How To Outsmart Your Competition With Content Marketing

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Everybody wants an edge.  And hey, everybody needs one. Small businesses launch and die too often. Even if you’re among the lucky ones that thrive, there are no guarantees for the future.

The best way to beat your competition hasn’t changed since business started. Just create a killer product or service, delight your customers, and do it all profitably. However, you’d be naïve to think that simply being good is enough to win in business.

Just ask Ned Stark from “Game of Thrones.”

You have to know what your competition is doing. It’s too easy to get blindsided otherwise. And, ideally, you need to beat them at their own game.

Content marketing is particularly well suited for this. Here’s why: Most of what works or doesn’t work in content marketing is public. Because of this, it’s easy to take all of your competitors’ successes and failures and leverage them for yourself. Here’s what you can learn about another company’s content marketing program:

• What they publish (both on their blog and anywhere else)

• How well what they publish does on social media

• Which keywords they rank for

• What they’re doing with pay-per-click advertising, which terms they bid on, what they pay for it, and their ad copy

• Whether their social media following is growing or shrinking, and how engaged they are

• How their site performs

• Where their links are and when they got them

There’s more, but that’s probably enough to pique your interest. The point is that you can get a complete content marketing diagnostic on any competitor you want, then use that information to avoid their mistake s. Apply your time and resources to do more of what’s worked for them. If you do discover they are dominating one topic, niche or angle – learn how to side-step their strengths so you don’t compete with them head on.

Sound good? Let’s dive in.

How to find out what they’re publishing

First thing to do is to sign up for their newsletter or subscribe to their blog’s RSS feed. You may want to sign up under a personal email account to stay below their radar. Then make a folder in your inbox for each competitor you want to track. After that, follow them on every social media platform they’ve got a username on.

The next thing is to set up a few Google Alerts for their company name, top products, the names of key executives and any other term someone might use to refer to them. Google Alerts are free and take about 10 seconds each to set up; however, they won’t catch everything. If you use only Google Alerts, you’ll miss references from social media. So also set up a listening station on SocialMention.com or Mention.com

Social media-monitoring tools provide real time updates on social media mentions for the term beef jerky (Credit: SocialMention.com screenshot)
Social media-monitoring tools provide real time updates on social media mentions for the term beef jerky
(Credit: SocialMention.com screenshot)

See how well what they publish does on social media – and who’s sharing it

Go to BuzzSumo.com. Paste in your competitor’s website URL. You’ll get back a list of the top articles, infographics, videos and interviews they’ve published. You’ll also be able to see how many shares each piece of content got on the major social networks.

Best of all, you’ll be able to see who shared their content. These sharers are the influencers  we all talk so much about. Now that you know which content the influencers in your industry are interested in, follow them on Twitter for a while, and then tweet to let them know when you’ve published something they might like.

BuzzSumo will show you not just which content has been shared the most, but also who’s shared it. (Credit: BuzzSumo.com screenshot)
BuzzSumo will show you not just which content has been shared the most, but also who’s shared it. (Credit: BuzzSumo.com screenshot)

Which keywords they rank for

There are many SEO tools like SpyFu, Moz and SEMRush that can tell you an awful lot about what a website ranks for. They’ll also show you which keywords your peers are bidding on and what percentage of their traffic is organic versus paid.

I’ve been using these tools, and a few others at Wasp Barcode, for several years now, and they have helped us gain immense insight into what our competition is doing, what keywords they are targeting, and how our efforts are stacking up against theirs. The ability to understand which sites are linking to our content and which keywords are truly driving qualified traffic to our site gives me the ability to focus our marketing efforts and increased our traffic from organic search by more than 30 percent year over year.

SpyFu can tell you about a competitor’s organic and paid searches, keyword success and more. (Credit: SpyFu.com screenshot)
SpyFu can tell you about a competitor’s organic and paid searches, keyword success and more. (Credit: SpyFu.com screenshot)

How to find out how engaged their social media following is and if it’s growing or shrinking

There’s a tool called Fanpage Karma  that shows how individual Facebook pages perform. That includes ranking their most popular and least popular posts, what types of posts they publish and how well they do, and all the stats on their audience growth.

Fanpage Karma reveals top posts for a competitor and the types of posts they tend to publish. (Credit: FanpageKarma.com screenshot)
Fanpage Karma reveals top posts for a competitor and the types of posts they tend to publish. (Credit: FanpageKarma.com screenshot)

To check up on a competitor on Twitter, see if they’ve got any fake followers with TwitterAudit. Then go follow all the people they’re following. Or use a tool like FollowerWonk to find out their most influential followers, and just follow them.

Twitter Audit reveals the authenticity of a competitor’s follower numbers. (Credit: TwitterAudit.com screenshot)
Twitter Audit reveals the authenticity of a competitor’s follower numbers. (Credit: TwitterAudit.com screenshot)

How to find out how well their site performs

You will want to know how their site does for on-page and technical SEO. Check out things like site speed, unique meta tags and site structure. This requires a couple of tools. Start with Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly tests. You don’t really care where your competitor comes in, so long as your site performs better. Both of these metrics matter because they’ll give you an edge in search rankings.

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly tools to see how your competitors’ sites perform. (Credit: Google Developers screenshot)
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly tools to see how your competitors’ sites perform. (Credit: Google Developers screenshot)

QuickSprout’s site comparison tool should be your next stop. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways to see how your site measures up against competitors’ sites. Hubspot’s Website Grader  is also worth a visit. If you and your competitors get a lot of traffic, Compete.com is good, too.

QuickSprout’s site comparison tool gives a great snapshot of how your site compares to up to three others. (Credit: QuickSprout.com screenshot)
QuickSprout’s site comparison tool gives a great snapshot of how your site compares to up to three others. (Credit: QuickSprout.com screenshot)

Do a complete SEO audit on their site

SEO audit tools like Screaming Frog  and Kapost’s Content Auditor can give you a deeper look into the structure and content of a competitor’s site. They may be a bit too technical for some users, but if you really want a deep dive into a competitor’s site, these are the tools to do it with.

Find out where they got their links

While the influence of links is diminishing , they aren’t obsolete yet, especially the most powerful ones (which are usually the hardest to get). So knowing where your competitors’ most powerful links are coming from is valuable information. Those same sites might give you a link or two, with the right content and wooing.

Majestic can show you where those links are. It will give you insights into which links are worth investigating and which links are mostly worthless. It can also show you “link velocity” – how fast your competitors are building links.

Majestic has been used by thousands of search engine optimizers to analyze backlink profiles. (Credit: Majestic.com screenshot)
Majestic has been used by thousands of search engine optimizers to analyze backlink profiles. (Credit: Majestic.com screenshot)

Local businesses will need to do their own Yelp and Googlesurveillance

If you’ve got a local business that gets traffic from review sites like Yelp,CitySearch or Google, you’ll need to include how your competitors fare on those sites in your analysis. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive – just list their star rating and how many reviews they have.

If you do want to go deeper, look for any trends in praise or complaints in their reviews. Is there something they’re not delivering on that you could? Can you find an unmet need?

Keep it short and sweet

Gather all this information into a spreadsheet. You’ll probably end up using a legal-sized page in order to fit everything, but try to limit it to that. It’s tempting to gather every bit of data about a competitor, but that leads to “analysis paralysis” real fast.

Remember, you’re looking for ways to take their information and apply it to your own content marketing work. Only record the information you need to do that. You’re looking for their network, their influencers, how to attract their audience. You’re looking for how they earned quality links and who gave them those links. Then take that recon and build something better.

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