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Despite a rather underwhelming start, the World Cup is still dominating pub conversations, media waffle and the online community. So, what better analogy to explain exactly how Search Engine Optimisation works?
When you create a website and you begin optimising it, this is like a country starting out in the preliminary qualifying round. You’re full of hope and expectation, there are plenty of challenges ahead, but ultimately you want to get that ultimate prize – top spot on Google for you primary keyword, or, to keep in with the analogy, the World Cup trophy itself.
The path to the ultimate goal is a long hard slog. It is littered with important decisions, plenty of hard work and a few wrong turns. But, just as with the World Cup, you can’t get your hands on the prize until you have beaten the best in the world. To do this you slowly have to build, learn and refine.
Qualifying Stages – Early Optimisation
So you have a website, you’re the manager. You pick the team and you set the tactics moving forward. But you need a good backroom staff; a team of professionals that can provide you with support and assistance.
For those who outsource their SEO, the agency they deal with are similar to the coaches. They are experts in their field and can provide you with advice as well as getting in and doing some of the dirty work for you.
With everything in place, you are ready to start your campaign.
Your objective from the outset is to get some points on the board, get some decent rankings and strengthen from there. To achieve this you not only have to have a decent squad (or site), but you have to do your research too.
Keyword research will show you what you’re up against. What are your opponent’s strengths, are there some areas where you can really optimise and gain an early advantage? By scouting keywords beforehand, you can then go on and relay the information back to your team and plan your attacks accordingly.
You can even listen to external experts as well as your own SEO coaches. Don’t get distracted by nonsense or media speculation, listen to those who know what they’re talking about. The SEO industry has many wise old heads and good sources of knowledge, take Econsultancy and Search Engine Watch as a good example. Unfortunately football only has the likes of Adrian Chiles and Mark Lawrenson, so the tenuousness of the analogy stretches a little here.
Whilst the team as a whole is judged on their results, it is the individuals that will ultimately provide the performance to provide victory. You have to ensure that all of your pages/players are fit and ready for the challenge. Whilst you may have done the keyword research, you have to build strength right throughout and ensure that they are up to scratch.
Breaking away from the analogy slightly, your early optimisation needs to include links and content. Links provide the authority that search engines seek, whilst content will give you relevance. This will strengthen the individual pages and will work towards getting decent rankings.
As qualifying progresses, your ranking will fluctuate. You’ll get some good gains as your tactics pay off and the victories roll in. However there will also be occasions where your hard work isn’t rewarded. An away trip to Uzbekistan can be a lot like a decent link, whilst on paper it is a guaranteed win, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Whatever happens, you have to keep the faith.
After a slow build, suddenly you are within sight of the World Cup finals. Your players are in good form and the team is strengthening all the time. Your attendances are also building as the word gets out and people become interested in what your side offers. With the early hard work complete, you reach preliminary top spot for some pages and qualification is assured.
Following the elongated optimisation process, you now have to find another level. Getting past San Marino and the Faroe Islands might have been straightforward, but now you’re in with the big boys.
World Cup Finals – First Page on Google
Just as with the World Cup, to get to the top of Google, you have to take on the best and beat them. This means that you need to be at your strongest. The effort you’ve put in before will have to be refined and improved.
Now, more than ever, you need to have an acute understanding of your opponents. What are their strengths and, more importantly can you capitalise on them? If they have a strong link, go and see if you can replicate it. If they have better content, then take yours to the next level too.
Whilst you may only be 7 short matches away from winning the SEO World Cup, this is very much where the hard work begins. Keywords may need to be refined or indeed changed, just like with your content, this tactical move can help you sail past your rivals.
Invariably there will be annoyances along the way that need to be rectified. Maybe you bought a link to boost your profile and have been penalised. In the World Cup this might be comparable to a Tim Cahill red card or indeed the decision to put Rob Green in goal. Nobody’ perfect, rectify the mistake and move on with a stronger squad.
The Last 16 and Beyond – Getting Above the Fold
As you strengthen you can move through the qualifying, into the last 16 and then the quarters. All the while the competition stiffens. Long gone are the days of overcoming the also-rans like Algeria, now you’re really mixing it with the big boys.
To get to the top for your primary site keyword in a competitive market you have to keep improving. You can scrape past Germany on penalties, but there’s still Brazil in the semi-finals and then a showdown with Argentina to worry about. You ultimately have to prove that you’re stronger to win the World Cup final.
Yes there are injustices along the way. Some will prosper and others will fail; you need to stay focussed though on your team and the target. Finishing in the third placed play-off is all well and good, but ultimately people tend to only really remember the victor.
SEO World Cup Winners
So what can the World Cup teach us about SEO? Well, it doesn’t get won in the first few days. You have to build on successes and move on from failures. Each of your competitors stands in the way of the prize, you have to take it one at a time and strengthen all the while. Ignore the online spam (think vuvuzelas) and have patience.
Build slowly, but do so with purpose. Don’t be reckless and risk search engine elimination. You are representing a business, just as World Cup teams represent their country. You want to do so with pride and ensure that you don’t come home in disgrace. Avoid the paid links and other black hat nonsense, just keep focussed and victory will be yours.
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.