Experts Blog

Why Crossfit Makes me a Better SEO

By Casey Markee on Jan 31, 2012 - 05:11 PM

Those that know me know that I've been an avid crossfitter since 2008. Over the last three plus years I've used it as my main means of staying active and in shape and have accumulated some incredible friends, experienced some life-changing moments and accomplished physical tasks that as a 37yr old I had thought were far behind me. More importantly though, many of the lessons I've learned doing Crossfit have also made me a better SEO and have greatly influenced how I approach client projects and my own professional education in the real world.

First though, for the uninitiated, Crossfit is a fitness discipline that seeks to provide REAL-WORLD fitness. In a nutshell, Crossfit strives to make the average person better at life. I run, row, jump rope, lift weights, and generally train myself to move heavy loads quickly over long distances. I also follow a recommended Paleolithic type of diet (one which I still struggle with daily) that involves the consumption of meats veggies, nuts, seeds and very little or no sugar. Unfortunately, beer is NOT paleo-friendly and that's one of my biggest weaknesses. It thus prevents me from taking my diet, and thus my performance, to the best possible next level.

Many of you reading this may have been exposed to Crossfit through the Reebok sponsored Crossfit Games that premiered on ESPN last September. The games, which are conducted in July of each year at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, is the culmination of a worldwide competition that involves tens of thousands of crossfitters from thousands of participating affiliates that compete in set workouts-of-the-day (called WODs). Participants are ranked worldwide with the top performing athletes advancing out of the qualifying rounds to one of 17 regional competitions. Regional qualifiers are then whittled down to around 100 of the fittest men and women in the world who compete in the games for the title of fittest man and woman on the planet and an increasingly large cash prize (last year it was $250,000 for each winner).


On February 22nd I'll be joining many in my own box (what we call our Crossfit gyms) in competing in the 2012 Crossfit Games Qualifiers. Unfortunately, because I can't handstand walk more than 3ft and have a TON of other holes in my overall Crossfit arsenal, I won't need to worry about making plans past the qualifiers. However, as I compete, I'll be continuing the lessons I've learned through blood, sweat, and tears, and which I've been applying successfully to my own SEO career on a daily basis. These are some of those lessons I'd like to share with you today.

Lesson #1 - If it's easy, you probably aren't doing it right. Crossfit WODs are by their nature difficult. We have WODs that are so kick-ass that even experienced crossfitters still can't perform them as RX'd (as prescribed) without being scaled.

king-kong.jpgOne such WOD, "King Kong" looks like this:

3 Rounds for Time (as fast as possible)

1 Deadlift 455#
2 Muscle Ups
3 Squat Cleans 250#
4 Handstand Pushups

That's pretty daunting and as someone who still can't perform either a Muscle-Up (example here) or successive Handstand Pushups (example here) this isn't a WOD I'm going to be performing anytime soon. Nevertheless, it can be scaled. I can also do substitutions as needed to complete the work.

As an SEO, this is a strategy that I routinely apply to link building. Finding links for client sites, on average, is actually pretty easy. Finding the RIGHT kind of links that will move a site competitively is something else entirely. Make sure you understand link evaluation and what a good link looks like. If link building is becoming "easy" for you, most likely you aren't doing it right.

Lesson #2 - There are no excuses in Crossfit; just results. Crossfit is for everyone. But not everyone is made for Crossfit. You can talk a great game in the gym but if you hit a WOD and fail spectacularly your weaknesses (like my overhead squat) are on full display for everyone. In contrast, if you continually believe you CAN'T do something in Crossfit, odds are you won't be able to do it down the road. A common repeated mantra in Crossfit is the following:

"When you begin with what you can't do, you diminish what you are able to do." - CrossFit Chick

Just like in SEO, you are only as good as your last campaign. If you continually provide excuses to a client regarding why their campaigns aren't performing or are slow to adapt to other campaign alternatives then you can expect less business going forward. Making yourself AND your SEO approach accountable is just common sense. I perform professional audits with my clients on an ongoing basis. If there is a specific class of link not working, I adjust accordingly. The same goes with on-page or technical site updates. If I make a change to a website and it doesn't go as planned I admit my mistake and make another change.

Lesson #3 - The best plan won't survive a poor diet. I admit that I am still a TERRIBLE eater. I still drink more beer than I should, and I love sugar and bread to a fault. But I'm getting much, much better. Nevertheless, no matter how many WODs I hit a week or how many PRs (personal records) I may set in a month, I can't exercise my way to washboard abs. The only way to do that is through a proper diet of meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and little or no grains and sugar.


The same is true for SEO. I can't wish a site to the top of Google if the site owner won't listen to my advice or if the content of the site is not top-quality, or if link building is not considered a top-priority. The same goes with social media optimization: if you can't convince your clients to add a blog and start connecting with their customers through Twitter, Facebook and Google+ then they won't perform as well as they could, period.

Lesson #4 - Tracking your results is the KEY to success. Most of the crossfitters in my box (myself included) are very good about tracking their Crossfit WOD milestones/achievements in either a journal or phone app. Crossfit has dozens of "named" WODs that we perform at random intervals. When these WODs come up we record how we do and compare them to the last time we did the WOD. Sometimes we improve, sometimes we don't. But the record allows us to quickly and visually track progress over time. This is a fundamental tenant of Crossfit.

In comparison, SEO is also all about results: how to measure results, track results, and record results over time and space. I do not start an SEO campaign, any SEO campaign, without benchmarking. Where is the client ranking? What is the current traffic level of the target site? How many social subscribers does the site/brand have before we begin our marketing? These are all trackable metrics. Failing to perform benchmarking is an absolute disgrace on your own part as an SEO and worse, on the part of your clients.

Lesson #5 - You can cry, just don't be a whining baby! Now personally, I'm not much of a crier. In fact, on the rare occasion that water did froth forth from my eyes it most likely was just a little bit of my sheer awesomeness leaking out. But if anything can bring my 6' 2" 240lb frame to shed a tear it would be the horrors I routinely experience on the pull-up bar, or doing wall balls, or running the 5 and 10Ks that seem to be coming up more-and-more regularly in our daily programming.

Nevertheless, as with life, Crossfit has taught me that pain and being "uncomfortable" is only temporary. As the trainers at my box are always quick to say: you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.


The same goes for SEO in general: it's okay to bemoan Google or your competitors or even bad luck. What's not okay is for you to continue whining about things you can't change (algorithmic updates, new competitors entering the market, a smaller ad budget) and ignoring the things you CAN change (better content, site speed, more social interaction, and continued education). Don't be a baby! Your clients deserve better.

These are just a few lesson snapshots. There are many more and you'll most likely seem them in a future post. But for now, take the lessons above learned from my own blood, sweat and tears to heart. They work for me; I'm willing to bet they'll work for you.Planet Ocean article end