How to use competitive research to improve your content marketing

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How to use competitive research to improve your content marketing

Your content has a lot of competition. That’s a big challenge, but there’s a hidden opportunity there, too. With just a little bit of research you can find out how any piece of content performed. Then you can apply that knowledge to your own content creation and curation efforts.

That ocean of other people’s’ content can be your very own content idea generation and content analysis tool. Add in an audience listening station and some keyword analysis tools, and you can find the best content ideas from your own industry or any other industry. Most of it can even be done for free.

This means you can:

·      Find out what content has worked best

·      Find out what’s flopped

·      Find out what your audience is talking about, cares about, and wants

·      Find out where there’s interest in a topic, but not much content

The best news is that this doesn’t require a month of research, or any expensive tools. We’ll be focused on generating the most return for your time. I know you don’t have a lot of it to spare.

Sound good? Let’s go:

How to use competitive research to improve your content marketing: set up a listening station.

The first thing to do is to set up a listening station. We’re going to set up two, actually: One to “listen” to your competitors and one to listen to your audience.

A listening station for competitors

The traditional way to set up a listening station is to include a few Google Alerts. These are free and take just a few seconds to set up. They’re good are capturing mentions on web pages, but won’t give you hits for anything on social media.

For social, use Social Mention, which gives you an option of getting your tracking reports sent via email. It’s free, too.

The next part of your listening station is pretty simple. Just start signing up for competitors’ emails and follow them on social media. Create a folder in your inbox for each one.

You should also set up a topic on Scoop.It. That will let you gather up all the content that’s published for that area of interest. It can be for a single competitor, or for a whole industry.

Ever heard of IFTTT? It’s an automation tool that lets different apps and tools and programs talk to each other. It can do amazing things. One of the amazing things IFTTT can do is set you up with a killer listening station. There’s a great article from Seer Interactive about how to set up a slew of recipes to track pretty much everything a competitor could do online. You could also use it to keep tabs on what your audience is doing.

A listening station for your audience

This may be a little more difficult than tracking a few competitors. You can track major blogs and industry websites. Also listen to smaller blogs and conversations on:

·      Quora

·      LinkedIn Groups

·      Amazon product and book reviews

·      Blog post comments on major sites or blogs

·      Discussions on industry or niche forums

·      Yelp and Google Local reviews

Have a document open to paste in the most interesting comments, or even just phrases. Pro copywriters often use words, phrases, or even complete sentences from user comments in their copy. Why? Because those words resonate with people. I like using a spreadsheet for this work. It looks like this:


Site / Link

Topic / Issue



Pretty simple, right? But that’s enough to be able to find trends and circle back later.

One last way to gather up what your audience has been saying is Nuzzle. This is a social news reader – somewhat like Feedly – that will gather up the news you’re interested in, or the news from your friends (or key people in your audience) and deliver it to you as an email digest. This is a nice complement to our own curated email feature in Scoop.It.


It took me less than a minute to make this curated email newsletter in Scoop.It!

How to apply this to content creation and curation

Always be thinking about how you can create content around or about what you find. So maybe you’ll want to write a series of super-short Facebook posts answering questions you come across. Maybe more complex answers should be blog posts. Or maybe a whole topic area your audience struggles with could be an infographic, or an ebook, or a webinar.

How to use a listening station to come up with content ideas

Your listening station can serve as an endless source of content ideas. To make it work, you’ll need a content ideas list. That’s basically a place to dump every idea that strikes you.

While a plain sheet of paper can serve as a content ideas list, it’s better to have something that can:

–       Include links, images, and notes

–       Be shared with other people

–       Rank ideas according to priority

–       Sort ideas according to category

Some companies use a plain ole Google Docs spreadsheet for content ideas. I’m partial to Trello boards for content idea lists, myself. Or you can assign a custom category of your WordPress blog for content ideas. If you did that, then you would be able to use Content Director to nurture those ideas through the content development cycle.

Analyze social media accounts

Much of what happens on social media is public. That means the data is there for all to crunch. While SocialMention is a good start for tracking social media mentions and activity, I also like:

–       TopTweet Shows you the top ten tweets for any account

–       SnapBird Lets you search a Twitter accounts’ old tweets. Otherwise, you’re limited to only the last 10 days.

–       Keyhole Gives you exhaustive information on any hashtag for free. That includes geographic data, top influencers and sharers, top posts or tweets, demographics and related hashtags.

–       FanPage Karma Lets you compare your page stats to another accounts. Also shows top posts and other very interesting information. LikeAlyzer is also good.

–       TwitterAudit To find out if someone has fake followers

–       SocialRank Lets you identify, analyze, and organize your followers. FollowerWonk is also good for this.

How to apply what you find

Being able to see things like top tweets is really helpful. Why not try slightly retooled/edited versions of each of those top tweets on your audience?

FanPage Karma’s ability to show top posts is another opportunity. Could you make your own version of their top posts? Your audience may not love what their audience loves, but if they’re a competitor, you may have overlapping audiences. You might find a new type of post or content angle that your followers adore.

Analyze published content

The big kahuna here is BuzzSumo. It shows all the top content for a url and for a search phrase. That can be articles, videos, infographics, interviews – you name it.

You can apply what you find directly to your content curation and creation. I use BuzzSumo extensively to come up with blog post ideas. It’s also great for content curation – any popular content BuzzSumo turns up is usually a good choice for your curation feed.

The secret power with BuzzSumo lies elsewhere, though. It’s in finding out who’s shared all that content. Why do we want to know that? So you can reach out to those “micro-influencers” and ask them to take a look at your content. Or maybe even to share it.


You can also analyze how well your own curated posts and shares have done on Scoop.It!. That’s another way to leverage other peoples’ content. If you posted a piece of curated content that did exceptionally well, you might want to recreate it with your own spin as in-house content.

Analyze keywords and keyword rankings

A content marketing analysis would be remiss if it didn’t include some SEO snooping. There are three different keyword tools that can help. You don’t necessarily need all three – they do similar things.

–       SpyFu

–       Moz

–       SEMRush

Now, I know – and I bet you know – that the value and best use of keywords is changing. The days of writing for keyword density are WAY over. Now, we’re urged to think of keywords more as topics. By thinking of keywords more as micro-topics, we’re more likely to vary them with other closely related terms. We’re also less likely to force our content around one keyword. That old SEO practice creates content that feels stifled and over-optimized. It’s not as appealing to human readers.

These keyword tools help with that, but they also show a very critical thing: How competitive a given keyword is.

This is the number one reason for these tools. It’s hard to get this data without them. How competitive a search term is determines a lot of whether you’ll be able to rank for it or not.

They’ll also help you:

–       To find out which pages are ranking for a given keyword (what we see when we search is influenced by our past search behavior)

–       To compare how other sites you compete against are optimized for search engines.

–       To see how much traffic a site gets from SEO and PPC

SpyFu and SEMRush give a nice view of all of this for free. Moz has a free trial. You may find you really love one of these tools, and if you’ve got the budget, they’re all a  smart investment for content marketers.


This is what SEMRush will show you for a URL search if you’re using their free version.

What you’re looking for here is relatively high volumes of searches with not much content, or not very good content. Some of you will recognize this as The SkyScraper Technique. That’s a link building technique developed by Brian Dean. In addition to the research and content part, the SkyScraper technique includes reaching out to the right influencers to get links and shares. But because you’ve checked BuzzSumo (and KeyHole), you already know who those influencers are.


We content creators have a treasure hall of data to mine. Between keyword data, social media tools, and what your audience says online, there’s no reason to ever run out of ideas for content. And not just any ideas, either. Ideas that will resonate with your audience, get you ranked in the search engines, and generate some handsome ROI.

And if you’d like to know how you can start blogging consistently in 30 minutes a day or less, read our eBook!

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Image by Johan.

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About the Author

Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 17 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.
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Gail Gardner
8 years ago

When I saw this title on JustRetweet I thought it was the one that Forbes published today on the same topic. You might be interested in seeing how much overlap there is and what else he mentioned.

Mark Knott
Mark Knott
8 years ago

It is very informative title. Thanks for sharing this.

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