Technical SEO is a tricky part of managing any site. A lot of it can be a completely alien concept to many site owners, with cornerstones of technical SEO not being taken into account at all, causing massive issues with the site.
In my time working solely within the technical side of things, I’ve already seen so many sites not taking key technical aspects into account, which only goes to show the importance of conducting a proper technical audit.
Key pages and resources being blocked by the robots.txt file, an infinite number of pages being created by blog pagination, enormous numbers of uncrawlable pages, sitemaps with thousands of incorrect URLs, URL encoding issues – all sorts of fun issues have cropped up.
With that in mind, conducting a proper tech audit is so, so important. Here, we’ll have a quick run-through of precisely what a technical SEO audit is, as well as what should be looked at, and precisely why you should have one conducted for your site.
What is a Technical SEO Audit?
A technical SEO audit is essentially a review of your site from a technical standpoint, aiming to discover any potential obstacles that search engines might be encountering while crawling the site which could prevent them from crawling and indexing the content correctly.
As well as helping search engines with crawling and indexing, it should also look at improvements that can be made to increase site visibility within search engines. It’ll aim to rectify any foundational technical errors, providing the site with a proper technical base on which it can build from. Sounding a bit like a sales pitch now, but they really are bloody useful.
They can often end up resulting in a massive document, individually detailing each key issue with the site and what can be done to fix it, often to be sent directly to the developers of the site. Sounds like a lot of work, and it often is, but there are resources and tools out there that can help in the auditing process.
Screaming Frog, Deepcrawl, Sitebulb – just to name a few personal favourites. No affiliate links, just some incredibly handy tools that provide crawls of sites, as well as key issues found during that process.
Also, there’s a litany of different free tools out there which claim that they’re able to offer full SEO audits, but they’re not. They’re really, really not, as Optimisey has covered recently in a look at the quality of free SEO auditing tools.
What is in a Technical SEO Audit?
Now, while this can be somewhat subjective as different people/services will provide different audits, there are generally a few key areas which need to be looked into during the audit process.
Here’s a snippet of the key points that are looked into during an audit, and often have issues which need to be attended to:
Crawlability: Can the site be crawled properly, if at all? It’s absolutely imperative that your site is not only accessible, but is optimised in a way which makes it simple for search engines to crawl. This ties into crawl budget optimisation, a subject we’ve covered previously.
We’ve had a rather recent case where a site came in which had /index.php affixed to the end of each URL. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. What cropped up in the robots.txt file? Yeah, disallow: /index.php. A bold strategy, Cotton – but it didn’t quite pay off.
Internal Linking: Tying into crawlability, it’s vital that your pages are internally linked properly. On some sites, key pages can be difficult to find, with search engines having to crawl a number of pages before they’re able to actually find the page.
An audit should identify how well pages have been linked to internally. Are key pages accessible within a few clicks of the homepage? Has proper pagination been used to ensure that older blog content can be crawled?
Site Speed and Performance: Something which is becoming more and more of a priority as times goes on would be improving the overall performance of a site. Just very recently, Google stated that they’ll be focusing even more on this going forward, with speed being a ranking factor for mobile search. Google themselves have even spruced up their Pagespeed Insights tool, providing a wider range of information within reports, with a score being added based on the Chrome User Experience Report. Even taking ranking factors and Google’s watchful eye out of the equation, performance is massive from a user perspective – if your site is painfully slow, users won’t stick around for long.
On-Page Optimisation: Another key part of any audit would be ensuring that pages are optimised properly. Not necessarily the most technical issue, but ensuring that each piece of metadata and the contents of each page are properly optimised is a key part of any site’s SEO efforts. Audits can point out issues in these areas – I’ve seen plenty of sites which have no meta descriptions at all, swathes of duplicate content, poorly optimised page titles (often just the brand name on every single page :thinking:), etc.
These are a few of the key aspects of a technical audit. Our own Technical SEO page covers a broader list of what you should find within a technical audit.
Why Should I Conduct a Technical Audit?
One key reason why your site could do with a proper check under the bonnet would be that you’ve noticed a drop in organic traffic and overall visibility, or have simply stagnated and aren’t seeing the growth you expected. This could be down to a technical hitch, or there may be an area of the site which could be vastly improved.
Take the previous issue that was mentioned earlier – a site had essentially all of its key content blocked via a robots.txt rule. On that note, there may be an issue with the crawling and potential indexing of unnecessary URLs, such as the ones created by faceted navigation and URL parameters. Making key content easier to crawl and generally making the site more accessible is likely to help out. Other areas attended to in an audit, such as the aforementioned analysis of on-page optimisation and internal linking, will go towards finding the solution.
Hubspot put together an interesting post on this a while ago, covering how a few technical changes made enormous improvements to their overall search visibility.
Search is Constantly Evolving
Another reason for a site audit would be more of a general point: search is always changing and evolving. With that, you should ensure that your site is changing and evolving with it. Not too long ago, Google announced their intentions of creating a mobile first index, which takes mobile sites into account during the crawling and indexing process, not just the desktop site, with this being down to the massive growth in mobile users over the past few years.
Partner this with the constant reminders of how important site speed is, if your site still, somehow, isn’t properly optimised for mobile, then you’ll likely be left behind.
There’s also the use of new and growing technologies such as schema markup and AMP, as well as the use of rich snippets/cards which tie in with the evolution of search results pages, all areas which should be looked into during an audit, ensuring that the site is making the most of any new technology which could benefit it. At TechSEO Boost, a recent techie conference, Russ Jones spoke about how high performing sites are early adopters of new technology in his talk covering the state of technical SEO.
You’ve Never Audited Your Site
Taking the general game of search and any traffic out of the equation, there are also sites out there which have simply never been audited.
They’ve been set up and have trucked along during their lifespan without anybody really taking a proper look at the site to identify any key issues. This is absolutely something I’ve seen plenty of, with there being key technical issues that were never really looked into.
If a site has been going for some time without a proper, in-depth technical look into any potential issues, it’s something that really should be looked into, as there may well be underlying technical issues that will be uncovered, providing all sorts of fun work for your developers to get cracking on with.
So, in short, that’s why a technical audit is recommended for any site. You never know what kind of issues you’ll find that may well be hindering your site’s overall performance and search visibility. Plus it keeps people like me in a job, which is nice.
If you feel like your site is being held back due to technical issues, or you would like some advice regarding your website or any aspects of Technical SEO, please don’t hesitate to contact us!