How iPullRank Launched The World’s First SEO Movie

Get inspired by iPullRank's 2020 MozCon presentation—a first-of-its-kind movie experience—in this interview with Michael King.

When’s the last time a video or piece of content made you stop in your tracks and take a second look? Something that stood out as truly unique and memorable?

For us, it was Michael King’s 2020 MozCon presentation — a narrative-style movie that pulled out all the stops to showcase some pretty advanced technical SEO tactics.

We were so intrigued by the concept, we connected with Michael King, Founder & Managing Director at iPullRank, to explore the concept, his creative process, and how he brought this vision to life.

Wistia: Tell us about you. How did you get into marketing?

Mike: I went to school at Howard University for computer science. After that, I made music for a living. Learning how to promote my music and find new fans was really how I learned more about marketing. I was dabbling with email marketing and social media before they had formal strategies or best practices.

In 2006, I got in a bike accident and quickly realized that I needed a job with insurance, so I landed a gig at an SEO agency. I assumed it would be temporary and that I would just keep the job until an upcoming European tour, but I actually started to like what I was doing. I decided to take it to the next level and landed a job at Razorfish, a large multinational agency. After that I worked at a series of agencies for several years before I decided to go out on my own.

I started iPullRank in 2014 and never looked back.

Image courtesy of iPullRank

Wistia: What’s iPullRank?

Mike: iPullRank is a digital marketing agency focused on website solutions architecture, content strategy, marketing automation, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO). Content Strategy and Technical SEO, however, is where we really thrive. We work with enterprise clients across multiple verticals — financial services, e-commerce, consumer goods — we don’t specialize any further because we don’t need to. We know what we’re good at and we focus on that.

We take the same approach for all of our clients — we start with market segmentation and develop a deep understanding of audiences. You don’t see many SEO agencies taking the time to truly understand audiences — a lot of it is very keyword-driven. From there, we use that audience intelligence to inform everything else we do with a client.

Wistia: Let’s talk about MozCon. You took a unique approach to your presentation.

Mike: MozCon is the Superbowl of SEO conferences. It really has a reputation for speakers bringing the craziest, most outside-of-the-box ideas to life.

This was my fourth year presenting, and I was initially a little disappointed when I heard the conference was shifting to a virtual environment. Then I realized that it was an opportunity to really up the ante to make my presentation memorable and maximize the visual medium.

Wistia: How did you come up with the idea to make a movie?

Mike: We had to completely pivot when we learned that the conference was going remote. We ultimately understood why the decision was made, but it left us in a tight spot to execute something unique that matched the over-the-top style that I am known for.

The conference was supposed to have a carnival theme, so I wanted to incorporate this into my presentation with a “three ring circus” concept. Then, we had the idea of using a Joker character as the main antagonist.

My topic was on technical SEO, and we wanted to actually show people how these SEO hacks work versus just explaining it, so we added Mr. Robot-esque scenes where you can see the work happening in real-time. This is where video is helpful — we could actually show the work happening versus me just talking to an audience about it.

Melissa Fernandez, our Art Director, put together three concepts, all of which would take different levels of effort, and of course, we fell in love with the most involved idea. We knew it was going to be difficult to pull off, but everyone was so excited and we just knew it was the right choice.

My team and I were really excited to bring this creative project to life, despite the outrageous timeline to get it all done.

Image courtesy of iPullRank

Wistia: How much time did you have between learning the conference was virtual and getting your project done?

Mike: We had less than four weeks to get the video project done — which was kind of absurd, but we embraced the challenge. Fajr Muhammad and I put the initial concept together and then I wrote the script over a weekend and then we started putting pixels to screen about three weeks out. It was definitely down to the wire, and we ended up adding a few freelance animators to the team to get it finished in time.

“We had less than four weeks to get the video project done — which was kind of absurd, but we embraced the challenge.”

Wistia: Let’s talk more specifically about the video project. What were the larger goals for the project? And how are you using this post-MozCon?

Mike: The main goal was to do something super creative and memorable for MozCon — and we definitely knocked it out of the park. We got a ton of leads after the conference, and we can’t speak highly enough about how many people reached out saying the movie was cool and they wanted to work with us. It’s been fantastic for the business overall.

Image courtesy of iPullRank

Post-conference, we’re honestly struggling with the promotion side of things — but we are actively figuring out how to do better. We’ve started a few targeted ad campaigns and are sharing it organically. We really want to get as much mileage out of the project as possible.

The thing is, there’s no one else out there who has this kind of thing — an SEO movie. So figuring out how to build and capture that demand and generate that awareness is something we’re still working through. There are hundreds and thousands of SEO managers out there and we have something entertaining and educational — we just need to figure out how to connect those dots. It’s bringing me back to my music promotion days and how I had to really work to promote my albums in a variety of ways.

Long-term, we are definitely thinking about how we can expand this concept. We’re considering using the movie characters and this style of teaching to build out a training product. There are already tons of “SEO training” programs out there, but they’re all really boring and unengaging. We want to make it more of an interactive game, almost like the premise of the movie, where you can learn different SEO skills and beat a character.

Wistia: Who was involved in making this project come to life?

Mike: We did most of the project in-house with our existing team — though we did end up hiring a few freelance animators to help us get the project over the finish line.

I was heavily involved, as were several members of our creative team. Melissa Fernandez, our Art Director, and Melvin Espinal, our Video Editor, played a big role in bringing the vision to life. Fajr Muhammad helped me with developing the core story arc and editing the script. Neferkara Aaron, our Office Manager, was the voice actor for both Casey and Joker. It was really a team effort.

Get Inspired
Read more on the making of Runtime in this behind-the-scenes scoop.

Wistia: How did you tackle translating super nerdy/complex SEO concepts into a bite-sized, easy to understand narrative?

Mike: I’ll be honest — I’ve never written a script before. So, what did I do? I googled “how to write a script.” I researched different techniques and I just went for it.

I think that’s one of the things that makes me effective from a content perspective — I’m really good at taking complex topics and making them digestible. Relatable metaphors and general simplicity is how I approach technical content.

“Relatable metaphors and general simplicity is how I approach technical content.”

An example of this is a blog I wrote years ago for Moz on how Google bots crawl websites. I compared Googlebot to Pacman, the dots he eats as web content, SEOs as power pills, and ghosts as technical SEO issues that get in the way. I like to break things down and make them as relatable as possible.

Image courtesy of Moz

I also worked in a few SEO inside jokes to really connect with the audience. At one point, Casey, the main character, calls me an “SEO-lebrity.” This type of light humor resonates with the audience I’m trying to connect with — and it doesn’t hurt to crack a few jokes about yourself every once and awhile. I’m capitalizing on niche humor with an existing community.

Wistia: It sounded like not all of your feedback after the conference was positive — and you didn’t care. Why not?

Mike: It’s the lowest score I’ve ever gotten at MozCon. We only get a sample of session feedback notes from the survey, but I could tell it was very diametrically opposed. People either loved it or hated it. At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone, and I’m still really happy with what we did. We raised the bar for what a presentation can be. Feedback doesn’t reflect the absolute value of what you create.

“At the end of the day, I’m still really happy with what we did. We raised the bar for what a presentation can be.”

One of the main pieces of constructive feedback we got was that there wasn’t a slide deck. Which, of course, there’s not a slide deck — it’s a movie. So we’re putting together a “deck” in a comic book form that matches the look and feel of the movie. We really wanted to piggyback off the creativity and do something that’s not just another PDF. The comic book will blend our creative, entertaining style with a more step-by-step, instructional approach that people can easily digest at their own pace.

How are you measuring success?

Mike: I’ll be totally honest — that’s something we’re still figuring out. We have not done a great job at re-purposing the video content and promoting the video yet — but it’s on our radar.

From a lead generation perspective, it’s been a huge success. The Turnstile feature in Wistia is fantastic, and the video has driven a good amount of leads for us so far.

Image courtesy of iPullRank

We really want to connect the dots and figure out what works and what doesn’t from a promotion perspective and make this an evergreen piece we can use for a long time.

Do you plan on using this approach again?

Mike: We’ll definitely continue to explore video as a medium and think of creative ways to connect with our audience. When we look at the success of video series like Whiteboard Friday, we can see what’s possible. And we want to achieve that level of success.

Wistia: What advice do you have for anyone looking to break into video or launch a similar project?

Mike: It doesn’t take much of an investment to get into making videos. Finding a couple of hundred dollars and finding someone on Upwork. As far as physically doing it, it wasn’t a difficult project. It’s really just about finding an idea and finding people who can help you.

I recently re-watched this hip hop movie from the late 90s called Belly. It stars Nas and DMX. After I watched it again, I realized how bad of a film it was. But I also realized that was probably a multimillion-dollar project that could be shot now with three iPhones. So, don’t worry about the quality as much as coming up with a solid idea and just going for it. All you need is great content.

If you think about video now, all these famous Instagram and social media accounts are the ones that do really cool video stuff where they have basic effects and editing. They just do that stuff every day, and now they have huge followings. So just get started. Nothing is stopping you from making great content.

“It doesn’t take much of an investment to get into making videos. So just get started. Nothing is stopping you from making great content.”

We’re so impressed by this stellar example of creativity and storytelling. Whether you’re an SEO enthusiast looking to expand your skillset or a marketer seeking inspiration for your next video project, be sure to give the full movie a watch!