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Start with the Best Content and SEO Strategy and Work Your Way Back
Do you know why your site sucks compared to the top sites in your industry? Why do so few people visit or return to yours? Why don’t they talk about you and your amazing products and services and share your stuff on social media?
How interesting is it that you can spy on your top competitors, strip apart their website and presence on the social sphere, and find out why they’ve succeeded, and then apply that wisdom to your digital marketing? Most marketers go about building a sustainable marketing powerhouse wrongly.
The new rule is simple: start with a successful model, study it, and duplicate its assets and process rather than learning quick from mistakes using a testing-based incremental model.
We’re going to do all that, learn the process, set goals, use the spy tools, and apply what we learn to a content marketing brand and a major auto insurance company examples below. In my upcoming post, I’ll introduce you to a full swath of incredible competitive intelligence tools and other tools to help you plan and build better content.
This is a big topic and you’ll need to bookmark this post and return many times before it all sinks in. Make this first read a general exploration and then dig into specific areas one at a time to master them.
Let’s Do What No One Else Will
We all wish success was easy. But it’s not. Somebody smart is always making better things and creating more value and is more likable. It’s up to us to take the initiative to be smarter, figure out how things work, and produce something way better. To be successful in 2017, you’re going to have step it up, or suffer yet one more year of mediocre results.
Along with a process of reverse engineering theory and analytical techniques, I’m going to introduce you to some spying tools so you can discover great content and then assemble it so it creates a powerful traffic building and visitor conversion effect. During this process you may have to build rankings and traffic first before you can switch over to content that has converting power. With this insight, you’ll be enjoying the content creation and strategy process much more.
Are you ready to learn how to spy, infiltrate, and analyze your competition’s best competitive secrets? Then let’s get immersed in this journey where you’ll create the very best content and publish it on your website, other websites and social pages.
Competitive Intelligence Tools Have Improved Immensely
Spying on competitors is big business and very valuable information. Software such as Similar web can help you find your real top competitors and tell you what they’re doing and what success they’re having.
Today, Your Company, your Brand, Product, Offer: Is Your Content. It’s that simple.
Great content will make the biggest impact to your marketing results. You can have the best content, the kind that’s powering up your competitor’s success. Why not visit their site right now and marvel at their great stuff and really get into why customers love them? Then you’ll find out how to tear it all apart and know why it works so well.
What your customers and incoming visitors see and believe is what your content tells them to believe, such as whether you’re relevant, expert, creative, trustworthy, and capable of providing the fulfillment they want. You’re as valuable, deep, fascinating, generous, authoritative, attractive, fun, and impactful as your content suggests. You have to believe that content is everything today. Top competitors know all about content and so should you.
So right now, take a deep breath and relax, because you’ll comprehend this material better if you’re calm and balanced. Treat this as a journey into a dream where you’ll have plenty of “ah ha” moments and you’ll realize success is there for whoever wants it. The only question a marketer, entrepreneur, startup financier, or other professional has to answer is “Do I want to Succeed?”
Delete Your Old Content because it’s Killing your Business
The problem with traditional content approaches is that the market doesn’t care about our stuff. Customers care about what they want, hope for and expect. They don’t care what you believe. They care whether you believe what they believe. These visitors may actually believe you’re worth it, but your content hasn’t validated or confirmed your relevance to them. The top sites do deliver that confirmation. They’ve got the right content delivered the right way to resonate with web users. So why not do what they’re doing?
In order to create content that drives leads, you need to understand your clients’ and prospects’ problems and aspirations first, then write about those things. But at a deeper level, you need to know what they are searching for at the various stages of the buying cycle, and have content written using the same core language that they use – Kevin Whelan, B2B Digital Strategist of KVNW Digital Marketing Toronto.
We’re not going to copy the leader’s content (as copycatters do). We’re going to study what their top content is and deduce, using tools, why it is so effective, then create our version of the best content. We capture the what and hows and it may lead us to all of the why’s. Sometimes the why’s are tricky because we assume people like certain things and styles of content and experience when in fact, we just don’t get what’s really going on. You’re going to find out what’s going on.
In this post, we’ll discuss how to start your great content strategy by discovering who has the best content and how you can create the same highly effective content for your site. Don’t be intimated by the phrase “content reverse-engineering.” You’ll soon learn how it’s only a tag applied to a simple process of dissecting things.
Here’s the reverse engineering you’ll be doing:
- engaging in a process that will help you learn about and create the best content in your niche and organize it on your site to get exceptional results
- envisioning content ideas that will have impact and draw a lot of traffic and discovering how to create them
- discovering how to link a network of pages so they support each other’s rankings, optimizing the customer journey, and ramping up your conversion power
- leveraging software tools to analyze the most successful websites in your niche
- learning to see content in the bigger picture, not in aimlessly churning out irrelevant content
It’s often said by today’s management experts that a key to success in business is to fail quick and learn fast. Yet it might also be said that you should bypass failure altogether by producing the ultimate solution right away. Find perfection first, then you won’t even have to fuss with that unpleasant failure stuff. Which way would you prefer?
Successful websites usually have that excellent, high impact valuable content that leaves an impression on you. If we find out the what and how, we might discover why they’re successful. They’re a great starter model.
Our Goal: What Are We Trying to Do?
- find the top companies/websites are in our niche and spy on them
- discover their value proposition and how it is delivered via content
- determine what their top performing content pieces/pages are
- determine which keyword phrases are driving our top competitor’s rankings and traffic
- determine how competitors use social media and get their stuff shared there
- determine how to assemble the best content topics and media on our site
- determine how to optimize it so it will rock in one or two years time (you won’t get immediate success)
- how to market our content like them so that supporters/visitors/influencers link to our site and talk about us
- how to optimize the customer journey to maximize visitor conversion and sales
Delete your First thoughts about What Your Site is Missing
Don’t start with preconceptions about what you’re missing. Filling in blanks and gaps isn’t going to work. At this point, you don’t know what you need, how to create it, or how to lay it out to your customers over time — you’ll have to discover what works and do that.
And It might not be the absence of epic blog posts written with wit and panache, slick 4K youtube video or whitepaper, or podcasts and infographics that makes your site weak. It could be that your content isn’t linked or promoted properly. But if you watch what your competitors produce and how they lay out their content and present it to their visitors, you begin to get a feel for this excellent presentation process.
What is Content Reverse Engineering?
Here’s a good definition of Content Reverse Engineering for our purposes:
Content reverse engineering is the study of top performing content websites/businesses to develop an ideal website content strategy (so that it can be reproduced on your web site) which will allow your website to rank high on Google, impact visitors, build their intent, persuade them to become loyal customers, and encourage them to share your marketing materials via social media.
Why is Search Engine Optimization still in this definition? SEO is powerful and influential. If you can’t rank on Google, you’re neglecting a huge, influential, sustainable and free source of traffic and influence. It’s not everything now, but it’s still the most important element.
Reverse engineering of content can work for more than just Google rankings and traffic. We can reverse engineer for social viral success, content persuasion, conversion rates, intent and engagement, and help to build a site that will power up visitor’s desire and commitment to do business with us. You’ll inevitably be looking at all things to reverse engineer for. This is just the beginning. You’re not an expert now, but in 2 years you may be the ultimate authority on content reverse engineering. Let’s start thinking like experts!
This post is about a plan to build a powerful website from the ground up. This isn’t UX design or web design. It’s about a site that can dominate Google rankings and power visitors through your conversion funnel. While we might spend time studying the most successful sites, in the end, we need to design content that resonates with our selected keywords and our brand image. And determining which are the actual great sites isn’t easy either. It may take you a while to discover which of your competitor’s really does have it going on and whether they’re worth studying.
Like any good builder, we’ll be drawing up blueprints, ordering building products, gathering tools, and perhaps subcontracting stuff to experts. Experts really help. Envision the powerful digital marketing content, and forget about design. Image and design will distract you. Go to your browser setting and turn off the images. This will let you see content only. You need to focus on your content.
my content strategy pci
Start with the End
If you’re a goal minded business person, you probably agree that having goals, a vision of success to aim for is important. One of the best ways to map out a path to your goals is to begin with the end in mind, build your vision (perhaps like the top companies in your niche) draw up blueprints for a new website and then backtrack with all the steps between then and now.
Having a vision like this helps to illuminate all of the details and in an order that you currently aren’t aware of. It can raise your confidence too.
The competitive intelligence tools such as Similarweb, Spyfu, Alexa, Opensite Explorer, SemRUSH and others are very helpful for helping us cut through the clutter to find worth websites to emulate. And it’s not just websites we’re after. Ultimately, we want to view their complete digital marketing program and extract the best techniques, processes, resources, and conversion strategy from them.
Confidence, Faith, and Optimism – Something Incredible is Coming
We’re going to start with the end – the powerful, top ranking and high converting website, the one that has it is all. This vision is a powerful, magnetic and persuasive force for you and for your future customers. And like Field of Dreams, they will come.
We need to study, observe and learn. Why did a competitor’s content (FB post, blog post, infographic) get shared so much, why did people link to their content, and why are the topics they chose to cover so relevant? We can use software such as Spyfu, Semrush, Moz, Google alerts, Similarweb, to see what others have done and are doing currently. Tools don’t give you everything you need however they can be insightful.
What Content is Best?
Take a good look at the top sites in your niche and note the type of content, messaging, style, content navigation, and social media distribution they use. Check out where they advertise, what those ads say, and what they’re dishing out with their content marketing. Content marketing is likely the key to most businesses success. Find out what they’re doing.
And if you’re stumped about which content types are best and how you should develop them, there are helpers. For instance, a company called Market Muse offers a software-based solution that assists with the discovery of the best content ideas and helps you map out a content strategy that fills all the semantic and keyword needs of Google, so that your site is the Big Kahuna of your keyword sector. That’s reverse engineering.
By mapping out all the content needed to rank for your top keyword phrases, all the content you create between now and your goal, will support your rankings very well. This is how I get an octopus stranglehold on keyword sectors. It takes time, but each piece of content you create will make your ranking position even stronger. And this collection of content will be more useful to your customers and they’re share it happily on social media.
Your 6 Content Strategy Model Key Questions
- Who is your target prospect and what are their needs? What does your unique value proposition and branding statement have to be to fulfill their needs?
- Which topics are these prospects interested in?
- What do your prospects believe?
- What don’t your prospects know?
- What are all the keywords/related words of these topics and your solution/product?
- What is the core idea or brand message that has to be in there and reinforced like a laser?
Strategizing Content for SEO
A website’s content and how it’s linked internally is hard to visualize. The site’s navigation for users is not the same view Google gets when it spiders the pages, or processes its collection of your pages. Google’s view is different. In fact, Google will disregard a lot of the links and material on your pages without you knowing why. It barely recognizes the menu nav bars that some SEOs still optimize. Don’t fret, you’ll have a user-based naviation system too. In fact some systems will deliver content based on the visitor’s gps location. That actually has to be reverse engineered too and entered into the strategy.
The sophisticated analysis of keywords, linking, text semantics, trust factor, pagerank, and linkjuice flow is probably better left for me to figure out. It’s complicated. If you don’t know the phrase “keyword reputation” or “semantic indexing” then it’ll be hard to know to write and link your content.
SEO Copywriting tip: write your current content so that includes keyword phrases (and semantic cues) that you’ll have content to point to. This sort of prearranges additional rankings in future without rewriting and rewiring all your content. That’s a pain. Know that you can do that now, and then return later to the page to insert hyperlinks where needed.
Here’s what to do:
1. name the top 10 topics you need to cover and assign one page to each topic
2. collect the top 5 keywords your site needs to resonate to
3. collect 5 keyword phrases for each of your topic pages
4. collect all the synonyms, related words, and stemmed variations of your keyword phrases
Example 1 – The Content Marketing Institute
If you’re into content marketing, (using content as a medium for getting your message out to whereever you want to put it) this website is number one, but why? What is their best content, where do visitors go on their site, and how do they acquire customers from the hundreds of thousands of visitors they get?CMI started out like any other site, but with money and more content, and a good content strategy they grew on the wave of people just learning about content marketing. Just so you know, marketing today is the same thing and content marketing (If you ask CMI).
Well, anyway, CMI has a lot of traffic which they receive mostly through Google. If you do a search of the base keyword phrase “content marketing” you’ll find them at number one and as well for “content strategy.” And they get traffic from millions of additional phrases that include the words content marketing (e.g. what is content marketing).
We can use tools such as spyfu.com and semrush to help us learn about how they rank and where visitors land on their site. This tells us which content is bringing them in. Then we can find out what content links to their top pages so we know why it ranks at the top. Then we can analyze the content of the big pages themselves to see what’s so compelling about them.
In CMI’s case, they provide beginner’s guides to content marketing and content strategy. People want to know and they want a guide to tell them how to do it. So, everyone links to this page and they share the url with everyone on social media. CMI creates impressive visual content that offers quite a bit of insight and they’re rewarded with boatloads of traffic.
If you use Google keyword suggestion tool, you can see what searcher’s are looking for specifically. The tool will show you the top phrases in terms of volume and in terms of what advertisers are paying per click for Adwords ads. Both are important to determining where they real value is. If ppc prices are $16 to $25 per click, you’re onto something vital to customers. In this case, it looks like they want a way to understand content marketing and how to use it.
The previous pic above of their website homepage shows they offer classes, webinars, guides, and just about anything to do with learning content marketing. The left most button is to their articles section because that’s probably where everyone wants to go. Why? Because they want to read the latest expert discussions, tips and tricks about CM. The blog is always popular and expert blog posts are what underpin high Google rankings. Regular web pages aren’t interesting and Google almost disregards them. Blogs are usually rich in info, visual stuff such as infographics and video, and helpful info and that’s what people want.
This cool tool from Similarweb lets you see so much about your competition it’s awesome. We can see CMI’s traffic sources and where they send visitors too. And our favorite, the one where they tell us which pages are most popular! Isn’t this fun?
CMI is generous which indicates a market leader. They give away some great stuff including their yearly state of content marketing reports in pdf format. The visitors are looking for all that excellent information which is laser-like efficient and extremely well presented. I like CMI a lot. Of course, the material leaves you wanting more, perhaps deeper data rich content.
Strangely, the only time they mention content reverse engineering is in this on epost from Simon Penson from 4 years ago! http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2012/11/reverse-engineer-content-strategy/ Oh well, it’s probably because it’s not a beginner topic.
Example 2 : Auto Insurance Company in Los Angeles
Insurance companies try hard to differentiate their insurance products because consumers view automobile insurance as a commodity. In fact they’re often searching for the lowest price auto insurance quote they can get. An insurance company such as Geico, Progressive, Allstate, Farmer’s, AAA, etc will spend immensely on differentiation.
Smaller insurance companies and brokers can’t compete with the big brands and their video advertising, brand mascots, and thousands of agent sites linking to their corporate website. Smaller companies can instead pay attention to how their content helps drivers, homeowners, etc stay confident that they’re getting the best value for their insurance expense. The big companies also create a lot of content too to appear sincere and helpful, as well as to rank on Google for endless insurance related keyword searches.
As an example for an auto insurance company in Los Angeles, we would have topics such as:
- auto and truck makes
- auto and truck models sizes, engine power, repair costs
- los angeles neighbourhoods
- zip codes and how they affect rates
- cheap, low cost savings tips for drivers of various vehicle makes
- driving instruction and tips
- accidents and claims
- teens and high risk drivers
- how to save on insurance guide
- liability, coverage, and gaps
- why don’t millennials get lower insurance quotes?
- where do car accidents happen in LA?
The top keywords and keyword phrases your site needs to resonate to: auto insurance, car insurance, car insurance quote, insurance company, lowest price, online insurance, comparison, reviews, etc.
If we study the content of the top ranking sites in this search for a Los Angeles Car Insurance quote: we’ll find Progressive Insurance at the top e.g.,
The key branding message is that “warm, friendly, cheery, supportive, and caring Flo is just a quick phone call away.” She’s so clean and heavenly looking, you feel you’re meeting religious requirements by getting insurance from Progressive. So, Progressive avoids all those numbers, probably because Progressive (and Gieco) is actually one of the more expensive auto insurance companies, and instead the content directs you to more brand intensive communications or right to the insurance quote form. Progressive advertises a lot on TV thus the website is more or less a landing page for TV ads.
Other insurance companies online will lead directly to material about rate comparisons and demonstrations of the actual, cheapest insurance available. Hard core, bottom line cheap quotes, which we should remember, is something that might get shared online. With progressive, what gets shared are Youtube videos.
Make sure you check out the top site’s Youtube channel and see which videos are popular and which get shared. Here’s a look at Progressive insurances top Youtube videos:
Why Does Progressive Insurance Company Rank at the Top?
Progressive.com ranks highly because it has high trustrank (a lot of trusted sites link to it), lots of inbound links, 56,000 pages indexed, and a whopping Moz domain authority rating of 83 ) which many of the major brands possess because so many local agents link to the major brands. That’s why major brands dominate Google. If Google changes it’s policy on that sort of “employee vote) ranking power, the rankings would become a free for all for everyone! Wouldn’t that be something!
Progressive also has many hard to find old style SEO’d pages which laughably (they’re horribly written, for SEO purposes) still work, and they provide extra help for rankings without being too visible. This is one of the key tricks of SEO is utilize content subtlely for SEO but not let actual customers find it because it’s rarely a good customer experience. The key is that your pages won’t rank on their own. They need lots of support from other unique pages to give them a top ranking.
Progressive.com enjoys 3.1 million visitors per month and they get traffic from 131,ooo unique keyword phrases such as car insurance.
If you check this page using Open Site Explorer, you’ll see this page has lots of links pointing to it. And the content on these linking pages/sites is important to the progressive page’s rankings.
Getting people to write the right things and link to your site is one of the tougher aspects of search engine optimization. Yet, what other pages suggest about your site is critical to your rankings and which keywords you can rank on. We’re not going to get into SEO and advanced linking here, but just to mention that even the links from other websites has to be reverse engineered too. This means creating content bloggers, journalists, and insurance agents will want to link to. Your content’s messaging will influence what these people write about and where they link to on your site. 255 links point to progressive.com’s /auto/ page from 66 different domains. That kind of link support can work wonders.
On this screenshot of progressive.com’s homepage, notice the drop down navigation menu links. About us, media and investors, and sign in have little to help us rank for insurance phrases. In this sense, we need to know which content wastes ranking resources because you won’t have as much ranking power to waste as Progressive.com possesses.
They have plenty of links pointing to their how to save page which has 6 key posts on how to save on auto insurance. Visitors want to save on their auto insurance so tying the brand thematically is good for branding. Does that work for SEO too? It may factor in a little on the lowest price quote thing, because Google is smart enough to know that most consumers are shopping for cheap insurance. That theme kind of taints the whole business of insurance, and makes brand differentiation difficult.
How does their Los Angeles location page rank? It’s mostly due to something called domain authority and the fact that quite a few others websites are linking to that page.
Another big boost is from their Google local business/maps listing where they are able to list all of their physical locations throughout the US and Los Angeles. The Google local business listing is a verified location on a map. It is a powerful asset, and SEO works well in concert with local maps exposure. Integrating your Google local listing into your content strategy is wise.
Now that you’re finished your primer in content reverse engineering, you may want to share it with your coworkers and boss so you can get the ball rolling on growing your digital marketing results.
More Helpful Stuff:
Hubspot offers its advice on content reverse engineering: http://academy.hubspot.com/projects/customer-projects-how-to-reverse-engineer-content-creation
Curata offers a helpful guide on content strategy where they identify the best types of content to use to move visitors through your conversion funnel. They use an easy to comprehend content pyramid model. You can download the guide http://www.curata.com/assets/marketing/Ebooks/Curata_Content_Marketing_Pyramid_CurataBlogAd.pdf on their site.
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Gord Collins — I provide digital marketing services for companies in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, St Louis, Minneapolis, Green Bay, Charlotte, Tampa, Miami, Orlando, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Oshawa, Hamilton, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Oakville, Calgary, Kelowna, Mississauga, Anaheim, Beverly Hills, Malibu, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Mountainview, Palo Alto, Portland, Washington, Atlanta, Irvine, Nashville, Sunnyvale, Salt Lake City, Riverside, Carlsbad, Santa Clarita, Henderson, Mesa, Temecula, Kirkland, Redmond, Kansas City, St Louis, Stockton, Scottsdale, Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Chula Vista, Escondido, Santa Monica, Miami Beach, and Honolulu. Get an innovative and efficient digital marketing specialist to work for you.