When launching a website for your business or joining a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, an important consideration is the activity of your online competitors. This is not unlike how you would go about things when opening a brick and mortar business.

During the initial meetings between The Social Media Company and a new client, we always ask the client to list their competitors. We then conduct some research and compile a competitors list of our own. The two lists rarely, if ever, look the same.

For starters, the list compiled by our research team is almost always longer.

Why is this?

This is often one of the most challenging digital marketing aspects for businesses new to social media or the internet in general.

Let’s break it down…

An example

The businesses used in the example are real, respected, South African businesses. We are not affiliated with either of them, and while there are many other factors to consider, they will help to explain this scenario.

In the “real world”, Vodacom and Edgars have very little in common. Most people would not consider them competitors at all. For one, they don’t even operate in the same industry. Vodacom is a telecoms network, while Edgars a clothing department store. However, in the online space they do compete.

This is how…

Differentiators only matter once a person is already on your website or social media profile.
While Edgars is well-known as a clothing retailer, in recent years they’ve also started selling cellphones, tablets and even laptops. The offering, however, differs from Vodacom in the sense that Edgars only sells cash devices with prepaid SIM cards and thus do not offer monthly contracts.

Offline, these two businesses do not directly compete. In fact, the cellphones sold by Edgars are often supplied by Vodacom and come with a Vodacom SIM card. If anything, they are business partners and not competitors.

Nevertheless, they are competing for the same audience and the same clicks in the online realm. They both feature devices on their website and post about their cellphone deals on social media.

Words really matter on the internet

If you search for anything on the internet, you use words. You might, for example, type the following phrase into Google: “Samsung J1 for sale”. Google will then collect all the websites that contain those words or similar phrases. It also sorts all the results into an order it deems most relevant.

Since Vodacom features the words Samsung J1 on their website, they will be a part of the results, and so will Edgars, since they, too, have the words Samsung J1 on their site.

What other sites might be included in the results when you search this phrase? Perhaps other networks like MTN, Smartcom, Takealot, Gumtree, or FNB?

The results might even include a news site like MyBroadband and a cellphone repair shop which don’t sell Samsung J1s, but simply repair them.

This not only impacts your search engine rankings but also paid advertising.
When you run any paid advertising campaigns online, like Facebook ads, you are also competing with businesses you might not necessarily regard as competitors. A local veterinarian and a local pet shelter might both run an ad that includes the phrase: “Help to save cats”. While these two businesses do not offer the same service, the internet hardly knows the difference. Chances are they are also both targeting people who love cats.

This competition will affect the cost of your ad campaigns.

Location is more and less important online

Location, location, location. Offline, location is everything. Someone is most likely to shop at your business if your store or office is conveniently located. In other words, someone is most likely to shop at your business if it is, for example, easy to reach, located close by, located at a visible and busy spot in the mall and so on.

The internet has gotten very smart, and it mostly tries to provide its users with local options. Thus, it is important to make sure that the internet knows where you are based. With that said, the internet does allow people to shop for products and services outside of their direct environment.

This presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses. A candlemaker from Parys can sell their products over the internet to customers in Johannesburg. At the same time, a candlemaker from Johannesburg can also compete for customers in Parys.

On social media both businesses might be competing for the same likes and attention from the same audience, even though they are situated in different towns.

Think outside the box

When considering your competitors online, whether for SEO purposes, paid advertising campaigns or content creation, it is important to think further than you would with traditional marketing.

One way of minimising online competition is to find ways in which you can collaborate with business partners and businesses targeting similar audiences.

The internet is here to make friends, not enemies. It is called social media for a reason.