In this post, I will share with you an overview of the methodology I use to carry out competitive research that enables me to create insightful and data-led content strategy. This post is based on an imaginary company that competes in the same niche as BufferApp and highlights a brief overview of the following process:

  1. Identify destinations of choice in a given niche
  2. Develop personas
  3. Identify the most shared content of the destinations of choice
  4. Identify influencers who amplify content within our niche
  5. Develop content strategy

At this stage, I will cover the initial four processes highlighted above. As developing a content strategy requires other processes, I will cover that in a separate post.

Identifying Destinations of Choice

To succeed in your niche, it is really important to identify the destinations of choice within your niche and to understand their strengths and weakness. Destinations of choice could be your direct competitors or blogs and sites that are relevant to your prospective visitors/customers. If you have worked in a niche for long enough, chances are that you already know the destinations of choice within your sector. However, if you are new to a niche then you need to do some digging to identify them.

There are various way of identifying destinations of choice, here are a few that I regularly use:

  1. Customer Surveys
  2. Cision Index (Handy for identifying popular blogs)
  3. Search Metrics (Competitive Research)

Customer Surveys

The prerequisite for using customer survey as a vehicle for content research is to have a list of contacts – pretty obvious stuff but I thought I should cover it anyway.

I prefer surveys because I can use the survey data on several fronts. For example, I can use data from a customer survey to not only identify destinations of choice (aka most popular sites in a niche) but to find out users’ content and social media preferences. This data is incredibly useful when it comes to developing personas – more on this later.

Below are a few example questions I would use in a survey – this is not the complete survey. Furthermore, please note that you will need to craft your own questions depending on your sector & needs. Questions and the available choices matter, therefore you need to get them right.

1. Please indicate which industry publications or blogs you read?

  • BufferApp
  • Crowdbooster
  • Sendible
  • Lithium
  • Sproutsocial Blog
  • RazorSocial
  • Simply Measured Blog
  • Social Media Examiner
  • Quick Sprout Blog

2. Thinking about online content, please indicate below how you like to receive this:

  • Insightful content delivered to you, 3-6 times a month
  • Bite-sized information delivered to you on a daily basis
  • Actively go to sites to read content
  • Through an app
  • Through your social networks

3. What type of content would you prefer?

  • Industry insight
  • Guides
  • Case Studies
  • Webinars
  • News
  • Opinion Articles
  • Other

4. Please indicate which social media networks you use for work and how you use them

  • Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
  • Actively contribute, Just consume, Don’t use

The first question highlighted above should give you enough data to identify destinations of choice within your niche. Obviously, you will need to carry out preliminary research to identify a list of potential candidates to start with. Question 2, 3 and 4 will help you understand the preferences of your customers/visitors.

Developing Personas

There are multiple ways of developing personas. In this example, we are going to use data from our customer survey to create personas. For this specific case, we need to create the personas around:

  1. Goals
  2. Challenges
  3. Interests
  4. Preferred Publications
  5. Content Preferences
  6. Social Media Preferences

This is a quick overview of personas, I will create a separate post on personas with a detailed explanation of my methodologies. For this example, I am going to share a mock persona, see below:


You can enhance the persona using demographic data from Google Analytics and other data sources. Using Google Analytics, you could weave in Age Groups, Gender, Affinity Categories and In-Market segments data.

Now that we have persona(s), we have a good understanding of the preferred publications within our niche. In this example, the preferred publications are (in order):

  1. BufferApp
  2. Quick Sprout Blog
  3. Lithium
  4. Social Media Examiner

With the publications identified, we can move on to the next step.

Identify the Most Shared Content of Preferred Publications

I will demonstrate the process by solely focusing on BufferApp. You will need to carry the same process for all the preferred publications.

Identifying the most shared content of BufferApp will allow us to:

  1. Identify their most successful content
  2. Identify the influencers who promoted and amplified their content
  3. Identify their most successful authors

Here is an overview of the process:

  1. Scan BufferApp using Social Crawlytics
  2. Download data in CSV format
  3. Remove non-applicable and duplicates URL
  4. Set a metric threshold i.e. ignore any content below 300 shares
  5. Identify authors of the most shared content

Here is a screenshot of the BufferApp report in Social Crawlytics


You can view the report at (Twitter login required). Once you have downloaded the CSV data from Social Crawlytics, you need to delete all the columns apart from Content/URL and Total Shares, see below:


Now that we have a list of their most share content we can go ahead and pull their authorship data where applicable. In BufferApp’s case, they are using the following code in their HTML output:

<a href="" rel="author">Belle Beth Cooper</a>

Using Excel’s XPathOnUrl function we can now pull in the author’s name next to each URL. In this case, I have used the following function:


Note: B2 represents the content URL and XPath simply fetches data from the A tag with class=”fn”. Obviously, you will need to tweak this function depending the site and its HTML output.

As you can see below, we now have the name of the authors next to each URL. You can do all sorts of wizardry with this data. For example, identify top three authors and identify their social connections and site/blogs they interact with. You can then use that data to promote your authors, content etc.


Now that we have a list of BufferApp’s most shared content along with their most shared authors, we can move into the next phase – identifying influencers.

Using Social Crawlytics to Identify Influencers

A few months ago, I introduced a new feature on Social Crawlytics that allows you to identify the influencers who have amplified the most shared content of any website. This feature is very simple to use and is very accurate. Once your Social Crawlytics report is complete, you will see the Find Influencers button, simply click on this button and the app will identify the influencers and provide you with a list of Twitter accounts.

We give you a sample URL in this report to demonstrate that the influencers in question have actually interacted with the site.

Social Crawlytics  Dashboard

Below is a list of influencers that have shared BufferApp’s content.

Social Crawlytics  influencers

You can then download this list of influencers as a CSV and start segmenting the data as per your requirement. 



Going through this process we have achieved the following objectives:

  1. Identified destinations of choice using a customer survey
  2. Used customer survey to develop persona(s)
  3. Identified the most shared content of the destinations of choice
  4. Identified influencers who amplify content within our niche

The next stage would be to carry out content gap analysis and use the above data in our content strategy. Furthermore, we need to cultivate relationships with the identified influencers who could then be leveraged to promote/amplify our content. You can use platforms like Traackr to manage and engage with the influencers.