Paul L. Wilson

Lean SEO: A Better Way To Do SEO

To understand the context of this article, you need to know that I am an entrepreneurship professor and an SEO professional. I love what I do in both of these fields, but primarily I see SEO as a tool entrepreneurs can use to build their dreams. I never considered taking everything I’ve learned about entrepreneurship and applying it to SEO — until now.

Let me explain, a little while ago I got ill. So much so that I was out of the classroom for almost a month. My semester was a train wreck, but I was particularly worried about my SEO class.

I’ve been doing digital marketing since 1999 and SEO since 2004. Therefore, I have been deeply entrenched in the rigid and robust SEO methodology that is heavy in resources and time capital. To prove my point, here is a slide I show my SEO students during the first week of our class:

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This is me trying to simplify what our semester is going to look like.

Discovering the Lean SEO Framework

Losing a month of teaching the above SEO approach meant that there was no way I could cover everything I wanted to by the end of the semester.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

While I withered away at home for that month, I had a thought. “Is it possible that there is an equivalent to Eric Ries’s ‘Lean Start-up but for SEO?” There are so many intelligent people in SEO, and I knew someone had to think of Lean SEO (which was the first time I had put those two words together).

I Googled Lean SEO, and I was right. Someone had, in fact, created a Lean SEO framework, and his name is Pat Walls. He even created a course about it (FYI, I’m not an affiliate of his).

I’ll be honest; I was a skeptic. In my 20+ years in digital marketing, I have seen my fair share of lousy SEO courses and methodologies. Yet, I was also desperate. I needed to figure out something quickly.

So, I paid the $250 for the course and went through what Pat taught. He definitely wasn’t like the many proclaimed SEO gurus. In fact, I’d say he was the antithesis of the popular slick SEO-ers who feel they have all the answers to beating Google.

Pat’s approach also went against every SEO method I’ve ever come across. He didn’t believe in using SEO tools. He felt keyword research was unnecessary, and the only time he spent teaching about backlinks was to tell you that he didn’t believe in spending time on backlinks. I was intrigued, and I wasn’t disappointed.

My Lean SEO Experiment

To pass my time being sick, I implemented Pat’s approach of MVC, a parallel principle to the entrepreneurship MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but for content. I ran multiple tests and found his Lean SEO framework to be simple but very, very effective.

What I loved most about Pat’s framework was how easy it was to implement. Like the Lean Start-up, Pat concentrates on quick experiments that get you to the right data to make educated decisions.

We’re talking about testing 2+ pieces of content (MVCs) to get to the data and not launching an entire content marketing campaign, only to find out that it was the wrong direction. In his SEO course, Pat stresses the importance of not going overboard with content creation. He says:

“Publish 2 to 10 pieces of content immediately. Don’t publish 1 and don’t publish 50.”

For my first experiment, I only published 3 MVCs to gain data that was beneficial to furthering my SEO efforts. Let me share just a bit of what I learned from that experiment.

At the University, I get to do a lot of research on digital entrepreneurship. In order to do this research, I need to use websites that vary in search authority and relevance.  One of those websites,, belongs to my friends Devin & Megan Graham. Devin is a well-known YouTuber, and his website has decent authority, but not a lot of relevance, and a trickle of organic traffic.

Devin and Megan shared with me that they wanted to focus on getting more targeted organic traffic on the keywords 4k and 8k videography, which are some of the highest quality resolutions you can shoot in, but for Devin, these resolutions are the only type he uses in his films.

To test the demand on 4k & 8k resolution, we created the following content:

We only lightly optimized each of the articles (title tags, meta description, and image alt text) and published them between May 6th to May 17th. One thing I found very interesting in Google Search Console was the total site impressions for that year.

Utilizing the Lean SEO framework on Devin Super Tramp's website. This graph shows that from our Lean SEO efforts Google really started showing the site in the SERPs.
Permission to use by Devin Graham

You can see about May 25th (8 days after we had published our experiment) that Google really started showing Devin’s website in the SERPs. Up to that point, Devin’s website was only getting a few hundred impressions a day. At the beginning of the experiment, we averaged about 1,000+ a day (a 5x visibility jump in search). By the end of the year, we were seeing an average of about 2,000+ impressions.

This made me curious about how much the experiment contributed to 403K impressions. When you look at the below screenshot, you’ll see that our SEO experiment garnered 77% of search visibility for this website in 12 months 😳. With one page having more visibility than the site’s home page. Keep in mind that we didn’t launch this experiment until almost mid-year, so there’s also that.

Total impressions for the Lean SEO experiment.

Obviously, impressions matter very little when it comes to any meaningful SEO KPI, since it only shows how many times your web page was seen in the search results. It doesn’t mean that’s how much organic traffic a site received. However, this metric does show that Google is ranking the MVCs and where these rankings are. Having this hard data is extremely helpful when creating an SEO campaign that won’t waste time, energy, and effort.

However, this experiment wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share probably the most popular SEO KPI — total organic traffic. Unfortunately, these numbers are abysmal, particularly when comparing them to the large impression numbers we just looked at.

Our SEO experiment with the 3 MVCs sent 1,414 clicks from Google. Yet, it’s important to note that the experiment’s traffic numbers make up 80% of the site’s total annual traffic. With the site traffic being so low, it’s not surprising the experiment had such a significant impact on the traffic and impression data.

Yet, even with low traffic, there was a lot of data we received to help guide our SEO efforts. When we looked at the top-performing page from the experiment, we discovered the following:

  • Real keyword traffic data from Google, showing that 2k resolution receives a fair amount of traffic, even though we weren’t, on average, ranked high on the term.
  • Our CTR at 0.07% is horrible, but it shows that we need to improve our SERP optimization.
  • The keywords that Google felt our article was associated with, like “12k stock footage” or “million pixel tv,” weren’t what we wanted to be associated with.
  • Unearthing some great questions people were asking, such as “What is the highest resolution video camera?” that our MVC didn’t cover but could.
  • A fantastic insight was uncovering the keyword low-hanging fruit, where it wouldn’t take much to push us further up in the rankings.

Overall, with the experiment, I was pleased. I didn’t put in countless hours like I usually do, developing content. Or spending tons of time on optimizing. Instead, I spent about a day creating several quality MVCs that took under an hour to optimize all three. All these efforts provided some actionable insights that I can now execute with confidence.

Using Lean SEO in the Classroom

When I came back to the classroom, I had my students do the Lean SEO framework, and they were fans. Here are some of their end-of-semester comments:

“Lean SEO!!! That totally shifted my perspective on SEO and how to test ideas. I’ll use this a lot going forward.”

“The highlight of the course was building a website and doing lean seo!”

“I was a little scared by all of the work the original course was going to demand of us, but the rebooted seemed less intense with a greater reward.”

The feedback my students offered was anonymous but telling. About 90% of the class were considered novices, and many struggled at the beginning of the semester. This isn’t unusual, and it takes almost to the end of the course before the novice students truly appreciate what they’ve been through.

In the past, I’ve always considered this part of the SEO journey—sort of paying your dues. You have to hit your head on the brick wall enough before you break through and understand what it takes to be successful.

This learning curve headache isn’t required with Pat’s entrepreneurial approach to SEO. In fact, the time the students spent frustrated in trying to see the whole landscape of SEO was now spent on the data or creating more SEO experiments.

Concluding Thoughts

I still can’t believe I never combined entrepreneurship and SEO into a framework. It’s been right in front of me for years. It took being deathly sick for me to forgo my deeply ingrained SEO beliefs and try something new.

My purpose in writing this post is to evangelize what Pat has created. Lean SEO is a much easier way to do SEO, and in my opinion, it’s superior to everything that’s out there.

It’s also tone-deaf to the constant changing of the search engine algorithms. Those who have been doing SEO have heard this before, but it’s true. With Pat’s Lean SEO, you can quickly see your results and use the data to determine your next step.

You’re not spending hours-upon-hours of time implementing the latest and greatest SEO trick and crossing your fingers that your efforts will be worth it in the long run. Only to have all your work wrecked by the next frustrating algorithm to come along.

Instead, Lean SEO takes hours (from beginning to end) to deploy and 30 days to measure. What a stark contrast between weeks and months of time on a hope and a promise.

Does SEO still take time and energy with the Lean SEO framework? Yes, but now that time is allocated to areas that can make a bigger impact on your digital marketing efforts.

With this understanding, the Lean SEO framework has become a best practice for me and something every SEO student of mine will learn going forward.