SEO Lessons from Call of Duty

SEO lessons learned from Call of Duty - Modern Warfare Screen Cap

“Business is a combination of war and sport.” – Andre Maurois

To stay in shape for the battles of work, we all have that one thing we do to recharge ourselves at the end of the day. Let me tell you a bit about mine.

Fast-paced, absorbing, challenging, and lots of fun, Call of Duty (COD), the legendary first-person shooter video game franchise, has had me in its grip for years.

Some close-minded people claim that gaming is a waste of time. Yes, there is a soldier in all of us. But there is also a marketer in all of us.

I’m sharing some valuable lessons Call of Duty teaches about SEO.

Lesson #1: Slow and Steady Wins

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Killstreaks, the rewards you earn for eliminating a certain number of enemy players without dying, are at the very fabric of the Call of Duty experience. Killstreak rewards play a pivotal role in the outcome of a match. Think of how much easier it would be to fight against enemies with a military chopper or jet gridlocking the sky and showering your fire upon your foes.

I love using killstreaks as a force multiplier.

The killstreak system showcases the overwhelming power of momentum. Methodically racking up kills to win your streak pays big. It’s the same attitude SEO people have when they wait four months to a year to see results and why it must be long-term.

Lesson #2: The Whole Is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Team Stats Screen Shot

Despite the negative media, video games help people break the ice and bring friends and families together, not to mention that the gaming experience can be so much more fun when you have company to share the battles with. “No man is an island” confirms why fans gravitate toward multiplayer instead of single player modes.

In Call of Duty, your personal skill can only take you so far—until the moment you cross the path of a tight-knit team with impeccable communication. A small team like that can dominate the match, mopping the floor with the opposing team of hodgepodge players who don’t know each other.

The same applies to SEO. A fearsome band of consultants united by a common goal kicks butt. Here is one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes that I like to apply as the ideal for the Leverable SEO consultancy:

“A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

Lesson learned: communication makes a big difference and everyone on board matters.

Lesson #3: Cheating Gets You Nowhere

In trying to climb the ranked ladder in the game, some players resort to hacking to gain an edge over others—the most common being wallhacks, a patch enabling a player to see others through obstacles, and aimbots, a software tool which automatically aims a weapon for flawless accuracy.

And while cutting corners may benefit a player in the short term, this approach fails miserably as the cheater inevitably gets banned with time and has to start over.

Having relied heavily on hacks, the player denies themselves the need to tackle the learning curve, dismissing opportunities to sharpen combat skills, the real foundation of high rank in the game.

Ditto for SEO. Black hat SEO doesn’t lend itself well to long-term growth or brand building.

And even if you manage to win the battle for a while, you lose the war by failing to deliver value to your visitors.

Lesson #4: Adapt or Respawn

“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.” – Sun Tzu

Happiness is when you play a game so well that people call you a hackerIn Call of Duty, you must always tailor your loadout (the primary and secondary weapons, attachments, perks, killstreaks, lethal and tactical equipment you respawn with) to your playing style, the map, and unique circumstances.

In the process of creating a custom loadout, every single detail, every variable must be optimized to maximize the practical value derived based on what you aim to achieve, making it a giant system of checks and balances where everything has its pros and cons.

Does your team need you for close combat? A shotgun or SMG will do the job. But you’re basically cannon fodder if you fail to close the distance with your target rapidly.

Want to start a safari on your foes with a sniper rifle? Make sure you grab some proximity mines or claymores to secure a spot for yourself because you’re in trouble the moment anyone creeps up on you.

The possibilities for customization are virtually endless, and the magic pill simply does not exist—neither in the game nor in the real world.

The same logic applies to SEO. We always want to take a deep dive into a client site to have a clear picture of the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and priorities to come up with the shortest route to get results.

Keep in mind that search engines are in a never-ending state of flux when it comes to setting rules for website owners. Yesterday’s success may be today’s penalty.

In other words, stay on your toes and be ready to adapt should the need arise.

Lesson #5: Understand your KPIs

“War is ninety percent information.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Player Stats Screen ShotIn Call of Duty, the Kill-Death Ratio or “KD,” a term used to define how many kills a player gets before they die each time they spawn, can tell you a lot insofar as your skill level is concerned.

KD = kills/deaths

This key performance indicator (KPI, as marketers say) says very clearly how good a player you are.

In other words, some guy may picture himself to be the best thing since sliced bread, but if his KD ratio is 0.4—and you’re deemed to be doing okay with the KD of at least 1—the KPI acts like a rude wakeup call to point out that someone needs to humble down and focus on improvement. A 1 KD in a first person shooter is a bit like a par score in golf except going over is good and under is bad.

There are other metrics that matter depending on the type of game. Captures in Domination or Capture the Flag, for example. But if you’re getting killed more than you are killing, the team might view you as a net loss.

Luckily, tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console make it possible for you to get a clear picture on your organic search unique situation fast—a thing anyone working with offline marketing channels would kill for.

Lesson #6: Pick Fights You Can Win

You’re low on health but want to keep pushing forward? Bad idea.

How about rushing into the warehouse on your own despite the UAV (an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that reveals enemy locations on the mini-map) warning you about the four enemies lurking nearby?

You know that sounds like trouble, don’t you?

And while going full Rambo seems like a lot of fun every once in a while, if you’re playing to win, you have to use your judgment to assess whether or not you should pick a given fight.

For example, I’m working with an SEO client right now who says they want to rank for high volume non-brand “head” terms. I’m sorting out the best way to explain to them that shooting for keywords like technology is not the best use of our resources.

It would take many times our budget and lots of time to try.

Why not set up the site to rank for other two or three different word phrases which are less competitive, more relevant, and can equal the total search volume of the higher phrase?

Lesson #7: Playing Defense Doesn’t Win

Besides cheaters, there’s another type of player which has been bugging so many people, oftentimes causing them to fly off the handle, rage quit matches, and yell in the voice chat like screaming teenage popstar fans at live concerts.

I’m talking about campers, the players who choose to play defensively, typically hiding out in some bush or corner and hunting down everyone passing by.

And while the idea might look good on the surface, camping barely delivers consistent results as in no time the disgruntled foes will group up to avenge themselves. By design, waiting for someone to come by rarely racks up enough kills. The team that camps, loses.

To win in Call of Duty means to play offensive, always on the move, always a step ahead of the opponents. Just as you can’t afford to play defensively in the game, approaching SEO in a passive way gets you nowhere.

So there you have it: the hard-won gems of wisdom found while roaming the digital battlefields of Call of Duty.

After all, as Albert Einstein said,

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I tend toward the latter and encourage you to join me.

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4 Responses

  1. This is awesome Emory. Combining SEO, Call of Duty and quotes from Albert Einstein and Sun Tzu. You really can’t ask for more from a blog post!

    1. Much appreciated, Patrick. This was truly a fun one. I love finding ways to incorporate my favorite pastimes and people into posts. More to come :)

  2. I never liked the killstreaks system in CoD, mainly because it greatly awarded being just a little better than your opponent, as does automatically regenerating life, popularized by Halo. It makes progress on improving your skills very difficult to see, until suddenly you start getting explosive combos.

    Which, actually, is another way it is like SEO. You can spend a long time improving your site, seeing only small gains from each change, until suddenly you reach a tipping point, and it snowballs.

  3. Great analogy. I rely on killstreaks, probably too much. I like the added challenge and thrill of getting that last and greatest killstreak.

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