Competitive research is a common and necessary task in any marketing landscape. This practice is particularly crucial in digital marketing because the ecosystem rapidly changes and brands constantly battle against each other for users across multiple platforms.
In the ideal scenario, performing competitive content research illuminates where your brand’s online content falters compared to competitors. With this information, you can solder the frail links in your marketing strategy and try to usurp the competition with superior content. The results should improve your brand’s content authority, keyword rankings, and organic share of voice.
However, competitive research rarely offers cut-and-dry wins. Your best practice acumen must be strong enough to scrounge for insights among multiple sources with varying content quality. You need to understand what content matters and what’s fluff. And ultimately, you have to know why some choices are more valuable and useful than others.
All of these factors make competitive research tricky. Because if you don’t discern the best content decisions, then you’re going to step into a pitfall trap and end up in a worse spot than before the research — especially if you emulate competitors whose approach to content is wrong, inadequate, or a bad fit for your ideal users.
To prevent turning your brand into a cautionary tale, you need to carefully choose what competitors you research, locate relevant pain points, and determine how effective their marketing strategy is.
When we think of competitors, we often think about direct competitors — the brands that offer similar products or solutions and vie for the same users online and in brick-and-mortar stores, such as Patagonia versus Prana.
Evaluating direct competitors’ content is a great place to start competitive research, but this narrow view is only half of the digital marketing equation. You need to widen your path and analyze how your content stacks up against SERP competitors, too. This panoramic view is even more important for small businesses that compete with national chains, like a local independent bookstore versus Barnes & Noble.
Unfortunately, many companies overlook the value of analyzing SERP rankings and organic share of voice for their vertical. Sometimes, this choice is because a brand doesn’t directly compete with the websites that rank in the top positions. In other scenarios, a company won’t have the resources to tackle both segments at once and must focus on either direct competition or SERP rankings.
Regardless of the situation, excluding researching SERP competitors in favor of your direct competition is an enormous mistake.
For example, let’s say you’re shopping for rock climbing pants and are indifferent to the brand you buy. Patagonia and Prana both sell climbing pants that you can purchase directly from their website and both brands rank for “rock climbing pants” on the first page. However, neither brand breaks above the fold with its rankings. Patagonia ranks in position seven and Prana is in position eight.
The top organic position is owned by a niche climbing website with a review of different climbing pants. This website has a domain authority of 50, while Prana and Pataongia have domain authorities of 73 and 85, respectively.
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