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SEO is like Personal Training – the Ultimate SEO Analogy?

Analogies have a funny ol’ reputation in the SEO industry. Over the years I’ve seen SEO analogy posts get slated by fellow digital marketers. Thumbs-downs don’t exist on Moz/YouMoz anymore (they do against comments, but not against posts), but I remember this post – SEO Is Like Buying A Home – getting a ton of thumbs-downs at the time (and in fact, you can still see the negative sentiment in the comments below it). And when technical SEO was compared to make-up more recently, well… People. Kicked. Off. Rebuttals, rebuttals everywhere.

I think analogies do have their place – maybe not when trying to explain what SEO is to other SEOs, but it can be hugely beneficial when you’re talking about SEO to a layperson: such as a prospective client. I think things are getting easier/better when communicating with laypeople, as people are slightly more self-educated on the subject compared to 5-10 years ago, but I still have the occasional conversation with a prospect who think SEO should be easy, cheap, and that results should be instant – and I’m sure you do as well.

I’ve often thought about different types of analogies that could be applied to SEO… One time I thought that there could’ve been a comparison to greyhound racing, but it didn’t quite fit right. I even once tried to compare SEO to constructing a building (laying foundations = getting a good website built, etc.). A client of mine once tried to compare it to taking a car to a garage, in order to tweak it to get it to drive faster. Hmm… It’s tough. Nothing sat right.

But now I think I’ve fallen upon the ideal SEO analogy. It’s not perfect, but it’s about as close as we’re gonna get…

SEO is like… personal training.

Personal training image

…Still with me? OK, hear me out now…

You can’t outsource your health

As you’ve probably heard me pipe on about before, especially if you’ve read any of my previous posts on here (and especially the most recent one about Collaborative Link Building) or on my own blog, I follow a consultative and collaborative approach. I ‘coach’ clients on the ways that they can market their business – even run their business – that will complement their SEO efforts in kind.

This is where the personal training analogy works really well. While you can outsource some aspects of SEO, ultimately it’s on you – as a business – to put the effort in. You can’t outsource your health – you can’t pay someone to exercise for you. If you want to get fit, you have to be the one to do it.

On that note…

Wealth is irrelevant (although obviously it helps)

Imagine two people in a room: one is flat broke, the other is a billionaire. Be that as it may, they have the exact same health: they’re the same size, shape and weight, and need to fulfil exactly the same exercise regime in order to get into shape. Regardless of monetary wealth, they both have to do exactly the same things in order to hit their health goals. In other words, just because one is loaded and the other one isn’t, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean that the former has an advantage over the latter.

The same applies to SEO. Admittedly a bigger budget does mean that you can pump out more content, videos, infographics, etc., and generally invest more money into the SEO process. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a guaranteed edge over the competition. What if the content that’s produced is poor? What if the other guy (the competition) produces better, more targeted content at a lower cost?

When it comes to exercising, the rich individual can work out at a fancy gym, with a high-end personal trainer, using the best fitness equipment available and while wearing top-of-the-line gym wear. But that doesn’t mean they will definitely get fitter compared to their less well-off peers.

You’ve got to put the effort in – results won’t happen overnight

Another point where the analogy shines: whatever your fitness goal – whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, toning, etc. – you don’t get results overnight. You don’t in SEO, either.

It takes times – weeks, maybe months, even years. And you may gain ‘small victories’ in the meantime, whether it’s losing a few pounds before you lose a few stone, or gaining a few strong long-tail keyword rankings before hitting the big ‘money’ terms.

Maintaining results – you need to keep at it

Whether you’re an agency or a freelancer, we’ve all had at least one client who – as soon as they’re dominating the rankings – thinks that it’s absolutely fine to call it a day. After all, you’ve done your job, so why bother carrying on, right? Wrong!

As us SEOs know, SEO isn’t just something you simply ‘stop.’ If you do, you risk losing your rankings over time. You’ve got to maintain your rankings with on-going work. With some of my long-term clients who are doing well, we’ve reduced the monthly/retainer rate to a ‘maintenance’ level in order to keep ’em up there.

Just like with your health. If you hit your fitness goal and simply stop and go back to your old pre-fitness lifestyle, you risk taking a U-turn and heading back to the way you were before. And who wants that? Maintenance is key.

Heavy Lifting

Blackhat/spammy techniques are like using performance enhancing drugs or cosmetic surgery

OK, now we get onto the cheesy comparisons… Bear with me here.

Yes, you can work hard with a personal trainer and spend months improving your fitness levels – it’ll be hard work,  but it’ll be worth it in the long run. …Or you could take a shortcut: if your goal is to gain muscle, you could take steroids; if your goal is to lose fat, you could have liposuction surgery.

Sound familiar? Black hat SEO.

Personally I prefer the ‘steroids’ comparison as it’s more black hat-y – taking something in order to gain muscle more quickly draws more similarities to high-quantity but low-quality spammy link building tactics.

And while we’re on the subject…

Google is like the Olympics

If conducting black hat SEO work is like using performance enhancing drugs, then Google are sort of like the Olympics – if that’s your fitness goal (to compete in them).

After all, if you’re caught using those types of drugs, you’re banned from partaking in the Games. Just how if you’re caught doing spammy work, you’ll receive a Penguin devaluation or have a Manual Action slapped against you. As ridiculous as it sounds (“Google? The Olympics? Really?!”), it actually works pretty well in this context.

What do you reckon? Is this an analogy worth sharing with clients, or is it yet another flop (like some of the examples shared in the intro)? Alternatively, what do you consider to be the best SEO analogy going? Drop a comment below or feel free to tweet me with your thoughts.

[Image credits – Gregor / 4kWallpapers]



CIM-qualified Online Marketing & SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Consultant with 8 years of online marketing experience: 4 years' agency experience; around 6 months' experience working in-house for a national household name in the insurance industry; now freelancing full-time.
  • Zac Heisey

    Solid analogy, Steve. MUCH better than make-up for sure 🙂

  • Gustavo Pelogia

    Nice piece! I’m normally try to make an analogy related to their business, but just to explain an specific point, not the whole picture 🙂