Yet another SEO analogy

by James Duthie July 29th, 2010 

There's nothing like a good analogy! And in SEO circles, we've got plenty of them! Depending on who you ask, SEO is like The Biggest Loser, cooking or even like sex! The reason analogies are so popular in our industry is simple... people just don't get it. SEO is still a mysterious dark art to an average business person (aka your client). So we practitioners need to find a way to explain what we do to clients in plain and simple English. Which is where analogies come in handy. And today I'm going to share the SEO analogy I like to use, which has helped me communicate the fundamentals of SEO to almost any SEO noob.

SEO is like property investment

Property is an industry most people have a relatively good grasp of. Almost everyone will own a property at some point in their life. And even if they don't, they're likely to have investigated it seriously. Few purchases in life are as heavily researched as a property. The sheer scale of investment necessitates it. Subsequently, most people have a good grasp of the factors that influence the true value of a property:

  1. A solid foundation
  2. Property structure
  3. A good neighbourhood

Hopefully by now the similarities to SEO are becoming apparent. If not, allow me to explain. Let's take a look at each of the three factors of property value.



Almost everyone understands that a house is built from the foundation up. If the foundation isn't solid, everything else is compromised. The same is true of your SEO program. A solid foundation is imperative to long-term success. And in SEO, keyword research is your foundation. Everything you do must be built upon it, and it is foolhardy to do anything before that foundation is laid. Without an analysis of customer search behaviour and the competitive landscape of the industry, an SEO program will lack the insight needed to get off the ground. Just like a house with a brittle foundation.

Property Structure

Wood House

While the foundation lays the building blocks of a solid property, it achieves little on its own. How many people do you know that live on a concrete slab? The value of the foundation is that it provides the base upon which a quality structure can be be built. And the quality of the structure is ultimately just as important as the foundation in determining property value. As the three little pigs found out, a house made of straw holds no real value.

As you may have guessed, your web site is your online property. And Google is the property inspector, assessing a wide range of on-page factors to determine the true quality of your structure. Just like in real life, architecture is crucial in the assessment of property value, as is the quality of materials used in building that structure. From an SEO perspective, property materials include:

  • Web site code: Clean and well structured code is necessary to enable Google's spiders to access every nook of your online property.
  • Web site content: The old adage that content is king is as relevant as ever. And with the appropriate foundation work (keyword research), your content can be crafted to deliver maximum SEO impact via body content and other on-page elements (page titles, headings, anchor text etc).



The final piece of the property value equation is the neighbourhood in which it is located. External factors will always influence the value of a property. Even the most lavish property will fail to realise its true value if it is located in the slums. External elements such as crime rate and wealth of surrounding suburbs contribute significantly to property valuation.

Likewise, circles of association play a crucial role in Google's assessment of a web site. From an SEO perspective, links are your neighbourhood. Search engines analyse the link ecosystem of each web site to determine the quality of the neighbourhood in which it resides. If your site is connected with link farmers and spammers, don't expect search engines to attribute any value to your property. You're in the online slums. Want to prove to Google that you're from a good neighbourhood? Make sure your link building efforts are focused on the acquisition of quality links.

What else is SEO like?

That ties up my little analogy. If you've got one that works for you, feel free to share it in the comments, because demystifying SEO is a challenge we all have to conquer!

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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4 Responses to “Yet another SEO analogy”

  1. Havent's read the whole article, just want to break the bystander effect on the comments…
    But I like what you write James.

  2. This is by far the best SEO analogy I've read! As for me, I actually compare SEO to fishing.
    .-= Andrew @ Blogging Guide recently posted: 173 Tips For A Quality Life While Working From Home =-.

  3. Rebecca L. says:

    I have two that I use, depending on who I'm talking to and what the context is. The first is that it's like chess – you can learn how to move all the pieces in under an hour, but it doesn't make you Bobby Fischer. That's a good one for explaining to outsiders why you have a job. The second, which I use to explain the tactics themselves to folks I'm training in my agency, is that SEO is structured like a book and the search engines read that book much the same as a person does. Titles (title tags) and chapter titles (H1 tags) are the first things we look at to determine if this is worth our time, for example. The things we emphasize in normal text are the same things the search engines pick up on. Linkbuilding can be likened to book reviews. The meta description is the blurb on the back of the paperback that entices you to buy it, etc.
    .-= Rebecca L. recently posted: Google FanGirl- YouTube Queue =-.

  4. I think one of the key points to this analogy have been missed. Have a read of over the topic of "Latent Semantic Indexing". Its a big, big part of SEO. You pointed out a good neighborhood but failed to mention what needs to exist in that neighborhood.

    SEO maybe difficult to understand but once the fundamentals are explained its very hard for anyone not to comprehend the values of SEO. Much like a a good investment with a solid foundation.