07 Feb 2017

Competitive Website Audit: 6 Key Things to Look For

Knowing what your competitors are up to is paramount to staying ahead in your industry. Without knowledge of how your competitors are engaging with your shared target audience online, your business can end up operating in a digital silo.

From your competitors’ websites alone, you can garner a lot of insights to help you be more informed in your own digital marketing strategy. Read on for a comprehensive list of tools and tricks you can use to analyze your competitors’ websites.

1. Identifying Competitors

Do you know who your direct competitors are? Due to globalization, your competitors are no longer just your next door brick and mortars. Your competition could be across the globe or closeby, operating out of a massive warehouse or out of a garage. To identify your competitors, it can be helpful to begin by documenting the following about your business.

  1. Is your company region specific?
  2. What is your price structure?
  3. Who is your audience?
  4. What limitations does your company have? What advantages?

Now that you’ve answered those questions, identify companies that may have similar answers to the questions above. We recommend identifying around 4 competitors to paint a holistic picture. A good way to find out who your competitors are is to do reverse Google search based on your offerings. Type in relevant keywords people would use to find a business like yours (while in an incognito Google browser) to see who is outranking you.

Competitive analysis tip: do a reverse #google search based on your offerings to see who is outranking you. Click To Tweet

Remember to think outside of the box when identifying your competitors. They are not just who sells the same product or service as you, but who wants the same audience to engage. We call these direct and indirect competitors.

Direct competitors sell or offer the same services as your company while indirect competitors target your same audience but do not necessarily offer the same product or service. For example, McDonald’s and Burger King are direct competitors, while the new gourmet burger place located by McDonald’s would be McDonald’s indirect competitor.

2. On-page Analysis

Now that you know who your competitors are, it’s time to get to work!

User-Experience

Start by examining their website. When examining doing a website competitive analysis, the first thing we look for is the overall UX, or user experience that a site offers. The most important part of a website experience is twofold:

  1. It clearly and concisely tells the visitor what the business does.
  2. It tells the visitor what action to take.

Too often businesses don’t distinctly say what they do and/or they don’t include calls-to-action (CTAs) that lead the visitor towards the desired end goal, whether that be a form completion or a subscription to a blog.

Here’s an example of a website, MarketingProfs.com, that does a great job at distinctly directing visitors where they want them to go by using clear CTAs. MarketingProfs offers training, they have a calendar of conferences, and they have a blog. They’ve done their research and know that the majority of visitors on their site are looking for one of these three content offerings. Their navigation pathways are clear with big icons and buttons that direct their audience intentionally.

marketing profs homepage screenshot

Basic SEO

While we leave the big SEO audits to the experts over on the SEO team, when doing a competitive content analysis, we do a high-level check into websites from a technical SEO perspective. We then marry that with a more in-depth SEO audit to offer our clients a comprehensive view into any technical SEO issues they may be facing.

Start by looking at the number of pages on your competitors’ websites. While there is no magical number of pages a website should have, looking at this data point offers a good idea of what kind of content footprint you are up against. Google likes content and when they crawl your site, they’re reading everything from your metadata to your alt tags, to well, every single word on your website. Competition is all about SERPs, and the bigger the content footprint your competitor has, the more likely they are ranking ahead of you.

Looking at the # of pages on your competitors' sites tell you what keyword footprint you're up against. Click To Tweet

Next, check for H1 tags. It is surprising how often a visually well-developed website will be lacking or misusing basic H1 tags. Either there won’t be an H1 at all or there will be multiple H1s; both are no-no’s. To check:

  1. Open Internet Explorer (just kidding) Chrome and go to the website you want to check.
  2. Click ‘View’ in your top navigation bar.
  3. Click ‘Developer,’ under ‘View.’
  4. Click ‘View Source.’
  5. Use the search tool and search the page for ‘H1.’
  6. You will now see highlights the H1 tags throughout the page.

Since everything in content marketing is intrinsically tied to SEO, let’s move on to our favorite subject: content!

3. Content

When talking content, start with the blog. First of all, does your competitor have a blog, or a resource center where they are housing and posting fresh, relevant content frequently?

Optimized Headlines: Do a reverse Google search on the subject relating to the headline to see if it is optimized. An optimized headline is easy to spot; it will have a keyword integrated and it will show up in SERPs, usually somewhere on the 1st or 2nd page. If the headline does not appear there, then your competitor is not ranking for this article. That may mean they don’t have an authoritative domain or many links pointing to their site.

Here’s the most famous headline ever written, which also happens to not be optimized (which makes sense, since it was written pre-internet.)

ny post top headline

And, here is an optimized SEO headline:

Optimized headline in SERPs

Date Range: Look at the dates content was posted to see if your competitors have a regular publication schedule. If there are no dates, check social to see if they are sharing fresh content there.

freshness of content

Comment section: For some businesses, it makes sense to have a healthy community vibe and that is easily communicated via a comment section. Comment sections can be rich, insightful spaces, but they can also go sour pretty easily. Check if your competitors have a comment section and what kind of conversations go on there to get additional insight into your competitors’ audience.

Substance and Grammar: Read your competitors’ content and evaluate it for substance and grammar. Check length and flow; content should be informative and easy-to-consume. Look to see if content are full text blocks, or is it broken up visually with bullet points, font formatting, and other elements.

The goal of #contentmarketing is to provide resourceful content that educates your audience, without interrupting… Click To Tweet

Non-branded or Branded: The goal of content marketing is to provide resourceful content that educates your audience, without interrupting them. Branded content has a way of negating that resourceful vibe because it makes content feel like a sales pitch. Review your competitors’ websites and see if their content is primarily branded, non-branded, or a healthy mix of both.

We recommend that in the case of blog content, it remain 99% unbranded. Use the wrapper, header, and CTAs to push people along in their journey, but always focus on providing useful value in the content first. A good example of a website with a non-branded focus is the blog on ContentMarketingInstitute.com, featured below.

CTA example in header

This example shows non-branded content that is resourceful and interesting to the audience. Also included are branded CTAs in the header advertising their upcoming conference, Content Marketing World. After the article, there is a piece of suggested content that is relevant, as well as a CTA to subscribe to CMI’s marketing emails.

bottom of blog post CTA

4. Lead Generation

When we ask our clients what their #1 goal is, it is always “more leads.” Is this your goal too? When auditing your competitors’ websites, look at what lead generation tactics they are using. This will usually take place in the form of a conversion, whether that be a ‘Contact Us’ form or a blog subscription. Is there a CTA on their homepage, or a pop-up? Are they offering something in exchange for information?

Using HubSpot as an example, you can see three CTAs on their homepage alone. The two “Get Started” blue buttons and the “Contact Us” button in the top navigation. All are leading the visitor to learn more and engage with the brand.

homepage CTA example

Next, interact with the CTA. What are they offering in exchange for information? What is their user flow? In HubSpot’s case, they know the best way to introduce someone to their product is a live demo that showcases what they do.

hubspot example of a CTA

The HubSpot website serves as great example of lead generation because it is easy to clearly map out the steps to conversion. Oftentimes in our clients’ competitive analyses, we won’t find such a clear cut user journey, giving our clients an easy leg-up on their competition with a few simple changes.

Competitive analysis tip: can you clearly map out the intended steps to conversion? Click To Tweet

5. Off-page Analysis

Analyzing your competitors goes beyond just their website because SEO depends on a lot more than on-page factors. You must also analyze social media presence and use tools to help paint a holistic view of your competitors from a search engine standpoint.

Social Media

Visit your competitors’ social platforms and audit their activity. Regardless of which social channel they are on, look for the following:

  1. How often are they posting?
  2. Are they using original images or graphics?
  3. Is the content they are sharing leading back to their website? You can see in the example below that the content leads back to Moz’s blog here.

    Moz Social Media content
  4. What is their voice and tone? Is it appropriate for the platform?
  5. Do they include CTAs in their posts, like in the example from our own Facebook below:

    social media CTA example
  6. What is their engagement like? Are people leaving comments or just likes? Do they post to their wall?
  7. Does your competitor respond to comments and posts?
  8. Is their copy compelling? Insightful? Does it work for the platform? (For example, on twitter, you wouldn’t want a post that is cut off or an image that you cannot read.)
  9. Do they have social media cards enabled? In the tweet below from Moz, you can see that there is a rich photo attached. Twitter cards are enabled when you add a few lines of HTML to your website that make any content shared from your website’s URLs to social, automatically have a “card” with media attached. This makes sharing easier and makes it easier for a viewer to land on your website.

    example of twitter card link preview image

6. Off-page Analysis Tools

Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of tools to offer insight into your competitors’ off-page search optimization:

  • AHREFS checks a company’s backlink profile, organic search traffic and keywords, any paid search being used (and links to said ads), offers an entire overview of content (including top content), links to top landing pages, and even has a list of competitors. Safe to say, it offers extensive insight into your competitors’ digital doings.
  • BuzzSumo is one of our favorite tools that encourages content research. Buzzsumo has a lot of features, one of which is the ability to enter in a URL and see a complete list of the top ranking content for that page. You can also see social shares per piece of content and get great content ideas by topic.
  • SEMRush is another tool that offers a comprehensive backlink analysis, including keywords analysis and an overview of paid search. SEMRush also offers the ability to create projects and pull reports on all findings, including data on social media.
  • Open Site Explorer is available via MOZ and gives information about everything from page authority, domain authority, page link metrics, spam analysis and also offers reports.
  • Alexa.com is a comprehensive platform that houses SEO tools like: keyword difficulty analysis, a competitive keyword matrix, on-page SEO checker, SEO audit tool. They also have competitive analysis tools, with things like audience overlap, website traffic statistics, and the ability to find additional competitors.
  • Website Grader is an awesome tool to give you an overall view of a website. It is by Hubspot, so the UX is really simple and the information easy to digest. They give you a score based on your website performance, mobile-friendliness, SEO, and security and then it breaks down each of those into scores. Bonus! They offer tips on how to improve a website within those areas, as well.

 

Analyzing your competitors will offer more than just a report card of what you are up against, it should also inspire you to take steps to improve your own digital presence! Remember that when analyzing your competitors, always compare them to your own website as the baseline. The best way to do this is to use the above steps on your own business.

Use Our Competitive Analysis Spreadsheet

Storing your findings can get overwhelming, so we’ve created this competitive analysis report card that breaks down website performance by basic, intermediate and advanced categories. Make a copy, fill it out, and audit your own website so you can see how you stack up against the competition.

competitive content analysis template


Ready to dive even deeper into your competitive analysis? Work with our content marketing team of experts to uncover weaknesses and opportunities.