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.
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.
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.
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!