After a content audit of your site you may think you’re ready to start creating fresh, new content. Don’t do it. If you really want to become king of your content strategy, you first have to assess your competitors. You simply can’t expect to dominate before you know what you’re up against.
Who Are Your Competitors?
Before you analyze your competition, you have to find out who they are. Don’t assume that your biggest competitors will be larger, well-known sites because as you know, SEO and content can be huge leverage points—boosting the smaller companies who are doing it right and burying the larger organizations that still haven’t figured it out. Dig through data to find your silent killer competitors.
There are dozens of great tools, some of which I’ve outlined below, that will help you determine with whom you’re competing. However, a simple Google search can be the best place to start. If you’re logged into Gmail, make sure you hide personal results first.
Type in some of your most important keywords and make note of what other companies come up. Be sure to notice things like which companies are listed under paid versus organic search, what keywords competitors are using in their meta descriptions, and if any company is utilizing Google Authorship. Google’s Related: search function can provide additional competitors to research. Don’t forget to finish off with a search for your own company, looking to see if any competitor has bought an ad for your term or has managed to show up in your search some other way.
Another great starting point is SEMRush because it gives you competitors in both organic search and ads. However, you can’t just export each list into Excel and begin analyzing the companies. Many of the competitors, especially in organic search, can have hundreds of keywords in common with your company and yet still not really be direct competitors, and therefore not companies on which you should be focusing.
Visit the company’s website and drill into the SEMRush common keywords list to decide whether or not this is a company which provides a similar product or service and is of fairly equal quality to yours. Don’t try to match yourself up with a company that is in a related yet unequal area of business.
Once you’ve found a good match, export the common keywords into Excel and create formulas to easily determine who is performing better in search position, search volume and number of top ranking keywords. For best results, use a “contains” custom filter to get rid of branded terms before you manipulate your data. The competitors who seem to be significantly ahead of you in one or all of these categories are the competitors who you should be putting on your list to delve into further using the following methodologies…
Competitive Analysis on 3 Levels:
Assess each competitor on its SEO, Social Media, and Content.
In Open Site Explorer, you can compare your company to four competitors at once at a Page specific, Subdomain, and Root Domain level. Use caution when looking at these numbers—green indicates the highest number in a category but this is not always a good thing. If you have thousands of more links but still aren’t ranking as high as your competitor, assess the quality of your links versus the quality of their links. Mark down any great sites from which they have inbound links that you do not, and save them for later in your content strategy when you will begin outreach.
While Majestic SEO’s tool is similar in the information it provides and its option to compare five companies, they have conveniently already separated out links from educational and governmental domains to help you hone in on your link quality.
Once you have a pretty good idea of who your competitors are, start monitoring their social media use. At the start, take a few minutes to actually visit their Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest pages, or examine these platforms through a source such as Hootsuite. Look at the types of posts they use, the frequency of their posts, and how much of a reaction each post is getting.
Figuring out the way that they engage people best will be an awesome starting point for how and when you will build social into your content plan. Do they have unique themed Twitter chats or great Facebook contests? Move beyond just jotting down notes of what they do and start the creative process by brainstorming how you can incorporate similar, but better, ideas. Once this is complete, move on to your tools…
Followerwonk can be useful in multiple ways so take full advantage of all it has to offer. First, search Twitter bios with some of your industry keywords to see what companies are coming up; you may further add to your competitor list this way. Then, using the Twitter handles you’ve found for your competitors, go to the “Compare Users” tab and compare yourself and up to two competitors at a time based on followers to see how many followers you each have, your influence on those followers, and the percentage of followers you have in common.
Click into the list of their followers and try to determine who their audience is and how you can get a share of that audience. Next drilldown into the “Compare users they follow” report and consider following some key influencers who they follow that you do not.
Additionally, you’ll need insight into what people are saying about your competitor. Tools like Topsy and Social Mention can give you an idea of the social buzz they are stirring and what type of feelings your industry’s audience has toward the company.
Much of what you need to do here will be a shortened version of the content audit you performed for your own website, as explained in my first post, How Much of Your Content Deserves the Title “King?” You can use the same exact tools on your competitor’s sites, but just need to approach them at a slightly different angle than your own. For instance, you will not be trying to analyze every single piece of content on their site as you did with yours.
Try to assess a representative sample by looking in depth at every fifth or so piece of content, until you feel that you have seen at least a few examples of each type of content they produce (article, video, infographic etc.). You should be looking for the same social metrics, visual appeal, relevance, and all other factors on which you were assessing your own content, but this time organize your information in a way that directly compares your site to theirs. What do they have that you don’t? If they have similar content, what about theirs caused it to be received better or worse than your own?
For a faster, higher-level overview, utilize Google Brand Impressions. You can look at a company’s most popular content by topic and visual over a selected date range of up to three years, as well as see social traffic for the brand. There is also an impact map and the option to compare two companies at once.