Here’s a worthy piece we wrote over a year ago about SEO and it’s place in a proper business plan.

A brief browse through SEO/Webmaster forums reveal multitudes of SEO information that equips any webmaster and aspiring SEO consultant to enter ‘the game’. With all the information, how can one correctly apply SEO to their business plan? Where does SEO fit in? Is it a marketing item, a strategy item, all of the above? This article will outline some basic suggestions for small business webmasters looking to include SEO within a coherent business strategy plan.

Let’s discuss some basics. There are two main components that can set you apart from your competition (online or brick and mortar), distinct capabilities found only within your firm, and positional advantages (let’s forget about mergers and acquisitions.) Fact: The internet and SEO have made positional advantages attainable to all who invest the care and attention to quality webpage building and optimization. Let me expand on this ‘revelation’.

The railroad company will have a positional advantage over all other companies aspiring to enter the rail industry. Why? It’s related to their geography–it’s not feasible to build parallel railways. Online there are no such geographic or positional barriers, top rankings in the search engines is up for anybody who wishes to compete. That means Joe Average can, and has never been closer to competing with industry giants like Getty, Cingular, IGN, the list goes on. Albeit these companies have substantially larger budgets to attain their rankings, nonetheless, time after time, the sole proprietor reigns king in the engines because they have understood and applied basic SEO mechanics.

What do these webmasters know about SEO that sets them apart? To start, search engine optimization is far more than links and content, but it’s a crucial part of any online marketing strategy, and integral component of your business plan, however, not the entire thing. There are five basic components to a well thought out business plan. (These are basic steps, and do not include the numerous components within each.) Let’s go through them one by one.

To start your company should have an encompassing vision statement. Hopefully this does not change bi-annually as it anchors your firm giving it an overlying purpose. This statement shouldn’t exceed 3-4 sentences. The second step includes defining objectives. These are items that are attainable and designed within the parameters of your vision statement. Your objectives should be lofty enough to present a challenge but malleable enough to change when the market changes around you.

Next up is a set of measurable goals designed to meet your objectives. By measurable I mean the inclusion of numbers or other ways of actually being able to say ‘we met our goal’ or ‘we fell short’. For example, “to achieve 500 visitors a day online.”

The forth step is one of the most important, it defines your strategies: how you will attain and exceed your measurable goals. Remember above, strategies only consist of distinct capabilities or positional advantages—your competitive advantages. Here is where SEO fits, but only half way. Remember this business rule: Search engine optimization in itself is not a strategy.

Many people have difficulty defining what is and isn’t strategy. For example, saying , “my strategy is to rank high using SEO,” is not a strategy, that’s not even a goal. Suggesting, “I’m going to write unique content relevant to my web niche and optimize for competitive keywords,” could be passed off as a coherent strategy.

Here’s another example that will help your understand what is and is not a strategy. Dell is a low cost computer manufacturer. Their strategy is not, “to sell the lowest cost computer,” but rather, includes a multitude of low cost initiatives, each being a unique strategy on to itself. The low cost computer is merely a result. Likewise, your strategy is not, “to rank high in Google”, but the multitude of individual items you will accomplish to get there. Given the nature of SEO, these multitudes of little items are in fact MULTITUDES. We will expand on developing strategies in a later article, for now understand strategies need to capitalize on distinct capabilities of your firm. Unique content would be one capability.

Last but not least, tactics. Tactics should be created in response to each individual strategy, how you’ll meet the strategy. Each strategy generally has about 4-5 tactics. For example, if you have a strategy of writing and creating unique content and cool games, etc., you’ll want to specify what topics, the length, where you’ll get your info, who will build it, and so forth. Deadlines at this point are crucial. SEO sits in this area as well. A practical example: you’re ready to write great content, however, must do keyword research in a particular area by X deadline for Y words. This is a tactic to completing your content piece and making your strategy reality.

Once you put these together you have created the structure of a basic business plan. It is crucial to define and measure your plan in order to track gains and losses–when it’s time to pack it in or invest more dollars. SEO plays a major factor in your strategic planning as it can define your online position. The doors that open online to the smart web owner (who employs standard SEO) may bring a flood of traffic and sales that would have been otherwise impossible to attain. Employ SEO in your marketing and strategy plans, capitalize on the positional advantage that is available to all who invest—-that means you or your competitor, no matter the size.