Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This is a complete guide to technical SEO checklist 2020.

In this all-new guide you’ll learn all about:

  • Crawling and indexing
  • XML sitemaps
  • Duplicate content
  • Structured data
  • Hreflang
  • Lots more

So if you want to make sure that your technical SEO is up to speed, you should get a lot of value from today’s guide.

Technical SEO Fundamentals

Let’s kick things off with a chapter on the basics.

Specifically, in this chapter I’m going to cover why technical SEO is still SUPER important in 2020.

I’ll also show you what is (and isn’t) considered “technical SEO”.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the process of ensuring that a website meets the technical requirements of modern search engines with the goal of improved organic rankings. Important elements of Technical SEO include crawling, indexing, rendering, and website architecture.

Why Is Technical SEO Important?

You can have the best site with the best content.

But if your technical SEO is messed up?

Then you’re not going to rank.

At the most basic level, Google and other search engines need to be able to find, crawl, render and index the pages on your website.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Technical SEO

But that’s just scratching the surface. Even if Google DOES index all of your site’s content, that doesn’t mean your job is done.

That’s because, for your site to be fully optimized for technical SEO, your site’s pages need to be secure, mobile optimized, free of duplicate content, fast-loading… and a thousand other things that go into technical optimization.

That’s not to say that your technical SEO has to be perfect to rank. It doesn’t.

But the easier you make it for Google to access your content, the better chance you have to rank.

How Can You Improve Your Technical SEO?

Like I said, “Technical SEO” isn’t just crawling and indexing.

To improve your site’s technical optimization, you need to take into account:

  • Javascript
  • XML sitemaps
  • Site architecture
  • URL structure
  • Structured data
  • Thin content
  • Duplicate content
  • Hreflang
  • Canonical tags
  • 404 pages
  • 301 redirects

And I’m probably forgetting a few

Fortunately, I’m going to cover all of those things (and more) in the rest of this guide.

Site Structure and Navigation

In my opinion, your site’s structure is “step #1” of any technical SEO campaign.

(Yes, even coming before crawling and indexing)

Why?

First off, many crawling and indexing issues happen because of poorly-designed site structure. So if you get this step right you don’t need to worry as much about Google indexing all of your site’s pages.

Second, your site structure influences everything else you do to optimize your site… from URLs to your sitemap to using robots.txt to block search engines from certain pages.

The bottom line here is this: a strong structure makes every other technical SEO task MUCH easier.

With that, let’s get into the steps.

Use a Flat, Organized Site Structure

Your site structure is how all of the pages on your website are organized.

In general, you want a structure that’s “flat”. In other words: your site’s pages should all be only a few links away from one another.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Why is this important?

A flat structure makes it easy for Google and other search engines to crawl 100% of your site’s pages.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This isn’t a big deal for a blog or local pizza shop website. But for an ecommerce site with 250k product pages? A flat architecture is a BIG deal.

You also want your structure to be super organized.

In other words, you don’t want a site architecture like this:

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This messy structure usually creates “orphan pages” (pages without any internal links pointing to them).

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

It also makes it hard to ID and fix indexing issues.

You can use the Ahrefs “Site Audit” feature to get a bird’s eye view of your site structure.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This is helpful. But it’s not super visual.

To get a more visual look at how your pages are linked together, check out Visual Site Mapper.

It’s a free tool that gives you an interactive look at your site’s architecture.

Consistent URL Structure

There’s no need to overthink your URL structure. Especially if you run a small site (like a blog).

That said: you do want your URLs to follow a consistent, logical structure. This actually helps users understand “where” they are on your site.

Recommended:
Complete SEO Checklist 2020: Tips, Techniques & Ranking
Recommended:
Learn Google SEO Factors & Ranked 2020

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

And putting your pages under different categories gives Google extra context about each page in that category.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

For example, the pages on our Best SMM Panel all include the “/smm/” subfolder to help Google know that all of these pages are under the “Best SMM Panel” category.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Which seems to work. If you Google “SMM Panel”, you’ll notice that Google adds sitelinks to the results.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Breadcrumbs Navigation

It’s no secret that breadcrumbs navigation is super SEO-friendly.

That’s because breadcrumbs automatically add internal links to category and subpages on your site.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Also read: Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Which helps solidify your site architecture.

Not to mention the fact that Google has turned URLs into breadcrumb-style navigation in the SERPs.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

So when it makes sense, I recommend using breadcrumbs navigation.

Crawling, Rendering and Indexing

This chapter is all about making it SUPER easy for search engines to find and index your entire site.

In this chapter I’ll show you how to find and fix crawl errors… and how to send search engine spiders to deep pages on your website.

Spot Indexing Issues

Your first step is to find any pages on your site that search engine spiders have trouble crawling.

Here are 3 ways to do that.

Coverage Report

Your first stop should be the “Coverage Report” in the Google Search Console.

This report lets you know if Google is unable to fully index or render pages that you want indexed.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Ahrefs Site Audit

Ahrefs has a sneaky good SEO site audit tool.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

What I like most about this feature is that you get info on your site’s overall technical SEO health.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Page loading speed across your entire site.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

And issues with your site’s HTML tags.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Each of these 3 tools have their pros and cons. So if you run a large site with 10k+ pages, I recommend using all three of these approaches. That way, nothing falls through the cracks.

Internal Link to “Deep” Pages

Most people don’t have any issues getting their homepage indexed.

It’s those deep pages (pages that are several links from the homepage) that tend to cause problems.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

A flat architecture usually prevents this issue from happening in the first place. After all, your “deepest” page will only be 3-4 clicks from your homepage.

Either way, if there’s a specific deep page or set of pages that you want indexed, nothing beats a good old-fashioned internal link to that page.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Especially if the page you’re linking from has a lot of authority and gets crawled all the time.

Use an XML Sitemap

In this age of mobile-first indexing and AMP does Google still need an XML sitemap to find your site’s URLs?

Yup.

In fact, a Google rep recently stated that XML sitemaps are the “second most important source” for finding URLs.

(The first? They didn’t say. But I’m assuming external and internal links).

If you want to double check that your sitemap is all good, head over to the “Sitemaps” feature in the Search Console.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This will show you the sitemap Google is seeing for your site.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Thin and Duplicate Content

If you write unique, original content for every page on your site then you probably don’t need to worry about duplicate content.

That said:

Duplicate content can technically crop up on any site… especially if your CMS created multiple versions of the same page on different URLs.

And it’s the same story with thin content: it’s not an issue for most websites. But it can hurt your overall site’s rankings. So it’s worth finding and fixing.

And in this chapter I’m going to show you how to proactively fix duplicate and thin content issues on your site.

Use an SEO Audit Tool to Find Duplicate Content

There are two tools that do a GREAT job at finding duplicate and thin content.

The first is the Raven Tools Site Auditor.

It scans your site for duplicate content (or thin content). And lets you know which pages need to be updated.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

The Ahrefs site audit tool also has a “Content Quality” section that shows you if your site has the same content on several different pages.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

That said:

These tools focus on duplicate content on your own website.

“Duplicate content” also covers pages that copy content from other sites.

To double check that your site’s content is unique, I recommend Copyscape’s “Batch Search” feature.

Here’s where you upload a list of URLs and see where that content appears around the web.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

If you find a snippet of text that shows up on another site, search for that text in quotes.

If Google shows your page first in the results, they consider you the original author of that page.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

And you’re good to go.

Recommended:
Google Ranking Factors 2020: Facts and Myths

Note: If other people copy your content and put it on their website, that’s their duplicate content problem. Not yours. You only need to worry about content on your site that’s copied (or super similar) to content from other websites.

Recommended:
Google Ranking Factors 2020: Facts and Myths

Noindex Pages That Don’t Have Unique Content

Most sites are going to have pages with some duplicate content.

And that’s OK.

This becomes a problem when those duplicate content pages are indexed.

The solution? Add the “noindex” tag to those pages.

The noindex tag tells Google and other search engines to not index the page.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

You can double check that your noindex tag is set up correctly using the “Inspect URL feature” in the GSC.

Pop in your URL and click “Test Live URL”.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

If Google is still indexing the page, you’ll see a “URL is available to Google” message. Which means that your noindex tag isn’t set up correctly.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

But if you see an “Excluded by ‘noindex’ tag” message, then the noindex tag is doing its job.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

(This is one of the few times you WANT to see a red error message in the GSC 🙂 )

Depending on your crawl budget, it can take a few days or weeks for Google to re-crawl the pages you don’t want indexed.

So I recommend checking the “Excluded” tab in the Coverage report to make sure your noindexed pages are getting removed from the index.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Use Canonical URLs

Most pages that have duplicate content on them should get the ol’ no index tag added to them. Or have the duplicate content replaced with unique content.

But there’s a third option: canonical URLs.

Canonical URLs are perfect for pages that have very similar content on them… with minor differences between pages.

For example, let’s say you run an ecommerce site that sells hats.

And you have a product page set up just for cowboy hats.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Depending on how your site is set up, every size, color and variation can result in different URLs.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Not good.

Fortunately, you can use the canonical tag to let Google know that the vanilla version of your product page is the “main” one. And all the others are variations.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

PageSpeed

Improving your pagespeed is one of the few technical SEO strategies that can directly impact your site’s rankings.

That’s not to say that a fast-loading site will rocket you to the top of Google’s first page.

(You need backlinks for that)

But improving your site’s loading speed can make a significant dent in your organic traffic.

And in this chapter I’ll show you 3 simple ways to boost up your site’s loading speed.

Reduce Web Page Size

CDNs. Cache. Lazy loading. Minifying CSS.

I’m sure you’ve read about these approaches a thousand times before.

But I don’t see nearly as many people talk about a page speed factor that’s just as important:

Web page size.

In fact, when we ran our large-scale pagespeed study, we found that a page’s total size correlated with load times more than any other factor.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

The takeaway here is this:

When it comes to pagespeed, there’s no free lunch.

You can compress images and cache the heck out of your site.

But if your pages are huge, then they’re going to take a while to load.

This is something we struggle with here at JasaSEO.be. Because we use lots of high-res images, our pages tend to be ginormous.

I make the conscious decision to live with slower loading times. I rather have a slow, awesome-looking page vs. a fast page with grainy images.

Which does hurt our scores on Google PageSpeed Insights.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

But if improving your site speed is a top priority, then you want to do whatever you can to slim down your page’s total size.

Also read: Speed Up WordPress: Mobile SEO Speed Optimization

Test Load Times With and Without a CDN

One of the most surprising findings from our pagespeed study was that CDNs were associated with worse load times.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

This is likely because many CDNs aren’t set up correctly.

So if your site uses a CDN, I recommend testing your site’s speed on webpagetest.org with the CDN on or off.

Eliminate 3rd Party Scripts

Each 3rd party script that a page has adds an average of 34ms to its load time.

Technical SEO Checklist: The Definitive Guide 2020

Some of these scripts (like Google Analytics), you probably need.

But it never hurts to look over your site’s scripts to see if there’s any that you can get rid of.

Now It’s Your Turn

That’s all for my guide to technical SEO.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What tip from this guide do you want to try out first?

Are you going to focus on speeding up your website?

Or maybe you want to find and fix dead links?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment or subscribe.

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