Outperforming your big brand competitors may seem like an impossible task, but contributor Stoney deGeyter believes that with a little work, you can exploit your rivals’ weaknesses and come out on top.
Small and growing businesses unfortunately don’t have the advantage that comes with having brand-name recognition: no built-in audience and no automatic website authority. Big brands don’t have to work as hard at being remarkable online because they’ve already built a name and a following offline.
But fortunately for these small and growing businesses, there is a way to compete against the Big Brand Goliaths.
I’m not going to lie to you. They have big budgets and seemingly endless manpower. These are the champions you’re competing against. But every champion has a weakness.
Even today, many of these Goliaths suck at building their online presence. Like David, you can hit them in their weak spots and go from no-name business to brand name champion. Here’s how.
Make your site findable
You will never win the online war if no one can find your website. So step number one is to ensure searchers, social media users and web surfers can find your site to begin with.
Just because your website looks good to the eye doesn’t mean it’s built properly. So many websites look beautiful but should be condemned structurally.
You can’t see the issues with the naked eye, but any attempts at web marketing will come crashing down if you don’t get your site architecture functioning as it should.
Site architecture affects so many areas of a site that virtually everything you do online depends on your website having a solid architectural foundation. Poor site architecture affects the ability of the search engines to crawl and index your pages, the speed at which your pages download, and even a host of usability issues.
Essentially, broken architecture equals a broken website. There are plenty of tools out there that will help assess the damage. But beware: Sometimes the fixes will be more involved than building the site was to begin with. That’s why, if possible, you want to get site architecture right from the get-go.
A key component to findability is search engine optimization (SEO). While search engines are not the only driver of traffic to websites, they still constitute one of the primary ways visitors find you.
Any good optimization campaign will include site architecture as mentioned above, but architecture alone generally lacks any real value. Keyword optimization ensures that searchers are able to find you when they use their search engine of choice.
If you think of site architecture as the grease that lubes the hinges, keyword optimization is the door whose hinges are lubed. In fact, good keyword optimization creates a seemingly endless number of doors for your audience to find you through. As long as there are keywords, there is optimization to be done.
For near-instant traffic and efficient ROI measurement, you can’t go wrong with PPC (pay-per-click). But like anything else we do online, effective PPC has to be properly managed and tested.
Many businesses try PPC and fail. It’s usually not because profitability isn’t possible, but rather that they couldn’t make it profitable. It takes a skilled and knowledgeable hand to both properly set up a PPC campaign and keep it operating at peak performance.
Once set up, your campaign has to be optimized based on the performance data. This is done by adjusting your campaigns and ad groups, testing ad performance, adding/removing keywords and so on. Even after it becomes profitable, like SEO, there are always new keywords to target and performance improvements to be made.
But don’t let that scare you off. PPC is a great way of getting traffic delivered to your website under controlled conditions, ensuring profitability and proper budget maintenance.
Social media is a great way to drive targeted traffic to your website while building brand and name recognition. Unlike SEO and PPC, where traffic is delivered based on what people are searching for today, social media helps you connect with people based on their long-term interests.
When you connect with people via social media, you may not be hitting their immediate needs, but it’s those long-term interests that will make that connection valuable. Social media is where you build trust and reputation with would-be customers.
When those connections reach a point where they need what you offer, you’re the expert they go to by default. If they know of someone else who’s looking, they become your brand evangelists, spreading word of mouth and bringing people to your door for you.
Make your site usable
Getting people to your site is a start, but what happens once they get there? If your site doesn’t deliver a great experience, the majority of those visitors will leave without ever exploring more. And those who do explore will likely never get through the conversion process.
Site usability is paramount to getting and keeping customers.
As I said above, site architecture covers many aspects of online marketing. As important as it is for ensuring you can get people to your site with search engine optimization, it’s also necessary to make sure you can keep people on your site.
Poor site architecture inevitably leads to poor on-site experience. Whether it’s because your navigation isn’t intuitive, your pages load too slowly, or there are just too many “bugs” that make it a pain for visitors to find what they want on your site, bad architecture is often to blame.
Fixing user experience architecture issues will help to keep people on your site and to ensure that they are able to accomplish what they came for. If the worst thing someone can say about your site is that it didn’t frustrate them, then that’s a huge win over so many other websites out there.
Calls to action
One of the single biggest frustrations users often experience is not knowing where to go or how to get to the information they want. Site architecture makes sure everything works as it should but doesn’t necessarily address the best approach to drive people from one page to the next.
Too many websites try to let their navigation do the work. Visitors come, they navigate to what they want, and then they get stuck, not knowing where to go or what to do next. While your navigation is extremely valuable, every time a visitor has to use it, they are breaking out of the “experience” of the site: they have to think about what it is they want and then hunt for it.
Contextual links and calls to action, however, drive the visitor to the content they want without breaking them away from their experience. The “action” option is available to them right where they are. If they want it, they click it. If not, they keep reading until they do reach an option they want. It’s all about making the right content easy to find.
The next step in having a usable website is improving the conversion process. While the focus of this is often on the shopping cart and e-commerce portions of a website, in truth, conversion optimization is for every area of your website.
The idea is to look at the goals your visitors have and figure out how best to help them achieve those goals. Calls to action present the opportunity, but beyond that, you have to make sure to eliminate any roadblocks, as well.
When it comes to conversion optimization, everything is on the table. Every link, every process, every form and every bit of user experience, from the time the visitor lands to the time they reach a “Thank you” confirmation page. Leave no stone unturned.
Make your site valuable
Finally, your site needs to be of value to your visitors. You got them there — great! They have a great experience on the site — wonderful! But did they find what you have to offer of any value?
If the answer is no, then no optimized conversion process in the world will create customers. Visitors turn into customers when they find value in what you do over and above what the next guy is doing.
The first line of defense to offering value is to ensure you’re offering something unique. Yes, it helps if you have a unique product or service that no one else does — especially if it meets a real need. But not everyone has the luxury of offering unique products. Your Goliaths likely offer the same products you do.
That means you have to be unique in other ways. The design of your website is a start. And I don’t just mean not using a template, but truly offering a website with unique value.
Beyond that, look for other opportunities to do something differently from everyone else. That can be a particular perspective, a tool or a unique insight to whatever problem you fix. Being unique isn’t all that hard, it just takes a bit of creativity and knowledge.
Messaging and content
Aside from the website experience itself, your content says a lot about you as a business. Your content and messaging needs to be beyond top-notch.
Content comes in all forms: Written word, tools, videos, images, audio and more. Look for ways to provide different types of content to meet the needs of different types of visitors.
But most important is the messaging of your content. Content itself is of little value unless the intended message is delivered properly. Every page of your site has a unique message. Don’t settle for unique content that fails to convey a message that speaks to your visitor’s needs. Make sure every piece of content has a purpose.
Search engine optimization and keyword targeting plays an important role in creating a valuable website. Many look at SEO as the process of optimizing keywords. Instead, SEO should help create content that is targeted for specific sets of searchers.
Without keyword research and optimization, you will undoubtedly miss a plethora of messaging opportunities. But having found those opportunities, optimization of content ensures that you are not only able to bring in traffic based on searchers’ needs but that you’re able to publish content that meets the needs and expectations of those searchers.
Go slay your Goliath
Every non-brand business starts at a disadvantage. But sometimes Goliaths are Goliaths in name only. Big Brand Goliaths can often be slow to adapt to changing technologies and needs, relying heavily on their brand name.
This creates an advantage for the smaller, more nimble companies. While you don’t have the big budgets of the Goliaths, that doesn’t mean you don’t have an opportunity to take them down.
Effective implementation of the strategies above may not gain you instant victory, and you may never be able to cut the head off the beast as David did, but it can put you on the same battlefield, winning significant battles for the hearts and minds of your audience.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)