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November 30, 2010

SEO and the English Premier League

By Simon Heseltine

I’m English, well technically a dual citizen of the US and the UK, but I hail from Yorkshire.  As the English Premier League season (soccer) has been heating up, I’ve been struck by the similarity between it and SEO.

SoccerballRanking highly matters

In the English leagues there are 92 professional teams, however the big money is only available to those in the Premier League.  The Premier League only contains 20 of those teams.  Where you finish at the end of the season reflects the prize money you earn ,with 1st place taking close to 16Million GBP, and 20th taking just over 700k GBP.  The team that finished 1st in the division below only pockets 50k prize money.  However, teams that finish in the top 4 get to play in the European Champions League the following season, which is highly lucrative, so getting a high ranking really matters.  In SEO… you get the idea.

SoccerballThrowing money != success

Sure, you can have a limitless budget, hire as many of the best resources as possible, with the goal of hitting the top of the rankings.  But as many an oligarch / sheikh / American investor has discovered, there’s only one team that can be at the top of the standings, and it takes time for the investment to pay off, if indeed it ever does.  You don’t get to pick whether you’re number one in the SERPs, you just get to try for it.

SoccerballThe best content doesn’t always win…

…but it generally does well.  A team of superstars takes time to gel, just like it takes time for a search engine to rank content at the top of the SERPs.  Your content may be the best out there, but without the right links, or tweaks to the targeted keywords, you’re not going to displace your competition / that pesky Wikipedia link.

SoccerballROI is important

Over the last 10 years, 2 Premier League clubs have spent themselves into receivership (Leeds and Portsmouth, although technically Leeds didn't enter receivership until after they left the Premier League).  Throwing money they didn’t have into players that didn’t produce.  But what about your site?  If you’re not generating a decent ROI, then you’re not going to be in business for very long, or at the very least, you’re not going to be an employee there for very long.

SoccerballManagerial Buy-in makes a difference

The best way to succeed in online marketing is to have the backing and visible support of the management team.  Without that it’s very difficult to succeed.   In the Premier League, if a player doesn’t have the support of their manager, they can find themselves left on the bench, or played out of position, neither of which is very conducive to success for that player.

SoccerballSuccess breeds success

Over the 18 years of the Premier league, 17 of the titles have gone to either Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea  (16 of the last 16 to that triumvirate) .  If you get things right in the search engines you’ll see your site rising up across the board on your target keywords.  The better you do, the more opportunities you’ll have to focus on your conversion driving keywords.

SoccerballThink of the long term

The tenure of a Premier League manager is fairly short.  However, Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United has been there since 1986.  During his first season things didn’t go particularly well, and it’s generally regarded that he was on the chopping block, but a couple of good results turned the season around, and he went on to become the most successful manager that England has ever seen (for the record:  he’s Scottish).   Your management should  be willing to allow you to make mistakes when you’re starting out, as long as you learn from those mistakes.  The learning process is what helps you to improve as an SEO, pushing you on to improve.

SoccerballIt’s a team game

Sure, Wayne Rooney may earn an alleged 250k GBP weekly, but without the other players around him he won’t win anything.  Similarly, you need a good dev team, a UI / design team, project managers, and further support in order to succeed.  

SoccerballChanging the rules can change the game

Up until this season a Premier League team could have as many players in their squad as they could afford to keep.  This year the league instituted a maximum squad size of 25 players.  Given the results so far this season, where the top teams are not as far ahead of the chasing pack as they usually are at this time of the season, and several lower rated teams are doing particularly well, this shift appears to have changed the game.  When Google makes an algorithm shift similar things can happen.

So can your site be the Manchester United / Chelsea of Google, or are you doomed to be the next Accrington Stanley?

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