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Kitchen Side: Blue Ocean vs. Red Ocean SEO

Kitchen Side: Blue Ocean vs Red Ocean SEO

Red versus blue: do you know which ocean you’d rather swim in? 

We discuss the blue ocean strategy and how to navigate high- and low-competition markets. Blue oceans represent uncrowded markets with low volumes of competition. The waters in a blue ocean are clear and open for swimming. 

Red oceans, however, are high-volume, highly competitive markets that are more challenging to navigate. Whether you’re in a blue ocean or a red ocean, your goal is to find a strategy that sets your company apart and gives your product a fighting chance. 

In this episode of Kitchen Side, we talk through the pros and cons of both red and blue oceans, what it takes to create a new market, and how to set your company apart from the crowd.

Show Topics

  • Find a strategic edge
  • Focus on lower keyword difficulty
  • Employ phrases customers use
  • Piggyback on existing categories
  • Evangelize your idea
  • Start small
  • Do it all
  • Build a moat
  • Find your own blue ocean
  • Leverage what makes your company unique

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Key Takeaways

12:13 – Find a strategic edge

Alex said you can’t always compete head-to-head in a cutthroat market. Instead, focus on finding a specific strategy that sets you apart from your competitors. 

“One thing that we hope to accomplish during the strategy month is finding what I call a strategic edge. I don’t know if it’s necessarily as strong as creating a new category or some sort of a blue ocean motion with their language and verbiage. But we do try to lean on something because, is there ever a case that if you’re in a red ocean, that you also just want to compete head-to-head in that red ocean? The only case I could see being made for that is if you have a bigger budget. You just have to have a bigger budget. If you went up against HubSpot or Sprout Social or something like that and you tried to basically steal all the same keywords that they were going for. I don’t know, they’ve got a head start on you. Their website’s stronger. They have a higher domain rating, and they have more processes ironed out. They’re going to just drive past you. So I think the only way you would want to compete head-to-head is if you had more money to spend.”

16:45 – Focus on lower keyword difficulty

David said it takes a long time to rank for frequently used keywords. Use less common keywords to climb the rankings faster.

“We always ask, ‘What are the three to five topics you want your company or brands to be known for?’ And typically those end up being head terms like, ‘Oh, we want to be known for eCommerce marketing,’ or something. Something that they would be competing with Shopify, HubSpot, or some other big company on. And we’re like, ‘Okay, great. That’s helpful. We can probably try to create some content and start ranking for those things.’ Probably not going to rank anytime soon, but we use that as a seed to find, I guess what we’re referring to like blue ocean opportunities where it’s maybe lower search volume, lower keyword difficulty, higher conversion potential that people just aren’t looking at yet. And we’re like, ‘Woah. This is actually a really good opportunity.’ And we expectation set that, ‘Probably not going to get a ton of traffic, but it’s going to be the traffic you want reading your stuff that these other companies haven’t even written anything about, or are just writing shitty content about.’”

23:27 – Employ phrases customers use

Allie said it’s important to find out what phrases your customers use most to describe your product. Use keywords from those phrases to connect with your audience more easily.

“We also ask our clients when onboarding, ‘What phrases have you heard customers or prospects use to describe your tool?’ Because if they’re using it and you’ve never heard of it, they’re probably searching for it and you don’t have any content on it. So, almost letting the folks who are front and center with your tool, whether from your side, so sales, customer support, or the customer side, letting them dictate the verbiage that goes into it. Whether or not it has volume, you can’t let AHFs be your validator. If you’re getting it from the source, I’d say that’s almost a stronger validation tool than some arbitrary search volume tool. And the good thing is if you start to use it elsewhere, you’ll almost train up your customers and prospects to start using that language, probably similar to how Drift did. And then you have a high volume term that you already have content on.”

25:04 – Piggyback on existing categories

Alex said it’s easier to piggyback on existing categories than to try and invent a totally new category for your product.

“One thing I would consider is you’re probably not as different as you think you are, and there’s probably an existing category that you almost fit into. Do you remember years ago when, I think it was Webflow that coined or at least led the term, no-code: no-code revolution, no-code platform, and all that stuff. Now there’s a whole category of no-code tools, but there is CMS. And a CMS is as established of a category as you can get online. So, I think you can maybe do some of these tactics to piggyback on that, one of which is the surround sound strategy, because then you don’t necessarily need to compete with your website to get ranked out ahead of HubSpot and ahead of Sitecore and all these other juggernauts, but you can actually leverage properties that you have, maybe you have a podcast, maybe you have an affiliate program, to get on lists and review sites that are already ranking for that category. And then just within that copy note your differentiation, note that you’re for people who aren’t as technical, who can’t code and want to still build and maintain a website. You could definitely piggyback on a category in almost every case.”

26:54 – Evangelize your idea

Alex said if you want to familiarize your audience with your product, you have to become an evangelist for your idea.

“I think you become an evangelist of sorts of your idea. And I think one of the best ways to do it is just to speak at conferences. Most of the influencers or a lot of influencers are in the room. A lot of people who run blogs, a lot of people who are potential customers. And if you come up with a topic, say product led content, barbell strategy, any of these terms that we’ve tried to coin. If you do a talk in front of 500 to 5,000 people, it may not be the equivalent of 5,000 search volume, but those people in the room are usually pretty powerful and influential. And they spread that message. Then you do a webinar, then you do a podcast. You write a blog post that people can reference, and you start to build out all of your materials around that one central concept. I think that’s the playbook. You become an evangelist for the idea.”

34:13 – Start small

David said that while everyone wants to aim for recognition in large publications, targeting smaller publications can be just as effective.

“How do you get in front of your audience? You both mentioned communities, small newsletters, micro influencers, smaller podcasts where people might be trying to get featured by New York Times or get on the larger newsletters and sponsor those expensive ones. But what about the smaller ones? What about the effort it takes to build out a community? Like Alex, you were saying if it’s easy, if it’s low hanging fruit, everyone’s probably trying to do it already. The fact that not everyone has a community or a great community yet probably means it’s probably worth building, it’s just going to be much harder. But if you get it right, it’s going to work really well, and I know a couple examples of that. And then small newsletters, I think we were talking about this maybe a week ago. Are there small newsletters where they don’t even have sponsors? And if we just said, ‘Hey, can we sponsor your newsletter?’ They’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m down.’People love my newsletter. I love you guys. Let’s do something together.’ We’re probably going to get more engagement than a big newsletter, too. So I’m thinking more about just for clients or even other B2B SaaS companies who want to get in front of the target audience. Sure, there’s paid ads, sure there’s content, but what are the go to markets that we’re starting to see earlier on in a maturity curve that they could be tapping into now?”

39:18 – Do it all

Allie said it’s important to put in the work to diversify your product. If you have the time and resources, try to reach as many areas as possible.

“In my mind, if it’s a relatively straightforward project, do it all. It’s going to be a little bit more manual. Maybe you can come up with an automated system or something where you can, like I said, duplicate your efforts across the board. But to me, it’s about diversification, too. If we want to pull in the barbell strategy, you might as well have some smaller and then higher engaged projects, whether they’re newsletters or blogs or partners or promotion channels. And then you have a couple that are, ‘Well, these are my big bets, and maybe they’ll work out, maybe they won’t.’ That would be my argument is, why not try everything? Obviously, if it’s a paid project there’s budget involved and all of that. But something a little bit more organic, I don’t know, I see the value in trying it all.”

45:32 – Build a moat

Alex said when you find success in a blue ocean, other people will start to flock to it. So, build a moat to ensure that you maintain power even as the market becomes more competitive.

“You start out in a blue ocean. You’re the weirdo. You attract a crowd of like-minded individuals, and you grow to something that is less resembling that, but have you built a moat? Is there any way to build a moat if you start out in a blue ocean, or is every ocean eventually going to become red and you’re going to be swimming among the sharks? I think you can build a mote with owned audiences, and I think SEO is a great way to build compounding traffic. Obviously it’s not foolproof. People can come in and spend more money and attack you on certain keywords and take those positions. But I think overall, the more you invest in SEO, it becomes marginally cheaper to do so over time. So you can pour more and more money back into it. And that’s kind of a flywheel. Same thing with email, same thing with community. The more people who are on your list, the more people who are in your community, the more valuable it becomes, and the less likely it is somebody else is going to be able to compete with that.”

47:18 – Find your own blue ocean

David said you have to look carefully for blue ocean opportunities in a competitive market because they aren’t always easy to find.

“It’s just a matter of finding where that blue ocean is. If the industry’s a red ocean, then maybe you have an opportunity for a different type of go to market where it’s blue ocean and there aren’t that many players. Or maybe there’s an opportunity looking at SEO. Within each different strategy there might be a blue ocean approach where you can do something different from what your competitors are doing. And for us, what we typically do is we do find those opportunities in the content and SEO space where it’s like, ‘Yep, here’s a clear opportunity.’ Maybe it’s not as big as we’d like for it to be because there’s so many competitors, but it’s going to be the tip of the spear to help you grab the audience that is going to be more likely to convert and use your product versus trying to go with broad brush strokes, trying to grab all the high volume search keywords that are already taken.”

51:10 – Leverage what makes your company unique

Allie said you don’t have to emulate other people in order to compete with them. Focus on what makes you unique instead of trying to copy what other people are doing.

“The way I look at our business is we are the product. Us and our team, especially the three of us. And it’s been really cool to index on the things that make us different, because when you think about it, we are all blue oceans in ourselves. We all have things that are unique to us. And it’s been cool to just focus on that and not think about how can we be like everybody else and then beat them? We can beat other people without having to emulate them. We can talk about how we might be better. And I think zooming out, that’s why content marketing is a very powerful moat for red oceans because it allows companies, whether they’re product or services, to leverage what makes the team and the people behind the product unique. If that guides your content marketing strategy, there’s ways to still rank for content, but have that content, whether it’s thought leadership, hybrid content, all the different things that we talk about on our podcast. I feel like it’s one way to set yourself apart in a pretty busy space. So not necessarily compete and win, but just differentiate in general.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.