Bursting All the Bubbles: Wil Reynolds on the Beauty of Empathy

A marketing revival was had at this year’s State of Search, y’all

Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive holding his bobble head given to him for keynoting State of Search 2016.
Empathy was the focus of Wil Reynolds’ keynote at State of Search 2016. It’s his unique approach to marketing that made him him one of our most popular speakers this year.

Communication seemed to be a common, resounding theme across many State of Search presentations this year – specifically, how you can form authentic, lasting relationships with existing and potential clients. But perhaps the most impactful session of the entire conference was the opening keynote of Day 2, delivered by the one and only Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive, titled Crossing The Chasm: Content, Context, and Customers.

With a refreshing blend of humility and charisma, Wil took the stage in front of a packed room to share what he believes is the single most important thing any marketer should strive toward, something that will not only improve your business, but also improve yourself and your relationships. A single word we far too often forget about:


The key to being a better marketer, and human

“How do we understand people better?” Wil asked the audience. “How do we understand each other?” The answer is simple. We do so through empathy. But the solution is much harder, and it became the core of his message: as marketers (and people) we have to not only think outside of our individual bubbles – outside of our realm of experience and understanding – but we have to get outside of our bubbles.

People are not walking dollar signs. They are not potential clients and untapped revenue and future markets. They are people. They are human, just like you. And if you want to be a great marketer, then you need to learn how to transcend your own biases and pivot the way you look at things. You need to stop and really be empathetic toward your fellow human being. According to Wil, marketers become a lot better at their jobs when they understand the reality they actually live in.

We can do this by seeking out other perspectives. Learning from people unlike ourselves. Realizing that Google can only deliver answers based on human queries, but the search engine can’t fully comprehend the motives behind any given search. “People bring baggage to their search queries that Google will never be able to guess,” said Wil. That’s why marketers need to be empathetic, need to get outside of their own bubbles. Because you’ll never understand how to meet the needs of the people. “Maybe some people are just trying to put food on their plate.”

Getting out of our own way

You have to listen to people. Get out of your bubble. Don’t assume you know what your customers need. Listen to what your customers say they need, what they say they want. Understand the behavior of your audience as they use your site, as they digest your content, as they search for your products. And the only way you can learn these things is to actually talk to your people, people! Before the Internet, you couldn’t hide behind search volume metrics and charts of data. You had to actually talk to people. The data can help, of course, but if you want to really be successful, you have to forge real relationships.

And the nice thing about all of this is that you don’t have to spend extra money to deepen your understanding. You can simply search how your customer would search. Let Google Autocomplete fill in the gaps. See where the searchers’ priorities lie, and then build content to meet those needs. You can also step outside the search bubble and move into the social sphere. Listen to what people are talking about online, engage with them in conversation, ask them questions – and then provide the answers. Your goal as a marketer should be removing any amount of friction between the question and the answer, and the only way you can truly achieve this is if you have empathy for your customers/audience.

Find something that’s not working and make it better, do it better

“Empathy is job security,” says Wil, and he’s right. If you’re willing to step into someone else’s shoes and experience their problems as if they’re your own, then you’ll be able to better solve them. The most mind-blowing example of this is how an atheist saw that people were willing to spend $5 on a broken Bible app, so he decided to make a better one. Not because he wanted to capitalize on that market, but because he wanted those people to have the best experience possible while engaging with something they hold very dear to their hearts. Now he makes $100,000 per year, because he cared enough to meet that need. He had empathy for those people. He got out of his bubble, removed his own bias, and changed lives.

Another example Wil used was how he changed the meta descriptions on 8 pages for one of his clients, based on AdWords copy. With just this basic SEO change (which is exactly what Ryan McLaughlin was talking about in an earlier session), his client saw a 69% increase in click-through rate, bringing in more than $100,000 in revenue. And he was able to do this because he understood what the client needed, what the searcher wanted. He figured out how he could improve upon what was already there. All thanks to a little empathy. “You gotta get good at telling the small story,” said Wil. “It’s the only way you can truly connect with people.”

Forget RankBrain – the human brain’s been around longer, and we still don’t get it

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to keep track of Google and all the different changes thrown at marketers and SEOs. But the simple truth is that all of these algorithms only go so far. They only answer so much. If you want to be an effective marketer, if you want to be a better person, you have to understand the people around you. You have to transcend your bubble and dig in and help people.

While he was closing out his keynote, one of the most impactful things Wil did was boldly proclaiming that he’s willing to lose money, to not turn a profit, if it meant he could help someone else. Because that forges a lasting bond between him and that person, and then that person will tell their family and friends and colleagues all about Wil, thus opening up bigger and better opportunities. Because it’s not about how much money you can make from someone. It’s about how you can connect with them. And clearly the rest of State of Search agreed, because he received one of the loudest, most joyous rounds of applause.

Don’t miss out on the greatness – register for State of Search 2017!

That’s right, tickets are already on sale for next year, and they’re at the lowest price they’ll ever be. Register today to make sure you’re in the audience for the next mind-blowing session.

Writer, blogger, SEO guy. Timothy volunteers his writing skillz for DFWSEM / State of Search. He also writes about movies and shows and nerdy stuff. To read this wicked-fresh content, and learn more about all things SEO / nerd-culture, you can follow him on Twitter – @timothuney