Spying On The Competition To Create Better Content Marketing: Techniques and Tools
Content Marketing is when you use content indirectly to market your business, services, or products. The content is typically objective (a general interest topic), providing real value to the consumer of the content in the form of something educational, insightful, and/or entertaining. Importantly, what it doesn’t do is put the product front and center. Content marketing takes a more subtle, long-game approach to selling. It’s creating engaging, well made content to either teach the viewers, or engage them more, to take an action.
That said, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what size business you have–the name of the game is competing for attention and it stands to reason that if you want to stand out from your competition, you must know what your competitors are doing.
Conducting an audit on your competitors’ is a bit like spying. Before you get all weirded out remember... (I said “spying” not stealing”). When it comes to branding, I’m a big fan of looking at what competitors are doing. Not to mimic them, but sometimes to understand how the competition is positioning themselves, so I can create a unique brand and position my clients differently. A competitive content audit accomplishes the same goal. It helps analyze your competitor’s existing content and strategies so you can differentiate your brand’s content marketing.
In this article, I will give you techniques of spying and tools that you can use to implement them. There’s just one rule: No copycats allowed.
So, don’t be afraid. Take a look.
SPYING: Conducting an audit on your competitors’
Who to spy on?
I recommend not just spying on direct competitors, but to also spy on industry leaders, and against a business or two that you think is excelling (this business does not need to be in your industry). By taking this more expanded view, you can gain intelligence from industry leaders and from strategic minds of top performers. A word of caution – be strategic and keep the number of companies to a reasonable number.
Look at their target market
Before you look at anything else, you need to first understand your competitor’s target market. Don’t assume another business is competing for your same audience. Just because they’re in the same market does not mean they are trying to attract the same customers. However, if you find they are targeting the same audience as you, you want to understand how they are targeting them.
The best way to audit your competitors is to act as if you are their client/customer. Look through their social media channels, sign up for their emails and visit their forums to see what people are complaining about. You can also look at review sites that do service/ product comparisons. Sign up for Google Alerts. (Getting updates on your competitions' activity online is absolutely free via Google Alerts, and it couldn't be easier to set up. Just insert your competitors' names into the search query and select what results you want to be notified of -- including news, blogs, video and discussion. You can have those notifications sent to you as they happen, every day or weekly).
Monitor your competitors' websites
You can learn a lot about your competition by keeping an eye on their website. Keep up with the new functionalities they add and see what kind of traction they may be getting.
Look At ALL Their Content. Your competitors probably address a small range of topics in their content. Usually, these topics are based on their strengths, the things their services /product does best.
The goal here is to make sure all the marketing elements that form your brand experience are better than those of your competitors. If you see something that doesn't seem to be working, could the same be said of your marketing? Adjust accordingly.
There are three ways to use this to your advantage:
#1: Attack their weaknesses By creating content that addresses the topics they aren’t. Attract the audiences they’re missing out on.
#2: Go after their strengths Do this only if your service/product can beat them at those strengths. If you can’t, then downplay their strengths in your content and focus on yours.
#3: Show up first: Your competitors’ content diversity might vary, too. Some might focus solely on blog content, while others have bigger YouTube channels, podcasts or webinars.
Look for opportunities to establish a presence in channels before your competitors do. If they aren’t on YouTube, get there first. If they’ve not been blogging on LinkedIn, start putting content there and build a following. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the blog on your website. It just means that you need to expand faster to reach other audiences first.
Look at their SEO strategy
SEO strategy is the process of organizing content by topic, which helps search engines like Google understand a user's intent when searching. By optimizing around topics, then keywords within that topic, you can increase your expertise in the eyes of a search engine and rank well for long-tail keywords related to that topic.
The other side of the coin is figuring out what keywords your competition is targeting. What are they ranking for, and what are they not ranked for? If your competitor has lodged itself firmly at the top for a certain keyword, it might be futile to try to dislodge them. Use Alexa’s free Site Overview Tool to see competitor data, like where their website traffic comes from and their paid and organic keywords, backlink profile, audience interests, and more. That doesn’t mean you cede those keywords to them. Instead, start by attacking other keywords that they aren’t ranking for which enables you to identify where you can beat them.
What to do with your research?
When you do all your research, put it together into a document. This document doesn’t need to be updated too often, but it helps to check in every quarter to stay up to date on your competition.
Remember, you are spying, not copying. You want to be the leader in the playing field/industry. Exploit weaknesses and target gaps that others have missed, but don’t get sucked into copying your competitors’ strategies.
Make a list of your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses in service/product, content, and keywords. Start by identifying what can be won with little effort, the weaknesses you can exploit, and address those in your content and SEO.
Once you’ve incorporated the low-hanging fruit into your plan, you can assess the feasibility of going after their strengths. The perfect combination is when they target a popular topic, but they aren’t ranking for those keywords and their service/product does not address all the issues around that topic. The popularity of the topic gives you an indication that people care about that, which means you can swoop in with a better service/product and start to rank for those keywords.
It’s now time to focus on you. Once you feel like you understand how your competitors are communicating, put them aside.
Now you have a clear idea of what audience your competitors are targeting, what features they’re touting, what content they’re creating, and what keywords they rank for. It’s time to take it all into account in your own unique content plan. Don’t let the competition dictate your content strategy. You should already have a brand strategy based on your company, service/product, and target audience. Any information you’ve gained from auditing your competition should feed into this, instead of dictating a new strategy.
Ok so now it’s time to get to work creating content. I have two words for you: Organic Traffic. This refers to traffic resulting from any unpaid means. Social media and search engines are two of the primary sources of organic traffic for most small businesses.
Creating engaging content helps attract organic traffic, either through social shares or search engines finding your blogs will help you build an audience who might potentially become loyal clients/customers simply by providing useful, relevant, and interesting content for them.
Useful — In order to attract and build an audience, the content you provide has to benefit them in some way. Whether you are sharing knowledge or handy information, providing actionable materials like worksheets, checklists, or guides, or sharing an instructional video, or tips, the goal should be about helping your target audience.
Relevant — Remember that your eventual goal is to turn them into your clients or customers, which means that the content has to be relevant for your ideal target audience.
Interesting — The key idea is that the content should capture the audience’s attention and engage them entirely. The secret to making your content interesting is the same as making any subject interesting. Know your audience. Know the subject matter. Tell your audience things they need or want to know, but currently don’t. That’s hard to do if you’re not an expert in the subject matter. So, to do it, you’ll need to either conduct plenty of research yourself or hire a solid content creator to help you.
( A word about hiring a content creator or service: You want outside-the-box thinkers. When shopping around, ask yourself; Does it seem like they recommend the same package to every single client, or are they talking about ideas or content types you haven’t heard of? The message should be that every client and situation is different because every client’s goals are different. Your content creator should be willing and able to create a solution that is customized for just you).
Timeliness — Lastly, your content should ideally be something so useful and relevant across different time periods that anyone reading it at any time would benefit from it. Alternatively, it can also be timely, like producing seasonal content to capture the festive mood during December.
Put your knowledge to work
Once you have worked through the initial steps of planning a successful content marketing strategy, the real fun begins. It’s time to start pushing valuable, effective content out. If you’ve spent the time and effort upfront to really think through your strategy, you will reap the rewards in good time.
This involves creating and promoting content with the goals of building brand awareness, increasing traffic to your website, generating leads and converting customers.
Start by creating useful and relevant materials for your potential clients/customers. Just remember that your strategy should be fluid, and you should be able to adjust your plans as you move forward and find what is working and what isn’t.
The content you create can take many forms:
Blog posts: Starting a blog - and using strategic, long tail keywords in your articles - is a great way to bring traffic to your site and engage your customers.
E-books and white papers: Adding in-depth, long-form content to your website establishes your expertise in the industry and builds trust among your audience. You can also offer this content for download in exchange for your readers’ contact information, helping you generate leads.
Videos: Website content doesn’t need to be in written form. Adding videos to your website and social platforms is an engaging way to provide valuable information to your audience.
Infographics: Another form of visual content, infographics are a fun, helpful way to make information easier for readers to conceptualize. Complex explanations and statistics are particularly well-suited to this content format.
Podcasts: This audible content format is a useful way to strengthen your connection with your audience and build a loyal community around your brand. To start a podcast, try repurposing existing website content, such as blog posts, and adapting it for audio.
Webinars: A merging of “web” and “seminar,” webinars further engage your audience, establish your authority, and delight customers with the extra value they provide.
Whichever content formats you choose, be sure to focus on subject matter that’s relevant and valuable for your audience and that will help boost your website’s SEO.
Make your posts eye-catching and unique.
Social media users engage more with content that is visually-appealing than with content that’s purely textual.
Get Help With Your Visuals and/or Copy
Let’s face it: not everyone has a knack for visuals or writing, and not every business owner has the time or talent to invest in writing all their social media content themselves. So, how do you produce great social media content in such a situation? Simple—you get a professional who can do it for you!
I hope you learned a lot and know how to spy on your competitors content to identify their strengths, weaknesses and opportunity gaps, so you can carve out a unique direction for your own content marketing. Just remember – don’t simply copy your competitors. All intel gathering using described tools and techniques should make you smarter and help you create your own strategy.
One more thing: Spies don't reveal their techniques or the tools they use, but there is one exception – sharing this article.So don’t be shy and invite your friends to read and help them spy on their competitors as well.
I can help you get your brand out there— REALLY WORKING FOR YOU!
If you’re looking for a qualified professional to handle your business’s branding and marketing, check out my studio: “consider yourself BRANDED” If you find you just need a bit of coaching I also offer coaching sessions, which you can learn about here: https://www.cybranded.com/brand-coaching