SEM in a Competitive Market Sector

Tony Goldstone

The internet is becoming increasingly congested making it ever more difficult for any business to achieve visibility. Search engine technolgies are evolving towards providing searchers with search results that are localised, personalised and hopefully closer to what the searcher is seeking. How can any online business elbow it's way towards visibility in this increasingly congested, enormously dynamic marketplace?

Develop a Marketing Strategy

Having a strategic marketing plan means taking the time to understand your business, your competitors and your customers. It means taking the time to think about advertising, promotion and public relations. A marketing plan will help you to determine, define and develop the tactics that you will use to reach your market. Your marketing plan will, ideally, address the following:

Competitive Market Analysis

No matter how much you think you know about your market sector and your competition there is always more to be learned. Competitive market analysis is an important part of business and marketing strategy planning so make certain that you:

1) Know who your main competitors are

2) Analyse their web presence and the qualities of their online business

3) Determine their unique selling propositions (USPs)

4) Know how your business compares with theirs with regard to price, quality of service, performance etc.

5) Identify opportunities for your business along with challenges that you will need to meet.

Your Clients and Customers (Market Research)

If you have been trading for any length of time you will already have a number of clients or customers. Market intelligence may be derived from these people by conducting some basic research. You may be able to contact old customers via e-mail and ask just a few relevant questions, possibly incentivising the process with a prize. Keep the questionaire short and easy for people to complete and return.

Do the same with new customers by asking just one or two simple questions at the end of the checkout process. Perhaps provide a simple, anonymous suggestion box with prize every month for the best suggestion. Simplicity and usability are crucial in customer review and feedback systems.

Your Business Objectives

Define some specific and realistic goals in terms of business revenue. Make some estimates of worst and best case profitability projections and ensure that you address any opportunities that may have been identified through your research. Consider the spending that may be required in order to achieve the projected objectives.

Develop and Define an Action Plan

Exactly what do you propose to do in order to maintain market intelligence, stay in touch with your customers and move towards achieving your business objectives? Having a clearly defined action plan, with a timeline, will help you to maintain the momentum of your marketing strategy. This is where you may also define the roles and responsibilities of the individuals and organisations who will contribute towards the success of your plan.

Allocate a Realistic Budget

Very few businesses, regardless of their size, can afford to ignore marketing, so don't. Carry out some projections of costs and when they will occur so that you can produce an accurate statement of the funds required for your campaign.

Whilst compiling this post I informally chatted with a professional marketing consultant who has worked for many years with a variety of businesses (now a freelance copywriter). I asked her what marketing advice she might provide to an offline business aiming to improve their visibility in a competetive sector. This is what she came up with:



  • Adopt an attitude and identify USPs. I've never come across a business that's exactly the same as its competitors, there's always something unique to hang marketing messages on: price, quality, level of expertise, intellectual high ground, green, trustworthy, local, recommended by... a large part of a marketer's job is identifying and clarifying a business's USPs and messaging for them



  • Sheer volume. Chuck more money and time at marketing than the competition. He who shouts loudest etc.



  • Never stand still. Constant marketing means you're always out there making a noise.



  • Be cleverer than the competition. Split prospects into relevant segments and target campaigns accordingly. eg. rather than marketing musical instruments to everyone and his dog, target young males with special offers on guitars, drums and synths.



  • Integrated marketing: spread your campaigns across multiple media to make a loud, consistent noise and capture the widest possible audience. National, local and trade press (press releases, white papers, inserts, adverts, advertorial, editorial). Direct mail and other direct response work including telemarketing and radio. Good old standards like Yellow Pages and Thompson. If appropriate, leafleting using Royal mail's walksort service.



  • Put in place two-way partnerships / agency agreements with suitable related businesses / suppliers to strengthen your overall presence, reach and messaging.



  • Advocates: incentivise people and organisations who love your business/products/services to help spread the word. And use positive customer feedback, testimonials and case studies to their full advantage, ie. base a DM campaign or press release or advert on a particularly positive comment



  • Use loss leaders and special offers to attract large enquiry volumes.



  • Take full advantage of event marketing: easter, xmas, valentine's day...



It is interesting to see that much of this sound advice can be applied directly to online businesses struggling to achieve visibility in the SERPs.

We at Fresh Egg work with many clients who, after developing and implementing suitable marketing strategies, have enjoyed significant improvements in their search engine positions in some extremely competetive sectors including beauty products, pharmaceuticals, home accessories and car leasing. Their improved search engine rankings have translated into increased sales and this can be directly attributed to their own strategic marketing plans.

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