Staying ahead of competitors

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 websites 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're 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 suppliers 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. 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 optimising 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. 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 it is to be 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 to copy. People can duplicate your tools and other application offerings but it takes more of an investment. Once your tool or application is out there it's likely to have garnered plenty of links and bookmarks so the competitors have a more difficult time getting established.

Never stop innovating - stay one step ahead

What's working today for you will probably be imitated tomorrow and will lose some of its 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 information 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 slightly modified design. For free.

Because of the free information 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 from your customers - they're full of ideas and they will tell you what they want. Not every complaint is a goldmine of information but many of them are golden opportunities to improve. Online surveys and feedback forms offer a wealth of information as do 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.

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.

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