Content is vital for your company to attract, nurture, and retain customers—but your competitors are constantly vying for your customers’ attention with content, too.
Although you should never copy your competitors’ content strategy, it is essential for you to understand what they are saying, where, and the ways that they engage your shared audiences.
Let’s explore how to effectively audit your competitor content to refine your content marketing strategy and better meet your community’s needs, featuring insights from our friends Tod Cordill, principal of Moderno Strategies, and Melanie Graham, a writer and content marketing manager.
Why Is a Competitor Content Audit Necessary?
It can be difficult to pause your day-to-day content creation to audit your competitor’s content. Marketers often feel like an audit will take more time than it is worth—but you must remember how B2C and B2B buyers find products to fulfill their needs.
Tod explains that “many companies map ideal customer journeys that are used to define content to create and how to deliver the content to potential buyers. Especially with high-risk, high-cost buying decisions, these customer journeys are complex and can take many months. Buyers will read content from industry publications, conduct a variety of Google searches over time as they refine their needs, and consume content you create.”
Your company needs to address the myriad challenges and emotions that your customers face when seeking a new product or service. And the only way to provide unique value to them is to understand what other content is out there and what gaps exist so you can leave a lasting impression.
“If your content strategy is important to your company’s growth, you need to understand your competitors’ content,” Tod says.
What is a Content Competitor?
You should create a list of your content competitors to streamline your content audit, which brings us to a common starting question: What counts as a content competitor?
“There are two types of content competitors. The first type is business competitors that you compete against for customers,” Tod says. “The other type of competitor is other companies that rank for topics that you’d like your content to outrank. These content competitors might include equipment suppliers or technology providers, or companies similar to yours that compete in different regions or industry verticals.”
When Should You Conduct a Competitor Content Audit?
A member of your marketing team could spend time monitoring and analyzing competitor content daily, but that is likely an inefficient use of your team resources.
We recommend that you formally analyze your competitors’ content at least twice a year:
- when you set your annual content marketing plan in December or January
- when you refine that plan during your mid-year content marketing audit in June or July.
Use monitoring solutions and notification systems to alert you when new competitor content posts. Google Alerts, Feedly, and social media features like Twitter Lists can all help you keep an eye on competitor content without spending significant team resources. Melanie says that LinkedIn Competitor Analytics and Semrush competitor website analytics tools have been beneficial for her when conducting a competitor audit, and Tod recommends Market Muse.
How To Audit Your Competitors’ Content and What to Look For
You’ll want to keep your competitor content audit quick but thorough enough to identify new opportunities for your content strategy. One of the biggest challenges in this process is staying focused and not going too deep on any individual competitor’s content (unless that company merits a standalone audit).
Follow the below five steps to perform a streamlined and effective competitor content audit:
Step 1: Identify Your Content Competitors
First up: whose content will you audit? Create a list of your top three to five direct business competitors. Then, perform a keyword analysis using an SEO tool like Semrush to identify other brands that rank high for your primary keywords and topics to round out your audit.
Step 2: Build a Content Audit Template
Your competitor list will guide your research, but you need a place to collect the data to inform your audit.
Our free competitor content audit spreadsheet is a perfect base to capture your audit details, and you should customize the template to fit your needs.
Step 3: Perform Your Audit
Start your competitor content audit by visiting your competitors’ blogs. Look for both those publications hosted on their website and through platforms like Medium. Next, briefly skim your competitor’s social media channels to see if there are other content sources or third-party content streams that they actively contribute to, which can include podcasts and video series.
Look out for the following content strategy elements when reviewing competitor content, and note any relevant details in your audit spreadsheet:
- Domain Authority: This metric, which Moz, Semrush, and others have their own algorithms for assigning, predicts how likely a site’s content is to be found in a search. It considers social mentions of the site’s content, the frequency of people clicking through from paid and organic searches and consuming the content, the number of backlinks, and other factors.
- Backlinks: What content does your competitor link to within their content? And who is linking to the content they create? Are these sources ones that you should build a relationship with? How can you create similar backlink-worthy content? Again, tools like Semrush and Ahrefs can make this process a breeze.
- CTAs: “What kind of calls-to-action do your competitors use on their blog posts, social media posts, and website? How do these CTAs differ from yours? How can you make yours more compelling?” Melanie recommends you ask each of these questions when reviewing competitor content.
- Distribution Channels: Where does your competitor share its content, and on which channel(s) are its followers most engaged? This information can help you understand which channels may help connect your brand with prospective community members.
- Funnel Stage: Is most of the content fulfilling top-of-funnel awareness generation needs? Or does the competitor have a robust catalog of content that helps existing customers get the most out of the product or service? Again, your SEO tool may help with this, like how Semrush provides buyer intent signals on keyword topics, including informational, transactional, commercial, or navigational.
- Keywords: What topics do they cover? Monitor headlines and subheads—Melanie says you should look for keywords that may suggest the competitor’s priority topics. She shares more advice below to help you understand how to get your content to rank higher in SERPs.
- Lead Generation Assets: What gated content exists? How is the competitor attempting to drive leads and get prospects into the funnel?
- Publishing Frequency: Your competitors’ content cadence will significantly impact your ideal strategy. “Looking at posting frequency across competitors can help you gauge audience expectations and opportunities for new content,” Melanie says. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create content, sometimes you just need to put a new tire on the wheel! If they post infrequently, for example, maybe your blog can offer a fresh take on a topic they wrote about a while ago.” BuzzSumo can provide a report that shows the average publishing cadence by month, and the engagement levels by post and by post types and days published.
- Structured elements: “Structured elements like headings, subheads, and lists on a web page are easy to scan for the reader and also provide important cues to Google about what the content is about. Pay particular attention to these on pages that appear high in search results,” Tod advises.
- Thought Leaders and Bylines: What thought leaders or experts are credited for writing the content? What is their title? These details can help you develop differentiated thought leadership platforms for your spokespeople with comparable roles. If their CMS uses an author field, you can grab this data quickly with BuzzSumo.
- Content Types: “Analyze what content mediums your competitors use to highlight potential gaps you can fill,” Melanie advises. “Does your competitor primarily create short blog posts and listicles, or are they focused on in-depth guides and white papers? Each audience member has different content consumption preferences and may gravitate toward your fresh approach.” Tod adds: “Don’t forget to review PDF documents that are linked from web pages. Google now crawls ungated PDF documents and displays them in search results.”
- Visual Assets: What images or videos accompany your competitor’s content? Are they custom or generic stock visuals? Is there a consistent brand across these assets?
Step 4: Conduct a Keyword Gap Analysis
Thank you to Melanie for sharing her intel for this entire section!
“If organic search traffic is a major part of your content strategy (and chances are, it is), then you’ll want to make sure you’re doing a keyword gap analysis as part of your competitor content audit.
What’s a keyword gap analysis? Essentially, it looks at which keywords your competitors rank for that your website doesn’t. It can also tell you which keywords you both rank for and which website ranks higher. Platforms like Semrush and Ahrefs have built-in keyword gap analysis tools where you can monitor a few competitor websites vs. your own.
A keyword gap analysis can show you gaps in your content strategy—what questions or topics are your competitors writing about where you could offer a fresh take? It can also highlight optimization opportunities for existing content. Perhaps revamping an old blog post will give it a lift that outpaces your competitor in the SERP.”
Step 5: Analyze Your Findings to Refine Your Strategy
After collecting the details about your competitor’s content we explored above, analyze that information to see how your team can differentiate itself and engage your shared audiences more effectively.
Take a few hours to review your findings and filter by the key areas we discussed above to identify specific areas of opportunity. For example:
- Filter your spreadsheet by “Asset Type” to see what type of content your competitors are creating and if you’re missing any key asset types (such as long-form ebooks or research reports).
- Filter by each competitor and their publishing dates (or run a BuzzSumo report) to understand if you publish content frequently enough.
- Filter by funnel stage and keywords to inform potential upcoming topics you should explore.
- Filter by byline to see if you should diversify your thought leadership roster or if there are specific subject matter experts you should tap to help with content.
To bring up an earlier point: The purpose is not to copy your competitor’s strategies. Instead, your analysis should reveal new ideas and competitive insights to help you differentiate and improve your content strategy.
Refine Your Content Marketing Strategy With Competitive Insights
A competitor content audit is an effective way to learn how to engage your ideal community members and customers better. Use our competitor content audit spreadsheet to conduct your audit at least once a year—it’s the best way to get ahead of your competitors and use content to your full advantage.
Brands often find it helpful to have a third party conduct a content analysis to get a complete picture of their content marketing potential. We’ve partnered with countless brands to analyze their content strategy and develop content marketing plans that will help them better reach their target buyers with the right message in the right place. So if you’re looking for help with auditing competitive content, reach out to us so we can start a conversation.