“How can my tiny shop compete with giant competitors?” is a question SEO strategists hear a lot. It’s an understandable one; those shops that are ranking #1 for broad, high-competition search terms like “women’s jeans” are powered by digital marketing budgets that us mortals can only dream of. And the answer to the question is counterintuitive, but it’s profitable, I promise: you don’t. If you play your cards right, you won’t be competing with the giant competitors. You’ll be competing with the specialists, the experts, that tiny percentage of people who can do what you do.
If someone asks you who your store’s competitors are and you answer “Walmart,” then your shop had better be called “Target”.
If someone asks you who your store’s competitors are and you answer “Walmart,” then your shop had better be called “Target”. It’s very unlikely that a store of Walmart’s size and scope is your true competitor — and if you think it is, it could be a sign that you haven’t defined your value proposition (and target audience) narrowly enough.Your goal should be to know your niche and target audience so well that your top competitors are other niche shops. And if you’re really good, your top competitors may not exist at all.
Let’s come up with an ecommerce store idea from scratch so we can watch how this works in action:
The Broad Idea
Say you’re a dog fanatic, and you’re interested in opening an ecommerce store that sells pet supplies. So you identify your competitors and decide that PetSmart and Petco are the top dogs in the space. This is a step better than listing Walmart as your main competitor, because at least now you have a target audience that can’t be defined as “everybody.” But Petco and PetSmart do cater to the “everybody” of pet owners, so you’re still thinking too broadly.
So you think about it more, and realize that even though you love other pets, your real field of expertise is with dogs. You decide that it would be best if other pet stores handled the other animals, and you will focus on your passion with a dog-centric ecommerce store. Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. Who are the biggest competitors in that space? Well, unfortunately, it’s still PetSmart and Petco, because the pet industry doesn’t really section itself off by each animal like that (until you get down to the less common pets like birds and reptiles).
No matter. You can stay focused on dogs; you’re just going to have to narrow things a little further.
Bring In Your Personal Experience
When you think about your experience with dogs, what stands out to you? Well, it just so happens that the last two dogs you owned both had food allergies. You went through several different harsh topicals to prevent their skin from itching, and then you tried Benedryl, and finally you tried an elimination diet: the process of starting each dog on a limited-ingredient, fish-based diet to see if their condition changed for the better. When it did, you added back other ingredients one by one to learn what the culprit was (chicken for one and wheat for the other).
This wasn’t easy for you to do. You weren’t sure what you should start with, and you certainly had no idea what to add next. And once you did your research and learned what to add next, you weren’t sure how to find a dog food that added only those ingredients so you could keep your experiment controlled. And then there were those treats your dog loved — would you have to get rid of those? And what kind of timeline should you be on?
So you figured it out through trial and error, and now you’re sitting on a piece of knowledge that other dog owners don’t have. You might decide to build a careful, step-by-step line of dog food that will take allergy-prone dogs — and their owners — through an elimination diet in an easy, guided way. And you just happen to have a wealth of extra tips and tricks that you can blog about.
Now Who’s Your Top Competitor?
Would you have to do some serious Googling to figure it out? Me too, and that’s where we want to be. You may not be able to compete with Petco for the search term “dog food,” but the space is wide open for “elimination diet dog food.” Currently, that search term belongs to advice blogs, which are still going to leave the user with far too many options and questions. If your store comes in and addresses these queries with an actionable plan, you’ll be providing a genuinely helpful service to a lot of dog owners.
If your store comes in and addresses queries with an actionable plan, you’ll be providing a genuinely helpful service.
Some dog owners may not even know they need this service, which means you have a bit of awareness-generating to do (when a dog’s skin is itching, the owner’s mind rarely goes to “is their diet the problem?”). That’s a good place to be, because once the awareness is raised and people start looking for an easier way to address their dog’s potential food allergies, you’ll be the only game in town.
We are now looking at a gap in the search results that neither of us knew existed before this blog post started.
But We Just Got Lucky...Right?
Nope! All we did was pick an industry and filter it through our own experience until we could no longer find a competitor (truth time: I’m the one who’s had two allergy-prone dogs, so that’s why my brain went there). These gaps are everywhere. I’ve seen a lot of search queries in scintillating SEO career, and trust me, they’re everywhere. There simply aren’t enough people who know the weird, random bits of helpful information that you know — and who want to start ecommerce businesses.
There simply aren’t enough people who know the weird, random bits of helpful information that you know — and who want to start ecommerce businesses.
What’s lovely about the “find your niche” strategy is that often, being an expert doesn’t mean you have to be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour” experts (someone who has logged 10,000 hours of practice or study). It just means you’ve lived your life. You could be a 10,000 hour expert and it would no doubt help you, but you could also just find those experts when you need them: I’m not a veterinarian, but I will seek out a vet’s expertise in the form of consulting as I build my doggy elimination diet plan.
You know that section of the dog park where the grass is trampled and the larger dogs fight for a comfy space? As small or medium-sized ecommerce store owners, we don’t worry about that section. We just find a place in the park where there aren’t as many dogs. So, go find your cozy place in the park; and let me know if you decide to move on this elimination diet idea, because I have some dog food I need to buy from you.
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