Game Theory and SEO

This blog has been my place to articulate my thoughts, to propose experiments and my views on multiple topics. Having said that, this is one such piece.

I would love to hear your views about this and feel free to scroll down to that comment box and leave a line (or two).

What is Game Theory?

Taking the excerpt from Wikipedia –

Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic, computer science and biology.

In this piece, I am proposing that we can use the basic precepts of Game Theory and apply them to SEO strategies as well.

Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which one person’s gains result in losses for the other participants. Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.

In Search Engine Optimization, for a particular query search, only one site can be at the top. At the cost of the search visibility of other sites.

Ergo, SEO is clearly a zero-sum scenario.

Wait, isn’t this between two players?

That’s what we construe of Game Theory … and more importantly with Prisoner’s Dilemma. However, in the real world, and in almost any market driven environment, there are always multiple players.

Such scenarios are referred to as n-person games, or in Gaming parlance – multi-player games. This gives way to something we define as Evolutionary game theory.

What is Evolutionary Game Theory?

Evolutionary game theory considers games involving a population of decision makers, where the frequency with which a particular decision is made can change over time in response to the decisions made by all individuals in the population.

So, in SEO the strategy that I can adopt at any point of time is suspect to change, and over a period of time, most players who are working on their SEO would tend to change their strategy and evolve their approach.

In economics, the same theory is intended to capture population changes because people play the game many times within their lifetime, and consciously (and perhaps rationally) switch strategies.

Ditto about SEO again. In textbook style, I could say don’t do Black Hat. However, you know it and I know it … that at some point of time in our lives we have done Black Hat. Yes yes yes, it doesn’t work and you have to pay the price, but we still have gone ahead, haven’t we?

This change in tactics, resulting in evolution of market dynamics effectively ends up changing the winning strategies of the game. A research article that talks about how the competing strategies change within a network of decision makers is available here.

To read more on Evolutionary Game Theory, here is the wiki link.

Rituals and Evolutionary Game Theory

One more interesting characteristic that mathematical biologist John Maynard Smith realized when studying the behavior of game theory in communities was that in biological communities (his research was based on Darwinian concepts and survival of the fittest) most of the players did not focus on their strategy as a winning one, but treated their strategies as at a ritualistic level.

Ergo, for most members of the population it was not important whether they were engaged in a competitive and winning strategy, but rather that they were engaged in a strategy in the first place.

Wait, what?

Let me rephrase that statement.

Players involved in playing a multi-player game, where the game itself was changing constantly, the winning strategy was not important for players.

So much, as having a strategy in the first place.

Uh, I thought this was going to be on SEO

It is.

In a game of lets-get-on-top (on Google), all of us marketers are running circles trying to figure out the best SEO strategy.

We have seen many of the oft-quoted paradigms here –

  1. Content is king
  2. Great Link profiling
  3. Black Hat

What I am proposing is that it really does not matter which step you take … as long as you decide to take a step as per a strategy and then choosing to evolve your stance after you find out the result.


Google, GoDaddy and the HTTPS Conundrum

I like to stay active on this blog, and I love the constant tinkering on WordPress (right from identifying which plugins to install to customizing the theme).

This is one of the main reasons I am able to blog on a regularish basis. Obviously, since it’s a content driven site, the bulk of my traffic comes from Google Search.

So what’s wrong with that

The over dependence on organic search means for the blog to have more visitors, user engagement and comments – I have to try and follow the diktats of the market leader in Search. That’s Google.

I am a fan of most of Google’s work. However, the kind of hold they have on the search market means that publishers who want to be found on search have to work towards being search friendly. Google is all about Do No Evil, and I respect them for that. However, with the recent HTTPS update to their search algorithm, small time publishers are forced to relook at their hosting solutions.

GoDaddy and shared hosting

My site doesn’t get a lot of traffic, 2k-3k visitors a month. For that kind of traffic, a shared hosting plan is perfect. I have been using GoDaddy for quite some time now. Primarily, because most of my domains are within this account.

For the past 8 years or so, I have been using this account, I cannot complain about the service. I know it’s a shared hosting, and it has managed to meet my expectations.

Until now.

GoDaddy and HTTPS

The hosting plan I have is a simple plan and it does not support me having to install a custom SSL certificate. So much so that, even if I wanted to purchase a certificate from GoDaddy – I am not able to do so. Perhaps its a glitch in their interface.

I could get a Lets Encrypt certificate, and that’s what I have done for the 13 Llama Interactive site and for Harshaja’s blog. The problem with this approach is that both these sites are hosted on a DO instance. Where I can easily control the installation of the SSL certificate.

There is no simple option for doing that. GoDaddy support is of no use, and that leads me to a dead end.

Cloudflare can help

This is where a reverse proxy like Cloudflare helped. Atleast all the requests that are going to the site can be sent to an HTTPS version of the site. The lookup itself is done via Cloudflare and I have updated the website settings in my WordPress to serve from the HTTPS endpoint.

However, this kind of kills the wp-admin section. Thankfully through the REST API and Jetpack’s connection to I can still manage to post content.

So what can a publisher do?

At this juncture, I could simply shift my hosting and be done with it. It’s the easiest option. However, what about all those publishers out there who may not have such an option available to them.

There has to be a simpler solution to this mess.

Food for Thought: Part V

Healthy food

Ever since Google Reader was shunted, I haven’t been able to settle on a RSS reader. I did try out multiple other services and I am currently using Digg’s reader. Not having a good RSS software kind of puts a huge impediment on one’s reading, and this is probably my excuse for not posting more often!

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Part V”

Getting Bots to Increase your traffic, The Black Hat way

Black Hat Referral Traffic

Saturday is the day when I take a hot steaming cup of coffee and start looking at how my blog has fared over the week. This is one time which I allot to all personal projects. As some of these projects come to a closure, I would be more than happy to talk about these here.

So, I open up Google Analytics and boom, I see a small surge in traffic. Curious to know the source, I look at the Source/Medium acquisition report –

Continue reading “Getting Bots to Increase your traffic, The Black Hat way”

Food for Thought: Series II

I had shared some noteworthy articles last month and decided that it’s a good habit to keep up.

Search: Not Provided: What Remains, Keyword Data Options, the Future

What happens to SEO efforts and Digital marketing when one of your major chunks (organic keyword level data) is not available. Avinash Kaushik gives advice on how to go about working with keyword data and why Google started encrypting organic traffic.

This is a far better approach than simply bitching about Google and hatching conspiracy theories of Adwords trying to maximize their revenues!!

Google+ Guide for Small Businesses

A detailed and step by step guide for Small Businesses to develop their presence on G+. Not only is it very thoughtful, but also it provides links and answers to all the quetsions that you might get stuck. And an awesome UI to boot as well!!

Disillusioned with Facebook? Here’s a way forward

It’s easy to dismiss Facebook as a time sink and a negative ROI generator. I did that. However as time went by, I realized that maintaining a presence on social networks is almost a health factor these days. Darren Rowse of ProBlogger walks us through some of the more important things to keep in mind as you go about trying to rustle up a community on Facebook. All the Social Media Managers out there, you HAVE TO read this.

How to track online RoI of offline marketing

This post is quite close to my heart. It is about measuring the Return on Investment (RoI) of Offline advertising. Traditionally to calculate the RoI, brands would use agencies which specialized in marketing surveys. However, with the boom of Indian e-commerce and the influx of venture capital, most of the online mediums have started offline advertising as well. How does the digital marketing manager of such a firm tackle the RoI calculation? Here is a basic explaination of how you go about Trackign RoI of Offline advertising.

What is Life?

What is Life? is based on a series of lectures delivered at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies by Erwin Schrodinger. This was first published more than 50 years back, and it has found its way in the blue nothing. The PDF file is a lengthy dialogue which meanders through the physical composition of a cell to the destruction of the identity of life using means such as hypnosis. I have to warn you that if you do not take lightly to abstract concepts and discussing them for the sake of discussion itself, then do not read this document. Having said that, this is Food for thought after all!

Food for Thought

The Slow Winter

A hilarious take on Moore’s Law. If you have studied hardware and transistors, then definitely read through this article. Do note, that it’s a PDF document. What is Moore’s Law? … well

Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.

5 Dos and Don’ts of International SEO – Whiteboard Friday

I had earlier written about Moz’s Aleyda and her checklist for International SEO. Last week Moz had a Whiteboard Friday with Aleyda running us through that Checklist. For people wishing to target other geographies where they do not have any presence, this is a must see video.

Six Visual Solutions To Complex Digital Marketing/Analytics Challenges

Avinash Kaushik gives simple and clear answers to most challenges that digital marketers. The explanation uses Venn Diagrams to make strong points. If you are a HiPPo (Highly Paid Person with an Opinion), then do take some time from your busy schedule and go through this. If your organization is not actively working on any analytics initiatives, then it is high time that you should start!

Sexy Up Your Marketing Data

Annie Cushing shares her presentation from SMX East and drives a point home. For marketers to make sense to the top management, data visualization is crucial. People prefer looking at great looking data instead of just a series of numbers.