Content can come in various forms. Blog posts, videos, photos, infographics and user-generated content are a few examples of content that a business can publish to bring prospective customers to their website. The primary challenge is navigating through the abundance of content available on the internet today. A study from 2015 claims that nearly 2 million blog posts get published each day. Given that study is a few years old, it's safe to assume that figure continues to climb every day.
Standing out from competition requires you to create better content, write lengthier articles and publish videos that are more viral in nature. But all of this is very subjective. To know the right type of content to produce, the number of words it must contain and the channels you must promote it over, it is important to start with what we call, ‘competitor auditing’.
As the name suggests, competitor auditing is essentially building a knowledge base of what your competitors are doing and benchmarking them against your strategy. It is worth pointing out that ‘competitor’ here does not necessarily refer to your business rivals. Instead, it includes all those websites that a prospective customer might go to instead of your webpage from any given platform. For instance, in the case of Google Search, a Wikipedia entry that ranks above your site for a particular keyword may be considered a competitor.
Identify your marketing channels
The first step in competitor auditing is identifying your marketing channels. These are third party websites which refer customers to your business page. At a broad level, this includes sites like Google, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube. You must also include the various industry message boards and discussion forums where your prospective customers hang out. In short, any website that a prospective buyer uses is a prospective marketing channel.
Once you have the list of marketing channels ready, the next step is to build a competitor database for each of these platforms and benchmark them. The strategies you deploy are going to be different for each of the platforms.
On Google, your competition is essentially all webpages that rank above your site for each of your targeted keywords. You may pick a free tool like Adwords Keyword Planner that can list out the most popular keywords in your industry. A paid tool like Ahrefs can help you dig deeper and find keywords that your competitors are ranking for, filter keywords by search volume, their length and so on. This comes in handy if you want to expand your list with keywords that you may not be targeting at the moment.
Pick one keyword at a time and prepare a list of webpages ranking above your site. This may also include all the Google News results, image results and local search listings. A prospective customer may potentially click on any of these search results ahead of yours and they are thus a competition.
The next step is benchmarking. There are dozens of factors contributing to search rankings. Broadly speaking, the following factors matter from a content perspective:
- How relevant is the content presented to the targeted keyword?
- Word count
- Freshness of the article
- Use of clear headers and sub-sections
- External links to quality sources
- Backlinks to the specified webpage
- The overall authority of the site
This is a small fraction of the overall list of factors. Benchmarking your competitors for each of these factors should give you an idea of where your content stands currently and where it should ideally be to beat competition.
Instagram is turning out to be one of the most sought after platforms for visual content marketing. According to one study, 1.7 out of every 10 hashtags on Instagram are branded. Not surprisingly, nearly 7 in 10 American businesses are on this social media platform today. However, competitor auditing on Instagram can be a little tricky since it’s a discovery platform and there is no clear-cut navigational pattern among prospective customers.
There are two ways to audit competitors.
Direct competitor auditing: Find businesses that directly compete with you and have a presence on Instagram. Build an aggregated database of all their latest submissions and sort by the number of likes or comments they have received. Go through the top performing submissions to sense a pattern in the kind of content that elicits the maximum engagement from audience.
Hashtag auditing: A lot of discovery on Instagram happens with hashtags. Using the right hashtags could help you be discovered by prospective customers. Tools like InstagramTags and Seekmetrics can help you identify the most popular hashtags that you can use for your industry. You may do a thorough search of your business competitor posts to see the kind of hashtags they use, and the kind of engagement they have. This can provide you with a lot of insights on how to go about publishing a better content with hashtags that are more effective. Instagram has a hashtag limit of 30 per post. Your content strategy must be to maximize the use of hashtags while keeping it relevant to your audience.
Facebook can be a tricky medium to benchmark since the algorithm changes so frequently. Competitor auditing in this case is done with the help of two specific strategies.
Direct competitor auditing: Similar to what we previously described for Instagram, this strategy involves building a list of all your direct competitors and analyzing user engagement on their posts. You could build an aggregated database of the latest hundred submissions from each of your competitors and sort the content by the number of likes and shares. This helps you get a sense of the kind of content your audience likes.
Groups auditing: There are Facebook Groups for all kinds of topics and this presents businesses with a fantastic opportunity to seed their content for promotion. Use the Facebook Groups directory to look up the top Groups in your industry. It may be necessary to join these Groups to get a better sense of the content that gets posted here. Once you have access to these Groups, prepare an aggregated database of all the latest posts from each of these Groups along with engagement metrics like likes and shares. Once this is done, you may sort the list to get a sense of the type of content that gets shared the most.
The competitor auditing process is helpful in identifying the exact type of content that is popular across various referral platforms. Your success, however, depends on the execution. A lot of this is trial and error and the successful business is one that can effectively measure every aspect of their content production process and its impact on customer engagement and acquisition.