SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the umbrella term for the strategies that make your website and content visible (and attractive!) to search engines, like Google.
While a lot of SEO strategies focus on content, technical SEO has to do with what’s “under the hood.” Technical SEO strategies target things like site speed and search engines’ ability to crawl, understand, index, and effectively rank a website by relevance. While these technical tweaks improve your site’s standing in the SERPs, they also improve user experience and make your site more enjoyable to humans.
The good news is that you don’t have to be super tech-savvy yourself to understand technical SEO and implement some simple strategies that can have a major impact on performance, traffic, and conversions. Here, we’ll cover the basics of performing a technical SEO audit, share some technical SEO best practices, recommend some of our favorite technical SEO tools, and help you find additional technical SEO training and courses to build your knowledge.
If you start reading and encounter terms and technologies you’ve never heard of, don’t panic! Long Tail Pro has a large customer base of beginners and DIY-ers, and so we have always emphasized education. If you decide you want to learn more about technical SEO, we offer a beginner-friendly technical SEO course that walks you through everything step-by-step. You can find more information about the course at the end of this article!
Technical SEO Audit Checklist & Best Practices
A technical SEO audit goes beyond what people see on your website to analyze the technical, behind-the-scenes inner workings of your site. What elements search engines consider when ranking your site, and how to identify issues that could be affecting search engines’ ability to crawl and index your site.
We recommend using a technical SEO tool to perform an audit. There are several tools available, and by automating the process, you’ll save time and also ensure no elements are overlooked by an untrained human eye. At the end of this guide, you’ll find a list of technical SEO tools that we recommend.
Technical SEO audits generally are broken up into four categories: Accessibility, Engagement, Content, and Authority.
Let’s jump in!
When we talk about accessibility as it relates to technical SEO, we’re talking about how accessible your website and pages are to search engines – how easily search engines can crawl and index your website. When you analyze accessibility in your technical SEO audit, you can uncover and resolve major problems quickly. This is always the first place to start in an SEO tech audit.
Technical SEO best practices surrounding accessibility include:
- A well-structured site
- No orphaned pages
- No broken links
- Optimized internal link structure
- Pages that are not blocked from crawling
- Proper use of meta robots noindex tag vs. improper configuration of robots.text
- Balanced indexation – no over-indexation or under-indexation
- Complete XML sitemap submitted to Google
- HTTP status code errors fixed
- Proper use of conical and domain redirects
- Balanced crawl budget of indexed and non-indexed pages on large sites
Also part of a technical SEO audit is how well users (real-life people) are engaging with and behaving on your website. Elements such as mobile-friendliness and site speed affect how users engage with your site, and also how your site is ranked by search engines (hint: fast, mobile-friendly websites rank higher!). An SEO tech audit looks at traffic and audience behavior to help analyze the effectiveness of these engagement elements.
Technical SEO best practices surrounding engagement include:
- Excellent UX (user experience) design
- Fast load time (under 2 seconds)
- Websites that are mobile-friendly
- Pages that are visually appealing on all screens
- Streamlined form fields
You can run an entirely separate audit just on the effectiveness of your content, but when it comes to a technical SEO audit, the content portion primarily looks at how search engines interact with your content. Meaning, how your content is organized on the back-end of your website dictates how it is found and understood by search engines and displayed in the SERPs.
Technical SEO best practices surrounding content include:
- On-page keyword-optimized content
- Keyword-optimized tags (titles, headers, alt text, etc.)
- Clean, optimized slugs
- Meta descriptions optimized for SERPs and clickthroughs (keywords and appropriate character length and compelling copywriting)
- Well-organized content structure and readability
- Complete structured data information
- No duplicate or plagiarized content
The authority of your website refers to the perceived value of your site. Search engines use many factors to determine authority, such as backlinks, social media currency, and any plagiarism on your site. The more sites that refer their audience to your site (create backlinks to your website), the more you are perceived as an authority among websites that are similar to yours. This is generally the last element in an SEO tech audit because it is the one you have the least control over; however, it is still important to keep track of where you stand and know how you can affect some change to improve authority.
Technical SEO best practices surrounding authority include:
- Relevant backlinks from credible sites
- Low-scoring and spammy backlinks disavowed
- High-quality, useful and relevant content
- No duplicate or plagiarized content
- Active social media presence and engaged followers
After The Audit
A technical SEO audit will uncover a wealth of information about your website’s performance and visibility in the search engines. But what next? Before you jump to fixing any technical errors uncovered by the audit, we recommend working on your site’s SEO foundation, structure/navigation, and implementing structured data. Implementing some set-it-and-forget-it best practices now means you don’t have to think about day-to-day activities.
Before you begin working on these, we recommend backing up your entire website. This is usually free from your website hosting company, or you can use the WordPress Duplicator Plugin or Updraft Plus. Additionally, if you’re new to technical SEO and just making some of these changes for the first time, you may want to use a staging site to run your changes before making them live.
The foundation of any solid technical SEO strategy is effective sitewide SEO, including a clean link structure that’s easy for search engines to crawl and index. Mastering the basics of sitewide SEO will allow you to reconfigure your existing website and set up new ones with ease.
Some sitewide SEO best practices include:
- Clean URL structure
- Use of SEO plugins
- XML sitemap setup and submission
- Indexation and crawling defaults
- Search appearance defaults
- Automatic image optimization
- Caching, lazy loading, and file optimization
- AMP for faster load time
Next, we recommend using a silo structure to organize your pages and content into an intuitive hierarchy of topics and subtopics. Not only is a silo structure easier for search engines to crawl and index, but it’s also easier for your human visitors to navigate.
Some silo structure best practices include:
- No orphan pages
- Minimal crawl depth on important pages
- All pages within 3 clicks of one another, particularly the homepage
- Content categories easily browsed within 1 click of homepage
- Related content is grouped and interlinked
If you want to show up on the first page of Google, and especially if you want to show up in the knowledge graph or as a rich or featured snippet, then you need to implement structured data on your website. Structured data is a designated format that webmasters use to markup content on pages so that Googlebots can crawl your site and display your pages in the SERPs in a consistent, visually appealing way.
It may sound confusing, but you’ve undoubtedly encountered these types of results in Google’s SERPs before. For example, Google “apple pie recipes.” You’ll see the featured recipes in the knowledge graph, and the remaining results showing up as rich snippets with an image and quick facts about the recipe. There is also the “people also ask” section and featured videos.
Some structured data best practices include:
- Pages marked up in a supported Schema.org format (JSON-LD, Microdata, RDFa)
- Pages are not blocked from Google using robots.txt or noindex
- Content is original and “evergreen”
- Content meet’s Google’s webmasters quality guidelines
- All structured data items are complete and fully represent a page’s main purpose
Finally, Fix Any Technical Errors
Once you have sitewide SEO in place and have run an audit to uncover any issues, it’s time to fix any technical errors. The reason we recommend doing this step last is because some of the initial issues the audit uncovered – such as structure, sitemap, or load time – may have been automatically corrected after you implemented sitewide SEO best practices.
Now is the time to go back to your audit and fix issues such as HTTP status codes and redirects, broken links, duplicate content, spammy links, missing tags and alt text, etc. This is also where you should use Google Search Console to find and fix any Google penalties your site may have been dinged with.
This is why it’s helpful to use one of the technical SEO tools we mentioned to run your audit. Many of them will generate a list of action items and even step-by-step instructions for fixing errors.
Technical SEO Tools
Now that you know the elements that a technical SEO audit will uncover, let’s take a look at some of the technical SEO tools we recommend.
Screaming Frog – Hands down one of the most well-known and popular SEO tools, Screaming Frog is incredibly effective, efficient, and easy to use when performing technical SEO audits. While the company offers many different marketing tools, the Screaming Frog SEO Spider is our favorite as it follows the Googlebot standards and it allows you to customize the data you collect during audits. We wrote an in-depth guide to using the Screaming Frog SEO Spider if you want to learn more about this technical SEO tool.
Google Tools – Not surprisingly, Google has a vast suite of SEO and marketing tools, many even free to use. If you haven’t already, we recommend installing Google Analytics on your website. This free tool will help you monitor and analyze site traffic and user behavior. Google’s Search Console, PageSpeed Insights, and Structured Data Testing Tool are also helpful for conducting technical SEO audits, fixing errors, and keeping tabs on your site’s status.
SEO Analyzer – Another tool that can help you conduct a full SEO tech audit, SEO analyzer also offers immediate tips to fix found issues, increase site speed, check backlinks, analyze on-page optimization, and much more.
Ahrefs – Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool that can help you conduct audits, analyze the results, and more. It keeps tabs on your competitors, analyzes site traffic and user engagement, tracks the rankings of all your pages, and helps you develop high-ranking content that your customers will actually read.
Long Tail Pro – We would be remiss if we didn’t discuss our own SEO tools! One of the most powerful keyword research software platforms on the market, Long Tail Pro can help you discover thousands of low competition, high search volume keyword phrases that will boost your content’s visibility in the SERPs and drive more organic traffic to your website.
Additional SEO Training
It’s one thing to understand the premise behind technical SEO and the basics behind a site audit, but you may want to educate yourself a bit more before putting the strategies into practice. There are countless resources available to help you better understand and improve your website’s inner workings and learn technical SEO. Here are a few we recommend, including our own Technical SEO Mastery course
Long Tail Pro Technical SEO Mastery course – The newest addition to the Long Tail Pro Academy resource site, the Technical SEO Mastery course is a 3-week, in-depth training course designed specifically for beginners and DIY-ers just starting to do their own SEO. While the course is ideal for beginners, it also includes plenty of advanced technical SEO strategies that any marketer can use.
Yoast Technical SEO Training – From the #1 SEO plugin for websites, Yoast, the company’s SEO technical training course covers the basics of SEO, helps new marketers understand complex terms and technology, and focuses on crawlability and sitewide SEO strategies.
SEMRush Technical SEO course – A free technical SEO course from industry expert, Bastian Grimm, the SEMRush course is jam-packed with knowledge, covering 8 modules in just 5 hours, making it ideal for marketers who already have a bit of SEO knowledge.
Udemy Technical SEO course – From the leader in online educational courses, Udemy, the company’s technical SEO course is also for marketers with a basic understanding of SEO. The course outlines how to perform a technical SEO audit, find and fix any errors, and improve site performance.
Become A Technical SEO Wiz In Just 3 Weeks
The Long Tail Pro Technical SEO Mastery course covers all of the elements mentioned in this article with step-by-step instructions and over-the-shoulder video training that you can follow along with as you work on your own website.
You will receive a complete overview of how to run an SEO audit for any website, checklists that you can use to identify, track and resolve SEO issues, and step-by-step strategies for implementing effective sitewide SEO. You’ll even learn a specific site structure trick that has helped multiple website owners double traffic in just two months.
At the end of the course, you will have confidence in your ability to fix any technical SEO issues you find during your SEO audits.