Getting the most out of your website requires a diverse set of marketing skills. Generating traffic and warm leads is crucial, but your website experience won’t be optimal until it’s technically up to par.
A technical SEO audit is the puzzle piece you’ve been looking for. During a technical audit you check all the aspects of your website that Google evaluates, including page speed, site security, and content indexing. Technical audits are different from an SEO content audit, where you’re looking at the qualities and effectiveness of the content you’ve published.
This blog post covers the seven fundamental characteristics of a technical SEO audit. Keep reading for the details including how to implement them.
1. Check Indexing Issues
The first step in a technical SEO audit is resolving any indexing issues. Indexing refers to how many of your website’s pages are showing up in Google. If your website is properly indexed, you’ll get traffic–if not, you’ll be struggling to gain traction.
Indexation is broken down into two categories: your sitemap and robots.txt file. A sitemap is the list of URLs that shows web crawlers the structure and location of website content. A robots.txt file is the document instructing web crawlers on which pages to crawl and which to avoid.
Both files need to be working properly to maximize the SEO of your site. Here’s how to tackle that:
- Confirm that you have a sitemap. Most websites have one sitemap URL, while others have separate sitemaps for blog content, categories, and authors. Verifying your sitemap is part of any good SEO audit checklist and should be done as early as possible. Check that your sitemap URL is live and can be read by Google Search Console (GSC). If you haven’t submitted your sitemap to GSC before, set up a free account and use the sitemap tool to submit it.
- Look at your robots.txt file. This file communicates to web crawlers if there are any URLs to avoid. Such URLs may be your login page, content you don’t want indexed, or pages that aren’t Google-friendly. If you don’t need to block any pages from getting indexed, your robots.txt file should have “User-agent: *” on the first line and “Disallow: “ on the second line.
- Check that your sitemap file is read regularly. Google can’t check the sitemap file of every website that exists every single day. That would take a lot of time. However, if your sitemap isn’t getting read at least once per week, you should submit it manually in Search Console. Google prefers reading sitemaps of older websites because it’s already familiar with its content.
- Inspect URLs and request indexing. As needed, if you have URLs that are not getting indexed, you can manually submit them via Google Search Console’s URL Inspection tool.
2. Address Content Organization and Site Structure
The second component to tackle in a technical SEO audit is your content organization and whether or not you have an SEO-friendly website structure. When users visit your site, they expect it to be easy to find blog posts, resources, and categories.
Search engines like Google and Bing have an easier time crawling and understanding your site when individual pages are easy to locate. Web crawlers prefer pages that are well-linked, including category and archive pages.
Site structure refers to the navigability of your website from the initial landing page to any other page. Your website’s “click depth” should allow users to find any page of interest within three clicks of the homepage–meaning minimal effort is required.
Internet users love finding information quickly, so search engine algorithms now emphasize the importance of low click depth. Locating any page on a website with three clicks also improves conversion rate, as users are more likely to finish an action if it takes less time.
Here’s how to optimize your content and site structure:
- Assign blog posts to categories. Check that each blog post you’ve written is discoverable in at least one category. Add any that are missing to an existing or new category.
- Revisit your main menu. If you have a service-based business, can visitors find all your pages within three clicks? If you sell products, can visitors discover each product within three clicks? If the answer is no, consider how you can simplify your menu options. Look for areas to consolidate subcategories and make it simpler to navigate your site.
- Look for errors in Google Search Console. GSC is perfect for uncovering site usability issues because it comes from Google itself. Specifically, go to the Coverage > Excluded section, where you’ll see a list of URLs with issues. Common issues include 404s, pages with redirects, and pages with a noindex tag. Set aside time to resolve as many of these issues as you can.
- Run a “blind” user test. To ensure all areas of your website are navigable, you can hire a website tester to check the functionality of your site. These individuals are versed in user experience (UX) and can spot issues quickly. If you don’t have the budget for a website tester, ask someone who’s never seen your website to try it and provide feedback.
3. Check Canonical Tags
The third aspect of a technical audit is your canonical tags. Based on the root word “canon,” a canonical tag is a snippet of code that indicates the original source of content on a particular page.
Search engine algorithms are programmed to notice and prioritize original content. Duplicate content is annoying to humans and difficult for search engines to categorize. When there’s too much similar content across multiple pages on one domain, search engines don’t know which URL to rank for a particular keyword.
Therefore, it’s essential that your website shows Google where your original content lives. In most cases, your webpages should have self-referencing canonical tags. That means that your canonicals should look like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.samplewebsite.com/example-here/” />
Canonicals are also important because they’re associated with pagination. For example, eCommerce websites typically have multiple items within one product category. When the product category’s first page has the correct canonical tag, Google knows page two and beyond aren’t duplicates of the category homepage.
Check that your pages of original content have self-referencing canonical tags. If they don’t, create them where they’re missing or work with your developer to get them implemented.
4. Resolve Internal Linking Issues
Internal linking is the fourth aspect of a technical SEO audit. Web crawlers look at not only your website’s content, but its link structure, depth, and relevance.
Search engine algorithms want to see that you link pages together in a logical way–not merely to reach a certain quantity of on-page links. When your pages include multiple relevant internal links, the search engines give you a boost.
If you don’t use internal link best practices, your website doesn’t appear authoritative to Google. When you link your site’s pages properly, your traffic will take off, which is one of the many reasons why SEO is a great investment for your business.
Follow this process when auditing your internal links:
- Create a spreadsheet to track internal links. Optimizing your link placement requires knowing which links are pointing where. Noticing which pages need more links also keeps your effort efficient.
- Use an SEO tool to count the number of internal links. Tools like Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Moz, and Ahrefs can show you the number of inlinks and outlinks for URLs. Track this information in your spreadsheet to find which pages need further optimization.
- Look at the placement and relevance of your internal links. The relevance and on-page placement of your internal links matters as much, if not more than the quantity. Make sure you’re using relevant anchor texts and including links in the first half of your blog posts.
5. Security and Speed Issues
The fifth step in a technical SEO audit is looking at speed and security issues. Years ago, any functional webpage was enough to excite the average Internet user. These days, if your website doesn’t load in less than one second, it’s considered slow.
That’s to say nothing of site security. The Internet has come a long way in securing financial transactions, but nothing is perfect. It’s for this reason that your website must have a secure socket layer (SSL) certificate.
An SSL certificate prevents unauthorized third parties from accessing data that’s transmitted between your website and payment portals. SSLs encrypt the data from payment forms so the information is sent without seeing what it is.
Here’s how to check your website’s security and speed health:
- Run your site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Google’s free pagespeed evaluator tells you how quickly your site loads on mobile and desktop. If the results are displayed in yellow or red, there are problems to address. Work with your developer to optimize your website’s backend.
- Obtain or update your site’s SSL certificate. A valid SSL certificate is essential to visitors’ impression of your website as well as its overall security. Certificates expire, so check to make sure yours won’t expire without being renewed. Many certificates have a validity date of 60 to 90 days and can be set to automatically renew so you don’t need to track it manually.
6. Optimize for Mobile Friendliness
A mobile-friendly website is the sixth component of a technical SEO audit. Desktop computers used to be the only way to access the Internet. Today, you can access the web with any Internet-enabled device, and most people now use their phones to do so.
Using a smartphone is all about convenience, and both Google and humans expect websites to load quickly. Most people use their phones to quickly look up information, make purchases on the go, and find answers to various questions. Google has learned that people prefer exiting a website entirely rather than staying on a slow website.
Here’s how to maximize the mobile friendliness of your entire website:
- Look at your site’s mobile friendliness in GSC. This report shows everything Google has found that’s not mobile-friendly about your website. Issues include clickable elements that are too close together and text that’s too small to read. Export the list of pages Google provides, then check the URLs on your own device to see what needs to be fixed.
- Test your own website on a smartphone or tablet. Do you like the look and feel of your own website? Is it easy to understand and quick to navigate? If you can’t answer yes, there’s work to be done. Take notes of what to change so you or your web developer can address it.
7. Check for Duplicate Content
The seventh step of a technical SEO audit is finding and reducing duplicate content. Search engine algorithms downrank websites with duplicate content because that is opposed to content authority.
Trustworthy websites are those with a large amount of original content on them. Informative, original content is easier to differentiate on the same domain and ensures your website is seen as an industry leader. Google loves ranking websites that people deem popular, and the pathway to popularity is having numerous pages that readers find value in.
Here’s how to tackle duplicate content issues:
- Run your site through an SEO tool. Platforms like Copyscape, Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Authoritas, and Labrika can assess how original your webpages are. You’ll get a report indicating the percentage of similarity between pages as well as specific phrases.
- Improve content originality. Take the first flagged URL from the content scan and check the page’s content originality. Does it only have a few similar sentences, or is it almost 100% duplicate content? Take notes of this in a duplicate content spreadsheet and rework the content so it matches the page.
- Conduct proper keyword and topical research. The main cause of duplicate on-site content is poor keyword research. When each keyword you target is different enough from prior blog posts, Google has an easier time noticing changes and indexing new pages on your site.
The Bottom Line
Successfully completing a technical SEO audit is worth more than a pat on the back. It’s worth celebrating, knowing that you have the knowledge necessary to optimize every aspect of your website.
Here’s what we covered in this blog post:
- Indexing issues. Your website can’t live up to its full potential without all proper pages being indexed. Check GSC to ensure every important page on your site is showing up in Google.
- Content organization and site structure. Users prefer a well-organized site and so does Google. Look at your URL structure and change it if it’s not comprehensible at a glance.
- Proper canonical tags. Canonical tags show Google where original content is published. All of your original pages should have self-referencing canonical tags.
- Internal linking. Google ranks webpages that have significant amounts of relevant internal links. Track your content and optimize the placement and type of your internal links.
- Site security and speed. Search engines rank webpages higher if they have SSL certificates and fast loading speeds. Run tests on your website to ensure it’s user-friendly in both regards.
- Mobile friendliness. Most Internet users are using mobile divides these days. Google prefers websites with an excellent mobile presence and your website needs to match this expectation.
- Duplicate content. Having multiple similar webpages is confusing for Google and useless for humans. Verify that the majority of your website content is unique and helpful for readers.
Need Help Improving Your Website’s SEO?
At Main Street ROI, we offer one-time SEO projects to audit and tune-up your website, as well as monthly SEO management services including ongoing auditing, technical fixes, content development, link building, consulting and reporting.