The One Way to Beat Amazon?

If your business sells physical products online then Amazon is likely one of your biggest competitors – maybe also your biggest partner too! So how do you maintain, and increase, your website sales even as Amazon itself continues to grow stronger?

In this (rather long) post I’ll show you in some detail two real life case studies of physical ecommerce businesses that have been growing their direct sales in markets where Amazon is a major player.

How you ask? Well, if you’ve been following our blog, which of course you should :-), then you already know that the “secret technique” each of these businesses is using is Content Marketing.

If you are doing Content Marketing now, you should keep on keeping on and use this post to further substantiate your brilliant decision. 🙂

On the other hand… if Content Marketing is not a significant part of your online marketing plan, then maybe these two examples will help you to understand why it should be.

Let’s dive in.

Case Study 1

Our first hero serves new mothers with products sold on their website and on Amazon as well. They are very happy with both channels, but selling direct does have far better margins so they came to use in January of this year to help grow their organic traffic. Our first content for them went live in February and figure 1 shows the result.

case1-organic

The chart includes traffic from organic search only because the company does significant marketing via paid channels and partners as well. There are three key things to notice from this example.

First, their traffic growth is not an unbroken upward trend and you should expect similar behavior in your own business as well. Content Marketing to some extent depends on “getting lucky” with the content you produce: produce more and you get luckier, but there will always remain some months that out perform others.

Second, summer is known to be the slowest period for this market but despite negative seasonality, traffic is up 15% over January. Of course it is always good to make your best season even better, but increasing your “off season” by 15% is a win as well. You’ll see this repeated in the next example too.

But the last point is the real headline crowd pleaser:

67% organic traffic growth in the 8 months from January to August. Typical? Probably not, but very clearly possible.

Case Study 2

This second hero sells a category of toy so as you would expect they have a huge fourth quarter and a historically bleak off-season. Moreover, the market has grown steadily more competitive over the last several years of their business so they came to us for help in October of last year. Our first content went live in November and was almost certainly too late to have a meaningful impact on their holiday sales so we’ll look here instead at the rest of their year since.

case2-organic

The period shown in the chart is January through August of this year and given that this is their off season the August over January growth of 25% is a win all by itself. To put that in stark perspective, August is their single worst month and January their third best.

The year-over-year picture is even better.

case2-YoY

What is most special about this chart is the change in the shape of the yearly traffic curve. Rather than seeing the “concavity” repeated from prior years, the off-season traffic is now far more stable and total (non-paid) sessions is 47% higher than last year.

How Does This Beat Amazon?

To answer that, we have to look at Amazon’s strength in search and their insurmountable weakness.

Amazon typically domains search when it comes to specific product names and related high “commercial intent” searches. This is their real strength and to attack them there is simply bad strategy.

But move even a very short distance away from “wallet out” keywords, and Amazon disappears from results. Why? Because they don’t do Content Marketing!

Amazon’s strength is that it is “the one store for everything,” but that also unavoidably means that they are “expert in precisely nothing.”

Sure, sometimes you will just educate prospects so they can go buy the right item on Amazon – that’s the online of “show rooming” but at the very least you get the first shot and if you sell on Amazon as many of our clients do then they might still buy from you, just not direct.

Why Content Marketing Works

If I could show you search keyword data [thanks for nothing Google!] you would see that the vast majority of new traffic for our two examples is not “product searches”. Instead, their new traffic is medium to long tail search that precedes the product searches and other “commercial intent” queries that generally convert to a sale.

The “old school” view of SEO focused almost entirely on this converting traffic and turned a blind eye to the “informational queries” that do not – by definition – immediately convert to a sale.

But consider this: Is it reasonable to suppose that your prospects know what product to buy and who to buy it from without using the search engines to find that out? Really? Were they just born knowing?

And if they did not learn about your product, how to use it, how to select the right model, and what price to pay for it from you, who did they learn that from and what degree of “reciprocity” and “brand awareness” has been created by the site that did educate them?

The informational queries that precede the commercial queries are in fact the creators of your commercial queries and in this day and age it is trivial to prove this using the multi-channel reporting tools in Google Analytics.

Your Bottom Line Action Item

If you are selling anything online, then you clearly have a funnel. Be it simple or complex, it takes a commercial query and turns it into a sale. That’s the obvious funnel and it is certainly necessary to have to optimize the best you can. But there is another funnel!

The “hidden funnel” is the one that attracts prospects in the informational stage and engages them and attracts them so that they are more likely than not to selected your site when it’s time to enter the commercial funnel.

Clearly the commercial funnel is nothing without visits with commercial intent and those searches do not happen “by accident”. It is Content Marketing that builds the informational funnel that drives your commercial funnel and your ability to do that in one niche is what sets you apart from and allows you to successfully compete with Amazon.