Who’s Your Competition Online?

 

We talk to a lot of potential customers – and existing clients – who have concerns about competition. Who doesn’t? Nearly every business in the world has some kind of competition, either selling the same products and services, or serving the same needs with different offerings.

For most businesses, it’s usually easy to figure out who your direct competitors are.

If your business is based on a product, or a location with a service area, you’ll be able to figure out rather quickly who you’re competing with. You make red widgets, they make blue widgets – that kind of thing. If a new shop opens up down the block, selling green widgets – well, both you and your blue widget selling friends know there’s bound to be trouble. To an extent the same can be said with service providers and knowledge workers; if you’ve done a decent job of defining what you can deliver to your clients, you’ll be able to easily root out any businesses, freelance operators, or pro-am individuals doing the same.

However, if you’re doing the searching for this competition online, you’ll quickly notice some noise around your results. Don’t dismiss it! If it shows up when you go looking – guess what – it’s your competition as well!

Those Wikipedia pages, blog entries, and news articles are important, because they represent a second kind of competition for your messaging online. They’re not direct business competitors, but they are striving to get the same attention – and take up some of the same time and effort – of your potential clients, who could otherwise be finding your website and buying your products.

For example, let’s see what the first page in Google search looked like for a search on “Upholstery” from Winnipeg, this morning. This is a very general search (on purpose, to demonstrate), with the following broad results;

  • A furniture sales business – representing you (we hope) or a competitor
  • Another furniture sales business – again, with the potential for direct sales
  • A directory listing for “Upholsterers in Winnipeg” – which is much less helpful than most people expect, but still distracts a certain audience
  • 7 Google Local listings for workshops and upholsterers (we’re counting this as one listing, though it’s not really included in rankings per se), which may mean people skip the website entirely and begin making phone calls
  • A Kijiji classified for “upholstery repair” – not an actual ad, but a category, which means the potential for killing time is very high
  • Wikipedia’s definition of “Upholstery” – which will pull away people interested in the thing, but who don’t need to make a purchase
  • Yelp reviews for a Winnipeg upholsterer – unlikely to generate a sale directly, but can be seen as social proof for you or a competitor
  • Google Images bar, being helpful and showing some images confirming – yes – upholstery does involve couches.
  • Another business specializing in replacing upholstery on furniture – you, probably, or a direct competitor
  • A fabric business, selling material for upholstery, but not actually making furniture or upholstering the same

Fairly typical, and not surprising. Most businesses we speak to would think this is pretty good – only four actual business websites directly on the front page – but the truth is, if you’re one of the two at spot 9 or 10, you’ve lost a lot of attention and care from searchers even if the preceding 8 results contain no direct competitors.

So what can we do to tighten up this sprawling competition?

There are a few ways to address this concern, some of which involve searcher behaviour – and some of which relate to actions you can take for your business.

First, looking for “upholstery” is really general, and probably not helpful. This is about your potential customers, though, not something you control directly.

Many people who see the kind of results listed above will rethink their intent (which is what search is all about) and refine their search. Maybe they need better results for “upholstery repair” (which returns 5/10 results as actual businesses), or “upholstery fabric” (which also returns 5/10 results as businesses, but adds 2/10 as independent fabric designers, which might be useful). These better-qualified results are what you should be paying attention to as a real measure of your business’ presence, as they’re more likely to be what searchers settle on finally.

Secondly, keep your website up to date – both with content, and with regular SEO audits. New content, and new changes in how search engines see and evaluate that content, are some of the biggest hurdles your website can face – and why news outlets with their constant consistent updates win so often.

Next, advertising really helps! We talk a lot about PPC advertising. If you’re selling a product – especially within in a particular area – making sure you show up against local competition is very powerful. A strong advertising strategy can ensure the message you want to be seen gets seen, as often as your budget allows for.

Finally, make sure you’re not neglecting other traffic avenues like social. At this point, there’s simply no excuse not to have something – even just a basic presence in social.

Most social networks don’t search outside of their own properties, though many do now have search functions. These search capabilities mean that, if you don’t at the very least have a professional looking profile with your contact information on relevant networks, you may as well not exist… To the set of people who use those networks to find all the answers they can before looking elsewhere.

Remember; before you can begin to compete for your customers’ hard-earned dollars, you’re going to be competing for their attention.

If you’re struggling with identifying your competition online – whether it’s a business down the street, or a pesky news article that upset the results for your industry – get in touch with us, to find out how we can help.

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Source: Hello BLOG