What Makes You Different?
You want to create a Web site, but what is your first step? Defining your Meta tags? Identifying keywords? Writing content? No. Your first responsibility before taking any steps toward building your site is to determine what makes you different from your competitors. You need to have a clear picture of what makes you valuable and why your visitors should choose you over the rest of your competition.
Whatever your business, there are at least a hundred or so other companies who do relatively the same thing. It's your job to stand out from the clutter. First figure out what it takes to make yourself equal to your competitors so you can then build your site to be better. But you can't do any of that if you don't know why you created a website to begin with. What is the purpose of your site? Who are you hoping to attract?
Imagine you are a company specializing in peanut butter. Before you design your site you need to consider what kind of a peanut butter company you are. Are you going to be a site that sells peanut butter and peanut butter-related products or do you instead provide informational resources about the benefits of peanut butter? What makes you different from the barrage of other peanut butter sites? If you sell peanut butter, maybe you only use organic ingredients? Or perhaps you sell a rare peanut butter/ jelly hybrid that few are aware of. If you are an informational site, do you talk about the high levels of protein found in peanut butter or perhaps the positive effect it has on clearing up skin blemishes?
Identifying the purpose of your site will allow you to identify your competition. You'll be able to pinpoint if you're competing against peanut butter sites in general, just sites that sell peanut butter, informational or governmental-run peanut butter sites or maybe even cosmetic sites that focus on the power of peanut butter.
Once you have this knowledge you will be able to focus on your keyword research. You will be able to determine what words your competition is bidding on and what terms you need to focus on (i.e. generic terms vs. niche terms) to help your target audience to find you. If you know what words your audience types in their search box to find your biggest competitor, you know what terms they are most likely to use when trying to find you.
Another way this information will be helpful is in developing your link campaign. Knowing what your purpose is and who your competitors are will give you a starting point for sites you should both try and acquire links from and link out to. Obtaining quality links has become increasingly important since the release of Google's Bigdaddy update in early 2006.
Bigdaddy was a major software upgrade to Google's infrastructure that will provide the foundation for many of the improvements Google hopes to make to their search quality. One of the things the update did was to increase the weight Google places on link quality. This means sites that formerly gained rankings by soliciting links from link farms will now find themselves at the bottom of the SERPs. On the other hand, sites that receive backlinks from trusted, reputable sites will be rewarded for their efforts and should see an increase in ranking. One of the goals of Bigdaddy was to decrease the amount of spam in Google's SERP, and placing more weight on links is just one of Google's plans to accomplish this.
Knowing what makes your site different will allow you to narrow in on your unique selling point. Without one your site will do nothing but add to the Web's echo chamber, causing you to get lost in a sea of like sites. It's your job as the site owner or webmaster to determine what differentiates you from everyone else doing the same thing.
Whether you're an e-commerce site or strictly information-based, your site must provide something valuable to your visitors. If Bigdaddy taught us anything, it's that links matter. You need to motivate visitors to link to your site. You accomplish this by making yourself valuable to them. Maybe you have the best peanut butter recipes in the industry. Or maybe your peanut butter has considerably less fat and calories than your competitors. Find what makes you different and capitalize on it. That's what is going to attract visitors and make them want visit time and time again.
Finding your 'hook' will help you establish your "authority" and gain natural links instead of having to buy them. Without proper linking, all the keywords in the world won't get you the rankings you need to be successful.
It may seem trivial, but knowing the niche your site is designed to fill is the cornerstone of any marketing campaign. Not recognizing that, or choosing not to care, is a sign your intentions may be less than credible and will only set you and your site up for failure.