In this post, we will be analysing competitors’ site structure. If you are conducting competitor analysis for the first time then take a look at the first post in this series; Content Analysis.
Once you’ve found your top competitors and analysed their on-site and social media content; it’s time to review their site structure.
Site structure is very important for ethical SEO but is often overlooked. In order to beat the competition; you need to look deeper into their site organization.
If you’ve read up on the importance of site structure, you should have a basic understanding of how it can affect the performance of any site within Google SERPs.
First and foremost, look at the site from a user’s perspective; is it easy to navigate through the site? Can you find what you want in 3 clicks or 3 levels from the homepage? Research into user behaviour on any site has consistently shown that if users cannot find what they are looking for within 3 clicks, then they will leave the site.
If you’ve found a landing page through keyword analysis, then check if it’s easy to find this page again from the homepage. For example; you’ve searched for “black court shoes” in Google and you’ve landed on a page for black court shoes on your competitor’s site. Now go to the home page; try to navigate back to that page for black court shoes within 3 clicks. If you can’t do this then the site structure probably isn’t as efficient as it could be. It is worth noting here that e-commerce sites, particularly clothes sites, will often use ‘refine by’ filters in order to limit the number of levels within the site structure without impeding user experience.
Now, if you’ve found the “black court shoes” page via Google then it will have been indexed, even if you struggle to find it from the home page. This means that even if it doesn’t appear in the menu; there must be at least one other page linking to it within the site. This is a must for anyone creating a site and best practice for organic SEO; Google needs to be able to “crawl” a site moving from one page to another via internal links, menus, etc. If you have a standalone landing page with nothing linking to it; Google can’t find it to index it.
Take a look at the URLs on the site; a “friendly” URL is one that is readable and doesn’t contain loads of numbers and symbols, for example, www.exampleclothesshop.co.uk/1234567%%%%/555bcs. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture! With a “friendly” URL, you should be able to look at it and know what is going to be on that page, for example, www.exampleclothesshop.co.uk/footwear/black-court-shoes. From this URL, you can tell a) what that page is about, and b) the number of levels down this page is. So, you can see that the content of this page will be something to do with black court shoes; you know that it is in the “footwear” category on www.exampleclothesshop.co.uk, and its 3 levels down (home page → category “footwear” → product “black court shoes”). What you may find is that the “black court shoes” page has more than one product listed, in which case a ‘refine by’ filter may be available to narrow down shoe size, material, heel height, etc (if the competitor knows what they’re doing, that is!).
This style of URL would be the optimal format; the competitor has the ideal number of levels, the URL is “friendly” and they’ve targeted the keyword of “black court shoes”.
With regards to technical site requirements, such as robots.txt, XML and HTML sitemap, and 404 pages; you can check that the competitor’s site is conforming to best practice. Submitting an XML sitemap will let Google know when any new pages or updates have been created; this can sometimes help to get your site indexed quicker. Generally, if you type “/sitemap.xml” at the end of your competitors URL, e.g. www.exampleclothesshop.co.uk/sitemap.xml, you can check if they have submitted one or not.
Also, take a look at their robots.txt to see if they are withholding any pages from Google’s spiders. This may tell you a bit more about their SEO if they’re hiding any duplicate content or other mistakes.
In the last installment of this Competitor Analysis series, we will be looking at back links, what they do and how they can affect rankings.