Technical SEO Checklist: Guide For Non-Technical Marketers
by Mike Khorev
There are three key aspects to SEO: content—or keyword—optimizations, getting backlinks (the one we call off-site optimization), and technical optimization, where content and technical optimizations are combined into on-page SEO.
Arguably, technical SEO is the most challenging of the three, and often becomes the cause of headache for marketers that are not familiar with coding. Technical SEO is also where issues often occur, which can lead to a major confusion if we don’t know the root cause.
Here, we will share our version of the technical SEO checklist, listing all the important elements that are important to ensure the performance of your site and its visibility in Google’s SERP.
Let us begin with the first section.
I. Improving Website Speed
Loading speed is now a very important aspect of user experience, where half of users will abandon a website that loads in 3 seconds or more. On the other hand, the average load speed of websites in 2018 is 8.66 seconds with a standard 3g connection. Meaning, if you can improve your load speed, you are well ahead of most competitors.
Before anything else, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to assess your current page’s loading time. You will see various metrics that are relatively technical, but the color-coded metrics (green=fast, orange=medium, red=slow) are very helpful. Below, you will see the “opportunity” and “diagnostic” sections where Google will suggest key areas where you can improve your load speed.
Here are some of the important optimizations you can attempt for a faster website:
1. Image Optimizations
Images are often the main culprit for the slow website for a simple reason: they use a lot of data.
With all the information contained on a single image, the user will need to download a lot of data just to display the image—not to mention if our page consists of many different images—. On the other hand, reducing the image’s size in data might compromise its quality.
The answer is compression, and here are a few tips on optimizing your images for speed:
- PNG file format is usually your best bet, unless you need it to be an animated GIF. PNG generally offers the best visual quality for each byte size.
- There are various tools (i.e. Optimizilla or Compressor.io) and various WordPress plugins where you can compress a lot of images at once automatically. Use these to your advantage.
- Check whether the image has any transparent pixel. If not, remove transparency.
- For JPEG, you can reduce the quality to 80-85% which usually won’t affect the visual quality significantly.
- Google recently recommended the usage of newer image formats like JPEG2000 or WEBP, which indeed offer better efficiency in size. However, remember that not all devices and browsers are optimized for these formats. In the near future, however, they will be the better alternatives, so stay updated.
2. Improve Server Response Time
Server response time—in a nutshell— is the time required to load the necessary code from your server to begin rendering a page. Before your server gives the OK, we can’t load anything else, and according to Google, the ideal server response time is below 200ms.
First things first, the most common reason for slow server response time is, well, the server’s quality. It’s important to choose a good hosting option from the start since server migration can be difficult with various potential issues. Big companies have the option to have their own dedicated servers, but not so with smaller or newer companies—or personal bloggers—.
You might want to check this list discussing the fastest web hosting services today to help your choice.
- HTMLMinifier to minify HTML resources
- csso and CSSNano for CSS resources
- Google’s PageSpeed Module can automatically optimize your site and minify resources
If your site is WordPress-based, there are various plugins that can help you with this process, such as:
- WP Rocket, a caching plugin, but has a well-rounded set of features like minifying resources and database optimization.
4. Minimize Number of Redirects
In the world of SEO, redirects are like double-edged swords: they are certainly useful in many cases including link reclamation, but if you have too many of them, it can hurt your SEO results, mainly because they will slow down your website significantly, among other things.
First, you can use various tools to check your site regarding the number of redirects you currently have:
In the world of SEO, there are two important types of redirects:
1. 301 redirects
A redirect signalling the search engines that a page has been moved permanently. When a 301 redirect is in place, Google will remove the old page from being indexed, so this will affect SEO.
So, use 301 redirects carefully, for example to direct people from “xxx.com “to “www.xxx.com”, or if you purchase a domain that is going to be sent to the primary domain (misspellings of your brand name, variations, etc.
2. 302 redirects
As opposed to 301, 302 redirects will signal Google that a page has been moved temporarily. When used properly, a 302 redirect won’t significantly impact your previous SEO efforts, and the original page will still be indexed.
For most SEO purposes, the 301 redirect is the one to use. It’s a common mistake to use 302 redirect in place of 301, which won’t impact (or can even hurt) your previous SEO. and the main idea is to avoid any redirect chain.
So, three things to keep in mind:
- Don’t use redirects unless it’s absolutely necessary
- Know when to use 301 and 302 redirects, in general you should use 301 always unless it’s a temporary redirect
- Avoid redirect chains or redirect loops. For example, if page A is redirected to page B, then page B is redirected to page C, change it so that both page A and page B are redirected to page C.
II. Improve Website Indexability and Performance
The performance of your site will affect user experience metrics, which is now important ranking signals. Also, your SEO results will highly depend on whether your site is crawled and indexed properly by Google.
It’s no secret that Google now prioritizes mobile-friendly sites, and with more people browsing exclusively from mobile devices, making sure your site is mobile-friendly is a must.
It is also important to note that nowadays, having a mobile-friendly site is about responsive design, not about having a separate mobile site.
2. Optimize Your URLs
There are four main principles in optimizing your URLs:
- Shorter is always better
- Make sure your URL is understandable by human readers
- Use your main target keyword in the URL, if you can put it upfront, the better, but go back to the previous two rules.
- Use dashes instead of underscores
Also, make sure all other URL variations for your site are pointing to the right—preferred URL—. Use 301 redirect to do this, for example, if your preferred URL is https://www.yoursite.com, then 301 redirect http://yoursite.com and http://www.yoursite.com to the preferred URL. Various SEO tools can also help to automatically redirect these variant URLs.
3. Migrate to HTTPS
If you haven’t already, migrating your site from HTTP to HTTPS can significantly boost your SEO results.
- HTTPS is now a major ranking factor. So, very important for SEO purposes
- More users are now conscious about security, and having a HTTPS site helps ensure them that your site is safe, preventing bounce rate—another ranking signal—
Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, however, can come with various potential issues. You might want to check out this guide to make sure it went properly.
If you are, however, planning to start a brand new site, make sure to use HTTPS from the beginning.
4. Fixing Crawl Errors
A crawl error is when Google has a trouble in viewing your site— or a page on your site— which can be caused by various reasons. However, when Google can’t crawl and index your site, it simply won’t rack, and this is why identifying and fixing crawl errors are very important.
To check for these crawl errors, you can go to Google Search Console and check the Coverage report. When there is any error, you’d want to fix it immediately.
There can be various reasons causing crawl errors, and this guide by Moz will be a good place to start.
5. Test (And Fix) Robots.Txt
Robots.txt is essentially a small text file that is telling Google about which pages to crawl (and which to avoid). You can view your robots.txt file by visiting http://yoursitename.com/robots.txt.
You can then use Google’s robots.txt test tool to check whether there’s any crawl error. Keep in mind that in most cases, you wouldn’t need to edit anything, but in the case of an error, you can also use the Google Search Console to edit it.
You might want to check Google’s Guidelines for robots.txt to understand common errors and how to fix them.
6. Canonical Link Elements
Canonical link element is a HTML code—HTML element— to prevent duplicate content issues. The code will specify which page is canonical or preferred, and this will be the only page accounted by Google.
For example, if you have:
and the preferred version/URL is
then you add a canonical tag like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://yoursite.com/>
You might want to check out this guide by Moz to learn further about canonical tags.
7. Verify Indexed Content
Within Google Search Console, go to the Google Index section, and then Index Status. This way, you’ll get a lot of useful information regarding the status of your indexed pages.
Ideally, you’d want all of your pages indexed—except the ones you don’t want to be indexed for technical reason—. Check again your robots.txt file, and your sitemap (discussed in the next step) to make sure Google is indexing (or not indexing) the right pages according to your SEO strategy.
8. Update Your XML Sitemap
Your XML Sitemap’s main function is to tell Google about the structure of your site, which will affect how your site will be indexed. Good structure will translate to more efficient and accurate crawling.
Again, use the Google Search Console and go to the Sitemap Report section. here, you can test and edit your sitemap file. Google Search Console will show any errors, so make sure they are all fixed before you submit the sitemap.
Update your XML sitemap regularly according to these principles:
- Ideally you should update the sitemap anytime a new content/page is added. If this is not possible, set a regular time to update the sitemap (for example, once a week).
- Eliminate outdated and bad content regularly
- The sitemap must not exceed 50MB in size and shouldn’t contain more than 50,000 URLs. Generally it’s better to have a shorter sitemap so your important pages can be crawled more frequently. If necessary, break down the sitemap into smaller parts.
9. Optimizing Crawl Budget
Google assigns a “crawl budget” for each site, which essentially means how many pages on the site are crawled in a specific time period. The bigger your site,the more you should worry about crawl budget.
In general, you should optimize the crawl budget of your site to make sure that your important pages are indexed frequently—daily if possible—, and here are some things you can do:
- Remove duplicate content if possible
- Remove hacked and compromised pages
- Update your sitemap regularly, and make it as short as you can (discussed above)
- Eliminate infinite space
- Fix soft 404 errors, delete the page if necessary
- Check your site regularly for low-quality content, and eliminate them
10. Setting Up Proper Analytics and Tracking
Tracking your website’s performance and make the necessary improvements are important aspects of SEO.
Set up the necessary tracking systems in place, according to your website’s goals, and make sure they are working properly.
III. Content-Related Optimizations
First things first, the most important optimization is the quality of the content itself, and no amount of optimizations will help a bad content to rank.
However, these technical optimizations below can help enhance the performance of the high-quality content:
1. Optimize Readability
Content readability will significantly affect bounce rate and dwell time, both important ranking factors today. Readability will also affect user engagement and conversion rate,so it is a crucial optimization for any piece of content.
In general, keep your paragraphs and sentences short, and add a line space (hit enter) between each paragraph. If your site is on WordPress, you can use plugins like Yoast SEO that will provide suggestions on readability.
2. Fix Broken Resources and Links
It is quite often to have broken links, images, or even embedded videos on your content page. Make sure to fix all of these, which again, will significantly affect user experience.
There can be various reasons for this issue, whether the source site is already gone, corrupted file, changed URL, etc. The main approach is to check your content regularly and find the possible issues, and there are various SEO tools that can help with this.
3. Improve Internal Linking Structure and Fix Linking Issues
You might want to check out this guide by Moz on internal linking best practices.
In general, you should check for:
- Broken links (discussed above)
- Make sure all redirects are placed and working properly
- Click depth
- Check for orphan page and link to it
4. Structured Data (Schema Markup) Optimizations
Structured data markup, in a nutshell, is assigning the appropriate properties and attributes for each element in your content (using schema.org language).
There are two main benefits in implementing structured data markup: first, Google will have an easier time in crawling and indexing your site. Second, your page will be eligible for rich results, a very important aspect of Google SERP—and thus, SEO— today.
Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to help with this. The tool can actually help you in inputting the schema markup, not only for testing purposes.
5. Link Building
While link building is a pretty broad subject on its own, there are several important considerations—from the technical SEO perspective— to focus on:
- Avoid nofollow links, as only dofollow links will help with your SEO
- Quality over quantity. Building too many links to a page—and from the page— can be counterproductive and get you penalized. Just 2 to 3 high-quality links each month are sufficient, and keep a reasonable number links within each page.
- Optimize, but don’t over-optimize your anchor texts.
6. Test On Different Devices and Platforms
Test your content on as many devices, browsers, and platforms as you can.
You can do this manually via Google Chrome, right click and go to Inspect. Then, toggle the Device toolbar on where you can select different devices to display your site. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t be as accurate as actually testing your site on a specific device. However, it will help you avoid crucial issues.
We have divided this technical SEO checklist into three major categories: improving your website speed to prevent high bounce rate and improve user engagement; improving your site performance to make sure it’s properly indexed by Google, and optimizing the technical aspect of your content, which is the heart and soul of SEO.
While technical SEO can be challenging at times, it is definitely doable, and there are many different tools that can help you along the way. You can also contact an enterprise SEO expert to get help with technical SEO. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule to optimize your site periodically, instead of doing all these SEO optimizations at once.
April 6, 2020