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Season 5 of Game of Thrones, one of world’s favorite shows and mine, premiered on Sunday.  A lot has happened on the show in the past 4 seasons, and it reminds me of how many changes have occurred in the SEO world over the past 5 years.  So I can justify watching the show is for “work research”, and I’ve put together a list of top lessons SEOs can learn from Game of Thrones.

Finally, here’s your requisite spoiler warning.  Read at your own risk if you aren’t fully caught up.

Lesson #1:  Don’t Only Pick Battles with the Biggest, Baddest Guys


In Season 4, Prince Oberyn fights The Mountain, the biggest physical specimen in the Seven Kingdoms this side of Khal Drogo.  Initially he holds his own, but in the end he’s killed in one of the most painful ways ever depicted on TV.  Similarly, I hear companies too frequently say their primary goal is to win the #1 position on largest-volume head terms, by trying to outrank the largest brands.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but while there’s only a small chance of winning on these terms, there’s a 100% chance you’ll spend significant resources trying to win.  Doing this is like picking a fight with The Mountain.

Instead, companies should diversify and target lower-competition keywords for some quick wins.  Once you’ve honed your optimization process on lower-competition terms, you can target high-volume keywords, this time playing with house money.

Lesson #2:  Hiding Behind A Wall Is Not a Good Strategy


The Seven Kingdoms built a 300-mile wall along the northern border to keep out the Wildlings and the White Walkers.  Unfortunately by Season 3, the Wall couldn’t keep either enemy out.  Hiding behind a wall is similar to companies only trying to keep competitors from leap-frogging them on their current top-ranking terms.  It’s a necessary tactic, but not a sufficient one.

Instead, companies should also attack other competitor walls, continuously focusing on new keyword areas to grow into.  Also, and I know this is easier said than done, try to build a brand with your target audience to diversify your traffic sources.  This strategy also mitigates risk the next time Google decides to put another big ad unit above the fold, pushing down organic results.

Lesson #3:   Don’t Be a Victim of Your Own Success


This lesson might be the most controversial point. There’s a fine line between success and too much success.  Who are the most successful characters on Game of Thrones?  Well it’s the Kings, followed by the Hand of the King.  What’s happened to these characters?  Most have been killed or had their reputations ruined – King Joffrey, Ned Stark, Tywinn Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister, to name a few.

The same results occur when Google sees that you’ve monopolized too many top slots in the SERPs.   They simply make a change named after a black-and-white creature, and poof, you disappear.   Think of Demand Media, Wikipedia, and RetailMeNot, who have all gotten hurt by algorithm changes.  For now, it’s better to be like Lord Baelish (aka Littlefinger) or Varys the Eunuch.  Be successful but not too successful.  Focus on the “O” in SEO, which stands for optimization and not over-optimization.