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How startups can beat bigger competitors

When we talk with ambitious startup founders, inevitably they ask about one of their large competitors who have been in the space since before dinosaurs were on the earth, and have more budget than Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the entire Kingdom of Redonda put together.

We get it. Having a limited budget to market your finance product online can be a challenge. And going up against competitors quadruple your size (in both head count and budget) can seem daunting. But, there are some creative strategies that small businesses with limited budgets can take advantage of to gain an edge over their larger competitors.

Ironically, SEO is one of the easier ways to steal market share from large competitors

Seems weird to say, especially when these larger brands have a huge amount of PR, brand presence, and real estate on search engines. But here’s the thing: there are three big issues that marketers at larger brands have to deal with that startups don’t:


      1. Technical debt – Usually a larger website that’s been around the block for decades has had dozens of technical teams with their hands on the engine. And that kind of layer upon layer of little short-cut taken here, little short-cut taken there creates a technical ball of yarn that search engines just hate dealing with. A cleaner, fast website will be a great breathe of fresh air for crawlers.

      1. Red tape and strong opinions – Marketers at big brands have several people who they need to get feedback from before they can move forward with a project. At larger organizations, marketing and SEO in particular is more about project management and politics than it is getting things done. This means startups who are focused on getting things done and execution can move faster to market on a new landing page, widget, or even freemium web-app to generate leads and traffic. It also means they can’t spend as much time on supportive pages, so if there are keywords that they don’t rank well for, you can create a dedicated landing page and grab that real estate before they can even begin to move.

      1. Organizational pressure to swing big – Marketers at larger organizations are constantly told to swing big. The amount of money their organizations have to invest to fix, build, or alter something on their web experience is substantial – so they want to make sure it’s worth it. That means there’s a lot of low volume, high intent topics that can get you sales they can’t justify going after.

    Surgically take out their paid budget from under them

    A lot of larger, incumbent brands deal with the same issues with paid marketing as they do with SEO – large bureaucracy, technical debt, slammed dev teams, and slammed design teams. That means they can’t spin out more relevant landing pages, or more engaging lead magnets.

    So what do they do to compensate? A lot of times, they throw the one advantage they have at it – money. But when you’re dealing with a huge amount of budget, you lose the trees when looking at the forest.

    What does that mean? It means there’s a lot of wasted ad budget targeting keywords they aren’t primed to properly go after, or they aren’t taking advantage of lookalike audience targeting in creative ways because their budget makes up for it.

    Let’s take a look at for example. Figure is a huge unicorn in the cash-out-refinance space. When you look at their ad targeting, you’ll see they compete with and And what do we see? There are 3,380 keywords they’re bidding on that’s the equivalent to lighting money on fire. That’s roughly 317,000 clicks per month.

    What if we could dive into those terms and find some relevant gems? By diving into the data, you’ll find terms that are more relevant to you. And here’s the trick with ads – if you have a more relevant landing page than your competitor, you’ll often outrank them without having to spend as much money per click. Killer, right?

    Don’t have the budget for bidding on their underperforming keywords? Then build dedicated landing pages for those keywords and submit them to Google’s index via Google Search Console. You’ll be driving organic traffic from keywords they’re paying for. 

    Or better yet, do both. 

    Can you find underpriced attention?

    It all comes down to understanding context. Most marketers will tell you success is all about knowing where your audience is. 

    But here’s a spoiler: More likely than not, they’re on all the major platforms. How do we know? Because we all are. 

    Instead, think contextually about what people are doing (and more importantly wanting) while on each platform. 

    Here’s a little tidbit that generally goes over what we found about how people operate on each social network: 

    1. Facebook – People are in passive consumption mode. They’re willing to buy, and aren’t as cynical about being “sold” something (unless you’re a life/sales/business coach). While Facebook is a must for ecommerce brands, B2B lead generation does well here too with the right set up.
    2. LinkedIn – This is super expensive to generate cold leads from paid ads. But it’s a great place for retargeting and lookalike audiences (if you can stomach the prices). But there’s more to Linkedin than ads. People are more willing to provide warm introductions. But here’s the thing about LinkedIn: It’s Instagram back in 2015. Meaning if you just post content, comment occasionally on others’ posts, and write real (aka not slimy or shady) connection requests, you can get a lot of sales intro calls. 
    3. Twitter – If you want to build a network, this is the place to go. But zig while others are zagging. Most people try to be quippy and go for sarcastic one-liners. Instead, be a positive force and you’ll quickly build a network that works for you, not just follows you. 
    4. TikTok – It’s not about dancing anymore. Talking head videos are all over the place. Now it’s more about learning in video format. And the general age of users has drastically increased. So you won’t be advertising to kids. 

    Its about data, strategy, and context – not just budget

    By taking a more analytical approach to what your competitors are doing, you’ll be able to outpace them. It’s part of the reason (aside from plot armor) that a bunch of smaller X-Wings could take out the Death Star. Twice.