Never Rest on Your Laurels
It's heartbreaking. You wonder why you even try. Your wonderful, clever, successful and popular idea has been copied, ripped-off, duplicated. What's even worse, the competitors have improved on your idea and you are watching traffic and sales drop.
It's just the nature of the game. There has never been an industry that moves as fast as the Internet. The ease of creating web sites and web applications has made the competitive edge of being "first" with something exciting and original a brief, fleeting moment in the sun. Why try?
You've got to try! The world moves forward whether you are on board or not. If your business depends on the internet to survive, you can't rest. You've got to keep searching for that "something extra" that will brand your business as a leader and make it stand out from the rest.
Know Your Competitors, But Don't Obsess Over Them
No doubt, it is critical to know who your competitors are, and what they are doing. But don't follow their every move, or duplicate everything they try.
Back in my days as a retail buyer, one of my jobs was to shop the competition regularly and report on my findings. Most vendors knew the best way to get a big order was to drop the fact that a competitor had placed a big order. Upper management was so worried about "missing" the "next big thing" that we ended up duplicating what the other department stores were carrying. This was a huge mistake. Why? If we carried the same selection, the only thing we had left to compete on was price and that ended badly for everyone.
Trust in your instincts. Be original. Be different. Be creative. Just because your competitor is optimzing for a specific phrase, that doesn't make it a profitable one! Do your own research, implement your own tests, try new strategies and new offerings that you believe in. While studying competitors can be a shortcut to learning what works, it can also be a red herring and a waste of time.
Do Things That Are Hard To Duplicate.
It's easy to copy a page of content. Heck, these days it's easy to copy 1000 pages of content. But it's a lot harder to hide 1000 pages of content from the original copyright holder!
Blogs, forums, user reviews, and other "visitor-generated" content are hard to duplicate (and get away with it.) The more diverse your content is, the less likely you are to find it copied wholesale into another site. And user-generated content is more likely to make your site a destination.
While content is easy to copy, applications are a little harder. While peoplecan duplicate your tools and other application offerings, it takes more of an investment and once your tool or app is out there, it's likely to have garnered plenty of links and bookmarks- the competitors have a more difficult time getting established.
Never stop innovating- stay one step ahead.
What is working today for you will probably be imitated tomorrow and will lose some of it's effectiveness. When it comes to building a web presence, you can continue to build on your past successes and become even more powerful.
You wanted great keyword rich content pages, so you wrote detailed how-to's about your industry. It became so popular, that you decided to offer a paid "premium version" as well. Before long, you find your original free info as well as your premium offerings posted on competitor's websites.
So you built an industry directory. Spent hundreds of hours adding sites. It did so well, you started charging for listings. Before you knew it, someone with a website copier came along and in about 20 minutes, your hard work will be appearing on someone else's site with a slighly modified design. For free.
Because of the free info and the directory, people in the industry know who you are. So, you started a blog. And when that worked out well, you noticed a competitor started his own blog...
While it sounds discouraging, take a minute to look at what has been built! A well-indexed, popular site offering free information, a highly ranked directory, and an interesting blog. My guess is that the competition is still just trying to catch up.
Don't just change, improve!
Change for the sake of change will end badly. You have to find ways to improve your offerings, not just be different. It's not as hard as it sounds! Get FEEDBACK. Your customers are full of ideas and they will tell you what they want. While not every complaint is a goldmine of information, many of them are golden opportunities to improve. Online surveys and feedback forms offer a wealth of information as do salespeople and "real life" customers.
Promote online and offline.
A mistake many online-based businesses make is ignoring the "real world". There is a lot of potential in both local and national advertising for many businesses. Press releases can lead to articles in print and broadcast media. If you have a unique service or product, don't put all your efforts and resources into search marketing- diversify. Then the hiccups at the Googleplex won't cause you as much heartburn.
Pursue copyright infringers.
When you find directly copied material, don't just shrug and mumble, "It was bound to happen." While concepts and ideas aren't copyright protected, the actual words you use to convey them are. See the Content Theft and Pursuing Copyright Infringers edition of this newsletter for details on how to go about enforcing your rights.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
If you pick an industry you love, staying ahead of the game is a lot easier. Stay informed about what's going on in the industry through trade publications, newsletters, and RSS feeds and always look for those ideas that will set your company apart.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
June 8, 2005
Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.
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