Everything I Needed to Know about Life and SEO, I Learned from Frogger

The year was 1981. It was a good year. I was only 3-years-old, but there was a lot of stuff going on. Believe me. I checked. President Reagan gave his first inaugural address. The Iranian hostages were freed and brought home to the United States. John Hinckly, Jr. shot President Reagan. Columbia, the first space shuttle, had its first launch. Prince Charles and Diana got married. Bob Marley died at age 36. The boxer Joe Louis died at the age of 67. IBM produced the first in its long line of PCs. MTV launched and played its first music video. The FDA approved the use of Aspartame, aka Nutrasweet. Dynasty and Hill Street Blues premiered on TV. The first ever DeLorean sports car rolled off the assembly line. If you were listening to the radio, you were probably listening to Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Or you were listening to Physical by Olivia Newton-John for the thousandth time. The Grammy winner for Best Country Song was 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. The top grossing movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also placing in the top 10 was The Cannonball Run (now those two movies are definitely two of my all-time favorites). However, Chariots of Fire won Best Picture at the Oscars. Partial credit, I’d say.

And probably the most important event of 1981: Atari released a home version of the video game Pac-Man. More than anything else, this moment would set my life on a path to becoming a video game professional in the 1980s. Well, I never became a video game professional, but I sure wanted to be one. I’m not really sure why I liked video games so much, but I remember going through a few machines. Though we never knew why 3 Ataris broke in my house in a span of 3 years, my stepdad always said that it was probably because I played them too much. My favorite games were Joust, Frogger and Dig Dug. And that brings me to the subject of this post: Frogger.

Frogger Arcade Game (1981)
Frogger Arcade Game (1981)

Note: Frogger was developed by Konami in 1981, but it saw worldwide distribution through Sega. The 1982 Parker Bros version of Frogger looked really basic, but the game got a lift in graphics and sound with the Atari versions. Don’t believe me, jump the bottom of this post.

The arcade unit was superior in every possible way (like most arcade units are!), but the home versions of most arcade games were, in general, close enough to the original to satisfy a kid. Just ask any kid in the 1980s about going to Arcades. They were seedy places, but the Arcade was like the most amazing wonderland of technology, graphics and synthesized sound. When the home versions of popular video games came out, it started a craze in the US. Just look at the design of this Atari 2600 Frogger cartridge and instruction manual. Isn’t it glorious?!

Atari 2600: Frogger cartridge and instruction manual
Atari 2600: Frogger cartridge and instruction manual

Anyways, back to Frogger and how it taught me a bunch of life lessons and SEO lessons.

The goal of Frogger is to get across the stream or pond. You have to guide the frog through various forms of impending and instantaneous death. If that car even brushes up against the frog, he’s dead. So you better watch out. As the game goes on, the threats of death become more ominous and rapid. I was never really even that good at Frogger, but I enjoyed the challenge.

As I sit here at my work desk, surrounded by desktops and laptops, I can’t help but think of the parallels between Frogger and SEO. Here area few of the parallels that I observe on a daily basis as an SEO:

One hop forward, two hops back.
The goal of my day is to get from point A to point B. At the macro level, it’s me getting up in the morning only so I can return home in the evening. Sure, it’s a round trip from A to A, but there is a point B in the middle. It’s called work. If I look at a micro view, I notice that pretty much every single daily task is a trip from point A to point B. And in these tasks, we are faced with obstacles and challenges. While our respective obstacles may not represent impending death, we still have to navigate above, around, onto, below, beneath, beside, underneath and/or through them. (How about that for some prepositions, baby!)

Most SEO projects turn into long term projects because they require me to navigate a web of people, teams and email. There are times when I think the project will never get done, and then it miraculously gets completed 5 months later. Our goals for some projects become over-arching journeys that span days, weeks and years. Sometimes we have to take one hop forward and then two hops back and then a hop to the side before we can eventually get to point B, which is obviously to get H1 tags placed on the product name on product pages.

Watch out for all the traffic
If you have ever worked for an e-commerce/retail site, you know that massive surges of traffic are not always a good thing. Well, for you anyways. Maybe it was traffic that was driven by a bad press report. Here is a situation that I am familiar with: There you are just minding your own business and out of nowhere you see that your client’s website got an extra 10,000 visits yesterday. And it all came from a really popular blog that happened to link to one of your products. The blog praised your products, but the bounce rate from this traffic was 95% within 10 seconds. While this might be great news for your clients, pretty soon you’re going to be answering questions like this:

  • Hey, if you got 10,000 more visits last week because of that blog, why did sales not increase from that traffic?
  • Hey! Why was the bounce rate so high?
  • WTF. Did these people even order the product?
  • Friendo, do you even know anything at all about SEO?
  • Why do we even pay you?

The great news is that a lot more people found the site. Those people didn’t even know the site existed. They know your client’s brand, but these visitors had no idea that the brand had a website. But none of that matters because that extra traffic just caused you to have more work that day. I mean, I’m trying to get from point A to point B, and now you’re asking me a bunch of questions. And your tone clearly indicates that you are a little perturbed about this free traffic not doing anything to raise your weekly revenue. And also, I can clearly see that you have no appreciation for free traffic that gives your brand free exposure to 10,000 potential customers.

The point is: free traffic is good, but be careful what you wish for. If you are really good at SEO or if your client’s site just happens to get a giant helping of free praise and website visitors, you might have it coming to you. Either way, you will have to navigate the traffic, the questions, the anger, the answers, the revenue, the AOV. Ahhhhh!

Ironically, George Costanza learns his life lessons from the Frogger arcade
Ironically, George Costanza learns his life lessons from the Frogger arcade

To really get stuff done, you’ll have to avoid a lot of stuff
When I used to play Frogger, it always occurred to me that these people made a video game where you have one objective. Awesome, right? Not really. Because the same people then put in a bunch of coding that would introduce elements that would make it downright impossible for you to complete your objective. Thanks a lot. I’m trying to cross a street, so I can get my frog into his home. And there’s a friggin’ Mack truck heading right for me, about to turn me into a road kill. Or there I am, trying to cross a stream, but for some reason I can’t get in the water. I dunno. It’s illogical for a frog to die if it gets wet, but I have to play by the rules to get the mission accomplished. Probably the best example of video game imitating life is when a crocodile appears in the frog’s home. After all there you are, 99% done with the mission and a crocodile appears in your little cubbyhole. Yeah, you have to hop back and to the side and then wait for that crocodile to disappear before you finish the mission.

Life is most often like this. You think it’s just going to be a crocodile in your cubbyhole, but it’s really going to be so much more than that. Pretty soon, you’re hopping onto a log that you thought was a log, but it’s actually another crocodile, pretending to be a log. And also, watch out for the snakes. They are always running around, throwing hissy fits (get it?). Oh and as you get older and get further along in the game, there is more traffic on the road, and it’s moving faster and faster. Just ask George Costanza.

George Costanza learns that drivers are actually aiming for him
George Costanza learns that drivers are actually aiming for him and his Frogger high score.

Frogger is a lot like SEO. And life. I know what needs to be done. I know how to do it. I know who I need to talk to. I have a clear vision in my head. It’s a bunch of puzzle pieces being connected by me, so that I can finally get some awesome optimized title tags implemented site wide. But nope. It cannot be that easy. There are rules to follow. There is business protocol. I have to schedule meetings and calls. I have to convince VP and Directors that it would be super sweet if they could have a blog hosted in the UK, where their company is based. And guess what? I could take care of every little piece all by myself, but they still have to be sold on the idea. $20 per month sounds like a lot for hosting in the UK? Are you serious?

And so your life becomes a game of Frogger. Hop this way, then that way. Jump on that. Avoid that. Talk to that guy. Avoid that guy. Watch out for the crocodile. Beware the snake. Watch out for that tractor doing 100mph on the highway. He’s practically aiming for you! But you avoid it all, and you get stuff done. And there you are. You’re in your cubbyhole at home, having gone from point A to point B and back to point A. You got your title tags done, but you’ll have to repeat the whole process tomorrow if you want to see that blog idea come to fruition. Just be sure to watch out for the free traffic…

To further prove my point that Frogger has direct parallels to life and SEO, here is a quote from the following 1982 Frogger commercial:

It’s a challenge… ribbit … because the better you are … ribbit ribbit … the harder Frogger is to play!