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How to Conduct a Competitive Content Audit (Part 1)

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To be successful in business you not only need to meet your customer’s needs and desires; you also need to understand and know your competitors. When it comes to creating content that generates relevant organic traffic, you not only need to meet your customer’s needs and desires; you also need to understand and know your competitors’ content. Doing so gives you an insight into what’s working for your competitors — information you can leverage to improve your own content offerings.

But how do you discover what content and content types are performing well for your competitors? And how do you decide how to leverage that information? The answer to both questions is a competitive content audit, also known as a competitive or competitor content analysis or a competitive content gap.

What Is a Competitive Content Audit? And Why Does It Matter in Content Marketing?

A competitive content audit is a comprehensive analysis of the topics and organic keywords/queries your competitors are ranking for and how your topics and organic keywords/queries rank in comparison. A competitive content audit reveals the areas in which your own content and topical offerings are weak, strong, non-existent, and middling, and a competitive audit will also reveal those keywords and queries where ranking high up in the SERPS is possible. Once you know that, you can hone in on crafting a content marketing strategy that involves creating the content your target audience is literally searching for.

When done well and as part of an overall SEO strategy, a competitive content audit can act as a road map to new content creation (or old content optimization) that will give you an advantage over your direct competitors.

Goals of a competitive content audit

  1. Find out what topics YOU are ranking for
  2. Find out what topics your COMPETITORS are ranking for that you should be ranking for (and how they’ve accomplished that ranking)
  3. Find out what the TOPICAL GAP OPPORTUNITIES are

It’s important to note that a competitive or competitor content audit that takes into account how Google and other search engines actually rank content won’t just be churning out a bunch of keywords that you can then set to writing content with. Topical authority continues to be a vital component in search rankings, so it’s also necessary to categorize keywords into topics, so if you need to tackle entire topics, you can. We’ll touch on this more later.

A note on choosing the competition for your competitive content audit

As an SEO agency, now and again, we come across clients who give us a competitor list that isn’t as accurate or useful — from an SEO perspective — as it could be. Examples of this could include competitors that are too big for you to actually compete with or organic competitors that you aren’t even aware of.

So, to make sure you’re actually looking at the “right” competitors, enter your url in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, and then use Ahrefs’ Competing domains tool under Organic search.

A screenshot inside of ahrefs that shows where under Organic search to find Competing domains

Next, compare your competitor list with the list of competitor’s websites identified by Ahrefs. The goal is to choose online organic competitors that you can realistically compete with for clicks and customers. How do you find out who you can and can’t reasonably compete with?

Click the carrot next to a url on the right side of the page. A menu will appear with links to that website’s data, as well as some stats. You want to find competitors who are similar in domain rating (DR), number of backlinks, and the amount of organic traffic they see. You can be aspirational here, but not too much.

screenshot from inside ahrefs' Competing domains tool with's details highlighted

Ok. Now that you’ve double-checked who your competitors are, it’s time to start the audit.

Step 1 of a Competitor Content Analysis: Gather Data

The first step in conducting a competitive content analysis or audit is to gather data. Without accurate data, you’ll never be able to understand what’s working with a competitor’s content strategy and how that strategy might also benefit you. To gather data, then, you’ll need access to one or two SEO analysis tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, etc. For the purposes of this How To, we’ll be utilizing SEMrush and, as you saw above, Ahrefs.

1. Navigate to the “Keyword Gap” function in SEMrush.

Screenshot of Keyword Gap tool inside of SEMrush

2. Enter your domain and at least three of your main competitors’ domains, and click Compare.

screenshot of competitors entered into the Keyword gap tool in a competitive content audit

3. Filter to the Top 20 positions for All domains.

Screenshot inside of SEMrush of Top 20 selection in a competitive content audit

4. Exclude brands. (You can also do this later if you choose.) 

Screenshot of how to exclude brands in a SEMrush competitive content audit

5. Choose the “Untapped” keywords. 

Screenshot of which keywords to focus in on during a competitive content audit

  • “Untapped” keywords are those keywords/queries that a competitor is ranking for but you are not. 
  • You can also hone in on “Missing” or “Weak” keywords/queries but “Untapped” will give you a good general sense of the topics and queries your competitors are taking advantage of and profiting from, as well as a solid direction and information for content strategy.
  • It can also be valuable to examine the SERPs here and find specifics regarding your competitors’ ranking pages, since how content is organized and the format and type of content presented can also affect rankings. Do they use video content? Is there an embedded podcast episode on the page? Are there a lot of photos? Are they ranking with a white paper or webinar content? What’s the word count? Is there an FAQ section? An infographic?

6. Export the data to Excel.

Screenshot of how to export keywords to Excel inside of SEMrush in a competitive content audit.

  • Depending on the size of your site and the size of your competitors’ sites, you want between 6,000 and 10,000 keywords/queries to work with.

Step 2 of a Competitor Content Analysis: Clean Your Data

Now that you’ve gathered data, it’s time to clean it, so you’re only working with what you need. Here’s how you clean up your data. 

  1. Delete keywords of low to no value. 

Examples of keywords that we delete at the outset of organizing our data for a competitive content audit include keywords with the following:

  • Brands
  • www
  • Ends with “com”
  • Login
  • Phone numbers
  • Addresses (This may not be true if local SEO is a goal)

The easiest way to search and destroy keywords you don’t need is to go to Data and then Filter in Excel. Next select your Keywords column and filter accordingly.

Screenshot of filtering data in the Keywords column from exported data in a competitive content audit

2. Delete irrelevant subdomains (e.g. 

You can do this by filtering on each competitors’ column; just be sure not to delete any subdomains as a blog will likely have valuable content.

Step 3 of a Competitor Content Analysis: Data Categorization

Categorization is the most time-consuming part of a content audit, but it’s an essential step in understanding what topics are relevant to your customers and competitors and what’s missing in your content game. 

The goal of categorization is to identify the topics that are relevant to your business, industry, and niche. Looking at the topics enables you to better understand the gaps between your competitors and yourself and the content opportunities that exist in those gaps. Keywords are important, yes, but at this stage, they’re too granular to put into meaningful context. We need to understand the forest before we head into the trees. Also, organizing the data by topic will help you understand where you need to build or beef up topical authority. 

How topical authority affects search rankings

Topical authority is one of the most important ranking factors utilized by Google. Basically, by building topical authority, you indicate to Google that your site — not just this or that piece of content optimized to rank for a certain query — is an authority on a subject or niche. Being an authority on a particular topic means that when users click through to your site, they’re more likely to find the answer they seek, plus related information that helps them on their journey. It means your site is the go-to site for social media shares and backlinks related to the topics you know best and do well. Topical authority is broad and specific expertise that’s spread out among many web pages on your site that are internally linked, and when you build topical authority, Google will reward your domain with higher rankings.

So organizing data according to topic is an essential step in determining what content you need to create. How do you organize data? For the most part you have to do it the old-fashioned way — manually. (Although it’s fair to say that manually creating meaningful categories in a program like Excel saves a ton of time over a true manual process. What would that even be? Individual sticky notes spread out on a gym floor?)

At LOCOMOTIVE, we also have some proprietary notebooks and tools that assist us in this process. They save us around eight hours of manual categorizing time, depending on the amount of data that needs classifying.

We’ll stop there for now, but in Part 2, we’ll pick up on how to categorize data manually and present it either in Excel or Data Studio. We’ll also go over how to uncover meaningful insights for designing your own content strategy.

Are your digital marketing efforts in need of SEO services? LOCOMOTIVE Agency is an award-winning SEO agency that can help you succeed in quality content strategy, marketing, and creation; technical SEO services, local SEO, and more. Reach out today.

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