The Essential Technical SEO Checklist in 2021
Following a technical SEO checklist is the best way to make sure you’re leaving no stone unturned when auditing your website’s SEO performance.
Every digital marketer should understand how to conduct a technical SEO site audit, but simply plugging in your chosen SEO site audit tool isn’t enough. The best digital marketers understand how different technical errors can impact search rankings, and they’re more effective at prioritizing high-impact changes that get results for their clients.
With our essential technical SEO checklist for 2021, we’re hoping to help digital marketers in two ways:
- By providing a comprehensive list of technical SEO issues that you can look for when auditing your client websites.
- By educating you on how technical SEO issues impact your SERP rankings, so you know which ones to focus on and how they connect with your overall campaign goals.
To break up the information, we’ve divided our checklist into 8 separate areas of technical SEO auditing:
- Verifying Crawlability
- Optimizing Speed and Performance
- Optimizing Structured Data
- Optimizing URLs
- Optimizing HTML & Meta Tags
- Optimizing Social Media Integration
- Optimizing Content & Structure
- Auditing Internal/Outgoing Links
Essential Technical SEO Checklist in 2021
Making sure that search engines are effectively able to crawl your website should be the number-one item on your technical SEO checklist.
Search engines discover and index websites using Internet robots known as crawlers. Crawlers sift through billions of pages of content each day, checking for new websites and updates or new content on known websites.
If you want your website to rank on search engines, it is important to ensure that the web crawlers deployed by search engines can easily find and crawl your website. If your website is not crawler-friendly, Google and Bing won’t be able to collect the necessary information to rank your pages in their search engine results. These optimization techniques will help get your pages indexed faster and more reliably by ensuring that search engines can effectively crawl your website.
Robots.txt File Optimization – When a crawler tries to read your website, the first thing it will look for is your Robots.txt file which should live at the root of your site, for example at www.yourwebsite.com/robots.txt. A robots.txt file can tell a crawler which pages on your website it can or can’t request. It may also connect crawlers with your XML sitemap.
XML Sitemap Optimization – When Google crawls your website, one of its directives is to identify the most important content that is worthy of being indexed in search results. With an XML sitemap, you’re telling Google exactly which pages are the most important and where to find the most valuable content on your website.
Noindex Internal Search Results – If your website has an internal search engine, you should prevent your internal search results from appearing on Google and Bing. You can do this using a disallow rule in your Robots.txt file or by updating the head section of each page with a noindex directive.
Check for Disallowed Resources – Crawlers don’t just read the HTML on your web pages; they render the entire page just how a user would see it. If any resources present on the page are blocked by your robots.txt file, crawlers may have trouble rendering the page content. Page rendering seems to be an important factor for determining how mobile-friendly your website is, so ensure that all pages you intend to be crawled can be rendered fully by crawlers.
Optimizing Speed, Performance, and Security
Page speed and performance are two of the most important factors that impact your SERP rankings. When your website takes a long time to load, overall user experience plummets rapidly, conversions dry up and users bounce more frequently without engaging. Google can measure all of this by collecting field data from real users through the chrome browser on desktop and mobile.
We also know that Google favors websites with strong security features that inspire customer trust, so it’s important to address those as well.
Mobile Responsiveness – A mobile responsive website uses dynamic content to offer the best possible viewing experience to all users, regardless of what device they use to access the content. Google absolutely favors mobile responsive websites, especially in results for searches on mobile devices.
Page Loading Times – The best way to audit your site speed is with Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. You’ll be able to identify which pages are taking the longest time to load and why along with tips and advice for improving website performance and reducing load times for your pages.
HTTPS – HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol Security. Your web server should have an SSL certificate installed that activates the HTTPS protocol and ensures a secure connection between your web server and any client browser accessing your website. The Chrome browser also labels any website without HTTPS as “not secure”, so it’s crucial to ensure that you have an SSL certificate set up for your web server.
Optimizing Structured Data
Structured data is code on your website which is written in a specific way so that search engines can understand it and use it to display more complex search results using your content. When you optimize structured data, Google may turn your SERP results into “rich snippets” which typically generate higher CTR and create an increase in traffic.
AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source framework that allows webmasters to offer streamlined experiences for mobile users with simplified HTML and CSS rules. Pages that use AMP can load much faster than regular HTML and typically enjoy higher placements in Google SERP results on mobile devices. WordPress has an AMP plug-in that can help you generate AMP versions of your content for mobile devices.
Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs are a type of structured data that helps real human users and Google robots effectively navigate through the hierarchy of content on your website. Google’s search engine uses breadcrumb markup from your web page to present more information to users in your search results, which gives you more real estate on the page and helps increase CTR. Read more about how to use breadcrumbs on your website.
Each URL on your website is the address of a piece of content that a crawler or a human user might want to access. Crafting URLs that are friendly to search engines and your audience is both an art and a science. Here are some things you should look out for when optimizing URLs on your website as part of your technical SEO checklist.
URL Readability – One of the most important Google ranking factors is the number of direct visits that your URLs receive. Google measures this by collecting user data through its Chrome browser. If your URL isn’t easy for a person to type in, you won’t be receiving any direct visits and your search rankings can suffer.
URL Length/Structure – URLs that are too long won’t generate much direct traffic, and they don’t tell search engines much about what to find on that page. Keep your URLs short and descriptive.
Underscores in URL – Always use hyphens to separate words in the same URL – Google crawlers do not read underscores and won’t be able to properly index URLs that include them.
URL Descriptiveness – A descriptive URL is the best way to let users and search engines know what kind of content to expect on a page.
Canonical Errors – If you have a specific web page that can be accessed using multiple URLs, canonical URLs can be used to tell search engines which one of those URLs should be used to index that page. Canonical errors can create the perception of duplicate content on your website, leading to ranking penalties.
Optimizing HTML & Meta Tags
Google crawlers look at HTML and meta tags on every page of your website to determine what that page is about and what keywords it might rank for. Optimizing HTML on each page of your website around a specific keyword helps crawlers determine which keyword individual pages should rank for in the SERPs.
Title Tags – Title tags should be 50-60 characters long and include your target keyword for the page somewhere near the beginning. Each page should have a different title tag that is relevant and descriptive with respect to its contents. Avoid keyword stuffing and write title tags that are simple and descriptive.
Meta Descriptions – Every page of your website that you hope to rank in the SERPs needs a unique meta description of around 140-160 characters. Meta descriptions don’t need to include the target keyword, but they should be optimized to drive CTR as they will usually be displayed as part of your Google search result.
Header Tags – Google uses header tags to figure out how the content on each page of your website is organized. Headers should appear in the correct order on each page, with H1 headers at the top, H2 headers appearing further down and H3 or H4 headers nested beneath the rest. Each page should have exactly one H1 header that includes the target keyword.
Optimizing for Social Media
While you can’t do a technical audit to increase your numbers of mentions or followers, you should make technical adjustments to your website that make it easier and more effective for your visitors to share your content on social media.
Twitter Cards – Twitter cards make it easy for your audiences to generate tweets that use images, video and other media from your website. You’ll need to add some Open Graph tags to your website to make it work, but thankfully there’s a full guide detailing how to optimize tweets using Twitter Cards.
Open Graph Markup – Does your marketing plan rely on generating social shares on Facebook? To get the most out of those shares, marking up the HTML on your page with Open Graph tags will ensure that shared content appears on the Facebook platform with the correct image thumbnail, title and description.
Optimizing Content & Structure
Optimizing the structure of content on your website is an essential element of this technical SEO checklist. Search engines care a lot about how content is structured and optimized on your website. Well-organized content isn’t just easier for human users to navigate, it’s also more friendly to search engine crawlers that want to figure out how content is organized on your website. Here’s how you can structure your content to provide a better experience for both human users and crawler bots.
Building a Content Hierarchy – Content on your website should be arranged in a hierarchy. With the home page at the top, content should then be organized into categories and sub-categories by type. Many websites have separate categories for solutions, products, services, case studies, blogs, guides, and more. Implementing a URL structure that mirrors your content hierarchy makes it easier for human users and crawlers to navigate your site.
Limiting Crawl Depth – When constructing your content hierarchy, width is better than depth. Robots start crawling your website at the root domain, so you want most of your content to be relatively close to the first tier of your site – your homepage. Users should be able to navigate from your home page to any page on your website with a maximum of 3 or 4 clicks.
Keyword Optimization – Each page of your website that you want to rank in the SERPs should be optimized around a specific keyword and a matching search intent.
Content Length – Content length is an important ranking factor, as longer-form articles are typically correlated with greater depth and have been shown to be more likely to rank than shorter articles. Consider consolidating several related, smaller articles into one larger and more authoritative piece to get a boost in rankings.
Alt Text – Alt text is an image attribute that displays some text instead of an image in cases where the image can’t be loaded. Visually impaired users may also use alt text to understand the contents of an image. Writing a descriptive Alt text for every image is great for the overall accessibility of your website. It also provides a data source that Google can use to display your images in its image search results, which can generate massive volumes of traffic to your website.
Auditing Internal/Outgoing Links
Every technical SEO audit should include a review of any internal or outgoing links that appear on your website. Here are some optimizations that you should look at when it comes to auditing your internal links:
Anchor Text – When you create a hyperlink on your website, the anchor text should be descriptive of the page that you are linking to. This applies to internal navigational links and to links that lead users out of your website. Internal links provide a stronger boost to your search signals when you use relevant anchor text.
Broken Links – Broken links result in 404 browser errors. They disrupt crawlers on your website, signaling poor quality to search engines and negatively impacting user experience. Ensure that all internal and ongoing links on your pages are functional and point to the correct pages.
Link Spam – Having too many internal links on your website may indicate to Google that you’re spamming links to artificially boost your search rankings. This could result in ranking penalties against your website and could even happen if your visitors are posting spam links in the comments section on some of your pages. You should take care to continually audit and remove spam links from all pages where you allow comments and remove or edit pages with an excessive amount of internal linking.
301s Redirect Errors – While it is not a bad thing to use redirects on your website, you should audit for redirect errors to ensure that redirect chains work properly and bring visitors and crawlers where they’re supposed to go.
Thanks for reading through our technical SEO checklist!
Technical SEO auditing can be an intimidating process for first-timers, but there’s a way to make it less overwhelming.
Instead of focusing on the thousands of ways you could get things wrong, focus on understanding how to get each aspect of your technical SEO right and slowly bring more and more of your content in line with that standard.
Over time, you’ll effectively optimize your website for search engines and become a wizard at technical SEO auditing in the process.