I did 100 SEO benchmark audits in 6 months. Here’s 8 things I learned
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I did 100 SEO benchmark audits in 6 months. Here’s 8 things I learned

When some people talk about SEO audits, they’re thinking about an automated report. The way I approach SEO audits is like a deep dive into the intricacies of a site. This comprehensive approach helps me understand each website at a core level, going beyond mere numbers to a detailed analysis of SEO performance.

Look obviously every website is different. But after looking at 100, you start to notice some trends. You can use these insights to optimize your own site, or better understand what your competitors are doing. Let’s dive in!

What Is an SEO Audit?

An SEO audit examines how well a website is optimized for search engines. It highlights issues that impede performance and reveals opportunities to improve visibility.

Typically, audits focus on a specific SEO pillar—On-Page, Off-Page, or Technical SEO. These pillars can be broken down into sub-topics such as keyword research, content analysis, and backlinks. I integrate all three, providing a holistic view of a website’s SEO landscape.

How My SEO Audit Methodology Stands Out Using Benchmarks

My approach to SEO audits goes beyond the norm by focusing on industry benchmarks that I’ve crafted through a meticulous examination of industry standards, competitor spying, and our client portfolio.

I identify businesses in multiple competitive industries that consistently meet or exceed expectations over several quarters and analyze the numerical commonalities among these high performers. These figures then become the benchmarks that guide all subsequent analyses.

Utilizing advanced tools such as Semrush, Google Search Console, and GA4, comprehensive data is gathered for each audit. This method does not merely assess your website in isolation but places it within the broader competitive landscape. Such a thorough analysis helps pinpoint the precise standing of your site and shapes tailored strategies to propel it forward.

I categorize the benchmarks into three critical areas:

  • General SEO – This is the foundational check to see if the ‘house is on fire.’ I start by assessing your site’s Domain Authority to understand its standing against the competition.
  • SGE (Search Generative Experience) Preparedness – With Google’s SGE updates, it’s crucial to prepare your site for future changes that affect how it appears in search results. I evaluate how well your site is optimized for SERP features like Featured Snippets and ‘People Also Ask’ boxes.
  • Keywords & Growth – This category delves into the more traditional SEO territory but with a strategic twist. It examines the current rankings and the density of those rankings across different pages. This analysis provides deep insights into your existing content strategy, uncovering immediate opportunities and guiding the development of subsequent efforts to maintain and build momentum.

In analyzing the three categories, I’ve identified eight key benchmarks that exhibit prominent trends across the 100 audits conducted. These benchmarks reveal best practices and common areas requiring attention, which are critical for enhancing your website’s SEO strategy. Here’s a closer look at each benchmark:

  • Domain Authority
  • Branded vs. Non-Branded Traffic Distribution
  • Core Web Vitals & Mobile Performance
  • SERP Features
  • SCHEMA Markup
  • Organic Growth
  • Non-Brand Ranking Keyword Positions
  • Organic Traffic Page Distribution

Now, let’s dive into how these insights can shape a winning SEO strategy for you.

8 Key SEO Trends Identified Through 100 SEO Benchmark Audits

Through conducting over 100 SEO benchmark audits, I’ve identified eight key trends that consistently influence website performance. These trends are particularly prevalent among websites that have recently reduced or paused their SEO initiatives.

General SEO

Going back to the ‘is the house on fire or not’ benchmarks in the general section. This category looks to find if there is any major fire that needs to be put out before diving deeper into the SEO data:

Domain Authority

Domain Authority (DA) is a crucial metric, rated on a scale from zero to 100, that reflects a website’s ability to rank in search engines. I find that a DA of 40 is a critical benchmark to hit in order to be competitive in the SEO space.

Not only is 40 the benchmark, but it is also the threshold where the benefit you get from net new links being created to the site sort of falls off. It’s the point of diminishing returns for link building.

In the 100 audits, I discovered that many websites lag behind their industry competitors by 5 to 15 points in Domain Authority, significantly affecting their search rankings, competitiveness, and online visibility. Their competitors will typically sit in the 35 to 50 range while their sites sit in the 20 to 35 range.

Most digital marketers and business owners alike think the only important aspect of DA, and the only way to raise their website’s DA, is through link building. While it is a very effective way to quickly increase your site’s DA, there are other aspects to look at.

Of the website’s that I audited, I noticed a large portion had over 90% of their backlinks pointed to their homepage. On top of that, their homepage had few internal links on it, especially ones directed at other core pages. As a result, their homepage, which has almost all of their website’s authority, isn’t distributing authority properly.

Diversifying your backlinks to multiple pages, implementing a well-structured internal linking plan, and building more backlinks will not only increase your DA, but also make your individual core pages more powerful.

Branded vs. Non-Branded Traffic Distribution

Branded versus non-branded traffic is a pivotal aspect of a website’s organic performance and reporting. Most businesses aim to maximize non-branded traffic to attract new users. While attracting new users is great, maintaining a strategic balance is essential. For this benchmark, I recommend aiming for 30% branded traffic and 70% non-branded traffic.

This benchmark ensures that your site capitalizes on its established brand recognition while also actively reaching out to potential new customers who are not yet familiar with your brand, thereby facilitating net new conversions. Conversely, if your branded traffic dips below 30%, it may signal a lack of sufficient brand awareness, which is vital for your business’s long-term growth.

A common trend observed across numerous audits is the overwhelming dominance of branded traffic, often exceeding 70%. Such a high proportion suggests a significant underutilization of SEO strategies for capturing non-branded search traffic, presenting a major opportunity for expansion.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘secret sauce’ to improving non-branded traffic to your site. The only way to do it is by improving the positions of your non-branded keywords on the SERPs, preferably the ones with tons of search volume.

Core Web Vitals & Mobile Performance

Core Web Vitals are essential metrics defined by Google to assess the health of a website’s user experience, focusing primarily on loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability. For mobile performance, Google’s Lighthouse tool provides a comprehensive evaluation, checking how well a site functions on mobile devices.

The benchmarks for success are clear: a website must pass both the Core Web Vitals assessment and the mobile test conducted via Lighthouse.

Despite these established standards, our audits across 100 websites reveal concerning trends. While about 50% of sites meet Core Web Vitals standards, a staggering 90% fall short on mobile performance metrics. This discrepancy points to a widespread challenge within the industry to optimize for mobile—a critical factor given Google’s mobile-first indexing.

This pervasive issue highlights the urgent need for websites to improve their mobile responsiveness and loading speeds. Enhancing these aspects is not just about meeting technical benchmarks but ensuring a superior, seamless user experience that aligns with modern browsing habits and Google’s stringent criteria.

SGE (Search Generative Experience) Preparedness

This section evaluates how well-prepared your site is for the upcoming AI-driven changes to Google’s search algorithms. Understanding and adapting to these changes will be pivotal in maintaining and enhancing your site’s visibility and user engagement as search technologies continue to evolve. Proactively optimizing for these developments ensures that your website aligns with the latest in search engine technology, safeguarding its future relevance and performance.

SERP Features

SERP features such as Featured Snippets (‘zero position’) and ‘People Also Ask’ boxes are not only vital for enhancing a website’s visibility but are becoming increasingly crucial as Google evolves its search methodologies. With the upcoming Search Generative Experience (SGE), Google will crawl and index SERP features to generate results in a similar manner to how it currently handles featured snippets.

The benchmark for success in this area is having at least 10% of total ranking keywords appear in these SERP features, essential for maximizing visibility and drawing more organic traffic.

Despite the importance of these features, our audits across numerous websites indicate that most only achieve about 5% of their total ranking keywords appearing in SERP features. This limited optimization indicates a significant missed opportunity for enhancing visibility and driving more organic traffic.

By employing structured data and developing content specifically designed to answer direct queries, websites can significantly enhance their presence on SERP, capturing valuable search real estate and aligning with Google’s future search methodologies.

SCHEMA

SCHEMA markup is a powerful tool for enhancing a website’s communication with search engines, crucial not only for better indexing but also for optimizing rankings with Google’s SGE update. The benchmark for SCHEMA implementation is that it must be error-free and accurately describe the page’s content. Proper usage of SCHEMA can enrich the search results presented to users and improve the site’s overall visibility and interaction with search engines.

Unfortunately, most websites limit themselves to basic SCHEMA types such as ‘WebPage’ or ‘Organization’. This conservative approach often misses out on the benefits of employing more specific and varied SCHEMA types like ‘Article’, ‘Event’, or ‘Product’. These types provide a more accurate representation of content and can significantly enhance visibility in search results.

By expanding SCHEMA implementation to include a wider variety of types, websites can improve their interaction with search engines. This leads to better indexing and ultimately, richer search results that are more engaging to users.

Keywords & Growth

This section delves into the strategic positioning and optimization of your keywords. By analyzing both branded and non-branded keyword performance, we uncover areas ripe for improvement and opportunities for substantial growth. Effective management and enhancement of your keyword strategy are essential for expanding your reach and solidifying your presence in competitive search rankings.

Organic Yearly Growth Trends

The benchmark for successful SEO performance is achieving year-over-year (YoY) organic growth greater than 20%. This target underscores the importance of robust and adaptive SEO strategies to maintain a competitive edge in the evolving digital landscape.

In my analysis of year-over-year trends from various websites, most experienced positive organic growth from 2018 through 2022. However, a noticeable decline began in 2023 and has persisted into 2024, signaling emerging challenges within the SEO domain. This downturn not only highlights the volatile nature of search engine algorithms and user behaviors but also emphasizes the critical need to stay adaptive with SEO strategies.

To counteract these declines, it’s essential to continually analyze performance data and implement modern SEO tactics. By staying ahead of SEO trends, such as SGE, and adjusting strategies accordingly, businesses can strive to meet or exceed the 20% YoY growth benchmark, ensuring sustainable success in organic search performance.

Non-Brand Ranking Keyword Positions

For non-branded keywords, we have established clear benchmarks to gauge successful SEO performance: at least 15% of total ranking non-branded keywords should have page 1 rankings, more than 10% should be in positions 11-20, and no more than 30% should be in positions 50-100. These metrics ensure that non-branded keywords are optimized effectively to maximize visibility and impact.

During our audits, we’ve discovered that over 80% of non-branded keywords for most websites rank in positions 40 and beyond. This indicates that a significant portion of these keywords are far from achieving optimal visibility on the first few pages of search results, where they could have the most substantial impact.

This pattern underscores substantial opportunities for optimization, particularly for “tipping point” keywords that currently rank close to page one and could significantly benefit from focused improvement. By refining content, enhancing on-page SEO elements, building quality backlinks, and crafting compelling metadata, websites can elevate these non-branded keywords to more competitive positions.

Organic Traffic Page Distribution

The benchmark for effective distribution of organic traffic is that no single page should receive more than 10% of the total organic traffic. This standard promotes a well-rounded site structure where traffic and link equity are spread across multiple pages, enhancing the overall health and SEO success of the website.

Our audits commonly reveal that 80-95% of most websites’ organic traffic and backlinks are concentrated on the homepage. This concentration indicates a significant imbalance in content depth and link equity distribution, which can impede long-term SEO success and limit the site’s potential reach.

To counteract this issue and improve organic performance, it is essential to optimize core pages using non-branded, conversion-focused keywords. This approach not only enhances reach and conversions but also supports a more robust site structure. Encouraging deeper site exploration through improved site architecture, strategic internal linking, and content-rich landing pages can help distribute traffic and authority more evenly throughout the site.

Implementing these strategies will align your site more closely with the benchmark, promoting a healthier, more competitive online presence.

How These Trends and Benchmarks Can Help Your SEO

The insights and benchmarks outlined provide a critical roadmap for refining your SEO strategy. By understanding the specific areas where websites typically underperform—from the distribution of branded vs. non-branded traffic to the utilization of SERP features and the equitable distribution of organic traffic—you can identify opportunities that promise the most significant impact.

A strategic focus on enhancing non-branded keyword visibility, developing robust backlink strategies, and optimizing for mobile and SERP features are essential for boosting your site’s competitiveness and visibility. Moreover, adhering to established benchmarks such as maintaining a balanced traffic distribution and ensuring that your SCHEMA markup is error-free will solidify your website’s foundation in SEO best practices.

Utilize these trends to directly enhance your website’s SEO efforts. By implementing these targeted strategies, you can improve visibility, increase competitiveness, and achieve sustainable growth in organic search results. This tailored approach allows you to leverage the most impactful SEO practices today to secure the success of your website tomorrow.

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