As a small business owner, you’ll know that competition is healthy and natural. However, it can be disheartening to compete with the giant brands in your industry.
But this doesn’t mean you should just throw in the towel, even if you’re feeling overshadowed both physically and digitally. There are plenty of advantages small businesses have over the big names, and even more techniques you can use to turn these advantages into results.
At Blank Slate Digital, we specialise in helping small businesses reach the very best of their potential. Here are our top tips on how to compete with big brands online.
The smallest viable audience: find a niche within your niche
If you sell clothes – cool!
The only thing is… everyone needs clothes (not counting nudists, obviously) so you need to figure out what makes your brand unique. Are you ethical and sustainable or are you affordable and trendy? Do you specialise in certain designs or styles?
Either way, you presumably already have a niche. What you need to do next is niche down even further and focus on the smallest group of people possible. You’ll never please everyone, so focus on a core group of the people you can.
Once you’ve found your niche, you’ll discover that this small collective of people is a lot bigger than you initially thought and, even better – word travels fast in these small groups. Soon you’ll have yourself the ideal target audience to connect with, which will get you a lot further in a shorter space of time than if you aimed for the masses.
Organic search: how to get a piece of the pie
Search Engine Optimisation (more commonly known as SEO) is a fantastic way to continuously build your online reputation across a number of different platforms.
Although the bigger brands tend to have the monopoly for highly-searched generic terms, all isn’t lost! This is where you can put your niche to work by finding your target audience exactly where they are searching online and attracting them by sharing your brand’s unique voice and personality.
Content gap analysis is useful here. What you’re doing is taking a look at the existing content available for your chosen topic and finding any ‘gaps’ that you can improve upon. By tapping into any content gaps that you find within searches for your niche, you can help your content perform better in terms of both rankings and social shares – simply for the fact that your content will be written better!
So where do you look for content gaps? Well initially, your competitors’ content – looking on Google’s first page to see what’s already ranking for your chosen keywords is the first step.
From there, you can assess the highest-ranking content to see what’s missing. Think about the following:
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
If the answer to any of these is no, then you can improve on it. Then, as soon as you’ve thought about at these questions for your competitors’ content, it’s time to audit your own!
If you’ve got any underperforming pages on your website, it’s likely because there are gaps in the content. Ask yourself the same questions as above about your existing content and if you see improvements that need to be made – get to work!
If you’re strapped for time and could do with cutting out the middle man, it’s super beneficial to use SEO tools, such as SEMRush to find gaps in the topics you’re looking for.
All you’ll need to do is copy and paste the URL of one of your competitors into SEMRush to see their top performing keywords. This gives you the leverage to both find keywords you may not have considered before and also look for gaps in the most relevant search terms. This is where you can slide in and create much better, more comprehensive content that covers all bases and leaves the competition in the dust.
Paid search advertising: squeeze in with the big players
As a low-cost solution to traditional offline advertising, paid per click (PPC) advertising gives you the opportunity to directly target your audience wherever they are on the internet in a way that can often provide ‘quick wins’.
Long-tail keywords are essential
A long-tail keyword is basically when three or more words are used together in a single search term. These keywords are less competitive and will receive less traffic, so you will need to conduct significant research in order to find the perfect keywords for your brand.
For example a short parent term would be “womens dresses” and a long-tail varioant would be “blue cotton evening dress”.
Test and evaluate your ad copy
Your ads need to stand out from the rest to gain traffic. Give them a headstart by including keywords in a catchy and click-entising headline. Follow all best-practise guidelines and ensure your af copy perfectly matches the search intent.
Once you’re happy with your ad copy, it’s important not just to stick with it regardless. Test new ideas, promote deals and use seasonal copy when needed.
Highlight your USPs to really compete
Your unique selling points are unique for a reason so you need to show them off! Highlight low-cost products and services or sales on higher-value items. If you can offer excellent craftsmanship or a lifetime guarantee, let your customers know!
Often, bigger businesses have leverage on certain aspects such as shipping time and price. This is why it’s important to recognise where you can and can’t compete. For example, if you are a speciality retailer, focus on what makes you unique instead.
Ad extensions can give a user more context
Ad extensions give users much more information about you when they come across you during a search. This could include locations, reviews, phone numbers and more – information that makes the customer journey easier and as such, could help you see an increase in click rates and conversions.
Web design: size doesn’t matter…
The online world is unbelievably vast – you can find every kind of business possible with its own unique website.
From e-Commerce giants to the local bakery, people naturally expect all businesses to have a clear and useful website, no matter how big or small the brand is.
There are no concrete rules for how your website should look, but it should create a digital presence which reflects your brand.
Ensuring your site suits the niche and industry, as well as meeting user expectations is essential for its success.
Ensure your website is responsive across all devices
Users will access your website across a number of different devices including desktop, mobile and tablets. You don’t want a poorly performing or unusable experience to drive away potentially valuable customers just because they’re browsing on a tablet or their phone, so it’s important to ensure it functions across the board.
Additionally, Google also runs mobile-first indexing, proving to business owners that mobile experience should be their top priority when optimising for SEO. Check to see if you’re adhering to these standards by using the Mobile Friendly Test Tool by Google.
Keep it easy to navigate
Your website’s design should make it as easy as possible for users to find the information they are looking for. There are a number of elements you can optimise to ensure your website is easy to navigate, including the visuals, content, navigation and layout.
Your should aim to provide the user with a smooth and clear journey. Using conversion rate optimisation techniques, you will be able to see what areas of your website are causing friction in the customer journey. From this data, you can make an informed decision and change the design, layout or content accordingly.
Don’t go too crazy with the layout
You don’t want to distract a user browsing your website with a confusing layout, endless popups or auto-playing videos as this could cause them to feel overwhelmed and turn away.
Instead, aim to have a simple design that clearly displays your products and services to the user. This gives them clear signals and the information they need to decide to purchase from you.
Keep it current
There’s nothing worse than finding just the brand you need, heading to their website and finding that it hasn’t been updated since 2009.
An out-of-date website may lead a user to believe the business is neglected or irrelevant based on current standards. By keeping in line with current design practices, you can maintain a solid reputation and a relevant, well-maintained business.
Consistent branding is important
Brand recognition is key when it comes to creating a loyal customer base! No matter how small, your business can gather instant brand familiarity if your designs are recognisable enough.
You want to ensure that your branding is on point – especially your logo! – and this is reflected in your designs seen both online and offline.
Getting personal: competing with faceless giants
One of the most valuable aspects of your business that sets you apart from the giants is the fact that you can really tap into your ‘human’ side. Customers will always appreciate feeling like they’re interacting with real people as opposed to bots – it builds a sense of trust, whilst also reassuring your users that they’re in safe hands.
You can do this by taking advantage of the ’About Us’ page on your website – the story behind the business is always going to endear you to a crowd, and displaying images of both your staff and a bit of behind-the-scenes action gives the site a lot more personality. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram will also allow you to amplify your personality and interact with customers on a one-to-one basis.
People love to support small and local businesses, so ensure you leverage this to your advantage. If your product is 10% more expensive than the big retailers across the street, then explain and justify why a customer should pay more as part of your brand’s story.
Run regular contests and promotions: everyone loves a freebie!
A fun yet easy way to drum up excitement for your business is by running the occasional contest, giveaway or promotional deal. As a small business, you’ve got the benefit of coming up with any promotional ideas on the spot and running with them, as opposed to jumping through corporate hoops like the bigger brands have to.
Social media giveaways and contests are a quick way to build up an audience through the power of shareable content. You can also promote seasonal sales or regular deals online.
All of these methods will have an impact on the traffic you bring in by engaging your customers and bringing them onto your website – giving you an extra chance at competing with the bigger brands!
Listen to your customers… even the worst ones!
If there’s one guarantee in running a business, it’s that you’ll find that customer service is more important than you ever previously realised.
Creating a positive customer experience is vital for your online reputation and if there’s one way to keep this experience in motion – it’s through reviews. If you don’t receive reviews regularly, it’s worth reaching out to loyal customers to receive feedback on your products and services.
By collecting and implementing customer feedback, you can consistently improve your business. For example, if you’re receiving the same questions regularly, you can answer them on a FAQ page on your website.
To your customers, this dedication and efficiency positions your business as one that genuinely cares about their opinions and experiences – something that puts you head and shoulders above the big brands that can’t tap into feedback as quickly.
Grow your business with Blank Slate Digital
Trying to compete with big brands can be disheartening for a smaller business, but that doesn’t mean all is lost – not by a long shot! By being savvy with your online marketing, you can carve a space for yourself within your chosen niche that’ll make a long-lasting impact.
If you’re not sure where to start, we can help. If you want to get your marketing on the move, get in touch with us today for a free consultation!