A few years back, before Google’s “animal” updates, SEO centred around optimizing pages, and aggressive linking strategies. Business owners brought in SEO ‘hired guns’ like me to kick the competitors’ sites to the curb, so they could take over the top ten ranking spots on Google, Yahoo! and MSN (now Bing).
I remember the first meeting I had with a new client. He looked me dead in the eye and responded, “Kick them to the curb? Hell, I want you to face those SOBs on Main Street, draw on them and put a lead ball between their eyes, just like they did in the old west. This is business, not Sunday School. I don’t know exactly how SEO works, but can you put me on top? Are you that guy?”
Over the past few years I’ve seen a dramatic shift in perception. With all the current buzz about "telling our stories" and "being helpful", many website owners seem to have formed a mental image of a warm campfire, circled by friendly storytellers sipping wine and puffing on a hookah as they weave their touchy feely yarns and sing Kumbaya.
A few insipid blog and social media posts per month, and an occasional new page or two, and they feel satisfied they’ve thrown their hat in the marketing ring. If they hire a content writer, they don’t want to pay the fee of a victorious warrior, but may hold up a squire’s wage, to see if there are any takers.
Many industries are still feeling the aftermath of the 2008-09 economic crisis. The marketing climate can hardly be described as “business as usual,” and the pie has become a lot smaller. True, we could just tighten our belts and try to tough it out on the same percentage of a much smaller pie. Or we can embrace the realization that maintaining and growing our businesses now requires us to carve up the pie differently, and there won’t be enough pieces to go around. [Postscript: Industries like real estate are having a very challenging time in 2019. 3 out of 4 agents might not get a slice this time. Many will quit the business; but that's going to make it a whole lot better for the "fittest", the ones who recommitted themselves to going big, while many of the others go home.]
Business is War
- Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank
Some find ideas like "survival of the fittest" and "capitalism" distasteful. We work mainly with small to medium brands that compete with other local businesses. I believe that you will never become #1 with minimal effort and investment, without a strong tactical strategy, or actually defeating your competitors. There will be winners and losers. Or to use the battle metaphor... there will be blood.
How would you prepare for content war?
Sun Tsu in The Art of War emphasized the importance of positioning in a military strategy:
“With skillful positioning, defeat or victory is apparent to everyone well in advance of any confrontation.”
Epic content (the best damn page or post on the Internet for that topic and keyword phrase) should provide a level of value to the audience that makes victory a foregone conclusion. When your competitors see your content, do they feel weak in the knees and murmur, “Oh shit,” or do they relax with a smile?
There's a science of competitive intrusion; opening a business with the die hard, direct purpose of gutting the competition.
- Jon Taffer, Bar Rescue
This past week a businesswoman took offense to my remark that I could help her "dominate" her local market. She countered that, “There’s enough for everyone.” She felt we didn’t have to push other people out of the way, to make room for her.
I was puzzled because I only see five top-5 positions in the first page of Google’s search results. If she wants one of them, I’m of the persuasion that we will indeed have to “out content” someone. One of her competitors is going to be out-gunned, and punted off the first page of Google. Nothing personal... it's business.
For most of my client accounts, I'm working long days, into the wee hours of the night, researching and writing... finding a way to bury their competition on Google. You can't just match what the other guys have; you have to knock 'em out, 5 to 1.
Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten...
- Jack London, Call of the Wild
If you aren’t following your top competitors, subscribed to their blog feed and newsletter, and getting all their stuff, you should be. It’s just basic tactical intel. You, or your marketing team, should know exactly what they’re up to at all times.
To the victor, go the spoils. When you advance, you gain authority, search engine rankings, traffic, subscribers, leads, market share and profits.
If you have a worthy adversary, don’t expect them to take the loss lying down. You can bet they’ll be on the phone demanding to know what their digital marketer(s) intend to do about it.
You may win a battle, take a hill, or secure a bridge, but the war isn’t over. You will have to defend the new line. The competition never sleeps. Somewhere, there's an SEO/content writer sitting in front of a computer, trying to kick your website off page one.
You may defeat a few adversaries, but you can’t rest on your laurels. You’re either gaining market share and growing your business every week, or you’re on the way out. Your content is either kicking asses, or you’re having your ass handed to you.
The pen is mightier than the sword, when it comes to your online positioning. Premium content is just as deadly to the competition as the old school SEO tactics ever were.
Your content marketer or team should be extremely helpful, tell powerful stories and deliver a ridiculous amount of value to your audience. But, make no mistake about it, you need a relentless battle-hardened marketing warrior creating and distributing your content.
Is it valuable? There's a simple test. Would they miss you if you were gone?
Most advertising does not meet that challenge.
- Seth Godin
Creating and promoting effective content is a highly specialized skill set, and involves far more good old fashioned hard work and discipline than most business owners can begin to imagine. It's not a job for the office poet. Do-it-yourself or in-house content are often no match for superior forces.
If you have passionate, naturally gifted content creators in your office, let them loose and see how they do; but often, trying to raise up marketing warriors within your own ranks can be like trying to teach fish to climb trees. Also, if you want them to research and write an incredibly valuable piece your audience will want to read, you can't expect them to quickly bang something out after a day of work. They'll need at least the same number of hours a professional content writer would require to create an epic 'best in its category' article... a couple of days, on average.
You need someone who is able to fall in love with your brand afresh, make it their cause, promote it with evangelical fervour and live to see your business become everything it can be. You will usually only find that passion in small boutique agencies that hand pick their clients and only have a few to dote on. You're looking for a good fit.
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.