Everyone knows that you need “good” content, but what does that actually mean? More often than not, marketers and website owners alike develop their content strategies based on gut feelings about their audiences rather than cold, hard data. Instinct and content brainstorming have their place, but it doesn’t mean much if the data doesn’t back it up.
So what if instead of assuming we know what content resonates with our audience, we could know unequivocally what topics are successful based on actual backlinks and social interactions? And better yet, what if we could use our own competitor’s data against them to do it?
This article explores a quick way to mine the link relationships of your competitors and check what’s working for your audience via social to take the sting out of resonant content creation. We’ll take you through how to:
- Use Majestic’s Clique Hunter to identify major competitor link sources
- Site Search and scrape your way through linked content to find potent themes
- Validate your content themes through Social and Link data
This process should help empower you to develop content that’ll catch your audience’s eye.
One Financial Blog in a Sea of Many
For the sake of this exercise, we’ll use Boston College’s Squared Away Blog on financial behavior as our test client and see how it stacks up against a few popular financial planning websites.
Squared Away is a smaller blog hosted by the college’s Center for Retirement Research and features just one blogger: Kimberly Blanton, a former Boston Globe reporter. The content is strong, but Squared Away only posts about two-to-three articles a week, a much lower frequency than the competitors we’ll be analyzing. The competitors also have a profit motive and (likely) some deep corporate relationships.
Volumes have been written on the topic of finances, so there will be a great deal to examine. Luckily for us, Clique Hunter helps cut out a lot of the junk.
Just a Few Cliques Away
Clique Hunter is a great starting point for competitive link research. This powerful tool allows you to identify link hubs – domains that are currently linking to more than one competitor – with a single click. And it can tell you a lot about where more prolific sites are gaining exposure. Once we know what domains are linking to multiple competitors, we can start to figure what sites are more likely to link to you.
We start by entering Squared Away into Clique Hunter alongside some overlapping competitor sites:
- Wise Bread, a deeply staffed blog with a connection to U.S. News & World Report
- Get Rich Slowly, the omnipresent blog started by personal finance guru J.D. Roth
- Money Mustache, a popular site run by a blogger who retired at 30
- Consumerism Commentary, Luke Landes’s finance blog often cited by the Wall Street Journal
We’ll select the Fresh Index to ensure we’re seeing the most recent backlinks:
This yields some pretty direct results. As you can see, there’s significant overlap in the link coverage of the larger competitor sites and a much shallower footprint for Squared Away.
The tendrils stemming from an analyzed site to its link source indicate a wide range of overlapping connections, and the thicker the link is the higher the count of backlinks per source. Wise Bread has coverage across a wide range of domains, as does Get Rich Slowly. Squared Away, as we suspected, has the fewest multi-link connections from the common sources.
By downloading the chart data, we can quickly see which prominent content repositories make up our competitors’ best sources for visibility. This also helps us hone in on exactly the types of content that large publishers are likely to promote to their audiences. In just a couple clicks, we were able to identify some pretty substantial publisher sources: Business Insider, Mashable, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, Boing Boing, and Quick & Dirty Tips all link out to competitors multiple times – but not to our client site.
These are some very big, very well-known sites that regularly publish content. So there are definitely opportunities here. Let’s dig a little deeper to discover what types of content the big boys want their audiences to see.
Site Search & Destroy Your Writer’s Block
Once you know where to look, identifying resonant content themes becomes pretty obvious. You can let the big publishers do the work for you, at least to some degree. Content sites like Business Insider make their money off of display ads and sponsored content, so it’s in their interest to promote outside content they think will connect with their audience. Here’s a quick down-and-dirty way to sift for content themes:
- Make use of each website’s Site Search feature (or use the Site Command in Google) to quickly find articles in which competitors are getting a link.
(Fair warning, this method can produce a lot of results, and you can kill a lot of time sifting through pages upon pages of article results. If there’s a deadline looming over your head, be cognizant of just how scientific you get in your quest for resonant content topics. A quick scan can still yield some great results as long as you take good notes.)
- Web Developer Toolbar can quickly scrape the external links from the article results pages. Just download the add-on and select View Link Information from the Information drop-down menu. Now you’ve got a list of article links that you can quickly drop into Excel, making it easy to check the URLs for topics.
- You can also use Screaming Frog to pull article Title Tags and headlines from the URL list.
- Pop that list of headlines into Textalyser to get a list of the most frequently used word combinations.
Always Spot Check Competitor Content
You may catch a few false positives using the above approach. Repeated quotations, brand slogans, and other language can skew your content scrape, so you should always spot check. And you should read at least a few publisher links per competitor, no matter whether you dive into link checking deeply or stay surface-level. This can tell you a great deal about the types of relationships that the publishers have with the competition.
Content Syndication & Other Direct Relationships
One example we discovered was consistent content syndication used as a tactic by some of the publishers. Business Insider and Lifehacker frequently repurpose the content from sites like Mr. Money Mustache and Consumerism Commentary, and the blog owners are frequently cited as experts in advice articles. That certainly implies a more direct relationship, which would be difficult to replicate for a smaller blog.
Thankfully for us, the types of business relationships the publishers have with the competition matter much less to us than the types of content they’re promoting.
Use Social Media & Link Data to Find Resonant Topics
Once you’ve taken note of the most promoted content themes, it’s time to bring Squared Away back into the picture of our content planning. Let’s find out what’s connecting with the audience. Following that we’ll see if these topics make sense for Squared Away, especially since it focuses on financial behavior rather than personal finance.
In our analysis, we identified 13 article topics that frequently appeared across the 140 publisher links and competitor articles we examined:
- Retire by 40
- Advice on Saving Money
- Early Retirement Advice
- Habits of People Who Are Good with Money
- Renting vs. Buying
- Retire by 30
- Borrowing Money from Family and Friends
- Frugal Ways to Use Tax Refund
- Ways to Lower Phone Bill
- Self-Employed Mistakes
- Credit Card Company Tricks
- How To Spend Tax Refund
- Is Pet Insurance Worth It
If we were looking to approach this as an Organic Search content play, we might run these ideas through Google Keyword Planner, SEM Rush, or Moz Keyword Explorer. That would allow us to check Search Volumes, expand the keyword list, and vet out other topic ideas. Google Trends is another great way to check both the interest in these topics, as well as timing.
In this case, however, we’re most interested in content that will resonate with audiences immediately, and that makes Social Media our best outlet. Social metrics also provide additional context that traditional keyword tools simply don’t offer. Thankfully, Majestic has a relationship with one of the best Social toolsets: BuzzSumo.
BuzzSumo offers some pretty compelling information in its Content Research Tools section. It offers insights not only into what topics are shared most on Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but also the type of content that is most frequently being shared. This gives us two missing pieces of our content puzzle: We now know what types of financial topics will resonate on particular Social networks as well as what type of framing device to use to express the idea.
Additionally, the partnership between BuzzSumo and Majestic means that Phrase Match data from Majestic’s Keyword Checker tool is pulled directly into the interface. This provides us with some validating information, such as how many times a keyword phrase we’re examining appeared in link Anchor Text or Title tags within Majestic’s index.
For our purposes, however, we’ll need to dive directly into Keyword Checker itself since we want to see Broad Match data to expand the results. BuzzSumo Content Research and Keyword Checker Broad Match data can then be combined in Excel.
So What Topics Worked?
By examining the BuzzSumo and Majestic results in tandem, we start to gain a sense of topic ideas worth pursuing. BuzzSumo shows us that Retire by 30, Retire by 40, and Renting vs. Buying have both strong Average shares and clearly defined successful content types.
Keyword Checker demonstrates that Retire by 40, Renting vs. Buying, and Is Pet Insurance Worth It are the topics that most frequently appear in the Anchor Text and Title tags of Broad Match URLs, meaning there’s significant link reach.
Developing Content Approaches from the Findings
Based on our findings, we now have a good idea of some approaches that should resonate with our audience:
- How-To Article on Retiring by 40: This topic showed both significant Social and linking interest. Based on our spot-checking of the article links, we also understand that the more successful List content type usually reflects a round-up of subject matter experts, which would require more time spent compiling quotes from subject matter experts. A How-To spin may be more efficient, and combining that approach with an Infographic presentation could offer a different spin.
- Pros & Cons List Article or Video on Renting vs. Buying: The topic of Renting vs. Buying was a breakout both in terms of Total Shares and Count within Anchor Text and Titles of Broad Match URLs. This tells us that the topic has legs but is also a little over-saturated. Since Infographics and Why Posts were far and away the most common content types for this topic, it’s probably best to stick to one of the less used but still resonant types like Lists or Videos. And we’ll certainly need a fresh angle here.
- Video on Is Pet Insurance Worth It: Choosing a third topic was a bit tricky. An argument could be made for Retire by 30, based on its Social popularity, but Mr. Money Mustache seems to have the market cornered on that subject. Advice on Saving Money is connected to a lot of URLs, but that’s a fairly general topic. Is Pet Insurance Worth It has the benefit of both significant link reach and strong Average Shares on Facebook. By analyzing the topic of Pet Insurance itself in BuzzSumo, we find that Lists are the most popular content type but that How-To Articles and Video also tend to resonate. Again, let’s buck the trend and opt for a Video approach here.
Based on our research, we now have three pretty strong content ideas – all with rich media approaches to boot! And these topics are all validated by competitor success, link data, and Social metrics.
Make Sure to Find a Fresh Take
As T.S. Eliot once penned, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
In order to craft resonant content, you must find a new angle on the topics you’ve researched. We know from our research above what works, but if you wind up writing a poor imitation of a superior article you’ll have zero impact within your vertical. Earlier we declared you should ignore your gut feeling and trust the data, and we’re still saying that. But we must combine our data-infused brainstorming and gut feelings to figure out a unique approach to the resonant topics.
Why not write an article about if renting or buying is better in major cities? You could really blow this idea out and make a series that pits cities against each other. These type of “bragging rights” articles can be very popular on Social Media.
Aimed at millennials, why not pen a piece on how to retire by 40 if you’re already in debt? Many people (the skeptical authors of this article included) can’t foresee how retiring at 40 is possible, so perhaps an infographic could explain how through a flowchart.
Weighing these ideas against Squared Away’s existing financial behavior content, however, the Renting vs. Buying article concept seems like the most on-brand fit of the three. And there’s a built-in angle for the blog to take, since it can focus on geographic renting and buying behavior and draw comparisons between age ranges and other demographics. This one’s starting to feel like it writes itself.
Don’t Forget about Content Distribution
No matter the subject, content needs to be unique to connect with an audience. It also needs to be seen in the right place at the right time. Once you have your article ready to go, dig into Google Trends and BuzzSumo data to find the right time of year, week, and day in which to promote it. If you’re putting the time into creating a strong article, one last bit of research around timing can help ensure your content succeeds.
As marketers, our job is to meld left brain and right brain thinking into something actionable and tangible. While we personally love data, we know it doesn’t have all the answers. Data is nothing without proper execution, and content ideas are nothing without a sound plan based on numbers. By combining these two ways of thinking, we can provide stronger marketing results that speak to our target audience, and our clients will thank us for it.
About the Authors
Ron Sansone, Director of Search & Analytics, and Patrick Coyne, SEO & Social Strategy Manager both work for Arc Intermedia, a digital marketing agency based in the Philadelphia area.
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