Technical SEO Audit Checklist
You put a lot of work into developing relevant and compelling content for your website, so technical, off-page and on-page search engine optimization (SEO) should be the next focus after your content is created. Fixing SEO errors that are causing the most SEO headache means first finding SEO mistakes and errors. But why is cleaning up SEO errors important? And where do you start?
Why is Technical SEO Cleanup Important?
Google bases its rankings on over 200 different ranking factors. One of the strongest factors is having an error free and continuous browsing experience for your users. As Google crawls and indexes your site, it will log the broken links, missing pages or unnecessary redirects and use that log to evaluate safety and security of your website’s browsing experience.
"But when we built our website, we had no errors, what happened?"
Over the course of a website’s life, your pages and content have and will evolve and change to fit your company’s ever-evolving messaging. Many factors can contribute to the rise of errors on any website, such as:
- New pages emerge to cover new products, services or events.
- You re-write content for interior pages, product pages or blogs.
- Your site has a restructure or rebranding that causes URLs to change.
At every stage of your website or business, you’ll be creating new and engaging content to grow or keep your userbase, so staying on top of errors is incredibly important. Allowing new or returning users to end up at 404’s, redirect loops or get stuck on slow loading pages can cause browsing interruptions and even negative hits from Google’s ranking algorithms.
Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex and Baidu all value one thing: a cohesive and uninterrupted browsing experience. Providing your users with the information they expect with no interruptions from broken links, slow loading pages or unsecured content can offer a lot of benefits to your website. Keeping your site healthy will create an inherent trust or goodwill from any search engine that usually results in higher rankings.
Technical SEO Audit Tools and Resources
Having a technical search engine optimization checklist of what to do and how to fix it is great, but how are you supposed to find these errors? Third-party SEO auditing tools can be expensive, but there are many great resources available for free. There are two primary tools we suggest for anyone who is just starting to dive into the world of SEO: Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
- Search Console - This is a free platform provided by Google that gives you information about the important happenings on your website. Error counts, search traffic and HTML improvements are all available for free.
- Google Analytics - Google Analytics is a platform that will give you information on how users navigate your website. Using this data will show you typical bounce points and exit pages as well as drops in traffic from any source.
- Screaming Frog - Screaming Frog is a third party program that mimics a search engine indexing bot and it can be used to find SEO errors on your website. While it is a bit limited, if your website has less than 500 pages, it can be an incredible (free) tool. If your website has more than 500, you may need to upgrade to the full version.
Leveraging both of these free tools will give you an incredible amount of information and allow you to make real informed changes on your website.
Our Technical SEO Audit Checklist for new and Existing Websites
At Blue Compass, we’ve developed a short checklist that will help you maintain a healthy website. On our technical SEO audit checklist for new and existing websites, we’ve divided the task into the three pillars of SEO: on-page, off-page and technical SEO. On to the technical SEO audit checklist!
On-Page SEO Audit Checklist
Also known as traditional SEO, on-page SEO tackles a lot of the elements that people think of when they hear SEO. Errors in image elements, duplicate content and heading tag optimization are a few of the on-page SEO elements you’ll find and correct in this section.
What is Duplicate Content?
Duplicate Content Issues are any two pages that Google denotes as less than 80% unique across your domain, and sometimes across the entire internet. Duplicate content is one of the most dangerous errors found on your website. Google will serve your website with a manual action, which limits your site’s appearance in search and may hurt your domain.
How do I Fix Duplicate Content on My Website?
You know your website better than anyone, and you know it’s content. Take a closer look at all the landing pages, interior pages, product or services pages and even contact forms. Reading your content closely for any repetitiveness or copy and pasted content can be dangerous. Revisit any affected pages and rewrite content so it is unique to that page.
Internal Linking Strategy
What is Internal Linking?
Internal linking is one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO. When a user is browsing your website you want to give them every opportunity to stay and learn more about you, so linking internally to additional resources is an excellent way to keep your users on your site, ingesting your content.
How do I Improve my Internal Linking Structure?
Revisit your old pages and articles to find new ways to link internally. Try not to over-link but if you have a relevant piece of content, do not hesitate to link to it. Many third-party tools will throw linking errors for pages that contain 15 or more links within the content that lead to other pages on the web. We recommend linking to any relevant pieces of content and sources, but don’t overdo it and link every single word or sentence.
Keyword Rankings and Research
What is Keyword Ranking and Keyword Research?
Keywords are the basis for how users search for information online. They travel to a search engine, type in their query and hit enter hoping to find the information they need. Keyword research gives us the opportunity to not only find how people are searching for our content, but the ability to understand the questions our users may have and provide new and relevant content to answer those questions.
How do I Improve my Keyword Rankings?
The easiest way is to simply take to Google and search for related content to yours and determine how they are talking about it. After finding the keywords you want to rank for, go back and work those into your headlines and content.
What are Headline Tag Errors?
Headline tag errors occur in a variety of ways. Each of these are easily fixable, but can be detrimental if they are left unchecked. These errors can occur any number of ways and can include but are not limited to: duplicate headline tags across pages, multiple headline tags on a page and missing headline tags on a page
How do I fix my Headline Tag Errors?
Editing your H1s, H2s and H3s (and 4s and 5s if you have them) so they are unique to the content on each page will get you well on your way to correcting all these errors. Implementing keyword-rich and quotable headlines will most likely many errors plaguing your heading tags.
Image Elements - Image Alt Tags
What are Image Alt Tags?
Image alt tags are additional pieces of code that should be included on every image on your site. They allow search engines to infer what the content of your image is and display them in related searches online.
How do I fix my Image Alt Tag Errors?
The most common error for Image alt tags is “Missing.” Going back to your content and adding an image alt tag through your CMS will correct many of these errors.
Image Elements - Image Title Tags
What are Image Title Tags?
Image title tags are similar to Image Alt Tags in that they help Search Engines determine the content of an image. Title Tags are, however, visible to users that are navigating your website. As a user hovers over an image, a small yellow box will appear to tell the user the content of the image.
How do fix my Image Alt Tag Errors?
The most common error for image alt tags is they are simply missing. Going back to your images within your content and adding the title tag back in is the easiest way to fix it.
Off-Page SEO Audit Checklist
Off-page SEO is everything that happens within the content of other people’s websites. This mainly refers to the inbound or referral link profiles that your website has built up over the years.
Backlink Profile Evaluation
What is a Backlink Profile?
Your backlink profile is the complete summary of the websites that link to your website. The stronger the backlink profile, the more quality links you have leading to you from other domains across the web.
How do I Improve my Backlink Profile?
Within Search Console, you can find a list of the sites that link to yours. Staying aware of the sites linking to yours will help you catch any low-quality or spammy links. Don’t be afraid to disavow any links that are hurting your backlink profile.
Building a backlink profile will take time. Reaching out to industry publications, links from vendors or even short guest blogs on other sites are a great way to start. Building links is hard, but honest work and putting your time in will get you so much farther than someone who hasn’t even started!
Technical SEO Audit Checklist
The technical SEO checklist elements are codes and signals happening on your website but cannot be seen by a browsing user. These errors include any broken links, meta information optimization or redirect chains throughout your site. Our guide to technical SEO best practices just scratches the surface of what is possible with a full technical SEO audit.
What is Unsecured Content?
Search engines reward websites for offering safe and secure browsing sessions. So what happens when a user on a secure site runs into unsecured content? A big ugly warning message happens. It’s important to minimize these errors because it causes users to leave and some might never come back.
How do I Fix Unsecured Content Issues?
Internal unsecured content usually happens when you’re upgrading from HTTP to HTTPS. Missing links in content or images are the most common perpetrators. Other instances of unsecured content are external links. While external unsecured content is not inherently bad, it can interrupt your user’s browsing experience. Editing links to link to secured sources is the best way to fix these errors.
What are 3XX Errors?
301, 302 and 303 errors (also known as 3XX errors, are notices that occur when a URL on your site is redirected to another URL. While these aren’t inherently bad, each search engine bot has a set number of URL that are crawled everyday, also known as the daily crawl budget. As a bot encounters more and more redirects it reaches the daily crawl budget faster.
How do I fix 3XX Errors?
3XX Errors are very easy to fix. One thing to remember: any site that requires an authentication, like logging into facebook or LinkedIn, will always have a redirected URL. Internally, we will verify these URLS and remove them as errors. In 99% of cases a 301 error can be fixed through the following steps:
- Navigate to the page on your site that contains the redirected link.
- Click on the link and follow the redirect
- Copy the new URL
- Replace the link you followed originally on your website with the new URL.
403/404 - Client Errors
What are 4XX Errors?
403 and 404 errors, also known as 4XX errors, are commonly referred to as broken links. These can happen on any website because of user error or pages you link to across the internet being taken down, these errors happen.
How do I fix 4XX Errors?
Fixing broken links is paramount to the health of a website. Offering a cohesive and uninterrupted browsing experience will provide more benefits from search engines than almost anything else. Search console provides all the resources you’ll need to find and fix these errors under the Crawl Errors Report.
What are Non-Responsive or 5XX Errors?
Non-Responsive, 503 and 504 errors are server-side errors, commonly referred to as 5XX errors. These tend to crop up at peak browsing hours or during times of heavy server load. While they are detrimental to the browsing experience, it is difficult to predict when they will occur.
How do I fix 5XX Errors?
5XX errors can be corrected through a diagnosis of server activity or by editing links on each page. Monitoring 5XX errors is the important part of fixing these errors. If there are pages that consistently throw 5XX errors, it’s time to take a closer look at how those pages were constructed or accessed.
What are Redirect Chains?
Redirect chains are a series of 3XX redirects that can lead search engines on a long path to acquire the content at the end. These tend to occur between site redesigns or URL structure updates. These tend to accentuate the number of unnecessary redirects on your website and can decrease the real amount of pages acquired by your daily crawl budget as each of the URLs the bot encounters in a chain is added to your budget.
How do I fix Redirect Chain Errors?
Redirect chains can be fixed similarly to 3XX errors. Replacing the last chain link with the first chain link effectively removes the redirect chain.
Meta Information - Meta Titles
What are Meta Titles?
It’s not news to say that meta titles provide no strict SEO value. They do however allow you attract the attention of users within search. They are your one chance to earn your user’s click and get their traffic. The meta title needs to be complete and representative of the page it leads to while still compelling a user to click on your link.
How do I Improve my Meta Titles?
Meat titles should be between 50 and 70 characters. Packed with relevant keywords and attractive calls to action, they should be unique to every page and each page should have only one.
Meta Information - Meta Descriptions
What are Meta Descriptions?
Meta descriptions work the same way that meta titles work. Have compelling information and calls to action within the copy to earn a user’s click.
How do I Improve my Meta Descriptions?
The most common error we see with many sites is missing meta descriptions. In this case, if a meta description is missing, you leave it up to Google or Bing to create a meta description leaving you without control. Write meta descriptions that are between 100 and 130 characters to account for mobile platforms, and making sure they are unique to every page.
What is Schema?
Schema markup is a relatively old SEO technique that few people, until recently, have utilize. Schema is a small piece of code you can use to speak directly with search engines and tell the bots exactly what is on the page. Important information for recipes, blog posts or events can all help appear better in search.
How do I Improve my Schema?
Schema is tracked through search console with a complete report on pages with errrors and accepted schema. Tools like the Structured Data Testing Tool from Google can allow you to verify it the first time around.
Other Technical SEO Elements to Keep in Mind
While our Technical SEO Guide covers a lot, there are a host of other things you can be doing to increase the overall health of your website. For a few more rabbit-holes to jump down check these topics out:
Optimizing Site Speed
Complexity and functionality sometimes bring an interrupted browsing experience, and with today’s mobile-focused world, it is all the more important to keep your site loading quickly. Consider these loading times:
- At three seconds: 75% of users will hit the back button and not wait for the page to load.
- At two seconds: 25% of users will hit the back button and not wait for the page to load.
- At one second: 10% of users will hit the back button and not wait for the page to load.
With bounce rates that high, the risk is too great to let your site continue to load slowly.
Minimize the number of calls to the server, decrease image sizes or upgrade your hosting service to ensure your site is loading quickly. Utilize tools like Pingdom to monitor your site’s load times.
Pro tip: Test from multiple locations to ensure that users can access your site from anywhere.
Do you use hreflang tags to target different languages? Utilize Google’s International Targeting Report within Search Console to minimize hreflang errors and maintain proper search signals. If you’ve got other questions about how you can be reaching your international audiences, check out our International SEO best practices!
Pro Tip: Try to keep your Hreflang error percentage under 1%
Ensuring a safe and secure browsing experience has some serious benefits in the eyes of Google. With a confirmed rankings boost for a secure website (running on HTTPS or secure SSL certificate), you can see a nice bump from Google as well as the security goodwill from your users.
Pro Tip: Google’s Security Report in Search Console will alert you of any security issues on your site.
Now that you have this handy checklist, you’re ready to tackle anything. The most important thing to remember is that auditing your website now can save you headaches later. It can be as easy as making one or two error corrections a day, or a full blown SEO audit, the important thing is to continue making changes and reduce your error counts.
Want to Kick-Start Your SEO?
Blue Compass is in the business of improving the health of your website. With customized and actionable recommendations, we can get your website healthy ASAP. Give us a call or fill out the form below to get in touch with us!