Pablo Picasso famously said: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”
Except that he probably didn’t come up with that zinger on his own. It’s been attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to TS Eliot.
Which proves the point: For memorable content, steal what you can and make it your own.
Your content is competing for your buyers’ attention. To make an impression, you have to be more informative, more entertaining, and more engaging than your competitors, both direct and indirect.
We’re not suggesting plagiarism here. We’re encouraging you to get a deep understanding of the landscape by conducting some competitive recon. Here’s how to use competitive research to bolster your B2B content marketing strategy and ultimately improve performance.
How to Improve Your B2B Content Performance with Competitive Research
There are two major components to competitive research. First, you should experience specific competitors’ content in the same way your audience is. Second, take a broader look at content from the audience’s perspective. Here’s how to do both.
Analyze Competitor Content
What type of experience is your competitor giving your target buying audience? How does it compare to what you’re offering? Go undercover as a potential customer for your top competitors and see how they do it.
#1: Read Their Blogs
Take a look at what they’re posting about, how frequently certain topics come up, and how in-depth their treatment is of each topic. You can also analyze how frequently they post, how long each post is, influencer/guest involvement, and whether there’s an option to subscribe.
Once you have a feel for the blog, put the blog’s URL in BuzzSumo’s content analyzer and see how their content is actually performing. Is their approach working? If not, how can you do better? If so… well… how can you do better?
#2: Sign up for Email Lists
Content is only the first stage of a potential customer relationship, of course. So it’s worth seeing how your competitors are deepening the relationship with their audience. Sign up for their newsletter or subscribe to the blog and see what happens.
Are the emails relevant? Do they appear personalized? What do you find unsatisfying about them?
Naturally, it makes sense to subscribe to your own email drip as well — even if you’re the one writing the messages. It’s worth seeing how the nurture campaign plays out in real time.'Undercover Boss' your own brand... Your goal is to be pathologically empathetic to your customers. Why? Because: Empathy is the Miracle-Gro of a thriving customer-centric business. - @annhandley of @MarketingProfs Click To Tweet
#3: Attend Webinars
A webinar takes time and resources to plan and execute, so it’s a good way to gauge how your competitors are shaping their content strategy. Take note of what topics they’re covering, and whether they have other industry experts co-hosting.
Live webinars generally have publicly-displayed stats on who is listening, and a chat for live engagement. Take note of how many people turned up, how many stay on for the entire webinar, and how many use the chat functionality.
Zero In on Audience Intent
Keeping track of what works for your competitors is only part of the equation. Your content is competing with more than just what other players in your industry are publishing. It’s competing with everything else trying to grab your customers’ attention. As customer service and experience expert Shep Hyken has put it: “The good news is that you no longer have to keep up with your competition; the bad news is that now you have to keep up with your customer.”The good news is that you no longer have to keep up with your competition; the bad news is that now you have to keep up with your customer. @Hyken Click To Tweet
The best way to keep up with your customer is to know exactly what they’re looking for, how they’re looking, and whether or not they’re finding it. Here’s how to get started.
#1: Analyze Top-Shared and Linked Content by Topic
Last year, BuzzSumo released their Content Trends 2018 report. In it, they found that social media sharing had decreased by 50% in the last three years. Social shares used to be common currency; now they’re a rare gem.
As such, content that’s actually earning social shares is well worth studying. Check to see what content is ranking first in search, for sure, but don’t neglect the social aspect. It’s worth looking at what content is earning backlinks, too — that’s another sign the content is resonating with its intended audience.
#2: Explore Keyword Intent
As search algorithms become more sophisticated, keyword research has grown increasingly complex. Modern SEO is less about finding one or two brief phrases to rank for, and more about topic clusters and long-tail keywords.
When doing keyword research, focus on how your most valuable audience would search for what they need the most. For example, if you’re offering a cloud-based ERP for small businesses, top-performing content for “cloud-based ERP” is likely to be less relevant to your audience than the long-tail variant “cloud-based ERP for SMB.”
Read: The Key to SEO & Content Marketing Success: Understanding Search Intent
#3: Fill Content Gaps
Once you have dialed closer into audience intent, you can identify where existing content isn’t meeting their needs. The end result of this research will be clusters of lower-volume but highly relevant keyword phrases that don’t yet have high-quality, best-answer content in their search results.
Writing content to address these long-tail clusters will provide far more value for your audience than trying to capture a highly-competitive, more generic single phrase.
#4: Connect with Industry Influencers and Experts
Whether you’re engaging in ongoing influencer marketing initiatives or maintain contact and rapport with a small group of personal industry contacts, industry thought leaders and niche experts can be invaluable resources in this pursuit. When you work with the right influencers, there’s an incredible opportunity to gain deeper insights about who your audience is, what they care about, and what they’re struggling with so you can create content they’re searching for and need.Working with B2B influencers allows our brand to have a constant pulse check with purchase decision makers. - @konstanze Click To Tweet
Read: The Intersection of SEO & Influencer Marketing: What B2B Marketers Need to Know
Competitor Research Tools
The kind of content analysis you’ll need to do for proper competitor research can’t be done alone. Here are a few of my favorite tools that make the job more manageable.
- BuzzSumo to find top shared and linked content by topic or domain.
- SEMrush to help identify long-tail keywords, topic clusters and content gaps
- RivalIQ to monitor social media sentiment, track engagement and more
- QuickSprout to analyze competitor site performance.
Get Competitive with Your B2B Content
Competitor research can inform your content marketing strategy in two crucial ways. First, you can see what your competitors are doing that’s working, borrow it, and do it better. Second, you can see what they’re not doing, where your content can step in and shine. For both, it’s about delivering uniquely valuable content in the context of an ongoing positive brand experience.
Need help with your content strategy? Our SEO audit can help identify the biggest opportunities to get ahead of competitors.