[2024] SEO Technical Checklist: 47 Steps to Optimize Your Site

Keeping your website healthy requires a lot of work. Similar to a car, many of the most important fixes happen under the hood. It’s easy to notice if there’s a spelling error in the content on your webpage, or if a graphic isn’t loading correctly. But, what should you do to make sure your website is in tip-top technical shape for both your users and search engines? Are you paying attention to vital SEO optimizations such as site speed, structure, and security?

As a marketing agency specializing in SEO, we’ve put together an in-depth technical SEO checklist with 47 things you can do to ensure your website is operating at its utmost best. 

What is a technical audit?

Here at Digital Third Coast, one of the first things we do for new clients is a technical audit. A technical audit is a series of steps and checks to make sure your website can be crawled, indexed, and displayed efficiently by search engines. In addition, we make sure your website meets the qualifications for speed, security, and usability that Google recommends and advocates for the web.

If you’re already a technical guru and this is all old news to you, feel free to skip this section and go straight to the checklist below. If not, read on for some more frequently asked questions about technical audits. 

How to conduct a technical SEO site audit

To conduct a technical audit you will need to do an in-depth site evaluation by crawling the website, checking indexing, page speed, and security along with other technical aspects of your website. See our virtual downloadable checklist below for even more specifics.

Why should you do a technical audit?

Do not skip the tech audit

A technical audit is similar to getting your car checked and calibrated at the auto mechanic. They use diagnostic tools to check key factors on your car, and if any of those numbers are off, look into the reasons for the issue. If you have technical issues on your website and don’t realize it, your site may never achieve any of the rankings you’re hoping to get, leading to ongoing issues impacting visibility and rankings for your website. Similar to a car, if it has an engine issue, that is going to affect overall performance and may end up affecting other parts of the car as well. A technical audit is key to making sure your website is healthy at its core. It is also vital to make sure your website is being properly read by Google and is operating as it should be. 

Technical SEO Checklist

Now that you understand why you need a technical audit, here is our technical SEO checklist of 47 things you should do. We’ve also included some tips to take your SEO strategy further once the technical audit is complete. We’ve put together the technical SEO audit checklist onto a Google Sheet (see below), so you can easily make a copy and modify it to fit your company’s needs:

Technical Audit Checklist

Make your own copy of this checklist to complete your own technical audit.

#1 Set Goals Ahead of Doing a Technical Audit

This may seem self-explanatory, but don’t forget to set goals before starting your technical audit. Technical audits are a lot of work; if you go into it without knowing what your team or client wants, that could make it difficult.

At its core, the goal of a technical audit is to improve crawlability, indexing, and the speed of your website. But while there are universal fixes that everyone needs, there are also a lot of different avenues to take a technical audit depending on what aligns with your overarching goals for the performance of the website.

Are you doing a quick maintenance check to make sure everything is running smoothly? Are you planning on migrating your site to a new website platform? Have you recently already gone through a migration and need to make sure your site transferred over properly? Is this technical audit specifically to look at an issue continually impacting your site such as certain pages taking too long to load? 

Ensure Tool Accessibility

Tool accessibility is vital to ensuring your technical audit runs smoothly and accurately. If you’re not the owner of the website that you’re running a technical audit on you must make sure you have access to certain SEO tools and systems before going full steam ahead with your audit.

#2 Get Access to Google Search Console

Having access to Google Search Console (GSC) is an important first step. GSC is a valuable tool for site audits because it provides reports about your website through the lens of how Googlebot is viewing it. You will get access to crawl and indexing data along with search performance stats like traffic to specific pages and even which keywords people type to find your site in Google. To get access to GSC, you need to be granted access by the owner. Owners are the only ones with the clearance and ability to add or remove a user in GSC. 

How to add a user on Google Search Console - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Google Search Console permission options are:

  1. Owner
    1. Verified Owner
    2. Delegated Owner
  2. Full
  3. Restricted 

When doing work with clients, we ask them to grant our team full access to GSC, so we have access to all necessary settings to do our on-site technical work.  Restricted access gives you some access to reports, but not any of the settings and other privileges.

#3 Get Access to Google Analytics

The next step is to get access to the website’s Google Analytics account. GA4 will provide you with more detailed level website traffic data so you can dig into your traffic and look for positive and negative trends. If a certain page saw a big traffic drop year over year, looking into the reasons why can help uncover larger issues. If you have goal tracking setup, you can also get conversion data which is super powerful. An administrator is the only one who can add, modify, and delete users.  An Editor can make changes to settings, but doesn’t control who gets added or removed from having access.

How to add a user on Google Analytics (GA4) - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

There are six permission options that can be assigned when adding a new user to GA4. They are: 

  1. Administrator
  2. Editor
  3. Marketer
  4. Analyst
  5. Viewer
  6. None

We ask clients to grant our agency “editor” permissions so we can make setting changes needed for proper tracking. 

#4 Get Access to Bing Webmaster Tools

The third tool we recommend getting access to before beginning a technical audit is Bing Webmaster Tools. While Bing is not as popular as Google, its version of webmaster tools does have some different reports that Google’s Search Console does not. It’s also a good idea to have another source of data if you ever have an issue you’re trying to investigate. Bing Webmaster Tools will also give you access to analytics, including Bing’s crawl information, indexing status details, and page traffic and performance.

How to add a user on Bing Webmaster Tools - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

There are three main roles a user can be given in Bing Webmaster Tools:

  1. Administrator
  2. Read/Write
  3. Read Only 

We normally request clients provide our team with read/write access at minimum, so we’re able to get the data necessary for our SEO recommendations. 

First Steps in a Technical Audit

After you have all the necessary access set up, then you can get ready to start your technical audit. Before you start going through the list know that the steps below can be done in whatever order you’d prefer, but we strongly recommend initially crawling the website before moving forward with some of the other options. 

#5 Crawl the Website

The first major step you should take when officially starting your technical audit is to crawl your website. Crawling a website is the act of systematically combing through all of the site’s URLs including images, CSS, and all of it’s pages. The crawler can give you info about each URL, but also a high level view of all URL’s which helps to diagnose larger site issues.

Google regularly crawls through websites to determine a site’s content and how they should rank. While you can access data from Google’s site crawls through Search Console, it helps to do an external crawl via a third party tool for more detailed real-time information.

There are many different tools you can use that are both paid and free. Here at Digital Third Coast, our go-to website crawler is Screaming Frog. The tool is the gold standard for website crawling and it is easy to use. It currently costs $259 yearly for 1 user, but you can also use the tool for free for up to 500 pages. If your site is larger than 500 pages, you’re going to want to get the paid account.  

#6 Look for Indexing Issues

Ensuring your pages are indexed correctly is vital to make sure your website is appearing in Google. If a page is not indexed at all or not indexed correctly, you run the risk of not having your website appear in the search results, and it could impact your page rank. GSC data will show you what, if any, pages are not indexed and provide a reason why. 

If a page is not indexed, Google will provide a reason, albeit sometimes it can be a bit vague and require a bit of work to understand why a certain page is being impacted. It could be because of an indexing error, but it also could be because Google is flagging it as duplicate content and is recognizing a different page on your website as the main one. If you just uploaded new content, be patient. Google doesn’t crawl and index your page daily, so expect a bit of a delay. Just a note – you can shorten the time frame it takes by requesting indexing from Google. 

#7 Fix Crawl Errors

Once you complete your crawl, you’ll have access to a boatload of data including broken links and errors, redirects, and metadata. The next step is to find, fix, and monitor any crawl errors on the website.

One important issue that you should prioritize is 404 errors and 500-level errors. Not only does this lead to a bad user experience, but a large amount of errors sends a negative signal to Google indicating your site may be low-quality. Fixing all crawl errors should be a high priority.

#8 Check Crawl Depth

Crawl depth information should be available through your crawl. Crawl depth is the number of clicks it takes from the website’s home page to get to each page. Any primary page that you have on your website should be accessible with no more than three clicks. That provides a better user experience, making it easier for users to quickly get to the most important information on your website without getting lost in a sea of pages. 

Take our home page for example. The first click is when the user clicks on digitalthirdcoast.com. From there, it takes users just one additional click to get to our main services of SEO, digital PR, paid media, and paid social. That makes it easy for people in search of digital marketing work to find exactly what they’re looking for without having to dig through the website.

Screenshot of website home page -digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

On the technical side, ensuring important pages on your site have a low crawl depth signals to Google that these pages are important and means they will be crawled and indexed more quickly– and more frequently. If some of your prominent pages have a high crawl depth, this doesn’t mean you need to necessarily build an entirely new page. Instead, use internal links to help lower the crawl depth code. By placing internal links to an important page on your homepage, you can cut the crawl depth down to just two clicks. 

#9 Review Robots.txt 

Robots.txt are instructions for bots. It may not look half as cool as a real robot, but when it comes to SEO work, Robots.txt is vital to the health of your website. Think of Robots.txt as the technical greeter of your website, welcoming all bots and search engines like Google and Bing. You can block them from crawling your site at all by using the “*disallow” command, or you can just block specific folders on your site, or even specific pages. If you have a membership area on your site, you would most likely want to block those from being indexed in Google as well. In SEO-speak – Robots.txt is defined as a text file that speaks to search engines and has technical crawl instructions telling these bots what they can and cannot crawl on the site. 

Screenshot of robots.txt  -digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

These instructions make it easier for search engines to crawl websites by keeping them from slogging through every page of each individual website. Instead, it helps bots focus on the web pages that matter most. To find your robots.txt just search “www.yourwebsitename.com/robots.txt” to pull up the file. Your robots.txt file should include: 

  1. Disallow and Allow Directives
  2. A link to your sitemap

Disallow and allow directives explicitly show bots which parts of your website they can crawl and which ones they should skip making it easier for bots to read and understand the structure of your website. It’s important to make your robots.txt file thorough. 

If you’re having issues with your robots.txt file and do not know why, there is a feature in GSC that provides a robots.txt report. To look at your robots.txt report in Google Search Console you’ll first need to click settings.

Screenshot of robots.txt  -digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Next, look for robots.txt under “crawling” and click open report.

Screenshot of robots.txt  -digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

From there you’ll be able to take a closer look at your robots.txt and see if there are any listed issues. This is especially important if you’re having crawling or indexing issues and aren’t sure why. While robots.txt is just a directive, in some cases, bots may not always follow the directives.  This report could give you insight if it’s due to your robots.txt.

Redirects and Broken Pages

No website is perfect. It requires constant optimization and sometimes that means biting the bullet and taking content down or redirecting old pages. But it can be easy to forget what’s been done in the past if you’re working on an older website. Redirects and broken pages could impact your rankings if not done right. 

#10 Plan Out Internal Links

Internal links connect different pages within your website, helping users navigate and search engines understand your site better. A good strategy includes using descriptive anchor text, linking to relevant content, prioritizing important pages, maintaining a clear structure, avoiding overlinking, and regularly updating links.

Internal links also make it easy for people to navigate your website. These links are a simple way to lead someone through your web pages with little effort on their end. A good example of a site that does it well is Wikipedia. As you read about a topic, you can click on any of the internal links to dive deeper into a sub-topic. Instead of having to actively search for a topic these internal links act as a clickable guide for the user.  

#11 Check Page Redirects

During a technical audit, checking page redirects is crucial because incorrect or broken redirects can negatively impact both user experience and SEO performance. Redirects ensure that visitors and search engines are seamlessly directed from outdated or moved URLs to the correct, current pages. Properly configured redirects prevent users from encountering 404 errors, which can lead to frustration and increased bounce rates. They also help maintain the flow of link equity, preserving the SEO value of the original URLs. Ensuring all redirects are accurate and functional is essential for maintaining a site’s usability, credibility, and search engine rankings.

#12 Eliminate Redirect Chains

Redirect chains occur when a URL redirects to another URL, which then redirects to yet another URL, creating a sequence of multiple redirects. It is important to limit redirect chains because they can slow down page load times, leading to a poor user experience. Additionally, search engines may have difficulty crawling through these chains, which can negatively impact your site’s SEO. Limiting redirect chains helps ensure faster page loading, better user experience, and more efficient search engine crawling, ultimately contributing to better website performance and rankings.

#13 Connect Orphan Pages

Your website operates as a virtual spool of yarn. While users may more commonly follow certain paths (ie. Home page to service page to contact us), every user’s online path is different. Some may come to your website through a blog post while others may venture in while investigating a certain product or service. No matter which path people arrive, all of your web pages are connected… right? 

Sometimes that’s not the case, and these orphan pages need internal links so they’re not stranded on an island. To discover if you have orphan pages, head back to your crawl and check out internal links between pages (in Screaming Frog, you can navigate to Reports > Orphan Pages for a complete Orphan Page report). If some pages do not have any internal links, these are more than likely orphan pages and may not be able to be found by someone clicking through the website unless they know the exact URL. 

Are orphan pages bad? Not necessarily. They aren’t detrimental to your website, but if you have a lot of orphan pages, the biggest concern is visibility. If people (or search engines) can’t find your pages, then it’s going to be harder for those pages to rank and for your website to be discoverable. 

#14 Fix Broken Links

The crawl should also unveil if you have any broken links, or links leading to pages that no longer exist. These pages and/or broken links lead to a 404 page. These 404s should be a priority to fix. Not only is it frustrating as a user to try and click on a page to be told that it no longer exists, but if Google notices a large number of broken links and users bouncing from your website at fast rates, that does not bode well for your website rankings. Google has more details on 404 errors and others to watch out for and how to fix them. 

#15 Design a Custom 404 Page

While no one wants their website to have 404s, you should still prepare for it by having a custom 404 page. People can land on your 404 page if they accidentally mistype a URL, not only by clicking on a broken link. No matter how they end up on your 404 page, you want this space to be clear and concise. 

Custom 404 pages are meant to communicate to the person what happened. If done right, you can also use the page to guide the user back to the working parts of your website. Also, by writing a positive message, you can make landing on the page less of a frustration. We like to use a bit of humor with ours, so if you ever land on a 404 page on digitalthirdcoast.com this is what will pop up: 

Custom 404 page design - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Delete Duplicate Content and Metadata

One thing we know for sure is that Google doesn’t like repetition, especially when it comes to content and how it’s described. That’s because as a user, re-reading the same content again and again can quickly become mundane, let alone confusing. Google is clear: helpful content needs to be a priority and duplicate content is very rarely helpful. 

#16 Remove or Edit Duplicate Content

It’s easy to say remove or edit duplicate content, but where do you start when looking for it? If you’re working with an older website that’s filled with a lot of content, this can be overwhelming. There are a few different ways to find duplicate content on your site. If using Screaming Frog, there is a “content” tab that will have information including if there are pages with exact duplicates or near duplicates. 

Other tools that are good to use when looking for duplicate content are Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz. These tools also offer site audits that can comb through your content and help you identify anything that needs editing or to be redirected or removed. Getting rid of duplicate content not only helps improve and streamline the user experience, but it avoids having your content compete in the rankings for the same keywords. Duplicate content can confuse search engines and cause them to have trouble determining which piece of content should rank over the other. 

#17 Adjust Duplicate H1’s

You should review all of your H1’s and make sure they are targeting the keywords that are most important to the page. Google’s recent algorithm leak showed that there is most likely some weight give to the largest text on the page (which is usually your H1). You should make sure they’re not duplicated on multiple pages. If you have matching headers, that can lead keyword cannibalization and visitor confusion. If someone sees a page with the same headlines it would make sense that they may think they’ve already clicked it. 

#18 Tweak Duplicate Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

When checking for duplicate content don’t forget to look at your title tags and meta descriptions too! Matching title tags can also dilute your keyword rankings. Make sure all of your title tags and meta descriptions are descriptive and clear about what the users will find when they land on your page.

One easy hack to check for duplicate content is to search for it on Google. If you search “site: yourwebsiteurl.com” and then the terms you’re looking for, Google will pull up any content associated with it on your website. For example, I searched what we have for meta descriptions on our website here at DTC, and below are the results:

Do meta descriptions matter for SEO in the SERPs

#19 Consider Canonical Tags

Another way to handle duplicate content is through canonical tags. Canonical tags are used to indicate the preferred version of a web page when there are multiple pages with similar or identical content. By specifying the canonical URL, you help search engines understand which version of the page should be indexed and ranked. For example, you might have a shoe for sale in 12 different sizes, which creates 12 different URLs on your site. You would use canonical tags to specify one URL as the main URL for the shoes instead of splitting the authority with 12 different pages. This prevents problems like duplicate content, where search engines might otherwise split the ranking power between multiple versions of the same page. Canonical tags ensure that link equity is consolidated to the preferred URL, improving SEO performance and preventing issues like lower rankings or content dilution due to duplicates. Canonical tags can be added by editing your HTML. However, certain content management systems don’t allow you to make changes this way. If you operate your website through a CMS such as WordPress or Wix you can easily do this by setting a canonical element or adjusting the <head> of your webpage. There are various plugins that do this as well including AIOSEO and Yoast. 

Technically, canonical tags are not absolutely necessary unless you know your site has a problem. Google will decide which URL is the best version if you do nothing. However, you are the expert on your site and content. Google is not perfect. By denoting this yourself, you’re ensuring that your content and pages are being read the way you want them to be read. Google has information on how to specify a canonical and the best practices behind it. 

#20 Get Rid of Hidden Content (No Cloaking!)

One thing you should never do is cloaking. Cloaking is a black hat SEO tactic when you show search engines one page but show website visitors something entirely different. One example is listing an entirely different product or service than what you’ve marketed to search engines.   

Search engines check for cloaking, and you could face serious penalties and consequences (even as far as being removed from the SERPs) for doing something like this. So, even though the name may remind you of the invisible cloak from Harry Potter, this is one situation where you should put away the magic wand and not break the rules.

Site Structure & Speed

When it comes to your website, speed as well as site structure are two main requirements to build a site with a strong SEO-based foundation. When you hear the word “site structure” you may think of the user experience, but think of this more as the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that keeps your site up and running technically. Users will look at when it comes to your website (such as your URLs), but to the untrained person they will not notice the difference between something that is optimized or non-optimized.  

#21 URL Structure

When completing your technical SEO checklist you need to be sure to optimize the structure of your URLs. These should be short and to the point. Choose the words you use carefully when making a URL. You’ll want to incorporate relevant keywords into these. On top of making it readable and easy for the user to remember, that tactic can help the piece rank better down the road. 

Google also recommends using hyphens instead of underscores since that’s easier for the search engine to read. Other things to avoid in your URLS are long numbers, non-ASCII characters such as emojis, and jamming words together without hyphens. You should also make sure your URLs are well organized by groups. Break down your pages into concise, simple categories (ie. product page, blog page, contact us page) and be sure to arrange them consistently. 

#22 Make Uniform URLs

Outside of optimizing your URLs you also need to make sure that your URLs are uniform when it comes to appearance. There are two different styles of URLs that you can have: one with a trailing slash and one without a trailing slash:

www.digitalthirdcoast.com vs. www.digitalthirdcoast.com/  

There’s nothing wrong with having a slash or not, each way is a viable option when putting together your website. But one way you could run into trouble is if some of your URLs have trailing slashes and others do not. The main issue with a lack of consistent URLs is that it can confuse search engines. Say, for instance, you accidentally had both www.digitalthirdcoast.com and www.digitalthirdcoast.com/. The search engine could index the page as two separate pages instead of one, and therefore lead to issues with duplicate content. 

By linking to the same page but using different URLs (one with a trailing slash and one without) you can also dilute the page ranking and cause issues with link equity since the search engine is technically seeing the exact same page as two different ones.   

#23 Centralize Domain (WWW Or No-WWW)

The same thing needs to be done when it comes to your domain. You should serve your content through one type of domain: your root domain with or without a “www” in front. By centralizing your domain you ensure that your site is technically sound. This also provides a better user experience by cutting down on confusion and establishing trust. 

#24 Check Site Speed

The saying may go “slow and steady wins the race,” but when it comes to your website’s speed that is definitely not the case. Your site speed is key to several technical aspects. From a user experience, people will not stay or wait for your website to load if it consistently takes forever to load. They may be willing to wait a second or two, but a site that’s slow is both frustrating and annoying.

If your site speed issues aren’t fixed this will also lead to negative responses from search engines. Search engines such as Google will also notice a high bounce rate and from there you will get a lower ranking. GSC can tell you whether or not your website is passing core web vitals, but to look solely at site speed you can use outside tools. Some you have to pay to use, but we have compiled a list of five free tools to check site speed

#25 Install Site Speed Plugins

Checking your site speed is something you should do more than once, in fact, it is something you need to continually check to ensure your site is operating as it needs to be. So, how do you keep track of your site speed? We have a few recommendations for plugins to use for your website. 

There are three different WordPress plugins we recommend installing to help maintain a fast site speed: 

  1. Smush 
  2. Hummingbird
  3. Smart Crawl 
Smush wordpress plugin - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

The plugin Smush helps specifically with images. You can use the plugin for free, but there is also a pro version that costs money. The plugin goes through images on your website and optimizes them, compressing them to help improve the page load speed. 

Hummingbird wordpress plugin - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Meanwhile, Hummingbird is a plugin focused on optimizing site speed. We like this plugin because it offers a more efficient cache (more on caching in tip #26 below) and provides ways to cut down on your CSS and Javascript. Similar to Smush, the plugin offers a free and paid option for more in-depth tools and access. 

Smartcrawl wordpress plugin - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Separately, Smart Crawl focuses on improving your site through a more traditional SEO audit. This plugin has more all-encompassing SEO recommendations in comparison to the other plugins above. When it comes to site speed, this plugin can find and fix 301 redirects to cut down on excessive redirects. To help with broader SEO optimization, it also offers an XML sitemap generator and schema recommendations. Just like the other plugins, it offers a free version as well as a pro version which requires a monthly or annual payment. 

#26 Check Caching 

Another method to improve your site speed is caching. Caching is the way your website stores files such as HTML pages, CSS, and images for users once they visit your site. It makes it so that when the user revisits your site it will not need to constantly reload everything. To cut down on time, it will show you a copy of the page. This not only makes for a better user experience but also helps improve your site speed and cuts down on the work the server needs to do. 

Similar to the way you search for duplicate content, you can see cached versions of your site by searching “cache: your website URL.” You should make sure your site is cached consistently by implementing backend caching policies including cache-control headers, entity tags (ETags), and cache invalidation requirements. 

#27 Solidify Structured Data

While the content of your website is important, the way the content is organized and shown is just as vital. Enter structured data. Structured data helps standardize the way content is presented. It makes it easier for search engines to showcase your data and content, especially in the SERPS. For example, when you see a Google Knowledge Panel on the right after searching for a business or brand, that is a sign of good structured data. The best way to improve your structured data is by adding a schema markup.

Google knowledge panel for Digital Third Coast - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

#28 Ensure Mobile Friendliness

While those of us who are engrossed in the SEO world may spend our days working on our laptops and viewing websites from a desktop perspective, do not forget the importance of mobile friendliness. Google first looks at a website’s mobile view when deciding on rankings. So, it’s crucial to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Five things to keep in mind to ensure your site is mobile-friendly are: 

  1. Make sure your site offers a mobile-friendly configuration 

You’ll want to be sure your website is designed with responsive technology to handle smartphones and different screen sizes. Certain website themes may not provide this option if using a CMS platform like WordPress. If that’s the case, you’ll want to choose a different theme. Most modern themes are made responsive since that is the standard these days.

  1. Ensure your content is readable to Google 

Since Google does mobile-first indexing, you need to ensure that your mobile site matches your desktop site. Make sure that you use the same navigation, pages, and robot meta tags for each. 

  1. Confirm your content is the same on your desktop and mobile site

Your content on your desktop version should match the content you have available on your mobile version. If, for some reason, you have less content on your mobile site, Google warns that you may lose out on potential traffic. 

  1. Match Structured and Metadata 

Similarly, on a technical front, your mobile and desktop website should also have the same structured and metadata across both sites. When it comes to images, they should also have the same alt text along with matching titles and captions. 

  1. Examine your Images and Videos 

Outside of your written content, images and videos on your site should be optimized. If any of these are too large or not in the right file formats, they can dramatically affect page speed and overall performance causing a bad user experience. 

From your desktop, one simple way to see how your webpage looks from a mobile device is to right-click the page. Go to the bottom of the pop-up and click the word “inspect.” 

 Opening a mobile view page via inspect  - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

From there, a bar will open on the right side of your webpage. Click the image in the upper right-hand corner just to the left of the two arrows. That is called the toggle device toolbar. By clicking that icon you’ll be able to automatically see what the webpage would look like from a phone. 

Toggle device toolbar mobile page view- digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Website Security

In today’s digital landscape, a technically sound website is just the starting point. It’s your responsibility to ensure your online presence is not just functional, but secure and trustworthy. Especially if you collect customer information. The internet has revolutionized the way we connect with products and services worldwide, but with that power comes great vulnerability. Weak website security can lead to more than just a loss of customer trust – it can trigger red flags from search engines and devastate your online credibility. Prioritize robust security measures to protect your users and your brand.

#29 The Need For HTTPS

The first part of any URL starts with the same four or five letters, either HTTP or HTTPS. HTTP means HyperText Transfer Protocol while the definition of HTTPS is HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. The same thing, right? Not quite. For your business, we highly recommend HTTPS because it is more secure from hackers stealing your data. Think of it as an additional step to protect your business and customers from hackers. 

How do you get HTTPS? You’ll need to get an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificate. The cost of the certificate varies based on your domain and needs. It could cost anywhere from less than $10 a year to well over $1,000 and needs to be renewed yearly. In most cases, the cheap options work fine, and you don’t need anything fancy unless you’re in one of the high-security industries. You can either get the certificate from your web host or you’ll need to get it from a separate company and upload it yourself. Moving from HTTP to HTTPS will require some careful and thoughtful decisions because you’ll need to migrate your website. You may be wondering if it’s worth the headache. It is, because without an HTTPS on your domain, Google may warn users your site is not secure which can cause you to lose customers and trust in your business. 

#30 Content Security Policy Header

Another security feature you should have for your website is a content security policy (CSP) header. This header can protect your online business specifically from XSS or cross-site scripting attacks that attempt to manipulate the code of your website. This can cause the website to do something like redirect the user to an unsafe site or pull up a Javascript file that sends all of the user’s personal information to the hacker. 

You or your web developer will need to add a CSP to your HTTP header and customize it based on your preferences. Basically, it will be up to you to determine what is and is not allowed to load on your website. One common CSS is ‘self’ which is where you allow your website to load any resources only from itself and from no outside source. 

#31 Install Security Plugin or Software

Another step to prioritize your website safety is to download a security plugin or install security software. When it comes to plugins, there are many out there for you to try, but our recommendation is to use the plugin “Defender Security.” This one is nice because it lets you set up two-factor authentication, so you’ll need authorization from two devices before getting access to your website. 

Defender security plugin- digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Another feature our team likes about Defender Security is that it allows you to change the URL for your login page. This custom URL further secures the login process by making the login page less predictable and therefore harder for hackers to track and access it. When it comes to logging in, the plugin automatically makes it so your password is hidden as you type it in the box as well. 

No matter which plugin you decide to use, we recommend installing one or having some sort of security software to check for any malware, protect your firewall, and consistently scan and check your website for any irregularities. 

User Experience (UX)

When you think of the user experience on your website, you may not think of that in the same category as a technical audit. However, UX is just as important to your website’s health, because a bad user experience can severely impact your website ranking and performance. Google looks at how users respond to your content. If users find themselves on a website that is badly designed, hard to navigate, or disorganized, they’ll more than likely abandon the site and search for something more specific and trustworthy. You want to make the information on your site easy to find and easy to read. Think of the user experience as the icing on the cake. If you have a stable technical center (cake) the icing on top (UX) will take the cake. (No apologies for the dessert analogy.) 

#32 Simplify Site Navigation

A key step to improving the user experience is to make sure the navigation is clear, logical, and simple. Determine the path you want a user to go through when making a purchase or buying a service and be sure to simplify it. It should not be hard for a user to figure out the best way to contact you, make a purchase, and learn more about what you do. If it’s too confusing, that is an easy way to frustrate and lose a site visitor. 

If you aren’t sure how to improve your navigation, review what we talked about when it comes to your crawl depth. Triple-check that your most important, converting pages are the most accessible and easy to find. You don’t want your users to have to turn into detectives to find what they want on your website. You should be serving up everything to them on a silver platter. 

#33 Check Header Tag Hierarchy

Another important technical step is to check and optimize your header tags. Your headers should be assembled in the proper order (i.e. make sure you start with an H1 on the largest text followed by an H2 then H3, etc.). 

H2 → H1 → H3

H1 → H2 → H3

Two other important things to keep in mind:

  • Each H1 should be different – make sure there’s no duplication across pages! 
  • While the number of characters in a header does not matter, it shouldn’t be keyword-stuffed and should be easy to read. 

Your crawl results should provide you with all the details about duplicate headers and let you know if any pages are missing H1s. You can check out additional best practices for headers in Google’s documentation style guide

#34 Review Title Tags

While an H1 is the first thing a user sees after clicking on your page, title tags are the first thing they see when your page appears on the SERPS. These are just as important as your headers if not more because they’re what can lead users to click onto your website. 

Title Tag example- digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Similar to headers, title tags should be different for every page. Also, be sure not to jam keywords into the title tags. You can include a keyword if it comes across as genuine and applicable, but once again don’t force anything for the sake of including a keyword. Title tags should be no longer than 60 characters. Similarly, your crawl will provide you with more information and point you in the right direction of which title tags to adjust or fix. You can learn more about title tag best practices in the HTML basics section of our SEO for Developers guide

#35 Manage Meta Descriptions

Meta Description example- digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Meta descriptions are what appear right below your title tag in the SERPS. While search engines have said meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. Think of these like your elevator pitch to potential website visitors. If your title tag drew their attention, your meta description could be the final push needed to get them to click on your website. Even though there is no limit to meta descriptions, they should be no more than two sentences (about 155 characters or less). That’s because Google will cut off any part of the meta description after it hits the character count, so people won’t be able to see what you write in full anyway.

Your meta description should accurately describe what users will expect to see or learn about from your page. Same note as above: your crawl should provide you with information about your meta descriptions (i.e. if you’re missing any meta descriptions, have duplicate descriptions, need to shorten them, etc.)

#36 Alt Text Adjustments

The alt text is part of the HTML code that describes what an image shows. All images should include alt text. This is different from the image caption, which is shown underneath the image on the webpage. This is instead what will appear on your webpage if for some reason the image is not loading. Alt text is also used to help Google with its search image rankings, and provides extra details about an image for those needing additional accessibility. 

It’s vital to make sure your website is accessible to all so that way anyone with an impairment can understand it. At the end of the day, if your website is not accessible, you could face legal action depending on your niche. From a rankings perspective, alt text also gives Google a clearer picture of what your webpage is about and could help your images rank in the SERPS in image packs or under the image tab. Similar to the previous HTML code mentioned above, your crawl should provide you with all the information needed to determine what alt text may need adjustments on your website. 

 Image result in the SERPS- digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

#37 Image and Video Size and Compression

Image and video size and compression is a key piece to creating a clean cut, solidified website.Through Google’s Helpful Content Update we know even more so now that the text on the page is under increased scrutiny, but helpful content also means showing content in a way that easily readable, understandable, and accessible. If your web pages are filled with giant images, making it hard to scroll and find text, then it’s not a good UX. That could lead to a higher bounce rate and, therefore, a worse ranking for the page. 

Google has photo and video guidelines. For videos, it recommends keeping videos to 30 seconds or shorter and no more than 75 MB. Meanwhile, it calls for images that are either jpg or png format with a resolution of 720 pixels by 720 pixels. Outside of the technical recommendations, we also urge you to take a close look at your webpages after making these adjustments to your videos and images. Is it easy to find the information users are looking for? Does an image take up an entire page but not add a lot of value to the content? Don’t add images for the sake of having them. Is your video placed above the fold and taking away from any text within your piece? 

Additional Optimizations

Before ending your technical audit there are a few final optimizations we recommend doing. While these are more miscellaneous, that doesn’t make them any less important for the part they play in improving the health of your website. 

#38 Hreflang Tags

At a basic level, an Hreflang tag is an HTML attribute used to tell search engines which language to present on your website. This is important when it comes to multilingual or multi-regional content. For example, if a customer in Germany searches your site, you’d probably prefer for it to be shown in the country’s native language: German. Separately, if someone is in the U.S., but searching for your service in Spanish, you’d also want your website to appear in the language they are currently using to do their search. This is incredibly important if your customers are international. If you don’t get any business from other countries, it’s not needed since you probably only have an English version of your site. Within the HTML, an Hreflang tag will tell search engines when to present a site for French users so it would showcase as www.yourwebsitehere.com/fr and, separately, showcase as www.yourwebsitehere.com/es for Spanish users. You also have to create these translated versions of all the pages you want to show up for different languages.

When it comes to the SEO of your site, the correct Hreflang tags are important because they help you avoid duplicate content penalties. One quick aside: translated pages are not the same thing as Hreflangs. Google has shared that pages it automatically translates will never be considered duplicate content. 

You can check your hreflang tags in GSC by going to “international targeting” which is under the “Search Traffic” section. From there, you can click the “Hreflang” tab. This tab will show you if there are any errors or warnings associated with your setup. 

#39 Iframes

An Iframe (shortened for inline frame) is an HTML element that helps websites embed elements such as maps, documents (including PDF files), and even social media feeds from other HTML sources. While Iframes make it easier to showcase additional content from other sites onto your web page, they can’t be crawled by search engines. 

You’ll need to check to make sure important site content isn’t living solely within Iframes, otherwise, search engines will not be able to read it. Additionally, while Iframes can be useful, they may not work as well on your mobile site, can lead to a slower site speed, and potentially cause security issues depending on what or who you’re embedding. If you can, we recommend directly embedding content on your pages instead of using Iframes. Your crawl should have more information about any Iframes affecting your site. Other tools such as Ahrefs and Semrush can check pages with Iframes and highlight SEO issues.    

#40 Review Backlink Profile

Something that’s easy to forget about, but just as important is to check your website’s backlink profile. Backlinks are links your website is getting from external sources and they are a very important ranking factor for your website. Good links will signal to search engines like Google that your site is trustworthy.

Backlink profile - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

No one link is the same, and we have a backlink guide to explain which links are best for your website and how to check your backlink profile. There’s a lot of talk out there about toxic backlinks and disavowing links to your site. In most cases, it is not necessary to disavow “toxic” backlinks because Google just devalues these links so they don’t help you. There are tool companies that make up metrics with names like “toxicity score” in order to sell their software, but the factors used to calculate these scores are kind of a joke.

#41 Check Domain History

While this is normally something you do before buying a domain, if you’re continually having ranking issues with search engines, it may be worth it to check the domain history of your website. If your site was previously owned by someone who misused it, that could be why your site is being penalized. Google Senior Search Analyst and Search Relations Lead John Mueller, has previously said that with the proper SEO practices your site will begin to improve over time. However, depending on how long the domain was negatively used, your best option may be to change domains entirely rather than to wait it out.   

After The Tech Audit is Complete

Completing a technical audit is not a “one and done” process. It is something that should be redone over time so that you can continually work on improving your website. We recommend checking your website at least once a year, unless of course you run into ranking issues and need to investigate sooner. While these final six tips aren’t necessary from a technical audit perspective, they are important from a marketing and user perspective, and therefore, your business.  

#42 Accessibility

Accessibility is not a specific ranking factor requirement for Google. John Mueller has previously shared that while Google strongly values accessibility, it has been hard to quantify as a specific ranking factor. Despite this, Google’s guidelines often strongly align with those from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Plus, having a website accessible to all is a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act. By not having an accessible website, your business could face legal repercussions.

Some simple, yet necessary SEO requirements to keep in mind under the lens of accessibility are:

  • Text Color: If the color of the text over the colors of your site is too similar, it could make it so someone who is colorblind could not read it.
  • Alt Text: Having alt text to describe every image will ensure people who are blind will know what your website is showing if they’re having the text read out loud. 
  • Captions: For those who are deaf, captions on videos will help them understand what is being said.
Accessibility example with color and text - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

 #43 Analyze Competitors

Standing out among your competitors is one key way to earn business. While part of this process includes thought leadership, another aspect is to keep track of your competitors. You need to analyze your competitors’ websites to stay ahead of their SEO game and make sure yours is the best in the business. 

Are they targeting and ranking for keywords you somehow missed? Are they producing content that is reaching an audience you haven’t considered? Are there certain pages outranking you by just one spot? If so, can you turn this into a low hanging fruit exercise and make some minor optimizations to beat them in the SERPS? While you should never copy your competitors, part of staying ahead of them is keeping an eye on their SEO strategies and positioning yourself to be better. 

#44 Content Audit

Good content can help prove your expertise, rank for keywords relevant to your business, and attract new customers. However, if you don’t know what content you have, you could find yourself wasting time and energy targeting keywords and topics you already rank for in the SERPS. 

One method to improve your website is through a content audit. A content audit is a way for you to organize all of the content you have on your website. There’s no set way to do a content audit. It’s up to your discretion. You can organize the content by categories (i.e. blog pages, service pages, resource pages, etc.), organic sessions, conversion rate, total sessions, and more. 

Basically, a content audit will help you find ways to improve your website content strategy. Maybe there’s a page ranking second in the SERPS that you can adjust to try and get it to rank first. Or you find there’s a page you can redirect to one that’s got the same content and ranking better. A content audit can also show you what content you may be lacking, giving you an idea of where to take your content strategy next. 

#45 Keyword Gap Analysis

Another SEO-backed method to optimize your website is to do a keyword gap analysis. This is just like it sounds: using tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs, you can easily check the keywords you rank for against your competitors.

It can be an eye opening way to uncover what they may be outranking you for in the SERPS. This method can help you determine your SEO strategy moving forward to make sure your website is beating out your competitors.

#46 Keyword Opposition Benefit (KOB)

To further your SEO strategy, you can do a keyword opposition benefit (KOB) analysis. This is something our SEO team specializes in doing. This strategy takes keyword gap analysis to the next level. It starts by identifying keywords that your competitors are ranking for and, through a more in-depth analysis, determines which keywords would be most worth putting together a content piece that could rank quickly for the topic. When done right, it helps businesses get more visibility in the SERPS faster and targets topics that have a high relevance and value. Over time, certain content pieces can also bring in passive links to help with building your backlink profile. 

#47 Digital PR Link Building

Digital PR Example - digitalthirdcoast.com technical SEO guide

Speaking of links, another method for website improvement is building backlinks through digital PR. This method is a news-first content approach. The goal is to create unique content that will resonate with journalists leading to links and coverage from outlets with a high domain authority. This method can help quickly boost your backlink profile and the strong authority signals to search engines that your website is trustworthy, helping to grow your rankings. This SEO strategy is something our content team specializes in here at Digital Third Coast.

Completing a Technical Audit

Work on your website is never ending. A lot goes into maintaining, improving, and updating your website. If you’ve made it this far, bravo! We commend you for the work you’re doing, but we also recognize technical SEO work is far from easy and requires a lot of time and energy. That’s why marketing agencies like ours exist – to take a load off your shoulders, answer questions that don’t have simple solutions, and to help you grow your website. If you’re looking for SEO and content help, reach out

Technical Audit FAQs

How long does a technical audit take?  

Technical audits can usually take anywhere from 10 hours to 40 hours depending on the size of the website being audited. 

What should you expect from a technical audit? 

These audits will provide a list of recommended technical changes to help improve your site functionality. Technical audits are all-encompassing and will include information on several important website features including: 

  • URL and site structure
  • Crawling and indexing
  • Performance optimization
  • Mobile optimization
  • Security

On a surface level, technical audits are meant to comb through your entire website to uncover any issue hindering your page rankings and traffic. The goal of a technical audit is to catch and fix any potential technical issues.

How often should you do a technical audit?  

A technical audit should be the first thing you do when starting work with an agency or contractor. After an initial technical audit, smaller audits should be completed annually to make sure everything is continuing to run smoothly. 

Is a technical audit hard? 

A technical audit is not necessarily hard, but it is tedious. It takes time and requires effort and conscientiousness because you are combing through your entire website to look for and fix technical site issues. It’s also important to note one difficult yet key part of a technical audit isn’t just completing the initial audit, but implementing all of the SEO changes promptly after the audit is finished. 

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