SEO & Physical Fitness Metaphors

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I’ve been speaking to a lot of people lately about the basics of SEO and I find myself using “Physical Fitness” as a metaphor to help people understand some the basic concepts and I thought it would be fun to share.

It’s usually not a Set-it-&-forget-it proposition:

Most people understand that you can’t just go to the gym once and then assume you’ll be Fit-for-life. You need to take consistent action over a long period of time. Same with SEO. You usually can’t just change one or two things on your website and expect it to rocket up to the top of the SERPS and stay there. You usually need to build content and links over a long period of time.

You only get out of it what you put into it:

Some people who are new to SEO want to test the waters before committing to an ongoing campaign. “What is the smallest SEO project we can do to see if works or not? We’ll measure the impact from the tiny SEO project and then use it to forecast the success of a larger project.”

I guess you could ask a physical trainer “What is the absolute least amount of diet & exercise I can do to see if it’s going to work or not? I’ll do the absolute minimum and then use the outcome of that to judge all future fitness results”.

(IMO) it just doesn’t work like that. Sometimes the results are compounded. See the “Pareto principle” where the rich get richer and the “Mathew effect” where a disproportionate level of attention goes to people who are already famous.

I have heard several stories about how SEO is a rip off and waste of money from people who did the absolute minimum and were then very disappointed when nothing happened.

If you never go to the gym, the cost of membership was a waste of money:

Everyone knows someone who spent top dollar for a gym membership and physical trainer, etc and then never went to the gym or followed through.

Same with SEO. One of the most common reasons why SEO campaigns fail is because the client does not act upon the recommendations of the SEO consultant they paid top dollar for.

Catching up to the competition: (You may never catch up depending on the competition)

Let’s say you go to a physical trainer with a picture of a muscular person and ask “What do I need to do to look like this?” And let’s say the trainer says the person in the picture has likely been working out for a minimum of two years and “This” is what you’ll need to do over the next two years to get into that kind of shape. Then flash forward two years… You now look like person in the two year old picture… But… The person in the picture is still bigger than you! You’ve been working out for two years now… But… So has the competition. Actually… The competition has now been working out for four years versus your two.

Same with SEO. If your competition is consistently creating link worthy content and then promoting it as hard as they can, you may have a tough time catching up to them.

Steroid Usage:

Steroids can enhance athletic performance significantly and decrease the time required to reach performance milestones but most people agree that the usage if steroids is NOT a long term solution to a healthy lifestyle and physical fitness.

If the competition is using steroids, you may also be tempted to use them as well. It’s important to know the risks and possible side effects involved with this sort of thing.

The SEO equivalent of steroids might be artificial linking schemes or whatever Black or Grey hat technique that is popular these days. The history of SEO is littered with tricks and techniques that once worked quite well in the past but either stopped working or might even get you banned in the search engines now. You might get a short term boost form these things but you should also be aware of the risks.

If you stop working out… The muscles start to go away:

Whatever gains you might have achieved from working out will be lost if you get lazy. Same with SEO. Again… It usually isn’t a set-it-&-forget-it proposition. The top position in the SERPs is not some sort of entitlement. If your website isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. Your competition is likely struggling to catch up to you and might out rank you for everything but your brand name if you get lazy or complacent.

[This post was inspired by Everett at First Page Fitness. ]

Dave Zuls (HawaiiSEO) is an SEO and travel online marketing expert based out of Hawaii and the publisher of the Hawaii Online Advertising blog.

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  • Everett

    Thanks for the love Dave! Now that you’re free from the constraints of a certain corporation I imagine you’ll be “flexing your SEO muscle” to use another metaphor.

    You have a truckload of knowledge up there that had no way of getting out, so I look forward to seeing some killer posts on the Hawaii Online Advertising blog.

  • Eric Lander

    I love it! Nothing could be more true than this…

    “Same with SEO. One of the most common reasons why SEO campaigns fail is because the client does not act upon the recommendations of the SEO consultant they paid top dollar for.”

    It’s exactly like people buying motivational books, exercise DVDs, and gym memberships without ever ONCE following through.

    Great post and addition to the journal!

  • Everett


    I share in your frustration with this, but having worked as an Agency guy, Consultant and most recently In-House, I can see this from many perspectives.

    What most SEO consultants don’t realize when writing up that big bible of a recommendations document is that there are a lot of technological, monetary and political barriers that large sites deal with.

    This is why I am a firm believer that companies who are SERIOUS (I’m talking over 100 k per year serious) about their search engine optimization efforts need to either get an in-house SEO, an embedded consultant or both. Having some guy on the other side of the country with dozens of other clients send you a report that says “Do this, this and this…” without actually DOING any of the “doing” is like joining one of those online personal trainer websites where you pay someone to send you an exercise routine via email.

    It’s not the same as having a personal trainer there by your side.

  • Hawaii SEO


    One reason why these types of metaphors have been working well for me is because it helps to manage expectations. If someone has unrealistic expectations, the good work you do will be a disappointment to them.

    One group I spoke to was very disappointed. They wanted a “Quick-fix” to outrank one of Hawaii’s most competitive webmasters for an extremely competitive set of keywords. I explained the starting gun was fired several years ago. This guy is miles ahead of them and there is no “Quick-fix” that I can think of to dislodge him from the top of the SERPs.

    (IMO) Some people are a bit shortsighted with these things. The company that wanted the quick-fix has been around since long before the internet existed and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. I believe they will eventually accept that the benefits of this type of work will pay off over the lifetime of the company and should be integrated into the organization just like any other ongoing marketing effort. (IMO) The longer it takes to accept this, the harder it will be to catch up to the online competition.

  • Todd Mintz

    Dude, thanks for stealing my SEO/Fitness metaphors:.)

    Seriously, this is a very well written post with a lot of muscle and no flab…and besides, we all rip off each others ideas when we write anyway :.)

  • Hawaii SEO

    Thanks Todd,

    Yeah… SEO & Fitness metaphors almost write themselves. It’s an almost perfect match because they both require so much self discipline and effort over time versus PPC advertising where you have almost instant gratification.

  • Dave

    Fantastic article!
    I Really liked the way you explained the concept of SEO and things that are involved in it on a regular basis backed with practical examples which are easy to remember.

  • Kerry

    Dave – great article!
    I like using analogies and metaphors to explain concepts – look forward to seeing more articles from you.
    I remember as a kid, flexing my arm to see a little muscle growth – always good to see / feel a little bump.

  • John Clinebell

    This is one of the best analogies I’ve ever read for how SEO really works. Everything you’re saying is true. If you’re not willing to pitch in on a daily basis, it’s going to prevent you from reaching the top of your possible performance.

  • Andrew Millar

    The problem is knowing where to apply the effort. At least with get-fit you can look in the mirror and decide what you need to work-out most. With SEO work the problem is the frustration of effort that doesnt produce results!

  • dannyObanny

    Nielson/NetRatings has issued a study showing that the top 10 social networking sites saw traffic grow 47% over the last year, with MySpace seeing the biggest growth (367% increase) and MSN Spaces (286%) seeing the biggest growth. Hosted blogging systems were included in the study.

    One thing to note about those numbers is that while Classmates had one of the lowest positive growth rates at 10%, they spend loads on advertising while MySpace, Youtube, and Facebook haven’t spent a penny.

    If I recall correctly, a couple years ago was one of the 10 largest spenders on online advertising.

    There are plenty of new social networking sites poping up but what get’s me why can’t myspace there instant messenger working. $580 mill and can’t afford to fix instant messenger BAD myspace.
    There are so many better ones how about for example has all the features of myspace plus quizzes, polls, webchat with audio and video oh and hey they have instant messenger. You have a long way to go myspace.

  • SEO Web Design

    Very nicely written. Just to sum things up. SEO is a constant game. SEO is a waiting game.

  • Jeanine

    As someone who is blogging about physical fitness ( and hoping to increase my traffic, this makes perfect sense.

    It’s actually funny reading some of the analogies and thinking, “who would be dumb enough to think that”. I’d love the “Set it and forget it” deal for both SEO and physical fitness. Come to think of it, I don’t even use that technique on my routisouri chicken

  • SEO in SG

    after reading SEO Song now they got SEO Sports! thank you for sharing good blog!