Are You Playing Checkers or Chess?

Want to know one big difference between a game of checkers and a game of chess? It’s the number five. That’s the average number of moves ahead that a Class A or better chess player will generally be thinking throughout the course of a game. While checkers is primarily played in the moment, chess requires a complex strategy that is often won by thinking ahead.

Here’s another. In checkers, each piece has an equal value and moves up the board in an “every man for himself” attempt to take out as many opponents as it can on it’s way to the other side. Chess on the other hand gives each piece a different value and a significantly different role. Some are there to protect, others are there to attack and the rest are martyrs. All of these “personalities” must successfully work together towards a common goal of capturing the king.

So, my question to you is this. When it comes to your Internet Marketing strategy, are you playing checkers or are you playing chess? If you’re not sure, let me help you figure it out…

Here is What a Game of Checkers Looks Like

You have a website but it doesn’t seem to work very well. It could be the design or maybe that stale corporate jargon you call text. You don’t get a lot of visitors because you don’t have much of an organic search engine optimization strategy which really doesn’t matter since the majority of visitors you actually do get aren’t converting into customers anyway. You have a social media strategy that consists of someone else in your office administering a Facebook page that gets updated a few times a week at best. There might be a Twitter account as well but no one is really sure since it’s never used. Your company blog gets updated almost every month but is very heavy on the fluff. It’s not a big deal though since no one is really reading it anyway.

The problem here is that none of the tools you are using are working together. You have no strategy. Your entire Internet Marketing campaign lives in reactionary mode and what actions you do actually take wreak of “I hope this is going to work!” Spoiler alert…it’s not.

Here is What a Game of Chess Looks Like

You have a polished website with well written content that has a crystal clear message strategically written to convert visitors. You are running a successful organic search engine optimization campaign to draw new visitors to your site fueled by your company blog that is updated with high quality content two times per week. You have decided to focus all of your social media attention on Google+, Twitter and the company Facebook page. You have a very specific social media strategy that has you updating your status with your most recent blog post, company news and even personal stuff to make sure you come across as human. None of these processes are automated and yet you are still able to keep it to about 1 to 2 highly focused hours per day.

Each piece is working together towards a common goal of getting visitors to the site and converting them into new customers. You are thinking five moves ahead. You have a strategy. Big difference!

Turning Your Checker Board Into a Chess Board

If it looks as though your strategy is built around the game of checkers, it’s not too late. By changing the way you look at the board you can easily fix it…

This is your King and he must be protected. If this piece is vulnerable your game is played in a state of panic and defense. Your first job is to make sure your website is on purpose. This means a quality design, engaging content and a clear call to action all meant to help guide your visitors towards a specific conversion goal (contact you, request more information, buy your product, etc.)

Search Engine Optimization
This is your Queen and is incredibly powerful in the game. If you use your Queen too aggressively you run the risk of losing her early in the game which can be devastating. Play her too conservatively and you won’t benefit from what the Queen brings to the game. A well thought out SEO campaign that is aggressive yet ethical will drive qualified traffic to your site without running the risk of getting blacklisted by the search engines.

Your blog posts are the Castles, Knights and Bishops. They are used to protect your King as well as attack the other side. They play a very strategic offensive and defensive role in the game. Exactly how your blog should work. Your blog posts are most valuable when you are not only writing to acquire new visitors and followers but to position yourself as an authority to your existing followers and customer base as a constant reminder of the value that you bring.

Social Media
Social Media sites are your pawns. There are a lot of them and their power seems trivial at first but a game of chess can’t be won without them. Pawns work the front lines. They are the first responders in the game. Their role is to protect, capture and aid the other pieces on the board. Regardless of what Social Media outlet you choose, it’s role is to actively reach out and stand up the other pieces within your strategy.

The End Game

Like a game of chess, your Internet Marketing campaign is not won by a single piece or a single move. It is a combination of many. It is a strategy that is developed and worked consistently towards a common goal. It means staying focused. Playing several moves ahead. Of course it is also not forgetting that it’s all a game and in the end should be fun.

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  • Ade

    amazing! i love your blogging!  you write very good lessons! (by the way, Bella here)

    • Marc Ensign

      OK, that made my day…the best comment ever! Thank you!!! (this is from my 8 year old daughter Bella) 

  • Carlos Fernandes

    l love the analogy. Just wish some businesses that seem to be all so focused on the web – realized that there is so much more to building a business with a stable foundation. 

    You could zoom out from this chessboard and then realize you are on the larger chessboard of a larger marketing game – and the web based marketing or the combination of SEM / SMO etc – was just one of the Knights… or maybe both Knights :)  Building your business on a wider foundation than just the web is a must…  even if you feel you’re just a eCommerce or web based business.  Go to niche conferences, shake hands, network, sponsor events, explore outdoor advertising, get busy…  bring in traffic to the website sure – but think about in other terms than simply rankings and social buzz. Those are great – I just tell our web based clients to realize marketing a business is more.  Especially if you want to be insulated from changes in algo’s and the like.

    Doing this for several years 2001 to 2007 is the way we have not only survived these harsh economic times – but thrived in them. 

    Anyway Marc – as always great post!  I agree with Bella.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Carlos and sorry for the late reply! I guess the notification of this comment got stuck in my spam filter. Business in general is all strategy. No getting away from it. Those that offer value and think differently win. I remember a few years ago in the heat of the recession we did a marketing campaign as a web development and SEO company that stated that we were boycotting the recession and refused to take part in it and anyone else that didn’t want to take part in it could join us. We doubled our business that year. During a recession!

  • Jill Brandenburg

    Fantastic post Marc – I love the analogy with Chess too, even though I am not much of a chess player. Thanks for sharing your knowledge – I can learn a lot from you. You may not think it, but you are a Rock Star, Guru and and Jedi rolled into one.

    • Marc Ensign

      That is really kind. I appreciate the kind words. This is where I would normally do that “aww shucks” thing and tell you I’m not, but instead I think I’m going to take a different approach and soak up the compliment. I’m not sure I agree with the whole rock star guru comment but it feels really good to hear someone say that :)

  • Jason Diller


    A quick note… I’m seeing you speak Wednesday.

    I do inbound marketing, not SEO…

    I play chess, SEOs play checkers.

    I build assets, my “competition” pays rent.

    Also, is the quote “Chess, not checkers” from the movie “Training Day” or a quote from Kobe Bryant?…or both?!

    • Marc Ensign

      Hey Jason! If that’s the case, I think tomorrow will be right up your alley.

      (mental note: don’t suggest using fiverr to buy links and Twitter followers at the workshop tomorrow)

      Not sure where the whole checkers or chess thing originates from. I’d like to say it was my brilliance and I passed it on to Kobe during a game of one on one (I beat him 21-18) but you probably wouldn’t believe me.

  • Danny Kelly

    Quick note: nice analogy, but it’s not at all correct. High-level checkers players usually think 20-30 moves ahead – at least. There are over 500 billion billion possible board positions in checkers. It’s actually an extremely complex game.

    • Jason Diller

      It appears commenting on blog posts is complex as well.

      Nice play Danny!

      • Marc Ensign

        Hey, no ganging up!

        • Jason Diller

          It’s all love Marc. You have a great blog and an even better community.

          I was thinking the same thing…I def. suck at checkers.


    • Marc Ensign

      I must really suck at checkers :(