There are three primary pillars to search engine optimization:
Of these three elements, technical SEO is the most neglected.
Technical SEO is the aspect that deals with website design and construction. This pillar encompasses all that resides beyond the surface, within the code base, underneath page layouts.
Since retailers often neglect this component, it is frequently an overlooked force causing damage to page rankings and SEO performance.
However, no matter how intimidating some might find diving into technical SEO, it is a critical necessity in the ever-more competitive worlds of search rankings and eCommerce.
For this reason, retailers must learn to conduct a technical SEO audit to enhance their site’s SERP performance.
With 35 percent of product searches beginning on Google, it is vital that merchants employ an intuitive site design that is safe, fast, crawlable and accessible across a multitude of devices.
However, given that technical SEO audits are such a sprawling topic, it is advisable to take things one step at a time.
Therefore, this piece is designed to address the fundamental requirements for boosting site visibility. Once the following seven steps have been mastered, then retailers should dive into the more advanced technical SEO audit teachings.
Without further ado, let’s get auditing.
Ensure Site Crawlability
All search optimization efforts are for naught if search engines are unable to crawl and index a site’s pages. Therefore, the first place to begin a technical SEO audit is the robots.txt file. This destination is the first place search spiders reference when they land on a site.
The robots.txt file lays the ground rules for which portions of a website should or should not be crawled. This administration is known as the Robots Exclusion Protocol. Under this protocol, webmasters govern access of crawling software by “allowing” or “disallowing” admittance to specific site locations.
By dictating where site crawlers are allowed, retailers conserve server resources, bandwidth and their crawl budget. Given that this is the first file bots scan when arriving on a website, it is wise to point these spiders to the sitemap (more on this later).
It is essential for merchants to review this file as accidentally disallowing spiders from accessing important web pages can have significant negative impacts on SEO.
Retailers can edit and test robots.txt file from Google Search Console. Moreover, site owners can view the crawl stats report to analyze data from the preceding 90 days.
When viewing this report, high crawl rates are desirable as this implies that a site is receiving frequent visits from search bots. Additionally, consistent visits are a fantastic sign. Any time there are significant fluctuations, this is potentially a sign of significant blockages from the robots.txt file, stagnant content or broken HTML.
While high crawl rates are preferable, long times spent downloading pages is not as this means that a site is being indexed slower than is desired.
Verify Page Indexability
The next step in a technical SEO audit is to ensure that the pages crawled are in fact being indexed as well.
There are various methods for achieving this end.
By referencing Google Search Console’s Index Coverage Status report, merchants can analyze the status of each web page the site encompasses. This report will reveal to retailers conditions such as:
- Error: Implies the page is not indexed.
- Warning: The page is indexed but has issues.
- Excluded: Not indexed and seems to be the site owner’s desire.
- Valid: The page is indexed.
Alternatively, retailers might opt to run a site crawl with a tool like Screaming Frog. While this platform is relatively comprehensive, it will cost merchants with more significant retail sites as its free version pares back on functionality and is limited to 500 URLs.
The Screaming Frog platform is a marvelous tool for bulk auditing a site and understanding the status of each page.
However, the simplest way for sellers to verify which of their pages are indexed is to employ the site:domain Google search specification. Here, retailers will simply search “site:” followed by their domain. The results Google returns will display all the pages that the engine has indexed.
Through these three methods, site owners can establish how their site’s pages are indexed, which ones should or should not be present and make the necessary adjustments.
Review Site Structure
An intuitive website structure is crucial for eCommerce retailers as many of such sites boast robust product catalogs that generate hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. However, even when sites grow to such immense sizes, content must still be easily accessible to visitors.
The general rule of thumb is that important pages should never be more than three clicks away from any other page. Given this benchmark, the ideal structure for retailers to employ is:
home > category > subcategory > product
Additionally, smaller sites can create an even more accessible framework by eliminating subcategories altogether.
Structuring a site in this way enables easy access to content for shoppers.
In the same vein, crafting URL structures that are consistent, clear and simple is also a technical SEO audit necessity.
An example of a well-crafted URL is something like:
When writing URLs, be sure to utilize 155 characters or less.
Audit the Sitemap
The importance of sitemaps for eCommerce stores cannot be overstated.
XML sitemaps help to provide search engines with an understanding of the site’s structure. By supplying engines with a map of the site, its most important pages, popular product listings and similarly valuable destinations, retailers improve the chances that a website is accurately crawled and ranked within the SERPs.
While reviewing the sitemap certainly harkens back to step one of this process, it is best to do this after reviewing the site’s structure as any changes made will need to be reflected in the sitemap.
When generating or reviewing the store’s sitemap, it is critical to:
- Ensure proper XML formatting
- Only list canonical URLs
- Exclude “noindex” pages
- Include new pages when they are created
Fortunately, there are a variety of tools retailers can use to generate their sitemaps easily. Some of the platform sellers can employ include:
Once the site map has been reviewed and updated, ensure that it is resubmitted to the Google Search Console and ask Google to recrawl the site’s URLs.
Consider the Site’s Mobile-Friendliness
When conducting a technical SEO audit, retailers should not overlook how a site operates on small screen devices. Under Google’s 2018 mobile-first index, websites are now indexed and ranked according to their site’s mobile pages. Therefore, mobile-friendliness is of the utmost importance when it comes to search engine optimization.
Thankfully, Google has given webmasters the tools they require to ensure mobile responsiveness and amiability.
The Mobile-Friendly Test is provided by Google for free so that retailers can verify their site’s mobile performance and understand how it renders on smaller screens.
However, even after conducting the test, merchants should check their sites manually as well, using their personal phone to move across the site, seeking out errors.
Ensure that all CTAs, contact forms and pages function correctly.
Analyze Page Speed
In addition to mobile-friendliness, page speed is a ranking factor. Therefore, retailers must analyze this aspect of their site when conducting a technical SEO audit.
This step is critical for eCommerce store owners as users expect digital storefronts to load at lightning speed. By analyzing page speeds, retailers gain an understanding of how much potential revenue is lost to slow load times.
Fortunately, merchants can measure their site speed metrics with a host of different tools.
First, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool gives retailers actionable insights to speed up their site’s performance, free of charge. With this tool, Google provides retail site owners with a score of “Fast,” “Average” or “Slow,” alongside tons of potential recommendations for enhancing a site’s speed.
Merchants should test their homepage, essential landing pages and other critical destinations to identify opportunities for improvement.
Another tool that retailers might opt for is Test My Site, also from Google. This free tool gives site owners an even more in-depth breakdown of how a site performs on mobile and how to improve its shortcomings. Best of all, Test My Site packages its insights in an easy-to-read, free report.
Check for Duplicate Content
As most SEOs are aware, duplicate content can have serious adverse side effects for rankings. Additionally, eCommerce sites are incredibly prone to possessing carbon-copied content due to product variations, copied and pasted product descriptions and similar faux pas. Therefore, it is essential for retailers to fix duplicate content for eCommerce SEO effectiveness.
To establish if a site is serving duplicate content, utilize Google search parameters by entering “info:www.domain.com.” If a website does, in fact, have duplicates present, the following message will display on the last page of the SERPs:
“In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the XX already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”
For those who do receive this message, it is best to turn back to platforms like Screaming Frog and to run a crawl. From there, webmasters can sort by page title to establish which pages may be duplicates.
This information only scratches the surface of technical SEO audits. However, merchants must understand the basics before wading into more complicated waters. While these tasks may seem intimidating at first, they are critical to improving SEO performance and outranking the competition in the SERPs.
However, not all have the time or ability to take a deep dive into technical SEO audits. In such a case, it is best for merchants to seek out eCommerce technical SEO specialists who intimately understand all the intricacies and nuances of such a task and can help a site to drastically increase its performance as a result of the audit.