Technical SEO checklist
Posted by Garrett Winder on 20 April, 2017
As the web grows in complexity, Technical SEO becomes more and more relevant. Everything from site speed to security, to overall website usability across a multitude of platforms is relevant in modern day SEO.
Technical SEO is the optimization work that needs to be done outside of content, link building and outreach. It’s the strong foundation that gives your content the ability to rank well in today’s search engine landscape — checking the boxes next to Google’s development related ranking signals and planting the seed for search engine success.
Here’s the Technical SEO Checklist we go through at Good Work with every website we launch for our clients. The list is broken down by usability items, on-page items and third party software integrations.
First off, we have the usability related items on the checklist. Google not only wants to return the best results, but also the fastest, most secure and user friendly results. Here are the usability related items on our Technical SEO Checklist.
Website speed and load time
Website speed is an important factor in user experience, and your website’s users expect your website to load quickly.
We can check website speed and load times with Google PageSpeed Insights. PageSpeed Insights will spit out personalized recommendations for both mobile and desktop to speed up our website for an overall better user experience. Some examples of things PageSpeed Insights will recommend if we haven’t already done so are:
- Leverage browser caching
- Reduce server response time
- Avoid landing page redirects
- Enable compression on the web server
- Optimize images
These items can be taken care of either in the website codebase, or the web server the website lives on. Most of this is done in the
.htaccess files and a good Gulp process.
An SSL certificate is what secures your website and gives it that little green padlock you’re used to seeing in your browser’s URL bar. There are a lot of reasons to secure your website, but from a simple SEO standpoint, Google wants you to.
Back in September 2016, Google announced their future plans for a more secure web, with a hint at their eventual “Not secure!” messages next to all websites that do not have SSL certificates. This could happen sometime in 2017.
To make this easier, Google has created documentation on enabling HTTPS on your web server and this can be done fairly quickly by magic development fingers.
People will be accessing your website from a wide range of devices, and Google expects your website to be optimized for those devices for a better user experience.
Google has also introduced mobile first indexing, meaning their search results are based on the mobile version of your website.
Long story short, your website needs to be mobile friendly.
On page items
Now that we’ve covered speed, security and mobile friendliness, we can jump to the portion of technical SEO directly related to your website’s codebase.
The majority of the items below can be automated and/or managed through your website’s content management system if configured correctly. For instance, we regularly use Craft CMS which has a great SEO plugin called Sprout SEO.
Make sure every page on your website has a unique title tag that describes the page in about 50 – 60 characters. Title tags are displayed on search engine result pages (SERPS) and should be simple and written as “Ad copy” for humans.
Title tags are not a factor in Google rankings.
Make sure every page on your website has a unique meta description that describes the page in about 160 characters. Just like title tags, meta descriptions are used as “Ad copy” in SERPS and are not a factor in Google rankings.
It’s worth noting that because Google highlights search words in search results, having the right keywords here in a human readable way will help you stand out.
Social meta tags
Social meta tags allow you to have unique information show up when your content is shared on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.
For example, here’s what happens when you share a link on Twitter that has social meta tags in place: Twitter summary card with large image.
Image alt tags
Image alt tags help describe images for search engine bots as well as the visually impaired. Adding good, descriptive alt tags to your images ensures everyone can understand the images on your website.
Structured data helps search engine bots better understand the content on your pages, and give you access to enhanced search results called rich snippets. Rich snippets in search results can significantly increase the number of people who visit your website.
Structured data can be used to markup things like articles, restaurant menus, events and company information. To learn more about structured data, visit schema.org.
Proper use of HTML elements
We need to make sure we’re using proper HTML elements to mark up our pages. H1s for page headings, unordered lists for lists, strong for bold, etc. This gives the content on our website deeper meaning to search engines.
There are a lot of HTML elements, and we need to make sure we’re always using the most useful ones on our web pages.
Make sure your website has a robots.txt file. A robot.txt file tells search engines what pages to, and not to, include in search results.
You can learn more about robots.txt at robotstxt.org.
Make sure your website has a sitemap.xml file. A sitemap is an XML file that lists all of the pages on your website, along with when they were last updated and the priority and frequency you’d like search engines to crawl them.
Good URL structure
Any modern content management system will be able to handle this out of the box, but we need to make sure we’re using URLs like website.com/products/furry-red-hat instead of website.com/product_id=873hfdn29o. Cleaner URLs are easier to remember, help explain the content on the page, and are a factor in search engine rankings.
3rd party software integrations
Lastly, we need to make sure we’ve added the essential third party integrations like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. These allow us to begin tracking usage data, and help flag up errors as they arise.
You’re probably used to adding Google Analytics to your websites, but if you’re not familiar with Google Webmaster Tools, here’s what makes it shine:
- It’s the only place Google will give you direct feedback about specific things you need to do to improve your website. They do this through the “Messages” section and it’s incredibly valuable.
- It’ll keep a list of crawl errors so you know what pages are causing trouble, and can fix accordingly.
- You can submit your sitemap regularly, and check to see the status of pages that are (and aren’t) crawled by Google yet.
It also has loads of other valuable tools, like how you’re ranking for different search queries, etc.
After going through the Technical SEO Checklist above, it’s good practice to do one final check for errors before launch. You can do this with a tool called Raven Site Auditor. Raven will crawl your website and flag up anything we missed above.
Here are a few examples of warnings Raven can flag up for you:
- Mobile and desktop speed performance
- Duplicate title elements and meta descriptions
- Low word count on pages
- Images missing alt text
- Pages missing structured data
After crawling your website, Raven gives you a grade between 0 and 100, and marks all issues as “critical”, “warning” or “needs attention” to help you prioritize.
Using the 80⁄20 rule you can typically get your grade up to 90 – 95, at which point your website is ready for liftoff!
Submit your sitemap to Google using Google Webmaster Tools and vualá. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
About Good Work
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