A technical search engine optimization assessment of a site is absolutely essential if you want to maximize SEO efforts and see subsequent benefits. Technical SEO is all about communication to the search engine via page response headers, information architecture, cross-linking, and more. It comprises everything that affects a search engine’s ability to find, crawl, and index content—and then interpret it the way you want it to interpret it.
For these reasons, conducting a technical SEO audit is an essential task, but sometimes SEOs can be too focused on approaching an SEO audit as a checklist, rather than as an analysis of communication between a site and a search engine. I have included four critical areas that may or may not be on the average SEO list to analyze during a routine technical SEO audit and the questions that you should ask and answer in detail to ensure no stone is left unturned.
Questions to Ask
- Can all content be seen when tested using Google’s Fetch and Render tool in Google Search Console for the search engine view?
- Is Google’s Fetch and Render tool returning any errors or URLs that are blocked to the search engine?
The source code of a page can provide a wealth of information about how a site is built, template issues, and much more. Don’t rely on crawlers and code validators to fully identify issues and make useful observations. It is imperative you directly review source code to do a direct evaluation. In order to view the source code hit CTRL + U for a PC on all browsers and OPTION + COMMAND + U for a Mac in Safari (for a Mac be sure to enable the Develop menu in the Advanced tab for this shortcut to work in this browser), COMMAND + U in Firefox, and OPTION + COMMAND + U in Chrome.
Questions to Ask
- Is there an overly large amount of white space in the code?
- Is there only one title tag?
- Is there only one meta description?
- Is there only one <head> section?
- Are there generally many lines of code compared to the amount of content included on the page?
- Are all links, cross-links or otherwise, relative or absolute URLs?
- If a WordPress site is being evaluated, are there any plugins identified in the source code that are not directly identified in the WordPress interface?
Page/site errors are an essential area of analysis. As few pages as possible should be returning anything other than a 200 OK response to the search engine (except for redirects). High numbers of site errors, regardless of the type, can cause a wide array of issues, from preventing a search engine from reaching critical content to inadvertently communicating that a site may not be well maintained. It is not practical to have a site return zero errors, especially for larger sites, but ideally a site would have no more than 5 percent of URLs available for indexing returning an error in total.
Questions to Ask
- How many soft 404 errors are identified? Are any identified for critical pages?
- How many server errors (5xx) are identified? Are any identified for critical pages?
- How many 404 errors are identified? Are any identified for critical pages?
- How many other types of 4xx errors are identified? Are any identified for critical pages?
- Have there been any recent significant spikes or increases for any error types?
- What common trends or characteristics (directories, parameters, etc.) can be identified for pages returning an error, particularly for pages returning a 404 error?
- Are there any common time frames for when multiple error types increased or decreased in number?
Page Load Time
More critical than ever, page load time may seem like something to include in a user experience analysis rather than in a technical audit, but all the fixes to improve this important ranking signal will most likely require a large amount of attention from developers. With the announcement from Google in July 2018 that page load time is officially a ranking signal for mobile (as opposed to just desktop), it is imperative this element be analyzed and included in any technical SEO evaluation of a site. Many factors can influence page load time, and there are too many to mention here, but I have included essential questions below for aspects of page load time that commonly present issues.
Questions to Ask
- Of the types of requests significantly adding to page load time, are there individual requests of those types that are taking a long time to load?
- Are all image files below 50KB or less?
- Are there an overly large number of third-party requests?
- How long does it take for users to first start seeing content visible on the page with which they can interact (or the perception they can interact)?
- Are CSS sprites being utilized for added optimization?
Including the questions above in your next technical SEO audit will ensure you are analyzing critical aspects of a site that can have a significant impact on strategic SEO efforts and overall SEO impact in the long term. Always remember the goal of technical SEO is to ensure the site and the search engine are communicating correctly at a foundational level. When these issues are fixed, everything else (keyword targeting, relevancy, content creation) will be maximized.