically aside from the specific info and pictures for the products in order to eliminate variables. In this case both pages would contain information about their respective glasses and both would have CTAs leading to product detail or purchase pages.

Once you’ve got your landing page in Unbounce set up an Adwords (or other PPC provider) campaign and allocate 50% of the traffic to each page and let ‘er rip. You want a big enough data set to make the test definitive so I’ll let you be the judge of that based on how much this keyword is costing you.

And the Winner is…

The keyword that performs the best in the A/B test wins. That is to say the landing page with the lower bounce rate, higher time on site and highest number of pageviews is the owner of that keyword for your Organic Search campaign.

Thing 1 “drinking glasses” has won rights to this keyword therefore in this fictional case the insight is that more people to purchase drinking glasses in Reading, PA than are looking for information about or to purchase reading eyeglasses. Once it’s definitive that drinking glasses owns the “reading glasses” keyword the next step is to optimize the landing page and the internal linking structure for Organic Search to reflect that and then do subsequent research to identify an additional keyword so your eyeglass stock doesn’t collect dust.

Here’s a quick reminder of the process:

In closing, it’s important to remember that the results of these inbound marketing processes are not constants. SEO and CRO actually create a feedback loop and keyword research must be updated to account for seasonality and other user behavior changes. In other words, for the best results … Always Be Testing!

Giving Credit

Before I get out of here I want to give credit where it’s due. A brilliant man by the name of Tony Effik introduced me to the idea of personas and need states and how they help eliminate the ambiguity of keywords from the keyword research process. So I have to give him his props because otherwise I wouldn’t have known this to write it. Oh yeah and he’s my boss too.

Also I’d like to give a shout out to Dr. Seuss because “Green Eggs and Ham” was the first book I ever read and reading is fundamental.

Pleasure working with you!

– Michael King

This is a guest post, entered in the 2011 Unbounce Conversion Fest Blogging Contest. All opinions are those of the author.

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.

Comments

  1. Oli Gardner says:

    I have to commend you on your creativity Mike – using the Cat in the Hat mixed with your rhymes is really clever.

    Love it.

  2. Adrian says:

    Great read. Any doctor Seuss analogy is always going to be a winner with me.

    • iPullRank says:

      Thanks Adrian. People are suggesting a series. Thing 1 & Thing 2 have a lot of potential!

  3. Jerr Charles says:

    This was an incredible post that I’ll surely pass along and add to my reference list. I’ve often struggled with search intent for phrases that fall in the middle. I probably should have, but never really thought about a/b testing to definitively clarify phrase “ownership”. I’m curious about the best way to create landing pages for phrases you may not actually have products or services for however. For example, if you sell reading glasses you would have to create a ficticious landing page for the alternate test. Lot’s to learn :) Thanks for the insight.

    • iPullRank says:

      Hey Jerr, thanks for reading!

      When you don’t have an offering for the other keyword you could potentially just use one page that is split down the middle and send them to somewhere else and then just track the click path and bounce rate. However giving them the choice 2 choices on one page can potentially skew the test.

  4. BRILLIANT! I love the clever inclusion of Cat in the Hat analogies and rhymes. I look forward to a version two that uses Thing 1 & Thing 2. Perhaps a good fit for A/B testing? Awesome job, Michael!

    • (I did see you inclusion of Thing 1 and Thing 2. I was just suggesting it would additionally make a great article of its own.)

    • iPullRank says:

      Thanks Angie! Yep you’re definitely right. Thing 1 & 2 fit it so perfectly. It was one of those funny things when an idea comes to you and it just falls into place haha. If I come up with anything else cool to share I’ll definitely make use of them again. Great QR code post as well!

  5. Naomi Niles says:

    Ha, this is great, Mike! Educational, entertaining, and easy to grasp. Well done!

    I especially love (besides the funny handshake at the end) your description of the need states. I think this something people tend to overlook easily because they only consider that people are in one specific state and shoot for that one. Probably the “buy” one, yes?

    Thanks!

    • iPullRank says:

      Glad you liked it Naomi. I’ll definitely gonna be citing your post at work with our Creative team.

      People definitely focus on the buy state and there’s always talk about multi-touch attribution and such but once you match that up with other need states you get a more accurate idea of how to focus the messaging.

  6. Igor B. says:

    Nice. Your Jay-Z reference didn’t go unnoticed, Mike. :)

  7. [...] Arguing Semantics: Using PPC & A/B Testing to Polish Keyword Research for SEO | Unbounce (tags: seo abtesting) [...]

  8. Minchala says:

    Did NOT expect ol’ Ted Geisel to make it into my daily reading today ;-)

    For instances where PPC split testing is not an option (e.g. a mom n’ pop biz that has no PPC budget or not enough to collect the necessary volume of data), what do you recommend as an acceptable proxy to a paid search A/B test?

    • iPullRank says:

      I’m not so sure there is an acceptable proxy for this that is cheaper. You could go to the email newsletter or display route but email is unpredictable and display costs even more so basically if they can’t afford a few hundred dollar spend on PPC then this test isn’t really on the table you’ll have to do it after the fact once the site ranks.

  9. [...] Move over infographics, make room for…storygraphics? Unbounce explains SEO Cat in the Hat style. [...]

  10. Matt Gammie says:

    Not to totally blow smoke up your ass, but this is the first search post I’ve read in a while that was worth emailing round the office – thanks for writing it.

    @minchala You can use Mechanical Turk (mturk.com) or similar – can buy a set of simple tasks for less money than the CPC in some verticals. It’s not a direct like-for-like because you’re not testing on real-life prospects, but can still turn up some insights.

    • iPullRank says:

      Thanks Matt, I very much appreciate the support and glad you enjoyed the post!

      mTurk isn’t such a good call here because there’s no search intent, it’s just people you send to the site somehow. mTurk could potentially be good for a traditional A/B test depending on how you engage the users.

  11. Heather says:

    Thanks for a great and entertaining read, Mike. I absolutely love Dr. Seuss! I cut my teeth on those books–probably literally.

  12. [...] Move over infographics, make room for…storygraphics? Unbounce explains SEO Cat in the Hat style. [...]

  13. Dan says:

    Outstanding job Sir…you got me so excited I forgot the name of my own website! :)

    Consider your self tweeted, retweeted, and loved on FB.

  14. Ryan Kelly says:

    Good post, Mike! Not very many folks in the SEO space are as concerned with conversion as they are about traffic and rankings. My only concern in the practicality of the testing is the amount of data you would need for each search term your testing against. I assume in the real-world you are choosing words which generate a healthy amount of traffic? How long are you running the A/B test for?

    • iPullRank says:

      I’d say run it for as long as you can afford to.The bigger the volume of data the more accurate the insight so it depends on the keyword. For example if I have a keyword with a CPC of 5 cents then I’m comfortable putting $100 into and getting a data set of 2000 visits. However if the CPC is $5 then it’s not realistic that you will spend $10k for the test.

      Basically get as much as you can afford as long as that amount if enough to pull a definitive insight.

    • Ryan and Mike,
      First of all, fab post, Mike. The memorable presentation certainly contributes to the usefulness of the information.
      Like Ryan, I find it amazing how many folks who want to talk SEO get so focused on traffic and rankings they lose site of why they are trying to generate the traffic in the first place…conversions.
      In many cases, I find folks who are paying an incredible amount for PPC and are clients of some well-known companies (Yellowbook, AT&T, etc.) have been sold a bill of goods and are reaping very little benefit. Because many small business owners do not really understand SEM, they fall prey to a slick sales job. I’ll stop ranting now.
      Thanks again for the informative and entertaining post, Mike.

  15. Erika says:

    I think this article is fantastic! Catchy introduction… Wonderful delivery… Phenomenal special guests! I was certainly entertained, and I learned a little something too! I have read other articles you’ve written and I think you are a great writer. Looking forward to future postings from you — perhaps a book in the future? ;)

    • iPullRank says:

      Hey Erika! Thanks for reading.

      Yep I’m actually working on a book with another talented SEO We’re attempting to explain SEO to developers, creatives, traditional marketers, etc. Stay tuned for that!

  16. Josh-u-a says:

    As always, your work is both entertaining and educational ;D. Those rhyming captions were great.

    On a more practical note, this is some pretty useful information.

    Knowing what a user wants when they search is just as important as actually being visible to them within the results.

    A good portion of Algorithm updates for the SERPs focus on understanding the query in the same way a human would, and Semantic Analysis is tricky enough when the terms are easy for humans to process.

    When you add ambiguity to the mix like this great example, an algorithmic approach becomes elusive even for Google, et al.

    I don’t really see many SEO Professionals having the time or the tech to even want to attempt an algorithmic solution.

    This is the perfect technique to perform that analysis in short order and with minimal investment of time or resources.

    Great job, and thanks for sharing!

    • iPullRank says:

      Thank you for reading sir.

      I think in these cases Google weighs CTR more heavily so they can algorithmically determine interest. I’m sure they earmark the ambiguous queries and shift the SERPs in their own type of testing.

  17. [...] The Cat in the Hat Teaches SEO by Michael King [...]

  18. Kim says:

    (Cats) hats off for creativity. Cant say you bring anything new content here but you communcate on a really great way.

  19. Chande says:

    Excellent post. I love the cat idea. I would only ask, why is bounce rate the winner on this A/B testing and not a conversion?

    • iPullRank says:

      For the simple fact that people may not convert for multiple reasons. The test is more to show which thing people are more interested in so it can be run before you have developed an optimal landing page.

  20. Kristi Hines says:

    You should definitely win the creativity award for this one! I love cat in the hat – and you can learn a lot just from the graphics and rhymes! Great job!

  21. Brian Crouch says:

    Sorry to be late to the party on this one! Absolutely couldn’t wait to share this to as many people as I could when I saw it today. Creative storytelling is what we need a lot more of in blogs on search and inbound marketing. Even if all of these points were to be found in other blogs (which I’m not sure is the case), this is how to make the info stick. Many thanks. Great to meet you at MozCon.

  22. Oli Gardner says:

    I’m definitely commenting to see the freestyle rap video. This sound like it could be special.

    Bring it on Mike.

  23. Dan Shure says:

    Hey Mike

    Loved the post, very useful, and I’m right with you on “test test test”.

    I’d like to just add, I find it very important in the KW research process to check the SERPs too. For example, “reading glasses” with location set to reading, pa does not display location specific results (you have to add “pa” – otherwise they return pages that really are about reading glasses) – so although someone searching for this might be trying to find a glasses store in Reading, if Google is not returning results they want, they’ll perform another query. I know this was just an example, and I totally get what you’re saying of course – KWs can be ambiguous, and so can intentions.

    But the point is, to research what results are returned for your keywords in the SERPs too. This goes case by case of course, and changes over time for sure. So I’m always checking the SERPs to see what GOOGLE thinks a KW is about.

    -Dan

  24. [...] Move over infographics, make room for…storygraphics? Unbounce explains SEO Cat in the Hat style. [...]

  25. Ian says:

    It’s shocking how many people/businesses skip the persona section.

    Granted – I’m thankful they do from a search perspective – opens up new worlds for me in terms of guest posting, etc.

  26. Great article and use of creativity! Who thought A/B testing could be so much fun?

    And awesome youtube video btw :) The pipe was a nice touch.

  27. I super love the fish bowl persona. I think I’m going to use that in my examples form now on!

  28. Ha! I just watched the video commercial… (http://bit.ly/qPNvjN) Very nice. I’m looking forward to a fish bowl freelance rap response! =)

  29. Andrew says:

    Great post… I might have to borrow this line in particular: “Turn your maybe to a yes, just by using A/B tests”

    Seeing your from Philly, do you consider the Roots to be a part of your lyrical influence? I want Questlove to appear in your freestyle response!

  30. iPullRank says:

    Freestyle response #1

  31. Sha Menz says:

    Hi Mike,

    What can I say? You had me hooked with the very first mention of my old friend, the Cat in the Hat!

    Seems to me there might be a little Sam-I-Am lurking under that sophisticated, bookish exterior that you display too. ;D

    Sam-I-Am is of course, a relentless crusader who simply wants people to enjoy green eggs and ham and is willing to go to any lengths to get the unbelievers to at least give them a try. Strikes me there are certain similarities with your determination to take out the Unbounce Conversion Fest!

    The original master of rhyme, Sam-I-Am was, in my view, an awesome Rapper quite ahead of his time. Who could ever forget the smooth moves and sublime rhyme he served up while asking everyone to consider the possibilities of eating green eggs and ham “in a house” or “with a mouse.”

    Sam-I-Am strives to open the mind to the endless imagination that is only possible when someone is willing to try. Not unlike your good self!

    OK, so before I got completely immersed in my blind obsession for the Cat, Sam and that sizzling hot Fox in Socks, I was going to say “Wow – light bulb moment! Thank you”

    As an Aussie working every day for USA clients, I try to keep on top of the differences in what we call things. This post though, pointed out a very real danger for me that had not been highlighted before. In future I will be checking with my USA workmates to ensure that there are not place name issues like this one that I have not recognized!

    As a good ol’ friend would say, “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!” ;D

  32. Greg Gifford says:

    Killer post… can’t wait to see what the next one will be (you are gonna do something else like this, aren’t you?)

    And the rockin’ commercial with the old-school pipe… genius…

    Totally digging the freestyle rap response too…

    i think i have a new SEO hero…

  33. I’m totally with Greg! After this clever ensemble, I can’t wait to see what you do next. The commercial video was great, but your rhyming response was awesome. (I was laughing my way into work after watching it as I “tweeted the link.” Ha!) I know the focus of the contest was conversion, but your entry also proves how quality content drives loyalty and retention. Props and then some!

  34. intransigent says:

    Gosh–isn’t The Cat in the Hat (and it’s art/images) copyrighted?

    Yes, it’s clever, but…

  35. robert says:

    A fine blog however have you ever listened to French rap -such as MC Solar – so much smoother and sexier than English rap ever could be!

  36. I always loved Cat In The Hat. Using that as your example made the material easy to digest for me. I will implement this strategy!

  37. Cat in the Hat is just awesome. Never thought it would be applied to SEO, but kudos!

  38. [...] Adaptive SEO Approach) hit a record number of comments for a post on Unbounce, and another “The Cat in the Hat Teaches SEO” was one of the most creative SEO posts of the [...]

  39. [...] The Cat in The Hat Teaches SEO – Mike King [...]

  40. Choosing the right keywords is one of the most important SEO steps, and if you mess up you can repent of the decision much later, when it is difficult to go back.

    For this we have to choose keywords that accurately represent the information in each one of our web pages, and that also have a high volume of visits and that the competence is not too strong.

    Also I would like to say something about rap music in other languages. I’m not a big fan of rap but I like some songs and in my opinion this music is only good if you can understand the lyrics, I understand english and spanish and I like rap in this 2 languages, and for me rap in other languages sucks, but this is because I don’t understand what they say…

  41. Thanks so much for this, I have just started learning seo and it’s all a bit overwealming.

  42. Excellent post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog and I am impressed! Very useful information specially the remaining section :) I maintain such info a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a very lengthy time. Thanks and good luck.

  43. Learning can be fun! I have been meaning to try Unbounce for a while now and I think this is a perfect way into it from an SEO angle.

    Also, thanks for the link to Tony Effik’s blog… I am checking that out now.

  44. That is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks

  45. Oh my gosh, AWESOME article Mike! I’ve read a lot of SEO guides, but yours somehow manages to provide helpful, informative information in an entertaining, unique style. Thank you for this!

    Grace

  46. [...] conferences. Mike’s unique mix of talents, including blind rapping and partnering with Dr. Seuss to teach SEO, come mostly from his previous life as a software and web developer turned SEO Engineer. Mike’s [...]

  47. Generally I don’t read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very great post.

  48. SEO Bristol says:

    I’ll give Unbounce a try, it could be good for SEO.

    I love reading Tony Effik’s blog

  49. Aman says:

    Nice one Mike. As always, very informative and useful stuff. I can’t believe I have read this post before…

    Darnnn it…

  50. Comical usage of the Cat in the Hat. Did I see a reference to Fisher Price? Epic post Mike!

  51. [...] Click Here to see what The Cat in the Hat has to say. [...]

  52. Kory Allen says:

    Thanks for sharing the post..

  53. Raul says:

    An interesting article but today everything has changed. SEO has taken new life.

  54. Darryl Manco says:

    How true this is. This concept illustrated using Cat In The Hat were stressed when I obtained my Masters, and further stressed when I obtained certification. Yet as simplistic as the concept is, companies still fail to understand.

  55. Michael says:

    Great post, a lot here for me to take away from it. Thanks :-)

  56. Spanish seo says:

    Funny cat :) I like when you talk about test A/B but in some cases witk low budget is not possible to make these tests.

  57. Choosing the right keywords is one of the most important SEO steps, and if you mess up you can repent of the decision much later, when it is difficult to go back. GREAT

  58. Agencia SEM says:

    Thanks for clearing this stuff and preventing black hat practices.

  59. […] standard for SEO is to classify your keywords as navigational, transactional or informational. As I’ve said in the past there is too much possibility for ambiguity in keywords to end the analysis or planning there. I […]

  60. John says:

    Very entertaining and informative post, it includes all the basic concepts of on-page and off-page SEO providing important tools can be used for SEO purpose and way of using it, the article simply makes the task of SEO easy especially point of selecting the right keywords

  61. Dallas SEO says:

    Great post! As someone who does SEO professionally, I Love reading others experiences and opinions when it comes to SEO.

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