How Technical SEO Audits Will Help You Increase Your Organic Ranking

Technical SEO audit. Three little words that can strike fear, or at the very least, a slight sense of impending doom in the hearts of website owners across the globe.

Is it the term “technical” that gets people worried? Or perhaps it’s the notion of time consumption and complicated “audit”.

Whatever it is, putting off a technical SEO audit will do your business no favors. In fact, in today’s increasingly competitive digital marketing world, failure to pay proper attention to ALL aspects of SEO can mean the difference between your business thriving or merely surviving.

Feeling a little daunted at the prospect of carrying out a technical SEO audit yourself?

Fear not. Within this guide you will learn:

  • What technical SEO is
  • Why a technical SEO audit is important
  • How often to carry out a technical SEO audit
  • How to carry out a technical SEO audit in 10 straightforward steps

Still feeling worried?

Don’t be. You’ve got this!!

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to the process of optimizing your website for the crawling and indexing phase of website ranking. Unlike on-page SEO which focuses on keyword research and content, and off-page SEO which involves backlinking, technical SEO refers to the technical aspects of your website such as its page loading speed, HTTP header responses and redirects.

Although named technical SEO, you don’t have to be a technical genius to be able to understand the processes involved in improving the technical elements of your website. You just need to be able to follow clear and simple instructions. Plus, there are so many amazing online tools that you can utilize to make the entire audit process much more manageable.

Why are technical SEO audits so important?

Do you want your content and website to rank higher on Google and other popular search engines?

Of course you do. Sadly, achieving this is no longer a case of just using as many keywords as humanly possible and backlinking to a few microsites. If you want to get on that much coveted first page of Google in 2020 and beyond, you need to up your game and optimize your website in every way imaginable. This includes fixing any issues or errors that are holding you back.

A technical SEO audit is basically like a health MOT for your website. It looks at the foundations of your site, checking for any technical problems that may be having a negative effect on the search bots’ ability to crawl, index and rank your site.

How often should I carry out a technical SEO audit?

Google are constantly changing and updating their search algorithm, meaning that in order to remain relevant and keep within their “rules” so to speak, you need to be carrying out a full technical SEO audit at least once every six months — and ideally once every quarter.

That being said, it can also be beneficial to carry out a series of mini-audits more frequently to flag up any new errors. It is advisable to conduct mini-audits on a monthly basis.

This may seem like a lot of work but stop and think about how much you want to get on that first search results page of Google. Imagine just how much more visibility your site will enjoy, plus, the reputation that you will gain from becoming one of the “chosen ones”.

Don’t forget that you need to carry out an on-page SEO audit and an off-page SEO audit at regular intervals as well if you want your site to increase its organic ranking.

What tools do I need to carry out a technical SEO audit?

There are several online tools that will make the process of carrying out a technical SEO audit a lot quicker and easier:

  • Google Search Console
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Mobile-Friendly Test
  • Screaming Frog
  • DeepCrawl
  • SEMrush
  • Facebook Sharing Debugger

mobile

How to conduct a technical SEO audit

Now for the part of the guide that you have been waiting for — the technical SEO audit itself. Now, be prepared for the fact that this is not a quick process, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

Take one step at a time and enjoy the sense of achievement as you are able to check each task of your technical SEO audit to-do list.

Step 1: Crawling

This should always be the first element of your technical SEO audit as it allows you to identify issues such as broken links, duplicate content, bad keywords and too many redirects.

There are several tools that you can use to crawl your website such as:

  • SEMrush
  • DeepCrawl

It can also be beneficial to take a look at Google Search Console to determine your crawl budget. If you do not know what this is, your crawl budget is the number of URLs that search bots can and want to crawl on your website.

There are several ways you can improve your Google crawl budget. These include:

  • Fixing redirects. Although redirects are necessary, you don’t want too many as each one takes up a part of your crawl budget which could be better used elsewhere. By reducing the number of redirects on your site, you can optimize your crawl budget and improve your organic ranking.
  • Eliminating duplicate content. Duplicate pages are a complete waste of your Google crawl budget, but fortunately they can be easily identified and removed. Screaming Frog is a simple online tool that you can use to find duplicate pages and then you can either remove them or block them from being seen by search bots.
  • Provide URL parameters. By adding URL parameters to the Google Search Console you can ensure that Google does not crawl the same page twice as though it was two separate pages.
  • Prevent indexing on certain pages. There will be pages on your website that search bots do not need to crawl as they will not help them understand your site any better. These include pages such as your terms and conditions.

It can also be a good idea to manually search for your website on Google. This is incredibly straightforward. All you need to do is type “site: domain name”.

Through this process you can determine how well your website is ranking, how many of your pages appear in relevant search results and if your site appears first when you search for it by name.

It is important to remember that just because a page is missing, it doesn’t mean it is uncrawlable.

Step 2: Check your sitemap

The overall effectiveness of your sitemap is crucial to SEO as it can help search engines to understand and navigate the structure of your site and to locate any new pages that you add.

During a technical SEO audit you will want to make sure that your sitemap is:

  • Clear of errors. Any redirects or URLs that block indexing need to be removed asap.
  • As a general rule, if your sitemap has more than 50,000 URLs, Google will not crawl it. Instead, focus on your most important pages and remove any that do not offer value.
  • Whenever you add new content to your site, it needs to be immediately added to your sitemap, otherwise Google will take longer to find it.
  • Registered in Google Search Console. If you haven’t already, Google needs to be made aware of your sitemap. You can do this either manually or by specifying its location in robots.txt.

You may also want to check to see if you have an XML sitemap. This is an XML file that helps search engines crawl and understand your website better. By having this type of sitemap you can enjoy better indexation of your site; you will be able to set a crawl budget and you can help protect your site against duplicate content.

You can check if your site has an XML sitemap by typing in “yoursite.com/sitemap.xml” – is one listed?

You can also use Google Search Console to view your current sitemap or to submit a new one. Simply navigate to “Crawl>Sitemaps”. If you use have a WordPress site, there are lots of plugins that you can choose from to help you create an XML sitemap.

Step 3: Evaluate the architecture

The architecture of your site, otherwise known as its structure, is crucial if you want search bots to be able to rank your site properly.

Within this step there are several aspects of site architecture that you need to check:

  • A trail that allows users to navigate your website with ease, breadcrumbs are vital for enforcing page hierarchy and navigation to search engines. You should be easily able to see if you have breadcrumbs enabled as they normally appear underneath your navigation as you explore your site.
  • TLN, Top Level Navigation, refers to the main menu and navigation on your website. TLN affects both your user experience and your search indexation. All your top pages should be linked to from the TLN if you want search engines to be able to navigate and understand your site. When auditing, you need to ensure your target pages are linked to your TLN, that you are using optimized titles in your TLN and that your TLN is organized for your users to find what they want with minimal clicks.
  • You cannot link to all the pages on your website via TLN unless you have a small site. This is where footers come in handy. When search bots crawl your website they need to be able to access all most important pages including your FAQs, your privacy policy and your careers page. Footers can be used to show them that these pages are a crucial part of your website.
  • Site depth. When checking your site depth, you are checking the number of clicks your pages are away from your homepage. As a general rule, you do not want your most important pages such as your product pages to be more than three clicks away from the home page. You can check your site depth via Screaming Frog. Simply click on “Site Structure” to be provided with a list of stats detailing how many pages you have and their depth from the starting URL.

Step 4: Check internal links

Internal links are vital for establishing site architecture and for helping Google to understand the relationships between different pages and pieces of content on your site.

There are several aspects of internal linking that you need to check during a technical SEO audit including:

  • Broken links. A complete waste of Google crawl budget, broken links can also impact upon your user experience. You can find broken links by checking out the “All Resources” dashboard in WebSite Auditor and then clicking on “Internal Resources”. You can then sort by HTTP status code to locate any broken links.
  • Orphan pages. Orphan pages are ones that do not contain any links to other pages within your website. Search bots struggle to find these pages so they are effectively a waste of space. You can locate orphan pages by going to “Site Structure” in WebSite Auditor and clicking on “Pages”, “Rebuild project” and finally “Search for Orphan Pages”. Once located, you should add at least one internal link (or more).
  • Click depth. This refers to the number of clicks a particular page is away from the homepage of your site. For your most important pages, you should aim to be no more than 3 clicks away from the homepage. You can check out your site’s click depth by heading to “Site Structure” in WebSite Auditor and then “Pages”.

Step 5: Check your website versions

Does your website currently have more than one version? If yes, that could confuse search bots and decrease your organic ranking. Therefore, you need to make sure that only one version of your website is browsable.

There are a number of reasons why you might have multiple versions of your website such as you have a desktop and mobile version or you may have both HTTP and HTTPS versions.

Fortunately, a technical SEO audit can identify this issue and allow you to rectify it.

If you are currently not using HTTPS for your website, now is the time to change as this type of website version guarantees security. Something which Google look very favorably on. If you are using HTTP you will notice a “Not Secure” label next to your site.

Setting up HTTPS on your website is very straightforward. All you need to do is:

At this point if you go to https://yoursite.com you should see it load. Congratulations, you now have a secure site.

Step 6: Test your site speed

One of the most crucial elements of technical SEO, your page loading time is important both for search bots and for your users. Think about the last time you visited a website. How long were you prepared to wait for a page to load before you gave up and looked for help elsewhere? Probably less than five seconds.

Therefore, if you want to reduce your bounce rate, you need to ensure that your page loading time is as quick as possible. In fact, if you are interested to know just how quickly the probability of users bouncing from your page is, then check out the below:

  • If your page loading time goes up from 1 to 3 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 32%.
  • If your page loading time goes up from 1 to 5 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%.
  • If your page loading time goes up from 1 to 10 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 123%.

Plus, as Google takes into consideration the speed of your site when determining your ranking, it is vital that testing your website speed is included in your technical SEO audit.

You can check the speed of your website on Google Page Speed Insights. This helpful tool will show you how fast your site is loading, as well as how it is performing in terms of speed against its competitors. You will even be given useful tips and advice on how to improve your site’s speed.

You can also use Google Analytics to see an in-depth diagnostic of how to improve the speed of your website. You can find this section in “Behavior>Site Speed”. This helpful tool will tell you how specific pages are performing in different browsers and countries, plus, you can check these results against your page views to ensure you are spotlighting your most important pages.

If you are not happy with the page loading time of your website, there are several changes you can make to speed up your site. These include:

  • Optimizing your images
  • Reducing server requests
  • Fixing bloated JavaScript
  • Using a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
  • Implementing a proper caching strategy

Checking the speed of your server

Step 7: Carry out a backlink audit

Although some SEO experts no longer believe backlinks to be as important as they once were, these are still a critical part of SEO and in the Google ranking algorithm. That being said, what has changed is that backlinks now must be better quality than ever before.

Hence the reason for including a backlink audit in your technical SEO audit.

High-quality backlinks from high-authority sources have the ability to show search engines just how valuable the content on your website is. Low-quality ones, on the other hand, can do the exact opposite, decreasing your value and your organic search ranking. It is also important to know that Google crawlers don’t just check for hyperlinks in off-site SEO; they also check your site for brand mentions.

You can carry out a backlink audit using a free tool such as Ahrefs which will show you what types of backlinks are going to your website. This can allow you to identify what pages on your website have more high value links, as well as enable you to check out the backlinks your competitors are getting.

Now is also the best time to have a look at what keywords your competitors are ranking for. By utilizing SEMrush, you can identify which backlinks are going to your competitors for the relevant keywords.

If you are not happy with the number of high-quality backlinks you are getting, these backlink strategies should be able to help you:

  • Publish “skyscraper” content
  • Build links from outdated sources
  • Focus on content formats that are known for generating links
  • Publish “ultimate” guides
  • Turn brand mentions into quality backlinks

Within your backlink audit you should also take into consideration how you are engaging on your social media platforms. Social media is a great driver for consistent backlinks and should be used to effectively support your overall SEO efforts.

You can check to see what your web content looks like on Facebook using the Facebook Sharing Debugger. This tool also allows you to check your Open Graph tags, the snippets of code that control how URLs are displayed when shared on social media.

If your business has a Twitter account, you will want to check if you have Twitter Card Snippets. This refers to code that you embed in your site that allows an image, title and description of the post to pull through on your tweets. Twitter Card Snippets are important as they give your Twitter followers a better understanding of the content you are sharing; plus, it can help improve your click through rate as users can see more information about your content.

Here is a great example of a snippet on Twitter that is both visually appealing and optimized:

Social media is crucial for improving your SEO and for increasing your organic ranking due to its ability to:

  • Increase your number of backlinks
  • Increase your brand awareness
  • Increase your organic traffic

Step 8: Check your website is mobile friendly

In the second quarter of 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 51.53% of all global website traffic. In fact, mobile phones are becoming so popular for activities such as watching movies, shopping and accessing social media that many emerging digital markets are forgoing the desktop internet phase altogether and moving straight onto mobile via smartphones and tablets.

Furthermore, Google will soon be rolling out mobile-first indexing for all websites. This means that they will be ranking your site based on its mobile version first and foremost.

With this in mind, it is vital that you ensure that your website is mobile friendly — sooner rather than later. You can use Google Mobile-Friendly Test to check if your page is mobile responsive, and fortunately, this free online tool is super easy to use.

All you need to do is input your domain and it will show you exactly how the page is rendered for mobile usage, as well as stipulate whether it is mobile friendly or not.

You should also take the time during your technical SEO audit to manually check the mobile version of your website. This is a really quick way to identify any obvious errors or issues with accessibility. Simply use your own phone to navigate your way around your site, making a note of any problems along the way.

Elements you should check for include:

  • Issues with contact forms
  • Contact details such as phone numbers and email addresses
  • Key service pages
  • Element sizes
  • Page loading times
  • Clickable elements that are not optimized for touch
  • Unfriendly navigation
  • CTAs that are not optimized for mobile

If you already have a responsive site, a single website that adapts layouts, content and element sizes to suit different display sizes, you should not encounter any of the above problems. However, it is still worth checking the effectiveness of your responsive site when conducting a technical SEO audit.

If you have not yet built a responsive website, now is the time to consider doing so. It is highly likely that your competitors already have and there are many advantages to having a responsive site over a separate mobile site including:

  • The ability to attract a wider audience
  • The ease of monitoring analytics
  • The ease of maintenance
  • Boosting your SEO
  • Lowering your bounce rate
  • Improving your conversion rate

Providing consistency in brand and design

Step 9: Leverage your analytics and compare site metrics

This step is predominantly focused around code and finding out whether your site’s code is installed correctly. You can easily identify if your code has been done correctly by figuring out whether your analytics service (Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, etc.) is reporting live metric data.

If you are using Google Analytics, you will want the “tracker code” to be placed above the header on each web page.

When you have your chosen analytics service up and running, you need to first compare the metric data to the results of your earlier manual domain search that you carried out in Step 1. You want the results to be fairly similar, as in the number of pages showing up in your metric data should be comparable to the number of pages from your manual search.

If not, certain pages on your website aren’t being crawled properly.

Within this step you also want to check the bounce rate of your site. This can be carried out via Google Analytics. Simply log in to your account and click on “Audiences>Overview”.

Obviously, you will want your bounce rate to be low, as a higher bounce rate means that users are not finding what they are looking for when they visit your site. If your bounce rate is high, there are several steps that you can take to rectify this:

  • Use relevant keywords
  • Write better meta descriptions
  • Link to other relevant posts
  • Avoid click bait headlines and images
  • Write concise content

Optimize page loading time

Step 10: Recrawl your website

Once you have carried out all of the above steps and you have rectified any issues or problems that you encountered, now is the time to ask Google to recrawl your site.

Why do you need to do this?

After all your hard work, don’t you want to check that the changes you have made have been considered and are having an immediate impact?

Of course, you do!

To do this, simply head over to Google Search Console and navigate your way to “Crawl” and click on “Fetch as Google”. There you can enter the URL that you want recrawled and then click “Fetch”. When the search bot has fetched your page, you then just need to click “Submit to Index” and wait for the magic to happen.

You can choose to either submit a single URL or a URL alongside all the linked pages. If you choose to submit your linked pages, Google will use the URL as a starting point for indexation and then follow the internal links to crawl your site.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you are now feeling a lot more confident in your ability to carry out a technical SEO audit of your website and feel equipped with the right tools to enable the process to go a lot smoother and faster.

If you are still in doubt about whether or not you want or need to carry out a technical SEO audit of your site, then ask yourself the below questions:

  • Do you want to outperform your competitors?
  • Do you want to increase your organic ranking?
  • Do you want to get on that coveted first page of Google?
  • Do you want to increase your conversion rate?

If you have answered yes to the above, then you need to conduct a technical SEO audit of your website as soon as possible.

Having the ability to not only identify any technical issues that are holding your site and your business back, a technical SEO audit also allows you to plan and strategize for the future by providing you with valuable insights into your brand and your competitors.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started on your technical SEO audit today and enjoy a higher SEO ranking as early as tomorrow.