Almost a decade ago, I started working in digital marketing. The most common question I am asked by business owners is where to start. The answer is different for everyone, but here are a few tools and strategies I’ve used over the years to assess website performance and begin to define strategies for digital marketing efforts.
While some of these SEO tools require paid subscriptions, they almost all offer a free trial of some sort to allow you to use them on a limited basis. These strategies will hopefully help you rate your website’s performance by your own standards, and evaluate where your website could be optimized.
Whether you have an e-commerce site or are trying to generate leads through your website, Google Analytics is the best place to start. It’s a great tool to help you understand and improve your site.
Here are two quick areas I review first:
Here you can see what channels drive traffic for you. There isn’t necessarily a “good” breakdown of traffic between channels. However, the acquisition feature is a great website analysis tool to see what drives the most visibility for you.
For example, if the bulk of your traffic is “direct”, it’s safe to assume that people are not finding you online, but rather going directly to your website because they already know about it.
If you haven’t already, one of the most important things you can do to gauge site performance is set up goal tracking. From there, you’ll be able to see what traffic converts best, whether that means purchases or form fills.
You can use this data to understand where you currently get the most value, and what channels have opportunity to grow and improve with digital marketing.
Set up and use Google Search Console to ensure that your site and all its pages are being properly crawled and indexed by Google, which makes it findable for users. It’s a great website checker that helps you identify which keywords drive traffic to your site and what pages are capturing that traffic.
Using an automated tool like Moz Site Crawler or SEMrush Site Audit allows you to better understand what areas of your website need to be improved for both user experience and search.
These audits don’t fix your site and may provide best practices alongside strong technical recommendations in the form of an SEO report. An audit is a great starting point to understanding how your site performs.
Use the Google site speed test to gauge your current website speeds, and see areas where you can improve this. While site speed is only a small factor in terms of organic visibility, it can be hugely important to user experience.
Moz Link Explorer is a fantastic tool to benchmark where you stand in relation to your competitors. Use the “Compare Link Profiles” section to pull information on your site vs your top competitors.
Domain Authority is a number out of 100 that indicates the strength of a website (and its likelihood to rank for key terms). The goal here is not to be 100 (even Facebook is only a 96), but rather to have a score within range or above your competition. A big driver of the strength of the site is the number and quality of websites that link to your website (followed linking root domains).
A note on competitors: it’s best to include your direct competition, as well as indirect or “digital” competitors – meaning those sites that rank for key terms you are targeting, even if they are not real-world competition.
Within Moz’s Link Explorer, you can also view all of your backlinks, as well as those of competitors. A reminder that the quality of a link is much more important than quantity, but there may be sites for you to target for inbound links that your competitors have acquired. You’ll also get a better understanding of how much link building or digital PR needs to be done to compete.
Using your same list of competitors, you can identify what keywords and key phrases they are targeting, where you have overlap, and where there is opportunity to improve in SEMRush Keyword Gap tool.
This can give you some good ideas on where to start or expand your keyword research. We all know that tracking and targeting keywords is essential for search engine optimization.
You can see estimates of what your competitors are spending each month, though it is limited to Google Text Ads, and won’t include estimates for ads on the display network, including remarketing, or spends allocated to social channels, programmatic, or native advertising. Both Spyfu and SEMRush Advertising Research provide these estimates, and I like to look at both to see where the data is the same/differs. Because these are just estimates, I use the data more for trends than as actual numbers.
If your competitor websites are not spending money in search ads, that can mean one of two things: 1) they’ve tried it and found it unsuccessful or 2) no one has tried this yet and you will have the advantage of less competition, which means cheaper click costs. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to identify search volume and estimated click costs to see what opportunity may exist.
If your competition is spending a lot in search ads, that’s both good and bad news. The good news is this is probably a channel that works! No one continues to invest (tens or hundreds of) thousands of dollars every month unless they are seeing some type of return.
The bad news is that competition increases costs, and the barrier to entry will be higher. Look for ways to limit your targeting to limit spend, such as long-tail specific keywords and key phrases, limited geographies, etc.
One risk of doing a lot of research and collecting data is that you end up with more questions than answers. None of these tools will tell you definitively where your marketing dollars are best allocated, but they can help guide you down the right path.
By understanding your site’s current performance and assessing how your competitors are going to market, there should be some indication of whether it makes sense to invest in SEO, paid media, or both.
Give us a call if you want help navigating the data! We can help you understand what channels might perform best for your goals and where your budget would best be allocated.
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