A Step-by-Step Technical Audit to Help You Hold Your SEO Specialists Accountable
The following is adapted from Law Firm SEO.
Imagine taking your car to the mechanic for an inspection. You don’t need to know how to service your car yourself, but you should be aware that an oil change is part of routine maintenance. It’s the same for technical SEO.
Technical SEO encompasses topics like URL structure and crawl errors—things that you don’t need to understand in detail yourself, but should know enough about to recognize when there’s a problem. If these issues carry on unnoticed, your Google rankings may suffer, or it may even prevent your website from getting indexed at all, so you want to quickly correct them when they occur.
My goal is to arm you with enough information to hire a technical SEO specialist and hold them accountable. To help you understand the role your technical SEO expert will play, in your overall digital strategy, here’s a step-by-step audit of the questions your SEO specialist should ask themselves as they monitor your website.
1. Is There More than One Version of Your Website?
When Google indexes your website, it’s important that it only looks at one canonical version. Typically, there are multiple variants that Google could be indexing, including but not limited to:
To avoid problems, you want to choose one of the variants and redirect all others to your chosen canonical version. I would recommend choosing one of the “HTTPS” secure URLs because security is a top priority for Google, and their goal is to make the internet safer, more broadly.
2. Are There Any Crawl Errors?
Your technical SEO expert will want to crawl your website, using a tool that helps you identify, audit, and improve common onsite SEO issues. I recommend one called Screaming Frog SEO Spider, which crawls your website in the same way Google would crawl it.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider will start at your homepage, and then follow every link located on every page of your website and in the source code. When the tool is finished, it will show you the crawl depth of each page—this is how many links the tool had to follow from the homepage to the destination page.
Most pages will have a depth of two or three. If you have pages buried as deep as sixteen or seventeen, you’ll want to fix your internal linking structure to bring them closer to the homepage.
3. Are Any Pages Ranking for the Same Keyword?
For every keyword or phrase relevant to your law firm, like “Phoenix car accident lawyer” and “Phoenix truck accident lawyer,” you’ll want to make sure there is only a single page optimized for this keyword and all of the semantically related keywords.
When you have more than one page optimized for similar keywords, these pages may cannibalize each other. Google gets confused—it doesn’t know which page to index. As a result, both pages may never make it to the first page of Google, especially for competitive keywords.
4. How Can We Improve PageSpeed?
The speed at which your website loads, known as PageSpeed, is one of the most underrated technical issues you can address, and it all ties back to one of Google’s main goals: to provide a good user experience.
PageSpeed is critical to the success of your SEO campaign. According to 2018 research by Google, 53 percent of mobile users leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load.
It is highly unlikely that your site will rank on the first page of Google, for a competitive keyword if it takes forever to load, because nothing kills a user’s experience faster than a slow load time. Your goal should be to have your webpages load in two seconds or less.
5. Is the Website Mobile-Friendly?
More people than ever before browse the internet on their phones or tablets, so if you ignore your website’s mobile functionality, you’re likely to give a large part of your audience a poor user experience.
Because of mobile’s popularity, Google rewards mobile-friendly sites and may punish ones that aren’t. In fact, in a Google Search Console blog post published on March 5, 2020, Google announced that they would be switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites.
What this means is that most crawling for a search will be done with their mobile smartphone user agent, prioritizing mobile experience over desktop experience when indexing content in the search engine results pages.
6. Are There Any Structured Data Errors?
“Structured data” refers to a standardized format, coded in the in-page markup, that classifies page content. For example, it’s what tells Google that a recipe is a recipe. Recipe pages tend to all include the same elements: ingredients, cooking steps, time, temperature, nutritional information, etc.
When Google recognizes, via the structured data, that a page contains a recipe, the page becomes eligible to appear as a graphical search result, which means it has a greater chance of showing up on the first page of Google with an image, reviews, ratings, and other Microdata.
Google’s algorithm understands a page by looking at this structured data, so when errors are present, your page loses the boost of appearing as a graphical search result. In short, structured data errors rob you of quick SEO wins.
7. Is There Any Duplicate Content?
Google hates duplicate content, whether it appears internally, on your own pages or, even more so, it appears externally on separate websites. This is why you never want to copy and paste content.
For example, you might need a page optimized for “Malibu DUI lawyer” and another page optimized for “Santa Clarita DUI lawyer,” but they cannot be identical. Swapping out the city name is not enough to get around Google’s grudge against duplicate content. The pages must be distinct and unique.
Arm Yourself with the Technical SEO Basics
By resolving any technical SEO issues you encounter, you can fine-tune your SEO strategy while gaining a competitive advantage in your market.
The issues above only scratch the surface of technical SEO, but remember, you don’t need to be a technical SEO ninja. Armed with the basics, you can make better hiring decisions, understand the reports given to you, and hold the agency you’ve hired accountable, so you can see a meaningful increase in your site’s rankings and traffic.
My goal is to educate and empower you with enough information to take more calculated risks when engaging or hiring a digital marketing team or agency, and to never be taken advantage of again.
For more advice on the technical aspects of SEO, you can find Law Firm SEO on Amazon.
Jason Hennessey is an author, entrepreneur, and internationally recognized SEO expert focused on dissecting, demystifying, and reverse-engineering the algorithms behind the world’s most popular search engines. He’s the CEO and Founder of Hennessey Digital, a multimillion-dollar digital marketing agency recognized by Inc. as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. A digital search marketing correspondent for the Washington Post, Fox Business, CNBC, and CBS News, Jason is also a highly sought-after public speaker, prolific angel investor, and an active board member of several nonprofits. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Bridget, and their three children.
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