10 reasons why SEO is like curling

In this Olympic week, it is time to explore the parallels between curling and SEO. Really? You will be surprised how similar they are.

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I hope you have been enjoying the 2018 winter Olympics?

I must admit that I haven’t seen as much as I would have liked, but I have been glued to the hourly round up on BBC 1 each evening and there has been some great action. As with recent Winter Olympics, curling has been getting quite a bit of attention and a lot of air time. Even the legendary Mr.T has declared his love for the sport and launching the #curlingiscoolfool hashtag.

The obsession with curling has got me thinking. I have been known to compare SEO to weird things in the past (you must, surely, have read my ‘Harry Potter and the order of search results‘ post back in…gulp…2005?) and it has struck me that curling and SEO share some similar traits.

As a bit of Friday morning Olympic fun, as the GB women’s team prepares for their semi-final, I wanted to share my top 10 reasons why curling is like SEO:

1) You have to bump your competitors out of the way

Perhaps a bit of an obvious starting point, but curling involves a lot of bumping your competitors out of contention. Just like croquet (another vicious sport), curling is actually quite aggressive and the aim is to shove the competition out of the way and end up with as many of your stones as possible in the house. This is exactly what you are trying to do with SEO – secure as many top rankings as possible at the expense of your competitors.

2) Everybody is talking about it, but nobody knows the rules

Be honest, do you have any idea what is actually going on when you watch curling? We are all talking about it and critiquing the performance of our teams, but do we actually understand the rules? SEO is the same – everyone claims to be an expert, although very few are actually any good at it or have any real experience. There is a lot more to curling that chucking a stone down the ice, just as there is a lot more to SEO than messing around with page titles.

3) It is a team sport

The more I watch curling, the more I appreciate that it is a real team effort. Whilst the skips get all the attention and I suspect you will have heard of Eve Muirhead but may struggle to name any others from the GB women’s team, the truth is that each individual plays a key role in delivering results. SEO is the same – real success only occurs when all the elements (technical SEO / content / on-page optimisation / outreach / PR / social / analytics / etc.) are all singing from the same hymn sheet and working together. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’, nor is there an ‘I’ in SEO.

4) It is incredibly strategic

I find myself willing the player to launch a pile driver which will smash the competitor’s stones out of the house (or in curling-speak, give it a lot of weight) but the reality is that curling is an incredibly strategic sport. Just as with SEO, you need to play the long game and be prepared to lay down the foundations for future success. That said, did you know that you only have 38mins of thinking time in a curling match? SEO is the same – whilst there is no doubt that it is a long-term strategic exercise, you cannot dilly-dally and you have to react quickly to change and adapt your strategy accordingly…

5) You need to be able to change direction

…which brings me on to my next point. The beauty of the sweepers is that you can change the course of the stone, once it is on its trajectory. This is what all the yelling is about – the expert eye can see where it is going, and how fast, and can command the sweepers to effect change. I think that SEO is the same. Whilst you will ultimately launch the stone (your strategy) in a particular direction, you must be able to constantly assess that trajectory and make changes where required. Like a super tanker, changing direction can be slow, but the best SEO strategies must accommodate change and allow you to react to changing news agendas / opportunities.

6) Guard stones are like evergreen content

When I first watched an end of curling, I could not understand why stones were being plonked in the middle of nowhere, quite some distance from the house. I now understand that they are called guard stones and, whilst not as exciting to watch as the stones that end up bang on the tee, they serve an incredibly important purpose and can be the foundations for success. In the SEO world, I see evergreen content as the guard stones. Evergreen content can feel a bit predictable at times and you rarely feel as though you are setting the world on fire with innovation, but it is a crucial tool in the SEO arsenal.

7) You need specialist equipment (and know how to use it)

On the surface, it would appear that you only need some fairly basic equipment to play curling. Some magic shoes, some big rocks, some brooms and some flat ice. Similarly, I would argue that SEO in its purest form doesn’t actually need too many tools and the best SEO comes from the grey cells and the ability to interpret / use data (which tools can help collate). It is, of course, how you use those tools that determine success and the human input is the single most important factor. If you think of Formula 1, the best tool (i.e. the fastest car) will invariably win. The driver does of course matter, but it feels like a technology race. The same seems to be happening in the bobsleigh, with astronomical sums being spent on the BMW bobs and they are winning races. I like the fact that both curling and SEO will ultimately be won by the better people rather than relying on the better tool. Yes, we have specialist equipment (e.g. search console) at our disposal, but the tools are available to everyone and it is knowing what to do with the tools that differentiates.

8) Only stones in the house score

It is all about quality over quantity. The closest stone to the ‘tee’ (the centre of the house – think of the bullseye on a dartboard) wins and it is better to have one stone as the closest than several others further away. I can’t help noticing the parallels with link building and the house, which looks like a target, reminds me of domain authority. Would you rather have several directory listings (stones outside the house) or one or two high quality links from relevant websites (stones in the house)?

9) It is a marathon, not a sprint

If you are into bobsleigh,  you have four very quick runs to win or lose. Curling seems to go on forever. Not only does each match last a while, the round-robin format drags it out for ages and you are not knocked out after one loss. SEO feels the same. You can take some knocks along the way but you have to commit to the long haul and not expect to win after one end. Biddable media is the big air competition, when you win or lose in a matter of seconds, but SEO is the curling, where you are facing hours on the ice before knowing how you are doing.

10) A whole new lexicon

Bonspiels, biters, blanks, hacks, hammers, hog lines and lots of shouting “hurry haaaaaaard” – curling introduces you to a whole new language and it can be very hard to decipher what anyone is actually talking about. SEO is the same – to the uninitiated, it can be extremely confusing and alienating. My personal favourite is ‘canonicalisation’ – who was responsible for that particular gem?


So there you have it. Some random thoughts for your Friday morning in this Olympic week. Please feel free to leave some other similarities that you have thought about in the comments below.


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