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.
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 :)
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