Poker has a lot to teach us about SEO. This is something I was thinking about as I sat in our annual Search Laboratory poker tournament recently.
I’ve been playing poker for more than 10 years, starting as a teenager playing home games with friends and family, then playing small stakes cash games and tournaments in local casinos, eventually attending tournaments across the UK and playing in Europe’s largest tournament, before taking myself on a trip to Las Vegas to play in the Bellagio’s poker room (the view from my room is pictured below).
Now I can see that the lessons I’ve learned through countless hands of poker are just as relevant to SEO as they are at the card table.
The first thing you learn in poker is that it isn’t gambling; poker is a skill game. Like many skill games, luck plays a small part, but it’s much less important than most people think.
The same names keep showing up year after year at the final table of the World Series of Poker, it’s not because they’re luckier than anyone else, it’s because they’re better.
The same is true of SEO, there’s a huge amount of skill involved in the job now across numerous levels – especially as the industry is becoming increasingly content-centric with a growing focus on online PR.
Effectively managing a business’s online presence and search visibility now requires you to have an in-depth understanding of how search engines operate, to be a social media guru, an expert communicator, researcher and strategist. In addition you also have to be creative enough to come up with original ideas whilst being organised, in order to produce those ideas from start to finish.
On top of that, you have to stay up to date with the latest industry developments and have the relevant technical knowledge to implement changes to keep your brand competitive online.
If you want to win a poker pot, you’re going to have to make a bet. I’ve seen many poker players who will only play when they pick up a strong hand. These tight players limit the amount of money they could potentially win, while their competitors are willing to play more hands and are quickly building their chip stacks. To coin a phrase: “You’ve got to be in it to win it!”
If you’re not optimising your website to be more visible to customers when they go searching for a service/product you supply, then you’re severely limiting your company’s performance. The statistics show that online sales are still growing strongly even as the rest of the economy stumbles. It’s only by engaging in good SEO that you’ll be able to compete for a share of that money.
Pick up on tells
You’ll never know for certain what cards your opponent is holding, but you’ll certainly be able to make an informed guess. Hours of experience combined with certain reactions can give you an excellent read on the strength of an adversarys hand.
The same is true of SEO; we can never know exactly what search algorithms are doing, but the massive amount of historical search data available to us, coupled with changes in rankings after updates, gives us an excellent indication of how to get the best out of a site. These are the “tells” search engines give out – we just need to know what to look for.
Never stop improving
Both poker players and SEOs know that theres always room for improvement. The game changes every single day. The only way to keep up with that is to stay on the cutting edge of the industry, always analysing your own moves, determining weaknesses and addressing them to keep your overall strategy relevant and competitive.