The Digital Marketing Competition Stakes: Your True Rivals

Emma Derbyshire 9 months ago

‘Reinventing the wheel’ is a term we frequently use here at Zazzle HQ. Creativity isn’t always about coming up with brand new ideas every single time; (thank goodness – it would be almost impossible to come up with brand new ideas when so much content is created and consumed online in today’s digital era).

Instead, we know that successful content already exists. So, part of our work involves thinking about how we can recreate successful content in another way to make it the best piece of content of that type across the web.

Competitor analysis is absolutely key for this approach to content marketing and strategy. If we can delve into the depths of a brand’s competitor’s content (examining what has worked well, and just as as importantly, what hasn’t worked well), we can establish what content types, topics, tones and themes to turn our attention to. Pretty simple, right?

Commercial competitors vs. organic content competitors

Throughout our pitching and on-boarding processes, we gather as much information about our new client as possible. We ask: what are your objectives? Have you previously suffered any Google penalties? What are your brand guidelines/tone of voice, and most prominently for this post – who are your competitors?

Knowing a client’s competitors is not only useful from a content perspective, but also a search one too. (However, content is our focus in this post).

However, over the last 12 months, we have noticed that the competitors listed by our clients throughout these processes are usually commercial competitors opposed to organic competitors. These commercial competitors often have very little content, or their on-page tends to perform poorly - usually due to poor content strategy and seeding /promotion of the content.

While knowing their commercial competitors is useful to us from a search perspective, it isn’t exactly what we want to know from a content perspective. What we really need to know, in order to ensure our content strategies are as accurate and successful as possible, is who they are competing with organically when it comes to content.

Organic content competitors aren’t necessarily brands or people that sell the same products or services as our client. Instead, they’re the competitors who are writing the content our target audience is looking for. These competitors aren’t necessarily writing the same transactional keywords as our clients, and are instead using informational terms, e.g. ‘Why should I get international break down cover’ as opposed to ‘competitively priced breakdown cover,’ for example.

This content will require some investigation. It may be that this content is liked by your client, but does it perform well? Does it engage your target audience? You should ask yourself all these questions and do the necessary research to ensure the preferred content is worth reinventing, rather than simply basing your client’s content strategy on a brand or because your client ‘likes’ it.

What can we learn from organic content competitors?

But, why do we need to look at this organic content? Well, in short, we can look at it in order to discover who is engaging our client’s target audience with content. We can then examine how they’re generating engagement, and then focus our energy on ‘reinventing the wheel’ and ensure that we are creating similar (but bigger and better!) content for our client.

If we orchestrate this is the right way, we will create content that attracts that desired audience away from competitors towards our client, all in the name of friendly, competitive content marketing.

What should your competitor analysis look like?

What your competitor analysis looks like will depend heavily on what your client’s objectives are and what success looks like to them. If their objectives are engagement metrics, then a website audit and/or reach metrics is a great place to start. Alternatively, if a client came to you to build their social following, then a social media audit would be the most fitting.

How to find out who your organic content competitors are

Now the answer to the question I am sure you’re all asking – how do we establish who our clients’ organic competitors are?

Well, before we begin, remember that there are two very important pieces of work that need to be complete before you can conduct your content competitor analysis in the best way (note that for the purpose of this post, we will assume we are working for a car insurance brand):

  1. Keyword research

A comprehensive list of your client’s primary keywords is essential for informing your content competitor analysis. Primary keywords are those that carry the most search consistently, and (in terms of performance) will make the biggest difference for our client if our client were to rank position one. If you’re unsure how to conduct keyword data research, take a look at this golden oldie on the Zazzle blog.

  1. Audience insights & personas

Before any content competitor analysis is carried out, it is essential that you have a clear picture of the audience your client is trying to target. More specifically, what are their micro-moments and pain points?

A good knowledge of this audience means will mean that your content competitor analysis is as effective as possible.

Only once you have the above data are you fully equipped to begin the task at hand.

So, who are the competitors then?

You can begin the process by simply typing some of the identified main terms into Google, exploring the sites that rank in the top few positions. What is the hygiene (category) and hub (blog) content like on the site? Do they provide answers to the kinds of questions your client’s audience is going to be asking Google? Are there a couple of sites that reoccur throughout these searches? Is it that site A and B have been within the top four positions for the majority of the key terms you have researched? If so, we can safely label them as content competitors of your client.

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Another way to look into this (perhaps a more data-lead approach which is always encouraged here at Zazzle) is to use one of our favourite tools: Ahrefs. Use the content explorer tool to search for each key term, checking out the top performing content for each. Again, the sites that are frequently returned are also your client’s content competitors.

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It is important to make a note of the sites that are frequently returned to you throughout this initial stage of your competitor analysis as you will come to need these when furthering your research.

Some of the results will match the commercial competitors that the client has provided you with – if so, fantastic! What’s more likely though is that you will have made a list of content sites that write about this specific topic, product or industry because they are passionate about it, or even monetise it in a way that is different to selling products or services in the way your client does.

Finding related content for your content competitor domains

Once you have compiled a list of the most relevant content competitors for your client, you should use Ahrefs and the URL of each site to pull all of the relevant content from each competitor.

For example, the process so far has told us that the Money Advice Service (MAS) are a content competitor of our car breakdown insurance provider client. So, we should add the MAS URL into the search bar. If, like in this example below the content competitor covers a number of different topics throughout their content and services, you can filter the search results using a keyword in the formula pictured in the image below – in this case, ‘car.’ This ensures that results that are exported are as relevant to your client and their audience as possible.

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Export the data by clicking the ‘export’ button highlighted above and wait for the data to be downloaded. The export will look something like this:

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Repeat this process for the other content competitors you have identified and collate all of the data into one master spreadsheet.

Once you have done this, you will have produced a number of valuable metrics, such as the number of referring domains, traffic and total shares for all of the relevant content that your client’s content competitors are producing. This will help you identify the most successful pieces of content written to date in the relevant industry, and locate reoccurring themes throughout this content. You can then use these themes to shape your content strategy.

From this data, you can also gain an insight into the social platforms on which this content performs best. Facebook, in this case, seems to be the platform on which this car related content is most actively shared by your target audience. Does your client have an active Facebook page on which they can promote both their hygiene and hub content? They should do…

It is also interesting to look at the top posts for driving organic traffic. To find this out, simply filter the organic traffic tab to order from largest to smallest. This is particularly useful for clients that have a specific ‘increase in organic traffic’ objective.

Reach and engagement metrics

Next, let’s take a look at reach and engagement metrics. This method of competitor research is a good thing to do after you’ve used Ahrefs in the way detailed above. But where do you start if you want to find out about reach and engagement?

Well, we recommend using Buzzsumo. This tool (similarly to Ahrefs) presents you with the top content for your competitors according to social shares and number of links.

With both shares and link data available to you via Buzzsumo, the additional layer this tool adds to your research is the ability to shed light on who has been sharing and linking to the content, and in what context.

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Sticking with the example of a car insurance provider and using the AA as hypothetical content competitor, the screen shot below is a cross section of the Twitter accounts that shared the AA’s best shared piece of content, ‘Mobile Phones and Driving.’

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You can export this list of ‘sharers’ for a more insightful look at the quality of the social accounts that are sharing your competitors content. Investigate the number of followers and relevancy to brand and industry in particular.

In addition, you can visit all of these pages on the list and find the specific post that refers to the piece of content in question. While this can be a time-consuming exercise, it’s very insightful in terms of learning the context in which the piece is being shared and what people are saying about it. In most instances, this will tell us why the content is shareable. Is it because it answers a pressing question? Is it because it collates all of the necessary information in one place and presents it in an easily digestible way? Is it because it includes a case study or human interest angle?

The same method can be used for assessing the links to the relevant content too. Including sites that link to your competitors in your prospecting and distribution strategy is an efficient way of beginning the process of seeding off-page content.

TOP TIP: Pay attention to the posts that have been shared well, but not linked to and vice versa. Is it obvious why the shareable posts haven’t been linked to? Is there no clear ‘share’ call to action on the linked to content? These are considerations to bear in mind when creating content for your client.

Perform a website audit

If your client requires on-page engagement as an objective, an audit of their competitor’s websites is one of the most beneficial pieces of competitor analysis you can do.

The name ‘website audit’ is deceptively technical; but remember we are just talking about all things content here. Spend some time navigating your client’s content competitor’s sites. Look at things such as content depth, navigation, static hygiene category content, guide and FAQ style hygiene content and blog content. Who are they trying to target with their content? Is it the same target audience that you are ‘bidding’ for on behalf of your client? If so, is there something they have that your client doesn’t? If the audience seems slightly different, is it one that is relevant to your client and that you need to reach out to as well, or are they too far afield to be relevant?

It appears that Google is considering engagement metrics (such as time on site and bounce rate) to be more and more important when it comes to rankings. So, it is essential that the hygiene content (on the site) and the hub content (on the blog) is answering the micro-moments and pain points of your target audience. If you can do this, you’ll increase engagement with the website.

Identify any gaps on your client’s site, and get them filled.

Investigate social media

It goes without saying that social media plays a huge part in the success of a brand’s content marketing efforts. So, what social platforms do your client’s content competitors use?

Whatever the answer to this question turns out to be, ensure your client is using these social media platforms and the more. Look at elements such as:

  • how often are the platforms are being posted on?
  • what days and times are posts are being made?
  • what content is posted?
  • which posts achieve the most engagement?
  • are content posts, image posts or competition posts the most successful at driving likes and shares for your target audience?

Complete this analysis and use your findings to structure your client’s social strategy.

Brand mentions

Tools such as Google Alerts and Brand Mentions are the best to call on when it comes to wanting to know who is talking about your client’s industry, when, why and in what context. Whether you use these tools to monitor the mentioning of exact brand names, industry titles or primary keywords, you can gain real insight into the digital conversations that are most relevant to your client.

Alongside this, Google trends allows you to compare interest in content competitors over time according to their average search volume. You can filter these results from 1 month to 5 years, and from UK to worldwide. Knowing trends and seasonality within the industry is a fantastic way to ensure that all the content you create on behalf of your client is useful for readers, and is being created and promoted at the most beneficial time for search.

Use Brand Mentions to draw conclusions about which content competitors re the most popular according to brand mentions. Similarly, have a look at where the most brand mentions for these competitors are coming from, and use the results for your distribution and influencer work.

What kind of mentions are being made? Are they PR mentions or blogger mentions? What are the metrics of these sites? Are they valuable sites? Asking (and answering) these questions provides insight into our client’s competitor’s content strategies. When combined with the previous analysis methods, it will help us establish what is (or has been) the marketing focus for competitors and what they consider to be important.

TOP TIP: Once you have completed the forms of content competitor analysis that are most useful your client, use a free word cloud tool like this one here as a visual aid to inspire any brainstorm. Simply copy and paste a list of content titles, sources of brand mentions and key words from relevant social media posts into the tool to create this word cloud.

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Helpful, right?

What should you do with your findings?

Once you have conducted your analysis and have the summaries and relevant data to support the direction you suggest taking your client’s content in, what do you do with it?

Well, you simply need to turn it into a content strategy. This is particularly helpful if your client wants to see how you’ve reached your conclusions for their brand. And, it’s a helpful thing to share with your team before a brainstorm or ideation session: if you’re asked why you are creating a particular piece of content (by your client or even by a colleague), you will be able to answer confidently.

Moreover, collating your findings into a strategy will ensure that all your ideas are in line with what your client needs and bolsters their chance of success of meeting objectives.

So what?

We have never seen it disputed, in content strategy or even digital marketing as a wider industry, that competitor analysis is a very useful tool. Its benefits do not stop at content strategy, but lend themselves to link building, search – the lot.

It is important, however, especially from a content strategy perspective, to remember that the competitors you are analysing as part of your research are organic content competitors, not just the commercial competitors your clients have listed on their set-up form or throughout the on-boarding process.

Remember to be thoughtful with your competitor analysis too -  ensure that whatever research you’re conducting is the most relevant to your client’s objectives or KPIs. After all, those numbers are ultimately what your client is measuring you on.

Finally, even if your client does not have sufficient budget to pay for a full digital marketing or content strategy (and has simply come to you to revamp their blog, or create one or two PR feature articles per month), competitor analysis is well worth the investment of time. It increases your chances of success significantly.

How else would you suggest the best way is to ‘reinvent the wheel’?

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  • Good insights here Emma. Very valuable information and tips. I was wondering you mentioned keyword research, do you personally use any tool for it? what do you recommend? Would love to know your expert opinion. Thanks in advance!