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Why Copying Your Competitors Can Hurt Your Content Marketing Strategy

Why Copying Your Competitors Can Hurt Your Content Marketing Strategy

Can I tell you a secret?

I love hacks.

Or anything that helps me save time and work smarter.

And I’m sure I’m not weird or unique.

According to a Microsoft study, the average human attention span has dropped to only eight seconds. That means when we spend more time than we expected on a particular task, it feels like the extra time spent is an actual waste.

Businesses and content marketers are not exempt from this dilemma. Daily, they consume blog posts, books, podcasts, and videos to help them work smarter and execute their content marketing strategy flawlessly. For many, an even quicker hack is copying their competitors.

The problem is, unlike other useful innovations like apps and software, copying your competitor’s content marketing strategy could actually be hurting your marketing efforts.

Here’s why.

1. Your competitors don’t actually know what’s working for them

“But if company X is doing it, it must be working. You know, because they’re profitable.”

Sigh.

I hear those words or a variation of it many times a day from clients. The truth is, sometimes the competitors they’re copying or planning to copy are just doing random stuff, hoping it will stick. They have no real content marketing strategy at all, and even if they do, it’s also likely they’re among the 41% of marketers who do not have a documented strategy.

They’re just thinking or feeling a strategy will work or is working.

Worse, the competitors you’re planning to copy could also be copying another competitor. It could be an endless, repetitive cycle.

The reality is, their thoughts and feelings are biased.

Just remember this the next time you’re raring to copy a competitor.

2. You can’t identify what it is they’re doing right

On the flipside, let’s assume now that your competitor is knowingly crushing it with their content marketing strategy. The important questions to ask are:

  • Do you know what is working for them, and why?
  • Can you successfully spy on or carry out competitive analysis to determine what exactly they’re doing right?

It’s bad enough if the fate of your content marketing hangs on your competitor, but it’s even worse if you’re copying them blindly and hoping for the best.

How can you know what’s bringing in more leads for them or what’s making them more money just by looking at their social media feeds and latest blog posts?

Unfortunately, you can’t, unless you’re a super sleuth.

3. Your competitor’s business and audience are subtly different to yours

Conventional wisdom has it that longer articles are better and rank higher on search engines. It’s true. In fact, this study by Brian Dean shows that the average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

Does it mean your audience wants to read 2,000-word articles? Not necessarily.

They may prefer shorter posts broken down into shorter chunks or a series.

Apply the same logic to copying your competitors. Based on the fact that you both have unique selling propositions (USPs), your buyer personas are likely to be different. Chances are, their audience will not react to or read your landing page copy, blog posts, or product descriptions in the same way that your audience will.

Trying to mimic your competitor’s tone of voice will not always work on your audience either because your business and value proposition are ultimately not the same. Different types of voice – formal and informal – work for different demographics.

4. You don’t have the same resources they do

This is probably the most important of them all. By resources, I mean software, tools, teams, and ultimately, budget. They all work together.

I stumbled on this comment recently on LinkedIn.

That’s a comment from Sumo’s chief content strategist on LinkedIn. They’re spending $40,000 a month on writers, editing and promoting content. That’s more than some startups are able to spend on one content marketer per year!

Here’s another example from Neil Patel. Yes, that’s Neil Patel.

Look closely at the rows for SEO and Content

Or perhaps I should mention Hubspot? They create more content in one week than some startups do in a quarter. It’s easy for them because they have multiple staff writers, accept guest posts and have upper-level management and partners who contribute to their content marketing too.

If you don’t have the same resources as your competitors, you’ll have to hustle thrice as hard and much more to get the results they’re getting, or even come close. That’s reality.

It’s sad. I know. But don’t get depressed. There’s hope.

How to ensure your content marketing strategy is better than your competitors

First, if you’re looking for quick results, and you’re not ready to spend time in executing a content marketing strategy, go buy PPC advertising instead of reading this post. I’m serious. But if you’re in this for the long game, read on.

Build an excellent team

It may sound obvious, but it’s so often overlooked. Spend time on building an incredible team. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiring one or ten content marketers, hire the best. When you do, treat them right.

Here’s the thing: sometimes your competitors are not doing better than you are because of the tools and software they’re using or the blogs they’re reading; they’re doing better because they have a better team.

If you have a mediocre team, even if you use all the tools and software your competitors are using, you’ll still get terrible results. And this applies whether you’re working with an agency, freelancers or in-house employees.

Also, if you treat your team like crap, you’ll get crap results. And you’ll probably be hiring all the time because of high turnover.

Think about it: if you’re chasing an employee in another company and they’re treated outstandingly by their current employer, will you be able to win them over easily?

It’s a near impossible feat unless they inwardly detest their current job or employer.

That’s the point.

Your competitors may already have a huge advantage because they have the best employees, use the best agencies, and hire the best freelancers.

So hire wisely. And when you find unicorns, keep them.

Carry out proper competitive analysis

This study by Conductor reveals that 74% of marketers agree competitive analysis is important/very important, but 57% admit they’re not very good at it.

There are truckloads of tools you can use for competitive analysis. Ghostery is one of them. Here’s what Brian Massey has to say about it:

“You could score your competitors on a scale from Rookies to MVPs. Rookies have no analytics or experimentation tools on the site. MVPs have a full suite of analytics, UX tools, and AB testing solutions.

Give a company 1 point for Analytics package. Google Analytics is typical.

Add 1 point for tag management. Google Tag Manager is the market leader right now.

Add 2 points for UX tools. Look for heatmap and session recording tools or survey and feedback tools.

Add 5 points for A/B testing tools. If they are using these tools, they are using some of the most reliable data available.

If your competitor scores 7-9 points, you should test ideas you find on their site first.

If your competitor scores 3-6 points test their ideas second.

Anything less? You should consider their ideas with great skepticism.”

That’s a great summary.

But using Ghostery is basic. In-depth and proper competitive analysis will require tools like Ahrefs, iSpionage, SEMrush, Spyfu, BuzzSumo, Mention, Moz, BuiltWith and several others depending on your needs and who you’re listening to.

Apart from tools, if you want to see how your competitors are using email marketing automation or retaining/onboarding new customers, just sign up for their newsletter or start a free trial with them. Record your findings and see how you can improve on their performance yourself. Correct any flaws if necessary.

The purpose of competitive analysis isn’t so that you can copy your competitors’ tactics directly.

It’s to help you understand:

  • What they’re doing
  • How they’re doing it
  • Why they’re doing it
  • Where they’re doing it
  • When they’re doing it

That way, you can make more informed decisions and not just copy them blindly.

Test and measure everything

After conducting competitive analysis, the next best thing you should do is to measure the results of everything you’re doing in line with your content marketing strategy. Without data, you’re merely shooting in the dark.

Remember the 1,890 word article I mentioned earlier?

You can test to see if your audience is actually reading everything or at least scrolling to the end of the posts using heatmaps. And if they’re not, that could be a sign that your content is boring and not engaging enough or they just prefer shorter posts.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Are they scrolling down the page?
  • How many are clicking your calls-to-action at the end of the posts?
  • Which channels are giving you the best ROI?
  • If you’re using advertising, which ads are performing well, i.e., have higher conversion rates?

Carry out experiments. Don’t jump headlong into any particular tactic just because it’s working for your competitor. Test until you find out what works for you so you can stick to it.

One of the best things about content marketing and life generally is that there are many perspectives. Testing will allow you discover what works for you so you can discard what doesn’t.

Wrapping up

“The person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.” ~ Matty Mullins

Ok, let me rephrase that (thanks, Matty): “The business you should try to be better than is the business you managed yesterday.”

Work on improving the results you had yesterday, last week, last month or even last year. Because most times you won’t automatically outdo your competitor even if you begin making the right changes to your strategy now. Many factors also determine the results you’ll get.

For example, if your competitors have higher domain ratings (Ahrefs) or higher domain authority (Moz), it may be more difficult to rank as easily as they do on the first page of Google if you’re just starting out.

Be patient. Be consistent. Steal ideas, but test rigorously. It won’t be sudden, but you can outdo your competitors.

You can increase your traffic. You can increase your conversions. You can make more money.

Maybe you’ll remember this post when you do, maybe you won’t. Either way, I’ll be happy to hear and know your content marketing strategy ideas and suggestions.

Guest Author: Iniobong Eyo is a marketing copywriter and content strategist. When he’s not growing your competitor’s traffic and revenue, he’s teaching mathematics at a local high school.

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