How To Perform A Parity Audit
This tutorial explains how to utilise the Screaming Frog SEO Spider to perform parity audits to help uncover differences and potential SEO issues.
First, let’s quickly summarise what we mean by a parity audit.
What Is A Parity Audit?
The term parity audit is used in SEO to describe whether two things are the same, or whether there are differences that could impact organic visibility.
Websites can be set up in contrasting ways, and pages themselves can react differently to different types of requests.
In SEO, the two most common types of parity considerations and audits are –
- Mobile Vs Desktop
But this type of audit could also include ensuring parity between live and staging environments for example.
It can be useful to know if there are differences to the website or pages, and to key SEO elements, that might impact crawling, indexing and ranking. These can include –
- Page & Asset Counts
- HTTP Responses
- Internal Links
- Page Titles
- Structured Data
And more! If there are differences between some of these elements, it doesn’t immediately mean it will be problematic in ranking.
However, you need to know if there are differences, and what they are – so you can act if required.
2) Adjust User-Agent & Window Size
The default viewport for rendering is set to Googlebot Smartphone, as Google primarily crawls and indexes pages with their smartphone agent for mobile-first indexing.
This will mean you’ll see a mobile sized screenshot in the lower ‘rendered page’ tab.
3) Enable Resources & External Links
If resources are on a different subdomain, or a separate root domain, then ‘ check external links ‘ will need to be enabled, otherwise they won’t be used in rendering.
This is the default configuration in the SEO Spider, so you can simply click ‘File > Default Config > Clear Default Configuration’ to revert to this set-up.
4) Crawl The Site
Now crawl the website, by inputting the homepage into the ‘enter url to spider’ box and clicking ‘Start’.
The SEO Spider will then start crawling the website, and rendering the pages using headless Chrome.
To see which links are only in the rendered HTML, click the lower ‘Outlinks’ tab and select the ‘Rendered HTML’ link origin filter.
How To Perform A Mobile Vs Desktop Parity Audit
Google first started experimenting with a mobile first index in 2016, before enabling mobile first-indexing for all websites in September 2020.
Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Historically, their index used the desktop version when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query.
This means if you have a website which shows different content to Google’s mobile (smartphone) user-agent than desktop, you may have noticed differences in ranking.
Most websites today are responsive, where the HTML is the same for all devices and the appearance changes based upon screen size – meaning no impact from mobile-first indexing. However, adaptive and mobile specific websites can serve different HTML and content, which is where parity audits are helpful.
You don’t have to perform a parity audit between mobile and desktop, you can just focus on the mobile version. But often a parity audit can help uncover gaps that can be easily missed, or not fully considered.
To perform a Mobile Vs Desktop parity audit, you’ll need to ensure you’re in database storage mode, perform two separate crawls with mobile and desktop user-agents, and then use crawl comparison and change detection.
1) Crawl The Mobile Site
First, crawl the mobile site using a mobile user-agent. Click ‘Config > User-agent’ to switch to Googlebot Smartphone.
Many hosts and CDNs block spoofing of Googlebot user-agent strings (and serve a 403 response), so you can alternatively choose Chrome for Android, or another mobile UA.
While we recommend crawling the whole site for completeness, if the website is extremely large and the structure is much the same, you can just check on the parity of specific page templates from across the website. Pick one page for each template, and upload them in list mode (Mode > List).
2) Crawl The Desktop Site
Next, crawl with a desktop user-agent. Go to ‘Config > User-agent’ and choose Googlebot Desktop, or another desktop user-agent.
Either crawl the whole website, or the chosen page templates in a similar way to the mobile version.
3) Select Crawls To Compare
Go to ‘File > Crawls’, select the mobile and desktop and then ‘Select to Compare’.
This will switch you to ‘Compare’ mode.
4) Configure Change Detection
Now click the cog icon at the top of the screen or ‘Config > Compare’. The Change Detection configuration will then appear, which allows you to identify whether specific elements are different, such as page titles, descriptions, headings, word count, internal linking, structured data and more.
Select all the items by clicking ‘Select All’ at the top.
5) Configure URL Mapping
If the mobile version uses separate URLs, rather than dynamically serving different content on the same URL by user-agent, you’ll need to set up URL Mapping so you can compare mobile and desktop equivalents.
In the same configuration (‘Config > Compare’), select ‘URL Mapping’. This will enable you to compare mobile URLs to desktop equivalent by mapping the previous crawl (the mobile version if you performed that first), against the current crawl (the desktop version).
Now click ‘OK’ and the ‘Compare’ button, where the crawl comparison and change detection analysis will run.
6) Analyse Crawl Overview & Change Detection Tabs
When the analysis is complete, the right hand overview window will appear with data, highlighting changes for tabs and filters between the mobile and desktop crawl.
Ideally the mobile website would contain the same content as the desktop site, with the same on-page targeting and alignment with descriptive page titles, descriptions, and headings.
There are four columns (and filters on the master window view) that help segment URLs that have changed in tabs and filters.
- Added – URLs in previous crawl that moved to filter of current crawl.
- New – New URLs not in the previous crawl, that are in current crawl and filter.
- Removed – URLs in filter for previous crawl, but not in filter for current crawl.
- Missing – URLs not found in the current crawl, that previous were in filter.
Explore this data to identify differences and gaps in the mobile Vs desktop crawls and whether they might be problematic. This might include missing pages or images, to differences in site structure, internal linking and indexability.
Scroll down in the right hand Overview tab to analyse the ‘ Change Detection’ tab for matched URLs between the mobile and desktop crawls. This tab will alert you to differences in the actual content of elements – which is not covered by the usual tabs and filters.
You can click on the filters to see where like for like URLs have differences, such as page titles. The current crawl in the below is mobile, while previous is desktop.
Or word count.
Or crawl depth.
These types of differences in the mobile version of the website could be extremely problematic in ranking.
Google provide a useful list of common errors that can stop sites from being enabled for mobile-first indexing, or could cause a drop in ranking after a site is enabled for mobile-first indexing.
Check out our How To Compare Crawls tutorial for more.
How To Perform A Live Vs Staging Parity Audit
It’s a time saver to be able to compare live vs staging websites to uncover differences and problems before changes are published to the live site.
This process is similar to the mobile vs desktop parity audit, where you can crawl both websites separately, before using URL mapping which enables two different URL structures to be compared to their equivalents.
This tutorial should help you better understand how to use the SEO Spider and work more efficiently when performing parity audits.
If you have any queries or feedback on how to improve the SEO Spider then get in touch with our team via support .
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