Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to Use SEO to Compete Against Online Giants like Amazon, Target, and Walmart

The brick and mortar world is replete with David and Goliath stories of mega-retailers, like Walmart, displacing smaller, regional businesses. Joe Persky, an economics professor who co-authored a 2012 study on Walmart's effect on local business, noted in an interview with CityLab, "No matter which direction you go from Walmart, there's a very high rate of business closures in the immediate vicinity"--between 35 and 60 percent.

"When a Walmart comes to town," TIME reported, "the local economic framework is immediately thrown into turmoil. Many small and regional businesses get trampled by the low prices made possible by the massive economies of scale of the giant retailer. It's nearly impossible to compete."

TIME's report dates to last January, 2016, after Walmart announced plans to close 269 stores, including 100 smaller stores that served rural communities. For many of these towns, the effect was devastating. First Walmart had displaced local stores, then Walmart closed, leaving many towns with no viable alternatives.

"Many of these towns will be left without a grocery store or pharmacy," TIME reported, "frustrating residents with inconvenience and lower property values. For some towns, which often skew elderly, the nearest option for essentials may soon be 50 or so miles away."

We mention these reports to illustrate two points: 1) Big retailers can easily displace smaller businesses; yet 2) big retailers are not invincible. The latter is a crucial point--for small towns, brick and mortar businesses, and online retailers.

Online, the effect of mega-retailers varies, according to the industry and other dynamics, yet the familiar wisdom says that sites like Amazon, Target, and Walmart will trample smaller sites.

This is not necessarily true. Of course, a smaller online business will likely lack the authority and reach (two important SEO ranking signals) of an Amazon, Target, or Walmart. And, of course, only the rare small website can match the prices of the big guys. However, with a little ingenuity and a good SEO, a small e-commerce site can compete. Here's how.

Can you compete against the big guys?
Yes, with a little ingenuity and a good SEO campaign.

Sell on Amazon

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Instead of competing directly against Amazon, take advantage of the popular platform to sell your own products.

As Amazon says: "Since 2000, selling on Amazon has been helping individuals and businesses increase sales and reach new customers. Today, more than 40% of Amazon's total unit sales come from third-party selection."

However, Amazon does represent another competitive marketplace. On Amazon, you're competing against a world of third-party sellers. To compete, a thoughtful SEO for Amazon campaign is crucial. We suggest using precise and abundant keywords in your product title, writing clear bullet points and a descriptive product description, and soliciting product reviews from your current customers.

For more information on each, read our Amazon-specific SEO guide: "SEO for Amazon: A Few Simple Tips."

Sell Unique Products with Good Stories

The men's clothing world offers a perfect example smaller sites competing with the giants by offering unique products with good stories. Sites like Bonobos Everlane or the upstart, Pistol Lake, offer artisanal products with the type of stories that intrigue savvy or conscientious shoppers.

Here is how Everlane describes a recent new release, the Japanese Slim Fit Oxford:

"When slower is better. We made this oxford in a premium Japanese fabric that’s slow-spun for a soft hand that looks great. Pairs just as well with your work trousers as your weekend denim."

For the savvy #menswear shopper, this story hits all the right points: "premium Japanese fabric," "slow spun," "soft hand." In addition to the product description, Everlane offers details on the fabric and factory of origin--the sort of details you won't easily find, say, on the page for J. Crew's oxford cloth button down, which offers mere boiler-plate:

"Few shirts age better than an oxford. The frays, the fades—these are the kinds of details we love. We selected this fabric because it can—and will—hang with your old favorites."

What differentiates the two descriptions is the unique nature of Everlane's content. J. Crew is writing about any oxford cloth shirt. Everlane is writing about a very specific product tailored to the sort of customer who cares about the details. Not every customer will care, but enough care. By selling unique products with good stories (not to mention competitive prices), Everlane has attracted niche customers--a prime SEO goal for smaller businesses.

For a smaller site, a niche product is a necessity. Even then, the story is equally important--and, unfortunately, is often the downfall of many earnest companies with genuinely good products. This is why a unique product description is a cornerstone of a good SEO campaign.

Read: "To Compete, Discover Your Niche." 

Add Rich Product Snippets

Rich snippets help Google characterize (and rank) your products. Rich snippets are a crucial part of your product and website's story. The rich snippet is the information that appears under your ranking in a Google search result. The more descriptive the better--but you don't want to get too creative. Keep it basic (and leave the distinctive details for your actual page). For more on rich snippets, read Google's rich snippets guidelines.

A unique product, a good story, and good SEO practices, like rich snippets, 
will help you fight the big guys.

Fight the Big Online Retailers with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to compete against large online retailers content, contact our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepman's PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective marketing campaigns.