How to Conduct a Competitive SEO Audit

SEO Audit Header ImageMany marketers are interested in monitoring their competitors’ search engine optimization efforts. Whether you’re overhauling your site’s SEO or wanting to develop a process for checking in more regularly, a competitive SEO audit can help you understand where you stand, and how much work you will need to do to gain traction on your competitors.

Do you know how your competitors’ SEO strategies will impact you? Dive in to learn how to perform your own competitive SEO audit.

Competitor Set

The first step is determining a list of competitors to review. Begin by listing ‘real world’ competitors in your geographic area, if applicable, and industry.

Next, you’ll want to look beyond your “known” competitors, and review your competitors in organic search results. You will want to use keyword ranking tools, as well as data from Google Search Console and your analytics tracking software to determine what terms are driving traffic to your site, and how your competitors compare in natural listings.

List the top ten or so competitors for key terms. You are looking to determine which sites have the most overlap with your site. Look for patterns to emerge. Are there four or five competitors who keep popping up in search engine results? Do you have competitors who for one product line that are different from your site’s other offerings?

Finally, you’ll want to categorize your competitors and determine your focus. For example, a vitamin manufacturer may find that the top results for important supplement terms are dominated by large e-commerce sites, like Amazon and GNC, as well as health and news articles from authoritative news and non profit websites. In this example, it may make sense to spend the most effort exploring similarly sized supplement manufacturer competitors, rather than sites with significantly more digital resources.

With your competitor list in hand, you are ready to begin evaluating your competitors on 7 important criteria for organic rankings: mobile friendliness, site crawl stats, backlinks, social media marketing, and site freshness, through blog posts and news updates.

Mobile Friendly?

More and more traffic is coming from mobile phones. In April 2015, Google released a significant new mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that was designed to improve visibility for mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results. Although your core business may still be completed on a desktop device, mobile organic search visibility can still impact how new customers are finding you and your competitors.

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/) analyzes a URL and reports whether or not the page has a mobile-friendly design. Another option is to visit your competitor’s site from a mobile device and note the experience. Are you being shown a mobile-version of the site, or does it look the same as when you visit from a desktop? Be sure to click into the site, noting how the experience changes when you navigate away from the homepage. You may want to see how straightforward it is to complete a conversion on the site. Can you sign-up for more information? On an e-commerce site, how difficult is it to add merchandise to your cart and check-out?

Google Site Crawl

A Google site crawl can help you quickly determine how large a competitor’s site is and if there are technical issues that are preventing a site from being indexed in search results.

To get started, go to Google and in the search box type “Site:http://www.MyDomain.com” to review what Google has indexed. The number of results or pages that the Google crawlers have indexed will be in gray, below the search box. Keep in mind, that search results are approximate.

If you are not seeing any results for a competitor’s domain (And you have double-checked your spelling), the site may not have an appropriately configured Robots.txt file or have “Noindex” and/or “Nofollow” tags on the site. These issues will significantly reduce any visibility for your competitor in organic search results.

If a site is using subfolders to organize content by industry or market, you may want to crawl them separately. For example, the /commercial aviation section of the Boeing website returns 2 thousand pages, versus over 14 thousand pages for the domain (Boeing.com) and just eight pages for /space. You may want to take a different approach to content, if you manufacture commercial aircrafts.

Site Crawl

Using a third-party crawler, can help you assess a competitor’s SEO and content efforts.

Enter the URL that you want to crawl. Once the crawl is 100 percent complete, export it into a CSV or Excel file.  Review meta information for pages. Be sure to note blank, duplicate or otherwise unusual meta information.

You will also want to note whether the total number of pages found in your site crawl aligns with your Google crawl. A significant variance could indicate a technical issue with your competitor’s site.

Backlinks

A backlink is an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website. In other words, if another website links to you, this is considered a backlink or external link to your site. In the early days of search engines like Alta Vista, obtaining external links was the single most important objective for attaining high rankings. Today, the major search engines use many metrics to determine the value of backlinks, including the trustworthiness of the linking domain and the relevancy of the content between the source page and the target page.

Using a crawler like Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer, you can see what domains link to your competitors’ site and see approximately how authoritative they are. This way, you can gain an idea of how many high quality links you’ll want to target for your site.

Social Media Marketing

Social signals are the likes, shares, votes, pins, and other forms of user engagement on popular social media sites. Search engines use social signals as recommendations and can influence search engine rankings. You want to understand how your competitors are using social media and the engagement level of their fans and followers.

You will want to start by reviewing any social media profiles linked from the footer of your competitor’s website. How often do they share updates on social media? What type of content do they post? How many active followers do they have? In addition, you should look for abandoned and emerging social media accounts, by searching for the competitor and network name in the search engine. You may find that a competitor has deserted LinkedIn, but is quietly building a large following on Instagram.

Blog and News

Search engine algorithms feature content based on freshness. In addition, blog posts and news releases can be effective tools for building inbound links and social engagement.

Review your competitors’ sites, noting if they have a blog on or off their domain, and/or a news section. How frequently do they post updates? How “robust” are their posts? If commenting is enabled, what are their readers posting in response?

Wrapping Up

After reviewing these components, you should have a good idea of where your site sits alongside your competitors. What next?

Remember that the primary goal of competitive analysis and the intelligence that you gather is to help you make informed decisions. Think about how you will use this information — whether it be for your content strategy, product or service positioning, social engagement tactics, etc. — all of which help with your SEO in the long run.