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An SEO Campaign Is Like a Marathon

Nick Bernard

As an account management professional over the last seven years, I have come to appreciate the power of a good analogy. Two years ago I decided to make the move from managing accounts in the world of finance to managing accounts in search engine marketing. As I began communicating with my SEO clients, many analogies were readily available for me to use. I have told my clients that rankings are like prices on the stock market; they can and will fluctuate. I have also told my clients that moving your rankings further up on page one in Google is like losing the last five to ten pounds on a diet. It is the most difficult part of a weight loss journey and it takes considerable time and effort.

Both of these analogies are effective but, for me, they fall short covering anything more than a shallow understanding of how rankings work. The further I get into my career of managing accounts in the world of SEO, the more I learn that an effective SEO campaign is not a sprint, it is a marathon. As a veteran runner of seven marathons, I want to take the time to convey just how much an effective SEO campaign is like a marathon.

Every Runner / SEO Campaign is Different

The Runner: A runner that is already running at an elite local level will have different needs than a couch potato that is taking on the marathon to regain control of their life. It is important that any runner setting out to run a marathon look for a coach or a mentor to guide them through their journey.

The SEO Campaign: Enterprise level clients will almost certainly have different needs than a small business owner. The key is to find the correct plan for both types of clients. A business that is looking to have a successful SEO campaign should also seek out the correct employee or professional SEO firm to coach or mentor them through their campaign.

A Solid Base

The Runner: No runner should undertake a marathon without establishing a proper base of training. Runners that are thinking of attempting the marathon distance are advised to be running at least 35-40 miles a week before signing up for a race.

The SEO Campaign: In an SEO campaign, your base should consist of a proper onsite optimization. Before initiating a comprehensive link building campaign, your SEO team or agency should make sure that the pages that they will be building links to have proper title tags, meta-descriptions and header tags. It is also very important to have good original keyword rich content on your page as you start your campaign.

A Variety of Training Methods / Balanced Link Portfolio

The Runner: Runners that only put in one type of training miles will be far less successful than runners that implement three different types of training days. There are base mile days, tempo run days, and a long run at the end of the week.

The SEO Campaign: For an SEO campaign to be as effective as possible your SEO team or agency cannot rely on building one type of back link. They should aim to build a well balanced back link portfolio that consists of a variety of different linking strategies. If your team or agency does this, your campaign will be far more successful.


The Runner: Any runner that wants to perform well in their chosen marathon, professional or novice, should schedule four to six months of solid training to give themselves a good opportunity to succeed.

The SEO Campaign: A company embarking on a serious SEO campaign should allow for anywhere from a month to several months of consistent link building before they begin to see synergy between their onsite optimization and building of back links. Just like an elite or beginning runner will respond differently to training, a campaign’s keywords will respond to link building at different rates based on their monthly search volume and competitiveness.

The Wall

The Runner: Almost everyone has heard of a marathon runner hitting “the wall.” It can happen at any time during a race but it commonly happens between miles 20-22. When a runner hits the wall, they feel like their body is shutting down and that they have nothing left to give. Having suffered through the wall myself, I have found that if you just keep moving, your body will find another gear and you will be able to finish the race, as long as you don’t quit or stop running.

The SEO Campaign: Nearly every SEO campaign will go through its version of the wall or a plateau. This event can take place at anytime during your campaign based on your industries level of competitiveness and what your competitors are doing with their own search marketing efforts. Just like a runner in a marathon, website owners must be patient. Their campaign will be able to break through the wall and continue on to greater successes, as long as they don’t get frustrated and quit.

The Finish Line

The Runner: Many people who set out to run a marathon are awakened to a scary truth about themselves; after all the training and miles, their body craves the endorphin rush of running and they cannot give it up. Instead of going back to their old life after completing their marathon, they move on to planning their next marathon.

The SEO Campaign: When a firm or business owner takes part in a successful SEO campaign, they come to a similar realization as the new marathon runner; their business cannot live without search engine marketing as a part of its long term strategy. Business owners ask themselves what their company’s next “marathon” will be. Will they target additional keywords ? Focus in on a different product category? Build up their sites blog? Just like the marathon runner, the business owner has turned a corner and the marketing efforts for their company will never be the same.

So as you can see, no matter if you are doing in-house SEO or working with an SEO agency, you need to think long term, and about the big picture… there is no way to short cut your efforts and achieve your desired results.

Plan. Commit. Succeed.

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