5 things hip-hop moguls can teach us about SEO

The news emerged over the weekend that Stanley K. Burrell (better known as MC Hammer) is to front a new search engine - WireDoo. Publicity stunts aside, there is a lot SEOs can learn from the multi-billion dollar hip-hop industry and the millionaire moguls that inhabit it.

Here’s a lighthearted look at some of those lessons:

#1 – Seek out collaborations

There’s a reason most of the hip-hop moguls launched their careers via more established names…it works. Leveraging authority, brand recognition and the community of others is the most effective way to gain attention online particularly if you are new in an industry or seeking to grow your presence in a particular vertical.

This translates online into the form of content partnerships and guest blogging which are some of the most effective forms of linkbuilding at our disposal. They offer opportunity beyond just link juice; exposure, awareness, traffic and a mention from a high-authority site.

#2 – Diversify

The CEO of hip-hop Jay-Z has investments ranging from fashion and nightclubs to sports teams and broadway shows, 50 Cent reportedly made $100million when he sold his stake in the water brand Glacéau, Sean Coombs (P Diddy) part owns one of the best selling premium vodka brands in the US. My point is, every hip-hop mogul has diversified business interests. How does this apply to SEO?

  • Don’t rely on one traffic source – marketing monogamy is business suicide, there’s a reason that we as an agency have evolved into being content-led. Content marketing, social media and community building are all significant marketing tactics which contribute to SEO results but similarly provide a safety-net so as to prevent the client being at the behest of Google.
  • Extend your brand and expand your keyword portfolio – hip-hop moguls are supremely talented at translating their brands into new areas to increase awareness and boost their income. Many businesses online do not take full advantage of the opportunities available to them – always look at ways of extending your brand into new verticals and expanding your keyword portfolio to grow traffic vs. solely improving visibility on same terms month after month.
  • Apply successes to other markets – take what you’ve learned in one sector and apply the same model to other areas for rapid growth and increased chances of success i.e. a particular format keyword which has converted well in a closely related area, a type of linkbait which proved particularly effective, an outreach email which generated a good response rate. Apply your experiences rather than re-learning each time you want to target a new space.

#3 – Give the people what they want

Be fresh and innovative just not too fresh.

Ever heard of 9th Wonder, Medaphoar or Kurupt? – chances are probably not, but these guys top the underground hip-hop chart. They are at the cutting edge of the industry but their music is too much of a departure from the mainstream sounds, consequently very few people have heard about them. At the other end of the scale, the hip hop moguls produce commercial stuff which sells because it’s a little bit of what everyone likes to hear that’s been slightly tweaked to give it a fresh feel.

It depends on your online marketing goals but if it’s about getting more eyeballs (and the right kind of eyeballs) then in my opinion, the best content strategy is often to just give people what they want. Try reworking pillar content topics in your industry or injecting some linkbait qualities into your next piece – it works, there’s no need to be constantly reinventing the wheel.

I’m not advocating being boring or mediocre, just don’t always be pushing the envelope too much, bleeding edge stuff takes time and the payoff you see isn’t always proportional. Our clients don’t have budget to waste (who does?!) which is why we make sure each piece is going to have maximum impact.

#4 – Hustle

SEO isn’t easy, it’s not always quick wins, shortcuts and magic-bean linkbait. Sometimes you have to work really hard. A successful hip-hop mogul isn’t afraid of a little hustle and neither should any self-respecting SEO. A hip-hop mogul’s empire much like a strong, stable website isn’t built over night.

#5 – Hood wealth doesn’t last long

There are plenty of hip hop stars that make an appearance on the scene young and are broke before long because they overspend for the sake of appearances. They act like the flashy material things are the shortcut to being seen as a player. The moguls have a different mindset, they invest for the future.

Similarly in the SEO business, longevity and stability is the name of the game (usually). Building links for example is about identifying high value link opportunities over finding any old link just to bulk out a profile. You can manipulate all the signals you want and create all the right noises but in the end it ultimately comes down to substance – style will only get you so far.

  • Keyword driven content might get you some long tail rankings BUT will this bring you down the next time there’s a Panda rollout and will customers engage with the drivel you’re pumping out?
  • Short term thinking when it comes to linkbuilding might provide a temporary boost BUT is it going to do more harm later down the line?
  • Buying Facebook fans might boost your numbers BUT are any of these people going to engage with your page? (As a side-note; I’m not actually against the practice of paying to acquire fans, so long as everyone involved knows the benefits and the risks. And as long it is understood these are just seed fans and aren’t substitutes for real ones. I feel that it is a good way to provide some initial social proof for a business or brand that doesn’t have a huge existent following.)
  • That change you just made to the navigation just gave you loads of juicy anchor text links BUT is the menu now confusing for customers?


  1. avatar
    Iain October 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    I like this. OK, so it’s a little formulaic, but it’s a good formula, so go with it!

    I think one critical element is engaging the client in carrying out any of these ideas – let them know what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you expect to happen as a result.

    It’s all very well being very very clever, but if all the client sees is an outlay with no significant immediate return you will have explaining to do!

    • avatar
      James Agate October 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      Thanks Iain, great point – best to keep them aware throughout the process just so as to minimise frustration if any issues should arise but more importantly so that you get full credit when things go right!

  2. avatar
    Anthony Trollope October 27, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Hi James,

    The MC Hammer story is a funny one. At this weeks SearchLove conference we were all prompted to tweet at him and tell him to attend the NYC event. Great example of Distilled utilising their audience as a sales technique and ‘hustling’ to get an objective done. MC Hammer did tweet the group back although I have no idea whether he is actually attending the event. Either way, SearchLove is now on MC Hammer’s radar and that’s half the battle in achieving any outreach goal. (There’s always a next time)

    ‘Hustle’ was a big topic at SearchLove. In other words, ‘getting s**t done’ (another phrase coined by Distilled) is the most important part of any outreach strategy. We learnt this ourselves as we switched from sitting back and letting folks pitch us their ideas for content collaboration and actually went out there and sought to align ourselves with the very best of our peers. A little daunting at first but we found that thorough research and lots of preparation allowed us to convey the benefits of collaboration much much better. Think about it, the more convincing your proposition is (even if you’re not directly selling something) the more likely it is someone is going to take you and your pitch seriously. For us it’s not about selling ourselves, it’s more about displaying the value of collaborating and just why this would make sense for both companies.

    When you’re doing outreach, look for the benefits in a relationship and focus on conveying these to your prospect. Use real examples where you can and refer to other outreach cases that were successful. This builds trust and displays that you have a history of ‘getting s**t done’ and that this isn’t yet another biz dev deal that may never come to nothing (we all have plenty of those, right?!). Don’t try to sell them something and don’t push your own agenda (this comes across too ‘salesy’ and often leads nowhere positive).

    Bend over backwards to find the mutual benefit and most importantly, don’t be afraid to start the ball rolling without expecting anything in return.


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