It can be a struggle to understand whether your business’s current content marketing strategy is successful or if it needs to be adjusted. By examining your competitors’ campaigns, you can learn where you’re falling behind and revise your strategy.
There’s so much buzz around content marketing right now that it feels like everyone is doing it. Even so, few content marketers feel confident that their work is effective. According to a joint report from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, sponsored by Brightcove, 55 percent of content marketers feel uncertain about their efforts and say they’re unclear on what effective content marketing looks like.
One way to measure your content marketing effectiveness is to see how your content compares to your competitors’ content. Start by comparing your work to theirs in terms of quality, engagement, and effective distribution.
Then, evaluate whether their content marketing is getting business results (it’s not always easy to find exact metrics, but you can make some educated guesses). Finally, decide what to imitate about their strategy and what to do differently. Let’s look at some qualitative standards that will help you compare your content to the competition’s.
Get the Lay of the Land
Analyzing your competitors’ content starts with an audit of what they produce and where they publish it. Start with these strategies to get visibility on their past and future work:
- Subscribe to their blog(s). Sign up to get an update whenever they publish new blog posts.
- Follow them on social media. Follow every account on every network, not just on the ones you already use, so you can get the complete picture of how their strategy works.
- Sign up for their email list. A lot of content gets funneled into the company’s email marketing automation program. Joining their email list gives you access to downloadables you might not be able to find on Google.
- Perform a Google search. In addition to showing you their published content, a Google search will give you links to earned media and reviews.
Once you’ve found samples of their content, save the links and titles on a dedicated spreadsheet. In addition to URLs and titles, add the following columns to your spreadsheet:
- Publication site. The publisher may be the company (in the case of a business blog post), or it may be an online publication that either published a guest post from your competitor or chose to cover them for a review or story.
- In many cases, you won’t recognize the authors’ names, or they’ll be authors hired to write for your competitor. In a few cases, however, you might recognize important influencers who’ve written about the competition.
- Publication date. Try to find examples of items they’ve created recently and in the past. This exercise helps you see how their content marketing strategy has changed over time.
- Content type. Note whether your URL refers to a blog post, earned media article, guest post, video, infographic, white paper, e-book, or other type of content. If you notice they publish certain types of content more than others, you can identify the types of content they’re committed to creating and publishing — which tells you a lot about what they think works best for them.
- Distribution method. Search for the title on their social media pages, or look for it in their marketing emails. Always take note of how they get their content to their audience. Read here to learn how to make your own social media posts stand out better.
Be Judgmental of Their Content — It’s Okay
Now that you’ve gotten a look at their work, examine their content with a critical eye. Pick a few samples of each content type and ask relevant questions about each piece:
- Is the layout attractive and easy to follow?
- Do the colors and fonts work well together?
- Are the graphics and images high-quality? Do they use custom or stock images?
- Do their videos utilize professional-level camera work and sound?
- Is their communication style formal or informal?
- Does their work contain up-to-date information from trustworthy, high-quality sources?
- Do they provide specific, unique information, or do they publish rehashed overviews or summaries of topics?
- What’s the purpose of their content? Are they focused on being instructive, making something shareable, or entertaining their audience?
- How thorough is their work? Do you see places where you could add more depth or better information?
Calls to Action
- How do they incorporate calls to action throughout their content or in their emails and social media messages?
- What kinds of appeals do they use to persuade people to engage with the content or make a purchase?
- How do they increase the visual appeal of their calls to action? Do they use buttons, widgets, bigger text, variations in color, etc.?
- Do you personally find their content appealing? If you were a customer who didn’t know about your own company, would your competitor appeal to you, just based on what you see?
- What impression do you get of their brand based on their content?
- If you had to summarize their brand message in one or two sentences, what would you say?
- Do you think they’re sending an effective branding message, or do you think they’re not doing a great job of sharing what they’re about?
Analyze Their Content Marketing Strategy: Tools of the Trade
Now that you have a better idea of how your competitors are handling their content, you need to analyze any data you can find to see whether their content marketing strategy is actually working better before you make revisions to yours.
Creating and publishing content is only half of content marketing. The other half is distributing it and getting an audience to engage with it. Observe how your competitors work to get their message out. When it comes to digital marketing, they’re probably focused on these primary channels.
Look at competitor social media accounts to see how many likes, comments, shares, and other indicators of engagement they receive. Although these aren’t perfect metrics, they give you an idea of whether or not your competitor’s methods are working.
Also, notice what kinds of posts they use when they share their content and what kinds of images they incorporate in their posts. Also, note whether they rely on organic sharing on social channels or whether they use sponsored posts, sponsored tweets, or social media ads to share their messages.
You can use these free tools to get insights into your competitor’s social accounts:
- Twitonomy has a free service that lets you type in any Twitter handle and see how well the account performs.
- The free feature on Fanpage Karma offers similar analysis of a competitor’s Facebook page. With a paid plan, you can pull metrics from a competitor’s Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram accounts. For example, here’s a look at Bill Gates’s strongest and weakest Facebook posts, brought to you by Fanpage Karma:
And here’s a chart that shows the days and times Gates posts on Facebook:
Search and PPC
In addition to using search engine optimization (SEO) to improve organic search rankings, many businesses also rely on search engine marketing (SEM) ads and pay-per-click ads.
- To uncover your competitor’s keywords for both organic search and ads, copy and paste your competitor’s URL into SEMrush. For more extensive monitoring that includes their website traffic, keywords, ads, and social media mentions, sign up for a free account on Follow.net. Here’s a table from Follow.net that shows an estimate of how much Microsoft spends on search engine marketing:
- Serious ad monitoring. If you really want to learn where your competitors advertise, which of their messages convert, and how their sales funnel works, you can sign up for a tool like Adbeat. It’s not cheap, but Adbeat will give you a lot of detail, including which publishers deliver the best results for your competitor’s ads.
- Inbound links. Use Ahrefs Site Explorer to see which domains link to your competitor’s content. You can try approaching the same publishers and influencers — or people who are similar — when you’re ready to promote your own content.
Email may feel like the gray-haired elder statesman of digital marketing, but it’s still one of the most effective tools for sharing content and getting people to engage with it. NewsletterMonitoring.com provides free tools for comparing competitor emails to your own, figuring out how often they send messages, and discovering which dates and times they feel are best for sending emails.
Dare to Compete
Even if you’re at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to budget, you can stretch your content marketing dollars by imitating many of the tricks that have worked for your competitors. If you need additional help with creating, sharing, and developing a content marketing strategy for your business, schedule a digital marketing consultation today.