What’s the first thing you notice when you drop by a competitor’s website? Beyond the eye-catching color and images, you’re probably drawn to their blog.
I mean, just look at it — they’re publishing all these cool articles with big, beautiful images! You need to grab all the ideas you can, then pump out even better versions of them. Right?
Nope. In fact, this approach is a huge mistake.
For one thing, if you rip off your competitor’s content, Google will know. And they’ll downgrade your search rank as a result. This is a real risk.
But there’s an even bigger problem.
If you focus too much on your competitors’ topics and keywords, you’ll miss out on some major opportunities to target audiences they’re neglecting, with messages they aren’t sending.
Ask these five crucial questions to perform an effective competitor analysis — and convert your competitors’ content into impactful insights for your own campaign.
1. What audience are your competitors trying to help?
Instead of focusing on the topics your competitors are writing about, take a step back and think about the people they’re trying to connect with. In other words —
Here’s the first question to ask about your competitor’s content:
“Who is this for?”
Some articles will tell you which audience they’re aimed at, right up front. Other times, you’ll have to sift through the text until you get a picture of the target reader. If you’re looking at a competing bicycle shop’s website, you might notice they’re using imagery and language that appeals to high-performance sport riders. Your competitor’s restaurant might share a lot of images of happy families. Are these the same customers you want to connect with?
Their targeting may ignore or leave out certain groups of people who’ll be thankful for the attention you give them. Since your competitor’s bike shop is focused on athletes, your brand can speak to suburban moms who bike with their kids. While your competitor’s restaurant cultivates a family vibe, you can reach out to the office crowd. Connect with the folks they’re neglecting.
And what if your competitors don’t address any special audience? This is your golden opportunity. Instead of blasting out one-size-fits-all content like your competitor does, you can focus your message on specific market segments, speaking directly to those athletes, young professionals, and suburban moms in their own languages, using imagery they’ll relate to.
2. Which problems are your competitors offering to solve?
Almost every brand promises a solution to some core problem. Red Bull offers a solution to the problem of low energy. Twitter helps solve the problem of losing touch with friends. H&M addresses the problem of finding cool, affordable clothing. Even local brands focus their messaging around particular problems: expensive oil changes, frustrating tax paperwork, scary dentist visits.
As you perform your own competitor analysis, you’ll notice that your competitors target their messaging around specific problems, too. They may even make those problems clear in the headlines of their blog posts — after all, that’s what headlines are for.
Ask yourself how you solve those same problems — or better yet, if you can reframe those problems to point to your solutions.
For example, if your competitor promises the cheapest shoes in town, maybe it’s time to ask whether cheaper really means better. If they guarantee the biggest car selection, point out that browsing hundreds of cars is a waste of time.
Reframe your competitors’ solutions as problems — problems for which you offer the REAL fix.
However you choose to redefine the problems, focus on providing better solutions than the ones your competitor offers. Does their blog serve up recipes? Give your readers more variety, with clearer instructions and bigger photos. Is their blog a guide to used car shopping? Give readers a comprehensive guide to the most eco-friendly used cars on the market.
Outsmart your competitors’ solutions at every turn — whether by reframing them as problems, or by delivering improvements on the fixes they offer.
3. Which competitor keywords result in useful clusters?
Duplicating your competitors’ lists of keywords is a very dangerous game. Google will most likely catch on, and your search ranking will plummet. That said —
Your competitors’ favorite keywords can provide useful jumping-off points for generating your own keyword clusters.
Clusters are groups of keywords that Google’s ranking algorithm already thinks are related. For example, say you’re a transport company, and your competitor’s site focuses heavily around the keyword “logistics.”
When you use Google’s Keyword Planner to generate a cluster related to that keyword, you’ll get related keywords like “logistics best practices,” “logistics FAQ,” and “logistics case studies,” because Google frequently sees all these phrases on top-clicked pages in search results for “logistics.”
Of course, not all keywords will produce equally useful clusters. To find the most effective clusters for your brand, you’ll need to experiment.
Plug each of your competitors’ most relevant keywords into Google’s Keyword Planner, until you get a cluster — or, better yet, a few different clusters — with large numbers of highly searched, low-competition keywords.
Now, the wrong approach would be to stuff your next blog post with dozens of keywords from that cluster — because Google calls that keyword spam. Instead, you want to save the cluster list you’ve generated, and use just a small sprinkling of those keywords in every related piece of content you create.
As you publish more fresh content containing a few keywords from your “logistics” cluster, Google will start to recognize your site as a hub of information on that topic. Since all your posts feature keywords Google thinks are related to your area of expertise, you’ll begin to climb toward the top of the first page of search results.
4. Which topical areas do your competitors circle back to?
Inventing original content tends to get harder over time. Back when your competitors first launched their content campaigns, they probably had all kinds of fresh ideas for unique articles and social media posts — but as the months crept on, that well of ideas started to run dry.
These days, your competitors are circling back to the same old topics, looking for fresh takes on ideas they’ve already covered to death.
As you scan your competitors’ posts, you might get a strange sense of déjà vu. Certain headlines look eerily like earlier ones. The same photos reappear in post after post. Identical keywords pop up with increasing frequency.
Your competitors’ repetitive posts serve as warnings: cover that particular topic just once. Then move on.
Duplicate content will lower Google your search ranking — so instead of obsessing over the same topical areas your competitors do, compile all their best insights, and write one in-depth post that covers that base. Add value with your own unique twists on the topic. Then call it quits and move on to other subjects. That’s the only effective way to safeguard your search ranking.
Coming up with fresh content is a challenge, no question. But the costs of duplication are much greater than the benefits of posting stale, repetitive posts.
Any time you’re tempted to rehash topics you’ve already covered, that’s your cue to sit down with a pen and notepad, and dedicate an hour or so to generating some truly original ideas. Your audience — and Google’s ranking algorithm — will thank you for the effort.
5. Where are your competitors leaving coverage gaps?
Here’s one final point to check in your competitor analysis:
Your competitor may be ignoring certain pain points altogether.
Maybe their cheap lunch buffet doesn’t meet a need for vegetarian dining options around town. Maybe their huge car selection fails to offer environmentally friendly luxury brands at bargain prices.
Oversights like these are your call to action: present a better solution. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should directly criticize your competitor. Just make it clear that you’re the go-to brand for those answers.
Focus your content on topical gaps your competitors leave, and you’ll attract the customers they’re missing.
Your competitors’ topical gaps can also help you solve the challenge of regularly generating original content. The more you analyze your competitors’ posting patterns, the more you’ll notice issues in your industry that they’re just not paying attention to: news stories, local events, hot-button debates, and frequently asked questions that you can step in and answer.
Another excellent way to fill gaps in your competitors’ coverage is to provide in-depth guides to issues they cover only briefly. If they provide a quick 10-step guide to shopping for houses in your town, counter with a fully researched presentation on each neighborhood’s top sights and attractions, complete with friendly infographics and checklists.
Blow your audience away with the lengths you’ll go to when providing useful, unique insights.
You’ll notice the difference in your site traffic, in your user engagement — and ultimately, in your bottom line.
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A 15-year veteran of the journalism and media industries, Ben loves to energize audiences about the frontiers of science, culture and technology — and the ways all these come together.