Amazon is coming after you.

Amazon is coming after you. If you run an e-commerce business that’s the bad news. The good news is you can fight Amazon and win. In a 2013 post on Medium entitled E-commerce is a Bear, Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, explained there are four possible responses e-commerce companies can make to Amazon:

  • Proprietary pricing. Think flash sales, or other ways e-commerce websites can beat Amazon on price, even if only for a day. Based on the Fortune article Why Flash Sales Are In Trouble this strategy doesn’t appear to be working well for formerly big players like Gilt.
  • Proprietary merchandise. You make your own products, and Amazon can’t compete because it doesn’t have the same products. As Dunn points out in his post, this is less about building an e-commerce business and more about building a brand.
  • Proprietary selection. Your products may be available individually on Amazon, but not the way you make them available on your website. This allows you to act as though you have proprietary merchandise. Think Birchbox or other subscription e-commerce plays.
  • Proprietary experience. Can you offer an experience like no other, or at least one that Amazon can’t duplicate, in terms of customer support or some other aspect?

A few years ago you might have believed that along with the factors above, your geographic focus also protected you from Amazon. However, with Amazon expanding into Europe and Asia we can take it for granted you’re not safe anywhere. If your e-commerce strategy is “We’re in Southeast Asia and Amazon isn’t,” it’s only a matter of time.

Are there other ways e-commerce companies can beat Amazon? Yes.

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Content Marketing

Tom La Vecchia with the digital marketing consultancy X Factor Media says “A product review on YouTube or an informational landing page that details your product in great length will rank well if it’s original copy and you employ rich media.”

Does this mean you can beat Amazon in the rankings on Google merely by producing better content? Not necessarily. Amazon has massive credibility as a website that is hard to overcome, as well as rich content, user contributed content, and often an insane number of backlinks to its product pages. But what if you can use content marketing to come in at #2 right after Amazon?

According to a 2013 study by Chitika, an online advertising network, the #1 search result in Google receives approximately 33% of the traffic. #2 gets around 17%, while #3 gets about 12%.

Google Results Graph

While that’s a steep decline, getting into the #2 or #3 spot for a product search on Google can still mean a lot of traffic going to your website. Once a visitor is on your website you can use your content skills to maximize conversions and still carve out a profitable niche.

Long-tail SEO

Is there any way to beat Amazon’s rankings on Google? Yes! As Tom explains, “Amazon ranks for basic terms, but long tail is an area where you can win.”

What is long-tail SEO? Long-tail SEO means going after obscure keywords rather than generic ones. For example, it would be tough to beat Amazon’s ranking on Google for “4tb external hard drive” (a few sites do– they are also major websites). But could you beat Amazon on Google for “What is the best 4tb hard drive for a freelance web designer on a Mac?” That would be a relatively easy task.

“But wait,” you say, “Hardly anyone performs that second search, while a TON of people search for ‘4tb external hard drive.’” That’s very true, so what you do is optimize for hundreds or thousands of long-tail searches. When you add up the aggregate traffic these rankings produce, you may find that it’s much more than if you got the #1 ranking for the more generic term.

In addition, with long-tail searches, you can create a landing page that fits perfectly with the search term you’re targeting, which results in a higher conversion rate. More on this at Forbes in The Long Tail And Why Your SEO Keyword Strategy Is Wrong.

Bryan Clayton of GreenPal, which he describes as “the Uber of lawn care,” provides a case study of how small websites can compete against big ones through a long-tail SEO strategy. “In addition to my lawn care business I have 77 courses that I sell on Udemy, which is a very popular and high ranking website,” Bryan says. “I also post information about my courses on my own website, which ranks for search terms that my Udemy listings would not rank for.” Bryan sums it up, stating “The strategy isn’t to beat Amazon on the same keywords, but to rank for different keywords that will still bring you quality traffic.”

Local SEO

Bryan also enlists local SEO to compete directly with Amazon. “Last year Amazon launched their home services marketplace and we had to begin competing with them head-to-head,” Bryan says. “Google gives local businesses more weight in its rankings when it knows someone is searching for a business with a physical location nearby.

We were able to leverage our offices in each city that we serve to build citations around them which send off signals to Google that we are a prominent local business. Amazon is unable to do this as they do not have physical locations they can use to optimize for local SEO.”

Local SEO is a field unto itself and can be confusing to navigate. It’s not enough to merely say “We’re a local business!” on your website and include your address. To learn more about local SEO check out the Local SEO page at Moz.

Want More Growth Marketing Strategies?

Growing your e-commerce beyond content marketing is TOUGH. To help, we’ve put together a free growth marketing toolkit, including 100+ growth marketing strategies we’re using to grow Sleeknote (ranked for your convenience).

Free Downloadable Bonus
Get access to our free growth marketing toolkit and turbocharge your website traffic today (include resources not included in the blog post).

Putting it Together

What’s the best strategy to beat Amazon? Combine tactics. The ultimate knock-out punch to Amazon might be to produce proprietary merchandise, use creative content marketing, target long tail keywords, and do local SEO. Combining all those tactics will not apply to very many e-commerce companies, but combining one or two tactics is a strategy almost any ecommerce company can apply.

Sam Williamson is the owner of and combines long tail SEO and content marketing to win. As he tells it, “The SEO strategy for my ecommerce site consists of two main approaches; extremely in-depth keyword research, and viral content. I choose to pursue lower competition keywords that Amazon have overlooked. I then drive huge amounts of traffic to the product pages by creating fun content that engages readers rather than simply describing the product.”

For example, there are many Batman related fish tank decorations on Amazon, but very few optimized listings. Sam created a page on his site to target Batman related keywords. The page has over 600 words, and once Sam was done creating it he shared the post on sites like Reddit and Google+. Within a few weeks he owned the top spot for several relevant terms. “Take that, Amazon!”

Have you competed against Amazon and succeeded? We’d love to hear how you did it. Share your story in the comments below.

Josh Steimle
Josh Steimle is the founder and CEO of MWI , a global digital marketing ­agency. He is a TEDx speaker, has appeared on national TV and radio in the U.S., and his writing has been featured in publications like Inc., Time, Forbes,, Mashable, and TechCrunch. Entrepreneur recently recognized Steimle as one of “50 Online Marketing Influencers To Watch in 2016,” and social media research firm Leadtail recently ranked Steimle #11 on their list of “People Most Mentioned and Retweeted by CMOs.”

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  1. Thanks for a great post! The “Batman” example did really inspire me, and I may try to do something similar to some of the products in my webshop.

  2. Once again a great post! I agree that using different and creative keywords is very helpful, and have actually experienced amazing results by doing this, even though it was a challenging and long process to find the right ones.

  3. I definitely agree with all the points in this post. Of course Amazon is an ecommerce giant, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to compete with them!

  4. Great blog post – It’s going to be interesting to see if Amazon start expanding in Europe.

  5. Excellent title – no doubt many are seeking out this information. There is another, greater challenge for small businesses trying to compete with Amazon. They have a deal with the USPS for shipping prices no small business could get. Between that and how fast Amazon Prime ships, small businesses must create loyalty among existing buyers to keep them coming back.

    Responsive customer service is essential. Trying to resolve every issue so you don’t end up with negative reviews cannot be ignored. Make your store so friendly and knowledgeable that people are willing to wait a little longer or pay a little more because they want to shop with you instead.


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