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How Small eCommerce Sites Can Compete with Larger Businesses in Digital Marketing

Lots of little blue fish in a school the shape of a fish, chasing a large fish

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk (and evidence) to suggest that Google’s bias towards larger businesses is somewhat questionable. With every update, it seems that small businesses are faced with increasingly daunting challenges, lacking the investment, expertise, and resources (and helpful bias?) that bigger businesses have at their disposal.

Understandably, this mountain can often feel insurmountable – especially at the moment.

However, in a hope to provide some help and assistance, I’ve put together a few suggestions which smaller eCommerce businesses can use to pivot and flex their strategies, in ways that are often out of reach of their larger competitors.

Sceptical? I get it, but size isn’t everything…

Understand Your Competition

Understanding your competition is crucial for any business. While it’s definitely unrealistic to compete with larger corporations on every front, identifying their (and your) strengths and weaknesses when it comes to digital marketing is definitely a good starting point. Regardless of your industry, in digital marketing, bigger businesses will always have certain advantages:

Budget

A bigger company is almost certainly going to command a bigger budget when it comes to digital marketing, whether it’s on SEO, PPC or web development. Big businesses also have plenty of resources to invest and experiment in multiple strategies and platforms. You can’t go bigger, so you’ll have to go smarter.

Website Authority

Big companies aren’t built in a day; they’re typically very well-established, just like their websites. A long-standing website often commands a greater domain value and authority, whether that’s determined by Google, search tools, or recognised by the public. While they’re household names, yours may still be struggling for recognition. This is the long game, and the rules are changing against your favour.

IKEA's backlink profile in Ahrefs
As you can see, IKEA has a Domain Rating of 91 and just over 45 milllion backlinks! Wowsers!

Backlink Profile

Just like above, bigger websites often have a healthier and more extensive backlink profile that they’ve accumulated over years of operation. Good backlinks, from reputable sources, not only contribute to their website’s authority but also enhance their online visibility.

As a small business, building your link profile is crucial, but requires an approach that aligns with your budget constraints while capitalising on opportunities that may be out of reach for larger competitors. Links are still important, but your budget and size may be working against you.

Trust

Every thing I’ve mentioned so far contributes to improving both consumer and search engine trust in any size website. The more robust your budget, the greater capacity you have to invest in strategies that bolster authority, link profile and visibility, thereby fostering trust in both search engines and customers alike. 

In the end, a well-known and reputable larger company tends to command more trust than a newcomer in the industry – you’ll have to earn it.

Taking the Advantage as a Smaller Business

Smaller businesses can leverage several advantages that larger websites and corporations may struggle to exploit effectively or efficiently, either due to their size, bureaucracy, or some other factor.

Let’s explore some of those now.

Human Touch

We’ve all heard of the phrase “faceless corporation” and it’s well-applied. Smaller businesses have the unique ability to infuse a sense of humanity and personality into their marketing. As a small business, customers are also more likely to perceive you as approachable, relatable, and responsive over a larger competition.

Some larger corporations still manage to give of a whiff of humanity, usually via a mix of humour, ethics and social responsibility. But let’s be clear: they spend lots of money to appear authentic – it does not come naturally.

Screengrab from eeny meeny's toy shop website, that reads "We want to be more than another online shop and offer our customers an inspiring experience consistently promoting and celebrating childhood"
Take a look at Eeny Meeny’s website, which is sprinkled with touches of humanity

Agility

Smaller businesses have a distinct advantage in agility. They can make decisions quickly and with fewer bureaucratic hurdles. So whether it’s pivoting, niche marketing, or diversifying, your small business can swiftly implement new strategies without the layers of red tape and management processes that the larger companies face.

Specialisms

Unlike big eCommerce sites that often diversify their product offerings as they grow, smaller businesses can capitalise on specialising in niche markets. By focusing on a specific product or specialism, your small business should establish itself as the expert in that field – especially if it’s one your competitors don’t perform so well in.

Screengrab of Amazon's website from 1996
Remember when Amazon used to only sell books?! Look at them now.
Screengrab from FirstVersions.com

Bespoke Approach

Whilst not always applicable, without the burden of excessive overhead costs and red tape, smaller businesses are often able to supply a far more bespoke and personalised product to their customers. Whether it’s customising products, offering personalised recommendations, or providing attentive customer service, small businesses have the flexibility to deliver tailored experiences that larger corporations may struggle to emulate.

How do Smaller eCommerce Websites Compete with Bigger Rivals?

Now that we’ve explored the differences, challenges, and advantages that small businesses face in digital marketing and eCommerce, let’s dive into practical strategies to make a real difference.

Humanising Your Marketing

While larger corporations recognise the importance of user experience, authenticity, and personalisation, ironically they often resort to using technology, AI, and automation to simulate these elements. That “helpful” live chat? A chatbot. That product recommendation? An algorithm. That’s because at scale it actually becomes far too costly to involve real humans. Therein lies your advantage in delivering excellent customer service – your humanity.

  • Demonstrate expertise: By all means, pop your frequently asked questions on your site or use a chatbot to answer regular queries, but use a real expert team member to answer the trickier questions. With a smile, of course!
  • Be contactable: Navigating through layers of contact forms, chatbots, and call centres is incredibly frustrating when attempting to reach a company, and something we’ve come to expect from larger businesses. Instead, make it as easy as possible for your customers to reach your support team quickly via as many methods as you can manage, from telephone and live chat to contact forms and social media platforms.
  • Respond: Whether the feedback is positive or negative, always respond courteously with a genuine comment or query. If necessary, take appropriate action to address any concerns raised. Be proud of your product and willing to show when your standards have fallen short. 
  • Personable content: Be active on social media and digital PR, but at all times, just be you. You don’t need big marketing budgets or flashy designs; just show a simple product update video or make a short business announcement. Show your face and be different to all those “faceless corporations”, reply and engage with your audience, build strong customer relationships and try to be relevant and helpful at all times.

Be Flexible and Agile 

Without all the business bloat, overheads or red tape of a larger business, smaller eCommerce websites can often change strategies, experiment and specialise with greater ease than the big boys. This agility allows them to stay responsive to market trends, capitalise on emerging opportunities, and continually refine their offerings to meet evolving customer needs.

  • Keep an eye on the market: Staying updated with consumer preferences and emerging technologies enables businesses to adapt and evolve in response to a shifting market. Additionally, keeping a close watch on competitors can provide valuable insights, allowing smaller businesses to leverage any research or strategies they’ve undertaken. 
  • Learn from your customers: With simpler processes, smaller eCommerce websites have the opportunity to be highly responsive to customer feedback. If a product or service isn’t meeting expectations, take the opportunity to make simple adjustments that can enhance the overall experience and customer satisfaction.
  • Hire the right people: Finding passionate and knowledgeable team members should be a top priority from the outset. Investing in the right individuals can be hugely beneficial for both the team and the business as a whole. Conversely, making the wrong hiring decisions can prove to be costly and detrimental to your company’s growth and success.

Specialise

  • Develop your niche: You can’t take on big business in one fell swoop, you need to find and develop your niche product or service that you can deliver better than the competition. Develop and build on that to gain a foothold in the industry and use the momentum to grow. 
  • Use specialist keywords: Here you’re looking to focus on less common keywords that still have high search volume and can give you a competitive edge. Using long-tail keywords and articles can help here, for example rather than using the keyword “furniture” you could try “dining room furniture buying guide”. 
  • Focus on local: Similar to specialising in a niche, focusing on the local market can offer small businesses a competitive advantage. By targeting a specific geographic area, businesses can tailor their products or services to meet the unique needs and preferences of local customers as well as integrating themselves into the local community. Improving your local SEO is a great way to start making inroads into local visibility and attracting nearby customers. 
  • Build your brand: Establishing a strong brand identity is essential for small businesses to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Defining your unique value proposition, as well as your brand personality, requires a good understanding of your audience. Aim to be different to the competition and memorable, trustworthy and approachable to your customers.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

  • Data-driven decision making: Data analytics and insights can empower small business owners to make informed decisions, optimise their marketing efforts, and maximise ROI quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Hire an agency: We are perhaps a little biased here but agencies typically have access to a wealth of resources, expertise, and expensive tools that can help level the playing field and compete effectively with larger rivals without costing a small fortune, tailored entirely to your budget and business requirements. You should defo hire us though.
  • Prove your worth: They say trust is earned, but if you can demonstrate you are trustworthy then you’ll earn it quicker. Show your site visitors as many trust signals as you can, whether it’s your 10 year guarantees, your glowing customer reviews, or your award-winning cheeses – get them on your site!

The Home Retail eCommerce Experts

In a fiercely competitive industry, small eCommerce businesses often find themselves grappling with the challenge of standing out amidst larger, more established rivals. However, armed with the right strategies and expertise, small businesses can not only compete but also thrive.

And while the odds may seem stacked against you, by understanding the competition and leveraging key advantages such as your agility or your authenticity, your small businesses can compete and succeed. We know, because we’ve helped hundreds of small businesses achieve just that.

Partner with Boom to unlock your business’s full potential and realise your digital marketing goals.

Peter Bingham

Peter Bingham

Peter has over 20 years of design, content and illustration experience, eclectically weaving his ideas and creativity through a mixture of design disciplines, including print, content and web design. Give him some crayons and watch him go!View Author posts

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