Some of you may know that I am a keen glider pilot and have spent many highly satisfying hours soaring gliders across the skies of England, Scotland and California.

In my pre All Things Web time I worked as a professional gliding instructor teaching the gliding basics to ab-initio and student glider pilots, carrying out “Top Gun” aerobatic rides as well as instructing on more advanced cross-country flights in mountainous areas.

I’ve been told that I always have a gliding “war story” or two up my sleeve so I thought it would be interesting to think about what soaring taught me and how I have used those experiences in my current day job – helping clients with their web marketing and SEO activities.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail…

Whilst flying all good pilots have a plan

That planning starts on the ground. It takes place throughout the flight, enabling a pilot to think clearly and to be able to react quickly in an emergency situation (low circuit, launch failure, stall or spin). The planning only finishes when they’ve brought the glider safely back to earth.
Planning helps when things don't go well
Your web marketing should also be outlined at the start and planned – I know some SEO’s suggest checklists go out of date but having one (an overview at least with identified success indicators) in place to ensure you stick to a plan is useful to keep your web marketing goals lined up.

The Little Details Count

Don’t discount the small SEO jobs that you think don’t matter, they do. If you leave the small ones untouched they could come back to bite you!

Glider with tail dolly attached

If you notice in the picture above you’ll see what’s referred to as a “tail dolly” left on at the base of the glider’s fin. This allows the glider to be easily manoeuvred whilst on the ground. Taking off and landing a glider with this still on would indicate a small but potentially dangerous mistake in the making.

What Goes UP will come DOWN

Rankings fluctuate, no-one can guarantee your site will be or remain number 1 on Google – gliding is the same, you can get the plane into the right position to thermal upwards but there is no guarantee you’ll not be back on the ground within the space of a few minutes.

Glider just about to land on runway

Things will go wrong, it’s how you deal with them that counts

Remember, things will go wrong...We all make mistakes, in gliding and in SEO. It’s how we recognise and learn from them that sets us apart. It never hurts to ask for help – most gliding instructors were only too keen to understand a student’s problem and help them overcome it (especially over a beer in the clubhouse!).

Being a good web marketer involves testing and recognising mistakes you’ve made as well as any previous mistakes made by a client and then educating all involved so that they learn not to repeat what might have been a potentially costly error in the first place.

Learn to push the envelope…

For some glider pilots just learning to fly and soar wasn’t enough, a few wanted to go all the way and master the art of aerobatics, pulling “G” and doing other kinds of “Top Gun” stunts.

No problem with that but a bit like pushing the SEO envelope, master advanced web optimisation like aerobatics, in incremental steps, taking notes and practising with every opportunity. Never put yourself into a position you think you can’t recover from – whether that’s low altitude aerobatics or obtaining shady links.

If you are going to push the SEO envelope I’d recommend you use your own (test) sites, certainly don’t think it ok to run completely new, unproven ideas on established successful sites, you could really screw up sales.

Working with others is way more fun and achieves much, much more

Two seat dual gliderOnce qualified most glider pilots fly solo and this could be said to be the same for many SEO’s I meet (working on their own).

Working on your web marketing or soaring on your own is satisfying too but sometimes take the time to do it with a friend. You’ll learn much more, have way more fun and share in a whole lot more success, I guarantee it.

Observation is KEY to success

As glider pilots we are taught to make sure we are always scanning and observing what is happening around and ahead of us in the skies. Keeping our eyes down in the cockpit on our instrument panel is asking for a sudden surprise and potentially big trouble.

Being aware stops surprises like this

The same could be said for web marketing. Keep an eye on your competition, read SEO blogs and visit the SEO conferences to get the lowdown on where web marketing is headed. That way you’ll be one step ahead and Google’s “little” SEO surprises won’t seem so daunting.

Which type of “launch” is best?

For both gliding and web marketing it all depends on what you are trying to achieve and by when.

There’s usually 2 ways to launch a glider, either by winch (happens very quickly, less expensive way to take off but a greater chance of failing to get the height you want) or by aero-tow (more expensive but it is going to get you the height and position you want).

Glider taking off whilst being towed by tugplane

So in gliding the launch you select depends on your objectives – to “get away” soaring, to teach a student how to stall the glider (and more importantly recover) or for them to learn how to “fly the circuit”.

Glider being winch launched

It’s exactly the same in web marketing. Are you after extra traffic to your website quickly, do you need high visibility in Google rankings immediately (*ahem* Adwords) or are you after a softer launch using the power of social media?

Sometimes you just have to “pull” everyone else along!

Not everyone believes a plane without an engine can (or should) fly and it’s the same with SEO, many outside of the industry believing it to be some kind of “dark art”.

Glider being pulled along by tug

Don’t be frightened of educating your clients or your co-workers so they understand what it is you are doing when it comes to SEO tasks. I have learnt to ask prospective clients “Out of 10, what’s your knowledge of SEO?”. I then keep them informed of what we are doing (and why) at a basic level they can easily understand.

If someone (a client or colleague) is not particuarly interested in what we do then sometimes it’s easy to just say ok you won’t show them, but be persistent and say you’ll pull them along so they at least know some of what is taking place.

Keep an eye on what’s gone on behind you

You can’t know where you’re headed if you don’t know where you’ve come from.

Very true.

In gliding it is wise to take a look backwards (“into the past”) especially when moving from one thermal to another. If the thermal you are heading for starts to decay you’ll know which way to turn to head back to your original heat source to climb again, trusting that thermal hasn’t broken down either.

Looking backwards whilst gliding

In SEO it pays to reflect on Google algorithm updates, certainly know the dates of when they took place, their key changes and note what actions you took into account to combat new algorithms.

“Using your initiative” can be a good option

Some hardcore soaring pilots would always tut when a SLG (self launching glider) would get stuck down low on a cross country, pop out its motor to get out of a sinkhole and safely head home. It was kind of viewed as unsportsmanlike, a bit of a cheat if you like… I always saw it as using initiative (and a healthy bank account, motor gliders do not come cheap).

The same goes for web marketing – you might see a competitor climbing the search engines and you look at their back link profile and see links you don’t agree with. But is it cheating or have they used their initiative?

Implementing a PPC Ad Campaign in front of your SEO is also a strategy of using your initiative – you’re giving your website a head start to gather and test traffic for results to make a wiser decision on your SEO.

You can *nearly always rely on “Old”, but “New” can be better…

Mark III Vintage Glider

The glider above is at least 45 years old, if not older. It still flies like a modern glider (roll, pitch and yaw) and can be used to teach someone pretty much all they need to know, BUT it’s not really capable of cross country flight and doesn’t come with the technology that can help a modern glider pilot achieve faster speeds, higher altitudes or longer distances. New gliders COST way more than old but investing in them pays dividends when it comes to cross country performance – could say the same for SEO and Web Marketing, invest more to get more on your ROI.

Keeping up with changes in web marketing, new trends and emerging technology requires determination, effort and energy. Invest in new software, apps, training, even the right web marketing agency to ensure you and your website don’t fall behind.

The author, Darren Moloney next to a Grob Acro Glider in Nevada

I’ve taken a lot of what I have learnt from my experiences in gliding into web marketing. What hobbies or interests do you have that have helped you in your career? Tweet me @Darren_Moloney and let me know!