The Ultimate Technical SEO Audit Checklist

Writer:
Alaina Bradenburger
Editor:
Kassidy Vavra
Published: Jun 05, 2024
Last Updated:
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If you’re operating a business website, standing out online is crucial. You likely have a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in place to improve your search engine ranking. However, utilizing website copy and keywords is only part of mastering SEO and rising through the search engine ranking pages (SERPS). If you don't also pay attention to technical SEO, you could be missing out on valuable page views.

This article will explore how to prepare a technical SEO audit checklist so you can make sure search engines can find you online and connect you to your audience. 

What Is a Technical SEO Audit? 

A technical SEO audit involves analyzing the elements of your website that impact how search engines crawl, index, and understand your site. Any time you search for something on Google, Bing, Yahoo, or another browser, the search engine’s bots crawl the web looking for relevant content on websites. These bots index, organize, categorize, and store information. Finally, search engines rank the results and show you their top finds. 

Performing a technical SEO analysis lets you assess the parts of your website that impact how search engine bots find you and rank you higher. Once you have assessed your website’s technical SEO, you can improve elements that may be dragging you down in the SERPs. 

close up image of a person holding a pen completing an audit checklist

Technical SEO Checklist: 15 Steps to Conduct an Audit

Always monitor your on-page and technical SEO for the best search ranking. Follow these steps to audit your site’s technical SEO elements and watch your site rise toward the top of the results. 

1. Check Crawlability Issues and robots.txt File

Crawlability refers to how easy it is for a search engine bot to find and index your site.

Common crawlability issues include: 

  • Nofollow links (links that are tagged to tell search engines to ignore them)
  • Redirect loops (two pages that redirect to one another, creating a loop)
  • Bad site structure
  • Broken links
  • Duplicate content
  • Slow speed

Your site’s architecture also has robots.txt files that tell these search engine bots which URLs they can crawl on your site. If you build your site with no robots.txt files, you risk being overloaded with requests, which can slow down your site and make it less responsive. Each site has a crawl budget, which is the crawl limit and crawl demand control. Popular websites with multiple backlinks typically have a higher crawl demand, meaning bots want to crawl them more often. 

Sites also have a crawl limit, which refers to how fast a bot can crawl and index your site. This is where robot.txt comes in to prevent your site from becoming overloaded. However, if you enter robots.txt incorrectly, it can prevent search engines from locating whole pages or even your entire website. 

As part of a technical site audit, evaluate each URL on your site for its crawlability and fix any issues that might keep you away from the bots. 

2. Spot XML Sitemap and Indexability Issues

An XML sitemap is a file that lists all your website’s essential pages to help search engines find and crawl them. XML sitemaps also tell Google and other search engines how your website is structured. This tool makes it easier for a search engine bot to index your website content. 

One of the most common issues happens when your XML sitemap is outdated and doesn’t include new URLs. When this happens, search engines could direct users to missing pages in search results. It can also cause discrepancies between your sitemap and the actual site structure, which impacts your index quality and bumps you down in SERPs. 

Whenever you add or refresh content on your website, double-check that your XML sitemap is up to date. If you have a lot of content on your website, consider breaking your XML sitemap into smaller sitemaps and organizing them locally. 

Other indexability issues to be on the lookout for include: 

  • Broken links
  • A lack of internal links on a page
  • Broken pages (4XX error codes)
  • Issues with the mobile version user experience

3. Analyze Site Architecture’s Key Elements

It’s important to also pay attention to your site’s architecture, or the hierarchical structure of your pages. Although it’s not a ranking factor for search engines, a clean site structure makes it easier for bots to crawl your site and improves the user experience. 

Think about being stuck in an automated customer service loop on the phone. If you have to press multiple buttons before you are transferred to a real person, you’re probably going to be frustrated by the time you actually get through. 

The same principle applies to your website. If someone stumbles on your product page through a Google search and navigates away from it, they should be able to find it again. If they must click through multiple, disorganized product pages to find the item they wanted, they may leave your website and never come back. A well-organized site is also easier for search engines to crawl and index. 

Audit your website with these elements in mind: 

  • Navigation: How easily can people navigate your site?
  • Flexibility: Does your site architecture account for non-hierarchical content or content that doesn’t fit within your multi-level menu?
  • Interconnectedness: How are pages in different hierarchical levels connected? 

Use JavaScript SEO to assess parts of your website that are powered by JavaScript. This coding language is often used on interactive elements of your website that improve the user experience. Including them as part of an advanced technical SEO audit can help Google crawl and index these features.

4. Evaluate the Health of the Site’s Internal Linking Structure

Internal links, which point to other pages on your website, are an important component of indexability. They help search engine bots understand which parts of your site are most important and what they are about. Without internal links on your site, search engine bots have a harder time establishing it as a relevant search result. 

Your internal links help search engine bots establish how your web pages are related. As your site grows, you may end up with orphaned content, which is content that doesn’t have an internal link pointing to it. If there is no link that leads the bots to these pages, nobody can find them through a search engine. 

As part of technical SEO auditing, check each page on your website to ensure there is at least one internal link to it on your website. Next, evaluate all your internal links and fix any that are incorrect or broken. Pay attention to your URL structure and keep them simple so users can easily find and share your pages. 

5. Look for Duplicated and Cannibalized Content

Duplicated and cannibalized content can both prevent search engines from helping your site.

  • Duplicated content: This refers to content on your page that is the same but has different URLs.
  • Cannibalized content: This content is not exactly the same, but it is similar enough that Google thinks the two pages are the same.

Both types of content cause indexability issues for your site because search engines prefer to index pages with distinct information. If you do this when you optimize content for SEO, it could appear duplicated. 

You may have other valid reasons for publishing duplicate content on your website. For example, if you have an eCommerce site, you might use product manufacturer-provided descriptions, which would be the same as other retailers selling the same product. In this case, you may also have multiple URLs leading to pages with similar content.

Alternatively, if you sell jeans from multiple brands, the product descriptions may be similar enough to make Google think they are the same. 

A common way to fix this is to create a canonical URL, which is a link element that tells search engine bots which version of your duplicate content to crawl. For example, if you designate one of your denim product pages as canonical, Google will show it to people searching for denim and ignore the other product pages that seem like duplicates.

You can also add a “no index” directive that tells bots not to index your page. However, you should use this sparingly because it’s hard to reindex a page once you’ve added it.

6. Audit the Site’s Redirects

You can add redirects when you want to change where a URL points on your site. For example, if you’ve rebranded and changed your business name, you might use a redirect to point your old website to your new one. 

You can also use temporary redirects that only take people to a new website for a limited time. This tactic is common when tracking ad campaigns with a specific landing page. You may temporarily redirect your audience to the landing page when they’re looking for the sale product on your website. 

As part of your on-page technical SEO, look at all your redirects and verify that they still work and direct people to the right place. 

7. Check the Site’s Performance on Mobile

About half of all online searches come from mobile devices, and Google even indexes mobile sites before desktop sites. If your site isn’t mobile responsive, you could be missing millions of potential views due to mobile-first indexing. 

Some best practices for creating a mobile-friendly site include:

  • Test your site’s mobile speed to affirm it’s fast and responsive. You don't want users to click away from your site simply because of slow load times.
  • Use a mobile-friendly test and other advanced technical SEO strategies to analyze how mobile users interact with your site. It should offer an enjoyable user experience and be easy to navigate from a mobile device.
  • Look for unresponsive page elements such as site images and videos. Check that the text is large enough that people can read it, and look for pop-ups and other site elements that impede mobile usability. 

8. Evaluate Performance Issues and Core Web Vitals

Your site also needs to perform well for desktop users. If it’s slow, unresponsive, or hard to navigate, these users may also leave your site. Test your core web vitals, which include the following metrics: 

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the speed at which your page initially loads
  • Interaction to Next Paint (INP): Measures how quickly a page responds to each user
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) Measures how visually stable your page looks to each user

You can use Google’s Search Console to measure your core web vitals and fix those that may impact your site’s performance. Pagespeed insights are useful for making sure your website always loads quickly. Use Google Console and other website performance tools to create the best experience for each user. 

9. Find Meta Tag Issues

Meta tags are included in the HTML code of each webpage to provide relevant information to search engines. When you’re building a webpage, you add title tags, meta descriptions, and meta keywords that allow search engine bots to crawl and index your page more accurately. 

  • Meta title tags: Tell the search engine about the title of a web page and help with SERP results
  • Meta descriptions: Appear below your website in search engine results and are a great way to drive organic traffic to your site
  • Meta keywords: Tell a search engine more about the content that appears on a page

Meta tag issues can diminish your search ranking. When auditing your site, make sure each meta tag is unique and appropriate for its relative page. Each page should also have a meta title and a meta description that is neither too short nor too long (limit descriptions to 160 characters). 

Think about what your users would be searching to find you online, and match your tags to their intent. Differentiate your meta descriptions so they are not duplicated. Having too many similar meta descriptions can confuse the bots. 

You may also have meta robots tags on your site. These commands tell the bots what to do. Examples of attributes you can put in these tags include: 

  • Index: Tells a bot to index the page
  • Noindex: Tells a bot not to index the page
  • Follow: Indicates that bots can crawl links on your page
  • Nofollow: Indicates that bots cannot crawl links on your page

Only use robots meta tags to restrict how search engines crawl your page because these commands are hard to undo. 

10. Identify Canonicalization Issues

When exploring duplicate content issues, we discussed how you can use canonical tags to tell search engine bots which webpage to prioritize in a search. However, misusing canonical tags can also make it more difficult for bots to find you online. During your SEO site analysis, check for these common technical SEO issues:  

  • Adding a canonical tag to a URL that is blocked from crawling or indexing
  • Adding canonical tags to a page with a “noindex” tag or that is blocked with a robots.txt file
  • Including non-canonical pages in your sitemap
  • Adding internal links to non-canonicalized pages containing duplicate content
  • Not using canonical tags at all

Regularly checking your canonical URLs will help you identify and fix these issues as they arise. You can also double-check that your set preferred pages match the pages being indexed. Use the Google Search Console to identify and manage your canonical tags. 

11. Analyze Hreflang Attributes

An hreflang attribute is an HTML tag that specifies the language in which a page will display in a geographical region. For example, if you’re targeting customers in Italy, you would add an hreflang attribute to your site so your meta descriptions, tags, and other elements would appear in Italian to people in this region. 

Common technical SEO issues with hreflang attributes include: 

  • Missing return links: A page with the hreflang attribute must include a link back to the page it references.
  • Incorrect language codes: Use the right standardized code to verify your site displays correctly.
  • Missing or incorrect canonical tags: Hreflang and canonical tags should be used in tandem.
  • Blocked pages: Search engines will ignore hreflang tags on “noindex” pages.

12. Dig Deep Into Code and Markup Issues

Your site’s code and markups tell computers and mobile devices how to display each element. When search engine bots crawl your site, they read HTML code and structured data markups to see what is in your site and index it. 

Structured data markups, or schema markups, help search engines determine the most important content on your site and analyze why it’s important. For example, if you own a Thai restaurant in Boston, the schema markup is what helps the search engine recognize you as a restaurant. 

Not including schema markups on your site decreases its visibility because search engines may not index and rank your page correctly. Use a tool to evaluate the source code and schema markups on each page so you can see the features tied to your structured data. Fix any errors so your page displays correctly to anyone looking for it. 

13. Verify HTTPS Protocols

HTTPS is a secure version of the protocol used to encrypt, authenticate, and protect user data on your website. In the past, HTTPS was more common for eCommerce sites, banks, and other websites in which people are required to enter sensitive data. 

Because data privacy is so important to internet users, Google requires every site to have an SSL certificate. If you don’t have one, search engines won’t prioritize your website in search results. Look through every page on your website to make sure you have your SSL certificate and that your URLs contain the HTTPS protocol rather than the HTTP protocol. 

14. Check 4XX and 5XX Status Codes

If you’ve ever clicked on a search result and gotten a “404 Page not found” error, you are familiar with 4XX and 5XX status codes. A 4XX error refers to a non-existent website or a website with restricted access. People commonly stumble on 4XX errors by misspelling a URL. But they can also happen if you take down part of your site and someone clicks on the old URL. 

A 5XX error means that there is an issue with the server, not your website. When doing an SEO technical analysis, evaluate each individual page URL to verify you’re not getting 4XX and 5XX errors. If you do find an error, note it and fix the affected page. 

If your customers frequently encounter 5XX errors, you may need to upgrade your server or look for bugs in your content management system.  

15. Analyze the Site’s Log File

A log file refers to a collection of data displaying every request humans or search engines made to your server. Every time someone clicks on your site or a search engine crawls it, the visit enters the log file. 

Your log file provides valuable information on how search engines interact with your site. Once you know what to look for, you can identify crawling issues, bugs, and other technical SEO issues. The log file shows how often Google and other search engines are crawling your site and which pages they are crawling. 

This file will also show you how fast your site loads and whether or not a page is redirecting users to another page. 

Use a log analysis tool to view and analyze your log data. Make note of potential technical SEO issues so you can fix them and make your page more responsive. 

How Compose.ly Can Help You Identify Technical SEO Issues

Technical SEO can do wonders to drive organic traffic to your site. It can also be daunting — but you don't have to do it alone. It helps to have a technical SEO specialist in your corner to analyze your website so you can fix potential issues that may be keeping your down in the SERPs.

Compose.ly’s technical SEO experts are experienced and know what to look for. We can dive deep into your site and fine-tune your technical SEO strategy to improve your performance. 

Whether you’ve experienced a persistent decline in web traffic, want to boost organic growth, are operating a new website, or it’s been a while since you updated your website, a technical SEO audit can help at all stages. 

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