I’ll be honest with you: I’m not a big fan of looking at what my competitors are doing. At least, not so I can do it too. If you’re constantly checking out what the competition is up to so you can mimic them, you never create anything unique. You’ll be just another me-too company.
But you do need to know what they’re up to. Therein lies the paradox — to be unique and position yourself differently, you need to first understand how your competition is positioning themselves.
In this post, we’ll talk about how to analyze your competitors to identify their strengths and weaknesses, so you can carve out a unique direction for your own content marketing — and ask yourself all the important content strategy questions. No copycats allowed.
1. Analyze their product strategy
Before you look at anything else, you need to first understand your competitor’s products and target market.
A common mistake many companies make is assuming another company is competing for their audience. Just because they’re in the same market does not mean they are trying to attract the same customers.
I learned this the hard way.
I was creating the content strategy at my previous company in the ecommerce industry, with a product that enabled people to create online stores. We assumed that the prominent companies in our industry were competitors simply because we had similar products.
Our mistake was assuming that we were going after the same customers. We created a content strategy by analyzing what they did and trying to beat them at their game. They went after new, nontechnical and solo entrepreneurs.
What we should have done, and eventually did, was focus on our strengths and differences. We realized that our product was meant for more technical people — the developers and designers who support ecommerce entrepreneurs.
By focusing our content more on this audience, we quit playing on someone else’s battlefield and created our own ground.
The best way to analyze a competitor’s product is to actually use it. Buy it from them if you have to and go over their features. Look through their community forums to see what people are complaining about. You can also look at review sites that do product comparisons.
2. Analyze their content strategy
Once you have identified who your real competitors are, look at their content strategy. You know they’re targeting the same audience as you, but you want to understand how they are targeting them.
Your competitors probably address a small range of topics in their content. Usually, these topics are based on their strengths, the things their product does best.
There are two ways to combat this.
The first: Attack their weaknesses by creating content that addresses the topics they aren’t. Attract the audiences they’re missing out on.
The second: Go after their strengths. Do this only if your product can beat them at those strengths. If you can’t, then downplay their strengths in your content and focus on yours.
Your competitors’ content diversity might vary, too. Some might focus solely on blog content, while others have big YouTube channels, podcasts or webinars.
Look for opportunities to establish a presence in channels before your competitors do. If they aren’t on YouTube, get there first. If they’ve not been blogging on Medium or LinkedIn, start putting content there and build a following. That doesn’t mean you should ignore your own blog. It just means that you need to expand faster to reach other audiences first.
3. Analyze their SEO strategy
The other side of the coin is figuring out what keywords your competition is targeting. What are they ranking for, and what are they not ranked for?
If your competitor has lodged itself firmly at the top for a certain keyword, it might be futile to try to dislodge them.
That doesn’t mean you cede those keywords to them.
Instead, start by attacking other keywords that they aren’t ranking for, and use that as a platform to help you take over keywords that they are ranking for.
Back at my previous company, there was one competitor that was firmly on top for keywords like “ecommerce platform.” Had I focused on that at the expense of easier keywords, I would have been beating my head against a wall.
So I worked the cracks and started ranking for keywords they ignored. I also made sure that those keywords were consistent with our product and the content we wanted to write.
Find out what your competitors are ranking for using a tool like SEMrush. It gives you a full list of keywords that are working for them and enables you to identify where you can beat them.
4. Put it all together
Now you have a clear idea of what audience your competitors are targeting, what features they’re touting, what content they’re creating and what keywords they rank for.
It’s time to take it all into account in your own content plan.
As I said at the start, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let the competition dictate your strategy. You should already have a plan based on your company, product and target audience. Any information you’ve gained from analyzing your competition should feed into this, instead of dictating a new strategy.
Make a list of your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses in product, content and keywords. Start by identifying what can be won with little effort, the weaknesses you can exploit, and address those in your content and SEO.
Once you’ve incorporated the low-hanging fruit into your plan, you can assess the feasibility of going after their strengths. Remember, sometimes it’s not worth trying to create content or rank for keywords that your competitors are well-known for.
The best strengths to go after are the ones your product can beat them at. The perfect combination is when they target a popular topic, but they aren’t ranking for those keywords and their product does not address all the issues around that topic. The popularity of the topic gives you an indication that people care about that, which means you can swoop in with a better product and start to rank for those keywords.
When you do all your research, put it together into a spreadsheet or document. This document doesn’t need to be updated too often, but it helps to check in every quarter to stay up to date on your competition.
Remember, though: You want to be the leader in the industry. Exploit weaknesses and target gaps that others have missed, but don’t get sucked into copying your competitors’ strategies and playing catch-up.