This is a checklist for what you need to assess when looking at competitor websites and benchmarking against your own. You will need to use a number of tools to achieve this. These tools are mentioned clearly in each step.
Alternative software may be available on the market. There is no limit to how deep you can get into competitor research.
At some point, you’ll need to reach informed conclusions and kick-start your digital strategy.
This checklist will set you on the path to success!
1. Site speed
Use the Pingdom site speed tester to compare your website speed against competitors. This is universally acknowledged to be an important ranking factor, and you must aim to match or beat competitors on this front.
The Mobile-first Index has made responsiveness a critical factor for ranking organically. Use the Responsive Design Checker to see how your competitor stacks up.
Check whether your competitor is using traditional, merger, or link-shortening redirects. You can use the LinkResearchTools extension for this.
Look at the URL of your competitor, “competitor.com/robots.txt” to see which pages your competitor is showing and hiding from the search engines.
Check your competitor URL “competitor.com/sitemap.xml” to discover your competitor’s sitemap. Try looking at the robots.txt file if you cannot find the sitemap by this means. A free tool like Screaming Frog will also help you find it.
6. Broken links
Use the Broken Link Checker to crawl your competitor’s website and highlight their broken links. This is always most important for you to track for your own site, of course. But it’s a good indicator of how keen your competitor is to maintain a healthy site.
7. Optimized URLs
Crawl your competitor’s website using Screaming Frog. Sort by page URLs and check whether they are using relevant keywords in their URL structure.
8. Internal linking
You can also use Screaming Frog to visualize your competitor’s internal linking strategy. This may uncover details about their keyword focus and which internal pages they focus on. This SEMRush article provides a step-by-step for the process.
On-site SEO and content
9. Meta titles
When you scrape the competitor’s website using Screaming Frog, you can see the meta titles in the Page Titles tab. This provides an insight on whether they’ve optimised for certain keywords.
10. Meta descriptions
Follow the same process as with meta titles. Check the Meta Descriptions tab instead.
11. Keyword density
You can use the free Keyword Density Checker to see the density and frequency of keywords that are used across the competitor’s site.
12. Length and depth of content
Audit your competitor’s blog content and its key pages. What is the average length of content and can you spot a pattern? Typically, longer content has a better chance to rank. This doesn’t compensate for quality, but depth is usually indicative of expertise.
13. Keyword focus
Every robust SEO tool will show the keywords that your competitor website ranks for. Choose from SEMrush, Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz… and the list goes on. Cross-reference this with the meta titles and descriptions, keyword density, and content output to get a handle for their targeting.
14. Volume and velocity of content
How much content is your competitor publishing, and how regularly? This is a manual analysis, designed to provide a general overview of competitor content marketing efforts.
15. Content Duplication
The SEO Review Tools duplication checker is a free and lightweight tool, but it gets the job done. You can input competitor URLs here to see if their pages have duplications. Another tool for checking plagiarism and duplication is Copyscape.
16. Domain Authority
The Moz Domain Authority (DA) can be checked via the MozBar and various other Moz tools. DA is an indication of the strength of a website, derived from its backlink profile. The Ahrefs DR is a similar metric, which is explained in more detail later.
You can check your own indexed pages on Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools). But you don’t have access to a competitor’s account. Therefore, the best way to check a competitor’s indexation is to do a simple “site:competitorurl.com” search in Google.
18. Volume of links
The best tool for backlink analysis is Ahrefs, although others on the market exist. You can also use Moz. Both of these tools offer a free or limited-cost trial period. Follow their guidance to get hold of any backlink profile, including the volume of links.
19. The velocity of links
Natural link growth patterns are essential. Google will punish websites that show evidence of unnatural spammy backlink building. You can check your competitor’s link velocity using Ahrefs, which has a comprehensive timelined graph of when links appear.
20. Quality and diversity of links
There is an element of qualitative assessment here, but Ahrefs will also provide a Domain Rating (DR) for each root domain, and an “Ahrefs Rank” for that website. This tool will also show whether a specific link is a dofollow or nofollow. You can also see the diversity in the anchor text.
21. Branded searches
Google Keyword Planner is a solid first port-of-call for understanding the volume of branded searches for a competitor’s brand name. Paid tools offer deeper and more accurate data, and you can also use an affordable rank tracker tool such as Wincher to get this data.
22. Social mentions and shares
Social mentions are indicative of a brand’s popularity or notoriety. You can use BuzzSumo for an in-depth view of the competitor’s top-performing content. Another leading tool is Mention. Of course, you can manually and qualitatively track mentions within the social media platforms themselves.
General website performance
23. Traffic and engagement
SimilarWeb is your best friend here. The free version brings a lot of data to light, including traffic volume and traffic sources. This will give you an indication for what you’re up against.
24. PPC tactics and investment
SimilarWeb will also highlight the level of PPC traffic to any given website, but there are also more robust PPC-specific tools such as SpyFu and WhatRunsWhere.
We’ve mentioned a lot of tools in this guide, and many of them track rankings. Wincher is very affordable and straightforward rank-tracking, but Ahrefs is a great all-round option for SEOs.