SEO Case Study: Yoga With Adriene

I read a really interesting article this morning. It was featured in my Guardian morning headlines about a yoga instructor named Adriene. Since I have practiced yoga for most of my life (I even owned a yoga school in Manhattan for a few years), I clicked through to read the whole article.

Who is Adriene?

Recently, I have been asking myself this very same question. Lately, friends of mine are telling me that they do Yoga With Adriene. The first couple of times I heard people speaking about her, it went in one ear and came out the next. Like most marketing messages nowadays, it took awhile to sink it. After hearing 5 or 6 people tell me they did Yoga With Adriene, the name started to stick. One day I had a look at her videos, but I thought they were kind of boring. Clearly I am not her target market.

yoga with Adriene
This is Adriene Mishler- the dog is a key feature in the yoga videos. Content creation, aimed at a broad demographic, at its finest.

This is why I found today’s headline of the Guardian article so compelling. It is: Yoga With Adriene: how the YouTube star won lockdown. This piqued my interest. I have been trying to figure out for months why she is so popular. About halfway through the article, I found my answer:

There is an SEO genius behind her success

Adriene Mishler is not a yoga master- far from it. But she has mass appeal, precisely because she is not a traditional yogini. In fact, the seeds of Yoga With Adriene were planted on the set of a horror movie. There, she met an independent film-maker named Christoper Sharpe.

A couple years later, Sharpe called her. He was looking for a new YouTube project to launch. Previously, he had created a popular YouTube channel for his wife, who is a chef. He suggested to Adriene that they start a yoga YouTube channel.

While Adriene crafted her image and brand, Sharpe did his key phrase research.

YouTube is the second largest search engine

Most people don’t realize this, but YouTube is also a search engine. In fact, it is the second largest search engine after Google. This is why Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion back in 2006. At the time, people thought Google was insane to pay that much for a start-up that was only 1.5 years old. In hindsight, it was an absolute bargain.

Sharpe knows this and spent time understanding what users look for when searching YouTube for yoga videos. He discovered that most people don’t search for specific star instructors or types of yoga. Rather, they search for things like “yoga for back pain” or “yoga to reduce anxiety.”

Armed with this knowledge, the Mishler/Shapre created videos aimed at fulfilling these search requests. Once the videos were uploaded, Sharpe made sure to fully optimize the videos for search. Google prioritizes YouTube videos in search, but it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to use the tool SEO Embed. He used other SEO tools to help Adriene’s videos, over time, climb to the top of search results.

This strategy has proven quite effective. As Adriene says in the Guardian article,

“I do not teach yoga for weight loss, that’s not my end goal, but, you know, when that is in the title in the SEO, it attracts a lot more people than it would have otherwise.”

What have we learned from this?

The morale of the story is that SEO is the most powerful way to drive traffic to your content. However, it goes beyond just optimizing existing content for search. The key is to

  • Create content that meets an underfulfilled search need.
  • You should also keep in mind that SEO takes time. It took about two years of posting a new video each week for the site to reach 200,000 subscribers. Only then did it become commercially viable.
  • This story is also an excellent illustration of the power of SEO versus social media. Adriene Mishler is not an influencer in the yoga community. She is not even a very accomplished yoga practioner. At 35 years of age, that just isn’t possible. But she is smart enough to recognize that in 2020, 53% of web traffic comes from organic SEO. In contrast, only 5% of trackable web traffic comes from organic social media activity.