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Fans of feel-good 90s movies will recall Meg Ryan’s valiant but doomed struggle to save her corner bookstore from Tom Hanks’s big box rival.

Ecommerce niche sites have found themselves in a similar drama, battling to hold their place in the market and the SERPs against mammoth retailers like Amazon, Staples, and Walmart.

While these larger sites certainly have both marketing and SEO advantages: fast delivery, aggressive pricing, enormous SEO budgets, big brand preference from Google, an easier time adding or removing links,  it’s important for niche site marketers to recognize that, in certain aspects, they can have an edge.

Here's how...

Five marketing tactics for niche sites

1. Out “Amazon” Amazon

Giant online retailers can have literally millions of SKUs, but niche sites often have stronger product layouts within their specialties.

In other words, Amazon can’t offer every product in every size, color, or feature. Additionally, big retailers are often last to the table on new products, since vendors usually wait to see a certain amount of sales traction before they pitch their latest wares. 

Compare the “No Trespassing Signs” result page on Amazon and the “No Trespassing Signs” page on the niche site MySecuritySign. Amazon’s results are displayed as a sparse, narrow column, while MySecuritySign uses a similar amount of space to showcase far more products and information.

You can see here that MySecuritySign offers features that Amazon does not, like sign customizations and free PDF downloads. 

2) Use your URL in ads.

Use your niche URL name in your PPC and PLA campaigns. Since Google cuts marketers off at just 35 characters per line in pay per click ads, having a URL that helps advertise a product can be lucrative.

As you can see in the below lineup of PLA ads, the MyParkingSign URL functions as an extension of the ad. 

3) Emotionally connect with your customer.

Big retailers have to create a sleek, neutral experience for their users. Niche sites, on the other hand, can craft their sites to have product-specific narratives and personalities. Take, for example, two different types of signs: security and recycling.

These niche sites can cultivate unique personas through design and copy: paranoid, tough, and authoritative for MySecuritySign.com, and communal, inclusive, and enthusiastic for RecycleReminders.com.

MSS homepage:

RRR homepage:

4) Remember that people buy from people.

Remember that tagline from the TV show Cheers: “Where everybody knows your name”? Smaller sales departments can foster relationships with customers, send them free samples, spark a dialogue, and make and take suggestions. It’s simply not the experience a customer could have calling the 800 number for a larger retailer.

5) Create focused content and social profiles.

Niche sites provide the opportunity for highly specific content production and social sharing. Take the examples given above: MySecuritySign has its own blog which follows and analyzes surveillance, trespassing, and weapons regulations, while RecycleReminder’s blog can exclusively and thoroughly report on conservation programs, relevant regulatory information, and helpful recycling how-tos. Curate that content to show your company’s unique perspective. What are the “staff picks” that, otherwise, a visitor to a big brand site would never find? 

The same advantage extends to social. Each niche site can have handles and profiles that reflect the primary product and attract followers that are interested specifically in a certain product or industry. These social presences can be edgy and local, too. When was the last time you saw Amazon use humor, righteous indignation, or sponsor the local little league team? Don’t be afraid to engage with your community and even be a little controversial. 

Charity Stebbins

Published 12 August, 2013 by Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins is a content strategist at Conductor and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow her on TwitterGoogle+, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

9 more posts from this author

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TraiaN

MySecuritySign is part of a big network of maybe tens of sites dedicated to signage (mysafetysign.com, mypoolsigns.com or my*sing.com). So, I guess their beating Amazon really bad :)

almost 3 years ago

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TraiaN

haha, just noticed now that Charity is working with Smart Signs. Damn, I shouldn't have told her about the other sites under their own umbrella :)

almost 3 years ago

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Charity

Haha...I had noticed those, yes!

We've definitely had wins and losses with our niche site strategy. Some sites are thriving, some were clobbered by the EMD update (not all our EMDs/PMDs were negatively effected, more so those that we had been aggressively link-building with, interestingly) and have been folded into others. Merging those sites has had both positive and negative outcomes. It's certainly not an exact science, but we're learning...and we do have quite a few new and loyal customers that keep choosing us over our big competitors. This post shares part of our secret recipe :)

almost 3 years ago

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Karl Meyer

I can understand how MySecuritySigns offers its customers better choice and service. The issue is of course how do those potential customers realise that better options exist?

Buying a security sign isn't exactly a weekly occurrence for most people and so faced with the need they have the choice to either a) go to amazon and get it over with quickly or b) spend potentially hours trawling through the internet to find the absolutely perfect sign only to find out that they could have picked a 90% perfect sign for half the price on Amazon.

Loyalty is ideal but how many people are loyal sign buyers???

almost 3 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Right you are on several fronts, Karl. Many of our customers want to get in and get out with the product. However, some of the above strategies lend themselves to an organic search edge--we do rank #1 or close to it for many of our competitive keywords. So we are being found on the SERP in seconds, not hours, and people often gravitate towards visiting our site for many of the reasons listed in this post just after glancing at our URLs and metadescriptions.

Another issue to consider is how many sites customers tend to visit and for how long before converting (increasingly more sites and less time-on-page). Having more product selection (re: strategy #1 above) gives us an edge there...people will spend a little longer on our site because there's more relevant stock available, and they're often likelier to purchase from us than a larger site with less selection.

You'd be surprised how many people want a custom parking/safety/security sign, and that's also simply not something Amazon offers.

almost 3 years ago

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Debbie Moore

From reading this post, I surmise that the company is B2B and that their 'niche' customers are more apt to purchase from a site that suits their needs more specifically and is more comfortable to them than a broad site like Amazon. Same goes for a lot of other B2B businesses and their consumers.

almost 3 years ago

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Gunman

at 2: -As you can see in the below lineup of PLA ads, the MyParkingSign URL functions as an extension of the ad.-

Sorry, I don't understand that point. Why does your PLA get an checkmark beside the URL?
BTW: I'm from Germany and haven't seen this checkmark yet. In Europe many features of PLA/Shooping are released later (or never;-)) than in US.

Thanks in advance for an answer.
G.

almost 3 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Hi G.,

The check mark indicates we're a Google Trusted Store...it's an opt-in feature, certifying that we're fast shippers, have good customer service, and so on. It doesn't cost anything (besides our information, which of course is a price in itself). Check it out here: http://www.google.com/trustedstores/

That badge is definitely helpful in netting some clickthroughs, but my primary point was that our partial match domain, since it features the word "parking," often attracts someone who's looking for a parking sign. I posit that they're likelier to click through our domain, myparkingsign.com, rather than, say a competitor without the keyword in the root domain, like BuildASign.com.

almost 3 years ago

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