SEO: Play the Hand You’re Dealt

Our resident search engine optimization wizard, Koby Wong says that much like poker, SEO is a game of chance but also one you can win.

Wong loves poker so much, in fact, that he constantly plays with a stack of poker chips at his desk while diligently working his SEO magic. It’s no wonder, though, because Wong won his first live poker tournament in San Diego at the tender age of 18, and ever since then Wong has been fascinated by the game.

“I love the competitive factor of it. You’re concentrating on beating people you’ve never met by using your mind,” Wong says.

Learn how poker and SEO have more in common that you might think—and how you can master the cards you’re dealt.

SEO and Poker: Games of Incomplete Information

In poker, you have no idea what cards your opponents are holding or how they’re going to react to your actions. Even though you may be able to read some people, typically you’re playing against people you’ve never met before and you won’t know their next moves.

With SEO, you might not know all the pieces of the search engine’s ranking formulas that rank your website for keywords.  Another ambiguous element of SEO is how your competitors are going to react to their own rankings.

The best way to cope with the incomplete information SEO throws at you is to follow poker professional Tommy Angelo’s advice and “foresee all pertinent paths without attaching to any of them.” This means that because you can’t accurately predict how changes will affect your search engine rankings, the best way to deal with the changes is to openly accept them and not become too emotionally attached.

Learn To Make Quick Decisions Based on Your Competitors

When playing poker, the players constantly change their strategies. One hand, they’re bluffing; the next they’re folding.  And maybe once in a while they’ll have one amazing hand. Based on your opponent’s strategy you must learn to make quick, sound decisions. A great way to become better at adapting to your competitors’ moves is to learn all you can about the game from professionals or at training sites, such as

SEO also requires you to react quickly to your competitors. You want to make sure that you’re doing the best you can to become ranked as high as possible. Competitors can change how aggressive their SEO efforts are at any time. You must learn to base your own efforts on what your opponents are doing. The best way to do this is again to learn more from professionals (check out

Another great way to see what your competitors are up to is to use Yahoo Site Explorer. With this tool you can check out the backlink profiles of competing sites, which should give you some idea about their strategy. Tip:  Do some research and see if you can acquire the same backlinks as them.

Play for First Place

In a typical 180 person poker tournament, first place gets paid 30% of the prize pool; second place gets paid 20% and the percentage of the pot gets significantly lower the higher you place.  SEO is incredibly similar in this regard because a No. 1 ranked website on Google receives 42.13% of the traffic, whereas the second ranked site gets 11.9% of the traffic, and so forth. Because a No. 1 spot on Google is more top-heavy than a first place finish in a poker tournament, it’s even more important to go for that No. 1 spot by having great SEO tactics.


Wong says that poker professionals should never put up more than 5% of their bankrolls at any given time so that no single tournament can break them. He advises that you have to be able to ride through the highs and lows as a poker player without putting all of your earnings on the line.

Because there are so many link building strategies that exist in SEO, you should never rely solely on one strategy to boost your rankings. This is especially true because some strategies are riskier than others and because search engines are always evolving their algorithms. By diversifying your link building strategies you are able to maintain your rankings.

Tip: If you’re building your ranking by submitting articles to directories, make sure to also try writing press releases or using social bookmarking sites. Sources from links should come from a lot of different places.

Analyze and Evaluate Your Results

According to Wong, many poker players don’t spend enough time looking back at their performances to analyze and evaluate their results. By doing so, players can make better decisions in the future. When it comes to SEO, you also want to take some time out every once and a while to evaluate your SEO efforts because not all of your strategies will have the impact you thought they would.

Wong recommends that you keep a good database of keywords and links so that you have a good idea of what’s working and what’s not. Links from three months ago could have a lingering effect on your rankings today, so it’s crucial that you spend time analyzing your tactics.

Wong says, much like poker, the important rule to remember about SEO is that “you always have to keep learning to stay ahead of the curve. You don’t ever want to get left behind.”

You should check out my past blog “SEO for Beginners” if you’re setting out to build a website. Also, learn more about other small business tools including email marketing services and online fax providers.

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