How to Out Wit, Out Rank and Out Run Your Competition
Nowhere is competition for the business buck more fiercely fought for than online, but there is plenty you can do to out play your opponents…
The online business community is a very strange animal indeed. Look at it this way: on one hand you have household names like Coca Cola, Nike, Bloomingdales, Sony et al with their super-duper websites, and on the other you have “Joe’s eGadgets” and “Karen’s Kreations” with their nifty little sites right alongside. And then you have the Internet giants like Amazon, eBay and Overstock, who have forged branding rights in the online community.
The beauty of the Internet is that with a little ingenuity and imagination (and okay, a truckload of SEO skills and web building knowledge), it’s possible for Joe and Karen and hundreds of thousands of Mom and Dad enterprises just like them to rank right up there with the big-leaguers.
And for all intents and purposes, who would know the difference, if we didn’t already have some idea about the size and power of the aforementioned brand names?
The point I’m trying to make here is that competing in the online environment is a whole new ball game played in a digital ball park where your net asset value, predicted growth forecasts and staff healthcare plan don’t matter a cracker.
But having said that, what matters when it comes down to the fundamentals of running an online business are the same principles that matter in any business – online or offline — to beat your competition you have to know your competition and then better them, regardless of their perceived strength and size.
Know Thy Enemy
Before you can get the edge on your competition, you first have to identify who your real competitors are and then get to know them like you would a close buddy. In fact, calling this section “Know Thy Enemy” is a misnomer; your competition is NOT the enemy. Consider them instead as a valuable resource that provides you with the knowledge, skills, ideas and strategies to improve the areas of your business that need a boost.
In the bricks and mortar world, competitor analysis is a complex series of processes usually outsourced to marketing-type guys in gray shiny suits with designer label (but eco-friendly) briefcases and mathematical formulae that would make us ordinary folk blush.
Competitor analysis is no less important in online business, but it can be broken down into a few simple statements:
- I have a website that sells stuff, and so do possibly thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of other websites. Those websites either sell stuff just like mine or stuff that is very similar to mine. And then there are the websites I don’t know about yet that are just about to sell stuff like mine.
- I have researched all the major and minor keywords I believe searchers use when they are looking for my stuff. And, I’ve optimized every page of my site for my chosen keywords so that I’ll rank well in the search engines.
- Any or all those sites that rank ahead of me in Google for my chosen keywords are my competition.
- In order to achieve the ultimate competitor’s prize — #1 Google ranking – my stuff has to be bigger, better, stronger, faster, softer, lighter… (I’m sure you get the drift) than my competitors’.
- So, I have to research every single pixel of those other sites that rank ahead of me to find out why.
You can take the tediously painful route to investigate your competitors and do all your research manually, or you can be Web savvy and let any number of extremely resourceful and clever software programs do all the hard work for you.
My personal favorite is Market Samurai which painlessly provides everything I need to know about my competitors with a few simple clicks, or you can read Bryan Eisenberg’s 14 Tools to Legally Spy on Your Competition. And like so many amazing tools on the Internet, many of the competition analysis tools mentioned in this report are either free or available on a trial basis so you get to try before you buy. (BTW. Be sure to browse the Comments section – there’s plenty more tools mentioned there.)
Sure, the competitive analysis software can do most of the hard slog for you, but there’s a lot it can’t do. For example, it can’t cast a critical eye over your competitor’s website and tell you how cool it looks, or that your competitor has the just-released model of the same stuff you sell at a specially discounted price for new customers, when you can’t even get the distributor to return your calls.
These are the “gotcha” moments when you need to cast a critical, objective eye over your entire operation; from the time it takes for your site to load, to the ease of the navigational structure, to the service and support you offer during the sales process and after-sales process.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is it about my business that makes it unique? If you answered “nothing”, then it’s time to get creative…now!
- Why would a customer choose me over the competition? Have you asked? Customer feedback is vital to improving performance.
- What does my competition offer that I don’t? Use competitive intelligence gathering resources to your advantage.
- What are my business strengths and weaknesses? Accentuate your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.
- Is my business keeping up with market trends and changing attitudes? To succeed in a rapidly evolving marketplace, you need to stay one step ahead of the pack. Stay tuned in by subscribing to newsletters, journals and online communities and blogs.
- Am I clearly demonstrating how my stuff will solve my customers’ problems, make their life easier, or fulfilling their emotional needs?
- Do I give my prospects a compelling reason to act straight away? Most people put off making decisions unless they feel motivated to do something.
- Do my customers instinctively trust me and have confidence in my stuff? The accepted adage about buying online is that it takes between 5 and 7 visits before a prospect turns into a customer. What marketing tools do you have in place to keep them coming back?
Know the Tactics
Seena Sharp, author of “Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises and Grow Your Business in a Changing World” says, “Success is a direct result of giving the customer what they want. You don’t need competitors for that.”
It’s a real no-brainer that the most successful businesses are going to be the ones that offer up a package deal that wins the customer over. Whether that be price point, range of products, adaptability, customer service, freebies, reputation, that unknown factor and/or the whole nine yards, competitive edge is all about knowing what the customer wants and then giving it to them in spades (and hearts and clubs and diamonds, if that’s what it takes).
- Don’t get caught up in a price war with your competition. You need your margins to stay in business, so look for alternative marketing strategies. Offer a bonus gift from old stock, a coupon for discount on another product or entry into a competition with a range of prizes to be won.
- When all else fails, ask a trusted friend to action whatever it is you want to happen, and then assess and review the entire process from start to finish. Then go through the same process with one of your major competitors, and compare and contrast both outcomes. Assuming your competitor offers a money-back guarantee (which most sites do), ask him/her to then return the stuff and report on the results.
- Some years ago I recall reading how a well-known Internet Marketing “guru” out-ranked his main competitors by writing a short article that referenced each of the competitors he wanted to outrank and then using intensive SEO techniques to link each name back to his Home Page, link to various internal pages and use an “Other Useful Articles” box to include links with the competitors names in the anchor text.
You’re not going to win any “brownie points” by writing anything negative, so think about an attention-grabbing spin you can use and then use the same sort of linking techniques I discuss in How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking with Long Tail Keywords.
The bottom line is that you need to think of your competitors as an inventive, creative part of your marketing strategy. Take notice of what they’re doing and then do it better.