How To Thrive In Crowded SERPs

Google is favoring big brands.

If Google's comments and actions of late, are anything to go by, the chances of the little guy, armed only with SEO chops, being able to compete with deep-pocketed corporates are becoming less and less likely. Google algorithms tend to reward the big players - the people everyone talks about, and links to.

How can we combat this situation?

Back To Business

Ever notice how a page on FaceBook, or some other behemoth site, which consists entirely of a Wikipedia cut-n-paste, can often rank well on Google? At the same time, many unique, interesting pages are buried deep on SERP #20?

It's happening a lot.

It's hard to fight against a domain that can distribute high link authority down through hundreds of thousands, or millions of sub-pages. SEO chops alone are unlikely to cut it if your niche is full of such sites. The game is rigged, and it doesn't favor you.

One approach is to not fight such competitors at their own game.

Instead, take a new look at your business. How unique is your offering? Are you competing with many other sites that offer pretty much the same thing?

If you offer a similar product and service to all the rest, then it is inevitable that you'll eventually lose to the company with the deepest pockets. Google, and the world in general, tends to reward those who already have the most.


I'm sure you've heard about the Unique Selling Proposition.

For those who haven't, the Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, is the term is used to refer to an aspect of a service or good that differentiates it from similar services or goods.

For example, a USP of Amazon is that it sells the widest range of books online. Your local rare bookstore, on the other hand, has a USP of stocking and selling rare books. Both Amazon and your local bookseller sell books, but their services are clearly differentiated from one another.

The concept of a USP came about as a result of a marketing problem that exists when markets are crowded. If many companies offer similar things, then how can any one company stand out?

A USP isn't critical if there are few players in a market. This was the case in the early days of the internet, when finding a site that met your needs wasn't assured . As the internet became more populated, webmasters used techniques such as SEO in order to rise above the masses, safe in the knowledge that searchers will typically click on the top few results. They still do, of course, but if Google increasingly favors the most popular sites, then the return on SEO for the smaller player decreases.

These days, with plentiful options, the searcher either finds what they want on their first search, or they rephrase, and make their search more specific. It is in the second option where the most opportunity lies for the little guy. The visitor is rephrasing in order to be more specific. "Dell Monitor Cheap" may become "Used Dell Monitor Free Overnight Delivery". Vagaries of Update Panda aside, the guy who has a USP of dealing in used monitors, and offers fast delivery times, can still compete in Google.

The USP isn't just an add-on marketing tactic. It's a fundamental aspect of your business.

The Benefit

USP's are about specific benefits for the customer. Put yourself in the customers shoes and ask "how does this benefit me?". In the example I used above, the benefit is "a low cost, recycled monitor that will be delivered quickly".

The twist is that you need to make your offer unique. Look at your competition and ask yourself "what aren't they doing that they should be doing, and that the customers wants"? If you find it difficult to answer such a question after having evaluating your competitors, it may be a sign the market is too crowded, and you may be better off trying something else.

But What If You Can't Move Niches?

There are various ways to introduce a USP if you're selling a similar product or service to others.

One idea is to make your process unique by making your site more usable.

For example, I buy cases of discount wines online. Whilst there are many other sites offering this service, I use one particular site mainly because the ordering process is so streamlined. The benefit is saved time. The site retains my login and billing details, and it prompts me for re-orders with emails sent out at intervals based on my previous order history, and the previous selections I have made. The site pretty much "knows" what I want before I've even thought about it, and I can order with a couple of clicks. The wine always arrives promptly.

So their USP is in their process. They sell the same wine as the other sites, but the process is "unique", from what I can tell. It's also troublesome for me to switch. It invites a set-up cost (time), risk (they may not deliver), and I lose my history.

What's this got to do with SEO?

Once your visitor finds you, give them a very good reason to bookmark you, join, and keep coming back. Once that happens, you don't need to rely on new leads form Google so much.

A USP Must Be Supported By The Fundamentals Of Your Market

It's not enough to just come up with unique angle.

The unique angle has to be workable. There has to be a niche of people who want the unique aspect you deliver, and are prepared to pay you enough for it to make the effort worthwhile. For example, offering fresh pizza in the middle of a desert may be unique, but it is unlikely to succeed as a business model, because of low demand.

Finding a workable USP is a matter of research, and trial and error. Look thought the search keywords related to your term and look for an angle. What are people asking for? Type that keyword term into Google and see if anyone is servicing that demand. Ask your existing customers what they want, or what you could do better. Buy third-party research to help discover where the market is heading, and how demands are changing.

Imagine the future, as opposed to mimicking the past.

How To Define Your USP

1. List Your Key Benefits

What aspect do you do really well, and that other people really like? If you're at a loss, what could you change to make it so?

2. What Pains Your Customers?

They kinda want something. They might vaguely feel they need it. But if you find something they absolutely must have, so much so that it pains them not to have it, then you're onto something big. What is that thing?

3. Be Specific & Provide Proof

It's one thing to say it. It's another thing to do it. How many sites say "we're the best". Or "Experts in SEO". It's meaningless.

"We get your site thousands of qualified visitors at half the cost of your Adwords spend" is a specific, meaningful benefit.

Then you need to show how you do that. Case studies are great. You can seldom have enough case studies. Say what you were going to do it, do it, then tell them you've done it.

4. Be Concise

You only have a few seconds. You need to state your USP quickly. Short phrases. People read the first line, then the next, but only if the first line was worth reading. They'll scan through to pick something that interests them.

This is where graphic design is important. Pictures really are worth a thousand words if the person is scanning for information. Does you graphic design underscore, or detract from, your USP?

5.Your USP Flows Through Everything You Do

If your USP is, say, to provide individual attentive service, then you need to answer the phone right away. You need to respond to emails quickly. You need to make it easy for people to talk to you.

If you USP is a massive inventory, then the user has to be able to get to that inventory easily.

You can never repeat your USP too often. Do so on many levels. People aren't really paying attention, so take every opportunity to remind them what is special about you :)

Published: May 17, 2011 by A Reader in marketing


May 17, 2011 - 1:08pm

Thank you. Google isn't fair - that sucks, but businesses can sit around all day whining about it and looking for more low-hanging fruit, or they can do something about it. Some sites don't deserve to rank - they don't offer anything of value, anything unique, or anything that anyone wants. We all need to raise the bar on ourselves and take a long, hard look at what we offer and how to make it better.

May 18, 2011 - 10:40pm

...but part of what Panda is showing that a lot of what needs improved is not online, but rather offline. I think the useless doorway pages from sites like Ikea offering flash introductions ranking page 1 in Google really shows that to be competitive online a person or company is often required to be competitive offline as well.

May 17, 2011 - 1:41pm

Hello PeterD...and I loved this piece, as it captures the basic info on a USP and how to develop your own.

Too many clients believe as you stated, that they deserver their channels #1 ranking....and are pissed when they can't climb above the big, deep-pocketed, big-budgeted brands that already rule that space!

I'll send this URL to some of our clients who also think that this is unfair....and maybe that might be an impetus to start thinking of their own USP!



May 17, 2011 - 9:44pm

I agree with Rudnick, great well written recap. I'm just now moving my business model from low value CPA marketing to high value based content sites and services and this was one of the things that I've been busy with trying to define lately. By the way, you might wanna make the comment writing font more clearer and bigger, it's hard to read on my high res monitor 1920 x ...

Anyway, I'll be reading your stuff :)

May 17, 2011 - 10:10pm


The playing field may be unfair, but it's just another factor we've got to work with.

We stand more chance of owning the SERPs if we try to carve out our own unique place in the world.

May 18, 2011 - 1:32pm

It's a great incentive to be more diligent on producing quality content and service rather than low quality content, drowning in keywords and bland information.

"Back to Business" is a perfect subhead. Get back to what makes business good rather than tricks, and you should eventually gain the trust of a good following.

August 25, 2018 - 6:21am

If I use the word "Boooks" instead of Books as a "spelling gimmick" to gain the advantage of USB, is there any positive or negative impact on my SEO strategy?

October 18, 2018 - 10:30pm

At one point that would work.

If you go back 15 years ago, when search engine relevancy algorithms were less refined, you could easily rank on misspelled keywords. Some of the first money I made in SEO was because I was a terrible speller & accidentally misspelled the name of an online casino :)

However now Google has RankBrain & automatically rewrites many search queries.

So if you can't build a strong audience outside of the search channel then most likely your misspelled term will sit in the shadow of the more popular related term as Google auto-completes the search query to the related & more popular version.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.