By Tyler Gallagher, CEO and founder of Regal Assets, an international alternative assets firm with offices in Beverly Hills, Toronto, London and Dubai.
Every year, Google’s PageRank algorithm gets a little smarter. No matter how solid your website’s content is, you simply can’t rank anymore unless your website’s technical details are equally flawless. Otherwise, all the content you’ve worked so painstakingly to create will go to waste as PageRank relegates it to the umpteenth search engine results page (SERP).
To avoid this disaster from happening, you need to do a technical search engine optimization (SEO) audit. As important as on-page and off-page SEO elements are for your ranking performance, you’re never going to land a first SERP position unless you do an audit on the technical flaws underlying your content.
As the founder of a few high-ranking websites, I always make sure my technical metrics are up to snuff. If they aren’t, I’m bleeding traffic. And you might be, too. In this article, I’ve put together a guide to technical SEO audits so you can see for yourself.
Technical SEO 101: What Is It?
Technical SEO includes those aspects of your search engine ranking that aren’t determined by your content (on-page) or hyperlinking structure (off-page). Instead, Google factors in a variety of ranking factors that have to do with the behind-the-scenes digital machinery of your website.
If you can master the art of technical efficiency, your website will likely see near-immediate improvement in its ranking position. How soundly and efficiently your website performs, from a technical perspective, is determined by these technical SEO factors (non-exhaustive):
• Mobile-friendliness (i.e., mobile-native rendering)
• Schema markup utilization
• Meta descriptions and alt tags
• Image file sizes
• Page load speed (i.e., time to first byte)
• Redirect optimization (e.g., 301, 404)
• XML sitemaps
For the non-techies, if some of this sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you, don’t worry. We’ll touch on how to improve all the basic aspects of your technical SEO fundamentals to make rapid improvements in your ranking.
Running A Technical Audit
Your first step is to conduct an audit. These will provide you with a full profile of your website’s technical health. To do this, there are a variety of software tools available, many accessible via a free trial.
I’ve used each of these at various points in my career, and they’ve worked well for my business: SEMrush, DeepCrawl, Ahrefs and Ubersuggest.
These tools scan your website and provide a report that indicates any red flags when it comes to your page’s technical soundness. However, they only give you data. It’s up to you to take that data and implement it into practice.
For the most part, these changes will be implemented on your website’s backend (e.g., WordPress or Squarespace). Or, alternatively, you can write down the changes that need to be made and hire a WordPress developer, for example, to carry them out if you don’t trust yourself with the responsibility.
The Easy Fixes
Once your website is crawled, your report will generate a list of duplicated pages that can be deleted or deindexed. You’ll also notice redirects (look for keywords “301” or “302”), which are a harsh penalty against your ranking position. Any page with a 301 status code should be removed from your sitemap in your website’s backend.
Likewise, any HTTP version of your website should automatically redirect to an HTTPS version. Lately, Google has started to favor HTTPS websites for their enhanced security and SSL encryption certificates. To do this, here’s a helpful HTTPS redirect guide for several web hosts.
Next, look at your image sizes. These files tend to weigh down websites and lead to slow loading speeds and renders in mobile browsers. If you notice anything above 2 MB, use a file compression tool to minimize its size, then reupload it. Personally, I aim for files of 500 KB or less on my websites.
Last, creating meta descriptions of 160 characters or less with your main target keyword included in the text is very important for SEO purposes. While you’re at it, throw in alt tags for each image file on your page as well to assist the visually impaired — and search engines — with interpreting every element in your content.
The Tough Stuff
Usually, page speed is the biggest technical ranking factor. Use any of several site load speed calculators online to find out how long it takes to render your page. If your website’s load speed is above three seconds, you need to make changes to speed it up. If you’ve already trimmed the file sizes of your on-page elements into <1 MB each, you might need to switch web hosts to access a faster server.
Next, use your SEO research tool (e.g., SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc.) to conduct a full link audit. If any of the links on your pages are dead, broken or in any way dysfunctional, you have to manually fix them. Any dead link is costing you in the form of Google PageRank penalties.
Finally, you’re going to want to optimize your website’s sitemap. If there are too many URLs listed in your sitemap (e.g., >50k), PageRank will penalize you. The same goes for URLs that block indexing. Online guides can help you clean up sitemap issues if they apply to you.
Putting It Into Practice
I recommend staging full technical SEO audits every four to six months or a few weeks after a Google update. This way, you can be sure that your website isn’t being held back by any new technical demands that Google has introduced to its algorithm.
Remember, PageRank exists to make the internet a more useful tool for its users. If the technical aspects of your website create a poor, buggy user experience, then rest assured that Google will penalize your site and reward your competitors who offer a smooth one.
In short, a technically successful website should be safe, fast on both desktop and mobile, well-structured and without duplicated on-page elements such as links or text. If you can satisfy these criteria over time, you can drive more traffic to your site by staving off costly Google penalties that can ruin your ranking position.