How Competitive Research Can Improve Your Content Marketing

July 23, 2015 •

How Competitive Research Can Improve Your Content Marketing

Are your competitors kicking your butt with their content marketing?

Most executives have no idea how well their content marketing efforts are performing compared to their rivals. They don’t pay the slightest attention to their competitors’ content (and many forget to keep an eye on their own).

But this is a terrible mistake. First, not knowing what the competition is up to means you’re making business decisions with incomplete information. You’re guessing. Second, if you ignore your rivals’ content, you’re at a major disadvantage — you don’t know what your potential customers are buzzing about. Finally, it’s much easier to conduct competitive research than you may think, so you don’t have a good excuse for not doing it.

Let’s dive in.

Make a list, check it twice. Start by assembling a list of your rivals. Don’t limit yourself here to just your major, direct competitors. You may have less to worry about from smaller rivals, but you can still learn something from them, and that’s the point.

Find out what they’re doing. Check their websites for a company blog, email newsletter, press releases, social media feeds, and “anchor” content such as any eBooks, white papers, and other downloadables. If they’ve done any webinars or live events, you’ll likely find recordings. Read as much of this material as possible. I know: you’re busy. But this is important. Start by reviewing the anchor materials, since that’s where they’ve devoted most of their energy. Next, skim the titles of their blog posts to see what grabs your attention, since that’s probably what’s grabbing the audience’s attention, too.

Review the quality. You needn’t be an expert marketer or award-winning writer to conduct a basic quality audit. Is the article clear and well-written? Does it address its titular topic, or does it make false promises? Is that topic important and relevant? Or is it so much inside baseball, more interesting to people on your side of your industry than your customers’? Is the post self-promotional — that is, does it sell the company, or is it educational and informative?

While you’re on their site, sign up for whatever you can sign up for, especially their e-newsletter. If you need to fork over an email address to access gated content, do so. (Yes, this will let them know you’ve been there. So what?) Since you’ll be doing this with multiple competitors, you might consider setting up a separate email account to receive this material. That’ll reduce your own email clutter and make it easier to see what each company is sending and how often.

Visit their social media pages. Stop by their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts and check out their Twitter feed. Are they posting every piece of content they create? Are they posting anything else, be it observations on industry news or even responses to other postings? Are they getting any comments or feedback from their followers (and do they have many followers)? These are the things you should be doing on social media, and so if they’re doing it and you’re not, then they’re engaging your industry… and you’re not. Might want to fix that.

Make a chart. It’s a good idea to maintain a spreadsheet of who’s doing what. List your rivals and yourself in the Y axis; and in the X axis list the various elements of content marketing. It will look something like this:

Company Blog Video White Paper eBooks Webinars Case Studies Press Releases
Us Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No
Rival 1 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No
Rival 2 Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes
Rival 3 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No
Rival 4 Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Rival 5 Yes Yes No No No Yes No
Rival 6 No No No No No No Yes

If you’re thinking a project like this is why the good Lord made interns, you’d get no argument here. Just don’t farm out the qualitative content analysis.

Check them out on Google. You should be doing keyword research for your own content marketing and making sure you add relevant high-ranking keywords to your content when you post it. (Google AdWords is the best place to conduct such research.) But you can also use keywords to do a bit of reconnaissance on the competition: just plug your keywords into a Google search bar and see what pops up. If you find a lot of your competitors’ content, and not yours, you have work to do.

Put it to work for yourself. As Mike Sweeney has said before, market research without an action plan is worthless. You should never plagiarize. But there’s no reason you can’t produce content on the same or a similar topic as your rivals’, especially if you’re doing so in a novel way. Good content need not always be entirely unique, and there aren’t many topics that haven’t been covered somewhere by someone. If nothing else, knowing what your competitors are doing with their content marketing will give you some guidance on your where opportunity lies in your industry — where you have gaps, and where they do.

Research can be time-consuming, tedious, and even a little depressing if you find that your rivals are indeed putting you to shame. Still, good research is a necessary element of any content marketing strategy.

To learn more about how research fits into your content marketing planning, download our eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.” Want some expert help with your research? Feel free to reach out.

About the Author

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

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