There are over 200 attributes Google looks at in their search algorithm when determining where a website should rank. Many of them are known while others remain mysterious. Additionally, the weight assigned to the attributes in the algorithm and the relationships they have with each other are estimates. Couple that with the fact that the algorithm itself constantly changes and you potentially have a daunting task in auditing competitors’ websites for SEO.
The recommended SEO audit approach is to focus on just a few well vetted attributes. This way, you don’t have to waste your valuable time trying to dissect a competitor’s entire website. The below 12 steps will give you a good assessment of a website’s visibility, on-page optimization, off-page optimization, technical optimization and an overall sense as to the robustness of the website's SEO campaign or lack thereof.
Keyword Assessment (On-page SEO)
1. The Google Keyword Tool
There are many tools you can use to assess a website’s keyword relevancy. It’s recommended to start off with Google’s own keyword tool. By typing in your competitor’s URL in the tool, Google will return a list of keyword phrases it believes the website is relevant for. This is important data because it’s Google’s impression of the website that’s important. Download the Excel spreadsheet containing all of the keywords.
2. SEOQuake and Keyword Density
Next, download the SEOQuake toolbar for your browser. Once it’s installed navigate to your competitor’s homepage and click the Density link in the tool. The link leads to a breakdown of all density rates for relevant phrases on the page. If SEO has been done on the website it’s likely that the higher density words and phrases are intended to help the page rank for those phrases. While keeping track of the results, continue to explore the entire website or a select number of pages with the tool.
3. Page Titles, Meta Descriptions & Meta Keywords
In addition to noting the keyword density of the selected pages, keep track of the page titles, meta descriptions and meta keywords displayed in the Density link. This will shed some additional light on your competitor’s keywords. Pay close attention to those phrases and/or conventions which seem to repeat, suggesting a keyword theme throughout the website.
4. Header Identification
Download the Web Developer plugin for Firefox. After installation you’ll be able to navigate to the select pages of the competitor’s website and outline all of the H1 tags, H2 tags, etc. Make a note as to the phrases in these tags.
5. Blog Tags
If your competitor has a blog take an inventory of the tags used on posts throughout the blog. Chances are pretty good that the tags are phrases they wish to rank for. Also, make note of the posting frequency.
6. Tracking Your Competitors in the SERPs
With the free version of CuteRank you’ll be able to paste in all of the keyword phrases you came up with above and find out exactly where one competitor ranks for each phrase. The paid version will allow you to track more than one competitor. Overtime, you’ll be able to track SERP trends.
Off-page SEO Assessment
7. Inbound Links
This is a little more difficult with the recent death of Yahoo’s Site Explorer. However, it’s still important to get an idea of your competitor’s link popularity. By going to SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer and typing in your competitor’s URL you’ll be provided with page authority, domain authority, linking root domains and total links. The higher the numbers the better the off-page SEO and the more difficult it will be to overcome. Also, take note of the competitor’s Google Page Rank in the SEOQuake toolbar. The closer to 10 the page is the better the off-page SEO.
8. Social Media
Take note of how many Facebook fans, Twitter followers and LinkedIn followers your competitor has. Although many will hate this, note their Klout score as a general measure of their socialness.
Miscellaneous SEO Items
9. Indexed Pages
With the SEOQuake toolbar you’ll have access to how many pages the competitor has indexed by Google and Bing. The more pages they have indexed the more opportunities they have to rank.
10. Site Maps
Look in the header or footer of your competitor’s website and look for a sitemap link. Also, use the SEOQuake toolbar to determine if your competitor has an XML sitemap. If SEOQuake says there is no XML Sitemap then type in your competitors URL with “sitemap.aspx” at the end. If the page 404s than your competitor is sitemap feed free. Whether your competitor has the above or not make sure you do.
11. Domain Age
Generally, the older a domain name is the more trust Google has for the website. Your competitor’s domain age is available in the SEOQuake toolbar.
Are keywords in the URL? Is the URL an exact keyword phrase? If this is the case, outranking your competitors for those specific phrases will be more difficult.
Not all of the above tools are necessary for subscribers of HubSpot and SEOmoz. Much of the reporting capabilities mentioned are built right into these software packages. Also, you’ll probably notice that most of your competitor’s websites will have no sign of SEO. That’s ok because it just makes your job that much easier. Once the audit is complete it’s important to take the data retrieved and build a plan to outdo your competitors in order to surpass them in the SERPs. For more help with SEO download our free SEO Cheat Sheet.