SEO & The Art of War

Written by: Jason Bayless | November 02, 2015

SEO is the art of optimizing digital keywords and content for better search rankings and online conversations. The Art of War is an ancient Chinese war treatise written by Sun Zi about strategy, tactical operations, battlefields and counter intelligence. Not surprisingly, both of these actually have a lot in common.

Sun Zi commented that any strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Therefore, strategies need to be results-driven with actionable objectives. Online marketing uses many different tactics, such as SEO, social media optimization and subtle content marketing. Executed alone, these tactics can only provide temporary advantages. However, when executed together, they become very powerful and permanent weapons. Therefore, an SEO strategy should be a living document that is continually updated and adjusted according to market, competitor and technological changes. Every strategic goal should be measurable and objective. For instance, instead of creating a general goal to increase traffic, focus on specific techniques. As an example, offer customers helpful and meaningful content through how-to guides. An informative page will ensure a steady flow of back-links to your site.

Historically speaking, Chinese strategists divided tactics into two categories: normal and abnormal. Normal tactics are standard operating procedures that everyone recognizes and uses. For example, the ancient Chinese considered foot soldiers to be a normal tactic, like using Google Analytics. They are both basic and very predictable. On the other hand, cavalry was considered abnormal because they are fast, independent and unpredictable. Therefore, companies should also use abnormal, alternative approaches to SEO. For example, companies should secure a Google+ page because the owners’ image will display in the results. There is no better place for the company logo. Second, Google search algorithms now favor local results. Therefore, get a Google Places account, plenty of positive reviews and put your website on every possible social media site. Even content positioning is now more effective then the actual keyword frequency.

Sun Zi condemned procrastination when he proclaimed that whoever showed up first to the battlefield usually won. In the digital age, minutes and hours can make a huge marketing and sales difference. Therefore, companies need to be proactive and the first to capitalize on new or upcoming trends. Because of this, your company will need competent media analysts who can assess current conditions and provide probable predictions. In addition to this, Sun Zi also encouraged military leaders to understand the environmental conditions of their battlefields. While you don’t need to learn about terrain and hostile territories, you do need to understand the nuts and bolts behind Google’s search engine. Top marketing personnel should have a solid understanding of Google and other major sites’ digital algorithms and infrastructure.

Know the Enemy
Sun Zi famously said, ‘know the enemy, know thyself’ to surmise the idea of counter intelligence. While modern companies won’t be sending double agents to spy on their competition, there are proven ways to analyze and benefit from digital counter intelligence. Therefore, every company should perform a SWOT analysis of themselves and their competitors. Companies should understand how to take advantage of their competitor’s weaknesses, but they should also be strengthening their own weaknesses. Luckily, there are free SEO tools that will help companies analyze their company. It is only through using complex software and data analytics that companies can truly understand their competitors. However, you can also manually review your competitor’s website to analyze the content structure, keyword choice and even text length.

Overall, SEO marketers can learn a lot from Sun Zi’s military treatise the Art of War. Strategy and tactics are two actionable concepts that go hand in hand. Additionally, familiarizing yourself with the battlefield and performing in-depth research on your competitors will increase your SEO effectiveness.