Last updated Oct 18 2020

Website analysis: the user-driven approach

Almost every guide to website analysis will tell you that you can evaluate a site’s performance by doing any or all of these actions:

  • Run an SEO audit
  • Test website speed
  • Perform competitor analysis
  • Analyze website traffic

They aren’t wrong, and we cover the same practices lower down the page. But we think website speed, SEO, and competitor and traffic analysis only ever tell part of the story behind your website’s performance.

The missing piece in your website analysis is understanding your visitors, users, and customers, and giving them what they came to your pages for so they don't just get onto your perfectly optimized site—they stay on it, and use it, and keep coming back. And that’s where our guide begins.

user centric approach to website analsis

What is website analysis?

Website analysis is the practice of testing and analyzing a website's performance in relation to SEO, speed, competition, and traffic.

Any site can benefit from some form of website analysis if the results are then used to improve it—for example, by reducing page size to increase overall speed or optimizing a landing page with lots of traffic for more conversions.

A user-driven approach to website analysis

We can all agree that it's important to have a site that ranks well on Google, is fast, and doesn’t have major usability issues. We can also agree that it's equally important for your business to understand your competitive landscape and maximize the traffic that gets to your website.

Standard website analysis helps you achieve all of the above—with a caveat: it won't give you a clear competitive advantage because your competitors are doing it, too. They all have access to the same SEO, performance, and traffic tools you use as well.

But here is another form of insight that you can leverage and is 100% unique to your website: your users’ perspective.

Finding out how THEY got to your site, what THEY want from it, how THEY are experiencing it, what’s working or not working for THEM—this will give you the holistic insight you need to build a great experience for the people who visit your website day in and day out.

user centric definition of website analysis
A user-centric list of website analysis methods

Behavior analytics and feedback tools for website analysis

Your users are the extra source of knowledge you need to grow your website and business—they have all the information you need about what’s working, and isn’t, on your website. Behavior analytics software (like Hotjar) helps you collect this knowledge and answer valuable business questions, such as:

  • Where on a page do people get stuck and struggle before dropping off?
  • How do people interact (or fail to) with individual page elements and sections?
  • What are they interested in or ignoring across the website?
  • What do they actually want from the website or product?

Behavior analytics tools

Behavior analytics tools, such as Hotjar heatmaps and session recordings, help you understand how people behave on and interact with your website. Heatmaps aggregate behavior on a page, highlighting the buttons, CTAs, and other clickable elements that your visitors are interacting with, scrolling past, and ignoring; session recordings show you how people navigate between pages and help you uncover potential bugs, issues, or pain points they experience across their journey.

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Hotjar's heatmap dashboard

Feedback and voice of the customer tools

Analyzing how people interact with individual pages or with the site as a whole is a source of valuable knowledge, which becomes even more useful when you pair it with an understanding of why they are taking the actions they take.

Website feedback tools like Hotjar's on-site surveys (i.e. surveys placed across your website pages) will help you collect in-the-moment responses from users about what they’re actually looking for. Feedback widgets like Hotjar's Incoming Feedback will also bring you hyper-targeted visual feedback about what people are loving and hating.

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Hotjar's poll dashboard

A combination of these tools will help you identify the drivers that lead people to your website, the barriers and the obstacles they encounter, and the hooks that ultimately make them stay and convert—check out the next chapter about user-driven website analysis for a more in-depth analysis and additional methods.

Go beyond traditional website analysis

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Usability Testing Questions

4 more types of traditional website analysis (according to Google)

Traditional website analysis roughly falls into 4 categories:

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  2. Speed
  3. Competition
  4. Traffic

1. SEO analysis and auditing tools

seo analysis and audit

SEO analysis takes many forms, and the most common actions include:

  • On-page SEO audits
  • Website search engine ranking analysis
  • Backlink analysis

On-page SEO audits

On-page SEO auditing helps you check your website for common technical issues that could affect search engine performance, like missing <title> tags or broken redirections. This kind of analysis is usually performed via specialized tools—some of which are automated to provide helpful suggestions (like Google's own Search Console), while others are highly customizable and help you perform advanced analysis (like Screaming Frog). 

screaming-frog-example.png
this is what screaming frog looks like when we run it on this very page

Website search engine ranking analysis

Search engine ranking analysis shows you where your website appears for specific keywords on search engines like Google or Bing.

Some rank trackers will calculate your website performance based on a keyword of your choice (like Serpbook), while others will also show you all the found keywords you rank for (for example, Ahrefs). Usually, these SEO checker tools also show how your website performs in different locations (e.g. United States vs United Kingdom) and across different devices (e.g. desktop vs mobile).

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The ahrefs interface

Analyzing your website's backlinks helps you find out which pages link to your site and with which anchor text, and compare your backlink profile to that of your competitors. This information will also inform your link-building campaigns. Most SEO tools have a backlink analysis feature built-in (Moz, Ahrefs, MajesticSEO, etc.), but you can also find a list of your backlinks in Google Search Console. 

search-console-links.jpg
The link profile feature in Google Search Console

✍ Editor’s note → this guide includes an industry round-up with the best/most recommended SEO tools of 2019. Check them out! 

2. Website speed and performance tools

website speed and performance analysis

There are two main problems with slow-loading websites: users don't like them, and, as a result, neither do search engines. That's why speed testing is a second key area of website analysis.

A good overall rule is to gather some data about web page speed (for example, what elements of it are too slow, too large, etc.) and then use the information as a starting point to make the website faster.

There are many free tools available you can use to analyze website speed: 

  • Google's PageSpeed Insights is a good starting point, and will show you key speed metrics like First Contentful Paint (FCP), which is the time it takes for a browser to start displaying content
  • GTmetrix
  • Pingdom
  • WebPageTest 

Website performance analysis helps you determine if your site is slow, fast, or average—but it also lets you diagnose why. You can also test mobile and desktop separately, getting an overall performance score and a color-coded breakdown of the main areas and the severity of the issues reported.

page-speed-insight.png
PageSpeed Insights gives out 98/100...
hotjar-pingdom.png
...but according to Pingdom, we have some work to do.

By analyzing key metrics like page size, load time, http requests, image compression, and browser caching, you can get the data you need to speed up your site and give your users a faster experience. 

✍ Editor’s note → this guide includes an industry round-up with the best/most recommended website performance tools. Check them out! 

3. Competitive analysis tools

competitive analysis

Almost all online businesses have competitors who offer a similar product, service, or experience to the same target audience. Competitive analysis is the practice of identifying and analyzing competing companies, quantifying the threats they pose, and identifying opportunities and advantages that can be uniquely leveraged in your business. 

Researching competitors is a key part of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). For ecommerce and online businesses, competitor analysis can be distilled down into two key questions:

  • How do our products/services compare to others in the space? 
  • What are our competitors doing in terms of messaging?

Manual research is an effective way to collect and analyze data relating to a competitor website. You can get started very simply by just recording a few key insights and SWOT points on a spreadsheet for easy comparison. 

competitive-analysis-template.jpg
Source: shopify.co.uk/blog/competitive-analysis

Competitor analysis tools like SEMRush or SimilarWeb can also help you discover insights about how popular competitors' websites are (traffic volume) and how customers find them (traffic source).

✍️ Editor’s note → this guide includes an industry round-up with the best/most recommended competitive analysis tools. Check them out! 

4. Traffic analysis tools

traffic and analytics

Traffic analysis helps you monitor the volume and activity of visitors to your website, and determine your most successful pages and traffic generation techniques. 

Knowing where website traffic originates (e.g., from organic search or social media), how popular your pages are, which traffic sources convert better, and where on the website you lose potential customers helps you double-down on successful digital marketing campaigns and invest resources accordingly.

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An ecommerce report from Google Analytics

Most websites use traditional analytics tools like Google Analytics to measure website traffic, but there are plenty of popular alternatives available, like Matomo and Open Web Analytics (OWA).

✍️Editor’s note → this guide includes an industry round-up with the best/most recommended website analysis tools. We've also got some ideas to help you out if you're looking for Google Analytics alternatives. Check them out!

Frequently asked questions about website analysis

Website analysis can be done by using a variety of tools: SEO tools, website speed and performance tools, behavior analytics and feedback tools, and more (as mentioned above). Using them to analyze your site will help you determine its performance, compare it to competitors, understand how people use it, and find ways to improve the user experience.

SEO website analysis involves auditing individual pages or entire websites to analyze how they are performing on search engines, and then optimizing them to improve performance and ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

To analyze competitor’s websites, you can use dedicated tools like SimilarWeb (to identify market share) or SEMRush/Ahrefs (to determine a website’s traffic volume and keyword/backlink strategy). The analysis you run with competitor analysis tools should then be complemented with manual research, where you focus on researching your competitors’ website design, messaging strategy, and/or product mix as part of a larger SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.

User-driven website analysis is a type of analysis that lets you collect and analyze data from and about your website visitors to improve the user experience—which can lead to increased traffic and conversion rates. User-driven analysis can give more context to the insights you’ve collected from traditional and SEO analysis.

Tip: learn which user-driven tools and methods to use for website analysis, particularly for ecommerce sites