James Sweeney blog avatar
James Sweeney
May 12, 2022
AUTHOR:
James Sweeney
PUBLISHED:
May 12, 2022
LAST UPDATED:
May 12, 2022

The Beautiful Games: The Unlikely Similarities Between SEO and Football

 

On the surface, the worlds of football and SEO appear to have little, if anything, in common.

While one is a high-octane, physical spectacle where one moment of luck can swing the momentum, the other is a meticulously planned virtual activity that attempts to eliminate luck from the equation.  

While the best exponents of one practice do their work in front of 80,000 screaming fans, the stars of the other tend to do their work in front of a laptop, either at home or in a modestly sized office. If the former can be significantly enhanced by 6 pints of Heineken down your local pub, then it’s always preferable to do the latter on a sober head.

So, before you start doing your keyword research in your local Wetherspoons, we’ll begin to shed some light on the many ways that football and SEO are natural bedfellows.

 

What do SEO and Football Have in Common?

Though football and SEO may seem like worlds apart, a closer inspection will reveal an array of shared traits that are vital both to success on the pitch and success in the search engines.

From the detailed analysis that informs your team’s strategy to the constantly-evolving tactics used to generate results, the competitive arenas of search engine optimisation and football are more intertwined than you could ever imagine.  

 

Tactics

The emphasis on the tactical battle in football is greater than ever before. Indeed, nowadays, the talk around a manager’s philosophy and his team’s tactics are just as publicised as the action on the pitch.

This is for good reason, with a team’s formation, player selection, and tactics pivotal to their eventual success. In this respect, SEO is no different.

In the same way that Pep Guardiola selects his team based on the strengths and weaknesses of Man City’s opponent, a good SEO manager will determine their strategy by the needs of their target audience.

While a top-level coach will arrange their team to cater to the strengths of their key players, a great content writer will structure their article to maximise the performance of their keywords. If poor tactical judgement can lead to a thrashing on the pitch, then a badly executed SEO plan can result in your campaign getting steamrolled by competitors in the search engines.

Similarly, while some teams have relied on less than savoury tactics to earn their success on the pitch, there are a slew of companies who’ve relied on black hat SEO tactics to boost their online ranking.

For every Diego Simeone managed team diving, fouling, and time-wasting their way to La Liga glory, you’ll find an equivalent SEO consultant attempting to keyword stuff their way up the Google rankings.

While these black hat tactics can be successful in the short term, they come with the risk of sanctions from Google, not to mention the risk of deterring potential customers from visiting your site in the future.  What’s more, while these tactics may have wielded short-term success in the past, the increasing intelligence of Google’s algorithms makes them increasingly unlikely to work in the modern-day.

Just like Jose Mourinho’s use of the dark arts throughout the previous decade, black hat SEO tactics were far more likely to be effective ten years ago than they are today.

 

League Tables

The success of football teams and SEO campaigns are both defined by their position on the league table. As such, there are direct parallels that can be drawn between the structure of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and the English Football League.

The Football League is made up of multiple divisions, with the most successful team sitting at the top of the Premier League. While the biggest clubs will strive to top the Premier League, there are a wealth of smaller clubs with more modest ambitions. Though reaching the pinnacle may be unattainable for a lower division club, with the right planning and implementation, they can build a team that’s capable of competing with the big boys.

The same thing can be said of SEO, where the combination of a well-executed strategy and quality, targeted content can see your site rise through the rankings. While there will always be the giant, global brands who maintain their place on Google’s first page by birthright, with the right niche, keywords, and content, you can soar up the table while springing a few upsets along the way!

Just like in the F.A. Cup where a small regional club can overcome the odds and inflict a ‘giant killing’ on one of the game’s top teams, the history of SEO is littered with David vs Goliath moments where good strategy has been used to ruffle the feathers of wealthy competitors.  

 

Crunching the Numbers

The world of football has come a long way from the primitive days of kicking around a pig’s bladder. With each passing year, the modern game becomes more reliant on technology and analysis to inform the direction both of teams and the game as a whole.

With data analysis companies like Opta and Wyscout capable of providing insight on everything from a player’s expected goals to their percentage of completed passes, coaches and managers use more statistics than ever to inform their decisions in the dugout.

The data-heavy nature of modern football has much in common with the world of SEO. From analysis platforms like Google Analytics used to monitor your site’s performance, to tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs used to identify the best performing keywords, data analysis is a cornerstone of good SEO strategy.

In the same way that Marcello Bielsa relied on unfathomable quantities of data to inform the style of his Championship winning Leeds side, the best SEO campaigns are built on analysis.

 

Style of Play

In the case of both football and SEO, no amount of analysis or strategic planning is worth a dime unless the finished product is up to scratch.

While a football manager can pour endlessly over transfers, youth development, and tactical plans, none of this means a thing unless it wields results on the pitch. Though the backend work has its merits, the best-loved managers are the ones who create a successful team that play an entertaining brand of football.

In the world of SEO, your content is your football team.  While your keyword implementation may be the reason people found your site, providing informative, engaging content is the only way to keep them coming back for more.

By producing high-calibre written, audio, or video work, you create a lasting impression with potential customers that goes far beyond your ranking on a search page. In the same way that Jurgen Klopp’s scintillating ‘heavy metal’ football keeps Liverpool fans ploughing through the Anfield turnstiles, regular quality content can turn site visitors into brand devotees.

 

Governing Bodies

The worlds of football and SEO are both defined by all-powerful establishments that determine the rules of the game.

Football has a wealth of governing bodies from FIFA on the world stage to UEFA in Europe and the F.A. in England. These organisations are not only tasked with setting the rules of the game, but also determining the sanctions and penalties for anyone who breaches these laws.

As the dominant search engine on the web, Google is to SEO what FIFA is to the beautiful game.  In a less official sense, Google is the governing body that decides the rules, the scoring system, and the disciplinary procedures for participants in the world of search marketing.

Just like in football, the rules of Google’s algorithms are constantly evolving and something that was good practice one year may become counterproductive in the future. The lack of clarity around Google’s laws has led many SEOs to frantically second guess their content approach.

For every fan on the terraces moaning and groaning about the nuances of VAR and the offside rule, you’ll find a table full of content writers scratching their heads as they attempt to decipher Google’s latest regulations.

 

Evolve or Die

The history of football is filled with tales of once-great teams who failed to evolve with the times. From the dramatic fall of Liverpool’s dominant empire at the start of the 1990s to the stark decline of Man Utd in the modern-day, there are numerous teams throughout the generations who have paid the price for resting on their laurels.  

While stagnation is undoubtedly bad for any football team, the consequences of standing still are even more severe in the world of SEO. Whereas an experienced squad may be able to scrape a few more trophies before the rot sets in, the constantly developing world of SEO means that failure to adapt can be punished almost immediately.

For this reason, it’s essential that you remain up-to-date with the latest industry developments to ensure your site remains at the cutting edge of search marketing. While those tried and tested methods may have paid dividends to date, failure to evolve could see you slide down the SERPs.

Although there’s no harm in cracking open the champagne to toast the success of your latest campaign, your success can only be sustained if you change with the times.

 

Final Thoughts

While, at first glance, the practices of football and SEO may appear to be polar opposites, they share a surprising amount of common ground.  From the hyper-competitive nature that drives both disciplines, to the tactical and technical requirements that are intrinsic to success in each, the worlds of football and SEO share many traits.

While football stands alone as the world’s most popular sport, the art of SEO remains misunderstood by many. In this guide, we’ve documented the key aspects of SEO in the universal language of the beautiful game to help explain the process better.

If you’re a football hater interested in pursuing a career in SEO however, then fear not. Despite the many similarities covered in this article, there are more than enough differences to ensure that you won't have to step within a mile of Wembley Stadium to learn your craft.

And you’re far less likely to be hounded by hooligans at Brighton SEO than you are at Millwall away…