Is the world of SEO more cutthroat than politics?

Psst. It’s fine, you can admit that you’ve already considered the similarities between an SEO agency and a power-hungry politician – after all, they want your website in the top spot, no matter who they have to stomp on to get there (figuratively, of course). 

You see, search engines operate on many of the same rules as international relations, and search engine optimisation is much like that of politics. 

Considering that these days we currently have Scotty from marketing in the top job, I think this is a fair enough comparison to raise anyway.

Much like politicians both at home and overseas, your SEO agency looks for ways to increase your power and influence in major search engines (see, the resemblance is uncanny), and they don’t ever take no for an answer. 

Jump to:
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Author’s Note

    Firstly, I’d like to apologise in advance to my university lecturers for the major oversimplifications this extended analogy is going to have to rely on. 

    But, I’m going to go ahead and do this anyway, because I truly believe there is an apt comparison to make between the world of SEO and that of international politics. 

    SEO or politics? Which is more cutthroat?
    SEO or politics? Which is more cutthroat?
    SEO or politics? Which is more cutthroat?
    SEO or politics? Which is more cutthroat?

    Theories of SEO?

    Bear with me while we get through the theoretical side of things – I promise I’ll do my best not to take too long. 

    But basically, within international relations, there are two major schools of thought, realism and liberalism.

    The lowercase liberals

    Liberalism is often thought of as the ‘kinder of the two’ – it suggests that there are some (not a lot, but still some) occasions in which states can collaborate in order to achieve something called ‘absolute gains’

    Now, absolute gains mean that the benefit of whatever action is being undertaken will be shared across all players. 

    One very over-simplified example is ‘peace’ or ‘clean air’. If there is peace between countries, it means everybody benefits from increased trade and prosperity etc. No one can take clean air or peace at the expense of another’s. 

    When it comes to search engines, although organic traffic can increase to your site and to other sites by virtue of your industry becoming popular and more users on Google – that’s not really what your SEO agency wants for you. 

    So, let’s turn our minds to realism which dictates that politics plays out largely as a zero-sum game.

    The Realists and their Zero-Sum GaMe

    Well, basically it means that one person can only win at the expense of another. This is called ‘relative gains’, because there’s no way of sharing whatever is sought after.

    In politics and IR, you’d be thinking about things like territory, for example. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the amount of space on the planet is already set in stone – we cannot build more earth. Secondly, one country’s territory only expands if they take some land from another country. 

    There are simply no countries in the world that are going to be happy with sharing a piece of territory (Israel/Palestine anyone?). Instead, one loses when the other one gains – hence the ‘relative’ gains. 

    Again, please understand this is a major oversimplification of some very complex theories – but, I think either way you get my drift. 

    Bored already? Check out our light-hearted piece about why SEO consultants are creepier than clowns

    So, how does this work for SEO?

    I’m hoping you’re still following me at this stage, but what I’m pretty much trying to show is that SEO is very much a zero-sum game. 

    Luckily, however, search engine guidelines are a little more clear-cut than the ‘rules’ of international relations, which basically don’t exist at all. However, the search engine algorithms are a bit more like a black box.

    One thing is for sure, search engines obey the same rules as a zero-sum game. One business owner’s website only goes up in the rankings if another website falls.

    An SEO agency, as I said before, has no interest in absolute gains, because there is no point in sharing the top spots on Google.

    Even though I gave the example before of increasing organic traffic to multiple websites, it’s much more likely in the real world that when your search engine ranking improves (and therefore, traffic) your competitors will have to fall.

    You see, the quality content published on your site should be so relevant and useful that potential customers do not bounce to another’s site.

    Then, it terms of sharing search engine rankings. Well, that’s pretty unthinkable.

    Imagine if one day a group of small business or website owners decided all of their products or services were equally as good and that  their new SEO strategy was to share the top spot in Google.

    I am going to go out on a limb and say the odds of that are just slim to none. 

    A good SEO consultant would highly recommend you don’t pursue this strategy.  Not only would Google laugh at you, it would simply undermine the whole way search results actually function. 

    You see, when users enter search terms in Google they have grown accustomed to assuming that whatever is displayed for them first will be most relevant, and that’s normally where their clicks go.

    There is, of course, a bit of a difference between whether or not users click on Google Ads or prefer to go straight to the organic search results, but nevertheless, they assume whatever is in the top few spots is what they need and want.

    This trust in Google is what keeps users coming back time and time again, and why good SEO results arise when you’ve got high-quality, relevant content that users click on and find their needs satisfied. It’s also why it’s key that your SEO and content marketing strategies are in alignment.

    So imagine, then, you’re conducting a Google search and rather than getting one top term, you suddenly have seven or eight of them all in the top spot. Firstly, it makes Google look like a sell-out because it is no longer ranking websites legitimately.

    Then, from a user’s perspective, your search has suddenly been complicated, because if they are all considered equal – so how do you know which one to click on? 

    Then, there’s the obvious issue that your Google search is going to look like it was put together by a child – absolutely no thought as to how it looks either on mobile or desktop.

    Interestingly though, we have talked before about the things we learnt in kindergarten that continue to help us with our SEO techniques.

    Of course, with Google My Business, the search engine takes a slightly different approach because it displays multiple businesses are to potential customers. But it’s up to the consumers to use extra information to decide which one will suit their needs the most.

    Your team of SEO will know that clever search engine marketing techniques like using reviews and responding genuinely to feedback is a good way to get ahead of the competition when it comes to a local business search.

    So what’s more cutthroat then, politics or SEO?

    It has to be said, then, that digital marketing agencies and SEO campaigns are extremely cut-throat. As SEO consultants, we think more like realists and deal with the world of digital marketing as it truly is.

    Therefore then, unlike in politics in which even the most hard-nosed realist will sometimes admit to instances when cooperation works, in SEO – there is simply no such thing. 

    You win at another’s expense. 

    A return on investment with SEO can only be delivered with a strong campaign that is designed to take no prisoners, no shortcuts and no sharing! 

    When it comes to your SEO campaign, ensure your business goals are bold. Think of yourself as a superpower – you can go after relevant keywords that will drive only qualified traffic to your site from a Google search. .

    Think of yourself as a big player in the market, and behave accordingly. Good SEO tactics include cleaning up the technical elements of your site so that search engine crawlers can come along and index your pages properly.

    We’ve gone into quite a lot of detail before on the blog about some big SEO mistakes you might be making, so that might help you out too. 

    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer when it comes to SEO. It really pays to use a keyword tool that shows you what your competitors are up to when you’re in the keyword research process.

    Above all, remember what your SEO goals are – to be at number one, and don’t worry about who you have to knock out of the way to get there!

    About The Author