Who wouldn’t want to become a secret agent like Jack Bauer, Ethan Hunt, and Perry the Platypus? We all want cool gadgets, sexy entourages, and glamorous gigs.
More importantly, we want to be secret agents because they always have inside information.
And as a content marketer, you can get the secret scoop on your competitors by doing a little high-tech spying.
Using slick online snooping techniques and a little sweat equity, we can all find out what our competitors are doing well, what they could be doing better, and how we can adapt their best techniques to improve our own businesses.
Let’s go looking …
Why you need to find out what your competitors are doing
We can find out what products our competitors are creating, what content is doing well on their websites, and how they’re ranking in the search engines.
Competitive research lets us see where they’re thriving — and where they’re failing.
We use our research to help us brainstorm marketing ideas, create better content, and tweak our online strategies so we get better at what we do.
Finding out what our competition is doing is highly motivating – it can be a kick in the pants that motivates us to get stuff done bigger and better.
Because there’s nothing like knowing what your competitor is doing well to help you crank out your next great content masterpiece.
How to find your competitors
Many of us know who our main competitors are, but it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper than just the top few names.
Look for competitors on social media, in search engine results, and in traditional media outlets. Also, pay attention to people who are making a splash on the speaking circuit and authors writing new books in your industry.
And always keep your eyes peeled for new and talented guest bloggers on your favorite industry blogs. That’s a great place to spot new and upcoming competitors.
Start your research
When you’re looking at what your competition is doing online, here are a few things you’ll be checking out:
- The products and services your competition is offering
- The content they are publishing on their website and on social networking sites
- Their social media strategy
- Their SEO strategy
- Their level of social success
- Your competition’s overall strengths and weaknesses
Examining your competition’s online content
Are your main competitors using content marketing strategies? If so, how well are they doing? Are they publishing great content on a regular basis?
When you do your research, examine their content in depth — find out what topics they’ve covering, how good their writing is, what content is getting a strong response from their audience and how many social shares their posts are getting.
Look at what your competition is doing better than you — are they cleverly newsjacking hot topics so they get tons of traffic? Are they coming up with creative ideas and new insights? Is their writing better than yours? Is their audience larger? If so, can you figure out why it’s larger, more loyal or more engaged?
By gathering data on their content, you can not only assess how well they’re doing (or not doing) with their online marketing, but you can also discover great new ideas. If you find a topic that is taking off with your competitor’s audience, you can potentially adapt that topic for your readers by putting your own unique spin or angle on it.
No, I am absolutely not recommending you plagiarize or steal ideas. Let me repeat: Don’t do that.
But if a specific topic is really resonating with an audience and attracting a lot of discussion, you can figure out how to cover that topic on your site — in your own way — and still stay well within the bounds of our online marketer’s ethical code.
Researching your competition’s search performance
You should always keep an eye on the search result pages in the top search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and Bing) for the most sought-after keyword phrases in your industry.
Regularly run keyword searches to see where your competitors rank. Search engine research can help you figure out new keyword phrases to target in your own SEO efforts.
One of the best ways to how your competition stacks up in search is to examine how many backlinks they have — and the quality of those backlinks.
Looking at the sites that link to your competitors not only helps you discern how successful that company is in the search engines, but also gives you clues about their online relationships and alliances.
When you discover backlinks to your competitors, you can look at the anchor text phrases they’re targeting, which can give you clues about their SEO strategy and the keyword phrases they’re trying to rank for.
There are many free and paid tools that will help you dig into this research – Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO are two of my favorites.
Spying on social results
Do a quick check through their social media profiles. How many fans or followers do they have? Are they consistently posting great content on their profiles? Have they attracted vocal brand advocates who consistently talk them up? Are they driving people back to their website and converting them into mailing list subscribers?
Search for your competitor’s name on Twitter and Facebook to see what people are saying about them — are the comments generally positive, or are people complaining? Is there a need that the audience has that isn’t being properly met by your competitor’s products and services?
One of the quickest and easiest ways to search for what people are saying about your competitors on Twitter is just to run a Twitter search for the URL of one of their latest blog posts. For example, this is what people are tweeting regarding Kelton Reid’s recent post about Dan Harmon.
You can easily check to see what content people are sharing on Pinterest from a particular website by going to www.pinterest.com/source/[yoursitehere]. For instance, you can see Copyblogger’s Pinterest source page here. You can learn a lot by examining the descriptions pinners use when they pin content (and which boards they pin content to, as well.)
Another great place to look for feedback on your competitors is on review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor or InsiderPages. And don’t forget about newsletters, forums, LinkedIn groups, Twitter chats and Facebook groups, too — they’re always great places to do online social spying, too.
Setting up your system
As with most online research, studying your competitors isn’t a once-and-done affair. You’ll want to regularly monitor what your competitors are doing online.
The best way to make sure you keep up with your research is to develop systems that make it easy.
Create spreadsheets of the competitors you’re tracking (and all the critical information for each), and make good use of the available ways to save your searches using RSS feeds and alerts.
Build time into your calendar every month to revisit your competitive research and see what (if anything) has changed. Then use your planning time to integrate all the new ideas you’ve found in your research.
Getting the inside track
All the best secret agents do their research — because inside information can mean the difference between succeeding in their missions and failing miserably.
So make sure you regularly conduct competitive research. Then get yourself a fedora, some x-ray glasses and an awesome car, and you’re all set
This is part three of the Content Research Series
This post is part three of our series on how to do effective research as a content marketer.
To get the full series, watch for future posts here on Copyblogger. If you’re not already subscribed, sign up to get new posts delivered straight to your inbox.
Miss the start of this research series? You can read the first two below …
About the Author: Beth Hayden is a blogging coach and Pinterest marketing convert. You can follow her pins at @bethhayden. To learn how to market effectively with Pinterest, download her free report, "5 Stupid Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Make Money with Pinterest."