For savvy marketers, acquiring links should not be the sole objective of content marketing activity. Content marketing is actually defined as the creation and distribution of content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action. However, it is hard to overlook the associated value that relevant backlinks acquired to the content created in any content marketing campaign can bring. This is precisely the reason many traditional SEO agencies undertake content marketing activity for clients looking for increased organic visibility.
Content Marketing and Links
Link building has had a bad rap over the past few years, so it’s no surprise to see the term ‘link building’ drop in popularity towards the end of 2012, which is the same year Google started heavily penalising link building activity undertaken with the aim of manipulating search engine rankings.
Around the same time link building started to decline in popularity, there was a marked rise in the use of content marketing as a search term. Indeed, many marketers now see content marketing as a great way of acquiring links in the post-penguin landscape.
In this post, I outline how to use competitor analysis to identify content ideas and tactics that have the potential to drive high quality, relevant links back to your site.
How to analyse competitor tactics and pinpoint what works
The purpose of competitor content research is to gather as much data as possible to feed into your content ideation process, which will allow you to make more informed decisions about the themes and formats of content you could create.
Below I have listed the basic steps we (Hallam) usually follow when carrying out competitor content research for our clients. The good news is that the majority of this research can be carried out via the free versions of both Ahrefs and Buzzsumo.
Review most shared URLs
More often than not, there is a correlation between the number of shares a URL receives and the volume of links a URL receives. So, instead of looking solely at the URLs on a site with the most links pointing to them, you should also factor in your competitors most-shared content. As pointed out by Ronell Smith, rather than concerning ourselves with link building and outreach and hoping we get links, we should our efforts on creating shareable content, making links much easier to acquire.
Using Buzzsumo, you can review your competitors top shared URLs using the ‘most shared’ report:
When reviewing this data, be sure to look for common trends and themes of the most shared posts. For example, on the screen grab above we can see that Moz’s top three most shared pieces of content all share the following characteristics:
- All three posts refer to numbered lists – using titles such as ‘X ways to improve X’ can increase CTR
- All three posts are informational and will appeal to marketers looking to learn something new, while ensuring Moz are viewed as thought leaders in the industry
Review who shares their content
Reviewing the individuals and businesses who share your competitors content can help you identify who you should be targeting your content towards, and the other types of content they typically share and engage with.
To do this, you can again use Buzzsumo, this time utilising the ‘view sharers’ feature:
In the ‘view sharers’ report, you can drill down to the top sharers and sort by the regularity of their retweets, filter out social influencers and bloggers who have the potential to link to similar content, and export the data for use when conducting outreach:
Review top linked content
Moving on to review links rather than shares, we can use Ahrefs to audit your competitor’s top linked content. This will help identify the types of content they’re creating that have historically garnered the most links:
Additionally, you can actually filter down to their top linked content now returning 404’s:
As you can see above, if you were looking to target a link from the highly reputable online marketing blog Moz, you could create a guide on how to track user flow through a contact form using jquery, as this report shows that Distilled’s post on that topic is currently returning a 404 error.
Review recent successes
Using Ahrefs, you can review your competitor’s recent links via the ‘best by link growth’ report:
This report can help you spot trending topics. For example, if you found a common theme between 2 or more competitors content that is in their ‘best by link growth’ report, it may be a wise idea to write a post around the same topic.
Review popular formats using keyword based searches
If you’re struggling to find any good examples of content commonly shared or linked to that has been created by your competitors, you can search for content based on the types of keywords you wish to target.
For example, you may think that your audience may be interested in a piece of content around garden gnomes, but before you go ahead and start creating anything – it’s worth checking what types of content have been popular around the same topic previously.
Using Buzzsumo, you can search using keywords to uncover the top shared content around a particular topic:
Turns out zombie garden gnomes are pretty popular, however nobody seems to have written a post around Halloween (both of these posts were written in the summer). So, if you were thinking of creating a piece of content around garden gnomes, it may be worth waiting until Halloween and putting something even more spooky together – the topic clearly has the potential to succeed.
Look out for popular formats
You can also use Buzzsumo to analyse the most popular formats around a certain topic. To do this, navigate to the ‘content analysis’ tab and review the ‘shares by content type’ chart:
In the example above, the type of content that tends to get the most shares around the topic in question is video, closely followed by lists and infographics. Thus, if you’re thinking of creating a piece of content around the same topic, you may want to consider creating a video, list or infographic due to the popularity of these formats.
What can you take from all of this?
After following the steps highlighted above, you should now have the following information:
- Ideas on the themes that tend to perform the best for your competitors in terms of social shares and links
- A list of influencers on Twitter, and bloggers who tend to share relevant content created by your competitors
- Which pages on your competitors domains have gained the most links + the underlying themes of these pages
- A list of pages on your competitors sites that have links pointing to them, but are returning 404 errors
- The most popular pages on your competitors websites by recent growth in links
- The most popular pieces of content around certain keywords and topics
- The most popular content formats around certain keywords and topics
All of this research can now be used to inform your content ideation process. For example, you could one-up your competition by creating a similar, but more comprehensive piece of content than one that they have already seen success with. You can also outdo them by taking note of the types of content that have resulted in the most links and shares, and thinking of ideas around the same theme that haven’t yet been covered.
So now I can just sit back and wait for the links to flood in, right?
No. Even if you’ve created a great piece of content, it will struggle to gain any links without a well-defined outreach strategy. The most important thing to bear in mind here is to always consider who is actually going to share and link to your content BEFORE going ahead and creating anything. This is where the data collected in your competitor research will come in handy, as you should already have a list of the influencers and bloggers who regularly share your competitors/similar content, who you could attempt to contact and inform of your recently created content.
Once you have that data, it’s time to start building relationships and reaching out to individuals and companies that have the potential to link to your content, often before you’ve even created it. There are some fantastic guides already in existence on how to carry out successful outreach, and I would encourage you to check out this guide on effective email outreach and this one from the guys at SEER if you’re looking for advice on how to approach people in the hope of securing links back to your content.
This post should have provided you with some simple ways in which you can research your competitor’s most popular content, including how to uncover themes and formats that have the potential to drive links back to your site.
Both of the tools I have referenced have plenty more features that can help you put together even more extensive content research, and I’d urge anyone tasked with content ideation to get stuck in and undertake content research instead of blindly creating content and expecting it to succeed.