You know how some people say ice cream with no sprinkles just ain’t ice cream?
Well, the same goes for content benchmarking and content marketing; a content marketing strategy without content benchmarking is just flavourless.
If there’s one aspect you should never leave out when building a content strategy or SEO strategy, let that be the sweet colourful sprinkles of content benchmarking. It’s an important part of maximising your content marketing ROI and in this article, we’ll explain why content benchmarking should be an essential part of your strategy and how to craft one.
Content benchmarking: challenges and opportunities to beat your competitors
One of the main objectives of a content strategy is to gain online visibility.
This is done, in simple terms, by publishing organic content that includes important and relevant keywords, which helps you climb in organic rankings. This is considered to be one of the most rewarding ways to rank.
But to do this well requires a substantial amount of work. SEO is competitive by nature as you’re always in constant competition to outrank your competitors.
Even when you’ve reached the top, continuous efforts are required to maintain that position or risk losing that sweet spot.
To achieve a good ranking, invested efforts are needed in the different aspects: in-depth research into keywords, search terms and objectives of your audience, professionally-written text, optimised links, images, and tags, content distribution to obtain backlinks, etc, to name a few.
Keep in mind a rise in rankings for you means a fall for others. So to rank well, you basically have to beat out your competitors.
But that’s not all.
There shouldn’t be one sole focus on your competitors’ efforts. The objective of the content you produce must not only outrank your competition but also compete for the attention of the readers.
According to data from Google, B2B researchers browse through 12 searches before engaging on a specific brand’s site. That’s an 8.3% chance they end up on yours — assuming you’re among the 12.
Relevant and high-quality content writing is commonly considered to be the most effective SEO technique. Mapping out your competitors’ content is the first step to doing so and a pillar of any good content strategy that helps you to achieve your marketing objectives.
And here’s where a good content benchmark comes into play.
Content benchmarking consists of studying the content strategies of your competitors to get a better idea of how you compare to them, the main opportunities, threats, and the practices that work for your industry.
Speak of competitors, do you REALLY know who your competitors are?
Chances are you know the big fish of your sector and perhaps a handful of companies that offer products or services similar to yours.
But a content benchmark tells you so much more than you think you know. It helps you to identify your digital competitors — and these are the ones who may or may not compete with you for sales but definitely pose a threat to your search rankings.
While crafting your content benchmark, data and information you can extract to analyse include:
- Main keywords your competitors rank for
- Keywords you and your competitors have in common
- Keywords that are relevant to you but not your competitors, and vice versa
- Content type that attracts the most traffic for your competitors
- Content type that generates the most backlinks and shares for your competitors
- How your competitors integrate their content strategy with their digital media relations and social media.
To follow this guide, you’ll need the following:
- Access to your website’s Google Search Console
- Access to your website’s Google Analytics account
- A Google or Excel sheet
- A competitor analysis tool, such as SEMrush
Feeling the heat? Good. And fret not.
This is exactly why we’re here — to help you better understand the competition you face and define your content strategy to improve your SEO ranking.
Have that coffee ready? Let’s begin.
Step 1: Define the keywords of your content benchmark
This first step will be the basis on which the others are built. You begin by defining the most important keywords for your business. That means knowing which keywords attract the most traffic to your website and which ones generate the most leads or conversions.
To answer these questions, you’ll need to consult traffic data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Identifying keywords that attract the most traffic and visibility
To locate the keywords that drive the most traffic to your site, simply go into your Google Search Console and click on ‘Search Analytics’ under ‘Search Traffic’ in the menu on the left. Check the options ‘Clicks’ and ‘Queries’ and select your date range (GSC only allows you to go as far back as 90 days).
This generates a list of queries and search terms that attract the most traffic to your website.
By default, this is sorted by the number of clicks. Copy and paste these main keywords into a Google or Excel sheet.
On this same page, you can also obtain ranking opportunities. Unselect ‘Clicks’ and select ‘Impressions’ to get a list of the keywords that are generating visibility for you.
These keywords don’t necessarily convert into traffic, perhaps due to a low CTR (Click Through Rate), but they represent rankings opportunities. Copy and paste this list of keywords as well into your sheet.
Identifying keywords that convert
Your list now includes keywords that generate the most traffic and visibility for your website.
Now you just have to complete it with the keywords you’re not generating traffic or visibility for but are relevant for getting leads and sales opportunities for your business.
To do this, head over to Google Analytics to identify the highest-converting pages on your website. Select Behaviour and under Site Content, select Landing Pages.
Your results will be sorted into three different columns: acquisition, behaviour, conversions.
In the conversions column, sort your conversions metric however you wish (conversion rate, number of conversions, transactions, etc). Remember to set your desired date range.
Now jot down the top 10 performing pages into your Google/Excel sheet.
With this information in hand, go back to Google Search Console. You now have to filter these pages one by one to get a list of the keywords with the highest conversion rate that generate traffic to these pages.
To do this, go to the No filter drop down menu under Pages and select either URLs containing or URLs is exactly and paste the URL there. Rinse and repeat for the nine remaining pages.
With that done, you’ll get a list of the main keywords of your top 10 performing pages. Add these keywords to your list as well.
Your list should now be filled with the top keywords that generate impressions, visits, and conversions (or whatever metric you have chosen) for your website.
Filter options in Google Search Console
By default, your GSC results include data from all countries (all IPs), devices, and search types.
Depending on your marketing strategy, you may want to filter accordingly.
For example, if it’s important for your business to differentiate between mobile and desktop users, you may want to create different lists for the different device types.
Step 2: Map your competition
Now that you have your list of keywords, the next step is to find out who you’re up against for each of these keywords. And these are the digital competitors that we mentioned earlier — those that may not be competing with your sales but are robbing you of visibility and rankings.
If you want a content strategy that generates traffic and leads, you’ll need to outperform these competitors, regardless of whether they’re your direct sales competitors.
Decide how many competitors you’d like to analyse for your content benchmark
The first step to doing this is to decide how many of your competitors you want to include in your content benchmark.
We recommend choosing between three and six competitors, depending on how often you’ll actually be updating the benchmark, how much time you’ll need to do so and the amount of information you want to analyse.
Another factor to consider is the industry size. It doesn’t make much sense to analyse more than five competitors if you’re in an extremely niche industry. But a bigger and more complex industry with a larger data pool to work with will probably require more analysis.
How to identify your digital competition
There are many different tools that automatically generates a list of your competitors. These include Semrush, Ahrefs, SpyFU, and Moz’s keyword explorer, each with its own pros and cons. We recommend playing around with each of these to pick the one you’re most comfortable with.
By entering your URL in Semrush, for example, a list of your competitors is automatically generated. This is efficient as it gives you a quick overall glance at the competition you’re facing. However, it doesn’t take into consideration the list of keywords you’ve defined in step 1.
That said, we highly recommend doing this step manually. It’s more tedious, but you’ll get more results that are much more precise and personalised to your content strategy.
Enter the keywords you’ve defined, one by one, into the search engine. The results you get are your direct competition for the defined keywords.
For better visualisation, here’s a table format you may copy to list the different keywords and competitors.
Step 3: Analyse your competitors’ keywords
With your keywords defined and competition analysed, you’re now ready to do the fun part of content benchmarking.
This involves understanding how you rank in relation to your competitors for these keywords.
The tools we mentioned earlier can help with this, but each has different features that work differently. This article by Wordstream provides a good summary of the tools available to research your competitors’ keywords.
At Dear Content, we prefer to use Semrush for this part of the analysis as we find it to be one of the most complete tools available. Its ‘keyword gap’ feature allows you to identify the keywords you have in common with your competitors and those that they currently rank for which you don’t. You may compare up to five different domains and choose between analysing common and unique keywords.
Once you have this data, create a table (in a new sheet) with the keywords you have in common with your competitors and assign different colours to the cells based on the number of common keywords.
In the above image, the keywords for which each competitor appears in the top three search results are highlighted in green; those that rank from the fourth to the ninth position in blue (completing the first page), and those that appear in the second page in light orange.
Organising it this way allows you to better visualise the keywords with the most potential for you to rise in rankings or beat out your competition.
For example, you could aim to:
- Improve your ranking for the keywords for which you rank in the first page of the search results but lower than the competitors who rank in the top three.
- Improve your ranking for keywords for which you rank in the second page and your competitors rank in the first page.
Pro tip: Export the list of unique words for which each of your competitors ranks that you don’t. Add them to a new sheet and create three columns: keywords, competitor, monthly search volume. That way, when you’re short on ideas for your content calendar, all you have to do is consult this sheet for inspiration.
Step 4: Identify your competitors’ best-performing content type in terms of traffic
In this next step, you’ll analyse the URLs of your competitors that attract the most traffic.
The real purpose of this is to categorise and understand the different types of content they publish and what portion of this brings in organic traffic.
To obtain this data, we’ll need a tool that breaks down the traffic percentage of each URL of your competitors. Again, this is extremely easy to do with Semrush.
In the search field, select Domain Overview and enter the name of your competitor. Once the results have loaded, go to the Top organic keywords table select View full report.
If Google were your competitor and you were spying on them through Semrush, this is what you would see. The traffic percentage for each URL is in the last column.
Now export these results and import them into a new sheet in your content benchmark document. Do this for each competitor you want to analyse. The columns you should pay attention to are URL and Traffic %. Delete the rest if it’s visually easier for you to focus.
Once that’s done, add a new column titled Content type. This is where you’ll categorise the type of content for each URL.
Pro tip: To do this more efficiently, sort the sheet by the URL column so that you have the same URLs in one chunk to categorise them just once.
Repeat this process for each one of your competitors and… voila!
Filtering the results by Content type or adding a pivot table will give you a closer look at the different types of content and the percentage of traffic it attracts to your competitors’ websites.
Step 5: Study your competitors’ best-performing content on social media
Search engines interpret links and mentions by the online media, social networks and other more authoritative websites as signs of relevance.
These carry massive weight in the organic ranking of a website so this is something you’ll definitely want to cover in your content benchmark.
To do that, you’ll need the answers to these questions:
- What type of content gets your competitors the most backlinks?
- What type of content is the most popular on social media?
- What type of content has gotten you the most media coverage?
Again, there are many tools to help you answer these questions, one of which is Buzzsumo.
Enter your competitors’ domains and select the URLs that have generated the most backlinks, shares, and mentions. Copy and paste them onto a new sheet in your content benchmark document.
Step 6: Compile a list of possible ideas and actions
At this point, you probably know more about your competition than the CIA does — including their favourite ice cream toppings. With all this information compiled, you should have a clear idea of what you do that works and what doesn’t compared to your competitors.
The next step will be to take your time to analyse the data and brainstorm ideas and actions to craft and/or improve your content strategy.
Important note: This information should serve as a source of inspiration for you and not ideas for you to copy and duplicate!
The final step of your content benchmarking will be to organise new content ideas by keeping in mind the following:
- The main keyword for which each content will be optimised
- The estimated monthly volume of keyword searches
- If it’s a keyword which you already rank for or want to improve your ranking for or a keyword for which you do not yet rank for.
- The different types of content you could develop such as landing pages, blog posts, ebooks, etc.
Opportunities, challenges, gaps to fill, and rankings to defend.
A good content benchmark places all the above within your reach. It’s now time to put your best content forward and compete.
Let the content battle begin.
Need help with content benchmarking or content ideas based on the content benchmarking you’ve done? Get in touch for a free proposal!