“How do we measure up to our competitors?”
We’ve been asked that question hundreds, if not thousands of times. And more often than not, our answers are anecdotal and unscientific.
And to be fair, that’s not really our fault; there’s no standard reporting on this kind of stuff! Especially at an industry level. There’s no standard for what data to report, how to synthesize it, or how to generate insights. It’s never been attempted, so everyone just wings it on a case-by-case basis.
So we decided to take a first stab at it. We want to put the most valuable competitive data into the hands of eager marketers in each major industry.
Starting with Human Resources.
Our first task was to select a representative grouping of companies within the HR industry to compare. This proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the report.
There is a wild stratification between the large, high-powered websites and everyone else. For lack of a better analogy, there is no “middle class” in HR. The “haves” and “have-nots” are clearly defined.
To address this problem, we created two lists, “Developed” and “Developing,” and compared each company relative to its own sub-group rather than the larger group. We oftentimes find customers in the HR industry comparing themselves to competitors who aren’t even in the same ZIP code, let alone ballpark. It makes no sense for some of these smaller niche HR companies to be comparing themselves to massive SaaS offerings. So we doubled down on the study in order to compare like to like.
“Developed” and “Developing” websites were divided by the level of their monthly organic traffic:
Developed websites: generate >100,000 organic visitors per month
Developing websites: generate <100,000 organic visitors per month
Companies were chosen from published lists of “top HR companies,” and categorized into the two lists based on numerous SEO criteria.
The companies studied include:
Figuring out what to measure was pretty straightforward: We simply answered the questions our clients and prospects always ask:
- How is our SEO performance compared to our competitors?
- What are the keywords we should be targeting?
- What kinds of content are our competitors creating?
These three questions are asked like clockwork. The real question was to figure out which metrics to use to answer those questions. This is what we came up with …
You can spend a lifetime evaluating SEO metrics, and another lifetime debating which of those are “important.” There’s no right way to do this, so we kept it simple. We compared:
- Domain Authority: A ranking system developed by Moz to measure the authority of a website relative to its competitors. Dozens of metrics are used to calculate a 1-100 score that helps predict how likely a website will rank in search engine results pages.
- Organic traffic: The estimated number of visitors a website receives from organic search. This can be thought of as a competitor’s “share of search traffic.”
- Ranking keywords: The number of keywords a website ranks for in positions 1-10. This can be thought of as a reflection of a website’s “ownership of relevant keywords.”
- Linking root domains: A major factor that determines a site’s “authority” is the number and quality of websites that link to its pages. By measuring the total number of linking root domains you can get an idea of the number of sites that “vouch for a competitor’s content.”
For the last three metrics, we also compared the rate of change between the beginning of 2021 and the end of August 2021 to get an idea of progress/regression.
Every website owner wants to know which keywords they should be targeting. This isn’t an easy question to answer, as there can be millions of variants, permutations and combinations of short-tail and long-tail keywords that can be relevant or even subjectively relevant to a website owner.
To answer “Which keywords are relevant to the HR industry?” we simply chose the keywords with the highest search volume that at least 80% of the Developed websites ranked for.
For example, the keyword “HR Software” is searched an average of 7,400 times per month, and 8 of the 10 Developed websites rank for the keyword in the top 100 results. This can be reasonably considered a common keyword with a high level of competition.
Note: Why only consider the top 10 Developed websites? Good question. The Developing websites mostly rank for branded keywords, and not much else. Therefore, they have very little (if any) keyword crossover between websites. This makes the exercise of creating a “keyword universe” rather pointless. This should be seen as an opportunity for growth in this sector.
Content creation and digital marketing performance are inextricably linked. Period.
I don’t exaggerate when I say content is the central piece to every customer touch point from lead generation to closed deals. Consider how just a few types of content can support each phase of the customer journey:
These are just a few types of content and the things they can do. There are dozens of additional content types and channels, like:
- Podcasts that enhance loyalty and reliability.
- Retargeting artwork that keeps your product top of mind.
- Videos that showcase your products and services.
And tons more. The list of content types that fit into the sales ecosystem is increasing yearly.
There is zero question that the correct content used at the right time in a customer’s buyer journey can substantially increase a company’s bottom line; that’s why content marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry. The real questions are how much content a company can afford to create, and how well they can execute.
How We Developed the Content Audit
As stated above, there are dozens of content types any given company can be creating at a given time. One company can realistically be creating 20 different types of content while a direct competitor can be utilizing two.
With these wild disparities in content creation, we had to decide on a bare-bones standard for comparison. We landed on three main areas: blogs, mid-funnel content and bottom-funnel content. We measured as follows:
- Blogs: The average number of blogs written over a three month period.
- Mid-funnel content: The total number of eBooks, webinars and white papers published on the site.
- Bottom-of-funnel content: The total number of case studies and testimonials (can be short written blurbs) published on the site.
As stated earlier, each piece of content was counted manually, so we did our best to scour every nook and cranny of each website to be as thorough as possible.
All SEO metrics were pulled from Ahrefs from January 1, 2021 through August 31, 2021. Any changes to Ahrefs’ database may retroactively impact these numbers.
Content auditing is a human-led process, making it prone to human error. Some content is downright hidden and buried on websites, so we did our best to uncover all content we could find.
Lastly, the companies in this study are meant to be representative of the industry. Surely this process can be somewhat subjective and non-inclusive by nature.
Let’s get into the meat of the report.
The Content Marketer
Get weekly insights, advice and opinions about all things digital marketing.
Thanks for subscribing! Keep an eye out for a Welcome email from us shortly. If you don’t see it come through, check your spam folder and mark the email as “not spam.”
Across all areas of SEO metrics, we immediately found an enormous stratification of performance, starting with Domain Authority.
Domain Authority is an elegant solution for comparing the relative strength and authority of similar websites. Rather than using numerous and often obscure SEO metrics, Domain Authority is a single number ranging from 1-100. It’s a pretty approachable metric for business people across an entire spectrum of SEO aptitude.
The discrepancy between Developed and Developing HR websites was stark.
While it’s accurate to say that Developed HR websites have twice the average Domain Authority as Developing websites, it’s worth noting that Domain Authority is a logarithmic scale. This means every number moving up the scale is harder to achieve than the previous.
Therefore, a Domain Authority of 68.8 isn’t actually double the strength of a DA of 34; it’s multitudes greater.
Here are the Domain Authorities for each individual Developed website:
And for the Developing websites:
Takeaway: The value to be taken from this analysis is to benchmark your website against your corresponding group. If you’re in the Developing cluster of sites, you should assume that a website with a higher DA is likely to outrank you for a competitive keyword, and vice versa.
The amount of traffic you drive to your website is arguably the gold standard for measuring SEO performance. After all, what’s more indicative of SEO performance than a metric of the actual goal SEO sets out to achieve?
The difference between Developed and Developing websites was even more extreme, with the median Developed website driving over 611K visitors per month versus just over 1,600 for its Developing counterpart.
Both Zoho and ADP stand alone as the clear leaders in the space (also the top two ranking Domain Authority), collectively driving more traffic than the rest of the bottom eight competitors combined.
For the Developing websites we find an interesting situation with G&A Partners and Engage PEO taking the top two positions despite having the 2nd and 4th highest Domain Authority.
This will come as no surprise that both G&A Partners and Engage PEO write the second and third most blog content, directly contributing to this traffic.
Organic Traffic Changes
Between January 1, 2021 and August 31, 2021 the average Developed HR website increased its monthly traffic by 17.2%, with 70% of websites experiencing gains.
Workday and Bamboo HR made the biggest gains with a whopping 61% and 59% gains over the year. Zenefits stood out as the only significant organic traffic loser with a 35% decline.
Developing websites increased organic traffic by an average of 10.5%, with 60% of websites experiencing gains.
Both Tandem HR and G&A Partners made huge moves with 90.6% and 62.2% gains on the year.
Takeaway: 65% of all HR websites experienced organic traffic gains over the year, with a combined average gain of 13.9%. Any website that is actively engaged in content marketing and SEO activities should expect to see continual growth if their strategy is robust.
When people speak of “SEO ownership,” this is exactly the type of data they are referring to.
Organic traffic is of course driven by the keywords a website ranks for. So it follows that the number of relevant keywords a website ranks for, relative to its competitors, is a reliable measuring stick for SEO performance.
The importance of segmenting our websites into Developed and Developing became even more glaringly obvious in this stage of the study.
The median Developed HR website owns 40 times more Page 1 keywords than the median Developing website (10,220 vs. 254).
Looking first at the Developed websites, again Zoho and ADP stand alone in the pack ranking for over 150K Page 1 keywords (more than the other eight competitors combined).
The Developing websites demonstrated slightly more parity than their counterparts, with G&A Partners and Engage PEO again holding down the top two spots.
Again, this data foreshadows a story we are going to be telling about content creation (and the organizational capabilities to create the content needed for success).
Keyword Ranking Changes
We also wanted to see which direction the websites in our study were moving over the course of the year (Jan. 1 to Aug. 31).
Developed HR websites came out of the gate swinging with 90% (9 of 10) of websites gaining Page 1 keywords for an average gain of 15.4%.
60% of Developing websites (6 of 10) generated gains amounting to a slightly smaller 14.5% average increase.
Takeaway: 75% of all HR websites experienced Page 1 keyword gains, with a combined average gain of 15%. Unsurprisingly, Developed websites own the overwhelming majority of the available keyword universe.
Linking Root Domains
We measured the number of domains linking to websites because they can be thought of as individual votes that vouch for the reputability of the site they are linking to. From an SEO standpoint, they send a signal to Google that says, “This is good content for my readers, and I vouch for its credibility.”
By increasing a website’s “SEO credibility,” it becomes more capable of ranking ahead of its competitors for the keywords it targets. Because linking domains are so tightly correlated with SEO performance, it’s a strong metric to evaluate to wrap up the SEO portion of the study.
The median Developed website generated 10,117 linking domains vs. 686 for its Developing counterpart. While certainly still a gulf, it’s a pullback from the 367:1 traffic ratio, and 40:1 keyword ratio.
For the Developed websites, Zoho impressed with its 80,428 linking domains, dwarfing the runner up ADP at 26,385.
The Developing websites showed a higher level of parity, with G&A Partners and Nonprofit HR claiming the top two spots.
Generally speaking, the easiest way to generate links is through quality blog content, and more specifically, infographics and original research. I promise the “content creation” theme I’m painting will start to make sense soon.
Linking Domain Changes
Similar to the previous metrics, we evaluated the change in linking root domains between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.
Generally speaking, you should strive to see a continuous net new growth in linking root domains over time, signifying that your content is generating links faster than they are falling off.
All websites evaluated saw an increase in linking root domains over the time period.
Developed websites saw a 39% average increase in linking domains, with Zenefits and ADP leading the pack by a wide margin.
Developing websites outpaced its Developed counterparts by gaining 48% more linking domains, on average.
Takeaway: It’s impossible to know if these companies are proactively link building (through outreach, paid, guest blogging, etc.), but you can typically expect the majority of links to be generated passively through strong content creation and brand awareness.
All websites evaluated increased their total volume of linking domains over the year, with notable gains from ADP, Zenefits, The HR Team, Mosteller and Engage PEO.
“Which keywords should I be targeting?”
It’s the million-dollar question that nearly every client asks, and nearly every SEO expert has a different answer for.
How We Developed a “Keyword Universe”
Our thought process was, “If a bunch of websites rank for the same keyword, then it must be important.” Maybe that sounds oversimplified, but we often find the simple answers generate the clearest insights.
Our solution was to choose the top 10 keywords with the highest monthly search volume that at least 80% of the Developed websites ranked for.
Unsurprisingly, the top keywords people search are software-related queries.
This makes perfect sense for a couple of reasons:
- Most of the Developed websites offer some type of software solution where employers and employees can manage payroll and basic HR management systems online.
- Fewer searchers are looking for HR consulting and non-software solutions, which many of the Developing brands specialize in.
The demand for software-related solutions becomes even more clear when you look at their search volumes.
When evaluating a keyword universe, you need to ask the question, “Why are people searching these keywords?”
The “Why” is just as important as the keywords themselves. Are searchers looking for products and services to buy? Are they simply looking for answers to questions with no intent to buy whatsoever?
A reliable method for understanding why people are using keywords is to see if companies are paying Google for them.
If companies are paying a good deal of money to show up for a keyword, there is a good chance that that keyword makes them money. That means the keyword probably has buyer intent.
By searching “HR software” we find our very own Bamboo HR along with five other competitors paying for the keyword on the top and bottom of the page 1 SERP.
This is a clear example of a money-making keyword with buyer intent.
But how much are companies paying for these keywords? Let’s take a look.
Most keywords cost between $19 and $50 per click.
Is that a lot?
The answer is “it depends on your industry.”
Some industries have very little competition for paid keywords, resulting in a low cost-per-click. Other industries have cutthroat competition resulting in astronomically high prices.
Legal-related keywords are notoriously competitive. For example, “mesothelioma lawyer” can cost nearly $200 per click.
In stark contrast, durable goods can be relatively inexpensive. Take the keyword “paint supplies” which costs only $1.80 per click.
Takeaway: The majority of search interest in the HR industry is for software-related services. Companies are paying up to $50 per click for these keywords, indicating a high level of buyer intent.
Keywords in Content
The question that immediately follows, “Which keywords should we be targeting” is “What content should we create?”
Fortunately, that second question is usually answered by the first question. If people are frequently searching for specific keywords in your industry, it’s usually a good idea to write content that supports those keywords.
We looked at the number of times each keyword within the keyword universe was used within the title of an article this year.
Here’s what we found.
The keyword “Payroll software” was used in the title of content 11,689 times between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of last year.
Takeaway: The keyword universe within the HR industry is competitive. The keywords are searched often, are relatively expensive to pay for, and are written about in articles very often. Competitors who want to compete need to stand out by writing better content, or paying more than their neighbors.
We painstakingly audited the depths of all 20 websites, counting each individual content type in question. We evaluated the following three types of content:
- Mid-funnel content
- Bottom-of-funnel content
We then charted the data by brand to visually compare the highest and lowest producers relative to the median.
Let’s dig in.
Blogs are the Swiss Army Knives of the digital marketing world. Blogs generate traffic from SEO, convert visitors to newsletter subscribers, can be distributed on said newsletters, (usually) drive the majority of inbound links and much much more.
So is more blogging better than less? How much blogging should a company do?
Developed websites create a median of 12.3 blogs per month compared to 3.8 for Developing websites.
Over the course of a month this amounts to Developed websites publishing about three blogs per week compared to one per week for Developing websites.
Starting with Developed websites, Zoho and Kronos jump off the page with more than one blog created per business day. 70% of the Developed websites write two or more blogs per week.
Developing websites proved to be more resource-constrained, producing a median of under one blog per week.
So does it really matter how many blogs a company writes?
Turns out, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
The correlation coefficient between the number of blogs written per month and average organic monthly traffic is an incredible 0.8 (extremely high).
This means there is a near-perfect relationship between the number of blogs being written and the amount of traffic being driven to the site.
Note: Due to the scaling of this correlation, it may be hard to visualize the impact of this chart. Regardless of the visuals, the math tells a complete story with a high degree of statistical confidence.
Unfortunately, the number of blogs written by a given company is usually restrained by the resources available to them. Smaller companies will most likely have fewer resources available to keep the content machine running.
As a matter of fact, the correlation between company size (total employees as reported on LinkedIn) and the average number of blogs written per month was 0.7 (very strong correlation).
Tip of the cap to Helios HR for taking a real risk by investing in nearly eight blogs per month despite having one of the smaller headcounts in the study.
Takeaway: Content creation used to be widely regarded as a luxury, and often a very disposable part of a marketing program when push came to shove. But the data suggests if you truly want strong SEO results, you need to invest fairly heavily in blog content.
If we consider blog content as a premium asset, you can consider mid-funnel content as the Rolls Royce of content marketing.
With a median of 157 eBooks, webinars and white papers published (all time, in total on each site), Developed websites appear to invest very heavily in mid-funnel content. We also should acknowledge Workday with a mindblowing 1,027 assets created.
G&A Partners and Exude put the most emphasis on the mid-funnel with 83 and 63 assets published, respectively.
Takeaway: Due to the nature of mid-funnel content, it’s very difficult to get a read on how effectively the volume of content created is generating results for each of the companies in the study. Mid-funnel content is primarily used for nurture, leaving us zero publicly available data to tell us whether or not the desired effect is happening.
In the grand scheme of content marketing, bottom-of-funnel content is probably the most established and well-understood asset in a marketer’s repertoire. Case studies and testimonials have been in the mix since the beginning of websites. Actually, they’ve been around even before websites.
They’ve been long accepted as effective assets because they help close deals. Sales reps can leverage them as proof of concept. Visitors can peruse them on a site to convince themselves that they are making a good choice.
In the world of marketing, they are the minimum ante.
The Developed websites in the study take their bottom-of-funnel content creation very seriously, with a median of 60.5 assets published. Zoho blew up the chart with 537 published assets.
The Developing websites show much room for improvement with a median of 1.5 published assets, with notable exceptions again to G&A Partners and Exude.
Takeaway: Again, we have zero visibility into whether or not these types of assets are contributing to the bottom line. However, being well-established stalwarts in the marketer’s tool bag, we should safely assume that they are at least somewhat useful.
We see time and time again that Developing websites shouldn’t use Developed websites as a realistic benchmark to compare themselves against. While aspiration is healthy, it’s probably more important to have a realistic level-set. Developed HR companies invested early and heavily in digital marketing, and as a result they have outsized footprints in the industry.
It’s very easy to point to this study and say, “Every company needs to be creating blog content to generate SEO results.” And while that’s true, it’s less easy to answer the question of “How?” The volume of content created is tightly correlated to the size of the company and its available resources. However, we can say with some degree of confidence that if a Developing website is considering how to spend its marketing budget to generate traffic, there is an argument to be made that it should be done with blog content.
On that note, the majority of all websites in the study experienced positive movement across the board (organic traffic, keyword, link building) gains. On top of that, almost all websites are participating in some type of content marketing. While the overall volume may be lower for some websites, in every instance there is at least some attempt in one of the categories of content production.
In conclusion, rather than stating the obvious conclusion, “Every HR company should be creating content for each segment of the funnel,” I prefer to say something perhaps more helpful: “Should an HR company be interested in broadening the top of the funnel, invest in blogs and a newsletter. Should they be interested in nurturing leads, create eBooks and white papers. Should they need more firepower for their sales teams, publish more case studies and testimonials.”
Content marketing doesn’t need to be tackled all at once. Bite off chunks to satisfy specific goals.