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As with a lot of people I enjoy playing a little poker with my friends from time to time. Now I’m not talking about sitting in a dark basement in my boxer shorts ‘online poker’, I’m talking about real life sitting across the table looking into the whites of your opponent’s eyes ‘poker’.

While I was playing last weekend my mind started wavering towards work—as it sometimes does—and I was thinking about how there are actually a number of similarities between playing poker and optimizing a website.

Read the signs and win the pot.

In both SEO and poker you need to be aware of the signals that can help you gain a competitive advantage. I recently read a very interesting book on poker that was written by a top pro and an ex FBI agent who specializes in body language. Basically they combine efforts to determine potential signals that could be displayed by opponents so you can get an idea of the type of hand they may have. One type of signal may indicate a strong hand while another indicates you have something weak. Just as you can use signals to get ahead in poker you also have to read signals to get your website ahead in Google.

In SEO the signals are many and just like in poker it can take a keen eye to figure them out. Some of them are obvious and others may be much more subtle. Experience and research is needed to really know what works. At the poker table it’s not enough to look at just one sign to figure out what your opponent has, you are hoping to see a number of good indicators. With SEO you also need to focus on multiple signals. Title Tags and Backlinks are just the start. Spend the extra time and go through even the smallest of details so that you are showing Google as many positive signals as you can. You want to let them know you have the most relevant website for the search.

Now remember that just as signals can work for you, they can also work against you. If you’re at the local casino trying to get away with a bluff, you don’t want to make any gestures that will let your competitor know what you have. For SEO, if your company is doing anything that goes against Google’s guidelines you need to keep that signal very much under the radar so you can avoid any potential problems.

Now that I know what a flush is….I can call myself a pro right?

There are big misconceptions about both poker and SEO. Some people believe that poker is mainly about getting lucky and being dealt the right cards. In fact luck only has a small part to play when it comes to this game. It’s very much a game of skill that takes years of experience and knowledge to become a top player. The same can be said of SEO. To people outside the industry there is still a stigma attached with what we do. Some say SEO is nothing more then reading tea leaves and shaking a magic eight ball praying to get lucky. This really couldn’t be farther from the truth. People who know how to do the job properly spend the time to experiment, conduct research and talk with other professionals. There is a reason why the same top poker pros continue to appear at final tables and a reason why top SEO’s continue to make their clients loads of money. It has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with years of experience and a determination to continue to improve their skills.

Now anyone can walk into a casino, sit down at the poker table and call themselves a professional. Unfortunately this is the same in our industry where if you know what a Title Tag is you can charge for SEO. In the end, both of these types of people will mostly likely have the same result with them losing their money. While they will most likely be replaced by a new face, hopefully as the industry progresses we can start to weed the unskilled out so that professionals strong with experience and knowledge can improve SEO’s reputation.

A game at home or a game at the casino

Playing with friends at home vs. playing against strangers at the casino is a little like working as an In-House SEO vs. working at an SEO agency. When playing poker at home you will probably face the same friends every weekend. You will get a sense of who is strong and who is weak, who likes to bluff and who plays conservative. Basically you’re in familiar surroundings and know the history of how the games have gone in the past so surprises are kept to a minimum. This is the same as In-House where you will generally have much more control of the situation and a greater in-depth knowledge of how the site has performed previously.

When playing poker at the casino you will be facing strangers who you are unfamiliar with and will need to evaluate. These players will have different backgrounds and may be unlike those you have faced in the past. New players present new challenges on a more frequent basis. This is similar to working at an SEO agency where you are also dealing with new situations all the time and each website presents something different. While these challenges can be bothersome the resulting experiences you gain can only help you in the future.


The next time you go to Vegas write an article comparing SEO to Poker then write the trip off as a business expense…..I can do that right??