Director of Client Success, Partner, Speaker, 8+ Years Sales & Client Success Expertise
September 22nd, 2015
One of the most common questions I get asked by new clients is how to leverage the content of the competition.
That is, clients are either curious what they can learn from what their competitors are putting out or they want to know a strategy to leverage their competitor's content in their favor.
After discussing this with so many clients, I've decided to sit down and create a resource that everyone can learn from.
There are two primary ways in which you can directly benefit from your competition's content:
You can learn what works in your industry by doing a competitive analysis.
You can create better alternatives to their existing content to beat them in the search engines and in social.
There's no reason to feel intimidated if your competitors are publishing amazing content -- that's actually a good thing. The better their content is and the more successful their content is, the more you can learn.
After all, you want to learn from the best, not from the mediocre. Otherwise, you're stuck trying to figure everything out on your own.
You might think you know what content strategy will work best with your buyer persona, but it helps to have some concrete evidence to back it up.
You will be tempted to skip this part because it can be tedious and time-consuming. However, by front-loading the work now you will be saving yourself a lot of time (and money) in the future.
A full competitive analysis will help you identify the strengths and weaknesses in your competitor's content strategy -- from which you can build the foundation of yours. This allows you to hit the ground running and gives you the confidence that you aren't wasting your efforts because you have a clear idea of what works and what doesn't.
Instead of trying to come up with a bunch of topics that you hope your persona will want to read about, you can start by getting ideas from topics that have already been successful in your niche.
To do this, go to your competitor's website and look for their most popular content. Many companies will make this easy for you by showing a list of their most popular posts. However, that won't always be the case and even if it is, this list typically only shows around five to ten articles.
You're looking for blog topics that not only have traffic but also the highest engagement -- that means comments and social shares.
You can imagine how time-consuming this can get. Luckily there's a tool that allows you to type in the URL of the website you want to analyze and then it shows you a list of the articles that have been shared the most. This tool is called BuzzSumo.
With BuzzSumo, you can see the top five results for free, but you have to subscribe to their service (starting at $99 per month) to see the full report.
Once you've done this analysis for your top competitors, you should easily have a list of 50 to 100 topics that you can write about that you know have performed well.
Another component of your content strategy to consider is the frequency that you post new content. Some brands only publish content once a week or less, while others (like us) post several articles a day.
Ultimately, you will have to test this out to see what works best for your audience. However, the easiest way to figure out where to start is to look at what your competitors are doing.
If all of your competitors are publishing content Monday through Friday, there's a chance that they've trained the market to expect that kind of post frequency. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to do the same, but you should strongly consider matching their frequency until you've got a better idea of what your particular audience likes.
If most of your competitors are only publishing content every 7 to 10 days, there are a couple of ways that you can look at this. You can make it easier on yourself and simply meet the quota that they've set or you could decide to differentiate by publishing content at a higher frequency. A major factor in your decision will be the resources required to create content.
Typically, there are three ways to address this:
Hire or leverage a content marketer internally within your organization
Use an outsourced content writing platform like WriterAccess or hire and manage a freelance writer
Work with an Agency to have them manage the entire process, collaborating with your team to keep content publishing consistently.
You might be wondering what type of frequency is best. HubSpot has found that an average company will see a 45% growth in traffic when increasing total blog articles from 11-20 to 21-50 articles.
However, every buyer persona is different. The most important thing, regardless of who your persona is, is that you are consistent (there’s that word again) with the frequency you choose. Your subscribers will become used to your schedule and will expect new posts -- you don't want to let them down.
The length of your posts is another important factor of your content strategy that you can fine-tune with help from your competitors. Neil Patel of QuickSprout found that posts more than 1,500 words received 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than articles with fewer than 1,500 words, but again, every audience has different preferences.
There are several things to consider when deciding on the post length that you'd like to stick to:
What does your buyer persona want / need?
What performs best for SEO?
What do you have the resources to consistently produce?
This is something that you'll likely benchmark and adapt over time, based on what your reader engagement but the best way to know where to start is to look at what your competition is doing
If your competitor consistently publishes content around the same length, this makes it easier for you.
All you need is the word count from five or ten posts and then you take the average. You can get the word count by either doing a copy/paste into Microsoft Word or you can enter the URL's into this bulk web page word count checker.
If your competitor is posting content of varying lengths, you want to figure out which of those content are performing the highest. To do this, you take the exact same approach that you did to find blog topics, only this time you are looking at the post lengths of the most popular articles.
In some cases, these numbers can be all over the place and I suggest starting with the average word count of the most popular articles in this scenario. Most of the time, though, you will see an obvious trend.
Each brand has a unique approach to the authorship of their content.
You might see content authored exclusively by the company owner, by several employees, by freelance writers, by guest authors, or some combination. Each approach has its benefits.
By having yourself or members of your team create all of your content, it establishes credibility for your brand and team.
On the other hand, some companies only publish content from outside influencers in their market that use their product / service. This can not only lend variety to the content, it adds an element of social proof and industry penetration.
Keep in mind, there isn’t a secret formula to the right content. Just understand first that it should be a mix, and that a mix presents greater visibility and thought leadership surrounding your content.
When thinking about how authorship plays into your competition, it will be helpful to use an approach similar to ours in helping our clients with Inbound Marketing.
Visualize the gaps. Review their content mix and identify where they’re missing credibility. Are all their posts coming from “CompanyName?” Are they syndicating any content from industry partners? If they aren’t, it presents an opportunity for your content to fill the gap in the marketplace by providing content that your personas are most likely longing for but aren’t seeing: different voices, being helpful, and providing inspiration.
Figuring out where your competitor has submitted guest posts helps in two ways:
You can engage within that same outlet, putting your brand in front of that same audience and hopefully winning them over with superior content.
You can conserve valuable time in figuring out where to guest post
I often hear from prospects that they know guest blogging is important, but they’re not sure which places will be most effective for them. Some of your competitors may have already figured this out. Why not leverage their time and research to your advantage?
That doesn't mean you should limit yourself only to the places that your competition has guest blogged, but it makes sense to start somewhere that has already shown a willingness to work with a brand like yours.
Many brands will have a "featured in" section on their website that shows you exactly where they've submitted guest posts to, but not all will --- and that typically doesn't include all of the places they have submitted content to either.
To get a full rundown of where they are guest blogging, there are a few approaches you can take. The easiest one is to use a premium tool, like BuzzSumo, to generate a report of the backlinks to their website. Then look for links from major publications, visit those URLs, and confirm the link actually links. However, as mentioned above, a premium feature like this will require a paid subscription. Well worth it!
You can accomplish this (to a less comprehensive degree) using the free tool Backlinks Watch.
It's not as important that you find every single source of guest content that your competitor has submitted -- you're simply looking for the places where they have received the most engagement, because this gives you a clear idea of where you will likely get the most engagement.
Social Media Presence and Content
If you don't know which social media platforms your buyer persona prefers, a good place to look for them is where your competition is most active.
Another thing to consider is the type of content that they publish on social media.
Do they ask a lot of questions and spark debates? Do they joke around or do they keep it serious? Do they share content outside of the content they've created?
Make note of their behavior and keep track of what people engage with most. This will help you know which approach to take when you are first getting started or give you ideas to change up your current strategy.
Using this information, there are two common approaches that you might take to leverage your competitor's content for your own benefit:
You add to the conversation that they've started.
You create content on the same topic in such a way that their original content is obsolete.
Below, I’ll address the “Why” and “How” of these tactics.
Adding to the Conversation
The first strategy you can use to leverage your competitor's content is to add to the conversation they've already started.
You can do this by either making a post that agrees and expands upon the topic with your unique perspective or you can take the opposite approach and share a contradicting argument.
The controversial approach - creating content that refutes or debates a topic that your competitor has written about, will in many cases receive the greatest engagement, both positive and negative (tread lightly).
Healthy debates and taking sides, however, can inspire loyalty from your followers and may even influence some of the customers of your competition.
The Skyscraper Technique
This is where your competitive analysis really pays off.
There's a strategy that successful bloggers have used for years to one-up the competition, although this strategy never had a real name and most people kept it to themselves.
The difference here is that you would normally use the Skyscraper Technique to target a keyword, but I'm going to show you how to use the same strategy to target your competitor's content.
The first step is identifying a piece of content they've created that has performed well and is also relevant to your buyer persona.
Then you want to search the web for the best content created on that topic.
Once you've got your topic and several high-quality resources that have already received a ton of engagement -- you're going to make a better version.
You accomplish this by creating a post that is:
On top of that, you will link to all of the other posts and resources within your content. Not only does this allow you to cite your sources and give them their fair credit, but you are also signaling to Google that your content is relevant to those articles.
By creating the longest and most in-depth article on the subject, your content naturally becomes the best resource.
Longer content isn't a requirement for top rankings in Google, but it does tend to rank higher. Take a look at the average word count of content relative to the average Google rankings:
Although content length does increase SEO, your content still has to be high-quality. Content length is only one metric that Google measures.
As long as you explain the topic in more detail and you ensure that your information is as up-to-date as possible, you know that you've created valuable content that is useful for your buyer persona.
Do you see how all of that research from your competitive analysis comes in handy?
You know exactly what it takes to create content that is better than their's because you know exactly what is working for them.
There you have it. No need to be intimidated by your competitor’s content. Rather, visualize it is a tool to your success. We’ve reviewed some definitive ways to create opportunities through your competitor’s content. In summary:
Begin with a comprehensive Competitive Analysis and focus on the following:
The topics your competitors are writing about that are receiving the most engagement
How often they’re posting that content
The length or comprehensiveness of their articles
Where they are syndicating their content outside of their own website
Their reach and influence on specific social networks
Continue by building upon your competitor’s content using the following two methods.
Create value by adding to their conversation. Take a deeper dive into a topic they’ve started or by assume a completely different stance on the subject to generate passionate interest.
The Skyscraper Technique: Essentially one-upping the successful content of your competitors by starting with a post of theirs as inspiration and expanding it into an even better post on your site.
The above strategies will help you create content that receives more organic traffic, gets more social shares, and receives more links from other websites.