Answering the question of who are competitors of a particular business was much easier before the internet came along, as the traditional channels for creating visibility were very limited. In most instances, geography played a pivotal role in identifying the main players in any market and the Yellow Pages, local papers, television, radio etc. were critical to driving new prospects.
Competition was sometimes limited by exclusive relationships as well. Manufacturers were often protective of their brand and who could represent them. In the clothing industry for example, stores who sold higher end lines were often protected as manufactures would not sell to discounters. Those arrangements are the exception today as the web has broken down most of these barriers. In the automotive arena for instance, there were but a handful of local competitors for any type of vehicle. Today, a dealer can be much further away. A Google search for "Honda CRV" from my office in Boca Raton yields a paid ad from a dealer in Atlanta. It's highly unlikely that dealer had aspirations for selling vehicles beyond the greater Atlanta area, a few years ago.
This can be a good or bad thing, depending upon your perspective. For instance, it's been detrimental to companies who could previously afford the biggest ad in the Yellow Pages, which gained them the lion share of the market, but are now competing with much smaller businesses who could be thousands of miles away. It's been a bonanza for web savvy entrepreneurs (large and small) who have embraced the power of the internet and Search and who have adjusted their marketing plans accordingly.
It's vital to identify who your competitors are, in order to effectively compete against them. For most of us, as a result of the web, we have a lot more competitive entities to focus on than we ever have before. Of equal importance is the fact that we also have a much larger universe of prospects who we can do business with, which presents the potential to grow a business exponentially.
With this in mind, there are three important exercises to tackle:
1. Use the search engines to identify who you are actually competing with today, on a keyword by keyword basis.
2. Study closely the websites that you identify (in exercise #1) to determine how your site stacks up, both in terms of the user experience and also with pricing / deliverables (as appropriate).
3. Commit to making whatever changes are necessary, to boost your site's relative effectiveness, based on what's been gleaned through exercises #1 & #2.
These steps seem so simple and obvious, but they actually require a lot of work and an ongoing commitment, as the internet is so dynamic. New competitors arrive often, especially in lucrative markets, so there is no time to sit back.
Andrew Wetzler is President of MoreVisibility. He can be reached at awetzler@MoreVisibility.com