What Are Your Favorite SEO Analogies?

I try to teach my mom SEO stuff from time to time, and often do so through the use of analogies. Some analogies perhaps oversimplify the SEO process, but are good for helping get the basic concepts across.

On Page Content

  • fish and a fishing pole - when explaining how text heavy sites often outrank thin ecommerce sites, I like to call searchers fish and each word on the page an additional fishing pole in the water. This is really powerful when used in combination with analytics data, showing her the hundreds of phrases that people searched for to find a given page on her site...helping her see the long tail as schools of fish. :)
  • Don't Make Me Think - people scan more than they read. Large blocks of text are imposing. People are more likely to read well formatted content that uses many headings, subheadings, and inline links. Expect people to ignore your global navigation, and do whatever you ask them to do (via inline links).

Site Structure

  • Broadway Street in Manhattan - used to describe the value of descriptive .com domain names, and when describing what top search engine rankings are worth.
  • a pyramid - when explaining how some phrases are more competitive than others, and how to structure a site.
  • chapters of a book - used to describe the importance of focused page titles, and how to structure a website.

Link Reputation

  • search engines follow people - helps explain why new sites tend to not rank well, and how links are seen as votes.
  • roads and highways - used to describe PageRank and why some votes count more than others.
  • multiple audiences - used to describe why many types of content are needed to address different audiences, and the importance of creating content that is loved by buyers, linkers, and search engines.
  • rising tide lifts all boats - used to describe how links to one part of your website help other pages on your website rank better
  • pet rocks & overpriced dolls - describing how perception becomes reality when describing cumulative advantage, and how some poor quality sites are popular while better content remains hidden

Pay Per Click

  • instant market feedback - describing how it can be cheaper to test and learn than it is to theorize
  • taxing irrelevancy - explaining how irrelevant ads are priced out of the marketplace.
  • users vote with clicks - if your ad does not get clicked on it costs way more or is not shown

Tracking Results

  • flying blind without autopilot - when explaining the importance of analytics, and how most businesses that do not track results stand a good chance of failing.
  • people are lazy - describing the power of defaults and how a #1 ranking gets way more traffic than a number 5 or number 10 ranking.

Google Relevancy

  • Trust is Important - cares deeply for user experience, unless they are paid enough to think otherwise.
  • The House Advantage - when explaining why YouTube and Knol pages rank better than they deserve to.
  • Link Authority is Important - explaining why garbage general made for AdSense sites like eHow clog up the search results when higher quality information is hidden.
  • Informational Bias - when explaining that Google's business model relies on people clicking paid ads for commercial sites, and why Wikipedia ranks for everything.

How do you describe SEO to people who are not deep into the field?

Update: A few months ago Jaan Kanellis posted many analogies.

Published: July 30, 2008 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


July 30, 2008 - 12:48am

I did a post on SEO analogies sometime ago:


I like a few of mine:

On Paid Link penalties:

“They need to come forward with this info pronto for those that penalized. It is like being held in jail without being charged.”

Query analysis confirmed as Google ranking signal:

“Weak now, stronger later? Sort of like when your poisoning someone secretly. You add a little to the food then gradually add more and more until the person is completely sick and just about dead.”

July 30, 2008 - 1:25am

Gotta give credit to this one to @sugarrae

Pagerank basically was a measure of how important your website was based on what other types of websites were linking to you. To use the high school analogy… if the AV club thought you were cool, it didn’t carry anywhere near as much weight as the prom queen thinking you were cool.
The more popular kids (higher pagerank websites) you could get to say you were cool (link to your website), the cooler you actually became on the high school social scale (the better you ranked).


July 30, 2008 - 2:59am

And the funny thing is that as more and more people publish content online it really does move away from content quality to a more traditional and meaningless popularity contest. An analogy years ahead of itself. :)

July 30, 2008 - 1:28am

When discussing these terms with my clients I like the following:

Your website is like a dirty car. A good SEO or web designer is the mechanic. Visitors are like miles on the car-only they make it better. External links to your site are like passengers-they trust you enough to go along for the ride. Pagerank is the gas it gives power to car but only if everything else is in order.

July 30, 2008 - 2:50am

We are trying to turn a Pinto into a Ferrari...this is not an overnight process. :)

Chris Marshall
July 30, 2008 - 2:05am

The Internet is a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Every so often, we need to pour some SEO into the tubes, to keep our messages flowing smoothly to their intended destination.

July 30, 2008 - 2:48am

Brilliant Chris :)

The funny thing is that Ted Stevens, the crooked Senator who stated that garbage, has been indicted. Karma caught up with the 86 year old!

Hawaii SEO
July 30, 2008 - 2:30am

SEO is similar to Physical Fitness.


It’s usually not a Set-it-&-forget-it proposition. You need to work at it over time to see measurable results.

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

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

Catching up to the competition; You may or may never catch up to them depending on hard they are working to stay ahead of you.

Steroid Usage; It can enhance performance as well as get you into serious trouble.

It's a never ending process; If you stop working out… The muscles and other results start to go away.

July 30, 2008 - 3:04am

Wondering who will be involved in the steroids in SEO scandal. :)

Hawaii SEO
July 31, 2008 - 7:49am

Sometimes you can get away with some steroid usage if you can learn how to keep your mouth shut. It's not something to brag about. ;^)

Dennis Goedegebuure
July 30, 2008 - 4:44am

I always try to explain the difference between a 301 vs 302 with a favorite shop or restaurant that has moved.

Imagine you come to your favorite restaurant where there is a note on the door that says: "We are currently closed for rebuilding our kitchen, but will be back within two weeks. For take out, please go to our window two blocks from here at address..... or, We have moved to address.... please update your personal address book, so you will be able to find us in the future"

July 30, 2008 - 6:32am

Hi Aaron

Just giving you a heads up bout the link on "cumulative advantage" under Link Reputation. :)

July 30, 2008 - 11:25am

thank you. I fixed it :)

July 30, 2008 - 8:53am

Cool thread it actually made me smile a little which, lets be fair, is unusual for SEO posts :)

I like Chris Marshall's metaphor.

Unfortunately I have no awesome metaphor to add, we usually just state seo is like growing a tree, at first your site is weak and no-one notices it but with SEO care and time it grows bigger and stronger.
More people will notice the big tree and come and pay attention to it.

We then usually go on to say PPC is like butting up a brown sign (tourist attractions road sign colour in the UK) down the road telling people where your tree is so if anyone is looking for it they have the information to hand.

July 30, 2008 - 11:51am

Hi Aaron,

Long time reader, first time commenter :-)

I recently wrote a post about explaining the value of inbound links to laypeople which got a lot of really positive feedback. The short version is that links are like the light from a torch beam, so the more links pointing towards your site and the brighter (higher PR) they are, the brighter your site will shine, making it easier for Google to "see" what's in your site.

I've found it to be a really useful and flexible analogy to use for explaining link value.
You can see the whole post here:

July 30, 2008 - 7:34pm

Welcome to the site Ken. The brightness analogy is a good one for a variety of reasons...as a site gets more link authority

  • it ranks higher
  • more pages get indexed
  • it can compete for a broader array of search queries
July 30, 2008 - 2:27pm

The internet reminds me of American Idol. Everyone want the same thing. You do get exposure, but how you use it depends on several things. What really matters is not so much whether you win that contest, but what it does for your future if you do and even if you not win and use your newfound popularity to start something new after that. Networking is key, so of course is the quality of your performance, but what matters the most is branding.
The one area most SEOs seem to overlook.
The power of using SEO to get your name out there and the need to provide something to go with it to keep it out there.

Mike Dammann

July 30, 2008 - 7:17pm

I think you are spot on...so many of us fight for attention and rankings and then forget the "and then..." part of it. :)

July 30, 2008 - 2:33pm
July 30, 2008 - 2:36pm

"The best plastic surgeon can't make Rosanne look like Tyra Banks." There's only so much you can do before you really need a new site and restructure a new from birth. - A site that lacked any sort of navigation, design, quality content, you name it, was inquiring about SEO services as a band aid to solve their online marketing needs. They were expecting top notch results with a budget of $250 a month.

July 30, 2008 - 7:13pm

I remember one past client I said "what kind of their person in their right mind would buy from a website that looks like this?"

That turned into more than an SEO project, with lots of work on design, etc.

July 30, 2008 - 3:11pm

These are great ways to talk to people about SEO in ways that they can understand. Along those lines, I posted a description of the link building process in a template "Letter to the Sales Force" in case anyone is interested.

Didn't want to drop a competitive link on your blog so here's the URL http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/dumbing-it-down-for-your-sales-force

[edit by Aaron: live link added]

July 30, 2008 - 4:38pm

With clients who wish to spend all their budget on a flashy site, but little on the SEO side, i always liken it to: "like putting Harrods in the Sahara desert... a great store, but nobody knows it exists".

I also use a Royal Mail one for 301's and duplicate content. this goes something like: "what you want, is for the mail to go to one OR the other address. NOT both. If it went to both each time, the postman would really hate you... kinda like Google when you can access the same content on 2 URL's"

It always helps to get the message across to the clients :)

July 30, 2008 - 7:11pm

That built in the Sahara desert analogy is good good stuff. :)

July 30, 2008 - 7:38pm

SEO is kinda like NASCAR.

Some people will say its all about the driver (content). Others will tell you its about nailing deep pocketed sponsors (marketing). You also can't forget the mechanics - even if your driver is good how does he win if the car keeps getting loose?

Why sacrifice one thing over another? Shoot for a decent mix to max out your odds.

July 30, 2008 - 8:30pm

SEO is like Shoveling Coal

Your web site is like a coal-fired steam train starting out slowly from the station, and the SEO is the fireman furiously shoveling coal into the fire. At first the fireman is shoveling at a wicked pace, but the train just keeps creeping along. But as he keeps pouring it on, the train eventually starts to pick up impressive speed. The fireman continues to add coal, but he knows when to ease off and let things combust to maintain that speed without blowing up the boiler.

The fireman may not have built the train, but he knows how to get it moving.

July 30, 2008 - 8:54pm

I like using the visual analogy of a sailing ship - adding good content to your site is like running up a new sail that helps catch more wind. Also helps visualise a site with no search engine visibility - all mast and no sail.

July 30, 2008 - 11:28pm

i'm really new at this SEO thing..

Thank you for posting blogs as this.. it really helps..

Thanks! More power!

Lucas Ng
July 31, 2008 - 3:42am

I used a "modes of transportation" analogy to describe global link popularity in the SEOmoz factors article:

Think of a web page as a town. If a city has freeways, airports, train stations, bus shelters and a port, that's a good indicator that it is an important hub. That orphaned web page with no links pointing to it? It may as well be a hidden tribe of Amazons that no one has discovered.

SEO is like finding a job.

Treat your website like a resume.

It can have all the right content that an employer is looking for but let's be honest, the best way to find a job is usually through your connections - your network of colleagues, acquaintances, friends and family.

The links to your website are these connections.

You could quite easily take the analogy further since search and jobhunting share a similar network theory background...

The more connections you have, the easier it is to find a job.

References from friends and family (internal links) are not as useful as a reference from a senior colleague in the employer's industry.

There's a difference between having a few connections (recruiters? HR?) in the right industry against having thousands of connections on facebook.

July 31, 2008 - 6:05am

There's a difference between having a few connections (recruiters? HR?) in the right industry against having thousands of connections on facebook.

And as search evolves and becomes more and more of a reflection of social networks this one will only become more true. Good stuff Lucas. :)

Hawaii SEO
July 31, 2008 - 7:46am

SEO is like race car driving, skateboarding, surfing and many other sports where you push the limits until you crash, then try again knowing better where the line is.

Most of the best SEO’s have crossed the line a time or two and had the website they were working on torched by Google. How are you going to know where the line is if you’ve never crossed it?

If you’re going to hire a race car driver to win the race… Are you going to look for a driver who has never even scratched the paint much less been in a crash? Or… Are you going to hire an aggressive driver who knows from experience how far they can safely push the limits without crashing?

August 6, 2008 - 5:06pm

Not having Web Analytics is like opening a checking account and NEVER checking your balance. [clients think this is so good]

August 6, 2008 - 10:45pm

Seems like that could also be tied to investing...because it is so easy to reinvest online and grow revenues logarithmically with the right investment strategies.

February 27, 2009 - 1:10am

Thanks for the post on SEO analogies. I got to use one today for real!

February 19, 2013 - 10:01pm

This is how I explain my process to clients and friends. I've found it very helpful.

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