If you have competition, now you have others helping you explain the category. With competition, you can say things like, “We’re like Uber, but without the scandals.”Seth Godin
We often point to our competition as the source of all our troubles. It’s because of our competition that we have to work harder to get readers, adjust our marketing strategy as a response to what our competition is doing, and even change the type of content we create.
If only we were in a niche of one, a monopoly of sorts.
And that’s what most bloggers, especially those who are just starting out, keep trying to do. But, just like in a game of Monopoly, playing by yourself is dull and boring, and also makes it impossible to learn, win, or call yourself the best at the game.
We all have stumbled upon such a comparison chart at least a few times during our time spent wandering the web:
It’s no secret that you will perform better and work harder if there’s someone breathing down your neck or if you’re playing catch up to whoever’s first. A hypercompetitive environment means that you either go all in or die trying.
Your competition allows you to:
- Define yourself relative to other bloggers in your niche. Ever tried explaining to others what something no one’s ever heard of is? Well, your competition allows you to point to them and say, “We’re like them but better.”
- Market yourself as an alternative to your competitors. “Cheaper, better, faster, more reliable” all require comparison. That’s when your competition comes in handy.
- Set goals that are relevant to the niche you’re in. If they can do it, so can you.
- Adjust your strategy in order to overtake the number one player. Even if you don’t win, you will still have outperformed even your most optimistic goals.
- Let your everyone else struggle to convert, while you secretly labor on better content/products/services. This is something Apple does consistently. They let other big players in the industry innovate, test the waters with new technologies, and then they launch a product that’s superior to everything the competition has to offer.
Ultimately, you will come up with a far better strategy as part of a competitive environment than you will ever be able to on your own.
As an example, I noticed a few weeks ago that the vast majority of articles about figuring out your blog’s niche are overly simplistic, providing but a vague framework, especially for bloggers who struggle with too many ideas or have a variety of hobbies/interests they could blog about.
If you want to be the first to create a product, you’ve got to be willing to fail a lot. This is oftentimes not feasible.
A lot of people were first on the scene only to fail later on. The ghosts of billion-dollar Internet ventures still lurk somewhere on the outskirts of the world wide web.
As an example, Yahoo failed to buy Google. Twice.
Most of the big companies that have failed in the past couple of decades have done so because they had a monopoly for so long that they forgot what competition even felt like.
Competition as a Double-Edged Sword
The problem with competition is that it can set you on a path towards conformity.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, just to slightly upgrade it. There’s a lot of emphasis being put on small incremental changes.
When you are part of a competitive environment, you are no longer dictating the path you should take (through innovation), but rather obsessing about either getting to the top or staying there.
Comparison is a great tool that allows us to better comprehend our goals, assess risks, and develop a plan of action that takes into account the ever-changing nature of a certain niche.
There’s no room for complacency in a competitive niche, but often there’s no room for innovative desire either. It might seem paradoxical, but the side-effect of playing to win is that you often forget to enjoy the game.
A few cures for this:
- Compete with yourself first. Focus on doing work that’s meaningful, rather than doing work that’s better or cheaper or faster than what your competition is doing. This means that you might have to think outside the box, reshape and rephrase a few metrics, or even bend the rules around the way you do your work a bit.
- Focus on providing a clear benefit to the reader. There’s more than one way to add value. As a matter of fact, there are three I can name this instant: write higher quality articles, price your products/services lower than anyone else within your niche, or engage more with your readers than anyone else (which can also translate into “provide better customer service.” If you focus on the reader, rather than trying to outsmart your competition, you might still end up at the top of your niche, but the vehicle you will arrive in will be different. You might innovate out of sheer desire to please your reader.
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Use your competition to figure out your competitive advantage.
Our competition gives us that extra edge we need in order to perform at the highest level possible while giving us a clear path to follow.
“This is how number 1 is doing things, how can we beat them at their game?”
That’s a good thing. It’s why charts comparing features are so abundant, that’s why companies make fun of each other in advertisements, and that’s why a lot of products are being labeled as “an alternative to X.”
But, we should also see this as a cautionary tale. There’s a blindspot we must be aware of as we compete to provide our readers with articles that are better than what the competition has to offer.
We might overlook and ignore a different way of providing our readers with a much better experience than anyone else is doing in our niche.
What can you do with the information you gather about your competition?
Pretty much anything you want.
I personally look for an “yeah, but…” which is an article I agree and disagree with at the same time. If I have something of value to add in the form of an opinion or some previous experience, then I can write an entire article about that topic.
It’s a great way to never run out of things to write about.
The idea is to notice what is missing, so you can figure out how to stand out.
Even the best recipe can be improved upon, but you have to be willing to spend some time going over the ingredients.
7 Deceptively Steps to Use Your Competition to Create Better Articles
Step 1: Find 10 Blogstars and Analyze Them
You must do this to develop a strong reader personality. It’s not enough to read a lot, whenever, whatever, but you must have a system.
The first step towards becoming a better blogger is developing killer taste.
You must do this because you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know the elements of a successful blog posts, you don’t know the secret ingredients of an engaging article.
This is why you must take active steps to develop your taste, you must feed the inner reader with the best content until it becomes a connoisseur. And it order to do that, you must develop a proper system for finding, reading, and analyzing the best content on the web.
Now, let’s define a blogstar.
A blogstar is an article that performs extremely well. Not only does it go viral, but it’s also what some call “evergreen.”
It’s relevant, epic, and shares unique insights that provide real value, superbly defined actionable steps, and is spiced up with enough inspirational takeaways to make readers actually take action.
It’s important that you find 10 such articles in your niche/topic.
Because each niche is different, both in terms of content, but also when it comes to headlines (the clickbaitiness of a certain headline, a preference for listicles, etc.), the way the writing is presented, and the formatting of the articles themselves.
While I am a big fan of reading a lot of content and letting your subconscious decide on what works and what doesn’t, as you feed your brain, I believe that first you must develop a system of analyzing content, while you take conscious decisions regarding your own articles.
That being said, how do you find those blogstars?
Well, first of all, find the most popular bloggers in your niche. Then you as go through their articles, you will notice that some of them have a lot of likes and comments. More than the usual.
Those are your blogstars. Those are their best performing articles.
A couple of things you should analyze:
- The headline
- The subtitle, if any
- The featured image
- The introduction
- The formatting of the article
- The ending
Do your best to get a feel for how these six elements work together, how the author took advantage of different formatting options (bullet points, lists, italics, etc.) to make the reading experience as enjoyable as possible.
Let’s analyze one of my most popular articles.
Is the headline enticing? Does it state a benefit for the reader?
What about the featured image? Is it relevant?
What about the introduction?
For instance, a great way to make a list post stand out from the crowd (as there are countless list posts available these days) is by writing subheads that stop readers from scrolling too fast.
For instance, number four on my list of seven habits is:
4. They often vacation on Someday Island too.
This first step not only helps you develop killer taste as a reader, but also levels up the inner editor.
As you read some of the best content on the web, you might find certain mistakes or things you would have done differently. Don’t dismiss this voice, because it’s going to help you a lot in the future.
Step 2: Write 10 Blog Posts
There’s a plot twist to this.
Don’t think, just write.
After you’ve analyzed your ten blogstars, don’t try to come up with a specific framework for writing an article.
The trick is not to blindly follow a recipe, but to internalize the elements of a fantastic blog post.
A couple of things you should consider during this stage of the process:
- Give yourself permission to be bad. Seriously. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself by trying to write a brilliant first draft. Don’t focus on quality, but rather on quantity: do your best to write those ten articles as fast as possible.
- Write and then write some more. Write your ten articles one after the other. Take a break if you need to, but don’t edit, don’t read other articles, just sit at your desk, write, take a break, and write some more.
- You either sit down and write or stare at a blank wall. This trick teaches you two things: you’ve got to finish stuff, and you’ve got to use boredom to your advantage. If you eliminate distractions, and you can only do one of two things, you will soon begin to punch those damn keys, even if you don’t feel like it.
The main points of this exercise are to finish stuff and focus on quantity. That’s it.
Give yourself permission to write crappy articles, and you get rid of that inner critic posing as an editor.
This step is all about developing a strong inner writer, and this requires that you be a bit of a rebel.
Don’t think and write like a reader, don’t write and edit like an editor. Don’t think, just write.
Step 3: Analyze Your 10 Articles
Now it’s time to think. Now you can focus on the other side of your brain, the editor, to tell you if your work retains any of the qualities you’ve noticed in those blogstars you’ve analyzed.
The reason for doing this, and why I didn’t advise you to come up with a framework based on your analysis or why you shouldn’t write your articles with a viral piece of blog post open in another browser tab, is that if you mechanically follow a recipe, even if you do everything right, you will still fail.
There’s a reason I consider blogging to be an art, and that has to do with the emotional undertone of a certain article.
If you just write, without thinking, without that pesky editor whispering in your ear, then odds are that you will add quite a bit of emotion in your articles.
Now, as you analyze your articles, go through the same process you went through when analyzing those popular articles, while also letting your inner editor tell you what needs changing.
Be as ruthless as possible, but don’t overdo it. The goal is to be objective, not turn yourself into a tyrant.
Step 4: Edit and Publish Your Articles
Edit your articles according to the elements of highly successful articles you’ve written down during the first stage of this process, and then click on the green (or whatever color) button that says, “Publish.”
Now it’s time for the next step.
Step 5: Improvements to Be Made
Based on the feedback you receive on your articles, you can figure out which articles performed best.
Those are your mini-blogstars, so to speak. Analyze them as you did with the articles during step one.
Analyze them sentence by sentence, if you have the patience for it. Read them backwards one sentence at a time. Try to figure out what exactly you did right, but also what are the improvements to be made.
I recommend you do this to your best performing articles because it won’t feel like you have to bridge such a huge gap between the content you create and the one you consume.
Write down a list of potential improvements and steps to take.
The goal is to develop a routine that enables you to progress while you practice.
This is the inner coach, the voice that gently guides you towards mastery. It’s not as critical as the inner editor, it doesn’t tell you what doesn’t work, it just tells you what doesn’t work yet. That’s a big difference in mindset.
Here are some ways to improve your skills:
- If your headlines are weak, practice by writing 10 different headlines for each of your articles.
- Write a detailed guide on how to write a brilliant article. You don’t have to publish it. The goal is to pretend that you are the teacher teaching yourself, if that makes sense.
- Develop a routine in which you start an article with someone else’s words (a quote, someone else’s opening paragraph.)
- Create a framework based on the elements of one of the ten articles you analyzed in step one, then do quite the opposite. Publish this one, just for fun.
Depending on how often you publish and how long it takes you to write and edit an article, this process can take a while.
But that’s not the point.
The idea is that you should figure out fun ways to improve your writing, while internalizing the elements of writing a brilliant blog post.
Step 6: Do It All Over Again
Now, it’s back to step one. Find 10 blogstars and analyze them…
The idea is that at a certain point, after you read and analyze about 100 different blog posts, and after you publish 100 articles of your own, you will be able to develop a skill that allows you to take the final step in becoming a fantastic blogger.
Step 7: Blend and Refine
I got this idea from a painter. I once went to his studio, and he was working on one of his pieces.
He explained his process, how he draws his initial sketch, and then… well… he made a big mess of paint on his canvas.
Then he said, “Now it’s time to blend and refine.”
And he did just that, turning that mess of paint into a phenomenal painting.
The truth is that most of our creative process takes place in our subconscious mind, and that’s a good thing.
The more we think, the more we let self-doubt and that inner critic dictate the way we work, and we’re going to struggle to create meaningful work.
But as we internalize the steps we need to take to create better content, we can let go…
This is something that psychologists call, “subconscious mastery.”
When you become so good at driving a car, that you can listen to music, talk on the phone, and use your elbow to steer. Something like that.
But when you were first learning how to drive, you could only focus on driving.
Blogging is the same. You need to develop subconscious mastery, thus allowing you to come up with a “blend and refine” step in which your subconscious mind takes over.
This means that by developing the inner artist you’ll spend a lot less time and mental energy editing your articles.
That’s one way you can use your competition, especially when it comes to writing articles.
But what about marketing?
What about monetizing a blog? Or reaching more people? Connecting seemingly unrelated dots? Exploring adjacent topics?
Like In said, the possibilities are truly endless.
The only thing that limits you is your willingness and how much time and energy you want to invest in using your competition to figure out the best way you can stand out from the crowd.
You better hurry!
Download the Competition Research Template today and gain a clear advantage over your competition.
Grab it today, use it, print it out, and write down everything you need to know about other bloggers in your niche.
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