Are you skeptical about being able to keep up with that big company that pops up everywhere online? Do you think it’s impossible to gain online market share against your biggest competitors? If you’re a small to medium sized business, then chances are pretty good that you or your marketing team have expressed these feelings at some point.
In this article we are going to show you how to compete online against large companies and brands by finding, analyzing and recognizing opportunities to beat them.
Can a Small Business Really Compete Online?
Grabbing online market share can be a daunting task for any business – let alone smaller businesses that can’t match the budget or manpower of larger corporations.
Unfortunately, this has created a common misconception that small businesses cannot compete against these larger companies online. As a result, many small businesses shy away from online marketing and stick with their old, out-dated offline marketing tactics that are becoming even less effective. Or even worse, they put marketing at the bottom of their priority list and fall further behind altogether.
Since it’s so easy to find examples of large companies dominating search results or amassing huge social followings it can be even harder for small businesses to see opportunity that won’t just empty their wallets.
Isn’t this just more proof that small businesses can’t compete against larger companies?
The answer, as we will show, is NO…not all the time.
In many of these cases there are multiple opportunities to find and convert prospects that may be getting missed by larger companies.
Let’s take a look at how to find, analyze and capitalize on the opportunities that do exist online.
Frustrated by your online competition?
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Recognizing Opportunities to Compete with Large Companies
Even thinking about trying to compete with a large company can be daunting enough itself, but actually spending the time finding opportunities to compete has often prevented many small businesses from taking that first step.
Fortunately, once understood, this research does not have to be something to shy away from for lack of time, resources or knowledge. As a matter of fact, with the proper information and some practice, recognizing opportunities to compete online with large companies can become almost second nature.
Here are some steps we like to use…
Know Your Business
Before you start your competitor research you have to know some very basic, but important information about your own business.
Aside from these 6 strategy questions you should have answers to, here are some simple questions to ask.
What key phrases would my target customers be using to find my business?
There are a few great keyword research tools available (Google Keyword Tool, SEOMoz Keyword Difficulty, WordTracker, Keyword Discovery) to help answer this, but usually a little common sense and a few Google searches are just as effective.
A couple quick, and helpful, keyword research options are the auto-complete suggestions (as you type your query) and the keyword suggestions (at the bottom of the results page as seen above) on Google.
What primary key phrases are driving traffic to my website currently?
If you’ve already setup tracking and reporting on your website, then you’re most likely sitting on some extremely useful data to help you find the best keywords to use in your analysis.
There are a couple ways to use this data to make sure you challenge your competition on phrases that help your business the most. The first is to pull data that shows key phrases that drive the most traffic to your website, whether that’s from paid or organic traffic.
The other is to pull data that shows phrases that generate the most business (leads, sales, downloads, etc) for you. Even though these may be similar in most cases it would be beneficial to treat each separately.
Know Your Online Competition
One mistake we see quite a bit is that many businesses think that the company with the nicer looking website, the more in-your-face advertising or the biggest booth at the trade show is also their top online competition.
Even with a little quick research it becomes pretty obvious that the actual online competitors are often not the types of companies mentioned above.
The types of competitors you want to gun for are the ones dominating the search results for the phrases you’ve pinpointed above and the ones constantly producing quality content and effectively getting their audience to engage with this content on their site and social channels.
Here are some ways that we like to find competing websites:
- Perform Google searches for your most important phrases to see which companies are showing up in the paid, organic, media and local results
- Use FollowerWonk to see which companies have the largest following and tend to be the most active on Twitter
- Use SEMRush to see which organic competitors continually show up related to your domain and main key phrases
- Use the Ontolo (specifically their Rank Landscape Report tool) to analyze the top sites for your top keywords
- Perform a Google search operator (as seen below) to see who Google thinks your competition is
As you can see in the SERP above, a simple search operator to see who Google thinks is related to “Nike” yields a good list of sites / companies that could be serious competitors.
Analyze Your Competitors
This is the fun part – analyzing your competitor’s websites to find opportunities to take online market share away from them.
Assuming you’ve already figured out who your top online competitors are from the steps above, your next steps consist of thorough analyses of their websites and overall online presence to see what you can do better.
Here are some things to look at when analyzing a competitor’s site:
Using Archive.org you can see how long a domain has had a website on it. The older a site the more likely that it has accumulated valuable backlinks and has proven itself as a legitimate source for its relevant phrases.
With a Google search operator [site:www.domain.com] you can get an idea of how many pages of a competitor’s website have been indexed by Google. Although Google doesn’t necessarily favor sites just because they have more pages, it is pretty common to find top ranking sites to have far more indexed pages than those with very few.
If you run your competitors’ domain through SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer you will be able to see how many links and linking domains a website has gotten. The more links, specifically the more links with high Page and Domain Authority, the more difficult it will be to overcome that website organically.
Crawl your competitors’ websites with ScreamingFrog to get a good breakdown of the site’s pages. More pages usually means more content. Go through the top pages to assess the quality of the content throughout the site to see if the content is attracting links and getting shared online via social channels.
Using those search results from previous steps, be sure to take notice of how your competitors are being displayed in search. If they have numerous results (paid, organic, media, local, etc) then they’re doing a lot of things right. If their results are also optimized for click throughs then they’re probably grabbing the lion’s share of clicks on those results pages as well.
Since social followings can still be manipulated pay less attention to numbers of likes, fans, followers, etc and more to the quality of these followings and your competitors’ activity on these networks. With tools like RetweetLab, CurationReports and the numerous reports from SimplyMeasured you can see what type of quality engagement a competitor is generating from their social channels. The more engagement the quicker they are going to grow ahead of you.
Log all of your competitor research in one place for easier tracking and planning. Our free COMPETITOR ANALYSIS WORKSHEET should help you keep things organized. Click below to start using it for your research.
Real World Examples of Successful Underdogs
Telling you that competing is possible is much different, as we all know, than showing actual real-world examples that have proven this.
Here are some smaller companies that have figured out ways to out rank, out engage and just out perform their larger competitors when it comes to their online presence.
Example 1: Dollar Shave Club
Gillette has become synonymous with shaving for decades now, but that may not last too much longer.
Online marketing has allowed newer, smaller companies to compete with larger companies and Gillette may be hearing some footsteps from a smaller competitor.
One company in particular that many people know by now is Dollar Shave Club, which created a huge splash online to quickly become a formidable competitor for larger companies like Gillette.
How’d they do it?
With creative content, an aggressive social promotion strategy and a unique business model to set themselves apart from the big guys.
What can you learn from them?
Competing with companies like Gillette, Walmart and Amazon are not simple feats. However, this example shows that with a targeted PPC campaign, the proper SEO, a strong social media strategy and awesome content the playing field gets leveled pretty quickly.
Example 2: TrueCar
The car shopping space may be one of the most competitive online. With big companies like Edmunds.com, Autos.com and AutoTrader.com, the competitive landscape be very intimidating for newcomers.
One company that has managed to crack into the search results for some extremely competitive phrases and rapidly build their brand online is TrueCar.
How’d they do it?
Like Dollar Shave Club, TrueCar’s unique selling proposition has helped to differentiate it from its larger competitors. By leveraging their story in numerous online publications they have been able to acquire a lot of really valuable backlinks that only build off of their established SEO.
What can you learn from them?
Knowing what sets your business apart from your competitors and using the differentiating factors of your business throughout your messaging, advertising and optimization is a fantastic way to dominate search results as TrueCar does for its relevant phrases.
Example 3: Hilton & Hyland
Real estate may just be one of the most difficult industries to compete in these days. Companies like Trulia, Zillow, Yahoo Real Estate and Realtor.com continue to expand and eat up organic positions on search result pages. In addition to these are large brokerages like Sotheby’s, Century21, Re/Max, Keller Williams and Prudential that leave even less room for smaller brokerages or agents to compete.
One boutique brokerage that continues to dance with the biggest of the big in the luxury market is Hilton & Hyland.
How’d they do it?
Hilton & Hyland specializes in the highest of the high end when it comes to real estate and its clientele. This laser focus allows them to be the best at what they do and put their services in constant demand from billionaires, millionaires, celebrities, athletes and musicians alike. Using this focus they do a fantastic job of displaying, marketing and talking about their incredible properties and experiences with their agents and clients.
What can you learn from them?
It is NOT impossible to compete against huge companies. The SERP above,which shows them ranking in the top 2 results above extremely large companies like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, is just one piece of proof. If you are able to provide stellar customer service as Hilton & Hyland does and then communicate that mission throughout all of your marketing, then you should start to see your business build a cult following too.
Are we missing any notable examples?
If you know of any other examples (maybe your own company?) that has taken on larger competitors successfully, then please share by leaving a COMMENT BELOW.
If You Really Want to Compete, Start Here
Everything outlined above is focused primarily on what you can do to compete online. If you want to grab market share and grow your business, then you’re going to need to do these things sooner than later.
Before that though you really need to figure out what is going to help you not only acquire new customers, but also keep your current customers.
Some important things to keep in mind that will help you improve your online efforts, attract new clients and retain your customers are to:
- Talk to and listen to your customers. Ask them why they like about your business and what you could do better. Not only will you get great feedback, but you will make them feel heard and part of your growth.
- Be different. If everyone in your industry is conservative with new products, then use your agility as a small company to introduce new products / services that your larger competitors may not want to rock the boat with.
- Offer value. Most small companies are not going to be able to compete on price or speed. Instead of killing yourself trying to compete on these focus on offering value that your larger competitors cannot match. If your products are priced higher then make sure that the service that comes with them is stellar.
- Create a story. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger at some point. Help your customers get a taste of that by making them part of your story. Provide amazing experiences that uses the loyalty of your customers to develop memorable stories. Organized events are perfect for this.
- Provide incentives. We all like to get something extra without having to pay for it. Incentivize your customers or new prospects by gamifying their experience with your company. By having a leaderboard of customers who frequent your business the most you will create a fun sense of competition.
If all of this seems a little too overwhelming or you need some more direction in analyzing your competition and finding opportunities to capitalize on, then we would love to help you.
Ready to take on your online competition?