“SEO is like X-factor” – how to explain complex ideas



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Last Updated

Ben Wheatley, Business Director


4 Minutes

18 May 2021

04 Jun 2024

We all know that complex issues can be hard to grasp – trying to get our head around them can sometimes cause a real headache, especially when we get lost in the realm of jargon, acronyms, and expertise. It can be frustrating and discouraging, as much for the listener as it is for the speaker. When we don’t understand, we feel stupid. And when we feel stupid, we are most likely to give up and disengage.

One thing I have learned over the years is that your expertise is worth very little if your audience:

  1. can’t understand you,
  2. and can’t make use of what you are trying to communicate.

Ideas that are misinterpreted or misunderstood can lead to a loss of opportunity, trust or money. Not to mention the confused, bored, or frustrated listeners.

A well-communicated concept or idea, on the other hand, can persuade, inspire and motivate. When we share the same language, we can inspire action and understanding of what is needed to succeed.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is not a new concept in digital marketing but often is hard to grasp for people who do not specialise in online marketing. It’s a complex set of processes and requirements that is constantly evolving. Very often, our clients have different levels of understanding of SEO. This only adds to this complexity. So how do you get your clients on the same page?

Using analogies to explain complex problems.

My experience taught me that thoughtfully and deliberately using analogies can be the most efficient way of explaining something complex simply and clearly. Analogies can help people step back, look at the concept from a more familiar angle and see possibilities that were obscured before.

You can use metaphors and similes to create an analogy. They both compare the familiar with the unfamiliar, making it immediately easy for audiences to grasp what you are trying to communicate. While a simile is saying something is like something else, a metaphor is often poetically saying something is something else. As such, they are a must-have item in your leadership storytelling kit.

Similes and metaphors are everywhere, just a quick google search for “SEO is like…” shows us how helpful (and insightful) analogies can be:

SEO is like a river, it keeps on flowing. PPC is like a faucet: once you turn it off, it stops providing you leads.

A website without SEO is like a car with no gas.

“Content is soul. Technical SEO is the backbone.”

These examples evoke vivid images and allow us to “see” things from a new perspective. We “get it” instantly.

In my work as an Account Director, I often have to explain SEO to clients who are new to inbound marketing. Many people struggle to immediately grasp concepts like crawlability, on-page, E-A-T, off-page, authority, etc. I don’t blame them – it is lots of jargon that makes little sense to someone who has never done it before.

I remember how, many years ago, I joined a meeting with a potential SEO client. The client was quite familiar with paid search concepts but admitted that he had little understanding of SEO. He asked “How does SEO work? And why should I care?” I knew that talking about links or online authority was pointless. Instead, I asked him: “Do you watch X-factor sometimes?” He looked puzzled but was intrigued. “Yeah, why?” he asked.

“Well”, I said, “Your website is very much like a contestant on X-Factor. Let’s call him Elton. Elton wants to sell lots of albums and wants the whole world to enjoy his songs. But Elton knows that he is just one of the thousands of people who share the same dream. And so Elton works hard on these three things:

  • He polishes his
    technique. He wants to make sure his voice is clean and nothing that Simon
    Cowell could ever call ‘absolutely pathetic’.
  • He also chooses the
    right songs that fit his personality and style. He makes sure he has a whole
    repertoire of songs to pick from. He knows that the audience wanted novelty,
    freshness, and originality.
  • Elton also knows
    that it doesn’t matter how great his technique and songs are, if people don’t
    vote for him, he will never go to the top. And so Elton works hard to get the
    audience to connect with him. He wants to gain their trust and support. He
    wants to make himself unmissable.

Simon and other judges recognise Elton’s drive and how much the audience loves him – the victory is very close. But Elton knows that he can’t slow down – he has to give his 100% each week.

Your website gaining page 1 rankings on Google is like Elton winning X-Factor. To achieve that, you need to work on the technical aspects of your site (your singing technique). You also need some good, original and helpful content that will help you connect with your readers (good choice of songs). And your website needs links from other sites (votes of support), for it to rank highly.”

The client smiled and said “Ah, I get it. Well, if Google is like Simon Cowell, we do need to get to work, huh?” 

In just 5 minutes, I managed to explain something complex simply and clearly. This simple simile has become a shortcut to instant and memorable understanding, to which I could always refer back to. It made instant sense to the client that he needed to invest in all the “SEO pillars” to win in the extremely competitive niche.

However, for analogies to work, we have to get them right. They have to be thoughtful and carefully picked. Saying, for example, that “PPC is like a hired gun – it will help you do the job just as long as you are ready to pay.” can potentially misfire (pun intended!). So choose your words wisely!

What is your favourite analogy you use with your clients that helps you communicate your ideas?