Content was a pretty static discipline for a long time. It consisted mostly of blog articles, white papers, social posts, slide shows, and maybe an occasional webinar. It’s gotten a lot more complex and dynamic with the advent of podcasts, videos, forums, infographics, memes, and more.
So how can you know if your content is any good? Monitoring metrics is one way. If your engagement numbers are solid, you’re probably on the right track.
But what about the content produced and distributed by your competitors? Could it be better than your material, attracting even more visitors to their site than yours? Maybe their engagement levels are higher.
A competitive content audit is the only way to know for sure. Here’s everything you need to know to get the intel to figure out if competitors are beating you in the content game. It will help you up your play so you reach their level, or better.
Step One: Catalog the Content Created by a Competitor
List out all the competitor materials you can find by content type, then rate and review them. Don’t do this from your perspective. Review content with the mindset of the people in your — and your competitor’s — target audience. Give each piece a score from one to ten and add a few notes about what you like and dislike. If you see certain words and phrases showing up frequently, they could be keywords worth noting.
Here are some common content types and what to look out for as you review them:
Blog articles: New blog posts should be published often, be authoritative, provide unique insights and demonstrate the expertise of the business. Of course, they should also be easy and enjoyable to read.
Podcasts: Audio content is highly personal. It’s a great way for leaders within an organization to demonstrate their expertise in an unfiltered way. They’re also an opportunity to open the door to the public and reveal a company’s culture and personality. Podcasts are a highly personal medium. When evaluating them, ask yourself: Is this something you’d want to spend time listening to?
Webinars: Webinars are the “smart” medium. A good one digs deep into a topic and provides novel and helpful insights to end users. A webinar should provide opportunities for people outside your organization to interact with those in it. It’s a big commitment to engage with a webinar and it must be worth a person’s time.
Long-form content: E-books and white papers take a lot of time to read, time that most people don’t have these days. The topic of either of these should be so compelling it gets people to provide contact information to access it. Once someone does so, the content must be so interesting the reader doesn’t feel let down. Long-form content has the highest bar of success.
Videos: Many companies create videos because they’re popular and think they have to. When you evaluate videos, see if they have a reason for being. Does video add value in delivering information? Is the video format and style right for the purpose? Video is a tough format to get right. If your competitor is nailing it, use what they’re doing to beat them at their game.
Social posts. Social posts must get people to stop in their tracks on busy and crowded social platforms and get them to like, click or share. Put yourself in the position of the people you — and the competing business — are targeting and see if their posts would get you to do any of these things.
Presentations: Sometimes you can find competitor presentations on slide share sites. Presentations must provide value and tell a story. Too often they are just a compilation of information that doesn’t add up to much. Good ones should have a narrative and drive people to take action.
E-newsletters: Everyone’s email is overpacked. A newsletter has to offer something irresistible to the receiver. It’s the only way to get anyone to open it. If your competitor has mastered the newsletter subject line and intro copy, they probably have a highly engaged customer base, which keeps the business top of mind, making it more likely they’ll generate repeat sales.
Visual content: For many people, visuals resonate more than the written word. Check to see if infographics do a good job of explaining complex concepts, flow charts move you through processes clearly and images support written content.
Forums: Some may argue that forums aren’t content, but they do provide users with a lot of information. When evaluating a forum, check to see that there’s lively interaction, decent advice and information being shared, and solid moderation. There’s nothing worse than a dead, chaotic, or poorly managed forum.
Tip: If you find the amount of content produced and shared by a competitor overwhelming, limit your audit to a finite, defined timeframe.
Step Two: Evaluate the Content
You took notes and categorized the content in step one. Now it’s time to evaluate it to figure out if it’s any good and gain insights about your competitor.
Look for patterns in things like topics, word usage, media types, and publication frequency. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to figure out a lot about your competitor’s content marketing strategies and program, including:
Focus: If you see certain topics popping up frequently, they are likely the pillars of their content marketing efforts.
Marketing priorities: Topics also point to your competitor’s overall marketing and sales priorities. The topics they produce content about likely link to certain products and services.
- Media usage: Understanding what media your competitor uses most can help you determine a few things.
First, the media preferences of the people in their target audience, which is probably similar to yours.
Second, you may be able to glean information about their budgets. Do they primarily use cheap media like email or splurge on things like video?
Finally, you should be able to get a sense of how they prefer to interact with customers and prospects. Do they use passive things like blog articles or more interactive ones like forums and webinars? This could also give you a sense of their selling style.
Brand: A deep analysis of your competitor’s content will help you understand its brand, including its personality, tone, messaging, and imagery.
Keywords: The words and phrases that pop up often in your competitor’s content are likely the keywords they want to rank for in Google and other search engines.
Content quality: Average out all your scores to determine overall content quality. Then look at different content types to see if they’re excelling at one and falling behind in another.
Future direction: Are they doing more of one content type now than they were in the past? Maybe they’re doing less of another. This could indicate relative success and point to their future content direction.
- Frequency: How often a company publishes and distributes content can tell you a lot.
High rates suggest big budgets and a large commitment because content doesn’t come cheap.
It also indicates a high level of ongoing engagement with clients and prospects. No one has budgets these days to produce content no one reads, looks at, watches, or listens to.
Finally, it could also indicate a less than disciplined approach to content marketing, especially if the material and distribution seem scattershot.
Social success: Are people interacting with social posts? If they seem to be liking things and commenting a lot, your competitor is a social media master and you could probably learn from them.
A content audit might seem like a tedious and time-consuming task, but you can learn a significant amount about the competition’s content marketing strategy and capabilities through one.
Step 3. Compare and Contrast
Now that you’ve audited and analyzed your competitor’s content, and come up with insights about it, it’s time to see how your content compares. Use these questions to figure it out and glean additional insights.
What topics do they focus on? Which ones do you? Are there things you should be paying more attention to or less?
What media do they use? Which are you focused on? If your target audiences are the same, can you learn anything from the differences?
If you and your competitor seem to be prioritizing different products and services, could it point you toward a new competitive edge?
Are you able to identify media types you should be using and some to eliminate?
Are you spending too much or too little on content?
Are there new keywords you should be ranking for? Is it time to adjust your Google Ads strategy to focus on some competitive keywords?
Is there anything you could do to increase social media engagement?
What things does your competitor do better than you?
Would you rather work for your competitor or continue to work for your firm?
Is it time to update your brand?
Could what your competitor is doing now point the way to the future?
In a head-to-head competition, which company does content better: you or your competitor?
Can you see how much you can learn from a content audit?
In the end, a content audit can generate a lot of intel that will improve your content marketing program. Once you’re done with one, move on to another competitor. You never know what you may learn!