Posts by Steven Appleton

SEO – It’s football crazy

11 April 2013

I’ve seen the practise of SEO described as both an art and as a science, and indeed one of my primary considerations when enrolling on the SSMM course at the University of Salford was to ensure I received an authoritative, impartial, and academically applied grounding in the subject rather than a purely commercial one.

Tackling a new art or science project can seem very daunting though, and as the weeks rolled by and multiple layers of influence in the online marketing sphere were revealed, it dawned on me how search engine marketing has many parallels with the world of sport – the concepts of which I can understand much more easily. My sport is football (soccer, if you must), but I think the principles can be extended to virtually any sport you follow – let me know if I’m wrong!

So how can a football team’s success on the pitch mirror a website’s performance on the Google playing field?

League Tables

The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) can be viewed in much the same way as a football league table – the most successful at the top, and with each page back, we can think of lower and lower divisions in the football pyramid. Just as smaller clubs still have their own supporters, so less well-optimised websites will still possess devotees, but the “big boys” at the top will continue to attract the majority of attention and new fans. It is thus the ultimate goal of each club to move up the rankings and become number one.

The Tactical Battle

Christmas trees, diamond midfields, flat back-fours, 4-4-2 or 4-3-3? If these don’t sound familiar to you then they are a selection of tactical formations football manager’s choose to line up their teams, in the hope they will best perform in that way.

A website owner needs to employ tactics in the same way, from how their site is structured (about Sitemaps) to the keyword strategy they employ. Keywords are like the best players on your team, and you want them to control the action on your website, so it is important you select the most “talented” ones you can – and play them in their strongest positions!

A number of tools are available for keyword research, and just as football clubs scout for new players – website owners need to search for terms which will strengthen their “keyword squad”.

Football managers will often check out their opposition to gain a measure of their relative strengths and weaknesses, and via tools such as Open Site Explorer, online marketing managers can do the same to gain a competitive edge.

Style of Play

In order to engage fans and keep them paying at the turnstiles, it is important to offer them a good experience. A fluid style of play with dashes of flair and inspiration, allied to displays of commitment and honesty will satisfy most football fans – and so too, quality content must be the basis of any website aiming to attract supporters and to keep them. Provide a dull, dreary slog and don’t expect to sell many season tickets.

Optimisation of imagery, copy and load speeds are fundamental to an online operation, and a grasp of the basics with a clear vision of how a site “should” work are required before any grand notions of growth and progress are considered.

Giant Killing

Unless your team is blessed with the backing of a billionaire benefactor, getting to the top and staying there is perhaps unrealistic, as the resources available to you cannot compete. Every season though, we hear of David versus Goliath clashes where the little guy wins.

Aristotle spoke of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and this in football relates to teamwork – everyone pulling in the same direction, with no prima donnas or shirkers in the team.

In the field of marketing, if all aspects of the business are “on message” then success is more achievable. In the online competition for Page ranking, niche or well reasoned keywords can bring success to smaller enterprises who cannot compete head on with large multinationals.

Resting on Laurels

Once a level of success has been achieved, it must be tempting to soak up the glory of a job well done. Be warned though, the competition does not sit still. After a long journey to the top, and will more resources to call upon than most, Manchester City were satisfied with their squad and playing style and changed very little form the formula which brought them success. Their rivals though, Manchester United, invested and adapted resulting in a reversal of fortunes for the neighbouring clubs in the following campaign.

Liverpool F.C., for so long the dominant force in English football, failed to move on from their last championship-winning team and allowed it to become old and stale – they have never fully recovered since, as rivals became more successful and generated more revenue.

Huge high street stores such as Comet and HMV have both failed to move on with the development of online business to disastrous effect.

It is strategically vital to nurture a website in line with developments in the industry and market place, because being left behind can have dire consequences to the visibility and hence profitability of internet traders.

Rules of the Game

Football has a host of governing bodies from FIFA on the world stage, to UEFA in Europe and the FA in England. All have regulations, but the game has generally consistent rules of play which all must obey.

Search Engine Optimisation has no official rule book, but, in the Western world at least, Google can realistically be viewed as the governing body. Such is Google’s dominance as the search engine of choice, that satisfying the demands of its “algorithm” (a tool employed to measure the authority and worth of websites) can be likened to playing by the rules.

Infringements to the laws of the game in football can result in penalties and suspensions, as can infringements to Google dictates when optimising websites. There are many cautionary tales on the web relating to Google’s “Panda” and “Penguin” penalties.

Just like the offside rule in football, Google’s considerations for it’s algorithm are widely confused – but if everything were clear cut and predictable, the beautiful game would not be so exciting, would it?!

This Manager’s Future

My client, Idyll Home, are a relatively young company, and I suppose could be considered a lower division team at present. There is plenty of talent and ambition there though, and I hope to utilise the skills and knowledge acquired on the #SSMMUOS course to push for year on year promotions to the Premier League!

One thing’s for certain about SEO though…it’s a funny old game!