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Published October 21st 2015

Why You Should Leverage Competitive Intelligence In Content Marketing

Knowledge is power and never more so than today. In a fast changing world what you don’t know can you hurt you, mainly because your competitors know it. They’re watching what you do – are you watching back? Competitive intelligence is a key part of any business strategy and it applies equally to content marketing.

We have updated our competitor intelligence advice below and included competitor tracking using BuzzSumo’s new monitoring dashboards and Facebook Analyzer tool.

Back in 1999 Andy Grove of Intel wrote a classic management text “Only the Paranoid Survive”. Whilst this maybe an extreme view, if a good book title, there is something to be gained by having a paranoid curiosity about your competitors and gaining intelligence on what they are doing.

In this post I will show you how you can gather intelligence on your competitor’s content marketing, there is no substitute for data.

“too often, people substitute opinions for facts and emotions for analysis.”
Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

More importantly, we will look at how to turn this information into actionable insights so you can outperfom your competitors.

1. Monitor Your Competitors

Things don’t stand still.  A winning strategy today may not be the same as a winning strategy last year. One of your key tasks is to track your competitors and how well they are doing.
You can probably name your competitors. You probably check their sites out and look at their tweets when you have a second. But how forensic are you about keeping tabs on what they’re doing? This includes:

  1. reviewing the links they are acquiring to their content each day or week – who’s linking to them?
  2. reviewing their top content, what content did they publish last week and how well is it doing?
  3. being alerted every time they create break out content that gets a lot of shares – what worked?
  4. tracking their share of mentions in web content, on Facebook and on Twitter – what can you do to take a share?

Feeling like it’s time for a little healthy paranoia? Help is at hand. Here’s some simple ways to crawl all over your competitors’ content marketing.

Link Monitoring

Set up a BuzzSumo link alert. This will alert you every time there is a new link to their domain, a sub-domain or to a specific piece of content. Below the dashboard chart shows the number of links acquired by Moz and BuzzSumo in the last month. We have a long way to go to catch Moz but we growing our links faster and gained over 450 new links in the last month. From here you can go deeper and see who’s linking to your competitors. Are there domains that don’t link to you, but should? Now you have new ideas for your outreach and relationship building.

New Competitor Content

Competitor knowledge is power, but it loses its currency very quickly. You need to know, in as close to real time as possible, what your competitors are publishing. You can set up a BuzzSumo alert to be notified every time new content is published by your competitor on their domain. This saves you having to visit and review their site for new content. You can also set a threshold, such as a minimum of 100 shares or for viral content that gets say 1,000 shares.

Here is an RSS feed of Moz’s most recently published content with over 500 shares.

You can also compare the volume of content published by competitor websites over time. Here is an example comparing Moz, Hubspot and BuzzSumo. Yep, we are the ones at the bottom.

You can also use BuzzSumo’s most shared search (see below) to review the performance of content published by a competitor in the last day, week, month or six months. See things that cause you to slap your head and say ‘we were going to do that?’ Maybe you’ll get there first now that you’re watching closely.

Mention Monitoring

You can set up an alert to be notifed every time a brand is mentioned in any web content such as an article or blog on the web. If your competitor’s brand name is not unique you can use advanced operators eg + or – to narrow your alerts. As with all alerts you can decide to receive your alerts in real time or as a daily digest and choose the language. As a competitor alert we suggest you leave the minimum number of shares at zero so you see everything.

Your alerts will also appear in your dashboard. Below is data on the number of mentions of Brandwatch and BuzzSumo in web content over the last month.

You still get a detailed note on every mention under the charts and a link to the post.

Mentions in web content are powerful as they build over time and have a flywheel effect, you brand will be seen each time the content is accessed, links are even more powerful. Mentions on Twitter by contrast are important in terms of buzz but they don’t build in the same way, as it is very rare for someone to search back through tweets compared to searching web content. However, you can track both public Facebook mentions and Twitter mentions.

Facebook Mentions

You also look at mentions of a competitor’s brand on Facebook using BuzzSumo’s new Facebook Analyzer tool. Below are the top performing Facebook posts mentioning Moz.

The tool will show you the total volume of interactions with posts over time, recent trends, top post formats and much more.

Twitter Mentions

If you want to see mentions of a competitor’s brand on Twitter you can use Topsy’s free analysis tool. Below is an example of mentions showing mentions of Buzzsumo recently. You can see the peak in mentions when we launched our new Facebook Analyzer tool.

2. In-Depth Review of Competitor Content Performance

So now you know the relative level of mentions and social shares your competitors are getting. But for really actionable insights, you need to go deeper to get to the why. Start with the content analysis section in BuzzSumo and undertake an overview of your competitor’s content for the last year, or any shorter period such as the last month.

In BuzzSumo Pro you can run detailed content analysis reports for a competitor. Simply enter a competitor’s domain, and you can run a detailed report showing the total articles published in a defined time period; the average shares per post; the shares by network and day published; and a breakdown by content format such as infographics, list posts, how to posts, videos, etc.

In BuzzSumo Pro you can also run this report as a domain comparison, which allows you to compare the performance of content published on your domain with a competitor’s content. Below is an example of Moz v BuzzSumo. Moz is way out in front with total volumes but BuzzSumo is winning in terms of average shares per article.

Review a Competitor’s Most Shared Content

Maybe the most direct analysis to to check out your competitors best performing content, and see how it compares to yours. By typing your competitor’s domain into BuzzSumo’s Most Shared search, you can see your competitor’s most shared content across all the main social networks. Thus at a glance you will be able to see your competitor’s top performing content including the headline, content type, and the networks where they are getting the most traction. Below as an example is Moz’s top content in the last month.

BuzzSumo will sort the list of most shared content by the number of total shares by default. You can re-sort the list by any of the networks such as by your competitor’s most shared content on LinkedIn.

3. Identify Where Can You Win

Knowledge isn’t power until you apply it. So you need to take all of these insights and decide how you can turn them to your advantage.

I like the comparison of tall city buildings and content marketing. No one visits the 5th tallest building in a city, all of the competitive advantage goes to the tallest buildings. Much the same is true in content marketing. Top content outperforms average content significantly, by a factor of ten or more. It is increasingly a winner-takes-all game as Rand Fishkin pointed out in his recent post on creating 10x content. People link and share the best post on a topic rather than an average article. To gain traction you need to make sure you have the best content that meets the needs of your audience.

So who has the best content on the latest developments in your market or the best practical case studies? You or your competitors? Where are the opportunities for you to develop the very best content?

The key is to identify the areas where you can dominate, relative to your competitors, where you can be the tallest building. Your competitive edge could stem from research, case studies or specific knowledge. Or you could produce the most comprehensive content or the best video. It takes time to become the tallest building. But on the way you could be the fastest growing, quirkiest, most different…in some way your content has to stand out.

4. How Is Their Content Amplified?

Content amplification is a critical part of any content marketing strategy. You may actually produce better content than your competitors but fail to amplify it as well as they do. There are a number of aspects to content amplification including:

  1. people sharing content
  2. sites linking to content
  3. Facebook promotion
  4. paid amplification via ads and promotion

Influential sharers

With BuzzSumo you can see who is sharing and amplifying your competitor’s content by clicking on ‘view sharers’  for a particular content item.  This will bring back a list of the influential people that have shared their content. For example, here are four influencers that shared their top post this month.

Are there influential shares who amplify your competitors’ content, but not yours? If so, what can you do about that?

BuzzSumo will show you whether you already follow the influencer on Twitter and give you the option to follow them and add them to a Twitter list. You might want to set up a Twitter list of people that share competitor content. From there it’s about building a relationship and making it mutual. But you have to start by finding them.


Both BuzzSumo and SEMrush will allow you to see who is linking to your competitor’s content. In BuzzSumo you can see who is linking to a specific blog post or the domain as a whole. In SEMrush you can do comparisons across multiple competitors as shown below.

Facebook Promotion

Facebook now drives 25% of all web traffic and we are seeing Facebook grow in importance.

Using BuzzSumo’s Facebook Analyzer you can review how your competitors are promoting and engaging their audience on Facebook. Below is a simple list view of Moz’s most engaging Facebook posts.

You can analyze by type, by date and time of posts to examine what is working best for them and draw conclusions for me.

Paid Ads

SEMrush is a great tool for reviewing the performance of paid Google ads. You can review the keywords they bid on, an estimate of how much they spend and even the ads themselves. Below is an example for Moz.

Want to learn more about paid ads? Read how to leverage paid ads in your content amplification strategy.

5. Refine Your Amplification Strategy

So once you’ve seen how your competitors are getting their content shared, What can you learn from your competitor’s amplification strategy?

  • Do they have different influencers and amplifiers? Can you build relationships with them?
  • Where are they attracting links from? Are these opportunities for you?
  • What do they do well or poorly in terms of Facebook amplification that you can learn from?
  • Do they use paid ads and what ideas can you steal?

10 questions you should be able to answer about your competitors

We’re all busy. You don’t have time to obsess about what your competitors are doing 24/7, you have your own business to drive on. But you need to be looking left and right. So focus on a set of questions to help you stay on top. Try to ask them at least once a month about your nearest competitor set.

  1. What’s their best performing content this week / month?
  2. How well shared is their content compared to ours?
  3. How much do they publish compared to us?
  4. What type of content do they produce? How long, what formats? Are we the same or different?
  5. When do they publish it? Do they get more traction on a certain day?
  6. Who amplifies it – who are their top 10 most influential sharers, are they different to ours?
  7. Who links to them- what are the top 10 most authoritative domain links, are they different to ours?
  8. What keywords do they target in ads? Same as ours or different?
  9. What’s working best for them on Facebook?
  10. What content is trending fastest for them today?
  11. What’s the number one thing they do way better than us?
  12.  How are we going to get better than them at it?

These last two bonus questions can help turn insights into action.

This isn’t about copying them. This is about turning your competitor knowledge into powerful insights to help you win.

Because, my paranoid friend, that’s what your competitors are doing to you.


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