5 Ways Running A Marathon Is Like Content Marketing

Ridiculously photogenic guy
Ridiculously photogenic guy

“What do you do?” is a phrase I’m sure you’ve been asked on more than one occasion; whether it’s when meeting new people, reuniting with old friends or trying to make small talk at a party. Fortunately, I was raised by parents where English was a very distant second language. I can be as arbitrary as saying I “work on/with computers” and it’s good enough for them. Try explaining something as complicated as the internet, let alone what Search Engine Optimization is.  As a runner, I thought it’d be fun to compare unique running phrases to SEO strategies, specifically content marketing. My favorite running quote can apply to SEO as a long-term strategy.

“As runners (SEO’ers), we know we won’t be better tomorrow from what we do today. Tomorrow is not the goal. The goal is weeks from now, months from now, years from now. The acceptance of deferred gratification is what sets us apart and makes us unique.”

During my research, I found out that Google’s very own Matt Cutts is a runner and has been training for the Boston Marathon on April 21. He’s fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is just shy of his fundraiser goal of $25,000 (according to his blog post, his original goal was just $9,000). You can donate via his dedicated fundraiser page. Check out the following running terms and how you can relate them to your SEO content marketing strategy!


Training and preparation is not limited to running, but definitely necessary. We have a few people in the office that are training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon (I’m a wimp and only doing the half marathon). The race is in June, but most, if not all of them have been training for months now. I’m sure non-runners are aware, you cannot just wake up one day and run a marathon. It takes months of dedicated training and preparation for the big day. Running a marathon really takes a toll on your body and you need to build up your endurance to complete the race.

Similarly to SEO, it’s not something you execute on a whim. You need to plan out your strategy and roadmap. You may want to start with fundamental elements like keyword research, competitive analysis, and site content and technical audit. For content marketing, you want to be prepared once the piece is ready to be published and promoted. Some things you can do during this process can include: prospecting authoritative publishers and influencers, reaching out and building relationships with those prospects, scheduling any sponsored campaigns and preparing to share across social channels.


Any runner will agree, it’s impossible to run a full marathon at your 5K pace. You only have so much energy, running at such a fast pace will surely tire you out within the first few miles of a 26.2 mile marathon. As a competitive runner, there’s nothing more that I hate than starting a race too fast and being fatigued for the rest of the race, not being able to run my full potential had I paced myself properly. You’ll also risk hitting the wall much earlier than expected, you’ll read more about that below.

Link spikes can be risky when it comes to SEO. A link spike is a larger than normal increase in backlinks to your site in a very short period of time. The reason why this can be dangerous is because it can raise a red flag in the eyes of search engines. The first reaction to that type of increase is that you were involved in some type of link scheme/network or simply paid for those links for SEO and ranking purposes.

Link spike

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. If you happen to create a piece of content that resonates well with users, they’ll promote and share it via social channels. This can lead to an influx of traffic (and subsequent links) to your site, which is completely fine. Google is pretty good at determining if this type of pattern is organic or have been manipulated through nefarious strategies.

Hitting the Wall

This has to be one of the worst feelings you’ll ever experience while running a race. You’ve finally found a comfortable running pace, when all of a sudden mile 20 comes around and you just feel like you hit a wall (physically and mentally). You are drained of energy and feel like you can’t continue. You can either stop and stretch, take a break or start walking. Or you can be like The Little Engine That Could and repeat the mantra “I think I can” and push yourself to the finish line!

With any project or campaign, there are bound to be times where you just run out of ideas. Optimizing and promoting different sites and content pieces will never garner the same results, there are just too many factors in play that can alter outcome. What makes the SEO industry so dynamic is that a strategy that worked 5 years ago will likely not work today. Or maybe Google tells you to stick a fork in guest blogging…Whatever the case is, there will be a point where you have to go back to the drawing board. It may not always be a bad thing. You can use this time to re-evaluate your program and determine if you are targeting the right keywords, optimizing the right pages and creating the right content that fits with the intended audience.

2nd Wind

In running, this is the complete opposite of hitting the wall; it doesn’t always happen but is very welcome when it does. Getting a 2nd wind gives you a burst of energy you didn’t know you had in you. Ideally it comes at a point in the race where you need it most (say before or after you hit the wall). This is where training comes in handy. By understanding when you do hit a wall in your training runs, you can strategically re-hydrate or re-fuel at the right time during a race. You can get a 2nd wind from external factors too. Maybe you happen to spot your friends and family in the crowd, who spent the past few hours standing on the course watching other runners pass by to finally get a glimpse of you to cheer you on as you run by for a moment and then disappear into the throng of runners.

For content marketing, you can’t always plan for a 2nd wind. Sure, you can do additional research and find other opportunities to share your content. But if your piece of content didn’t take off the first time, maybe it just wasn’t as funny or interesting as you thought it would be to others. In most cases, it just may not have had the initial traction that it needed to go viral. Other times, it’ll just happen on its own. Take our Authorship infographic, for example. It was originally published on September 30, 2013 but looking at traffic to the page, you’ll see that there was a spike in visits in March of this year.

Content marketing, authorship infographic

Referring traffic sources shows that it came from Google+, coincidentally. One individual in particular, Irfan Ahmad, found and shared our post on March 3 to his followers and received 480 +1’s, 276 shares and 38 comments! A visual of the impact of Irfan’s one share can be seen in Google+’s seldom used Ripples tool.


Google+ Ripples

The Goal

Every runner has a different goal, for some it’s to finish the race at a certain time or place, but for most others it’s usually just to complete the race and check it off their bucket list. Completing a marathon is not a simple feat, as mentioned, it takes months of dedicated training and countless hours of running and potential change in eating and social habits. But knowing you can run a marathon can be very empowering and make one of the goals or projects you’ve been putting off seem a lot easier to accomplish.

You may have had a client whose only goal for a content marketing campaign is to make their content ‘go viral’. Sure, you can do your best researching and designing a piece of content that you think will resonate with the intended audience, build relationships with influencers and outreach as much as possible. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the readers to determine whether they want to share (and link to) your content. What’s important is setting those expectations early on (preferably before you begin an engagement). Fortunately, if you have the experience and track record of success, their goals should be aligned with what is promised.

These are just 5 similarities of running a marathon to content marketing, although there are a lot more examples (think Fartlek workouts). Hopefully this encourages readers to either run their first marathon and/or re-assess their current content marketing strategy. If it is the former, you may want to watch this video of a marathoner’s thoughts and see if it’s still right for you!

Leave a Reply