How to Conduct a Technical SEO Audit
Search engine optimization can be divided into three categories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. The latter involves many aspects of improving your website such as increasing its speed and making it easier to be crawled and understood by search engines.
If you’re just starting out in the field, this blog will give you a simplified version of the steps you need to take to perform a technical SEO audit. Our goal is to give beginners an idea of what to do when faced with auditing a website.
So why are technical SEO audits so important? Because you need to check the health of your website and make sure there are no errors that need to be addressed. Too many errors on the site will hurt your chances of ranking highly on search engines like Google or Bing and negatively impact the user experience.
What to do before you begin
There are a few steps you need to take before you perform the actual audit. First, explain to the client the importance of running a technical audit, because they might not understand. Then, you should survey the client you’re going to audit and ask about their overall goals. What do they hope to gain from their site? How often are they updating it? Have they done any SEO work before? Asking these types of questions will give you a better idea of what they hope to achieve and how you can help them get there.
Tools you’ll need
There are several tools you can use to conduct a technical SEO audit. We recommend using several so that you get as much information as possible. Different tools use different means to crawl your site, which means they often provide different insight; you should always compare the results from each one to receive the most accurate information.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Screaming Frog – a website crawler that analyzes URLs for technical audits.
- Moz – they have a side audit tool to crawl URLs.
- Pingdom – tests elements of a website’s performance.
- SEO Quake – a browser plugin that measures SEO elements of a site.
- SEMrush – their site audit tool tests for SEO errors and mistakes on a site.
- Test My Site – a Google tool to test a site’s performance.
- Mobile-Friendly Test – a Google tool to test if a website is mobile-friendly.
Steps to performing the technical SEO audit
Now that you have your tools ready and your client’s SEO history in mind, you can begin the actual technical SEO audit. Keep in mind that the purpose of this is to identify and fix any errors on a site that may be affecting the user experience or it’s ability to rank highly on search engines, so getting to the bottom of these issues is critical to your success.
- Make sure the XML Sitemap has been properly formatted.
The XML sitemap is a text file list of each URL on your website, creating a sort of order in which the pages should be crawled by search engines. If your website doesn’t have one, you should set one up ASAP. Sitemaps make it easier for your site to be crawled by bots and help them to understand the structure. These are especially useful if your site is very large and contains a lot of pages because it gives the crawlers a more specific path to take when analyzing them. If your website was created in WordPress, there is a Yoast tool built in to auto-generate your sitemap. Making sure this element is intact and formatted properly is the foundation for the rest of your SEO efforts.
To check your XML Sitemap, you can use Screaming Frog and follow these steps:
- Select List Mode at the top of the page.
- Enter the URL of the site you want to crawl.
- Go to Upload -> Download Sitemap.
- The URLs found in the sitemap will be confirmed.
- Click Start to begin crawling.
Once your sitemap is set up and correct, make sure you submit it to Google to be crawled.
- Check your robots.txt file and allow pages to be crawled.
The robots.txt file tells website crawlers which pages they can and can’t crawl when analyzing your site. It can be utilized to purposefully block certain pages when you don’t want them to be shown, but sometimes you may have accidentally blocked them without realizing it. Using this testing tool you can enter a URL and check which pages may have been blocked denoted by “Disallow:”. This step is very important because it indicates which pages are suitable for users and crawlers to view and index. Ensuring the right URLs are visible or blocked helps with the security of your site. You want Google to be able to crawl all of your pages besides the ones that are only meant for the back end of the site, such as password-protected pages users shouldn’t have access to.
- Identify crawl errors.
Using SEMrush, you can plug your website URL into their site audit tool and run an audit. After a few minutes of analyzing, they’ll produce a list of errors, warnings, and notices. Errors refer to the most urgent things you should fix, warnings are things you should fix eventually, and notices are things they want you to take a look at.
This site audit will point out crawl errors like missing H1 tags, duplicate content, broken links, and much more. It’s a great way to highlight things that are wrong with the site and gives you an insight on what needs to be addressed first.
Like we stated previously, no tool is one hundred percent accurate. We recommend running another site audit on Moz and Screaming Frog as well and comparing the results with the SEMrush audit to get a clearer understanding.
- Check metadata for errors.
Metadata refers to descriptive elements of a page that don’t actually appear to the user, but in the code. They can, however, be seen on the search engine results page (SERP) when a user searches for something. The title tag is the title of the page that is seen in hyperlinked blue text that you see in lists on results pages. The meta description is a description of what the page is about and is visible under the title tag. Both the title tag and the meta description are important to your SEO, and each should include the targeted keyword.
From a technical standpoint, there are certain guidelines you should follow. The title tag should be between 50 and 60 characters — if it’s longer, you run the risk of your title being truncated by the search engine. The meta description should be between 145 and 150 characters or it, too, will be cut off from the user’s view. For additional information on metadata like H1s, H2s, etc, check out our blog On-Page SEO Checklist: X Ways to Optimize (That Work!)
Again using SEMrush, you can run a site audit that will point out each page that has a metadata error. For example, some pages may have duplicate title tags, missing meta descriptions, titles that are too long, etc. These mistakes will harm your SEO because searchers won’t have a clear understanding of what your page is about when it shows up on a SERP, so they might not click on it. Having a clear and compelling title and description is key to attracting clicks.
- Test for broken links and 404 errors.
Broken links are links to pages that no longer exist. Whether you’re linking internally or externally, meaning within your site or to another, broken links are not a good look. When you link to something, you’re referring to its content and if it’s not there then it makes for a bad user experience. Imagine you drive all the way to a store because they announced they were having a sale but when you got there it was closed — that’s kind of what broken links are to a website.
404 errors are pages that have been removed or relocated but weren’t redirected to. Sometimes when moving content around, you’ll need to delete a page, but redirects make it so that if someone clicks on the old one they’ll be pointed toward the new one. Without a redirect, they’ll hit a dead end. This is where you should utilize 301 and 302 redirects to lead users to the new page, 301 being a permanent solution and 302 being temporary.
The reason broken links and 404 errors harm your SEO is because if someone clicks on one, they are more likely to exit your site. Because search engines like Google take into account the amount of time users spend on a site when determining your rank, you want people to spend as much time there as possible. Broken links don’t keep users, they drive them away.
These can both be checked using SEMrush’s site audit tool. We recommend addressing any of these issues as soon as possible, as they affect both the user and the search engine’s experience with a web page.
- Test site speed.
Site speed has become a key aspect in technical SEO. In fact, as of 2020, site speed is a very important factor in ranking well on Google. Search engines are concerned with the user experience — they want their searchers to have the best results possible, and providing them with slow websites is of no interest to them. Users want pages to load quickly, and often become frustrated by slow-loading sites. Because of this, they’re likely to click away from your site and choose a different result in the SERP to find the answer to their search query. An optimal site loading speed is between one and three seconds, which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, you’ll surely notice if a page is taking five or more seconds to load.
To test this, use Google’s Test My Site tool. Simply plug your URL into the search bar and it will analyze how long it takes the site to load.
As far as images go, you can use tools like Optimizilla to shrink the files without losing quality. Simply upload your photos and run them through the tool to get a compressed, yet optimized, image.
- Test if the site is mobile-friendly.
Mobile searches have become extremely popular as a majority of searchers now own smartphones with access to the internet. Because of this, search engines like Google have begun to take into consideration a website’s mobile-friendliness because of its effect on the user experience.
To test if your site is mobile-friendly, use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and plug in the site domain.
Need some help? We got you!
If you need more information on how to perform technical SEO audits, check out free SEO Audit. The report contains the technical infrastructure of your site as well as some bonus on-page and off-page SEO elements. And as always, if you need our help, we’d be happy to get in touch with you!