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Traditional Way & Ahrefs’ Way

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Traditional Way & Ahrefs' Way

Content maps help make sure your content serves a strategic role in nurturing your audience. It’s one of the best ways to keep your content aligned with your business goals.

I’ll cover two ways of creating content maps. The traditional way and the Ahrefs way. Both are tried and tested methods, but we like ours better—and I’ll explain why. Read on to learn both methods and choose the one that better suits your needs. We’ll talk about the following:

A content map is a document that lists stages of the buyer’s journey for every buyer persona and maps them with relevant content.

Example of Ahrefs' content map showing buyer's journey stages and persona

Example content map (from our content template). Different pieces of content have been assigned to various buyer’s journey stages for a particular buyer persona. Feel free to take a closer look at this inside our content map template.

The main reason for creating a content map is to make sure your brand’s content is accompanying each buyer persona throughout all stages of the marketing funnel—from attracting visitors to converting them and keeping them on board.

Here’s an additional reason. A sort of byproduct of creating a content map is getting an overview of your content inventory. This can help you spot gaps and find repurposing opportunities.

How to create a traditional content map (template included)

Follow these three steps to create your content map and fill any gaps with new content ideas.

1. Create buyer personas

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional person who represents the common characteristics of your customers (an archetype). Here’s an example buyer persona for our product:

Infographic of buyer persona "Anna Agency"

A buyer persona helps you visualize your customers’ buying journey, internalize who they are, and empathize with their challenges and goals.

Depending on your resources, there are two ways you can identify your customers to create a buyer persona:

  • The scientific way – Talk to potential customers. This can be your leads, social media followers, or simply people you know who may be interested in your product. You may also consider using services like SurveyMonkey, UserTesting, or Remesh to reach these people.
  • The educated-guess way – If for some reason you can’t talk to real people at this stage, you need to get creative. Use your competitors’ data or the industry data and “enrich” it with other sources. You may find that, for example, organic search is the #1 spending priority, according to a CMO survey.

To make your content mapping effective, you need to create a buyer persona for each type of customer. The more granular your typology is, the more customized your content. On the other hand, it will take you more time and resources to address all the personas’ goals and challenges compared to more generalized content.

Too many personas? Consider creating categories that connect personas with similar traits, e.g., business owners, in-house teams, freelancers, etc.

2. Use our template to map existing content for each persona

To make content mapping easier, I’ve prepared a simple template. (Click here to make your own editable copy in Google Sheets.)

All you need to do here is to fill in your existing content under the corresponding stage of the buyer’s journey (you can find some examples in the template). If you don’t have any content to map yet or want to start over, no worries—I’ll share some ideas to solve these issues in the next section.

As for the stages of the buyer’s journey, there are many different typologies out there. I’ve used the one from our guide to creating a winning content strategy. It may be slightly different than what you’re used to, so feel free to modify it accordingly.

If this stuff is totally new to you, don’t bother customizing those stages for now. The general idea is to create content that attracts visitors and gradually turns them into happy customers who are willing to come back to you. So here are short descriptions of the stages used in the template:

  1. Increase brand awareness – At this stage, the prospect is just becoming aware of their problem. They don’t know the solution yet and may not know your brand. This type of content doesn’t necessarily need to feature your product, as you’re basically trying to introduce your brand to potential customers.
  2. Create interest and desire – You can do so by teaching potential customers more about their problems and how your product or service can solve them.
  3. Nurture interest and entice the purchase – You can further educate potential customers about your product or service and why it’s the best solution for them.
  4. Retain customers and build brand loyalty – To do this, educate customers on how to get the most out of your product or service and clearly demonstrate its value. Additionally, in this stage, you can tackle topics that you know your customers care for but do not necessarily give you the opportunity to feature your product/service in any practical way.

As you write down your content pieces, you can come across some dilemmas.

  • The content fits multiple stages – You still have to choose one. Choose the one with the most dominant use case.
  • The content doesn’t fit anywhere – See if that piece of content can be updated so that you can classify it easier without losing its current value. Another scenario is that my template is too simplistic. If so, you may need to add the buyer’s journey stages.

3. Fill in any gaps in the buyer’s journey

Chances are that while making your content map, you will find gaps in your buyer’s journey: places where there is no content or not enough content to serve a given journey stage. In that case, there are basically four methods for filling those gaps with relevant content ideas. 

Do keyword research

Keyword research is the process of understanding the language your target customers use when searching for your products, services, and content. It then involves analyzing, comparing, and prioritizing the best keyword opportunities for your website.

For example, we can assume that our persona, Anna Agency, needs to figure out SEO tactics for clients from different industries. Keyword research will help us discover those industries, see search demand for related topics, and quickly gauge potential traffic.

To do this, we just need a seed keyword (e.g., “seo”) to view related topics and then we can fine-tune the search using various filters.

In the example below, I’m using the “for” modifier word. I’m also including queries that have more than 200 monthly searches and excluding words that are irrelevant—all in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Matching terms report results

We can further narrow down that list by using other filters. For example, we can filter by Keyword Difficulty (KD) to see keywords that we can potentially rank for with less effort. Or we can use the Traffic Potential (TP) filter to hide keywords with low traffic.

Matching terms report results filtered by KD

Then, we can generate even more keyword ideas by using other modifier keywords that signal educational intent. Here are some of these words: how, guide, resource, ideas, tips, etc.

Matching terms report results with Include filter applied

Last but not least, Ahrefs has a separate report for all of the questions related to a given topic that people type in Google, and it’s just one click away from the report we’ve been using so far.

Matching terms report results; notably, "Questions" tab selected

Analyze competitors

One way to draw inspiration from your competitors is to manually check their websites for topic ideas. That’s a lot of man-hours.

Here’s how you can streamline this process with Ahrefs.

First of all, start by listing your competitors and doing basic market research. You can always double-check your competitor list by plugging your URL in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and going to the Competing Domains report.

Competing Domains report results

Now you can take the list of competitors to the Content Gap report to reveal the keywords that your competitors rank for but you don’t. These will be your new content opportunities. You can then filter that list to make it more manageable.

Content Gap report results

In the Content Gap report, you can filter out branded keywords for more clarity.

Additionally, you can easily discover your competitors’ best content. There are a few ways to do that, depending on your marketing objectives.

If you want to create content that is designed to rank on search engines and bring you organic traffic, try the Top pages report.

Top pages report results

This report not only shows you the content and its traffic but also changes in traffic over time. This allows you to spot declining and trending topics.

But if it’s links that you’re after, you can use the Best by links or Best by links’ growth reports.

Best by links report results

Finally, if you need social shares the most, go to our Top Content report to uncover content where your competitors got the most Twitter and Pinterest shares.

This report can also be used as a proxy for understanding what types of content resonate with your competitors’ target audiences because it also shows how many websites linked to that content and which parts were the most valuable (by viewing the anchors they linked with).

Top Content report results

Apart from social media stats, this report offers insights into the reason why people linked to the content. You can click the “Details” button to uncover link anchors.

Study your niche

Another way of discovering relevant topics to enrich your content map is paying attention to what other people say in places where your industry and/or your target audience hangs out; for example, groups on social media, magazines, personal blogs, and communities.

A lot of the time, you will find information that overlaps with keyword research. But other times, you will come across hidden gems, such as:

  • The next big thing people are talking about but no one has written a comprehensive guide for.
  • Topics underserved by your competitors.
  • Things your target audience wants to learn more about (and how they want to learn about said things).
  • What language your target audience uses to express their goals and challenges.

For example, one of our best-performing articles, “How to Submit Your Website to Google,” was inspired by a printed magazine titled “How to set up an online business” that was found in an airport bookstore. 

SERP overview for "submit to search engines"

If you think that’s too much manual work, you can try an audience research tool like SparkToro. Just plug in topics your target audience frequently talks about to discover related topics and hashtags (among many other things).

SparkToro results in "bar graph" form for this search term: seo, marketing

On top of topic ideas, SparkToro can also help you with identifying their demographics and discovering what media your target audience consumes.

Survey your audience

Try the obvious—just ask your audience what type of content will make their life easier.

If you already have some blog/newsletter subscribers on board, this step is as easy as preparing a questionnaire and sending it. Alternatively, you can display a short questionnaire on your site.

But if you’re just starting out, you can use an agile market research software like SurveyMonkey to get your questionnaire in front of the right eyes.

Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • What would you like to learn about on this blog?
  • What’s the biggest priority in your job?
  • In the last months, what was your biggest challenge?
  • Do you plan on buying our product in the near future?
  • How did you discover our blog?
  • What’s your favorite source of information about ___?

And that’s about it when it comes to the “traditional” approach to content mapping. Here’s what we, at Ahrefs, do differently and why we do it that way.

The alternative approach – How we map content at Ahrefs

The traditional way of content mapping matches content to a single stage of the funnel. But that one-to-one match isn’t always the case. So we use a different approach that helps us create product-led content that brings over 273K visits from search to our blog every month.

Site Explorer overview for Ahrefs' blog

A little bit of theory

The thing is that a single article can serve various purposes. It can attract a potential customer and help to retain an existing customer.

Table showing four questions with corresponding answers that are used to decide which stage(s) of the marketing funnel a blog article serves

Moreover, in some cases, a single article can take the user down the entire funnel—from learning about a solution to purchasing the solution.

Let’s take our guide on how to rank higher on Google as an example. In six easy steps, it explains how to improve rankings of underperforming keywords and get more traffic as a result.

So let’s say someone Googles “how to rank higher on google.” That person is pretty much right at the top of the funnel because they’re aware of their problem but don’t know the solution yet. They may not have heard of Ahrefs and may have zero knowledge of SEO.

Being at the first stage of the funnel, they come across our guide. As the guide walks them through the process, it may also walk them through the entire funnel. They learn the solution (SEO) and learn that they need a tool like Ahrefs to implement the solution.

Besides, ask yourself this: Can you remember the last time branded content made you buy something? Was it one or more content pieces? Was your “buyer journey” linear or more complex? You may find that the map is not the territory.

The “business potential” framework

Because it seems that the models of the buyer’s journey aren’t always useful, we map content based on a scale of how crucial our product is in solving a given problem.

Business potential: Table with scores 3 to 0. And explanation of criteria to meet each score

Let’s look at the business potential (BP) scale in detail and see some examples for each of the scores. If you want to dive deeper into this framework, you can skim through the articles below to see how our product is featured (or why it can’t be featured).

So if you want to create a content map with the use of our framework, it’s a really simple one—just the topic and its BP score.

Additionally, you can complement that with some SEO metrics (like traffic potential) if search engines are an essential marketing channel to you. So it can look something like this:

Topic Business potential Organic traffic potential
13 Best Marketing Blogs to Follow (For Marketers of All Levels) 0 300
Marketing Objectives: How to Set Them Right (With Examples) 1 1200
‘Not Provided’ in Google Analytics: How to Reclaim Your Keyword Data 2 800
What Is SEO Content? How to Write Content That Ranks 3 900

That said, there are still some similarities between our model and the traditional model. For example, we also use buyer personas. We don’t use them to “customize” every topic, though. We use them to understand who we are talking to so we can align the style and depth of the content.

For example, we’re trying to avoid marketing jargon, as we’re not targeting our content to marketing academics but rather marketing practitioners who are not always experts in this field.

You will find these tools helpful in creating and populating your content map:

  • Ahrefs – SEO tools like ours are indispensable if you want to learn what people look for online, how often, and what words they use in their searches.
  • Google Sheets – This is for using our content mapping template.
  • Diagramming tool – Some examples include Lucidchart or MindMeister, which are great for creating buyer’s journey diagrams/maps. This is an additional (and harder) step you can take in content mapping. Do this if you want to better understand and/or visualize the buyer’s journey in your particular case.
  • Survey tool – Tools such as Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, or Survicate can be used for getting feedback about your content.
  • Audience research tool – Try SparkToro or Brandwatch for finding the topics that make your audience tick.

Final thoughts

Let’s complete this guide by discussing some advantages and disadvantages of these two content mapping methods:

Traditional content mapping   Ahrefs’ content mapping  
Pros Cons Pros Cons
Customizes content for specific personas Too “square” buckets  Easy to implement  Can lead to missed opportunities where product-led content can’t be applied
Easier to spot gaps in the buyer’s journey Can become too complicated (too time consuming) Enhances product marketing Frequent product placement can lead to readers’ fatigue in owned marketing channels 
Can be used for all content formats and channels Uses a simplified model of user behavior Best for blogging, video blogging and, generally, longer content formats 

So can we take the best of both worlds and create a hybrid? I think so. One way is to insert the business score into the stages of the buyer’s journey.

For example, you can require a score of 2 or 3 for content designed to entice people to make a purchase. Topics with scores 0 and 1 are OK as long as they are either in the interest, desire, or retain stages.

Whether that hybrid model works well enough is a conclusion I’ll leave you to make.

What’s next after mapping content? Try our resources on content marketing to learn things like content strategy, content creation, promotion, and repurposing.

Got questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.



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SEO

15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You only need three tools to get sixteen highly actionable data points on your competitors’ traffic.

Before we dive in, let’s set the right expectations: no tool will give you your competitor’s exact traffic data. However, it’s still well enough to see what works for them, copy their best ideas, or set realistic benchmarks.

We’ll cover:

  • Types of data you can access, such as traffic volume, trends, organic and paid keywords, and audience insights.
  • Practical use cases, including benchmarking, tracking progress, identifying content gaps, boosting your SEO and SEM, and negotiating budgets.
  • Last but not least, how this data is gathered and its reliability.

With these tools and insights, you’ll be well-equipped to understand and outperform your competitors’ website traffic.

We’ll start with organic search traffic — the source on which you’ll get the most data.

How to analyze competitor organic search traffic

Organic search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search engines, excluding search ads.

There’s a lot you can tell about your competitors’ organic traffic and a lot you can tell from it. Here are my favorite twelve use cases with detailed instructions.

You can check that in seconds for free, right now:

The tool will also show you where in the world the traffic is coming from, some of the top pages and keywords, and traffic value (i.e., the value of the organic search traffic, if it were to be acquired via PPC in Google Ads).

Organic competitors are the sites that compete with you for the same organic keywords in search engines.

Typically, you’ll have more organic competitors than your regular direct business competitors. For example, a 3D printer manufacturer may be competing for a fair share of keywords with a 3D printing magazine — completely different businesses, same keywords.

So by rounding up your top organic competitors, you gain a bigger pool of keyword ideas you can potentially target. Much bigger than if you’d just take into account your direct competitors.

Here’s how to identify all organic competitors.

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Go to the Organic competitors report.
Organic competitors report. Organic competitors report.

From there, you can look at the common keywords to see where they outrank you or click on Competitor’s keywords to see keywords you don’t rank for but they do (a.k.a. your content gap).

Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect. Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect.

If your competitor is doing SEO, typically their blog will attract most of their organic traffic. But this is not always the case. They may have found other ways of getting clicks from Google, like free tools or free resources, and you could do the same.

  1. Open Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Site structure report.
Site structure report. Site structure report.

For example, someone analyzing our site could see that our free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog. Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

To see your competitor’s top performing pages:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Top pages report.
Top pages report.Top pages report.

The first use case here is targeting the same keywords as their top pages to channel some of that traffic your way.

Top keyword column in Top pages report. Top keyword column in Top pages report.

There’s more. You can use the report to see which pages contributed to an uptrend or downtrend in your competitor’s traffic.

Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report. Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report.

Or, focus on top-performing pages and use the Compare pages view to see when those pages started to pick up traffic.

Comparing pages in Top pages report.Comparing pages in Top pages report.

Now to see what the competitors did to improve the pages, click on the caret next to the page and click Inspect.

Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.  Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.

Then choose the date on the calendar and view changes made to the text in that time.

Calendar tool in Ahrefs. Calendar tool in Ahrefs.

If you’re already doing SEO or considering it, seeing a list of your competitors’ keywords is almost like they’ve shared their keyword research with you.

You can use keyword data to find:

  • Top-performing keywords and “steal” some of their traffic with your own content.
  • Top-performing keywords in specific countries.
  • Keywords with specific terms to find content ideas around certain topics or phrases.
  • Low-difficulty keywords (typically, faster to rank).

To see your competitors’ keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report.
  3. Use the filters to find what you need. For instance, use the KD filter to find low-competition keywords.
Organic keywords report in Ahrefs. Organic keywords report in Ahrefs.

For example, you can track the ranking history of your competitor’s top traffic-generating keywords. If you see sudden spikes, it likely means they’ve updated the content to increase ranking. By using the calendar feature mentioned above, you can learn how they did it.

SERP history. SERP history.

One of the best ways to find organic traffic you’re potentially missing out on is to do a content gap analysis. In SEO, it means identifying the keywords that your competitors rank for but you don’t. Some of those keywords can make perfect topics for you to cover.

In Ahefs, you can do a content gap analysis automatically:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool.
  2. Enter your domain in the Target section.
  3. Enter your competitors’ domains in the Competitors section.
  4. Hit “Compare”.
  5. Click the Content Gap report.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.

Toggle Main positions to exclude your competitors’ rankings in SERP features like “Top stories” and “Image packs.”

Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.
Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.

Now look through the report and identify keywords that are relevant for your site. The volume column will show you which keywords are likely to send the most traffic.

More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.
More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.

Short-term organic traffic performance can inform you of the latest developments in your competitors’ rankings (say, within the last 24 hours to a couple of weeks).

For example, you can observe the impact of the latest Google Update on their site, see how much traffic they gained or lost last month, or check if any of their newly launched pages are already picking up traffic.

To see short-term organic traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. In the Overview report, choose a timeframe in the Changes mode.
Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report.

This will adjust the top-level metrics and traffic by location panel and show you the changes over the specified period.

1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You can go as deep as day-to-day traffic changes — a very helpful thing if you want to see Google’s update impact on your competitors’ traffic.

Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update. Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update.

Date comparison is available in multiple tools and reports across Ahrefs.

As for long-term traffic performance, this allows to set a traffic goal to match or overtake your competitor’s traffic, and plan your budget based on competitor’s performance. You can also use it to forecast your competitors’ traffic.

To see long-term traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Turn on the Years mode in the traffic graph.
  3. Adjust the time frame and export the data if needed.
Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report.

Seeing multiple sites on one graph is useful if you want to identify the leader in your niche, compare your site to a few competitors simultaneously, and determine if you are catching up to the leader or if someone is catching up to you.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Add competitors using the Competitors tab.
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).

Organic share of voice (SOV) is an SEO metric that shows how much traffic goes to your pages compared to competitors’.

In other words, if you want to see your overall organic search traffic share in the market, and eventually increase it, this is the metric you’d want to use.

SOV is based on tracked keywords, so you first need to add them to the tool. These can be keywords you target on your blog, your product pages, or even all of your important keywords together.

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.
  • Start a New project.
  • Select keywords to track. You can use the filters to refine the list suggested by the tool and add some keywords later on. Make sure to choose only important locations for your site.
Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.
  • Add competitors. You can add specific sites or choose from the ones suggested by the tool. Notice the keyword intersect — the higher the number, the “closer” the competitor.
Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker. Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker.

Once you finish the set-up, you will be able to see and regularly track SOV in the Competitors Overview section in Rank Tracker.

Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker. Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker.

One of the ways your competitors could be getting traffic is from links from other sites (a.k.a. referral traffic).

Knowing who links to your competitors allows you to pursue the same or similar links which can help you not only get more referral traffic but also boost your SEO and increase your brand awareness.

To find pages with a high probability of sending traffic to your competitors, look for backlinks from pages with significant organic traffic. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Backlinks report. Pages with the most traffic will be displayed on top by default.
Backlinks report in Ahrefs. Backlinks report in Ahrefs.

From there you can use the Referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too. Simply add in words like “vs, review, tool, tools, top” as a way to identify these pages.

Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.

Here’s an example of such a page:

1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

Another way to analyze your competitors’ traffic is to treat them as one entity. This allows you to:

  • Benchmark your site traffic trend to your competitors as a market segment.
  • Identify broader industry trends and seasonal patterns in traffic.
  • Assess the collective impact of major events, such as changes in search engine algorithms or economic shifts.
  • Monitor the overall health and growth rate of your industry.

For this, use the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. The image below shows aggregated data for four sites, including organic traffic and paid traffic (from Google Search Ads).

Example portfolio of sites. Example portfolio of sites.

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Dashboard and click Create > Portfolio.
How to create a new portfolio.  How to create a new portfolio.
  • Fill in the URLs you want to track. Note the URL mode selector. Use “Domain” to track the entire domain with subdomains, “Path” for folders, and “Exact URL” for single pages.
Filling details of a site portfolio. Filling details of a site portfolio.

How to analyze competitor paid search traffic

Paid search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search ads on search engine result pages. Here’s how to check your competitors’s paid search traffic and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.

If you’re running search ads, checking out your competitors’ paid keywords can give you ready-made keyword research. This lets you see which keywords are working for them and helps you fine-tune your own ad strategy to target those high-performing keywords.

What’s more, you can reveal paid search data Google Keyword Planner hides by default: search volume for a particular keyword instead of a search volume range for a group of keywords.

And even if you’re not investing in ads, this info can still be super useful. It usually means these keywords are important to your competitors because they know these keywords bring in customers. Chances are, these keywords could be important for your business, too.

To find your competitors’ paid keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Paid keywords report.
Paid keywords report in Intercom. Paid keywords report in Intercom.

From here, you can use filters to find keywords that meet your CPC, traffic, or relevance criteria, and sort the data to see the keywords which bring the most traffic.

Filters in paid keywords report. Filters in paid keywords report.

Notice the Paid/organic traffic share bar. If you see both blue and yellow color, that means your competitor has invested in the keyword twice (through content and ads) and is trying to get as much SERP real estate as possible — consider pursuing these keywords as well.

Paid traffic/organic traffic share. Paid traffic/organic traffic share.

Another way to gauge a keyword’s importance is to look at its ad position history. A long and consistent history suggests it’s likely a valuable ‘money’ keyword, while a short history might indicate your competitor is just experimenting with it.

Ad history report. Ad history report.

Want to check out their ad copy and landing pages? Head to the Ads report. You can set the location where your competitor runs their ads and see the landing pages and keywords associated with each ad.

Ads report in Ahrefs. Ads report in Ahrefs.

Interested to see how much your competitors spend to get all of that paid traffic?

  1. Go to Site Explorer.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain.
  3. Open Paid pages report.
  4. Set the preferred location to see the budget per country (leave it set to all locations to see the total ad spend).
  5. Set the Performance report to Paid traffic cost set and adjust the timeframe.
Paid pages report in Ahrefs. Paid pages report in Ahrefs.

Use this data to set a benchmark for traffic performance relative to ad spend and to negotiate the budget for your campaigns.

How to analyze other traffic sources

If you’re interested in the overall competitor traffic performance, here’s where to look.

To get a quick answer to how much traffic your competitors get overall (from all traffic sources), you can get that information for free with Similarweb.

Once you set up a free account, simply go to Website analysis > Website performance report.

Website performance report in Similarweb. Website performance report in Similarweb.

Arguably, the best way to use Similarweb is in comparison mode. This approach ensures that the data is directionally accurate: whether the data is overestimated or underestimated, it is consistently so across all sites. By comparing your traffic with your competitors, you can identify the relative differences that set you apart.

Comparing websites in Similarweb. Comparing websites in Similarweb.

Similarweb is not the only tool with general traffic insights. Another one is Sparktoro, an audience research tool.

What’s great about Sparktoro is that its data and functionality revolve around the users behind the clicks. So you can use Similarweb to understand how popular the site is and then Sparktoro to get to know the people who visit it. Take that data and use it for persona development, fine-tuning your messaging, and looking up influencers to partner with or sites to advertise on.

Simply set up an account at Sparktoro and type your competitor’s domain in the search bar. Make sure the “Visit the website” mode is on.

Overview report in Sparktoro. Overview report in Sparktoro.

From there go to:

  • Social networks: scroll down a bit and see which social network the brand uses the most. This not only tells which social networks likely send the most traffic but also which proved to be the most engaging.
  • Demographics tab: see data like gender, age, geography and interests. What’s unique about this data is that it comes from social media profiles.
  • Social accounts tab: to see what social media accounts site visitors are likely to follow and engage with. This is a great source of potential influencers to work with.
  • YouTube channels, Reddit, and Podcast tabs: see where it’s highly likely to meet your competitors’ (and possibly yours) audience.

Where does the data come from? Is it accurate?

Depending on the tool, the data on your competitors will mostly come from:

This means that, in most cases, the data is estimated instead of actual data taken from your competitors and handed over to you.

So, when it comes to the data’s accuracy, you should expect a blend of estimated accuracy and directional accuracy. Despite best efforts, the data will be approximated and designed to give you an idea of relative performance because there’s no other way.

This also means that if you’re interested in a particular type of traffic, say traffic from search engines, it’s probably best to get a dedicated tool for that. You’ll get access to bigger data sets and more capable functionality, allowing you to do more.

Final thoughts

Want to go deeper into competitor analysis? Check out our other guides to go beyond traffic data:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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The Top 10 Content Marketing Skills You Need

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10 Content Marketing Skills You Need to Master

Want to reach more of your target audience, connect with them, and have meaningful interactions?

Quality content marketing may be the ideal solution for you.

But gone are the days of simply writing and releasing content.

Effective content marketing requires various skills and strategies if you want to get it right.

If you’re looking to breathe new life into your brand and generate more interest in your target audience, here are the top 10 skills and strategies you’ll need.

1. Know Your Audience And Target Them Effectively

Ask anyone about content and content marketing, and chances are that audience targeting is one of the first suggestions.

But what does audience targeting actually mean? And why is it an essential content marketing skill?

First, understand who your audience is, what their day is like, their priorities, and what they’re doing or intending to do while they consume content.

Then, use that information to craft content that counts on a platform and in a format that suits your audience.

Take the Shoe Snob Blog as an example.

The content is photo-centric. The page has few distractions, and the storytelling and text are dense and chunked.

The topics range from stories of shoemakers, care tips, and all the insider info a lover of bespoke and top-of-the-line men’s shoes, shoe designer, or shoemaker could want to know about the objects of their obsessions.

These features tell us a lot about the blog’s readers.

Shoe Snob Blog readers are likely visual, busy, and view reading the blog’s content as almost a secret pleasure they indulge in while waiting in line for an expensive coffee.

The blog doesn’t have content on saving money, getting things for less, building shoes more cheaply, or reviews of shoes you’d find in your local department store.

Why? That’s not what the blog’s target audience is interested in. In fact, those topics would likely chase readers away.

For Justin FitzPatrick, the blog’s author, it’s about the luxury, the emotional connection and passion for the brands, and the smaller details most of us wouldn’t likely notice about a man’s dress shoe – in language that matches the audience’s expertise.

You might be tempted to skip audience exploration and targeting to this degree, particularly if you’re a B2B brand or sell something non-visual like insurance.

But this could be a fatal mistake for your content marketing.

Even if you’re selling to another company, that company is driven and shaped by humans you’ll need to get attention from.

2. Understand How Brand Strategy Influences Content

Content and content marketing could do more harm than good if they fail to blend seamlessly with a brand strategy.

So, if you’re looking to build content marketing skills, ensure you understand how brand strategy influences effective content.

Solid brand-driven content strategies consist of six core elements when it comes to content:

  • Brand foundations – What matters to the company, such as the image it wishes to project, etc.
  • Audience discovery and brand position – How the brand fits within the market.
  • Keywords and language – How the company wants people to find its brand, and what language it will use.
  • Authority building – Looking like an expert and a leader on a chosen topic.
  • Content creation – Any content strategy must be manageable, affordable, sustainable, scalable, and effective.
  • Organization – Utilizing an editorial and publishing calendar and post-publishing tracking and measurement to maintain and guide your content strategy.

3. Consider SEO, Search, And Search Engines

SEO and search are essential for getting found, gaining traffic, building authority, and overall growth.

If you want your content marketing to work, you can’t afford to avoid this content marketing skill because you’re not an expert.

  • Users make 1.2 trillion searches on Google per year.
  • 93% of all web traffic comes from a search engine.
  • 46% of searches are made to look for something local.

In January 2023, searches for phrases that included “gifts” increased 45%, while searches that included “presents” increased 15% over 2022. This equated to $47 billion in the two weeks following Christmas.

So, search is growing and becoming more important – not declining.

If you want to take advantage of search traffic, you need to ensure you’re considering several aspects of SEO when developing your content marketing skills, including:

  • Keyword research.
  • AI and how to humanize your content.
  • Link building.
  • Building authority.
  • Topic relevance and expertise.
  • Site structure, website performance, and analytics.

4. Humanize Your Content

Once you get started with content marketing, you’ll realize pretty quickly that AI-generated content is highly problematic.

You need to follow basic SEO formulas to have your content rank, another formula to make it interesting and catchy for readers, and how to maximize the usability of your content.

However, you also need to ensure you stand out from the crowd and surpass your competitors.

To make your content more human-friendly, learn how to:

  • Create content that supports a user journey rather than search engines or sections of a funnel.
  • Utilize customer communications and social channels to understand and connect with your audience. Then, use it to market your content.
  • Make use of internal experts. Not only is looking in-house a way to make excellent content more affordable, but audiences also love to see your brand’s passion for what it does.
  • Take a smart angle, get personal, and have an attitude. Personality and branding are vital, but so is the information you provide. Ensure it is something of value to your readers, and don’t be afraid to tell stories to build emotional connections.
  • Add personal videos to top-performing articles.

One of the best examples of all these tips for humanized content in action is the annual Christmas content campaign from WestJet.

5. Engage By Storytelling And Creative Writing

If you want to capture attention and use content to connect with your audience, you need to be able to tell a good story.

Stories make content emotionally engaging but also make it possible for readers to experience what it would be like if they purchased your product or service.

Want to strengthen your content marketing with storytelling?

  • Create relatable, believable content. To do this, know your audience, understand their experiences, and create content that aligns with this knowledge.
  • Have a clear message. Like an ad, every story or piece of content needs a goal and a clear message you want to convey to your audience.
  • Choose the right type of story. Do you need to make an emotional connection? Compel a reader to act? Convey values, a feature, or a concept? Build community?
  • Select the right platform and medium. If you want to share several statistics, video might not be the best option. Selling vacations? YouTube or TikTok might perform better than Reddit or a blog.
  • Know where to start and stop. Your content needs to appear at the right point in the customer journey and push readers to the next step. What should readers do next?
  • Organize and structure. Plan your content ahead of time. Make sure your stories have an arc, make sense, and take readers or views through an experience.

6. Do Your Research

The best content provides an audience with information or a look at something they normally don’t have access to.

To find this information, you must be prepared for deep research – and that means a lot more than just finding a statistic.

Find the original source or study. Ensure the number you’ve found is still relevant and accurate. Consider the source of the statistic and how they arrived at that number. What did the study not consider when finding their statistic?

To build additional authority, you may consider interviewing the source of a statistic or a subject area expert.

7. Improve Your Interviewing Skills

While it helps if you deeply understand the subject matter, it isn’t all lost if you’re new to the topic.

In fact, being a newbie to a topic can have advantages because you can see the topic with a fresh perspective.

One thing you must be knowledgeable about, however, is interviews. Interviewing is an essential content marketing skill.

Here are some tips:

Prepare

Arrive at the interview with an understanding of the topic. Know the pains and challenges individuals interested in the topic face.

Understand your priorities for your readers, the industry, and the individual you’re interviewing.

Have a list of questions that are thoughtful and organized, and work toward answering a single question or reaching a specific goal.

Set Interview Goal

Are you trying to get tips from an expert? A day in the life of? Solve or bring light to a certain issue? Make a human connection?

Choose a goal for your interview, organize it into an outline, and remove any question or information that doesn’t help you move toward that goal.

Be Personable And Make The Interviewee Comfortable

Awkward silences, a lack of rapport, nervousness, and other social aspects can interfere with an otherwise excellent interview and affect the information you collect.

You may want to consider using cognitive interview techniques, which have been adapted from criminal investigation for journalism.

Record Your Conversation

As humans, our brains prioritize stimuli to determine what is important and what we should pay attention to and remember.

This attentional filtering becomes more severe when you’re making notes, thinking about the technical aspects of an interview, and nervous. As a result, it’s easy to miss important details or implications.

So, save some time and improve your accuracy and insights into the information provided during the interview by making a recording that you can refer to as often as necessary.

Be Precise And Ask For Clarification

Some people love raisins in cinnamon buns. Others do not. And just like the raisins debate, how you define a word or concept may vary greatly from someone else.

So, if the information you collect during an interview seems vague, or you’re unsure of something the interviewee says, ask.

The worst thing you can do is assume that it isn’t true or deliberately influence the meaning of someone’s words.

8. Measure And Track Everything

Measuring something is generally easy. The difficult part of measurement and tracking is measuring and tracking the right things.

SEJ’s annual State of SEO Report reveals that SEO professionals often have a mismatch between their goals, the methods and strategies they use to reach them, and the variables they measure.

Content marketers and marketing are no exception.

Let’s say you want to use content marketing to increase conversions. So, you create a video for your hot tub company.

In this instance, tracking and analyzing traffic data to the video would be a mistake. Those numbers are only part of the story.

Instead, track clicks and use traffic data to better understand who clicks through to your content and where viewers go after they consume it.

And this is vital: Don’t stop your analysis at the click.

Every visit from a viewer is only one step in a larger journey – and this journey matters.

Returning to the previous example, your video might have generated fewer clicks and conversions overall.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you might discover that those few conversions were of much higher value than average, and the viewers return to your site more often than your average site viewer.

In this instance, while traffic numbers might make it look like your video failed, analysis of the customer journey reveals that your video was actually a big success, attracting a more qualified, valuable, and engaged audience.

9. Repackage Content With Purpose

You invest a lot of resources in creating amazing content. Don’t simply publish it in one format and waste the rest of its potential.

Before creating content, consider all the different formats and ways you can share it to get attention.

By planning, you can collect images, video footage, sound bites, expert quotes, and everything you’ll need to share and market your content in various ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

But refrain from repackaging content with the sole purpose of spreading it everywhere. Carefully plan your content to appear when and where you need to.

As explained in the video above, Search Engine Journal uses the data gathered for its State of SEO Report to create:

  • White paper reports.
  • Podcast.
  • Articles on data not included in the main reports.
  • Infographics.
  • Carousels for social media.
  • Video clips.

Some of these are released before the main report is published to help spread the word and generate interest while sharing interesting insights about the SEO industry.

Then, when the report is released, it is followed by additional content to help generate interest, links, and findings.

Therefore, instead of a week of interest, the reports generate traffic and attention while informing readers for months without significantly increasing the original investment.

10. Stand Out While Blending In

One of the more common pieces of advice is to copy successful content and do what others are doing.

Makes sense, right?

After all, SEO, good writing, and other skills all have best practices you need to follow. Your audience also has preferences, expectations, and requirements.

Your content needs to look like everyone else’s to some degree.

But here’s the problem with this advice: No one stands out if everyone does things the same way.

Therefore, learning how to blend in while standing out is an essential skill for content marketing.

So, instead of mimicking or copying successful content, collect several examples that have worked on a specific platform or for a specific audience and investigate to find out why they’re effective.

Then, you can use these insights to create and test your own content that allows you to stand out, be unique, and fulfill the needs of your target audience.

Conclusion

Effective marketing is more than choosing the right topic or quality writing.

By strengthening and utilizing these 10 content marketing skills, your content will help you generate the right traffic and connect with your audience in a way that will have you dominating the competition.

More resources:


Featured Image: Viktoria Kurpas/Shutterstock

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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

You’ve probably heard about the recent Google documents leak. It’s on every major site and all over social media.

Where did the docs come from?

My understanding is that a bot called yoshi-code-bot leaked docs related to the Content API Warehouse on Github on March 13th, 2024. It may have appeared earlier in some other repos, but this is the one that was first discovered.

They were discovered by an anonymous ex-Googler who shared the info with Erfan Azimi who shared it with Rand Fishkin who shared it with Mike King. The docs were removed on May 7th.

I appreciate all involved for sharing their findings with the community.

Google’s response

There was some debate if the documents were real or not, but they mention a lot of internal systems and link to internal documentation and it definitely appears to be real.

A Google spokesperson released the following statement to Search Engine Land:

We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.

SEOs interpret things based on their own experiences and bias

Many SEOs are saying that the ranking factors leaked. I haven’t seen any code or weights, just what appear to be descriptions and storage info. Unless one of the descriptions says the item is used for ranking, I think it’s dangerous for SEOs that all of these are used in ranking.

Having some features or information stored does not mean they’re used in ranking. For our search engine, Yep.com, we have all kinds of things stored that might be used for crawling, indexing, ranking, personalization, testing, or feedback. We even have things stored that we aren’t doing things with yet.

What is more likely is that SEOs are making assumptions that favor their own opinions and biases.

It’s the same for me. I may not have full context or knowledge and may have inherent biases that influence my interpretation, but I try to be as fair as I can be. If I’m wrong, it means that I will learn something new and that’s a good thing! SEOs can, and do, interpret things differently.

Gael Breton said it well:

I’ve been around long enough to see many SEO myths created over the years and I can point you to who started many of them and what they misunderstood. We’ll likely see a lot of new myths from this leak that we’ll be dealing with for the next decade or longer.

Let’s look at a few things that in my opinion are being misinterpreted or where conclusions are being drawn where they shouldn’t be.

SiteAuthority

As much as I want to be able to say Google has a Site Authority score that they use for ranking that’s like DR, that part specifically is about compressed quality metrics and talks about quality.

I believe DR is more an effect that happens as you have a lot of pages with strong PageRank, not that it’s necessarily something Google uses. Lots of pages with higher PageRank that internally link to each other means you’re more likely to create stronger pages.

  • Do I believe that PageRank could be part of what Google calls quality? Yes.
  • Do I think that’s all of it? No.
  • Could Site Authority be something similar to DR? Maybe. It fits in the bigger picture.
  • Can I prove that or even that it’s used in rankings? No, not from this.

From some of the Google testimony to the US Department of Justice, we found out that quality is often measured with an Information Satisfaction (IS) score from the raters. This isn’t directly used in rankings, but is used for feedback, testing, and fine-tuning models.

We know the quality raters have the concept of E-E-A-T, but again that’s not exactly what Google uses. They use signals that align to E-E-A-T.

Some of the E-E-A-T signals that Google has mentioned are:

  • PageRank
  • Mentions on authoritative sites
  • Site queries. This could be “site:http://ahrefs.com E-E-A-T” or searches like “ahrefs E-E-A-T”

So could some kind of PageRank scores extrapolated to the domain level and called Site Authority be used by Google and be part of what makes up the quality signals? I’d say it’s plausible, but this leak doesn’t prove it.

I can recall 3 patents from Google I’ve seen about quality scores. One of them aligns with the signals above for site queries.

I should point out that just because something is patented, doesn’t mean it is used. The patent around site queries was written in part by Navneet Panda. Want to guess who the Panda algorithm that related to quality was named after? I’d say there’s a good chance this is being used.

The others were around n-gram usage and seemed to be to calculate a quality score for a new website and another mentioned time on site.

Sandbox

I think this has been misinterpreted as well. The document has a field called hostAge and refers to a sandbox, but it specifically says it’s used “to sandbox fresh spam in serving time.”

To me, that doesn’t confirm the existence of a sandbox in the way that SEOs see it where new sites can’t rank. To me, it reads like a spam protection measure.

Clicks

Are clicks used in rankings? Well, yes, and no.

We know Google uses clicks for things like personalization, timely events, testing, feedback, etc. We know they have models upon models trained on the click data including navBoost. But is that directly accessing the click data and being used in rankings? Nothing I saw confirms that.

The problem is SEOs are interpreting this as CTR is a ranking factor. Navboost is made to predict which pages and features will be clicked. It’s also used to cut down on the number of returned results which we learned from the DOJ trial.

As far as I know, there is nothing to confirm that it takes into account the click data of individual pages to re-order the results or that if you get more people to click on your individual results, that your rankings would go up.

That should be easy enough to prove if it was the case. It’s been tried many times. I tried it years ago using the Tor network. My friend Russ Jones (may he rest in peace) tried using residential proxies.

I’ve never seen a successful version of this and people have been buying and trading clicks on various sites for years. I’m not trying to discourage you or anything. Test it yourself, and if it works, publish the study.

Rand Fishkin’s tests for searching and clicking a result at conferences years ago showed that Google used click data for trending events, and they would boost whatever result was being clicked. After the experiments, the results went right back to normal. It’s not the same as using them for the normal rankings.

Authors

We know Google matches authors with entities in the knowledge graph and that they use them in Google news.

There seems to be a decent amount of author info in these documents, but nothing about them confirms that they’re used in rankings as some SEOs are speculating.

Was Google lying to us?

What I do disagree with whole-heartedly is SEOs being angry with the Google Search Advocates and calling them liars. They’re nice people who are just doing their job.

If they told us something wrong, it’s likely because they don’t know, they were misinformed, or they’ve been instructed to obfuscate something to prevent abuse. They don’t deserve the hate that the SEO community is giving them right now. We’re lucky that they share information with us at all.

If you think something they said is wrong, go and run a test to prove it. Or if there’s a test you want me to run, let me know. Just being mentioned in the docs is not proof that a thing is used in rankings.

Final Thoughts

While I may agree or I may disagree with the interpretations of other SEOs, I respect all who are willing to share their analysis. It’s not easy to put yourself or your thoughts out there for public scrutiny.

I also want to reiterate that unless these fields specifically say they are used in rankings, that the information could just as easily be used for something else. We definitely don’t need any posts about Google’s 14,000 ranking factors.

If you want my thoughts on a particular thing, message me on X or LinkedIn.



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