Great content, like great ideas, can spring from anywhere. 

One great place to start is researching your competitor's content. Understanding what’s working well for the leaders in your space is the first step in improving your content intelligence.

In this guide, we'll explore:

  • What is content intelligence
  • Why your content competitors may not be the same as your product/service competitors
  • 6 steps to analyzing your competitor's content

What is content intelligence?

We like this definition from the American Marketing Association:

Content intelligence represents the systems and software that transform content data and business data into actionable insights for content strategy and tactics with impact.

It's not enough to know your competitor just published a great new whitepaper. You need to step back and assess their entire body of work to generate meaningful insights that will inform your own work.

Content competitors vs. product/service competitors

The companies you compete with for readers, engagements, and links may not be the same as those you compete with for sales. 

To make sure you are benchmarking against the right competitors, we recommend starting your analysis by looking at topics, not domains.

In BuzzSumo's Content Analysis, enter the topic you want to write about. 

For example - at BuzzSumo, we write often about content marketing and strategy. Here's an analysis of top producing companies on the topic of content marketing

Looking across these sites (and what a great selection it is!), we see many thought leaders, blogs, publishers, and even some that offer complimentary products that assist with other content marketing efforts. But no one that is really a direct product or service competitor. 

Yet these are the leaders we want to benchmark against to create content that connects with an audience.

6 steps to review your competitor’s content 

Now that you've put together your competitor list, it's time to dig in to the results.

Step 1 - Review your competitor’s publishing strategy

You can learn a lot about a competitor's strategy by analyzing how often they publish new content. 

Back in Content Analysis, enter your competitor’s domain. If you enter a top-level domain such as buzzsumo.com, you will get an analysis of all content published on the domain. This may include job posts and press releases. 

It may be more appropriate to analyze just a sub-domain or folder where a competitor publishes core content. For BuzzSumo, it would be buzzsumo.com/blog.

Below is an example analysis for Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

We can see that CMI significantly ramped up their publishing frequency in 2017, posting almost 450 articles in the month of June. 

Yet despite this increase, the average shares of their content actually fell significantly.

We can reasonably assume that CMI's decision to scale back its content in late 2017 is at least partially in response to these results. After the change, we clearly see a return to higher levels of engagement per article.

If CMI was your competitor, ask yourself:

  • Am I publishing too much/too little content?
  • What would happen if I scaled up/down?
  • What can I learn from CMI's strategy execution over the last two years?

Step 2 - Analyze the networks and formats that are working

Next, you want to dig in to the social networks where your competitor's content is gaining traction. 

CMI's content over the past two years is predominantly shared on Twitter. And on average, their most successful content over this period has been 'list' posts, followed by 'how to' articles.

Click the 'List' column and you'll see the exact pieces driving the most engagement.

Some questions to ask:

  • What is your top performing content type?
  • What social network drives the most engagements for your posts?
  • Is there an opportunity to diversify your content to take advantage of other networks and formats?

Step 3 - Review their top performing content by engagements

Go to the Most Shared section in BuzzSumo and enter your competitor's domain. This will display the individual pieces of content that have performed the best over a given period.

For CMI, two of the top three pieces they've written have been about social media.

We can also review specific content types. Since we already know 'list' and 'how to' posts work best, we can filter to either or both of those content types in the sidebar. Here's is a look at their 'how to' content.

This may give us some ideas for 'how to' posts of our own. 

It's also helpful combine topics and domains for an even more targeted search. For example, LinkedIn and Medium are great sites not just to network, but to publish content. But the range of topics is much broader than you would want to pull into your research.

Put your topic in the Most Shared search and add a few domains to the Domain filter in the sidebar. Here's a search for articles on the topic of leadership development, published on linkedin.com or hbr.org.

Questions to ask:

Step 4 - Review their top content by backlinks

Backlinks offer a different, yet equally valuable view of high performing content. 

Use a Most Shared search and focus on the 'number of links' column. 

(Note: it currently isn't possible to sort by links in Most Shared. This feature is currently in development.) 

Notice that the posts that drive the most links are not always the posts that drive the most engagements. For CMI, the articles that have driven the most links over the past 2 years have been a mix of the timely ("2017 Trends") and the actionable ("Amplify Your Content," "KPIs"). 

If you add terms like trends or KPI to either your original topic or your competitors' sites, you can see if these articles are outliers or indications of a winning strategy for building linkable content. 

Step 5 - Review who is sharing and linking to competitor content

Both backlinks and social engagements amplify content. The more engagements and links, the wider the audience that may see your post. If your competitor’s content is gaining traction, it is useful to see who is helping to amplify it. 

We can do this in a number of ways using BuzzSumo.

  • Influencer Content Search

Start by reviewing everyone who has shared content on Twitter from a competitor's site. You can do this by navigating to the Influencers section, choosing "Search Content Shared," and entering their domain.

(Note: this feature is available on our Large and Enterprise plans only. Contact us if you'd like to upgrade or trial this feature.)

Below are a few of the top influencers who have shared content from CMI. 

  • Backlinks search

Use BuzzSumo's Backlinks feature to find the top backlinks your competitors are getting. 

  • Article search

You can also quickly view the top backlinks and sharers of any individual article.

Run a Most Shared search for your topic or domain and click on either of the links next to the article title to pull up this information. 

Step 6 - Run a Competitor Content Comparison

If you haven't already, it's time to face the music and stand your content right next to your competitor's.

Navigate back to Content Analysis, click on Domain Comparison, and enter your site and your competitor's site.

Notice these charts display the same types of information as when you analyzed a site on its own. But seeing them side-by-side can really help solidify your gaps and opportunities. 

Don't panic if you're lagging behind. Remember, you started by identifying the top producers for your topics. Everyone has room to grow but not everyone takes the time to do a thorough, honest assessment of the current state of their content performance.

You are already on your way to improving your results!

Summary

Competitor content analysis is a vital part of a sound content marketing strategy. To recap:

  • Analyze their publishing strategy and its effectiveness
  • Review networks where they are gaining the most traction
  • Identify their most successful content types
  • Note their top content (measured by both engagements and links)
  • Flag their content amplifiers
  • Compare your content performance head-to-head

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