What the hell is a Red Ocean?
One of my favorite business books is Blue Ocean Shift by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne.
It’s a book that builds off its predecessor, Blue Ocean Strategy — a book about strategy and how to select the right niche and adjacent niches to intercept.
Here’s the stitch.
Kim & Mauborgne use oceans as an analogy for markets. In a Blue Ocean, we can move freely, swim about, sail, you name it. However, let’s not forget our competition (described as murderous sharks).
As more and more competitors (sharks) enter our Blue Ocean, the waters become more bloody.
It’s hard to move forward, make traction, or even sail your boat as the water is SO Red and hostile to move through (a Red Ocean).
This is where Kim & Mauborgne take readers on a whole slew of tactics and methods for adjusting to a Blue Ocean Strategy (AKA, finding a niche you can actually gain traction in).
Where their second book, Blue Ocean Shift, comes in is regarding HOW real people and businesses made the shift (the practical side of the concept).
Anyway it’s an excellent book and if my memory serves me right, they reference another one of my all-time favorite books, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. I think this is why I REALLY like this book: the authors literally referenced 2-3 of my favorite business books.
SEO is a Red Ocean — Tread Carefully Small Business Owners
I write about sub-niches of sales and marketing but am often swamped with competition on Google.
So when I create a blog post “The Ultimate SEO Guide”, am I able to rank? Sure if time and money aren’t a factor, but that’s not how the SEO game works.
We rank content on Google so people find our websites and MAYBE convert on an ebook or product. For information-based companies like Marketing Qualified, we’re looking at gaining subscribers or (fingers crossed) leads.
That’s about it.
If I continuously revisit my content, keep it updated, and constantly defend from competitors, I might stand a chance on some SEO topics, but I’d also use up a lot of time and resources. And yes, there are businesses that do this, but those companies know which specific pieces of content drive x% of their conversion (so they play into it).
But overall, it’s not practical for me to assume I can commit to SEO in the same way that players like Hubspot do. They have more people, more tools, more capacity.
So we’re in a Red Ocean? Well.. not quite.
Where SEO Works for Us
There are topics Marketing Qualified can rank for, but it’s not all fame and glory.
Using the Blue Ocean Strategy, we have niched down over the years. At first, we wrote about general business practices, then sales and marketing, then CRMs & Marketing Automation.
More and more, we narrowed down our topics to focus on Blue Oceans where we could actually make traction.
But the more specific we get with our content, the less amount of people search for our keywords. Think about how many times you’ve ever Googled the difference between Hubspot and Salesforce (I’m willing to bet you probably haven’t). Those keyword phrases become our targets (it’s very micro).
When we rank for these specific terms, we get ~10 visits/month. It’s low, but they’re high-quality contacts.
A few years ago, a marketing consultant told me my goal for Average Session Duration (for blog posts) should be ~2m30s. But after niching down and adjusting to serve fewer visitors, our session duration went up to about 8 minutes per blog post.
It’s working for us, but at a cost. Instead of fighting for 10,000 visitors per month, we get 1,000 organic visitors (on a much more micro topic).
I guess the real question is whether you’d rather convert 1% of 10,000 people or 10% of 1,000.
Personally, I’d pick the 10% conversion rate.
Video SEO is Still a Blue Ocean for B2B Companies
Moving from search SEO to video SEO, we’re seeing some serious potential in businesses doing video.
I mean.. this is obvious because we all know the power of video, but many businesses still aren’t doing it (including Marketing Qualified until recently).
And yeah, online video has been around for more than a decade, but after playing with it myself, I feel it’s still in its early stages for B2B companies. Why are we separating personality and lifestyle from business videos? Is it unprofessional? What is professional nowadays? I don’t know but TikTok is fun.
Back to video marketing. I believe we delayed our entry to video marketing because it was easier to write a blog post instead of film and edit a video. We were stuck in that passive behavior of doing easy things instead of hard things that would actually get us ahead.
Anyway, we’re doing YouTube and it’s very enjoyable. Our videos are ranking at the top of YouTube’s search results and the views/subscribers are growing.
I didn’t have to scrape my competitors, analyze dialogues, or plan out a whole curriculum. I just applied the SEO tactics I’ve picked up over the years of blogging and my videos ranked.
BUT here’s a good question: if we’re doing YouTube to get subscribers with hopes they go to our blog and also become subscribers… double opt-ins… wait a minute… why? When do leads come in?
- Our videos are gaining subscribers, views, and comments, yet almost none of our blog posts have a single comment.
- Our videos link back to our Channel. It’s kind of like a home page.
- Our Channel links back to our website where people can schedule a meeting (or buy a product for others).
So I can I just link my main CTA to my Channel and call it a day? Are websites simply becoming payment gates for our profiles on Medium, YouTube, Spotify, etc?
Matching Your Org’s Channels to What Makes Sense (And Choosing Your Channels Wisely)
If I were ONLY a YouTube creator, I’d be fine without a website. If I sold services, I could add a link to my Channel where people could book an appointment. Likewise, if I were an Instagram Model, I could probably do the same thing.
This holds true for products too. Why not just add a link to your Amazon page and sell there?
These are valid points.
Right now, many people carry a perception that a website makes you legitimate, but I think that’ll go away in the future.
We maintain a website because we maintain a blog. We COULD do the whole thing on Medium, but we wanted more control over the look and feel of our content. When you visit Marketing Qualified, you’re in OUR space and we can alter that experience for visitors.
And look.. we’ve done the rabbit hole of creating an intro snippet on Medium and LinkedIn articles to then link back to a blog post. People found it annoying, stating “I get 1 paragraph in and you want me to click elsewhere?? Just give me the full post dude”.
This is a controversial topic, but I’m personally not a huge fan of the Gary Vaynerchuk content model. YES, it allows you to be everywhere. YES, it allows you to repurpose your content again and again (making quotes and such). But doing things that are “quick and easy” comes off to me as lazy and a spray-and-pray tactic. I’d rather see someone put in the effort.
But if taking the effort-road, every channel takes time and energy to maintain, nourish, and grow.
If you’re a 1-person company and you’re trying to make it big on all of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok, YouTube, WordPress, Mailchimp, etc etc etc., you’re going burn out.
Select your channels and don’t try to do them all at once. Otherwise, you’ll be mediocre at them all.
Start with one and work with it until you’re happy with the pace and quality of it. Once there, then you can start feeling out the next channel.
In our early days, we started on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Mailchimp. We did a horrible job at maintaining our Twitter account and it showed. We were okay on LinkedIn, but it wasn’t anything to ‘wow’ over. So we narrowed it down to just Facebook and we actually put some heart into it.
It’s been good, and now we’re expanding efforts to a new channel, YouTube.
Just be smart about where you place time, energy, and effort. Don’t burn yourself out.
Conclusion — Takeaways without the Fluff
I’ll keep the conclusion short and sweet.
Search SEO (Google):
- It’s hard.
- The trick is to be SUPER specific, but that also means less traffic (but higher-quality).
- Aim for keywords and phrases you can actually rank for.
- Would you rather convert 1% of 10,000 or 10% of 1,000?
Video SEO (YouTube):
- Wow this is easy to get B2B content ranking.
- A view is kind of like a page visit.
- A Channel is kind of like a homepage.
Choose Your Marketing Channels Wisely
- Can you business afford to be on every platform?
- Which platforms matter most to your buyers? Where do they hang out?
- The rule with all content: mediocre effort, mediocre results.