SEO

How to Compete with Yourself in the Search Engines and Win

The Internet is a war zone. You build a site, do all the work you can on it and start promoting it. And as long as you are doing more than your competition, you will win, for a while.

But only for a while. When you are on top, you are THE company every other competitor is gunning for. And eventually one of these companies will catch a break.

I am a huge site builder. Or at least I used to. The bigger, the better. I’d throw everything I could up on one site, build links and traffic and then start tweaking keywords.

And this works, if you are the only one doing it and your competition doesn’t spot you. But your competion will always pick you out. The internet is open. If they wanted to, they could clone your whole site and steal your content. They rarely go that far. But believe me, the minute you think you have a niche or industry locked in is same minute that competitor will jump.

Branding is great. Yes, when I look for books, I normally go straight to Amazon. It was a godsend for me. Most of the books I had ever looked for had to be ordered from the local bookstore and by going straight to Amazon, I saved time and always found the book.

Amazon is one of those huge sites. But let me tell you a secret. They don’t sell every book sold online. In fact, there is an army of affiliates selling Amazon’s book out there that can back me up, essentially beating Amazon at it’s own game. Of course, Amazon wins with these sales too, but somehow the affiliate got there first.

Yes, the fact that Amazon can’t sell every book online sounds like a no-brainer. But sometimes those no-brainers never make it to your brain. Hence the name. Let me explain.

The Telescope

If you start with a niche site, let’s say a site that sells only writing books, you probably have that niche covered. You have all the writing books you can think of on your site and a few that are out of print. You even have PDF versions.

For this site, you would use a telescope. Once you have exhausted all your suppliers, maybe it’s time to look at writing software or custom notebooks or fountain pens. And it’s time to build another site.

Why another site? Why not just bolt it on to your current site? Because Google and other search engines like clusters of like things. That’s about the easiest way to explain it. I could start talking about silo sites and get all technical on you, but just trust me here. Google likes writing software sites that only have writing software on them better than writing book sites that have a category devoted to writing software.

Also a site that covers a lot of niches does not look like an authority. Do you go to a big box store when you are looking for a home entertainment system that will wow all your neighbors? Probably not, you go to the store that exclusively handles entertainment systems because you know the people there have the knowledge to help you pick the right surround sound system. That’s all they deal with all day long.

And that is what you want your site to be. You want to be the go to place. You want to be the authority. You want every link that refers to writing software to point to your site. You want to flesh that site out until every keyword a person could possibly search for related to writing software exists on your site.

You want to be bookmarked and passed around. You see, people are also like search engines (actually anything created by man mirrors his mind, so it’s the other way around). They like putting like things in baskets. A writer will more likely bookmark the site on writing software than the category of writing software on a software site. After all, the people on the software site are busy with other things, like software.

And it’s hard to create clusters and niche loyalty with a behemoth. Your niches are just to far away from your home page, too many clicks and too much PageRank leaking by the time a spider hit’s your writing software reviews.

And much of the software out there to run your sites will help you out. For example, Magento. You can install it once and create a multitude of different stores on different domains with differing IP’s if you want and handle all transactions from one location. So this is not a hard thing to do.

The Microscope

But let’s say you are already the behemoth. Let’s say you already have thousands of pages on your site and you are starting to notice these tiny niche sites taking category upon category away from you in the search engines. And they will. No industry or niche is safe. They can be for a long, long time, but the day always comes when you have a little bit of work to do.

Now it’s time to take out your microscope. Leave your huge site like it is, take a profitable category and build another site. You are going to beat the tiny sites by joining them. And you already have a behemoth to help push you back to top of the search engine listings. This new site is very related to your old one. A few well placed links can work miracles.

Chances are that blue widget category did not list every blue widget in existence. Well, the new site will. That will be your mission. Track them down and put them on your site. If the blue widget is no longer being manufacturered, track that one down, put it on your site, say that is is no longer available and link to it’s replacement. If you can find cad drawings on you blue widgets, figure out a way to put them on your site and do so. If there are videos on your blue widgets, add them to the site. If you can find articles on the blue widgets, use them. If not, write them. Make your new site the blue widget god.

And when you are done with the blue widgets, build a site for the red ones. And if you do your SEO right, build links, use the right keywords and do everything you can to promote it, then there is a good chance when you search for a product on Google or another search engine, you could be greeted with two, three, even four listings out of the ten on that first page being yours. But a lot of the time, just linking from your old site to your new blue widget focused site is all it takes. I have seen this happen over and over again.

The Community

But let’s say you took the microscopic approach and have the huge stores and a bunch of niche stores. Or you have your writing books sites, pen site, notebook site and writng software site. What do you do now?

You look at the community. What can you give them for free? Could you build a site that lists every magazine in existence that accepts article and story submissions? Could you create a blog where writer’s can submit their work? Of course.

You could find a site like that to advertise on and be one of hundreds of ads that rotate daily or you could build that site and be the only advertiser and have products contextually match the content, it’s your choice.

What about the blue widgets? Are they hard to install? Do you customers get them and call you over and over. Well, you could kill two birds with one stone and create one site just for installers. They can list their business for free and you could link to it right from your contact page. After all, they are not really your competitors. You don’t want to install the blue widgets, you want to sell a bunch. And installers have to buy blue widgets sometimes too.

There are many, many ways you can expand your territory online. And really, I am not suggesting you create a site to compete with Facebook or MySpace to build traffic to your site, but niche forums, social networks and other community sites do get traffic. And if I can come up with site ideas for the industries I have dealt with, you can too.

These are only a few and every industry has it’s own niche needs that you don’t know anything about, so I bet if you are in that niche, you can list a lot more site ideas. Do so now, because if you have any sort of rank in the search engines, you competitors know this even better than you and are coming for you and it’s time for the oil slick.

And all of this depends on SEO, building links, email marketing, social media marketing and various other ways of promoting your site. You can’t just build the site and have them come. But if your marketing efforts for your one site sometimes feel like beating a dead horse, a few new sites can breathe new life in your sales.

And another note, be prepared to hire employees, streamline your shipping process and look at dropshippers, because you will have to. I’ve seen it happen in less than a year.

This post was inspired by experience and Alan Bleiwiess’s article on multiple niche sites, which I suggest you read now.

Stephan Miller blogs at StephanMiller.com.

 How to Compete with Yourself in the Search Engines and Win

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller blogs at StephanMiller.com.
 How to Compete with Yourself in the Search Engines and Win

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14 thoughts on “How to Compete with Yourself in the Search Engines and Win

  1. Very, very well said.

    I think it’s worth noting the natural advantages that smaller, niche sites inherently have here:

    1. They can usually be faster than the lumbering giant.

    2. They usually have a ton more flexibility and focus.

    3. Often a small site will define success by something that won’t even make a dent on the numbers of a large site. I’m not saying that the big site shouldn’t own all of those successes, just that people need to justify their numbers in greater scale at larger sites. It’s important to keep that element in mind when considering why your point rings so true.

    In other words, an individual can live richly off of the scraps of the behemoth and, following your outline, can very well so do.

  2. Thanks Matt. You’re right, scraps are good and they are pretty easy to find. Eventually your pile of scraps can add up to more the whole original pie. You have to love the long tail.

  3. This is why it is important for businesses to act like a duck swimming. Above water your are calm, cool and confident but under water your are peddling like heck to stay afloat. As long as you have this approach to your online marketing efforts you should be in good shape.

  4. Be a sleeper, the Volkswagen Bug that pulls up to the light next to the Corvette. Only the driver of the Corvette doesn’t know, you have a turbo charged 350 in that Bug and spent a whole hell of a lot of time finding exhaust to make it as quiet as a churchmouse.

  5. I think this is great advice, and a realistic approach to the way the industry is headed. Niche sites can be very effective and giving a new niche site link weight from an established site is great practice. Thanks for the good read.

  6. I like the aspect of niche sites not being overwhelming to the visitor’s ability to find what they’re looking for. And since a niche site has a fraction of the keyword phrases to focus on, each page is more closely related to every other page, so there’s huge SEO value in tapping that…

  7. Building out or siloing your offers is a great practice to follow. In your opinion, do you think you should vary your design from WP to Blooger to say Joomla or Drupal? And also, what is your opinion of keeping all of your Analytics on a single profile? Does that build credibility say with GA or should you try to keep all of your properties on separate Hosts and accounts to keep the network more or less hidden from the watchful eye…? Finally in the same vein linking all of your properties through either your main company or up to each one of them if all of your niche sites are unrelated, should this be avaided?

  8. I heard about this at a Willamette Writers Conference a couple of years ago but it didn’t really sink in until now. The workshop speaker had published several books, each of which had its own website that linked to a hub site. Why not do the same thing with non-book products? Duh. Thanks for the tip!

  9. This article is worth a couple of reads. Very powerful stuff here. I remember asking one of my mentors a ranking question and it was a turning point in my thinking when he simply said “compete against yourself”. It changed everything. I love how you’ve fleshed out the concept.

  10. Superb read, I’m going to refer back to this a few more times as I think it’s absolute gold. Can’t really implement this with my current projects but I love the idea of microsites and I may test the water with one or two soon. Will be looking out for more of your articles in future and going over your past ones too, cheers Stephan!

  11. Now, I can see a lot of people getting excited and jumping a few steps here. Perhaps we should all sit and consider – where do I fit in the scheme ofthings before taking the next action.

  12. Thanks everyone. I have neglected my post here a bit. Sorry about that. To answer Kpilist, we have all of our sites using the same account for Google Analytics, but different ones for Google Base since each Google Base account has to have a different domain. So another tip with your niche sites, create a Google Base account for each one and use it. With 2 sites and a Google Base account for each, you have the potential of getting 7 links per query. We have some of those sets of 7 links on the first page, which really drives out competitors.