Why World of Warcraft Made Me a Good SEO

Sep 19, 2011   //   by Mitch Monsen   //   blogging, Contests, SEO Blog  //  29 Comments
This is a guest post from Mitch Monsen. It is part of The 2nd annual “Bad Ass” SEO Guest Blogging Contest.

Sometimes you find something that you enjoy so thoroughly (or that helps you escape so well) that it robs you of your time and poisons your relationships. For some, it’s drugs, alcohol. For me, it was World of Warcraft. This isn’t a “MMOs are Satan” post, so don’t close the page. After about a year of being “off the stuff,” I’ve had some time to sit down and really think about WoW and its effect on my life. This post is a rational look at how playing the game the way I did made me into a good SEO. In fact, the hardcore WoW raiding environment could almost be a training ground for potential SEOs, assuming they’re good at breaking meth addictions.I suppose in a way, this is a cathartic exercise for me, as I can’t recall hardly any positive memories from this time period, and this is some way of extracting some benefit from it. Either way, the principles still apply.

So why on earth would wasting life playing a video game make you a good SEO? There are several parallels that legitimately surprised me when I investigated them.

Networking/Linkbuilding
It all started with an ability to network. A lot of people can play World of Warcraft casually and reap marginal rewards and be just fine with that. I can’t. And, in order to get into the higher-tier guilds, you have to know people. No, seriously. You HAVE to know somebody, or you’ve got no shot.

As is symptomatic of nearly every situation where skill is involved (video game teams, jobs, sports teams, etc), in WoW, you had to prove you were already good/well-equipped before you’d even be considered. These requirements/expectations only increased as the game developed. So how do you get into a high-end guild that requires high-end equipment before you’re in a high-end guild? Know people.

WoW taught me to network; you’ve got to know the right people to get what you need. You have to reach out to them and pursue a real relationship. If people get the impression that you’re using them to further your own goals (gold beggars, people pleading for dungeon runs, cold-call link requests, etc), they’ll quickly abandon any semblance of a relationship that you may have had.

Analytics and Testing
High-end raiding in World of Warcraft turned me into an analytics machine. I grew a passion for analytics when I found the addon that monitored my DPS (damage per second). Suddenly, I had real, concrete results to refer to that I could use to quantify my performance. I did everything I could to see those numbers go up, and the higher I progressed in the available content, the more important monitoring these statistics became.

I started testing ways that I could improve those precious numbers. I would spend hours (yes, really) reading theoretical musings on message boards, playing with talent calculators, experimenting with sequences of abilities, maximizing my character in every way possible. I talked with several people who could not understand my fascination with this: “You’re doing math about a video game? You spend HOW much time on it?!” But I did, I really did.

And I loved it.

Eventually, I not only had to know what worked, but I had to be able to infer what would work based on upcoming changes. I had to be able to change my character to match my personal situation and not just build on the templates you’d find online. I had to outperform those around me to keep my spot in the raid. Sound familiar?

As you move up in the SEO game, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain what you’ve got: rankings, traffic, relationships, social profiles, whatever you’ve got. So by being almost required to know virtually everything there was to know about the game, I was exceptionally prepared to enter the wide and ever-changing world of SEO. Every algorithm change is a new patch, every website is a boss, every potential customer or social media contact is a character. I reveled in testing new ideas, button placements, color schemes, ad texts, page layouts, and publish times. I loved reaching out to new people, building my social networks and watching engagement rise with my backlink profile.

Big Picture Through Tedious Tasks
A major portion of World of Warcraft was doing minor, tedious tasks that never really took up much time individually, but together made a huge heap of daily errands that would suck most of the day away. But I did them, almost every day. Why? I had to keep up these grinds to get the prizes waiting for me at the end of the day.

Some people complained (legitimately) that it was almost a requirement to perform these mundane, repetitive, and painfully tedious tasks every day to get anywhere. And, in some ways, they were right. But really, these errands taught me a valuable lesson; you’ve got to keep the big picture in mind when you’re dealing with the little things.

In WoW, you had to stick your nose to the grindstone and crank certain things out: farming gold, grinding levels, working through dungeons, finishing daily quests, slaughtering thousands of fuzzy animals so evil people like you more (faction), and grabbing every badge you could. These tasks prepared me for the long, hard road of SEO. I learned that there were just certain things you had to do every day, like monitor social profiles, create content, read the latest news, build links, and so on. And because I could sit in front of a computer and hit “2, 3, 1, 5, 5, 6” over and over again to get another piece of armor, I was prepared to muddle through the tedious tasks of SEO to make my site more profitable.

Broad Knowledgebase
As I progressed in the World of Warcraft, a desire grew in me to not only know my own job, but to know everyone else’s as well. In WoW, there were three main jobs: DPS (damage), Tank (take damage and keep the bad guy’s attention) and healer (…healing). I started off as DPS, but after I ran into a load of tanks that sucked, I had to know how to tank. Then, when I repeatedly died because of a bad healer, I had to know how to heal. After I got over the initial “It can’t be that freaking hard” rage from the negative experiences, I started to dive deeper into these roles, and really began to enjoy them.

I knew how to perform every major role, so when I was in a group that had trouble with a specific job, I could tell them what they were doing wrong (in a friendly way) and help them improve. When our raid wiped (failed) repeatedly, I could put a finger on the reason why. When someone came to me with a question, I had an answer.

Search engine optimization is coming closer and closer to a holistic marketing practice; it’s no longer just getting your stuff to show up in the results with links and keywords, now you’ve got to monitor social signals, diagnose problems from analytics data, create content, build your networks, and countless other things an SEO is tasked with. Because I had to know how everything worked in WoW, I had to know how everything worked in SEO. And that meant everything from writing good content to coding an addon to designing a website to getting the word out.

Constant Optimization
When we bring all of this together, it comes back to one lesson that I learned over and over: there is no standing still. In the raiding scene of World of Warcraft, there was never a “good enough.” You didn’t reach a level of ultimate power where you could sit down and rest. And if you ever got close, they released new stuff that you had to go take down. If you stopped optimizing, you fell behind. The same is true for SEO.

There’s no point where you can say “Alright, we’ve got our SEO done, let’s take a vacation and let the money come in.” If you’re not continually improving, you’re being passed up. You’ve got to be trying new strategies, learning new things, meeting new people, and studying new ideas if you want to be the best. If I learned one lesson about SEO from playing competitively in World of Warcraft, this was it.

So what do you think? How have your past experiences (good or bad) made you a good SEO? Have you played WoW? Do you hate it now? Let me know in the comments!

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Mitch Monsen

Mitch is an entrepreneur with several years of experience creating optimized web content. He operates WhiteFireSEO, an SEO consulting company, where he also blogs about SEO and internet marketing. Follow him on Twitter: @mmonsen7.

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  • lewis austin
    Twitter:
    says:

    wow, this article is brilliant! I myself used to play WoW but gave it up simply because i didnt have enough time to dedicate to it, but your right in how it teaches you valuable lessons, not only in SEO, but in social media (for myself) as there are multiple platforms which are like DPS Healers and Tanks, and you start with just one platform and realise that you can’t have or use one on its own, all of them have to be run correctly and work together to achieve the best results.

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Thanks! That’s pretty high praise from a fellow SEO-er. ;) I also quit because I lacked time to dedicate (well, I didn’t lack it, but it made me lack… but that’s another post).

      The multiple platform idea is one of the more crucial aspects of SEO. If you don’t have a basic understanding of all of them, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to provide feedback for them. It’s hard to tell a development team to implement canonical tags when you have no real idea what that means.

  • I love this analogy. In fact, so many analogies work with SEO, because SEO is a natural extension of what we do in the real world — and so are many games, like WoW.

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      It’s true. At it’s heart, SEO is very intuitive and logical. Once you’ve got the basics down, the algorithm changes, technical tweaks and other ranking components flow naturally.

  • David Bovee says:

    WoW really was (is) good at training you to do that much needed yet boring work that’s required of most jobs – and SEO in particular. Between raiding and running a small family business (where you also need to know how to do everyone’s job) starting out in SEO feels quite natural.

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    Mitch,

    While I have never played WoW I can certainly appreciate the analogy. I do however like a little COD here and there. It’s the things we are passionate about that shape who we are in both business and our personal lives.

    For me I’d have to say Skydiving is one thing that has made me a stronger business person, SEO and entrepreneur. After having jumped out of an airplane a few hundred times you realize you can do ANYTHING you set your mind to.

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Wow, several hundred times? I’d be hard pressed to jump out of a plane once!

      I guess I’ll have to throw myself out of a plane here and there to see if I can find my entrepreneurial nirvana. ;)

      What you say is true, though. It’s funny how many people are afraid to share their ideas because they think other people are going to steal them. Bottom line is, whether they take your idea or not, they don’t have the passion for it that you do. And passion is what separates people just trying to make money and successful businesspeople.

      Thanks Gerald (gman)!

  • Dev
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Mitch,

    Just found this amazing post through Blokube and i really loved the analogy, Mon. Great work.

    For me – I would say hacking (it was fun, though) is one of those things that made me an entrepreneur, seo, Blogger $ a techie-guy.

  • Carla Mai Froggatt says:

    Mitch,

    Really enjoyed reading this blog. I’m very new to the field of SEO, I fell into it pretty accidentally over the last month and I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge I need to get my head around! At uni I similarly stumbled across WOW (I was not the PC gaming type of girl!) so this is not the first time I’ve experienced being a ‘noob’ amongst so many seasoned professionals! It was very interesting to read the parallels between your experiences with WOW and SEO, your description of being a WOW player is very reflective of my own. (I didn’t even mind grinding as I actually found it quite cathartic and enjoyed gradually working towards a bigger goal!) I feel more confident about my journey into SEO now so thanks again for this post :)

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Alright, that’s great! I’m glad we could connect on that level and I’m happy my post was able to encourage you on your SEO-learning journey.

      Grinding never really phased me unless it was something I didn’t think was important, like tradeskills. If I could see a bigger picture (see what I did there?!) then it was a whole lot easier to manage.

  • Mark says:

    Wow! I’m used to be also an avid gamer. I can completely relate to the hours and hours of grinding, doing mundane, repetitive tasks, the obsessive search for more strategies and knowledge about the game, and the constant quest to optimize and get those daily rewards. Never thought I’d find a post about WOW and SEO. Brilliant! Thanks for posting this article here, Mitch.

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Grinding is a good life lesson; it’s like today’s version of the “puts hair on your chest” tasks that your grandpa always used to make your dad do. Teaches you to get down and do work, even if you’re not thrilled about it, because you need those lady-catching pectoral follicles.

      Ok, so the analogy is kind of a stretch, but I’m glad you liked my post! Definitely know what you’re saying, though. ;)

  • Malmborg says:

    Ha, after working at CompUSA for years with WOW addicts, I can really see how some of my friends from there might actually make for GOOD SEOs.

    Love the post.

    David

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Ah, the WoW addicts… It’s a strange position to be in. It’s something that’s really easy to be passionate about, but nobody except WoW players understand why. And, really, as much as I’d like to justify it, there’s not a whole lot of good that came from it. Beyond the points above, I couldn’t really think of any. :P

      Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that someone spend 6 years of their life addicted to WoW to get a good base for SEO, but yknow…

  • April says:

    I’ve never played WoW – but, of course have heard a lot about it. I think the analogy is awesome. SEO is a tricky game for us new comers. What advice do you have for those who are interested in learning more about SEO however seem to be overwhelmed by the ever changing best processes?

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      1. Just keep reading. It will often feel overwhelming whether you’re new or experienced in the field. Absorb all the information you can, even stuff you have a hard time understanding. It will all boil together and make a great stew of SEO knowledge.
      2. Practice. Just get out there and start making sites. Build your own and test tactics. Try new things. The best way to get good at SEO is to start doing it.

      Those are the two most important things I can think of to get a good footing in the SEO world. Also, thanks for your comment, April!

  • Almost jacked my post — I was going to talk about how “Everything I learned about SEO I learned from NFL Blitz 2001″

    The analysis you learn from playing games, especially ones that are stat-based, are the perfect introduction to the world of any techy field.

    I think, too, that you run into the same kinds of people in the community — the frustrated tactician who can’t keep his party from going off the deep end, the guy who only whines about how his favorite class got nerfed, the noob getting yelled at for thinking someone’s blog post was a legit strategy. Combine this with a little guild politics and you’re almost on the way to a simulacrum of SEO!

    • Mitch Monsen says:

      Bonus points for using “jacked” and “simulacrum” in the same comment.

      But seriously, you’re right on with your analysis. And sorry I almost jacked your post. ;)

      I met a lot of WoW players who were really knowledgable about their class but never got close to where some other players did in terms of game progression and stats. Really, the only separator was how much time they were willing to put into it. You can be as skilled and theoretically sound as you want but until you stick your face to the screen and grind it out, you won’t get far. Sound like SEO? Sure does to me.

  • Ileane
    Twitter:
    says:

    HA! That was a fun post! I certainly get the feeling of being a gamer when I’m researching keywords. The problem is that I never win :)

    Thanks for the moving post Mitch.

  • Amazing, fascinating read. Having been addicted to counter strike and others, I can relate.

    IMHO, what you said about being willing to GRIND when it’s boring, tedious and best farmed to trained monkeys. But then, if you can outsource, you’ve got to. You owe it to yourself.

    You probably also learned, under the networking title, that you give first, get later.

    Submitted to inbound.org:
    http://inbound.org/seo/2012/05/why-world-of-warcraft-made-me-a-good-seo/

  • Awesome and I totally agree! Wow is good starting point for your SEO career. Just like WoW, SEO is kinda like a game.

  • George LaRochelle
    Twitter:
    says:

    As another former WoW player I really loved your article. Great analogies that we dead on. Whether its pouring over WoL or GA for insights or doing the daily quests/daily grind I’m surprised how well WoW relates to SEO. Raiding on a server first guild and doing SEO correctly takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Great read. Thanks @seo_george

  • To be truthfully honest, I never would have thought of seriously applying my actions and knowledge from playing World of Warcraft to SEO in a million years. Makes perfect sense, although I think an earlier comment hit on the same subject that there is just about no limit to analogies you can make with SEO.

    No doubt dedicating your time to WoW is quite similar to working as an SEO. So many similarities between the work flow and game play. Your mention on grinding is probably the perfect example.

    Good stuff Mitch!

  • Peter Attia says:

    Love this post Mitch. I’ve always thought gaming was an important aspect in SEO. There’s a social aspect like what you’re talking about. You need to be social to learn and do well.

    There’s also an important UX aspect. In gaming you always have to fulfill repetitive tasks over and over again, because of that the the interface is as simple and comfortable as possible. Like a website should be.

    Cheers,
    -Peter

  • Jason Diller says:

    Really well done Mitch. Awesome post.

  • Chris
    Twitter:
    says:

    I totally know where you’re coming from. I came from the early online gaming scene. Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3 and I still play today… Battlefield 3 currently with a little QuakeLIVE here and there.

    The online gaming community definitely tough me networking and I think online gaming thought me how to optimize and how to take advantage of computer programs hehehe.

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