Technical SEO Audits: The Key to Website Maintenance

Technical SEO Audits: The Key to Website Maintenance

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You can believe “SEO is dead” all you want…

The rest of us are still out here building web assets that rely on organic search as a core source of traffic.

Regular technical SEO audits are a core reason why these websites continue to rank well in Google. Especially when compared with other websites that only focus on keyword and content production.

Technical, regular SEO audits are key if you want to rank in 2024.

In this guide, I’ll show you why you should care about technical SEO, along with regular auditing and fixes should be part of your ongoing maintenance.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why most SEOs overlook technical SEO audits.
  • 8 Key elements you should always look at when doing technical SEO audits.
  • Why regular SEO audits are so important and what can happen if this goes overlooked.
  • Technical SEO audits done right: Real case studie and examples.
  • 6 Best practices and tips to keep in mind when doing technical SEO audits.

Why Technical SEO Audits Are Often Overlooked

Tech SEO is often overlooked because most people simply don’t realize that they have a problem.

Have you ever accidentally driven a car with the handbrake up? 

The car will still drive, but it’s working against itself.

As a technical SEO consultant, I’ve met hundreds of CMOs, content managers and website owners who are doing all the right things with their content, publishing high quality in decent volume, month after month, but can just never win those top positions.

They come to me with a gut feeling that “something isn’t right”.

The good news is, that these audits not only break a website’s performance in search engine rankings, they can make it as well.

I consider technical SEO the foundation upon which all other SEO strategies are built.

It’s not just about peppering your content with keywords and calling it a day.

Technical SEO audits are all about ensuring your site is structured and runs in a way that search engines can understand and appreciate.

This includes a range of factors including content quality, indexing issues, redirect and broken links. All of which play a crucial role in how search engines perceive and rank your website.

Neglecting these elements is akin to building a house on unstable ground. 

No matter how good it might look, it’s probably not going to serve its purpose for long.

This is why it’s so important to start with technical SEO no matter the project.

Here’s what you need to know.

8 Key Elements Of A Technical SEO Audit

A technical SEO audit is a thorough examination of your website’s technical health, which is weighted against what SEO experts consider to be “technical SEO best practices”.

These best practices are more or less dictated by things that are publicly presented in resources like Google’s Search documentation

Help Google understand your site image with explanatory text.

As well as what the community has learned about crawling, indexation, and all that good stuff, since the inception of search engines.

Still, while there’s some opinion around some elements of technical SEO, in general, most of it is a pass/fail type of scenario. Either something is broken or it’s not.

Let’s dive into the critical elements that should be on every webmaster’s checklist.

The 8 key elements of a technical SEO audit we’re about to cover are as follows:

  • Indexing issues.
  • Broken links.
  • Content quality.
  • Localization.
  • Sitemap troubles.
  • Redirects.
  • Security features.
  • Structured data.

Here’s what you need to know about each.

Indexing issues

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Indexing is the cornerstone of search engine visibility.

During an audit, it’s crucial to ensure that pages across your site are allowed to be indexed, and can actually be crawled.

Be sure that canonical tags are accurate, and check for the presence of orphan pages (pages not linked from elsewhere on your site).

Resolving these issues helps ensure that all your valuable content is discoverable by  search engines crawlers, and that it can actually be indexed (putting it “in the running” to rank).

You can index a page or website through Google Search Console or the many free WordPress and SEO plugins.

Google Search Console alert: 'URL is not on Google' with a 'REQUEST INDEXING' button highlighted.

Alternatively, you can use the following search query to check if a page is properly indexed:

“Site:(your website here) “keyword””

E.g.

Google search for 'foundation links' on jollyseo.com with search results displayed

Broken links

Closely related to crawling issues, be sure to identify and fix any broken links and redirects.

Yes, they frustrate users, but more importantly, they also waste crawl budgets and can confuse search engine bots.

At best, they can lead search engines to spend time on pages that aren’t valuable, or stop crawlers from accessing important content.

At worst, it’s a signal that a page is out of date and in desperate need of attention, so it can cause ranking (and traffic) loss, either at a page level, or site-wide.

Since you don’t want to be linking to 404 pages, you can use SEO tools (e.g. Ahrefs, Semrush, etc.) to check your broken links.

SEO analysis showing a broken link with '404 not found' error on jollyseo.com's backlinks page

Content quality

Though we’re not discussing a content audit here, it’s still important to consider this factor when performing technical SEO maintenance.

An audit should review content quality, identifying issues like:

  • Broken images.
  • A prevalence of low word count pages.
  • Improper use of tags like duplicate, or missing H1 headings, titles, and meta descriptions.

Of course, high-quality, well-structured content is more likely to rank well and engage users. 

This is less of a “pass/fail” metric, but if you’re performing a tech audit and it’s clear that the content is low-quality, be sure to make an action item to perform a content audit next.

In most cases, you’ll have to update, rewrite, or delete such content.

Localization

Incorrect or missing hreflang or HTML lang attributes can lead to significant issues, especially for sites targeting multiple regions or languages.

I’m not sure I’ve ever worked on a technical project where multi-lang sites haven’t been a disaster to begin with.

Ensuring these attributes are correctly implemented guarantees that search engines serve the right content to the right audience.

Only running your website in English?

It’s still worth doing this, as this attribute helps search engines and other software understand the primary language of your page better.

This can improve accessibility, as screen readers use the lang attribute to switch to the appropriate language pronunciation rules. This also helps search engines understand the content of your site more accurately.

As translating content becomes commonplace, these simple implementations really make your content much easier to access to the masses. 

Remember, Google likes this type of thing and as such, it should be an important part of your technical SEO audit.

Sitemap troubles

Your sitemap acts as a roadmap for search engines to discover your site.

Issues here, such as including broken URLs, redirects, or noindex pages, can lead to inefficient crawling.

In other situations, it’s very common to accidentally index a bunch of low or no-value pages because they are not only allowed to be indexed. You’re actually telling search engines to find them via your sitemap. 🤦‍♂️

A well-maintained sitemap ensures that search engines can easily find and index your content.

You can generate an XML sitemap via SEO plugins like RankMath.

Sitemap page from jollyseo.com with XML sitemaps generated by Rank Math WordPress SEO Plugin.

Redirects

Redirects, especially when broken, in chains, or looping, can seriously hamper user experience and crawl efficiency.

Like broken links, they damage user experience, and can also cause search engine bots to freak out. 

Even when redirects work, they introduce complexity, and my personal ethos around anything related to search engine crawlers is to keep it as simple as you possibly can.

Google’s front men regularly contradict themselves around the amount of link juice that redirects pass. 

Usually the conversion involves redirecting old domains to new, but the same is relevant from page to page. 

Why risk it?

Identifying and correcting these, or better yet, replacing them with direct, final URLs, streamlines user and crawler access, ensuring that 100% of PageRank value is passed to your final URL.

Security features

Folks, AI is coming for our jobs, and many of you are still loading files over HTTP.

If you’re still loading mixed content over HTTP and HTTP,  you’re not even competing. 

This is a basic signal of trust and security for users and search engines alike.

Ensuring your site uses HTTPS is a fundamental aspect of any technical SEO audit.

Structured data

Structured data, using schema markup, is like giving search engines a cheat sheet about your site’s content, brand, and much more.

It enhances indexing and can improve the presentation of your site in search results, potentially increasing click-through rates.

It can help both your business’ brand, or your personal brand to land a Knowledge Panel.

Information card for SEMrush, an SEM company, detailing its services and revenue on a search results page

Or maybe it’ll help your ecommerce products to compete by accurately presenting price and product information in users’ queries.

This is a moving target, and the exact implementation varies depending on your business model, but don’t overlook the upside here. 

Any time you can give Google more data that is easy to digest and make sense of, it usually works in your favor.

The Necessity of Regular Technical SEO Audits

Google seems to be updating their algo more than I phone my parents nowadays.

What works today may not work in tomorrow’s algorithm. 

Regular technical SEO audits are essential to ensure your website aligns with these ever-changing standards and algorithm changes.

But it’s not just about appeasing search engines

More often than not, it’s you, your team, your hosting, or something else within your control that is self-sabotaging your marketing efforts.

Let’s take a hypothetical…

You write a blog post that links out to 5 other websites, and one of these websites deletes some of their content. You now have a broken link in that article.

Your developer makes those new design changes to the theme, and you love it.

But little do you know, during that change they’re now loading 20 full resolution images instead of the fast-loading thumbnail images that were there previously.

A team member clicks “update” on your SEO plugin. 

Harmless, right? 

Turns out, during that version change the meta description data isn’t carried across and every single page on your site has a blank tag.

You can see how this can really compound over time.

Technical issues, if left unchecked, change from simple maintenance to a substantial project.

They can severely impact user experience: slow loading times, broken links, or a site that’s not mobile-friendly can frustrate users and drive them away. Which, in turn, also harms your overall SEO.

You make sure your office is clean for client visits. 

Why wouldn’t you make sure your website is well presented as well?

By conducting regular SEO and technical audits, you not only boost your site’s ranking potential but also your overall user experience.

Technical SEO Audits: Case Studies and Examples

I hear you saying “Yeah yeah yeah Jase, you’re another one of those SEOs trying to sell me something I don’t need.”

My immediate reactions are:

  1. Maybe I say “yeah” too much…🤔
  2. I’m glad you’re thinking critically about digital service providers!

Let’s take a quick look at some case studies that, hopefully, show you the power of a comprehensive technical SEO audit and the associated fixes.

Sticking it to Statamic 

Overview

This agency website, designed to generate leads, was publishing great content.

I’d given them a long term content plan which they’d been executing on, but their site was built on Statamic with a custom theme and had a heap of technical issues.

Most tech issues related to orphan pages, broken links, programmatic misuse of alt texts, and plenty of content issues.

Actions taken

The most impactful fixes were made in mid September, helping the orphan pages to get crawled, receive some link juice, and resolve many broken links.

As the developer was the gatekeeper to any custom work, it took longer to get many theme related issues resolved, as well as the more labor intensive content changes implemented.

SEO Audit Impact on Site Health and Errors

Results

The site saw a near immediate improvement in rankings and organic traffic. 

Despite slowing down content production over the following year, the growth trend continued.

Unfortunately, technical SEO maintenance has not been a focus, and the site has now seen a downtrend due to 500 errors, broken redirects, redirect chains and many traffic generating pages becoming non-indexable.

Organic Traffic Trend and Downturn (Nov 2021 - Nov 2023)

Working with WordPress Multi-Language

Overview

A global presence, over a decade of history, serving high value customers in 21 different languages, with sales staff on the ground in many more countries, the business itself has plenty of complexity.

The website is just as complex, using WPML which can be difficult at the best of times. There were thousands of low value pages across the site, in many different languages.

Oftentimes only the core product pages were translated into other languages. Others were duplicated into different languages but were still in English.

Add to these facts that the theme was custom coded, and barely maintained at all for many years prior to the initial audit.

Actions Taken

After performing the initial technical audit, it was obvious that content represented a “problem at scale”. 

We did a huge content audit from there, and deleted tens of thousands of low-value content.

It made sense to do this first because, though it fixed some issues, it caused others as well.

From there we set off to clean up the many issues with incorrect hreflang codes (non-ISO 639-1 formats were being used) 404 errors, orphan pages, incorrect canonical tags, mixed content, redirect chains and so on.

It’s been a long-term project, due to the many stakeholders involved, but the overall site health has vastly improved.

SEO Cleanup Results: Reduced Errors and Enhanced Site Health

Results

Site Traffic Growth Post Optimization

When we started this project, there were over 44,000 URLs on the site. 

Today, a measly 183 pages generate over 300% more organic search traffic.

While the traffic numbers may not seem substantial, remember that high value niches don’t require large traffic numbers. Also know that this site’s growth trend has only just begun.

Now that we have a much better technical foundation, and the content has been pruned back, we’re now able to begin publishing in all languages, correctly and reaping rankings at scale.

6 Best Practices And Tips For Conducting Technical SEO Audits

Conducting a technical SEO audit can seem daunting, but with the right approach and tools, it becomes an invaluable part of your digital, SEO strategy.

Here are my main recommendations if you’re thinking of implementing this internally:

  1. Choose the right tools: The market is replete with tools designed for SEO audits. Use free tools like Google Search Console and Site Speed Bot, as well as paid tools such as Screaming Frog and SE Ranking that align with your budget and technical expertise.
  2. Establish a routine: Regular audits are key. Depending on your website’s size and complexity, a monthly, quarterly or bi-annual audit can help you stay on top of issues before they escalate. Because this is my bread and butter, I audit both my own, and my client sites on a weekly basis.
  3. Prioritize issues: Not all findings will require immediate action. Prioritize based on what will have the most significant impact on your site’s performance and user experience.
  4. Document changes and track progress: Keep a record of the changes you implement. This documentation will help you understand what works, track progress over time, and inform future audits. Whenever working on client sites, I keep an “Activity Log” so they can see exactly what has been changed each day.
  5. Stay updated with best practices: SEO is ever-evolving. Staying up to date with latest recommendations, both official and unofficial. This can help you anticipate changes and adjust your strategies accordingly.
  6. Seek expert opinion when necessary: Sometimes, an external perspective can be invaluable. Don’t hesitate to consult with someone like myself for a more comprehensive analysis.

Doing Tech SEO Audits Regularly

Oprah meme

Technical SEO audits are not just a one-time task but an ongoing process integral to website maintenance. 

They provide the insights needed to ensure your site remains optimally structured and performs well in search engine rankings. 

Regular SEO audits help identify potential problems before they impact your website’s performance, ensuring a seamless user experience and maintaining your site’s visibility and relevance in the digital world.

Remember, in the realm of SEO, what you don’t know can hurt you. 

By making technical SEO audits a staple in your website maintenance routine, you set the foundation for sustained digital success.

Jase Rodley is a seasoned SEO consultant, leading the team at Dialed Labs to help businesses grow their organic search traffic. Hailing from Australia, he now embraces a location-independent lifestyle, integrating his work with a flexible approach to living.

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