It's possible to technically 🕵🏻 x-ray your competitors eCommerce site for competitive intelligence. By probing for strengths you can also discover where perimeter defences are lacking.
Few businesses audit their competitors in New Zealand because it's technical. That's a mistake.
A site x-ray looks beyond the 👸 skin deep look and feel of your homepage that web agencies tend to keep you focussed on. You probably (...almost certainly) have weaknesses on your own site that you could improve with effort.
Five Sources Of Competitive Website Intelligence
In this technical deep dive you will discover five sources of competitive web intelligence including:
😶 What words your competitors believe are important for selling their highest grossing products.
🛍 What sentence your competition uses to tempt shoppers to click on their search result.
🚧 Where your competitor has left gaps in their content perimeter fence.
📑 What website pages are the most content dense.
🛹 Whether they're operating a passive or active strategy with their sites optimisation
Let's Get Practical
Instead of talking boring SEO and how important it is.... but never actually showing you 'how' to do it, I'm going to dive right in to a highly competitive space and show you what I've uncovered on one particular NZ site.
Download an app that isn't well known outside of SEO circles called Screaming Frog. You'll need the paid version to x-ray their entire site. The free one will go 500 URL's deep, but results will be skewed on partial site x-rays.
Then type in your competitors website address and the software will crawl their site. Here's what I found crawling an online butchers site.
Across the top of the Screaming Frog app you've got insights on a bunch of data pulled from their site.
My favourite areas to dive into are Internal, Page Titles, Meta Description and Images.
Let's start with finding out what they want people to read in Google search when Google pulls through the sentence in search results.
Look in the meta description column.
The First Sentence Potential Customers Read
The homepage description served up is:
'Buy gourmet meat online with <company name>! Catering to meat-lovers all throughout New Zealand, we deliver ethically farmed meats straight to your door and overnight.'
This is their hero phrase that will be seen by the most people when Google serves up their site in search results.
SEO geeks call this: the meta-description.
I can see a couple of box products without any meta-descriptions. I'm guessing these product lines were added after the original site launched and haven't been filled out.
Your Competitors Most Important Products
Now let's slice the x-ray a different way, by collecting all of the juicy words from the Page Titles, just like Google would do.
Then let's show visually the frequency of use across the site by bundling them up into a word cloud.
What do we learn here?
We learn that from this particular site that lamb mince, pork sausages and chicken satay kebabs are the products most frequently talked about by this online butchery.
Very interesting! If I was a competing butcher, I would be curious about how these products are priced and whether they're low cost lead products to attract first customers.
High Content Density Pages
Higher density pages tend to do better in search as a very general rule. Remember the last recipe page your read? Yeah... probably too dense, but there you were on the site anyway.
What on page content is most dense on this butchers site might give a clue to which pages are ranking well.
The word count of the top 10 pages is 1,500 - 2,000 words. If I as a competing online butcher, I'd be looking to increase my word density across similar products to at least 2,000 words.
Always write for humans though. Just remember, you can tip the scales your way sometimes with these little technical tips.
Word count matters.
Content Gaps In Image Descriptions
The file name of images is really hard to change once you've uploaded as your website has already done the hyperlinking. Web agencies don't usually spend the time renaming product photos when your website is built... why does that even matter?
Some people prefer Google Image Search and that's where an image with a decent file name will rank a little higher.
This online butchery has not been specific with a naming convention for their images so that's an area to exploiting their weakness.
Over a quarter of the images don't use the alt-text field reserved for blind people to have images read out to them...but also used by Google to read images so has a high ranking correlation.
Passive Or Active Optimisation
Passive optimisation are the conditions most businesses decide to operate under. Content gets published without consideration for technical search or no technical SEO work gets added to content published...or both.
In the case of this online butcher there certainly seems to be an active effort to avoid leaving search traffic and therefore money on the table.
The big headings (H1) are present.
The second biggest headings (H2) are all present. That's impressive although there's a lot of duplication.
No low content pages and no exact duplicates competing with each other.
I would be surprised if this online butcher isn't using the service of a search marketer to optimise their site and audit their competitors.
So what have we discovered?
🧠 What X-Raying Their Web Brain Revealed
Looking beneath the surface at the technicals of a site can reveal what our competitors would be loath to tell us such as:
- what words introduce potential buyers to their business in Google search?
- what words are helping their most successful products sell?
- what pages are rich in content density that are the pillars of their site?
- are they sticklers for content details such as naming images and alt-txt of images?
- do they have the help of a professional technical search marketer?
This audit has taken a light look at a few areas of a website with a focus on the words used on those pages. There are plenty more areas to research if you wanted to do a MRI scan level analysis.
...and this X-Ray only considered what was happening on-page not off-page which is a fancy technical SEO way of saying, I didn't look at the influence of any other sites that feed into the online butcher site. If you'd like to delve into a precision audit of off-page ranking signals, you might like the Caché article 'How To Precision Audit Your Competitors.'
Website Words Matter
If this is the first time that you've noticed the weighting of words on a website and how it plays a role in positioning a brand with potential customers and with search engines, then please let me know ryan @ ryan jennings dot net
The idea of Caché is to uncover hidden value about your business and how the digital world works.
Your Key Next Activity: Go and get Screaming Frog and review your own site. Drop me a message about what you find.