Ever wondered why your content marketing strategies aren’t getting you profitable results?
You know you’ve done everything right. You’ve read a ton of guides, followed every step to the letter, and perhaps even managed to generate a handful of traffic along the way.
Yet, you’re stuck trying to claw your way to through the competition while the top brands in your niche make all the dough.
It may seem unfair, but that’s just the way things are — especially if you’re not relentless enough to be on the offensive.
Remember, content marketing is like a war zone.
The goal isn’t just to focus on your own campaign and try to catch up to your competitors. If you want to dominate your niche, you must also analyze your competitors’ strategies, figure out what works, and adopt them as your own.
Why Do Competitor Research?
“I already did hours of research, why should I do some more?”, you may ask.
Granted, you’ve probably already done back-breaking research at this point.
To be fair, it’s reasonable to give credence to the truckloads of guides and learning resources available out there. After all, if you found them, search engines like Google must’ve recognized them as relevant and effective.
What those guides tend to overlook, however, are the plethora of variables that are unique to your business.
How do customers in your market respond to online content? Are there any trends and fads that influence their perception of brands?
We could go on and on about the fine details that can affect the success of your content marketing campaigns.
That’s why you need to research your competitors. Rather than sweeping through online guides for general tips, your competitors’ strategies are already fine-tuned to work in your specific niche.
Then let’s not waste any more time — here are the steps that will help you pull this off:
1. Know Who to Target
To reap the full benefits of competitor research, you need to go after big game.
Identifying your top competitors and targeting them in your research will most likely yield profitable results.
If you’ve been in business for a while, there’s a chance that you already know who they are. But if you’re new or weren’t paying attention to the competition, then you have some work to do.
You can use review and comparison websites that focus on similar brands as a starting point.
Yelp, for example, is the go-to review website for local businesses — from pizza parlors to landscapers.
While Yelp may not be the ideal review or comparison website for your business, it reflects how most of those websites can be used to find competitors.
For the sake of this guide, let’s say you run an HVAC repairs company in Toronto, Canada.
On Yelp, you simply have to enter a seed keyword and specify the right location.
Take note that the first results you see on the platform could be ads. The competitors you really want to target are those who earned the top spots the old fashioned way — by generating a lot of positive reviews.
The same approach can be used if you want to look for competitors on search engines. As long as you know a couple of seed keywords that are relevant in your niche, you’re golden.
Using the keyword “HVAC repairs Canada” on Google, a new set of competitors have surfaced:
For now, you can list down all the competitors you find in a spreadsheet along with a link to each of their websites.
What’s that — you want to find more competitors?
In that case, below are a few other places where you can find popular competitors in your niche.
- Social media networks
- YouTube “Top” videos
- Online survey results
2. Use SEO Tools to Sort Your Competitors
With the previous step, you should have no problem identifying dozens of competitors you’d love to dig into.
The question is, which one of them should you target first?
To cut the guesswork, use a tool like Link Explorer to get the hard numbers.
Link Explorer is the revamped version of Open Site Explorer — a tool that was widely used by marketers and SEO practitioners to gain a crystal clear view of a website’s backlink profile.
Backlink analysis is a critical part of competitor research, but for now, let’s use the tool to check out the Domain Authority (DA) of each competitor. This is a search engine ranking metric created by Moz, which is directly linked to a website’s ranking power and overall popularity.
For example, if you consider Neil Patel as one of your competitors, just enter his domain URL and click the magnifying glass button.
After a few seconds, Link Explorer will immediately present you with your competitor’s DA rating along with metrics like the total number of linking domains, inbound links, and keywords they are currently ranking for.
While you’re at it, you may also include other metrics you deem relevant to your competitor research.
For instance, the number of links a competitor recently lost or earned will tell you if they have an active SEO campaign or not.
3. Dissect Their Content
Next comes the fun part of competitor research.
Using your spreadsheet, pay each of your competitor’s website a visit to perform a preliminary analysis of their content marketing strategy.
A competitor’s homepage alone should provide you with some insights into how they manage to captivate their audience.
Here’s a list of design aspects that you should pay attention to:
Does your competitor feature explainer videos or infographics?
As the online content space gets noisier, more marketers adopt visual content to help their brand stand out. Spying on your top competitors’ home and landing pages will allow you to determine which types of visual content appeal to your audience.
Aside from visuals in your competitor’s content, you should also look for website design components such as sliders, cards, and comparison tables — there’s always a good reason why the top brands in your niche use them.
Website navigation and user experience go hand in hand.
When studying your competitor’s website, take a look at the navigation elements they use to help visitors discover more of their site. Some examples are menus, internal links, social media buttons, sidebar taxonomies, and search bars.
Brands nowadays use a variety of blogging tones to keep their audience engaged.
The traditional style is to use formal and authoritative language, but there’s an increasing number of businesses that adopt a more humorous tone.
Of course, it’s still preferable to uphold and promote your unique brand voice, but you shouldn’t be afraid to implement some flexibility if it means better engagement rates. This will allow you to cater to a wider audience with different behaviors and needs.
Brands that invest in epic, long-form content always see to it that it’s heavily promoted, and it’s not hard to see why.
You see, longer content that’s packed with useful information tend to rank higher in search engines. Statistics from Backlinko support the fact that the top five results on Google have an average length of over 1,900 words.
However, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to content length. The only way to be sure is to measure the word count of your competitors’ posts and aim to at least match them.
Lastly, your top competitor’s website is a goldmine of useful content ideas that will help you grab your audience’s attention.
If they segment their content into categories, start with the ones that have the highest number of posts. From there, it should be easy to identify content pieces that garner the most engagement — be it in the form of comments, social media shares, and likes.
4. Study Their Link Building Strategy
Now that you got ahold of your competitors’ best content, it’s time to look at their backlink sources.
In content marketing, high-quality backlinks expose your brand to organic traffic and potentially increase your search engine rankings.
By understanding your competitors’ content strategy, you should be more than able to produce link-worthy content. The next challenge is to find the right places where you can maximize the benefits of your links.
Fortunately, you already have a tool that can unveil the backlink profile of your competitor’s website.
On Link Explorer, simply enter their content’s URL and navigate to the “Inbound Links” section. This lists down all backlinks that particular post has.
As an added bonus, Link Explorer will also identify the anchor texts your competitors use for their backlinks. You may also navigate to the “Anchor Texts” section for a more comprehensive look at their keyword strategy.
The only step remaining is to ensure your website’s content outperform that of your competitor’s in every way imaginable.
Here are a some of the best strategies that will help you accomplish this:
- Include More Updated Information
At this point, there’s a chance your top competitor’s content already contains outdated information. Use these as an opportunity to craft something that’s perceivably better in the eyes of their backlink sources.
- Focus on Your Website’s Performance
A website’s loading speed not only affects its search engine rankings — it’s also one of the most important user experience factors you can’t afford to miss. Some of the proven ways to improve your website’s performance are to implement image compression, leverage a CDN for reduced latency, and use Google PageSpeed Insights for actionable recommendations.
- Add More Meat
Finally, try to add more value to your content by incorporating more visual content and expanding ideas. A listicle, for example, can be improved by adding more key takeaways whereas data-driven posts can use more infographics to make information more digestible.
The best thing about competitor research is that you’re almost guaranteed the strategies will work.
Your top competitors already ran the numbers and put them to the test. As long as you use the strategies above, you are guaranteed to get the results you need.
If you have suggestions, concerns, or anything else you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to speak out. The comment section below is yours!