Want to improve your website for technical SEO? Start with this checklist

Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins

CEO - Shout Agency
[email protected]

There are many aspects involved in the process of getting your website properly crawled and indexed by Google (and other search engines). These technical elements are what you use to achieve that, and is known as ‘technical SEO’.

This is the journey of ensuring you meet all of the nitty-gritty requirements of modern-day search engines and their updated algorithms. As a result, your organic rankings are greatly improved, allowing you to deliver more relevant traffic to your website.

So to help you get your head around all of this information, we’ve put together this complete checklist of technical SEO requirements that will ensure you are well on your way to getting the most exposure out of the wonderful world of Google.

Why is technical SEO important?

There are still a vast number of websites out there that only focus on the on-page elements of their site. As long as everything looks good on the surface, then the website is functioning correctly, right? While a functioning page is precisely that and will do the job for visitors that find their way to your URL, your traffic numbers could be suffering because of a litany of technical SEO issues that are bubbling beneath the surface.

Another misconception is that search engine crawlers are technologically advanced and use so much advanced artificial intelligence that they are going to be able to crawl and index your site perfectly every time. And while it is true that companies like Google have poured enormous resources into improving this process, they are not perfect. Technical issues are still going to cause problems with crawlers, which means you are going to suffer hits to your rankings and reap far less traffic – and potential leads and sales – as a result.

Understanding the expansive world of technical SEO

Think of your website like a car. It needs to be regularly serviced and maintained. You want to replace aging components with newer, better, and more efficient parts. And if you neglect your vehicle, it is likely to decline in performance and not be the car that it once was.

Your website is exactly the same, you need to routinely conduct technical SEO audits to ensure that everything is working correctly under the hood and you are getting the best possible performance when it comes to visibility on Google.

How to do a technical SEO audit

The very first step of the journey is to conduct an audit on your website(s) and determine how well they are performing so that you can find areas to improve on. The fundamentals of a technical SEO audit include putting together a:

  1. Crawlability checklist: This is the foundation of your entire technical SEO audit. Search bots from Google and others are crawling your site to find as much information as they can and you need to ensure they are getting the right information from your site. If there are any pages or components of your site that are blocking these crawlers for whatever reason, this needs to be addressed as this is hurting your SEO.
  2. Indexability checklist: Has your site been indexed by the major search engines? If it hasn’t, then it is not going to appear in searches. During your audit look for noindex tags in your HTML meta tags and remove them if need be. Also, check your Robots.txt file for any errors as this is the file that controls the crawling and indexing of your website. Likewise, any errors in your .htaccess file can cause indexation errors.

  3. Renderability checklist: This is how accessible your site is to users. It should include aspects such as:
  4. server performance
  5. HTTP status
  6. the overall page loading time
  7. page sizes (in terms of files)
  8. JavaScript rendering (which Google does not favour)
  9. page depth or how many layers or clicks there are away from the homepage, orphan pages that are not linked to other URLs on your site
  10. redirect chains – as these can slow down or halt the crawling process if not set up correctly.

  11. Rankability checklist: How many websites are linking back to your site? These are called backlinks and are favoured by Google. How many internal links do you have set up? These can help search engines understand the workflow of your site. List all of your backlinks as well as internal and external ones, utilising online tools to compare them to your competition. Tip: Ahrefs or SEMRush are handy for this.

  12. Clickability checklist: Improving your click-through rate also impacts your rankings on Google. Use structured data and schema to ensure you are speaking the language of crawlers. Include SERP features like videos, images, articles, FAQs, product lists, site links, and keyword phrases that might appear in Google’s “People Also Ask” box and Featured Snippets in searches.

Technical vs. On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO

The easiest way to differentiate technical from on-page and off-page SEO is that technical SEO is an element that does not relate to the content on your website itself. All of these types of optimisation are important in their own right, but to understand what is required for an effective technical SEO strategy, it is vital to know which components of your website to focus on first. Here are the three types of SEO explained simply:

  1. On-Page SEO: This is related to the actual content on your website, primarily the written content. This is where you do keyword research to ensure crawlers understand what your website, brand, and products/services are about clearly so they can match you to the most relevant searches.

  2. Off-Page SEO: This is related to activities that happen away from your website, primarily other pages that are linking back to your site. The more reputable the website is, the more influence this backlink will have with Google and other search engine crawlers. These backlinks are essentially a vote of confidence in your website from pages that have already proven themselves.

  3. Technical SEO: This is the nuts and bolts of how your website is working. It is the code that crawlers will read, it is the speed and functionality of your site, it is every technical component that the crawlers and indexers are looking to properly rank your website.

Technical SEO audit fundamentals

To properly check under the hood of your website, there are some basic steps that you can take to get started. This will allow you to quickly and easily optimise the technical side of your site and will help you to detect any errors or issues that might need to be addressed. The fundamentals of your technical SEO audit include:

  1. Audit Your preferred domain: Ever since Google did the Panda update, websites that have multiple domains are being punished for having duplicate content. That is because www.Mybusiness.com and Mybusiness.com.au are two different websites loaded with the same content. So you need to set up your preferred domain so that the crawlers will only detect one of these URLs, the one with the www prefix or the one without. This can be done in your .htaccess file by adding code that sets your preferred domain.

  2. Implement SSL: Data security has never been more paramount than the modern-day and Google is going to favour websites that take proactive steps to protect sensitive data from the threat of outside intrusion and theft. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and it is the standard technology that websites can use to protect sensitive information being sent between two different sources. You will notice this when you go to a website and it starts with the https prefix. If you don’t have this already, it is time to set up SSL.

  3. Optimise your page speed: There are many ways that you can speed up your website and this is important for the user experience as well as for search engine crawlers and indexers that favour optimised websites. Usually, a slow running website can be put down to slow server speed or images and videos that have not been optimised, large files that are making your website chug when it is loading. You can also run some other checks including enabling compression of these images and videos, reduce the number of redirects, leverage browser caching, and optimising your CSS, JavaScript, and HTML coding to remove redundant and unnecessary elements that could be slowing down your site speed dramatically.

  4. Crawlability Checklist
    1. Create an XML sitemap: In simple terms, this is a list of all of the different pages and URLs your website has. These are actually very easy to create yourself and they deliver the Google crawlers a ready-made map to your site when they arrive. It includes the total structure of your site so it can be quickly and correctly indexed and improve your Google rankings. All you have to do is create your XML sitemap, add it to your website and submit it to Google. There are many tools available out there that will enable you to quickly create an efficient XML sitemap and apply them to your site. The best news is this method is one of the fastest ways to organically improve your Google ranking.

    1. Maximise your crawl budget: This has nothing to do with your financial investment into technical SEO, crawl budget is the number of pages that Google will crawl on your site per day. Most of the time Google will automatically crawl your site the appropriate amount of times. If the number of pages you have exceeds your crawl budget, though, then there are going to be pages that are not crawled or indexed which makes them invisible. This is a problem if you have a large website with a high number of pages, you have scaled up in a quick period of time and added a lot of pages, or you have lots of redirects which can also chew into your crawl budget.

    1. Optimise your site architecture: When you structure your website properly it makes it easier for crawlers to do their job and you are likely to have better results in search engine rankings. You will also have the added benefits of having a site that is easier to use and more functional for your visitors which means you are more likely to achieve your goals (leads, sales, and conversions). It usually means your site is running fast as well. Want more? Having a properly structured website means that Google is more likely to include site links for your site in searches that provide more CTAs and more chances of attracting the right traffic. Keep the structure of your site simple, easy to navigate, and make the journey make sense to visitors so they don’t get lost and click away. The easier it is for you to navigate, the easier it is for crawlers as well.

    1. Set a URL structure: The actual URLs of your website are important as well because this is another way that search engine crawlers will map your page. This can often be overlooked because most people will come to your site via a link, so why stress about the actual URL? It is important to focus on your URL because this is how Google is going to put your link in front of the right people. You should make your URL structure easy to navigate for users, as crawlers will look at them the same way. The URL structure should follow a path, like www.business/services/service1, for example.

    1. Utilise robots.txt: This is one of the most important text files you will come across when it comes to optimising your website. This little file tells search engine robots which pages it should crawl and which ones to not crawl. This is where you can set your crawl budget to optimise this process, you can tell Google to not crawl pages on your site that are not customer-facing, eliminate duplicate page issues (for example where you might have a print-friendly version of a page, you can tell Google to only crawl one of these URLs) and to optimise landing pages and thank you screens for qualified leads.

    1. Add breadcrumb menus: This is a method that shows where users are located when they are on a website, the term coming from the famous fairytale Hansel and Gretel where they left a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back home. This is simple to active in any content management system and makes it simple for users to know where they are on your site and to navigate their way to other relevant pages. This is also favoured by search engine web crawlers.

    1. Use pagination: Pagination is basically the process of dividing sections of your website up to make it easier for users to consume. First of all, if you have been using rel=“next” and rel=“prev” in your pagination – bad news, this is no longer used as an indexing signal by Google. What that means is that paginated pages are treated the same as all other pages on your website – except the paginated sections are treated as individual pages. This allows you to be very specific and is very useful for e-commerce websites so you can direct searchers to the product they are looking for.

    1. Check your SEO log files: There is precious data in your SEO log files. It includes whether your page(s) have been crawled, indexed, your crawl budget as well as specific technical errors so you can address them on the fly and improve your SEO. These are stored and managed by different servers in different ways, so search for your server type and operating system to find out how to locate yours.

Indexability checklist

Now that you have optimised your technical SEO for crawlers, it is time to audit your indexability to ensure you are sitting where you want to be when it comes to search engine rankings. Once you have been indexed, you will be eligible to rank on SERPs. To ensure you are getting the best position in these indexations, here are the technical SEO audit steps you should follow:

  1. Unblock search bots from accessing pages: There are some pages on your website that you want to hide from search engine crawlers because they are not customer-facing, but it is relatively common for sites that you DO want to be indexed to be accidentally blocked as well. Check through your CMS and ensure all of the pages you want to be crawled are not blocking search bots.

  2. Remove duplicate content: Google penalises duplicate content, so ensure your content is unique and is not replicated anywhere else on your site.
  • Audit your redirects: Server redirects are useful when they are working properly, but they can slow down your website, lead to dead links and 404 errors, and hurt your SEO as well. There are many useful tools available that will do redirect audits for you and this is as vital as servicing your car.
  • Check the mobile-responsiveness of your site: The tipping point has already come, more people are using mobile devices to conduct internet searches than desktop or laptop devices. It is absolutely essential that your site is mobile-optimised so that search engines can deliver you that valuable mobile traffic.
  • Fix HTTP errors: These are errors sent from the server and they are a big frustration for visitors to your website. If they are met with a dead link or an error, they are almost certain to go somewhere else. Google knows this and will favour sites that do not have HTTP errors as well. These errors can include 401 (Unauthorised), 403 (Forbidden) and the most common 404 (Not Found) when links are broken.

Renderability checklist

How your website renders or loads for users is critical for your SEO. It needs to be fast and seamless or it is going to make for a frustrating experience, which is why Google and other search engines will favour faster-loading sites in their indexation. Here is your technical SEO audit checklist for your website rendering and how you can optimise your site speed:

  1. Server performance: This will give you reports on your server and its performance, giving you data on whether you need to change your website activities or upgrade your server’s capabilities. It also gives you early warning signs if there are any abnormalities, malicious activities, or other issues that could be threatening your data and your site speed. Regular audits are essential for the optimisation of your website.
  • HTTP Status: If you have HTTP status codes appearing on your website they could be a warning sign that something is not working correctly on your site. There are many normal codes like information and success codes, but there are also redirect, client error, or server error codes that can be major problems. Essentially, they need to be addressed quickly.
  • Load time and page size: Check your site loading speed regularly and also run assessments on all of the assets on your pages that could be causing site slowdown, like large image or video files. A slow-loading website has a double negative effect, because not only is it not favoured by Google and other search engines but it also frustrates your audience and makes it likely they will click away from your site and never return.
  • JavaScript rendering: Using tools to analyse your JavaScript rendering allows you to find any weaknesses or vulnerabilities on your website before Google or your visitors find them. It is an efficient tool to ensure your website rendering is running properly and you don’t have any unique pages running or loading slowly.
  • Orphan pages: These are pages with no link to any of the other pages on your website. This means that users have no way to move to another part of your website and Google will rank sites with orphan pages down as a result. There are tools you can use to audit your site and locate any pages with no internal links so these can be added and they can be visible by search engine crawlers and indexers.
  • Page depth: This is how many clicks the Google (or another search engine) crawler had to make to reach every single page on your site during its search. Four is your magic number here, if you cannot reach a page on your site within four clicks then it is too deep for users and it might not even get indexed as a result. You want to ensure your visitors can quickly access all of your pages through internal links and in no more than four clicks.
  • Redirect chains: Redirects are common, but when a URL redirects to URL 2, then URL 3, then URL 4 – for example – it creates delays. This can be caused by simple oversights when you are not aware there is already a redirect in place when you are redirecting a URL. It can also happen when you have done website migrations, including from HTTP to HTTPS, where additional redirects could be put in place instead of updating existing redirects. These chains can delay crawling and slow your website down, impacting your SEO twofold.

Rankability checklist

Now to the business end.The technical SEO strategies that will directly impact where you are indexed and ranked in searches so you can appear as close to the top – organically – as possible. This is your checklist to improve your rankings on Google and climb higher up the ladder, ultimately above your competition:

  1. Internal and external linking: Internal links help users navigate their way easily through your site and they also provide the same experience for crawlers to assist with your SEO. External links will also help improve your domain authority score which is a signal Google uses for ranking in searches as well.
  • Backlink quality: Internal links are highly important for site navigation and the user experience while they are also a signal for SEO. But backlinks are the real ranking juice and this should be a priority. Get as many reputable backlinks as you can from large, well-established sites with high traffic and Google will reward you. But never be tempted to purchase these backlinks or use Black Hat tactics or you will be penalised.
  • Content clusters: Quality content has always been key for SEO. But writing unique, thought-inspiring, relevant and – at times – controversial content then you are going to improve your Google ranking and also weave in valuable keywords and keyphrases to your website. But that is on-page SEO and we are here today to discuss technical SEO. What content clusters are is a way to boost and improve your content strategy by using topic modelling and internal linking to create pathways through this content, guiding users through your articles or other content, and moving them to more relevant content. It allows you to link multiple pieces of content that fall under one topic matter that deliver a complete experience to users. This improves your SEO, but it also creates a much better experience for your users and means they are going to spend more time on your site – leaving satisfied.
  • Core-vital performance indicators: Having access to all of the right metrics helps you guide your SEO strategies and Google Search Console is the best way to access this data for free. Google Search Console gives you all of the data and reporting you need to help improve your rankings.

Clickability checklist

Finally, you have conducted regular technical SEO audits and your site is climbing its way up the Google rankings. This is a tremendous outcome, but it is not the final step. Once you have achieved a high search engine ranking you want to ensure that you are getting a high click-through rate (CTR) and there are some final steps you can take to make your site more attractive to relevant audiences including:

  1. Use structured data: Crawlers aren’t perfect and providing them with structured data and rich snippets gives them the hyper-specific information about your website that allows Google to present your page in the most attractive light. Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to create microdata for your website and tag your content. This could include images, videos, recipes, product prices – any specific information about your brand and your products or services.

  2. Win SERP features: When you conduct a search, you will notice there are standard results but there is also a raft of other information that is presented on the home page. While some of these features are paid products, there are also organic SERP features and with the right structure, you can give yourself the best chance of standing out from the herd.

Some of the things you can do include:

  • Create content that directly answers common questions
  • Ensure the targeted query is in the heading and subheadings
  • Use bullet points
  • Include tables and lists
  • Include alt tags for your images
  • Implement the target query in your video titles.
  • Consider Google Discover: This tool is designed to provide a feed of relevant information to Google users and is the new frontier for SEO. Optimising your content to appear in Google Discover feeds will put you ahead of your competition and prepare you for the growing number of people using this feature. It is already being widely used and it is a simple process to optimise for it.

High-quality images are favoured (that is quality in terms of visual appeal, not the size of the file), check the content already being used in Discover and make sure your topics align with them without copying them – you want fresh and original content –- make your content the kind that is highly shareable and finally, ensure you are doing all of the right keyword research and that you are using these words and phrases.

While this list is long and it may sound exhausting, it will quickly become common practice. We previously likened technical SEO auditing to servicing your car, vehicle engines are highly complicated feats of engineering but servicing is a common routine for all vehicle owners.

Just like servicing your car, auditing the technical side of your website will become second nature. Eventually, all your hard work will pay off to higher rankings in Google, better visibility to your target audience, and an improved click-through rate. In the end, you’ll also provide  the best experience possible for your visitors.

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