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Always Study Your Competitor’s Content, But Don’t Copy It

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Content marketing, particularly in a competitive niche, is all about what is working well for your competitors and how you can use similar ideas, concepts, and strategies. However, instead of copying, go a little deeper with your investigation and find unique ways to gain traffic. Original content is fundamental to creating a reputation and organically gathering customers. It’s also easier than it might seem, even in a crowded space. In this guide, we’ll cover the ways to study your competition in order to find what you can do that they can’t, won’t, or haven’t.

Study Your Best Competitors

Image via Flickr by peabodyproductions

First, locate your best competitor, meaning the most attractive, successful, high-ranking alternative to whatever sort of content you provide and that has a clear overlap with your own ideal customer base. Once you know who that is, it’s time to study their content, all of it. In Google, you can type “site:” and then the full home page URL of your competitor’s website in order to get every indexed page on their domain. Look through all of their pieces and organize them into categories for later consideration.

An example of categories could be high-, medium-, and low-performing pages, so you can get a better idea of what content people enjoy. Organize by content length, medium, and other ways, and employ a little data analysis. This might tell you, hypothetically, that your competition’s visitors enjoy short blog posts and long videos the most, especially if they have a human element, such as a success story or testimonial. This style of competitive analysis dramatically narrows down the types of content to consider.

While this strategy is effective with your number-one competitor, it might be best to do this for a few runners-up, as well, before moving to our next strategy. The more data you’re working with, the better founded your conclusions will be.

What Are People Asking For?

Looking at webpages in aggregate and using SEO analytics tools is a great first step, but this will only vaguely tell you what kinds of content your audience likes. Look at comments on competing blogs, videos, infographics, etc. and try to find any discussions about them on social media. You’re looking for criticisms and requests of any kind.

For example, maybe you run a motivation and coaching business for parents of younger children. When looking up pieces by competitors and the splash they made online, you might see some complaints from those who don’t like their harsh, military tone. This could present an opportunity to differentiate yourself with something calmer, suited to the needs of those critics.

Out of all the various criticisms you’ll find online, allocate extra weight to ones that are made by clear fans of your competitors. This is how you know for a fact that they are a member of the audience and interested in that content, to the point of engaging and expressing their hopes for improvement. If you create content that matches their wishes before your competitor does, you can start to shift brand loyalty in your direction.

Find Content That Suits You Best

Even if you study what people like or dislike about your competitors’ content, keep in mind that your own business has limits. For example, a business that sells local foraging guides might have competitors who get complaints that they aren’t specific enough in their localities, such as only by state in the United States, and not in specific counties or regions. While this proves there is an interest in more specific guides, producing such a guide might be a very heavy amount of work for an unclear benefit to your business.

You may have a business that can provide the labor necessary to outpace your competitors in specificity or thoroughness. If not, what are the strengths of your brand? A more compassionate business could specialize in content that’s been done, but from a unique motivational outlook that inspires people. A comedic and upbeat brand could create funny video skits that stand out from all the bland blogs and white papers on a topic. An educational brand could take a topic that people are vaguely interested in and create DIY guides related to it.

The point is to make content not only for your general audience, but for members of it who would appreciate what you do and how your business operates in particular.

The Hot Take Strategy

Please note that done poorly, this strategy could damage your reputation. However, if done correctly, it’s a great way of coming up with new content when you want to work off of a trending issue in your space. It works as follows: A competitor creates a large but controversial content piece that goes trending. In response, you create a piece to counter its message or points, critique it, or otherwise step in and show that it isn’t perfect.

With a hot take, you make content that is relevant to your audience and based upon an idea that has already proven to be interesting, but you present an opposite viewpoint, making it entirely different and original. Directly critiquing and responding to another person’s ideas and content is an extremely common, fair-use form of expression on the internet. As long as it’s respectful, professional, and suited to your business content goals, you can build your audience and visibility by taking this occasional opportunity.

Hot takes are a great way to take advantage of another business’s visibility, and people who agree with your piece can become fans of your content, assuming the rest of what you’ve produced is appropriate to them. Be careful, however, that your hot takes are presented in a sensible way that matches your brand, and that what you say comes from a place of authenticity. Abuse this strategy for attention and people will see through you immediately. It should be done when you legitimately feel that your competitor got something wrong and that the misinformation needs to be addressed.

The problem with content marketing is not difficulty or complexity, but a low barrier to entry. Because nearly any business can try out content marketing, you’ll encounter at least some competition for traffic. The quick way to burn out and lose credibility, however, is to chase content ideas that clearly weren’t your own and copy them wholesale. Always ask how you can make what you’re doing different or better than what your competitors have done. With the strategies above and a little consistent effort, you’d be surprised how many great content ideas fall into your lap.

About the author

Shane Hall