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What Olympic Athletes Can Teach Us about Modern Marketing & SEO

This post was contributed by writer and friend of Botify, Hannah Vanbiber.

With the 2020 (or is it the 2021?) Tokyo Olympic games behind us, athletes have returned home and are sharing their experiences, reflecting back on the excitement and unpredictability of the event, and inspiring many with their strength, sportsmanship, and dedication to their sport. 

Regardless of sport, country they represent, or tenure, Olympic athletes are committed to being the strongest competitor they can be. But what’s the secret to an Olympian’s success? A commitment to long-term goals, consistent training and growth, world-class tools to reach peak performance, and a steadfast focus on what they can control.

And listen, we’re no Olympians, but in reality, every company is “going for gold” in their field and we think there are a few parallels between world-class Olympic athletes and successful SEO strategies. To succeed, employees and teams must commit themselves to do what it takes to get real, measurable results.

Like Olympians, brands can unlock the potential of organic search by setting long-term goals, regular training and advancing of their skills, leveraging powerful tools, and shifting investment and focus on their own assets. 

Long-Term Goals

Just as Olympic athletes are not made overnight, organic search, too, is a long game. Even the most talented athletes put a lot of time into moving up the ranks in their sport. They set goals, identify milestones, and track their performance along the way – whether that’s perfecting a certain skill, securing a spot in a national competition, or beating their best time in a race.

Similarly with SEO, there are no shortcuts to success and seeing results requires time and patience. Yes, short-term goals are important – but measuring outcomes and performance to ensure they translate to overall progress is key to creating long-lasting results and business growth. 

For example, a short-term SEO goal may be to fix broken links or clean up your site’s bad status codes in order to make more content more accessible to search engines.  A long-term goal, on the other hand, could be focused on driving more revenue from specific category pages on your website.  

Championship-Level Training

When it comes to enterprise SEO, just like in athletics, having a strong, reliable foundation is essential, but in order to truly excel and set yourself apart, consistent training is an absolute necessity. 

Mastering the Fundamentals

The best athletes emphasize the fundamentals. Regardless of the specific sport they are mastering, foundational training to improve strength, endurance, agility, and speed is always part of the program. 

In the world of marketing and SEO, this applies not only to your and your teams’ training, but also to your strategy and approach to organic search.

Of course, any newbie should understand the basics of organic search and how it works, go through thorough SEO 101 courses, and leverage helpful resources and guides, but organic search is a constantly changing landscape, so even seasoned SEOs need to brush up on the essentials now and then. Build a training schedule to help employees stay on top of their game. 

Fundamentals in SEO might include:

Furthermore, you must ensure your overall approach and strategy includes the fundamentals too – the core principles of technical SEO. In other words, you must first understand IF your website can even be found by search engines before jumping ahead to improving rankings. 

Why? Because organic search is a funnel – and in order for content to even rank and drive conversions, it must first be crawled, rendered, and indexed. 

If you skip the critical early stages of the search funnel – the technical components – and focus primarily on the on-page elements, your strategy is inherently incomplete. It’s the equivalent of trying to work on your sprinting technique when you can’t run 10 seconds without losing your breath; or going for the advanced tumbling pass on the balance beam before being able to walk on the four-inch-wide apparatus. 

Constant Improvement & Evolution

Beyond the fundamentals, every Olympian works on upleveling their skills. They go to the gym every day, hire personal trainers, stick to strict nutrition schedules, and train with the best in their league. They seek to disrupt the status quo and push themselves with bigger and more complex challenges.

SEO professionals also have to keep learning, keep reaching, and keep stretching for more results. This can take shape through more advanced courses or platform certifications or by tackling a more challenging project.

If you’re a fairly seasoned SEO looking to broaden your horizons, think about exploring:

  • Correlations between technical insights, content elements, and crawl frequency from search engines
  • HTML extracts and how it provides more granular analyses and insights from your data
  • How you can inject more AI and machine learning into your SEO practice
  • Attribution and ROI of organic search
  • The pros and cons of client-side and server-side rendering

It’s important to regularly assess your go-to strategies and determine if there are certain techniques that should be left behind.  What worked ten years ago – or even two years ago – may no longer be best practice. Without constant improvement and learning, you, your teams, and your strategies will become stale. 

World-Class Tools

From state-of-the-art facilities to the latest, innovative devices that can help simulate environments or measure performance, Olympic athletes use world-class tools as part of their quest to reach gold medal status. 

In order to stay ahead of the curve and achieve their goals, marketers, too, leverage a variety of tools and technologies. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of options at our disposal, however they are not all created equal.

It’s important to find a technology that meets your needs of today, but will also help you as you scale and grow. 

  • Is your website made up of 1 million+ pages and rich in JavaScript? Look at platforms that have a track record to support the scale and complexity.
  • Looking to bridge the gap between technical SEO and content SEO? Integrated or more holistic solutions will be more effective than siloed point solutions. 
  • Like to be on the cutting edge and a first-mover? Look at technologies injecting AI, automation, or serverless computing into their offerings. 

In order to stay competitive, companies need to invest in the right technology for them. 

A Focus on What You Can Control  

During a recent interview with The Today Show, Katie Ledecky, US Olympic swimmer who brought home four medals from the games, was asked what advice she and the team received from friend and fellow Olympian Michael Phelps. She responded saying that he said to “control what we can control,” which we think is pretty sound advice; advice that can actually help you future-proof your SEO strategy. 

It’s easy to get caught up with what’s happening around you: obsessing over what keyword your competitor is ranking for today or waiting anxiously for the next core update. We’re not saying that’s not important, but it shouldn’t be the basis of your strategy. There will always be external factors, unknowns, and unpredictability. 

Case in point: Simone Biles, dubbed the greatest gymnast of all time, unexpectedly withdrawing from the competition

  • If her teammates, individually, didn’t train as hard as they possibly could to be the best competitor and instead were solely relying on Biles’ skills to earn them a team medal, they would not have made it to the podium. Instead, they were able to tap into their own mastery and focus on what they do best. 
  • On the other hand, if the competitors’ strategies were wholly focused on beating Simone and dissecting her skills, rather than finding their own unique opportunities to showcase their strengths, they, too, would fall apart. 

Instead of being reactive or overly focused on what’s happening outside of your control, combat unpredictability and improve your search performance by investing in what you can control. Leverage the first-party data at your fingertips to identify growth opportunities, focus on making your own website as discoverable as possible, and pivot your strategy to drive real business outcomes. 

Final Thoughts

Is your company ready to go for the gold? If we’ve learned anything from the Olympics, it’s that perfection takes time, effort, consistency, and a laser focus on results. Olympians use the world’s best training strategies and implement the world’s best tools to reach their peak performance. The key for growing companies to succeed in this digitally-dominant era is to invest in the proper training and the right technology that will help them unlock the potential of their websites. Support your team with knowledge, skills, development, and the appropriate tools to help them win every day.

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