When I chat competitive content strategy with clients, I advise: make your own content as engaging as you can before even glancing over your shoulder at competitors. There's not nearly enough well-written, comprehensive web and email content out there, so if you're armed with a solid product, audience research and a unique perspective, your competitors don't stand a chance.

But healthy competition is a motivator. As much as I tell myself, "Stop comparing yourself to others," it doesn't always apply to client work.

The quality of data from competitive analysis digital marketing software is questionable and expensive, so I don't subscribe to tools that promise in-depth competitive analytics. Traffic estimates from third-party sources (SEMRush, SimilarWeb, ComScore, Alexa.com (sunsetting in May)) rarely reflect the traffic data in an owned analytics platform. You can use third-party traffic metrics for scalable comparison—i.e., a competitor gets 2x the traffic of your site—but the numbers are estimates at best. They're also becoming less reliable with improved digital privacy measures.

To evaluate competitors' content strategies and success, I've developed a four-point competitive scorecard that provides clients with just enough data to understand how owned organic content performance compares to similar sites.

This scorecard uses free or low-cost data from established sources that are unlikely to change with the death of third-party cookies and additional privacy regulations. These metrics are based on public or easy-to-acquire search data, apart from the surveillance advertising ecosystem.

The caveats, as always

  • All digital metrics are slippery. All digital metrics are subject to bot fraud and manipulation. Seeking exact accuracy in digital metrics—or any business metric that is not revenue—is a fool's errand. That said, these scorecard metrics are more useful when comparing competitors or a single site's performance over time.
  • The best source for traffic data is always your owned analytics platform, whether it's Google Analytics, Adobe, Matomo, Volument, Parsely or something else.
  • Benchmarks work best in times with "typical" data behavioral patterns. 2019 was the last predictably "typical" year, although web behavioral patterns have significantly stabilized since the rollercoaster of 2020.

The competitive scorecard for content-first websites

Easily accessible quantitative performance metrics for publishing people

To develop your scorecard, I recommend selecting a competitive set of 4-6 other websites that represent variety within your industry.

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