Why Spying on Competitors May Hurt You

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Once upon a time, someone somewhere told marketers they needed to know rivals inside out if wanted to succeed. Today their sons venerate traditions of predecessors, conducting a competitor analysis to step up their marketing campaigns.

In other words, they spy.

A proper competitor analysis allows to strengthen inbound marketing techniques for more traffic and leads. Also, it helps to compete on content and link building strategies to overtake opponents online. Nothing is wrong with that, except the temptation to pocket their well-performing tactics and content ideas.

Risks and consequences are as clear as day:

  • Turning into another ‘me-too’ company.
  • Copyright abuse.
  • Accusations of plagiarism.
  • Google penalties.

That’s where a fine line goes between smart content marketing and plagiarism: you spy on competitors to not copy them but differentiate yourself. And that spying becomes unreasonable and far from innocent when you don’t understand how much is enough.

For those willing to fend off the pain a bad competitor analysis might cause, here go three don’ts to remember:

 

Don’t copy their content ideas.

To set a content strategy, you grab a list of competitors and start analyzing their content:

  • What content asset types they create and what formats work best.
  • Where they seed those assets.
  • How often they publish each content asset type.
  • Quality of their content.
  • Topics they cover, as well as social signals, backlinks, and SERP results they get.

 

And now, attention please.

What do you do with the most viral topic ideas from your competitors? In the brave new world, you would take that content crowd and create something new. But unfortunately (or not?), we don’t live in the perfect world. And big chances are, you decide to borrow some of their ideas for your content plan.

This tactic has no luck a priori.

Everyone borrows one way or another. You refer to sources, cite influencers, or learn how to properly paraphrase predecessors. But it’s perspective and individual experience what makes your content original. So, addressing a topic based on competitors’ strengths turns you into a copy-cat in the audiences’ eyes.

Ways to combat this:

  1. Attack their weaknesses by addressing the topics they don’t cover. It will allow you to attract the audiences they miss.
  2. “Steal” worthy topics only if you can improve them with the Skyscraper Technique, and if this tactic pays indeed. (Chances are, you know that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.)
  3. Think of your strengths overplaying the competitors’, and focus on them in your content. 

To avoid unintentional plagiarism in your content plan, consider a content matrix. It helps to brainstorm ‘like a boss’ and come up with original content ideas for marketing campaigns.

 

Don’t plagiarize their writing style.

 When spying on competitors, you read and analyze tons of their content assets. As a marketer, you need the information on their content accuracy, depth, structure, length, and tone. More than that, you need to know who writes their content, where (and if) they guest blog, and what their areas of expertise are.

And it’s that very moment when you should fight the temptation of following their writing style.

Your audience doesn’t need a copy. To turn readers into leads and avoid accusations of plagiarism, make sure your brand has voice and tone. You should decide on the consistent terminology to use in texts, a surplus value of your content, and power words to use so people might feel a certain way about your message.

To get heard, you can’t re-write and copy others all the time or raise your voice. Instead, you need to set yourself apart and show the audience that you have something special to say.

 

Don’t copy keywords and donors they use for link building.

You keep track of competitors’ SEO to spy on keywords they are ranking for, as well as donors they use to get backlinks. You can legally steal some of those donors whenever appropriate:

  • They are relevant to your niche.
  • They link to more than one competitor of yours.
  • They post high-quality content and can give your traffic.
  • Your target audience is there.
  • You have resources to reach them.

But, for the sake of marketing gods, don’t steal ALL keywords and donors simply because competitors use them. It leads to nothing but thief of time and money, as well as Google penalties for link spam. You need to personalize the process to fit with your brand voice and product or service.

How to do that?

Rather than copying the keywords your competitors have won the SERP for, consider ranking for those they ignored. Rather than replicating the links of your competitors, get new ones they don’t have, and do that at a faster rate. This approach allows you to avoid unintentional plagiarism in your link building campaign.

 

In a word…

Too much water drowned the miller, so keep a balance.

Spying on competitors and following their steps should be just a part of your long-term marketing strategy. Analyze them to create own unique campaigns that set your brand apart, reflect its identity, and help it climb to the top of Google. Your purpose is to overtake competitors, not simply catch up with them, isn’t it?

 

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