How SEO is a lot like Poker
Search Engine Optimisation

How SEO is a lot like Poker

14th April 2010

Recently, when reading Victoria Coren’s wonderful book on poker For Richer For Poorer, I realised that poker and SEO have a lot in common. Bear with me, this analogy isn’t as artificial as you may imagine.

Poker is a card game that involves certain skills, techniques, and a bit of luck, to win more money in a game than your competitors.

Search engine optimisation is a profession that involves certain skills, techniques, and a bit of luck, to help a site rank higher than its competitors in search engine results.

With luck in SEO I’m referring to the algorithm updates, the roll-out of new features, result page updates, and all those other tweaks search engines perform nearly continuously. Some work to our advantage, some don’t. Hence the ‘luck’ in SEO: external factors over which SEOs have no direct control.

So both poker and SEO rely on a basic foundation of skills and techniques, complemented by a certain degree of luck. And that’s just the superficial similarity. It doesn’t end there.

In poker’s early days as a casino and private cash game, it had a certain aura of sleaze. Poker was often played in illegal card games or in shady casino backrooms with high rake taxes. It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t televised, and most people didn’t even know that this ancient Wild West game was played in the modern day and age. Poker players were commonly viewed as gamblers, drunks, or even criminals.

The SEO industry’s early days were characterised by a similar lack of respectability. Early SEOs were seen as hackers and manipulators, getting sites to top spots in search engine results using questionable methods and sometimes ‘extorting’ ignorant customers for huge fees. It wasn’t glamorous, SEOs weren’t famous, and most people didn’t even know SEO existed.

SEO and Poker: more similarities than you might think?Modern poker, having undergone a massive change with the rise of popular online poker sites, is a radically different game. The basic rules haven’t changed, but the way poker is being played has. Poker is a multi-million dollar business, with big corporate stakeholders, televised tournaments, and poker superstars complete with fan followings.

Modern SEO too is a different business. The basic premise of SEO has remained roughly the same – get sites to score well in search engines – but the way SEOs attain this goal has changed considerably. SEO is a multi-million dollar business with big corporate stakeholders. Some SEOs even manage to get on TV, and the SEO industry sure has its share of ‘superstars’.

There still are numerous seedy characters in the poker business who eschew publicity and prefer hidden cash games to ply their trade. While often not technically criminals, these ‘black-hat’ poker pros exist on the fringes of the poker culture, carving out an (often lucrative) existence.

Needless to say, the SEO business still has plenty of black-hatters living on the edges of our industry, making money with shady tactics and dubious methods.

Poker has managed to attain a certain intellectual status, considered to be much more than mere gambling. For example, the first post in the Gaming forum of the new international site was about poker.

SEO too has managed to gather a certain level of intellectual respectability, probably due to its increasingly complex nature. A halfway decent SEO has to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of a few, which tends to scare off the mentally lazy and uncommitted.

A poker player is always trying to find that right hand, that perfect combination of cards, to wipe his opponents off the table and claim their money as his own. Sometimes a player gets a great hand and has to slow-play it for maximum profit, but often a bluff is required to put the opposition on the wrong foot and claim victory.

A SEO is always trying to find that perfect blend of factors, from content to keywords to links, to wipe competing sites from the top of the SERPs and dominate rankings. Sometimes we have the luxury of optimising a great site with little serious competition, but often we have to work hard and ‘bluff’ our way into the top rankings with solid linkbait.

I could go on with countless more analogies between poker and SEO, but I think by now you get the point. It’s no coincidence I’m a total SEO geek and pretty mad about poker too.

Editorial note: this week, on Thursday and Friday the Casino Affiliate Conference takes place in Amsterdam. Two of our team-members, Nichola Stott and Bas van den Beld, will be speaking there, come and say hi if you are there and let us know how you feel about State of Search!


Written By
Barry Adams is the chief editor of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised SEO services to clients worldwide.
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