Big brands are everywhere. But I don’t care that there is hardly an aspect of our lives that’s not dominated by Apples, Samsungs, Nestles and others.
Given my professional affinity though, their unfair prominence in search gets to me. Type any keyword into Google and you are bound to see big brands occupying top results. And trying to come up with ways to compete with that often feels like this.
After all, how can you win in a world where even the major search engine prefers big brands (and so do most of the consumers)?
Well, there are few hacks. And getting to know your enemy is the first of them.
A kick of reality
Yes, it’s true. Big brands have a ton of advantages over you:
They enjoy a high brand affinity. Everyone knows big brands. Even if it’s not a universally known one, customers searching for its products most likely have heard its name. And, they will search for it.
They work with much bigger budgets. From cash they can spend on development to content, big brands have undoubtedly more money than you.
They also have bigger teams, not to mention the SEO teams integration with other depts. Their manpower is definitely greater than yours as well.
They hardly have to do any link building. Just think of it, when was the last time you linked to a big brand just to have a link to an authoritative source from your post? There you go. Big brands have to hardly do any link building, they attract great number of links though. You on the other hand….
And if they do, they can openly break the rules. Glen from Viperchill already reported how big brands get away with buying links for instance. In this post he goes in depth to analyze how brands like Wix or Weebly openly pay for links with heavy anchor text and still escape the Google penalty. Now, that doesn’t say that small businesses don’t do it. It’s just who do you think is more likely to get hit?
There is more trust built into big brands domains. This goes without saying actually.
They have bigger resources at their disposal too. From designers, coders, writers to brand value, they have loads.
They also do SEO differently than you
They can get away with ignoring the basics. How often did you see a brand popping up on top of search for a keyword their page wasn’t optimized for? Because of their strength, big brands can ignore some of the basics and still rank high for keywords related to their products, categories, services, people etc.
They often focus on ranking for brand keywords only. Many brands don’t stretch their SEO muscle trying to rank for non-brand related keywords. Part of this relates to the previous point, they don’t have to. It’s also due to getting so much direct traffic.
They do shady stuff. Links in widgets, paid links, keyword rich anchor text are just some of the examples. Big brands seem to be able to pull a lot of dark SEO stuff and get away with it.
But there are also things they lack
Brands typically have a very long decision making process. Where you can put idea into action the minute you conceive it, big brands need to run meetings over meetings until it is signed off. There is an opportunity there for you.
They aren’t agile. Big brands don’t pivot. Once they put themselves on a certain course, it’s difficult to change it.
They also aren’t as creative as it seems. This is mainly due to a long decision making process but also many people’s involvement in the process and restricting guidelines they have to follow.
And, they actually aren’t everywhere. I know, I started this post stating otherwise but there are still industries not dominated by big brands. Or at least there aren’t any major giant players occupying them.
Likewise, often you can use big brands to your advantage too. Ecommerce is a great example of this. Customers quite often associate the perceived quality and other attributes of brands you sell with your store as well.
So how can you beat these guys at SEO?
Beating big brands to rankings and clicks isn’t easy. It’s certainly not a fair game but also, not one that’s impossible to win either. Sure, big brands can do much more than you but there are also things you can focus on to level the playing field:
Focus on Branding
Perhaps, but since it is branding that gives the big boys so much advantage, you should focus on building a brand too.
You don’t need to reach a global stardom though. Being known among people looking for products or services you sell is enough.
And there isn’t a complex path to get there.
First of all, work on your brand presence. Your logo, color scheme and tagline should clearly communicate the reader what your brand stands for.
Develop a strong USP. After all, no business can exist without a differentiating factor. Your unique selling proposition is exactly just that, a factor making your brand different from the others.
Your website’s content is crucial too. But the tone of voice you use is equally important. Big brands build relationship with their audience through the way they speak to them too.
Customer service, even though it has very little SEO relevance, will affect your brand as well. After all, as Stephen Brown, a renowned marketing professor put it: “a brand is nothing more or less than sum of all the mental connections people have around it”
Target more branded keywords
Remember what we said about keywords big brands optimize for? They mainly target their brand related ones. And, it makes sense. Since they already enjoy a brand recognition, why bother optimize for generic keywords? People have already associated them with the product and optimizing for generic keywords might be less productive.
Use the same mentality and focus less on generic keywords (i.e. “WP themes”) and more on ones relating to your brand (i.e. “Woo WP themes”).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore generic keywords altogether. But being realistic, your chances at ranking high for many of them are slim. When it comes to your brand related ones though…
Local Google presence is often the quickest way to shoot your site to the top of search results. Regardless of how many big brands dominate them, Google is still bound to display some local results (if applicable). Sure, this strategy won’t work for every business. But for business serving their local areas it can be a blessing.
Just take hotels as an example. The niche is dominated by brands like Hotels.com or Tripadvisor. Yet, in spite of their strong presence in search, Google still displays local hotels in the results. For many hotels, these local search listings are the only way to beat big brands to the top of search.
Lastly, don’t ignore social media
Social may not be a channel that converts the most. In fact, in many industries it brings hardly any sales. But when you’re focusing on competing on a brand level, it’s invaluable.
Sure, many of your customers will use it for customer service and other support related queries but what’s a better opportunity to develop your brand than by helping customers in public?
That’s not the only way you could use social media though. Contests and other ways to entertain your audience are other ideas that help build connection with an audience.
Big brands are everywhere. And they seem invincible too. After all, how could you take on Apple or Racor in search? Well, turns out you just might by using their very own strength – branding.
“Frustration” creative commons image by Eric / Flickr.