Competitor content auditing: tools and insights
Published 2nd November 2016
Conducting a competitor content audit is an essential part of the research phase to inform any content-led marketing strategies. Not only will you get insight into what content works to drive links and social shares across the range of competitors, you will also get a sense of how and to what level they’re investing in their content marketing endeavours.
In addition to your direct affiliate competitors this exercise can also be useful to conduct on operator sites, particularly those that do a great job with their content engagement and reach. Whilst you may not have anything like an operator’s budget or resource, you can identify common features of successful strategies using their broader data.
Use the data for competitor insights, success characteristics, creative ideation and to inform your year-ahead calendar.
What does success look like?
First, decide what successful content looks like to you, so that you have a framework against which to measure the content assets you’re quantifying. As we all know, social stats and links can all be gamed, so we’re going to need to dig deeper into that data to ensure there’s quality below the quantity.
I’d suggest we want to focus on the metrics that suggest the content is working to attract genuine engagement, first; then combine with qualitative analysis to explore themes.
The data and metrics that you will want to evaluate quantitatively are as follows:
- Titles ergo keyword targets and thematic
- Asset type e.g. video, text, infographic, interactive
- Editorial/quality links per URL
- Social metrics in particular shares and any comments
Content audit tools
For the most part of your analysis you’re going to need some data and scraping tools to help with the volume work, before any manual assessment of best-piece qualities.
First-off, Screaming Frog SEO Spider will help you crawl a site and any content sub-folder, to extract a nice list of all content page URLs, plus the title and data elements if that’s useful.
You can use Majestic SEO Pages report to see the link metrics on a page-by-page basis, cleaning in Excel so you’re only looking at the content sub-folders.
Search Metrics is great tool to show you social metrics on a page-by-page basis, including tweets, likes and shares per post.
Semantria offers a free trial and provides text theme and sentiment analysis in Excel, so you can add in the content piece titles and text content to help pre-qualify which you want to consider for manual analysis.
Finally, you can also go some way to get an idea as to the quality of your competitor content by running a Copyscape Batch report on a handful of their content URLs. This will tell you the level of content overlap with other published sources. Do remember that if their content is great it might be frequently scraped so you might need to do a bit of data hygiene to avoid false positives.
Using the data
There’s just so many ways to get value out of comparing content performance metrics, here’s a few examples of things to evaluate:
- Title formatting – do the highly shared pieces use any common types of title formatting? If so what?
- Is there a topic theme that seems to outperform like-for-like other pieces?
- Are there differences between the content that performs well on social versus the content that seems to attract quality links?
- What are the common features of the pieces with the most ‘engaging’ metrics?
- Are there any marked differences in performance metrics when comparing, for example, interactive HTML pieces, to more traditional text and image pieces?
- What about tone of voice and social metrics? Do all the competitors use humour, and if so, is there any correlation with popularity e.g. the funnier the more sharable?
In addition to the immediate analysis, there are also a number of more strategic insights and ongoing learnings that your analysis can be applied to.
You can use some of the clearest success criteria that come out of your analysis to underpin creative brainstorming. Let’s say for example there’s a clear sign that relatable, athlete “back-story” content correlates strongly with social shares, you can narrow down your brainstorming around this basic idea.
Here are some of the ideation techniques and tactics we use at theMediaFlow to help us come up with original ideas that grab the attention and the visits:
1. Word/free association
Try brainstorming seed terms related to your main theme and start to freely associate those seed terms to any other words and phrases that spring to mind. There is no right answer here; you’re hoping to take off some of the constraints of formal thinking to help stimulate ideas.
2. Mind mapping
There’s a number of different mind mapping techniques, but something that we like to do with our clients is draw out a start position (i.e. we need an interactive guide to Wimbledon) and then a dream, which might be a fantastic result in terms of visits and sign-ups. You then need to imagine the steps on the way. We’ve sparked off some awesome ideas this way using techniques from flowcharts to colourcharts to hand-drawn sketches.
3. Physical distraction
There’s a lot of scientific theory behind the way the brain works when trying to problem solve and think creatively. Harvard researcher Shelley H. Carson says that the subconscious mind is continually trying to work on solving your problem and if we occupy our conscious mind somewhat, this allows the subconscious to be heard, meaning you might have that lightning bolt moment.
In our team creative-brainstorms we use Lego or plasticine as a distraction. I personally seem to get my best ideas on a long run. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
By analysing the most common success criteria, you may start to get a feel for polar content appeals. For example there may be a very straight, informative, statistics-driven type of content that works well in horse racing – whereas emotive content may work well in Formula 1.
Identifying content features and combining with your own site user demographics, you can start to define a couple of visitor personas, which then help to guide and refine your approach to content ideation and styles. When choosing a clear demographic group, you need to think about:
- Is he/she married?
- Does he/she have kids?
- What kind of job is typical for them?
- Where does he/she go for an evening? To the gym or a pub?
Flesh out this persona and write for this person to really help shape your style and tone of voice.
Content auditing can take a little bit of time and effort, but the insights available can really improve the performance of your content as well as save you time and direct your plans, meaning your efforts get more rewards and your approach is more efficient