Content marketing is much more than just publishing a corporate blog. It has both external and internal elements:

Before doing anything, you need a plan. And when creating your own content marketing strategy, you can’t ignore your competitors or their strategies.

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Without considering their actions, you can’t achieve advantageous results. All your actions can be easily countered by the actions of your competitors, so you need to stay one step ahead of them.

Once you understand what these folks are trying to achieve (mainly, by means of backlink research), you will learn how to benefit from this intel for your own business.

How It Works

External content marketers strive to create an active online presence. Their responsibilities also include:

The purpose of these actions is to:

Content marketers should be experienced in:

Where to Begin?

It’s helpful to know what methods and techniques your competitors use to get traffic. You can even learn from the things they stopped doing.

Your competitors’ bad experiences can lend valuable insight into their mistakes, so you don’t repeat them. Try to understand their strong and weak points to improve your own strategy.

To gather this information, you can use a backlink analysis modules (e.g., Ahrefs, SEMrush, Serpstat, or Moz). For instance, Ahrefs is known for its large index of backlinks and is a useful tool for finding out how your competitors and partners promote.

Essay writing services provide the most compelling illustration of this highly competitive environment. Let’s look at how to conduct a good analysis that will help to improve your strategy. (Please note that although we’ll be looking at the essay writing niche for the purposes of this article, you can use the same approach to analyze any niche you want.)

Competitors’ Backlink Analysis

Backlink analysis is incredibly useful for finding strong and weak points in the promotion strategies of your competitors. I used Serpstat to gather the data for this article.

Step 1: Create a Spreadsheet

Your spreadsheet should include the following columns:

Step 2: Assess the Backlink Volume & Choose Average Numbers for the Analysis

Go to Serpstat and enter your competitor’s domain into the search bar. Then hit backlink analysis > backlinks > new backlinks, and choose backlink per domain — 1.

You should choose a minimum of 500 backlinks. For my example, I will use only 100.

Step 3: Check Each Link and Evaluate the Quality

Export and download the report:

Then shift source_url and anchor the column to the spreadsheet you have created.

Now check your results one by one. Use the “anchor” column and use Ctrl+F to find the needed link. You can use your own notes or mine. Either way, you will get the results you need.

Step 4: Sum up Your Findings on Each Competitor

Evaluating each competitor is the most interesting part of this article, especially considering the niche we’ve chosen. When making your analysis, you should create your own document to enter your conclusions. It will help you to keep all your information organized.

Website #1:  Grademiners

Our analysis reveals their unfair methods. They bought a lot of links and they use them in the middle of the text. Some of their links are embedded in the text that is absolutely unrelated to essay writing. It’s a cheap and ineffective strategy to promote their service. Look at the screenshot to see what I found:

The text is about a Mexican corporation with a completely senseless link to a page where you can buy laboratory reports.There is even a link placed on the page of a vegan restaurant in Seattle!

Any chance of someone finding these links to get to the site is a long shot. This is clearly done just for SEO.

Why is this a weak point? They may get a slight increase in position, however, they may also attract Google’s or any other search engine’s attention for spamming links on one or several domains.

And nothing is sacred when it comes to SEO:

Here’s an attempt to make such a link look more natural, and it is not really successful:

I found a lot of other methods of hidden advertising (forum discussions, comments), but the strangest was this one:

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You can’t see the link on the page, but if you use Ctrl+F, you will see:

Their strategy can hardly be called “content marketing.” It is just spammy link building. Weak!

Website #2: Grabmyessay

Grabmyessay uses a much better strategy. It promotes its services through articles written on related topics. It’s good for promotion, and it can even lead some traffic to their page.

Another interesting approach — promotion via forums. And again, they don’t write about their service, they just leave the links:

The third tactic they use — spam in the comments. They hide the link in the name of the user. Quite good, but they won’t see much traffic through such links.

Of course, there were also some irrelevant publications:

However, unlike the previous service, they also use articles on relevant websites and they occasionally produce service reviews.

Website #3: Essaypro

This company wins the title of the fairest content marketing strategy. They publish a lot of review content and many relevant articles.

They have even organized their own writing contest and provide scholarships for students:

Even if it’s just for link building, they are still trying to hide it naturally:

Infographics are another great way to promote your product with content marketing and not be intrusive.

People love interesting statistics. A perfectly designed data visualization can go viral and it can lead to the success of your company.

Step 5: Analyze the Information

As we see:

This information is enough to start creating your own strategy.

Analyze how your competitor’s strategy has changed and what brings them the most traffic. Ask someone who has used their services to say a word about the quality of their articles.

What’s Next?

Collect all the information about your competitors in one document and keep it up to date. Think what you can get from this investigation:

Apart from collecting the aforementioned data, find the best platforms used by your competitors and discuss ways in which you can get the same placement. Consider the number of comments, quality of content, and level of trust for each site.

Content Marketing vs. Buying Links

When looking at how both sites are working, you can see that the one using purchased links has the lowest amount of traffic. Make no mistake, they have lower conversion rates as well. The strategy may be good for short-term promotion, but from a long-term perspective, it backfires with low positions and low conversion rates.

As opposed to intensive link building, content marketing accomplishes two tasks:

Also:

Buying links can damage your site and ruin your reputation since you don’t know where your link will appear. On the other hand, when sending your article to some reliable site, you can negotiate where and how your link will appear on their site.

Final Thoughts

External content marketing is a complex interaction with the target audience through content. It is done to increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.

By analyzing competitors’ backlinks, you will discover:

Learn from your competitors’ mistakes, take their interesting ideas, improve them, adapt them to your site, and create a reasonable content marketing strategy. You now have a strong instrument to gather intel about your rivals through backlink research, so you can outperform them in fair competition. Or maybe not so fair, there are always some casualties when you are struggling in business.


Image Credits
Screenshots taken by Sergey Grybniak, September 2017