It’s unlikely that there’s only one reason why the other guy’s web site is doing better than yours. It’s even less likely that doing exactly what he’s doing will help you catch up. There’s a too little too late principle at work that means just figuring out his strategy and duplicating it won’t even get you close. What’s necessary is to do two things in tandem. First, figure out what he’s doing that your’e not, and do it better. Second, figure out what he’s not doing that you could be doing, and do it well enough that you’ll begin to overtake him (like the tortoise did the hare) and, by the time he sees you coming, he’ll have to play catch up – only you’ve covered all the bases. To augment your internet marketing strategy, consider the following reasons your competitor might be trouncing your internet marketing, at least on the basis of web site vs. web site:
- Maybe he’s not just focused on his web site, and you are. That’s really ancient marketing – tacking a flyer along the information superhighway and hoping people “find” it. If the other guy is out doing Search Engine Marketing (going where prospects go and contributing original content there, routinely), the resulting traffic can prompt Google to assign a higher value to his site. The passive focus of building a web site and waiting to be found in search engines is certainly the easiest route – therefore, it is the least effective route. So don’t complain if you’re doing very little active work for your internet marketing, and getting very little in return – you get what you contribute.
- Maybe he doesn’t plaster his phone number on his home page and he gives people a reason to click through to additional pages, where you’re using your home page like a phone book entry. Search engines measure bounce rate (how often someone only visits your home page and doesn’t click through to anything) and click through (how often they click through to secondary pages). More click through tells search engines they’re finding what they want or finding more value. Higher bounce rate can make search engines assume they didn’t find much value there (and search engines aren’t interested in just being phone books).
- Maybe he’s blogging and using social media, where you’ve merely invested everything in search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines care far more about continually growing, original, relevant content than about a lot of tags full of keywords tucked into the code of your web pages. For that matter, if you’re consistent about it, search engines care far more about posts (i.e. to your blog) than about static pages anyway. It’s an adage among those in the know that you could skip SEO altogether, and just blog effectively and consistently, and completely dominate your desired search terms.
- Maybe his content is original and a lot of yours is borrowed. If he’s writing original content, or having it written, and you’re pasting in pieces from other people’s web sites, it’s a good bet you’ll do comparatively poorly with search engines – because search engines have already indexed that content once, so they recognize it the second time they see it. That’s what computers are for – their vast ability to calculate without being fooled by sleight of hand. Stop poisoning your site – every bit of pasted in content should be expunged.
- Maybe his content is relevant (to a lot of specific searches) and yours doesn’t target specific searches. If he’s targeting Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, and Mesa Arizona, in every post and on every page, and you just have a statement on your home page saying “I cover all of Maricopa County”, guess who is going to do better in searches related to Phoenix. If he is constantly posting about various specific services and they’re mentioned on his home page and secondary pages, but you’ve just mentioned the overall service you offer, guess who is going to do better for those specific seaches.
- Maybe his content is dynamic (constantly being added to) and yours is static (hardly ever changes). If he’s constantly posting new content (e.g. to his blog) related to the locales he services, or the services he provides, even if he doesn’t talk directly about those things, he’s likely to do far better than you. And the more of that content, the better. If he’s got three dozen individual content pieces spanning nine months, and you’ve got one dozen that you put up all at once, he’s probably going to do better.
- Maybe his site has been around longer than yours. No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. First, a newly commissioned site sits in the search engine sandbox for a while, because search engines don’t profit by featuring fly by night organizations. So if you just bought it, or you sat on a static page for a year or two, you’re starting from scratch. The site that has been there longer will not only have time to build up traffic, but search engines are measuring that traffic and rewarding it with still more search engine ‘juice’. To him who has, more will be given.
- Maybe he registered his domain (his .com) for several years, and yours is only registered for one year. Search engines tend to regard domain names registered for only a year or two as more volatile, possibly fly by night, and sites with more venerable domains (have been around longer) and committed domains (are demonstrating a plan to be around longer) are likely to be treated better by search engines.
- Maybe his domain name (his dot com) consists partly of search terms (like Scottsdale Real Estate) and yours is a vanity domain (like Jackson Realty). How many people are searching google for ‘jackson realty’ – it’s mainly people who are already your clients and are just looking up the number like they would in a phone book. But lots of people are searching for ‘scottsdale real estate’. Search engines tend to present domains that contain the searcher’s chosen search terms more prominently.
- Maybe he is doing some do-it-yourself search engine optimization (DIY SEO), and you’ve left SEO only to the experts. For example, when he adds an image from his camera, maybe he’s renaming that image to contain search terms like scottzdale-az-home-sale.gif while you’re using whatever the camera calls it – e.g. image890890.gif. That’s just one example of a potential area for DIY SEO, but there are others.
- Maybe his site delivers more value-added content on the site itself, and more original content, while your site is giving away it’s seach engine “juice” by featuring lots of external links (to other web sites) and low value ‘widgets’ (like a weather gadget). Search engines tend to favor sites that use original content, and keep the visitor on the site rather than act as a portal, sending them off to other web sites.
- Maybe he adds value and you just sell services. Sites that get the most click through, and the best search engine treatment over all, tend to provide more than just sales info. If his site features a lot of good, helpful, original articles that add value by actually helping the prospect solve a problem, or educate the prospect without turning them into a specialist, he’ll tend to do better than a site that just says “Here’s what I do, buy my services” in one form or another.
- Maybe his navigation and site organization is intuitive, standardized, and rational, where yours is more cluttered. If you’ve got 20 buttons visible on page one, each with several words on them (and they’re not standard words like ABOUT, SERVICES, or CONTACT), people are going to bounce more often from your site, and proceed more often with his. Likewise, if he’s got good lead capture (e.g. fast contact forms) on just about every page, he’s likely to get more contacts from reticent visitors (and more click through), while you’ll only see hits and not a lot of activity.
- Maybe his web site looks professional, friendly, or modern, and yours looks more like a sales flyer from 20 years ago. Ask yourself, which one would inspire confidence in you, as a site visitor, to click through vs. bounce? That said, rushing out to adopt the latest gimmick in look and feel can be a real mistake. For instance, those fancy flash-intros you see can actually interefere with optimal search engine value, because the highest value page on your site, as far as search engines are concerned, is the one that comes up when we type in your domain. That page has to feature core content, rather than just images and video, or it’s like setting your site back a few notches.
- Maybe he’s had professional search engine optimization, and you haven’t. There are all kinds of services out there offering “SEO” and most of them are bogus. If they don’t actually modify all your web pages, they’re not doing SEO – they’re just typing your URL (web site address) into a computer program that submits it to a lot of search engines (which usually don’t like that kind of submission). What’s awful, is that a lot of these companies charge whopping fees for this and place you under long term contracts. Most SEO is a do-it-once sort of thing, and then you observe good do-it-yourself practices when you add posts to your site. Some ongoing SEO can be done (we do subscription SEO for instance), but it does require that we actually touch your site content, and even add to it, and not merely “submit” your URL all over the web (the web equivalent of street walking). SEM (search engine marketing) can be even more effective on a subscription basis, but you should have some method of understanding what you’re buying. If the company doesn’t educate you on what it’s doing, how can you compare with what others are doing?
- Maybe his home page features the core information needed to make a buying decision, and yours contains a lot of fluff. Search engines place a premium on the ‘landing page’ (whatever page comes up first when you type in your domain). That page needs to contain detailed and specific information relevant to the search terms you want to do well for (specific services, specific locales), and there is other info it needs to make it a successful page that invites visitor click through, like solid market differentiators that aren’t a lot of sales lingo and gobbledy-gook that everyone says (“we’re reliable, trustworthy, professional” – good, you’ve just met the minimum qualifications – so what?). The text content on the home page is crucial – if it spends a lot of time talking without really saying anything, it needs to be rewritten as a more effective marketing piece. Any page that isn’t marketing, is un-marketing, and that’s true ten times over for your home page.
- Maybe he’s better than you. Another way to put that is ‘maybe he’s got very clear, verifiable, quantifiable reasons that he’s better than you’. Don’t underestimate looking hard at your business processes and where you add value to the customer experience. If he can articulate things he does (actions) differently than his competition (being more professional isn’t different – it’s nonsense – one either is or isn’t professional), and if those differences are tangible (not comprised of good feelings and perceptions) and specific (being reliable isn’t specific – “30 minutes or it’s free” is specific, to borrow from a pizza chain), then he is better than you – at least as far as anyone can tell. Better means that he’ll get fewer bounces and more clickthrough, more of his content trusted and consumed, more links shared by e-mail and social bookmarking, more “likes” on Facebook, etc. In order to ‘do’ better in internet marketing, focus on ‘being’ better, which can included modifying your business practices so they’re superior in tangible, verifiable ways to the competition, and communicating those differences specifically and in the form of described actions.
- Maybe his web site has features that support the sale, and yours is missing some core components. If he has testimonials, and you don’t, he’s better supporting the sale. If he has a site map, for visitors that get lost or confused, and you don’t, you’ll tend to lose those visitors more often (and technology can confuse people). If he has an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, that answers real questions he’s always getting with the real answers he actually uses on the phone and in e-mail, and your FAQ is either nonexistent or full of fluff and bogus Q&A (things we *wish* they’d ask), he’s probably going to invite more interaction, and that’s going to translate into better search engine placement.
- Maybe his web site is social, and yours is… well, anti-social. The generation that was around prior to the recent birth of social media often prefers it would go away, and doesn’t want to get involved. That’s certainly up to you. But it does’t change the fact that increasingly people of every age (the fastest growing userbase of Facebook is people over 50, not kids – that’s a myth) want to be able to share the things they find on the web, get feedback from others, bookmark it socially, and interact or know they can interact with real people if there’s a problem, but also just want the ability to become fans of businesses they patronize (businesses tend to do better just because they’re social). The single most prevalent myth about social media is “prospects of my industry aren’t using it”. Yes they are, and you just don’t know about them, if you’re the one saying that. Again, it’s OK to dismiss it or write it off as something you’ll never do – just understand that there’s a cost for that, in the form of enhanced business, and leaving that field for the other guy to take, when he decides to become more competitive. We don’t care if you don’t go this route, we just want to be honest about it, and not pretend there’s not a crowd over there making all that noise.
- Maybe his site is more personal, and yours is more distant. That’s similar to the point about social media, but is more about the style and marketing approach on your web site. At least 50% of site visitors like to do business with an actual person, and to feel they’re meeting that person when they land on the web site. It’s possible for a site to convey that there are multiple professionals at a business and still introduce each of them personally. Sites that use no photos of human beings (even just stock photos are better than nothing) and only photos of buildings, scenery, or products, are denying one of the fundamental marketing motivators. If your site feels cold and distant, and the other guy’s feels like a warm handshake, however professional and qualified, he’s likely to do better for about half of site visitors than you will. And that often translates into better search engine treatment. If you’ve further sabotaged the personal relationship by using forced popups and mandatory forms (introducing coercion into the mix), you can bet the momentary gains from that will be offset dramatically by an overall rejection of your marketing approach.
Everyone wants to be #1 in Google, and it’s just not going to happen for everyone, or almost anyone. That’s especially true since the average small business is also competing against large corporations and organizations, as well as directories and other search sites. Even getting on the first page is only going to happen for about ten people for any given search (minus those big consolidator sites we mentioned), and some of those people will be the same people for every search they want to occupy, because they’re doing the right stuff. If you’re already asking ‘how can I only do the easy, cheap, and fast stuff and still instantly do better than my competitors’ the answer is that you won’t, and never will, until you start asking better questions, which are based on more integrity and more common sense.
Search engines are not the only way to get web traffic, and your first mistake could be spending 100% of your concern for just the web site itself, and search engine traffic alone. If that’s the sum of your marketing, you’re always going to do worse than the other guy, if he’s not hung up on just those two things. So that should tell you the first thing you need to do to beat him. Start thinking about doing more for your internet marketing than just having a web site, and start giving Google what it wants – which includes concentrating some of your attention on things other than Google (like various search engine marketing venues).
Even focusing entirely on “getting found”, even though that’s yesterday’s internet marketing and is rapidly sliding down the law of diminishing returns, despite all the ‘true believers’ in the easiest solutions, means giving search engines what they really want. Are you? Or did you just tack a web site up, like a flyer at the local supermarket bulletin board, and want to throw some technical flurry at it, hoping to make it gain more attention than the guy handing out candy in the parking lot? Again, if his site is dynamic (constantly growing content that’s relevant and original) and you’ve got a static site (content isn’t growing – it’s a flyer tacked to the web), then you don’t really want to do better in search engines than the other guy, or at least not enough to do what it requires. That’s OK, but be honest about it.
If you really want to go after the competition, keep one key thing in mind: don’t just look at what they’re doing and try to match it. It’s not enough. They’ve been active in internet marketing longer, better, and are already the king of the hill. To knock them off, also do the things they’re *not* doing yet. They’re not blogging? Then why aren’t you? They’re not doing search engine marketing (SEM), then there’s your assignment – get help, if you need it (we’re available, or there are others). Catch up is never sufficient and will never have the effect of bringing you into the #2 slot just below the other guy – it likely won’t bring you anywhere near him. There’s too much value in consistency and longevity for that.
In fact, commitment to long-term success and steady growth (not instant fame) are the hallmarks of successful internet marketing, because they’re very hard for the other guy to undo. Whatever is instant, is instantly defeated, marginalized, and reduced to nothing – remember that, the next time someone offers you instant results on the internet. Sure, learn from your mistakes – correct the things on your site that the other guy did right, but you didn’t. The above items can be used as a checklist. But that’s just resuscitating the patient. To get him up and walking around, circle the things the other guy isn’t doing, and do those.
Want the ones with highest value? They’re the ones that take longer to accomplish, require steady and consistent activity, and result in a proliferation of content on your site and on the web in general. Content is king, and steady, consistent additions to content are the single most effective internet marketing tool you can wield. Anyone can do it – you can do it, or you can have people like us do it, but it doesn’t require wizardry or lots of technical expertise. It needs to be done well – you can’t just “throw up some crap up there” as someone put it. But again, success comes down to integrity and commitment – those things the motivational speakers always told us it does.
We hope our tips help you be as competitive as you can be. – Daniel DiGriz, President of Market Moose. Image by Ohio BMV.