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10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive Analysis

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10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive Analysis

A successful search engine optimization strategy includes competitive analysis. The tools available today offer incredible value at generally reasonable fees.

They help users accomplish more in less time, and many may find that the tools are so useful that they essentially end up paying for themselves. Here are 10 popular SEO competitive analysis tools, their pricing, and how you can use them to bolster the success of your SEO strategy.

1. Semrush

  • Pricing: Plans start at $119.95 per month.

Semrush not only offers good data for search results analysis, but everything functions the way you expect it to – it’s that easy to use.

There is no need to read a manual to use Semrush’s SERP analysis tool.

Every link, button, and heading has a tooltip that explains what it is so that everything makes sense.

Semrush Tooltip Explains SERP Analysis Tool Data

Screenshot from Semrush, January 2023

Semrush Tooltip Explains Jargon

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from Semrush modified by author, January 2023

Semrush’s Authority Score is assigned to every URL listed in the SERP Analysis.

Like any third-party metric, the Authority Score is just a score based on factors like backlinks, traffic, and referring domains.

The metric makes it easy to make a quick judgment about a webpage without having to spend hours researching all of the factors for each webpage.

The research is already done; that’s what Semrush’s Authority Score is about.

That’s just one part of the Semrush SERP analysis, but it’s the part that is directly tied to competitor research.

Semrush is useful for researching competitor backlinks. The ease of use makes the workflow of researching links a pleasure.

There’s no need to read a manual. Everything is self-explanatory.

Starting an analysis consists of entering a domain name or an entire URL.

The resulting page shows various metrics that help you see the competition at a glance, literally.

There’s a graph that shows the growth of referring domains and also backlinks by year, which provides a quick idea of how aggressively they’re building links, organized by time.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from Semrush modified by author, January 2023

Beneath that graph, there’s another visual representation of the backlinks organized by the categories of referring domains.

The categories are the general niche areas that the backlinks belong to.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from Semrush, January 2023

When you click through a category, the tool presents a filter where you can add a word, a phrase, or a TLD, which means Top Level Domain (.net or .org), to find all the relevant links.

There’s also a drop-down menu for selecting “zones by TLD,” but I found that typing in the TLD works better.

Or you can get granular and click on the View Full Report button to see all of the categories in granular detail.

It’s easy to recommend Semrush because it truly is designed for researching competitors and for link building.

The tools for competitive research are easy to use and give a visual snapshot of their activities and offer a useful user interface for drilling down by category.

2. Ahrefs SERP Checker (Free And Paid)

  • Pricing: Free checker tool, then starts at $99 per month.

Ahrefs has a free SERP checker that shows the same SERP data as the paid version, only for just the first few positions.

The paid version has more data. But if you’re on a budget, the free version is a useful start.

Below is a screenshot of the SERP overview that lists featured snippets, people also ask, and the sitelinks enhancements.

This extra data gives a good overview of what the SERPs look like, plus page and domain rating metrics.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from Ahrefs, December 2022

Here is a screenshot showing more data from the SERP analysis tool.

All of the column headings show a tooltip that explains what each column means.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from Ahrefs, December 2022

Ahrefs is a solid choice for search results competitor analysis.

3. Serpstat

  • Pricing: Free version, then starts at $69 per month.

Serpstat is an affordably priced SEO platform that offers SERP analysis tools. It’s possible to sign up for free to test it out.

Serpstat is focused on analyzing the search results and is useful for Backlinks Analysis and Competitor Analysis.

4. SpyFu

  • Pricing: Free analysis tool, then starts at $39 per month (or $16 per month on an annual plan).

SpyFu is a very reasonably priced service that is dedicated specifically to competitive research and offers many useful features.

The benefit of the tool is that it generates all the data necessary for competitive research.

SpyFu basically takes the “research” part out of competitive research tasks and provides the data.

The SERP Analysis tool, which can be used for free, offers unique information, such as indicators that signal a website rises or drops in the search results.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from SpyFu, January 2023

Another interesting feature is that it offers a Ranking Difficulty score, data on whether .gov or .edu sites are ranking, and the number of homepages that are ranking in the top 100 positions.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from SpyFu modified by author, January 2023

SpyFu Backlinks Report

Another unique feature is how SpyFu identifies what it determines are the strongest webpages to get a link from.

Just enter a keyword phrase into the search box, and SpyFu searches the backlinks of the top 5,000 ranked sites, including for similar keyword phrases, and identifies all the backlinking domains that the ranked sites have in common.

Even better, SpyFu allows users to filter those webpages by backlink types.

The backlink types one can filter for are .gov/.edu/, sites with affiliate links, blogs, news sites, forums, and directories.

Filtering for forums reveals all the strongest forum backlinks, filtering for .edu domains shows the best .edu sites to get a link from, and so on.

Another cool feature is called Backlink Kombat.

10 Tools You Can Use For SEO Competitive AnalysisScreenshot from SpyFu, January 2023

This tool allows you to enter two competitor domains and then exclude your own domain. It will then show you all the links the competitors have in common that your site does not.

I like using tools in creative ways to get even more or better data.

What I would suggest doing with the SpyFu Backlink Kombat tool is comparing sites that aren’t your direct competitors. This can help you discover opportunities you might not otherwise.

So if your topic is plumbers in City X, compare roofers in City X.

Competitor backlink research with SpyFu is incredibly easy. I would like the flexibility to filter by keywords (like Favorite Sites) or by TLD (to find .org or .us domains).

A limited amount of this data is free, and the complete data set is available to paid subscribers.

SpyFu is an interesting tool because it takes the extra step of presenting the data while minimizing research.

It’s easy to use, specific to competitor research, and reasonably priced.

5. Sandboxweb.io SERP Analysis Tool

  • Pricing: Free version, then pricing starts at $19 per month.

Sandboxweb.io offers a SERP analysis tool that provides data on top-ranked competitors.

This tool shows the schema types, Core Web Vitals data, and word counts.

You can click on each competitor in the SERP to research further.

The free version of this tool offers a lot of information. But it’s limited to 10 keywords per month.

The data is somewhat limited, but it does offer a quick analysis.

6. Screaming Frog

  • Pricing: Free version and a paid version at $209 per year.

Screaming Frog has a SERP analysis function. It’s not easy to use, but it’s not excessively difficult.

I’d like to see Screaming Frog make it easier to run this kind of analysis without getting technical.

If you take the time to figure it out, Screaming Frog can scrape the SERPs and provide analysis.

It’s also useful for analyzing competitors one at a time to get a sense of what sites they link to, how much content they have, interlinking patterns, headings used across the site, and many other competitor data points.

7. Inlinks

  • Pricing: Free version, then pricing starts at $39 per month.

Inlinks is a content optimization-focused tool that can extract relevant data points from search results and competitors.

Inlinks features a SERP analysis function that offers multiple data points about the sites in the search results, such as semantically related topics and user intent data.

The user intent data and topic suggestion features are quite unique.

There is also a Topic Analysis feature that provides competitors’ related topics and other data that is useful for creating content.

Other SERP Analysis tools look at the top 100 through the top 5,000 for their analyses.

But in my opinion, what really matters most are the top 10 search results because not every site in the top 100 or even the top 10 is a competitor.

So, I really appreciate that Inlinks’ SERP analysis tool focuses on the top 10.

The Inlinks SERP analysis tool offers data on the following:

  • Topic density.
  • Internal and external link counts.
  • Readability scores.
  • List of H2 headings.

I asked one of the founders, Dixon Jones, to explain what Inlinks does regarding competitor analysis.

Dixon answered:

“Inlinks analyzes ten competing pages for any Keyword. It aggregates the combined number of times entities are used in the SERP and uses this to build a Knowledge Graph of entities related to a given search.

This is then compared to the entities in the content on YOUR competing page, highlighting material gaps in your content.

At a site level, Inlinks can build a knowledge graph of any site, but does not currently have many tools to compare whole sites.

We look at the verbs used to describe entities (in competing pages for a SERP) and cluster them into verb based intent.

This helps content publishers answer a genuine user query, rather than use words in the wrong context.”

Inlinks offers more tools; it’s more than just competitor analysis.

There is a free, pro, and enterprise level.

8. MarketMuse

  • Pricing: Free version and paid plans starting at $600 per month.

MarketMuse is an AI-based content analysis tool that functions within the entire content creation workflow, from research to content brief and more.

What I appreciate about MarketMuse is that it looks at the top-ranked pages and offers a keyword overview of the topics.

A key competitor analysis function in MarketMuse is called Compete.

The Compete tool analyzes the competition and suggests what to write about and ways to do better than the competitors, such as covering overlooked related topics.

Compete’s unique selling proposition, in my opinion, is that it is focused on helping users create content that is better than the competition.

My understanding of MarketMuse is that it’s not just focused on helping users beat their competition.

The tool streamlines the entire content creation workflow, with competitor research being one part of the process.

There is a learning curve to MarketMuse.

9. SimilarWeb

  • Pricing: Free version and paid plans starting at $167 per month for the starter package.

SimilarWeb is a unique competitor analysis tool.

It’s focused less on SEO and more on providing a clear image of the differences between the two websites.

There are multiple data points related to traffic, keywords, traffic share by country, and even a comparison of audience demographics.

SimilarWeb offers a free and paid version.

The free version offers a generous amount of data that helps users compare competitors.

10. LinkResearchTools

  • Pricing: Starts at $599 per month. One-week trial for $17.

LinkResearchTools is an enterprise-class link research tool.

It’s the most sophisticated and comprehensive link-building tool I’ve ever used.

One of the qualities I like most is that it feels like it has a comprehensive inventory of crawled links.

The tool makes it easy to find links with normal searching, like adding a TLD, but you can also find links multiple sites have in common.

Most of the functionality is geared toward businesses that want to disavow backlinks, which is useless for link builders.

I’d like to see a tool that does away with all of the link-disavowing-related features and just focuses on researching competitor backlinks.

One can subscribe to most of the other lower-priced tools and use their combined competitor backlink research features and still pay less than LinkResearchTools.

For most people, that’s more than enough.

But the data in LinkResearchTools is, in my experience, possibly the most comprehensive backlink data available.

Backlink Analysis

Backlink analysis is more than just poaching keywords from competitors.

It’s a way to understand what the barrier to entry might be, which means how easy or difficult it might be to compete.

Competitor links can be a starting point for building better links as well.

Sometimes a group of links might stand out, giving you an idea of a direction to take.

Doing solid link building requires a flexible backlink analysis tool.

Competitor Research

There are many useful SEO tools available today. They don’t do the SEO for you, but they make it easier to accomplish better results faster.

The tools also provide time-saving access to a huge amount of data that would ordinarily take days to compile.

Saving time, being more productive, and having the data to make informed decisions is the hallmark of all of these SEO tools.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

In the dynamic realm of search engine optimization (SEO), my career spans nearly two decades, starting in 2004 when I started working for an agency and just two years later moved to in-house SEO for a large company.

Since then, I’ve held various in-house SEO roles at esteemed organizations, including Classmates.com, Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon, GitHub, and my most recent role at RingCentral – experiences which have deepened my understanding of the field and allowed me to shape SEO within different business contexts.

I began my career as an SEO specialist at the agency; my role involved understanding website optimization, keyword research, and refining on-page and off-page strategies.

When I moved to management, I had to understand how to lead a team properly.

As my journey progressed, transitioning to roles like SEO manager involved overseeing SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, educating and leading teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals.

These roles collectively form the backbone of SEO, showcasing its dynamism and emphasizing each position’s indispensable role in driving effective digital marketing strategies.

My journey isn’t that much different from that of many SEO professionals, aside from the fact that some SEO pros may decide to stay with an agency or focus on consulting rather than working for another company.

There are so many avenues one could go down when choosing their career path for SEO, so let me help break it down.

SEO Roles

As someone immersed in the SEO field for many years, I fully understand today’s many diverse SEO roles.

Let’s explore these roles, the average salaries in the US, and advice I have for anyone looking to move into these roles, considering both their nuances and the path ahead for aspiring SEO professionals:

SEO Specialist

Embarking on the SEO journey often starts as a specialist. In this entry-level role, one will dig into the complexities of optimizing websites to boost rankings.

As a specialist, my early days involved conducting keyword research, analyzing website performance, and implementing strategies that enhanced organic visibility for clients.

This foundational role serves as a stepping stone to grasp the fundamentals of digital marketing in both the agency and in-house environments.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Focus on entry-level content optimization, conducting keyword research, and honing on-page and off-page strategies.
  • Advice: This is a great role to grasp the fundamentals, immerse yourself in various facets of digital marketing, and adapt to evolving trends.

SEO Content Strategist

Transitioning to a content strategist role within SEO reveals the creative side of drafting engaging, search-engine-friendly content.

Most SEO pros in this position are expected to sharpen their writing skills and plan and optimize content calendars based on comprehensive keyword research.

As an SEO content strategist, creating informative and captivating content is paramount to retaining readers and adhering to evolving SEO best practices.

Technical SEO Manager

My background in engineering has allowed me to focus heavily on the technical aspects of SEO. The position as a technical SEO manager requires a solid knowledge of coding, engineering processes, and database management.

The role of a technical SEO professional involves handling site structure, indexing, and resolving intricate technical issues that impact search performance.

Responsibilities extend to collaborating with engineering teams, ensuring effective communication, and mitigating risks associated with technical SEO.

This role requires a unique blend of technical acumen and collaborative skills.

  • Salary*: $99,548 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Tackle technical aspects impacting search performance, focusing on site structure, indexing, and technical troubleshooting.
  • Advice: Understand what goes into the development of a website, including the various coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, Python, React, Angular, etc.), database connectivity, and server administration, followed by the specifics of what Google expects and recommends for the benefits of SEO. In addition, SEO pros are expected to cultivate collaboration skills and have a solid understanding of using tools like Botify to aid in effective communication with engineers, which is pivotal for project success and seamless cooperation.

Link Building Specialist

As a link building specialist, the focus shifts to acquiring high-quality backlinks to enhance website authority and rankings.

This role demands persistence in building relationships, performing strategic outreach, and executing link-building strategies.

SEO pros interested in pursuing a career focused on off-site SEO must demonstrate the meticulous effort and specialization required in acquiring valuable links, making this role a dynamic and rewarding part of the SEO landscape.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Acquire high-quality backlinks from relevant sites to enhance website authority, involving relationship-building and strategic outreach.
  • Advice: Develop persistence and relationship-building skills; the role demands time and specialization in acquiring valuable links while avoiding what could be considered spammy links. It would be very detrimental to a link building specialist’s career if they were to get a website banned by Google for using bad practices.

Local SEO Specialist

Optimizing websites for local searches can be a specialized avenue in any SEO journey.

Local SEO specialists manage local citations and Google My Business profiles and ensure consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data for region-specific platforms.

This role highlights the importance of attention to detail and local nuances for businesses aiming to attract nearby customers.

  • Salary*: $62,852 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Optimize websites for local searches, manage local citations and Google My Business profiles, and ensure NAP data consistency.
  • Advice: Understand the nuances of local SEO; attention to detail and consistency are key for localized online visibility. Learn the various tools available to help manage these listings, such as RenderSEO and Yext.

Ecommerce SEO Product Manager

Working at ecommerce companies brings a unique challenge of its own.

SEO product manager roles require an SEO pro to specialize in optimizing online stores; the focus shifts to product optimization, category pages, site structure, and enhancing user experience.

Balancing SEO knowledge with product management skills becomes essential in navigating this niche, offering both challenges and lucrative opportunities.

  • Salary*: $117,277 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Specialize in optimizing online stores, focusing on product optimization, category pages, and user experience.
  • Advice: Combine SEO knowledge with product management skills; leveling up enhances prospects in this unique and lucrative niche.

SEO Consultant

My role as an SEO consultant involved advising businesses on enhancing online visibility. Analyzing websites, developing customized strategies, and offering guidance on effective SEO became integral.

The SEO consultant role offers relief when I find myself out of work in my in-house roles due to a layoff or if the company culture isn’t a good fit.

While my consulting is a second and infrequent role, many SEO pros decide that consulting is what they prefer to do full-time.

Either way, providing optimization services to companies neglecting SEO is a great way to make a substantial income.

  • Salary*: $63,298 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Advise businesses on improving online visibility, analyzing websites, developing strategies, and offering SEO guidance.
  • Advice: Gain diverse optimization experience; providing services to companies neglecting SEO can yield rapid improvement.

SEO Account Manager

Anyone interested in an SEO account manager role will experience the dynamic facet of serving as a bridge between clients and staff.

Meeting clients to understand their needs and relaying information for improved optimization efforts is the cornerstone of this position.

Performance-driven account managers could earn additional commissions, adding an incentive-driven layer to the role.

  • Salary*: $68,314 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Serve as a company’s point of contact, meeting clients and relaying information for improved optimization efforts.
  • Advice: Understand industry standards; performance-driven account managers can earn additional commissions, boosting income.

SEO Data Analyst

An SEO data analyst role involves collecting and interpreting website performance and search rankings data.

Using tools like Google Analytics, Semrush, and Botify while obtaining knowledge of running SQL queries provides insights to inform strategic decisions.

This role underlines the significance of data analysis, specifically focusing on SEO-related metrics and their implications.

  • Salary*: $76,575 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Collect and interpret website performance and search rankings data, offering insights for strategic decisions.
  • Advice: Know how to run SQL queries and manipulate data in Excel. Focus on SEO-related data analysis and understanding traffic from various search engines to improve decision-making.

SEO Manager

The majority of my roles in my career have been under the SEO manager title.

Those roles involved overseeing entire SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, managing teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals. This mid-to-senior-level management position requires a diverse skill set.

  • Salary*: $74,494 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Oversee entire SEO strategy, develop comprehensive plans, manage teams, and ensure alignment with business goals.
  • Advice: Understand what it takes to be a team leader. Nurture your team, build relationships in the organization, and articulate the benefits of what you’re asking to accomplish SEO growth. Management books like StrengthsFinder 2.0: Gallup by Don Clifton and Radical Candor by Kim Scott are great resources for becoming a good leader. If an SEO manager can tap into effective communication and leadership, the senior positions can lead to higher earnings of up to $210,000.

Notes:

The salary for the link building and local specialist roles are the same as that of an SEO specialist, since they tend to be at the same level.

In addition, the SEO product manager’s salary is taken from what a standard product manager makes since the roles are very similar.

Also, note that consultants can make upwards of $200,000 per year or more as they decide what to charge clients and how many clients they choose to take on.

*US National average salary reported by Indeed.com as of January 2024

Is SEO A Good Career Choice? Debunking Myths And Realities

Having navigated the dynamic landscape of SEO for over two decades, I have found that, while choosing a career in SEO has been rewarding, there are many things I would have done differently if I had the chance to do it all over again.

The good part about the SEO career path is that it unfolds across various roles, each offering unique challenges and opportunities for growth.

Starting from entry-level positions to assuming leadership roles like SEO manager, professionals gain a diverse skill set and invaluable experience.

However, it’s crucial to understand that the journey rarely leads to executive positions like director of SEO in larger companies and even more rarely to vice president positions.

The salaries of roles that SEO pros work with (i.e., product managers, engineers, growth managers, etc.) are much higher than what SEO pros usually make. So if it’s money you’re after in an SEO career, then you may be on the wrong path.

Agencies often embrace SEO professionals in executive roles, highlighting the need for a blended approach to SEO strategy involving in-house and agency collaboration. Still, the salaries tend to be less than for in-house roles.

Most SEO professionals should begin their journey as specialists and envision their desired position in 5 to 10 years.

If aspirations lean towards engineering, take the initiative to learn to code and acquire the necessary skills expected of an engineer. Collaborate closely with engineering teams, expressing a keen interest in contributing to their projects to transition to an engineering role.

For those eyeing executive roles in large corporations, strategically plan a career trajectory that navigates beyond SEO and aligns with roles leading to executive positions.

Typically, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have backgrounds in product marketing or growth marketing, progressing from directors to VPs in those domains before making the leap to CMO.

While SEO expertise enhances marketability, transitioning from SEO to these roles can be challenging. Therefore, be prepared to undertake the necessary steps to facilitate a smooth transition when the time comes.

For those contemplating an SEO career, embrace the diverse roles within SEO, each contributing to a robust skill set.

Junior roles provide foundational knowledge, strategists refine creativity and analytical abilities, and managers oversee comprehensive SEO plans.

It’s essential to evaluate personal preferences – whether one aspires to be a specialist excelling in a specific area or climb the ladder to managerial roles.

Be aware that large companies might not offer executive SEO positions, leading to the importance of understanding the industry’s dynamics and considering agency opportunities.

Education In SEO: Unveiling The Reality of Degrees

After spending over two decades submerged in SEO, a formal degree is not a prerequisite for a successful career in SEO.

My journey began with college, where I majored in English and Art History. However, realizing the potential in web design and development, I dropped out to focus on freelance work.

The SEO industry thrives on practical skills and hands-on experience, making degrees less significant.

Numerous online resources and guides offer a wealth of information to aid in mastering SEO techniques. It’s a field where continuous learning is integral, and personal initiative often surpasses the value of formal education.

The insights shared by others resonate with my own experiences. SEO is a realm where proven expertise often outshines academic credentials.

The industry includes individuals with diverse educational backgrounds, from MBAs to those without formal education. What matters most is the ability to adapt, learn, and implement effective strategies.

For aspiring SEO professionals, the key lies in taking the initiative, exploring online resources, and gaining practical experience.

Whether starting a business or pursuing a career, hands-on learning and staying updated with industry trends are the real benchmarks of success. While a degree might be a plus, it’s not mandatory for carving a rewarding path in SEO.

The Diverse Paths Of SEO

The potential routes within the SEO career landscape are numerous, starting with opportunities at agencies that provide an excellent learning ground, exposing individuals to various aspects of digital marketing.

Alternatively, one could enter an in-house position at a company where guidance from an experienced SEO professional is crucial.

Freelancing or working as an independent consultant presents another viable option, offering flexibility in the work environment and schedule.

The SEO career path encompasses a spectrum of roles, from entry-level to junior roles, strategists, managers, and senior managers, each with distinctive responsibilities and salary ranges.

Agency

One significant route involves commencing the journey at agencies, which serve as excellent learning grounds.

Working at an agency exposes individuals to various facets of digital marketing, offering a dynamic environment where skills are honed through hands-on experience.

This path allows for a comprehensive understanding of SEO within the broader context of marketing strategies.

In-House

On the other hand, individuals may choose to embark on an in-house position within a company.

The crucial guidance characterizes this path experienced SEO professionals provide in the corporate setting.

The in-house route often entails a deeper integration with the company’s goals and strategies, requiring a specialized skill set tailored to the organization’s needs.

Freelancing

For those inclined towards independence and flexibility, freelancing or working as an independent consultant represents a viable option within the SEO career landscape.

This path allows individuals to shape their work environment and schedules according to personal preferences.

Freelancers have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, gaining diverse experiences that contribute to their professional growth.

Conclusion

In this exploration of the SEO career landscape, I am reminded of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of SEO.

From my humble beginnings as a freelance developer optimizing websites to my most recent work as a consultant, each step has presented unique challenges and learning opportunities, adding to my comprehensive grasp of SEO.

These experiences have enriched my understanding of various business environments.

I hope this article helps readers interested in a career in SEO carve out a path for themselves.

More resources: 


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Technical SEO Checklist for 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

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Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

With Google getting a whopping total of six algorithmic updates and four core updates in 2023, you can bet the search landscape is more complicated (and competitive) to navigate nowadays.

To succeed in SEO this year, you will need to figure out what items to check and optimize to ensure your website stays visible. And if your goal is to not just make your website searchable, but have it rank at the top of search engine results, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 is essential.

Webmaster’s Note: This is part one of our three-part SEO checklist for 2024. I also have a longer guide on advanced technical SEO, which covers best practices and how to troubleshoot and solve common technical issues with your websites.

Technical SEO Essentials for 2024

Technical SEO refers to optimizations that are primarily focused on helping search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It lays the foundation for your site to be properly understood and served up by search engines to users.

1. Website Speed Optimization

A site’s loading speed is a significant ranking factor for search engines like Google, which prioritize user experience. Faster websites generally provide a more pleasant user experience, leading to increased engagement and improved conversion rates.

Server Optimization

Often, the reason why your website is loading slowly is because of the server it’s hosted on. It’s important to choose a high-quality server that ensures quick loading times from the get-go so you skip the headache that is server optimization.

Google recommends keeping your server response time under 200ms. To check your server’s response time, you need to know your website’s IP address. Once you have that, use your command prompt.

In the window that appears, type ping, followed by your website’s IP address. Press enter and the window should show how long it took your server to respond. 

If you find that your server goes above the recommended 200ms loading time, here’s what you need to check:

  1. Collect the data from your server and identify what is causing your response time to increase. 
  2. Based on what is causing the problem, you will need to implement server-side optimizations. This guide on how to reduce initial server response times can help you here.
  3. Measure your server response times after optimization to use as a benchmark. 
  4. Monitor any regressions after optimization.

If you work with a hosting service, then you should contact them when you need to improve server response times. A good hosting provider should have the right infrastructure, network connections, server hardware, and support services to accommodate these optimizations. They may also offer hosting options if your website needs more server resources to run smoothly.

Website Optimization

Aside from your server, there are a few other reasons that your website might be loading slowly. 

Here are some practices you can do:

  1. Compressing images to decrease file sizes without sacrificing quality
  2. Minimizing the code, eliminating unnecessary spaces, comments, and indentation.
  3. Using caching to store some data locally in a user’s browser to allow for quicker loading on subsequent visits.
  4. Implementing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute the load, speeding up access for users situated far from the server.
  5. Lazy load your web pages to prioritize loading the objects or resources only your users need.

A common tool to evaluate your website speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse. Both tools can analyze the content of your website and then generate suggestions to improve its overall loading speed, all for free. There are also some third-party tools, like GTMetrix, that you could use as well.

Here’s an example of one of our website’s speeds before optimization. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen, and it was affecting our SEO.

slow site speed score from GTMetrixslow site speed score from GTMetrix

So we followed our technical SEO checklist. After working on the images, removing render-blocking page elements, and minifying code, the score greatly improved — and we saw near-immediate improvements in our page rankings. 

site speed optimization results from GTMetrixsite speed optimization results from GTMetrix

That said, playing around with your server settings, coding, and other parts of your website’s backend can mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I suggest backing up all your files and your database before you start working on your website speed for that reason. 

2. Mobile-First Indexing

Mobile-first Indexing is a method used by Google that primarily uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. 

It’s no secret that Google places a priority on the mobile users’ experience, what with mobile-first indexing being used. Beyond that, optimizing your website for mobile just makes sense, given that a majority of people now use their phones to search online.

This change signifies that a fundamental shift in your approach to your website development and design is needed, and it should also be part of your technical SEO checklist.

  1. Ensuring the mobile version of your site contains the same high-quality, rich content as the desktop version.
  2. Make sure metadata is present on both versions of your site.
  3. Verify that structured data is present on both versions of your site.

Tools like Google’s mobile-friendly test can help you measure how effectively your mobile site is performing compared to your desktop versions, and to other websites as well.

3. Crawlability & Indexing Check

Always remember that crawlability and Indexing are the cornerstones of SEO. Crawlability refers to a search engine’s ability to access and crawl through a website’s content. Indexing is how search engines organize information after a crawl and before presenting results.

  1. Utilizing a well-structured robots.txt file to communicate with web crawlers about which of your pages should not be processed or scanned.
  2. Using XML sitemaps to guide search engines through your site’s content and ensure that all valuable content is found and indexed. There are several CMS plugins you can use to generate your sitemap.
  3. Ensuring that your website has a logical structure with a clear hierarchy, helps both users and bots navigate to your most important pages easily. 

Google Search Console is the tool you need to use to ensure your pages are crawled and indexed by Google. It also provides reports that identify any problems that prevent crawlers from indexing your pages. 

4. Structured Data Markup

Structured Data Markup is a coding language that communicates website information in a more organized and richer format to search engines. This plays a strategic role in the way search engines interpret and display your content, enabling enhanced search results through “rich snippets” such as stars for reviews, prices for products, or images for recipes.

Doing this allows search engines to understand and display extra information directly in the search results from it.

Key Takeaway

With all the algorithm changes made in 2023, websites need to stay adaptable and strategic to stay at the top of the search results page. Luckily for you, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 can help you do just that. Use this as a guide to site speed optimization, indexing, and ensuring the best experience for mobile and desktop users.

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

Many people are convinced that Google shows a preference for big brands and ranking low quality content, something that many feel has become progressively worse. This may not be a matter of perception, something is going on, nearly everyone has an anecdote of poor quality search results. The possible reasons for it are actually quite surprising.

Google Has Shown Favoritism In The Past

This isn’t the first time that Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have shown a bias that favored big brand websites. During the early years of Google’s algorithm it was obvious that sites with a lot of PageRank ranked for virtually anything they wanted.

For example, I remember a web design company that built a lot of websites, creating a network of backlinks, raising their PageRank to a remarkable level normally seen only in big corporate sites like IBM. As a consequence they ranked for the two-word keyword phrase, Web Design and virtually every other variant like Web Design + [any state in the USA].

Everyone knew that websites with a PageRank of 10, the highest level shown on Google’s toolbar, practically had a free pass in the SERPs, resulting in big brand sites outranking more relevant webpages. It didn’t go unnoticed when Google eventually adjusted their algorithm to fix this issue.

The point of this anecdote is to point out an instance of where Google’s algorithm unintentionally created a bias that favored big brands.

Here are are other  algorithm biases that publishers exploited:

  • Top 10 posts
  • Longtail “how-to” articles
  • Misspellings
  • Free Widgets in footer that contained links (always free to universities!)

Big Brands And Low Quality Content

There are two things that have been a constant for all of Google’s history:

  • Low quality content
  • Big brands crowding out small independent publishers

Anyone that’s ever searched for a recipe knows that the more general the recipe the lower the quality of recipe that gets ranked. Search for something like cream of chicken soup and the main ingredient for nearly every recipe is two cans of chicken soup.

A search for Authentic Mexican Tacos results in recipes with these ingredients:

  • Soy sauce
  • Ground beef
  • “Cooked chicken”
  • Taco shells (from the store!)
  • Beer

Not all recipe SERPs are bad. But some of the more general recipes Google ranks are so basic that a hobo can cook them on a hotplate.

Robin Donovan (Instagram), a cookbook author and online recipe blogger observed:

“I think the problem with google search rankings for recipes these days (post HCU) are much bigger than them being too simple.

The biggest problem is that you get a bunch of Reddit threads or sites with untested user-generated recipes, or scraper sites that are stealing recipes from hardworking bloggers.

In other words, content that is anything but “helpful” if what you want is a tested and well written recipe that you can use to make something delicious.”

Explanations For Why Google’s SERPs Are Broken

It’s hard not to get away from the perception that Google’s rankings for a variety of topics always seem to default to big brand websites and low quality webpages.

Small sites grow to become big brands that dominate the SERPs, it happens. But that’s the thing, even when a small site gets big, it’s now another big brand dominating the SERPs.

Typical explanations for poor SERPs:

  • It’s a conspiracy to increase ad clicks
  • Content itself these days are low quality across the board
  • Google doesn’t have anything else to rank
  • It’s the fault of SEOs
  • Affiliates
  • Poor SERPs is Google’s scheme to drive more ad clicks
  • Google promotes big brands because [insert your conspiracy]

So what’s going on?

People Love Big Brands & Garbage Content

The recent Google anti-trust lawsuit exposed the importance of the Navboost algorithm signals as a major ranking factor. Navboost is an algorithm that interprets user engagement signals to understand what topics a webpage is relevant for, among other things.

The idea of using engagement signals as an indicator of what users expect to see makes sense. After all, Google is user-centric and who better to decide what’s best for users than the users themselves, right?

Well, consider that arguably the the biggest and most important song of 1991, Smells Like Teen Spirt by Nirvana, didn’t make the Billboard top 100 for that year. Michael Bolton and Rod Stewart made the list twice, with Rod Stewart top ranked for a song called “The Motown Song” (anyone remember that one?)

Nirvana didn’t make the charts until the next year…

My opinion, given that we know that user interactions are a strong ranking signal, is that Google’s search rankings follow a similar pattern related to users’ biases.

People tend to choose what they know. It’s called a Familiarity Bias.

Consumers have a habit of choosing things that are familiar over those that are unfamiliar. This preference shows up in product choices that prefer brands, for example.

Behavioral scientist, Jason Hreha, defines Familiarity Bias like this:

“The familiarity bias is a phenomenon in which people tend to prefer familiar options over unfamiliar ones, even when the unfamiliar options may be better. This bias is often explained in terms of cognitive ease, which is the feeling of fluency or ease that people experience when they are processing familiar information. When people encounter familiar options, they are more likely to experience cognitive ease, which can make those options seem more appealing.”

Except for certain queries (like those related to health), I don’t think Google makes an editorial decision to certain kinds of websites, like brands.

Google uses many signals for ranking. But Google is strongly user focused.

I believe it’s possible that strong user preferences can carry a more substantial weight than Reviews System signals. How else to explain why Google seemingly has a bias for big brand websites with fake reviews rank better than honest independent review sites?

It’s not like Google’s algorithms haven’t created poor search results in the past.

  • Google’s Panda algorithm was designed to get rid of a bias for cookie cutter content.
  • The Reviews System is a patch to fix Google’s bias for content that’s about reviews but aren’t necessarily reviews.

If Google has systems for catching low quality sites that their core algorithm would otherwise rank, why do big brands and poor quality content still rank?

I believe the answer is that is what users prefer to see those sites, as indicated by user interaction signals.

The big question to ask is whether Google will continue to rank what users biases and inexperience trigger user satisfaction signals.  Or will Google continue serving the sugar-frosted bon-bons that users crave?

Should Google make the choice to rank quality content at the risk that users find it too hard to understand?

Or should publishers give up and focus on creating for the lowest common denominator like the biggest popstars do?



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