Online Competitors Vs. Industry Competitors

February 23, 2010

If you own a nail factory, your competitors are other people who make nails right?  They make nails to build buildings with and supply contractors who build houses. And they also sell five different shades of green metallic polish and have more sizes of acrylic applications than you. Oh, and how could I forget hoof nippers? How many hoof nippers for farriers do you have, Nail Factory Owner Guy(or Girl)?  Did that stop making sense to you? To clarify the issue, here’s the Google search result page for the key phrase “Nail Supplier”

Clearly, the owners of that nail factory had no idea what they were up against online. If they came to me and asked me to tell them why they weren’t ranking higher than their industry competitors even though their websites stunk, I would tell them that their competitor for that term is really EZNails Beauty Supply. After they finished laughing at me, I would try to explain that it’s true because — wait for it — online competitors are not always industry competitors!

But Beauty Supplies? Really?

Yes, really. Online competition transcends the boundaries of industry competition and falls messily into the world of words. Online, a nail factory is not competing against EZnails for market share… they’re not even competing with them for customers. A contractor looking for wholesale 10 penny nails is not going to spend his money buying 10 inch long acrylic claws instead. He’s going to take one look at that results page, sigh in resignation, and refine his search using industry specific terms. What that nail company is REALLY competing for is high rankings for the key phrase “Nail Supplier.” (Incidentally, here is the search results page for the keyphrse “10 penny nail supplier.” Way more reasonable.)

There are other less hilarious instances of industries competing with sites that do not belong to industry competitors. It happens in the medical industry all the time. In a search for “Pediatricians, PA” there is not a single actual pediatric practice until the very bottom of the page.

Pediatricians are competing with these directories for the attention of potential patients. Several of these directories have paid ads so they even make money off the leads.

Now that I know who my online competitors are, what do I do?

There are two options here.

  1. Beat these sites at their own game. Now that you know what you’re up against, it might be the time for that redesign, or forking over the money for SEO.
  2. The other, less costly, less time intensive solution is to redefine your online competitive space. Remember that contractor who sighed in disgust and searched for a more industry-specific term? Find those long-tail terms and optimize for them instead of bashing your head against a wall of acrylic nail-selling beauty supply stores.

Both of these solutions involve redefining your web presence to a certain extent. Look at it this way. If you were a mom and pop cake bakery in Pittsburgh and there was another cake bakery across the street, wouldn’t you constantly strive to outstrip them by making sure your window display was better, more artistic, and with more icing in hopes of catching that fickle bridezilla’s attention? Though you’re competing for (and with) words in the online arena, the idea is the same.

Polish your content the way you would polish the glass windows of your store front, since it’s through these portals that your potential customers see who you really are and what you have to offer.