You know the tasks that stay on your to-do list for months? The kind that, when you enter the office on a Monday, you say, "I WILL get it done this week" and six months later it's still pending?
A task like competitor monitoring?
You know you should be stalking the competition - although you're not entirely sure why - but, alas, you continually stick it to the back of the queue.
As it happens, there are tons of ways identifying and analysing your competitors can ensure your content stands out. We've listed a few of the benefits below; so be prepared to block out some time in your diary.
1. You'll Know What Works - And Doesn't
Scrutinising your competitors' content will give you a clear indication of what your audience, and potential customers, are engaging with.
YouTube coined the 'hero, hub and hygiene' concept for video, but it can easily be applied to written content too.
Hygiene refers to the everyday, informative pieces that can be produced quickly, like blog posts. Input your competitor's URL into a tool like Buzzsumo to identify posts gaining the most shares, then analyse this list to determine which topics readers are most interested in.
Hub content takes a little longer to produce, but the result should be a permanent, useful resource to sit on your website. This normally includes things like guides and eBooks. Look out for any downloadable assets, 'guide' or 'resource' tabs on your competitor's site to analyse this kind of content.
Large content pieces, used to raise brand awareness, fall into the hero category. The information may not directly link to a brand's product offering or be used to generate sales, but it will aim to bring in more traffic and build an audience.
Hero content can be hit or miss, which is why it's paramount you asses what your competitors are doing. You don't want to replicate something that already exists, or produce something that has already flopped for the competition.
2. You'll Be Able To Locate Content Gaps
Once you've dissected your competitors' content, you'll not only know what's performing well - and what isn't - you'll also be able to identify content gaps in the market.
As the content marketing landscape becomes overcrowded, finding a niche - as well as hiring great copywriters, as Michele Linn rightly highlights - is the best way to write outstanding content, without churning out repetitive fluff. This will enable you to break through the noise and outshine your competitors.
Jono Alderson talks about the importance of aiming your content higher up the funnel. In a nutshell, he argues traditional keyword research is becoming less effective, suggesting the key to successful content is addressing the 'moments' relevant to potential customers.
This means you need to be building valuable resources providing help and advice at an early stage of the buying journey. This will not only position you as a thought leader, but encourage existing and potential customers to trust you.
To become a frontrunner, you don't have to craft massively expensive, interactive pieces. You need to address customers' questions - focusing on the long tail terms your competitors are missing - and build resources around this.
3. You'll Be Unique
As the web becomes increasingly saturated with sites offering similar products and services, it's tough to stand out.
Many industries (banking and travel, in particular, spring to mind) are guilty of creating websites that look almost identical, bar a slight variation in branding.
If you're not unique, you won't be noticed. Don't worry, you won't necessarily have to redesign your whole site; start by examining your competitors' landing pages and locating ways you can provide more with your onsite content.
Perhaps you could add a downloadable resource to a page? Or a fact box with additional information? Whatever it is will depend on the industry you're based in, but any added extra will soon help you to stand out.
4. Your Customers Will Rate You Number One
The importance of great customer service on social has been emphasised for years now - including the four Brand Marketers in Keith Goldberg's article - but it's surprising how many brands are still failing at it.
Chances are you have a competitor or two who isn't responding to queries as well as they should be. Use a tool like Hootsuite - where you can set up streams to monitor competitors' feeds - to determine who the culprits are.
You should also use streams to monitor relevant industry terms and hashtags. Look out for questions from potential customers and, even if these queries aren't directed at you, jump on it with a response to highlight how proactive and willing to help you are. If you can link them to a resource on your site to answer their query, even better.
Be careful not to harass your competition by intruding on the insults directed towards them, but if their customers are asking for advice, and the competition are failing to respond, it can be worthwhile to jump in as the authority.
5. You'll Build A Killer Prospecting List
Once you've determined the content working well for your competitors, you can begin identifying the most influential people engaging with it.
Within Buzzsumo, when entering the URL of the specific content piece you're focusing on, click the 'view sharers' tab and the tool will reveal who's sharing the piece, ordered by authority.
Similarly, you can enter the URLs into Majestic and use the 'referring domains' tab to uncover which sites have linked to it. Find those with the best metrics and add them to your list of influencers.
If these people have engaged with your competitors in the past, it's likely they'll be interested in something similar from you in future.
On the surface, competitor analysis might seem like a task that'll reap few rewards, other than knowing how you currently stack up against the competition.
In reality, the benefits to dedicating time to it are vast; allowing you to create useful, interesting content, that'll engage your audience, and in turn, will pitch you miles ahead of your competitors.
Keen to get cracking? Below are a few resources to help you get started:
- For more on Youtube's hero, hub and hygiene content, take a look at their playbook.
- This guide to competitor analysis and benchmarking takes you through the process step- by-step and lists important tools you'll need to complete the task. It also comes with free, downloadable resources.
- This article specifically focuses on analysing your competitor's content on social, and how you can use their posts to inspire your own content.
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- Track And Learn From Your Competitor's Content
- What Content Mapping Is & How To Use It To Maximum Benefit
- 7 Awesome Competitive Niche SEO Strategies
* Adapted lead image: Some rights reserved by Mathias Appel