Best practices for creating effective content with competitive intelligence

Content marketing is an important part of any online marketing strategy. But it’s one that requires a lot of time, energy, and work. And with how difficult it is to gain attention online—especially if you’re in a competitive space—it can often feel like that work isn’t going far enough.

For your content to achieve results, you need to understand not only how people are finding it and how they respond when they do, but also how it compares to other content they encounter. To optimize your content for improved performance, make competitive intelligence (CI) a part of your strategy.

 

Why to Include Competitive Intelligence in Your Content Strategy

Competitive intelligence is the only way to understand the larger content landscape your audience experiences. That’s the first step to learning where your brand fits into it, and how you can make your content more effective based on that knowledge.

1. You’ll identify your top content competitors.

You may think you know who your top competitors are, but it’s entirely possible that your top content competitors aren’t the main businesses you think of in your industry. Content competitors are anyone creating content on the topics you cover. It’s a category that may include companies that aren’t direct competitors, but are in related industries. And it may include media companies that cover your industry.

It’s worth tracking any content competitors that perform well in online channels, in addition to your main product competitors.

2. You can analyze competitor content to learn what works.

You track analytics to understand the success of your own content marketing program and look for ways to improve. Since your competitors are working to appeal to the same audience you are, you can also learn from how their content performs. Analyzing their content performance allows you to gain insights beyond what’s available in your own data to better understand what types of content and topics get the best results.

3. You’ll gain content and keyword ideas you may have overlooked.
A keystone of every content strategy is figuring out the right topics to cover based on your audience’s interests and needs. You can learn a lot from doing audience and keyword research. But you can supplement that knowledge further by analyzing what your competitors are doing. By using competitive intelligence to reverse engineer their keyword strategy and spot topic areas you haven’t yet thought of, you can build out your own strategy further.

4. You can spot content gaps your competitors have left.

There are strategic reasons to target the same keywords your competitors focus on. But it’s even more valuable to find topics your audience cares about that no one’s covered yet. If you can create the first and best piece of content on a subject your potential customers need help with, it’s a valuable opportunity to win the rankings for the associated keyword and reach more potential customers.

 

How to Optimize Content Based on Competitive Intelligence

Performing a CI analysis can teach you a lot. To turn that knowledge into something useful, you need to take steps to apply it to your content strategy.

1. Create and disseminate competitive messaging to all content creators.

In addition to clarifying what you do for customers and why it’s valuable to them, your company’s positioning should also address what makes you unique. After researching how your competitors talk about their brands and products, create messaging documents that emphasize what makes you special. Then distribute them to everyone in your organization involved in the content creation process so the way they talk about your brand and products will always be in line with the official messaging.

2. Identify optimum content frequency.

The question of how often to publish and promote different types of content is a big part of developing a content strategy. Your own analytics can provide some insights into how often your audience wants to see fresh content, but you can supplement your own data by looking closely at what competitors are doing. Use that information to find the right balance of content frequency in your own scheduling for different channels.

3. Analyze their search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

Search engines are one of the main ways people find any type of information they’re looking for. That makes them arguably the most important channel for ensuring people can find your content. And SEO is an area where how you compare to others is especially important. The difference between claiming the top spot in Google and spot number two is huge.

For every relevant keyword you want to rank for, it pays to know who’s getting the top spots and why. Analyze your competitors’ content to understand which pieces are ranking the best and what they’re doing right to get there. Look at factors like content length, the titles they write, the headings they use, and what types of content formats rank best for specific terms. Analyze the site structure, their internal linking habits, and the backlink profile they’ve built.

When you know what’s working for them, it gives you a lot of ammunition in building out your own strategy to grab more of those rankings yourself.

4. Determine their relative success across channels.

Online marketing involves participation in a lot of different channels. There’s organic search, paid search, a long list of social media platforms, email marketing, and video channels, just to name a few. Not all of them deserve equal investment. But knowing which ones to prioritize isn’t obvious—it all depends on your audience.

You want to understand where they spend their time, and how they spend their time on each of those channels. Are they willing to interact with brands on all of them? Where do they have informational versus purchasing intent? This is another area where internal analytics provide some information, but you gain a much bigger picture by looking at how your competitors’ content and activities perform in different channels as well.

5. Identify opportunities for covering topics in new formats.

In addition to looking for content gaps in terms of topics, you may also spot opportunities for covering topics your audience cares about in a format no one else has used yet. Is your audience clamoring for content they can listen to on their daily jog, because none of your competitors have branched into podcasting? Is there a lack of longform, comprehensive guides tackling how to learn the main skills they need to do their jobs well?

Maybe you won’t be the first to create content on that topic, but if you can be the first to create the definitive video or research study on it, you may be able to claim a larger share of the audience searching for that information.

 

Competitive Intelligence Leads to Better Content Marketing

Content marketing is hard enough as it is. There’s no good reason not to use every resource available to make the work you do go further. Doing competitive research to strengthen your strategy enables you to work smarter and deliver more of what your audience wants, ensuring better results.

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