Understanding how your competitors are using content to engage their audiences and drive interest in their products or services can help shine a light on your own content marketing approach.
Even if you’re not new to content marketing, taking the time to compare your efforts to those of your competitors can help you stay on top of trends. You can even discover new ways to capture your audience’s attention using content.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to do a competitive content analysis step-by-step. We’ll also show you how to identify your own content strengths and areas for improvement. We’ll discuss:
- What Is a Competitive Content Analysis?
- Why Do a Competitive Content Analysis?
- How to Do a Competitive Content Analysis
- How to Turn your Competitive Content Analysis into Action
What Is a Competitive Content Analysis?
A competitive content analysis is the process of analyzing your competitors’ content strategies in a structured way. By breaking down the analysis into steps, it’s easier to uncover your potential competitors’ top-performing content and weak spots and identify your competitive advantages.
Why Do a Competitive Content Analysis?
There are many reasons to do a competitor content analysis, but the main purpose of the exercise is to help you:
- Benchmark your efforts: Understand how your content marketing efforts compare to others in your industry. You’ll see the type of content your target audience expects from you and how they prefer to engage with it.
- Find content gaps: Identify your competitors’ top-performing and low-performing content. Understand what your target audience likes (so you can do it better) and what content approaches don't get a lot of traction (so you can avoid them).
- Keep your content fresh: Find fresh ideas to put a creative spin on, and make sure your content efforts stand out from the crowd.
How to Do a Competitive Content Analysis
Ultimately, a competitive content analysis will help you stay one step ahead of your competition. It will ensure that any content you create is unique and valuable for your target audience. And doing a competitive content analysis is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, we’ve created a Free Downloadable Competitive Research Template with everything you need to get started.
You can make a copy of this template and use it as you go through each step below.
Step 1: Make a list of your competitors.
When starting a competitive content analysis, begin with a list of your direct and indirect competitors.
Your direct competitors are any brand, business, or person that offers the same products or services that you do.
Your indirect competitors are any brand, business, or person that offers products or services that differ from yours but that could satisfy the same customer needs. They might also solve the same problem that your products or services do.
You can also examine media publications. Online magazines and blogs that create content on the same topic as your brand can be a useful way to get content ideas and to find potential partnerships.
Case study: Casper
Let’s use Casper, a company that sells quality mattresses directly to consumers online, as an example.
There are many direct competitors of Casper that sell the same product. Examples include Tuft & Needle, Leesa, Purple, Helix, and Nectar. Even Walmart and Amazon, who have both launched private “mattress-in-a-box” labels, could be considered direct competitors of Casper.
Meanwhile, brands that don’t sell mattresses but offer other products or services to help people sleep better would be considered indirect competitors of Casper. For example, pillow company PlutoPillow, apps such as Calm and SleepCycle, or even consumable brands such as RemRise, The Nue Co., and Moon Juice. These businesses also aim to satisfy the same customer need: getting a better night’s sleep.
You will want to put together a list of both your direct and indirect competitors. They will all have different content strategies for you to analyze.
Pro tip: Use Semrush to help generate a list of your competitors. Type your domain name into the Organic Research tool, and navigate to the ‘Competitors’ tab.
Step 2: Review your competitors’ business core and positioning.
Starting with your direct competitors, you’ll want to gather basic information about them so you can better understand their goals and target audience.
Take a look at their homepage’s title and meta description. You can view this manually in Google search results or use the SEOquake Chrome Extension to scrape it from any page. Also review their homepage copy. How do they define who they are and what they do?
You can also look at the top product or service categories on your competitors’ websites. These categories usually influence the content marketing direction and content categories; that’s why it’s important to take the time to understand exactly what each competitor offers.
Example product categories for Casper competitor Tuft & Needle
In this step, you can also take note of whether your competitor is well-established or new in your market. Do they have brand recognition yet? This will help you assess your opportunities and limitations more objectively.
You can gather this information by doing a manual Google search for each competitor company and seeing what comes up in the results. Then review their “About Us” pages on their websites and check Crunchbase to see if they have raised significant funding, etc.
Alternatively, you can use the Top Pages report in Semrush’s Traffic Analytics to see pages that drive the most traffic to your competitor’s website.
Step 3: Analyze key SEO metrics.
A proper competitor content analysis also involves looking at key SEO metrics to identify any potential content gaps your site may have compared to your competition. For example, you may discover that a lot of people are engaging with and sharing your competitor’s videos. This may mean there’s an opportunity for you to create more video content as well.
In this step, your goal is to understand how much traffic and engagement with content is expected in your niche. It’s also to understand which of your competitors are doing a good job creating that content.
Monthly organic search traffic
Gathering monthly organic search traffic numbers on your competitors can help you benchmark your own brand against them. To do this you'll need an SEO or analytics tool, and there are several options. If you are using Semrush, go to Domain Overview. Type in your competitor’s website, and you’ll be able to view their Organic Search Traffic.
You can also use Google Analytics to find organic search traffic numbers on your own site by going to Acquisition > Overview > Organic Search. Make sure to establish the right date range.
Domain Authority Score
A domain authority score is another metric you can use to assess the overall effectiveness of your competitors’ content marketing efforts. Use it to benchmark against your own content and SEO strategy.
Several SEO tools generate their own version of this score. The Semrush Authority Score demonstrates a domain's or webpage's overall quality and SEO performance. It is based on a variety of metrics (such as organic search, website traffic and backlinks data) that showcase trustworthiness and authority, using a neural network and machine learning to ensure maximum accuracy.
If you’re using Semrush, head to Domain Overview > Overview > Authority Score. Check this score for your competitors and your own site.
Top country by traffic
Depending on your product or service, you may need to localize your content to appeal to your target audience. If you are competing with other brands or businesses in a specific region, you will want to analyze where their traffic originates.
You can use Google Analytics to find this information for your own website. You’ll need to create a Segment of all traffic coming from Organic Search (where medium = organic). Then go to Audience > Geo > Locations). To analyze your competitors, you can use Semrush (Domain Overview > Overview > Distribution by Country - Organic).
Average time on site
The average time users spend on a site is another important engagement metric. It will help you understand whether or not people are actually enjoying or engaging with your competitors’ content.
First, check the average time users are spending on your own website. You can use Google Analytics (Audience > Overview), making sure to establish the right date range.
If you are using Semrush to find an estimate of this metric for your competitors, head to Domain Overview > Overview > Avg. Visit Duration.
Estimated number of top keywords
Next, you can look at how many keywords your competitors are ranking for on the first page of organic search results. This list of keywords can help you identify which of your competitors have the strongest SEO and content strategy. You’ll be able to learn from them and try new content ideas.
If you are using Semrush, head to Organic Research > Positions > and in the first drop-down menu select Pos: Top 10.
Estimated number of backlinks
Knowing which of your competitors generate a lot of backlinks can help you find more link magnet ideas and link-building opportunities.
Pro tip: Semrush allows you to compare your brand vs. your competitor for these key SEO metrics at a glance. Here’s a look at a comparison of the Authority Score, Organic Traffic, Backlinks, etc. for Casper vs. Tuft & Needle.
As you analyze each of these SEO metrics for your competitors, try to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses and ask yourself:
- Do any of your competitors have problems with organic traffic?
- Which content formats seem to have the most engagement for them? Which have low engagement?
- Is there any specific content that generates an unusual amount of attention and/or backlinks for your competitors?
This step will help you establish benchmarks for organic traffic and domain authority in your niche. You can now figure out where your brand stands compared to your competitors.
Explore the 9-step SEO Writing Checklist for 2021
Step 4: Review their on-site content.
Now it’s time to take a deep dive into the website content your competitors are creating. This step will help you uncover content marketing trends in your niche as well as generate new ideas to improve your own content marketing strategy.
Key content categories
Analyzing your competitors' content categories is a great way to start figuring out your industry's most popular content themes. A good way to find this information is by looking at the main blog sections and blog post tags on your competitor’s site.
Blog content quality
Analyzing the quality of your competitors’ content can be subjective. However, there are things you can look for to help you decide how well they are doing.
- How detailed are the posts? Longreads (7,000+ word articles) perform extremely well, driving nearly 4X more traffic* than articles of average length (900-1,200 words).
- Do they follow a structure? At least 44%* of posts with a simple structure (i.e., that use H2 & H3) perform well in terms of traffic and engagement.
- Are they using quality images or design? Posts with at least one image receive twice as much traffic as text-only posts. They also get 30%* more shares and 25%* more backlinks.
- Is the content easy to read and understand? Posts containing at least one list per every 500 words of plain text receive 70%* more traffic than posts without lists.
- Do you notice any grammar or spelling mistakes?
* Data from the Global State of Content Marketing Report 2020.
Try scoring each of these elements from 0 to 10 based on your own opinions and what you feel is quality content.
Assessing the average length of your competitors’ content will help you establish targets for your own content. Use tools such as the Word Counter Plus Chrome extension to measure the word count of a specific web page or blog post.
You can also leverage the SEO Content Template and SEO Writing Assistant, which offer suggestions for the optimal length of a content piece based on the top competing pages.
Text length recommendations for the “best mattress for side sleepers” keyword in the SEO Content Template
Key content formats
Now it’s time to create a list of content formats your competitors are using. Some examples of content formats you might find include:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Data visualizations
- Interactive content
Be sure to check their blog alongside other pages on the site, such as testimonial pages, FAQs, etc. This will help to ensure you’re not missing anything.
Making a list of the key content formats your competitors are using will help you understand how much time and resources they invest in content marketing. You’ll also be able to see how often they create different types of content.
Once armed with this information, you can identify ideas to replicate or figure out how to differentiate your own content strategy.
Many businesses create a lot of content but forget to include a call-to-action to help convert their readers or website visitors into leads. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check what tactics your competitors are using to capture potential customer contact information on their sites.
Check for things like newsletter sign-up forms, banners or pop-up windows, gated offers, and other similar tactics.
You may start to notice a pattern in the types of tools and calls-to-action they use. This can be a good indicator of what works well in your niche.
Influencers and thought leaders
Nowadays, many businesses also work with influencers and partners to help create content and engage with their audiences. If you notice your competitors are working with or promoting content created by influencers, make a list of their names and the type of content they are creating. That way you can reach out to them as well.
Pro tip: Using the Semrush Brand Monitoring tool, you can find all positive mentions about your brand and establish partnerships with influencers and non-competitive brands.
Bonus: Content team
If you're looking to grow your content team, check out your competitors' team pages or LinkedIn company pages. It will help you to better understand their team size and what roles they have.
Looking at each team member’s job title can also reveal where your competitors are putting their resources. For instance, are there multiple people working on video marketing? Or do they have a strong social media team?
On LinkedIn, you can navigate to “People” on your competitor’s company page. Once you’re there, search for specific keywords such as “marketing” or “content.” At Casper competitor Tuft & Needle, we can see that 38 people have the keyword “content” in their job title or description.
Example roles at Tuft & Needle include:
- Head of Content
- Head of Email
- Content Manager
- Senior Multimedia Producer
- Head of Affiliate and Influencer
- Video Editor
Step 5: Turn your competitive content analysis into action.
Now that you’ve gathered all of this information on your competitors’ content strategies, the final step is to summarize how you can make your content better. Base this on their (and your own) strengths and weaknesses.
Additionally, you will now have everything you need to:
- Identify the competitors you should watch closely when it comes to content marketing
- Generate new content ideas (topics, themes, and formats)
- Try new tactics to generate leads with your content
- Determine your own weak points
- Test new ways to improve your overall content strategy
After analyzing your direct competitors, you can also repeat the process for your indirect competitors. Remember, it’s also okay to skip some of the steps for any of your competitors if you don’t find them relevant. This process and our free template are flexible and can be customized to fit your specific business needs.
Bonus Steps: Dive into top-performing content pages and social media content
If you’d like to take your competitive content analysis a few steps further, you can make a list of your competitors’ most popular pages (i.e., those with the most traffic and backlinks). This will help you get more granular with generating content ideas for your own content calendar.
Then, you might want to review their social media content strategies to get a complete picture.
Top pages by traffic and backlinks
You will need an SEO tool to complete this bonus step. If you are using Semrush to find your competitors’ top pages by traffic, go to Organic Research > Type in your competitor's domain > Pages.
Filter those pages by traffic volume and summarize your findings. Which topics and themes seem to attract the most attention? Manually inspect interesting pages and make a note of the content format, structure, etc.
Eliminate any pages that are not relevant or that don’t create any actionable insights for your content research.
Analyzing which pages of your competitors are receiving the most backlinks can also give you an idea of which formats and topic ideas attract “link creators” in your niche.
If you are using Semrush, you can find your competitors’ pages with the most backlinks by going to Backlink Analytics > Type in your competitor's domain > Indexed Pages.
Social media content
Your competitors’ social media pages can also be great sources of content inspiration.
- First, identify which channels they use to distribute content (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.).
- Then take a look at how often they post, and the primary content formats they use (images, videos, GIFs, etc.).
- Check which types of posts receive the most engagement, such as comments and likes.
Pro tip: Use the Semrush Social Media tracker to automate your efforts in this space.
Now that you’ve analyzed every aspect of your competitors’ content marketing strategies, you can outline areas to optimize your own content funnel and boost your content performance. This will help you find ways to spend your resources more efficiently.
It’s also important to remember that doing a competitive content analysis should be a regular part of your overall content strategy. Businesses come and go - and your competitors are also adjusting their content strategies to keep up with trends and ever-changing consumer behavior. It’s a good idea to check in with your competitors and do a competitor analysis on a quarterly or yearly basis. This will help you uncover new content ideas and assess your own performance.