Do you have technical SEO questions? We have answers.
Often overlooked for its flashier counterpart, on-page SEO,the technical side of SEO is no less critical to a site’s success.
Read through this list to find some of the most common technical SEO issues that could be affecting your website’s performance right now.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the part that happens behind-the-scenes. The set coordinator of your SEO strategy, if you will.
Put simply, it’s the technical actions taken to improve a site’s rankings in the search results. It covers the nitty-gritty aspects of SEO like crawling, indexing, site structure, migrations, page speed, and so on.
And yes, it can get a bit complicated.
But if you’re at all concerned with how your site is ranking (and if you’re here, you probably are) it’s something that simply can’t be overlooked.
See, without a proper technical SEO framework in place, all that on-page work you put in won’t have the desired effect. Your rankings will suffer, and you’ll be left wondering why. Until you read this list, that is.
In it, I’ll cover 34 technical issues that I’ve consistently seen hurt sight rankings and how you can fix them.
Let’s jump in.
1. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content – “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely matches other content or are appreciably similar” – is a common issue.
In fact, SEMrush reports that 50% of analyzed content face duplicate content issues.
The problem is when there are multiple pages with similar content, it becomes hard for Google and other search engines to determine which page should rank.
To check for any duplicate content issues, enter a URL into a tool like Siteliner to scan for duplicates.
2. Title Tag Issues
Title tags can have a variety of issues that affect SEO, including:
- Duplicate tags
- Missing title tags
- Too long or too short title tags
Your title tags, or page title, helps both users and search engines determine what your page is about, making them an (understandably) important part of the optimization process.
To get your title tags just right, you need to start with the basics.
First, your title tag should be 50-60 characters long and include one or two of your target keywords. To avoid technical issues, make sure you don’t have any duplicates on your site.
Outside of the technical realm, a solid, click-worthy title will include:
3. Not Using Meta Descriptions
A page’s meta description is a short snippet that summarizes what your page is about.
Search engines display generally display them when the searched-for phrase appears in the description, which is why it’s so important to optimize the meta description for SEO.
Oftentimes, sites that don’t utilize their meta descriptions (or duplicate them) will find their SEO suffering for it.
For best results, always include a meta description (if you use WordPress, this will be found at the bottom of the post page), and aim for 150 words.
4. Broken Internal Links on Your Website
Not all SEO issues are easy to spot, and this one definitely falls under that categorty.
While a broken link here or there is often inevitable, too many broken links spell SEO trouble.
No one wants to continuously search a site full of 404 errors, so it will likely result in a higher bounce right and traffic down.
And both of those things? Are bad for SEO. Internal links not only improve your SEO, but they’re also the easiest links to add because they’re part of your own web property.
To find broken links on your site, you’ll need the help of a tool like Screaming Frog. With it, you can simply enter in your URL and it will scan for any broken links and 404 errors. From there, you can pinpoint which links need your attention, or need to be removed.
5. Broken External Links on Your Site
Much like internal links, you don’t want links intending to lead to your site to lead an error message instead.
A lack of working backlinks will reduce the number of your pages that appear in search engines.
Just as you would for internal links, you can use an SEO tool like Screaming Frog to scan your site for external broken links.
Unfortunately, fixing broken backlinks isn’t quite as easy. Because these are hosted on outside sites, your first line of defense should be to contact the site the link came from and ask them to remove it.
6. Low Text to HTML Ratio
This occurs when there’s more backend code on a site then text that people can read, and can cause sites to load slowly.
Often caused by a poorly coded site, it can be solved by removing unneeded code or adding more on-page text.
7. H1 Tag Issues
While title tags appear in search results, H1 tags are visible to users on your page. The two should be different.
While it’s not recommended to have more than one H1 tag per page, many are commonly missing altogether or are duplicated in the title tag.
Big no when it comes to SEO. Always make sure you include one uniqueH1 per page.
To make the most of your H1 tag, make sure that it includes the keyword you’re targeting on the page, accurately reflects the page’s content, and is between 20-70 characters long.
8. Missing Alt Tags
Images without alt tags are often overlooked by search engines.
Without text descriptions, they simply don’t know which category to put them in. This is why it’s important to include any keywords you’re trying to rank for in your image alt tags.
9. Broken Images
Clicking on an image that leads to nowhere is a sure way to increase your bounce rate, which in turn will have an adverse effect on your SEO.
Broken images are common and often occur due to site or domain changes or a change in file after publishing.
If you come across any of these on your site, make sure you troubleshoot fast.
10. Low Word Count
Though simplicity and brevity are often desirable in marketing, too little text could cause your SEO to suffer.
Google tends to rank content with depth higher, and longer pages often indicate that.
Try to incorporate more long-form articles (1500-4000 words) throughout your site for better results.
11. Incorrect Language Declaration
Ideally, you want your content delivered to the right audience – which also means those that speak your language.
Failing to declare the default language of your site will hurt your page’s ability to translate as well as your location and international SEO.
Make sure you use this list to declare your language correctly.
12. Using 302 Redirects Instead of 301
First, the difference:
- 301 – permanent redirect
- 302 – temporary redirect
If you’re planning to permanently replace or redirect a page, use a 301 redirect so search engines don’t continue to crawl or index a page you’re no longer using.
13. Upper Case vs. Lower Case URLs
SEO problems come in all shapes and sizes, or in this instance, cases.
This has become less of a problem of late, but still comes up for those using .net.
Mainly, servers won’t always redirect sites using uppercase to the lowercase URL.
If this is happening to you, use this rewrite module to fix the problem.
14. Multiple Versions of Homepage
This falls into the duplicate content category but creates an even bigger issue when it’s the homepage at fault.
Most modern search engines can work around the problem, but it’s still a best practice to eliminate the issue if possible.
The problem can usually be solved by adding a 301 redirect to a duplicate page that will point to the correct page.
15. There are Query Parameters at the end of URLs
Familiar with the overly long URL?
This often happens when certain filters are added to URLs such as color, size, etc. Most commonly it affects ecommerce sites.
I’ve had this issue with a lot of sites… Many times the parameters cause duplicate content as well.
The biggest issue here? It uses up your crawl budget, so make sure you take the time needed to clean up your URLs.
16. You’re Using Soft 404 Errors
As a user, you may never notice this.
Technically, a soft 404 looks like a typical 404 redirect but returns a code 200 – which tells search engines that the page is working as it should.
When that happens, search engines will continue to crawl and index those pages that you don’t actually want them to.
The fix should be fairly simple for most web developers.
17. Too Many On-Page Links
The more links the better, right?
While there’s no official maximum limit, it’s recommended to include only links that are relevant and valuable, and not overload any page with too many. No more than 300, that is for sure.
18. Your Sitemap is Outdated
XML sitemaps help search engines find the most important URLs for your site.
But just as your site is updated, so too should your sitemap.
If sitemaps are left too long with outdated information, they may point search engines to broken URLs. Make sure you update yours regularly.
19. Your Pages Aren’t Indexing
This one alone could save you a lot of trouble.
Before you start diagnosing your possible SEO problems, check to see your ranking.
All it takes is a Google search.
Type your site URL into Google to find which pages are ranking, and make sure they’re the ones you want.
Any pages you’d like to rank for missing? Then it’s time to dig deeper into the problem.
20. A robots.txt File Error
This is a big hit to your technical SEO.
Something as small as “/” in the wrong place can do damage, so make sure yours are in order.
A misplaced “disallow” is another thing to be on the lookout for. This will signal Google and other search engines to not crawl the page containing the disallow, which would keep it from being properly indexed.
21. Improper Noindex Code
Another small code that could seriously jeopardize your SEO is a misplaced index.
This mistake usually occurs in the website development phase before a site goes live, but should be removed.
If not, it can keep search engines from indexing your site. And if it’s not indexed, it won’t be ranked.
22. Issues With Rel=canonical
This again deals with duplicate content SEO issues. Specifically, it helps prevent the issue by telling search engines the page with the rel=canonical is the one they should be index.
If used in the wrong place (or not at all), it could understandably cause a bit of confusion.
If you suspect an issue, go through and make sure all your important pages are using a rel=canonical tag.
23. You’re Not Using HTTPS
If you haven’t made the move to HTTPs, it’s time.
A recent announcement from Google stated that they would soon start marking any non-HTTPS sites as non-secure if they require credit cards or passwords.
Currently, sites using HTTPS are ranked above those still using HTTP.
24. You’re Using Meta Refresh
Meta refresh is an (outdated) way of redirecting users to another page.
These days, most opt for 301 redirects. Google does not recommend using the meta refresh, and notes that it will not have the same benefits as a 301.
Moz has this to say about them: “ They are usually slower, and not a recommended SEO technique. They are most commonly associated with a five-second countdown with the text “If you are not redirected in five seconds, click here.” Meta refreshes do pass some link juice, but are not recommended as an SEO tactic due to poor usability and the loss of link juice passed.”
25. You’re Not Using XML Sitemaps
There are a lot of sitemaps available, but if you’re not using XML, you’re not helping your SEO.
XML sitemaps are primarily for search engines – they help them understand which pages to crawl and index.
They’re most useful for very large sites, sites with pages that are not well linked to each other, new sites with few external links, and sites with rich media content.
Some common problems with them include:
- Not using them
- Allowing old versions to exist
- Not updating the sitemap
- Creating multiple versions
26. The Word Counts on Pages are Too Long
Unnecessarily lengthy pages can slow down site speed (they need to be really big though). And sometimes, you won’t even realize the extra text is there.
Things like terms & conditions or location info can be meant for a single page, but end up embedded in all site pages.
To make sure this isn’t an SEO for you, scan your site using a tool like Screaming Frog to make sure the word count is what you expect and there’s no hidden text.
27. Your Website Has a Slow Load Time
If your websites loading slow, it’s likely not ranking well, which can undoubtedly cause some major SEO issues.
Google itself has said:
“Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”
Luckily, site speed can be monitored and any issues should be dealt with as soon as possible.
To give you a resource on what speed you should be aiming for, SEMrush compiled the results from a study into the following:
- if your site loads in 5 seconds, it is faster than approximately 25% of the web
- if your site loads in 2.9 seconds, it is faster than approximately 50% of the web
- if your site loads in 1.7 seconds, it is faster than approximately 75% of the web
- if your site loads in 0.8 seconds, it is faster than approximately 94% of the web
Some ways to increase site speed include:
- Enabling compression – You’ll have to talk to your web development team about this. It’s not something you should attempt on your own as it usually involves updating your web server configuration. However, it will improve your site speed.
- Optimizing images – Many sites have images that are 500k or more in size. Some of those pics could be optimized so that they’re much smaller without sacrificing image quality. When your site has fewer bytes to load, it will render the page faster.
- Leveraging browser caching – If you’re using WordPress, you can grab a plugin that will enable you to use browser caching. That helps users who revisit your site because they’ll load resources (like images) from their hard drive instead of over the network.
- Using a CDN – A content delivery network (CDN) will deliver content quickly to your visitors by loading it from a node that’s close to their location. The downside is the cost. CDNs can be expensive. But if you’re concerned about user experience, they might be worth it.
28. Poor Internal Linking Structure
As I’ve previously stated, internal linking ranks high in SEO. And if you’re not strategizing properly, it could cause some major SEO problems.
To make sure yours is as effective as possible, make sure your pages connect to each other through practical navigational links with optimized anchor text.
29. Poor Mobile Experience
These days, this one’s a no-brainer.
In 2016, Google announced its intention to start mobile-first indexing:
“To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”
To properly optimize for mobile, you must take everything from site design and structure to use of flash and page speed into consideration.
30. You’re Using Questionable Link Building Practices
While link building itself gives an obvious boost in search rinks, doing so in a questionable manner could result in penalties.
Beware of “black hat” strategies like link exchanges. Yes, they’ll get you a lot of links fast, but they’ll be low quality and won’t improve your rankings.
Other questionable “link scheme” behavior includes:
- Buying or selling links
- Automated programs or services
31. Your Website Has Poor Navigation
If users can’t easily navigate your site, they’re unlikely to engage and will prove less useful to visitors.
In turn, that could lead search engines to consider your site to have low authority, which will adversely affect your rankings.
32. Messy URLs on Webpages
When URLs are automatically generated, search engine friendliness isn’t necessarily taken into consideration.
Which is why you’ll end up with messy, unintelligible URLs like “index.php?p=367595.”
It’s not pretty, and it’s not SEO friendly.
Try cleaning them up and adding in relevant keywords to your URLs.
33. You’re Not Using Local Search and Structured Data Markup
Local searches drive a lot of search engine queries, and Google certainly recognizes that.
Which is why a presence on search data providers like Yelp, Facebook, etc. is essential, as well as your own Google My Business page. Make sure your contact information is consistent on all pages.
34. Overuse of Flash
Flash websites: great for interacting with visitors, not so great for search engine optimization.
Because search engines look for text and keywords, they have a harder time with flash websites.
For higher indexing and rank, it’s best to keep flash use at a minimum.
35. Improper Move to New Website or URL Structure
Updating and moving websites is an important part of keeping a business fresh and relevant, but if the transition isn’t managed properly, there’s a lot that could go wrong.
Mainly, a loss in traffic.
It’s important to keep track of all URLs and ensure there are no duplicates and that 301 redirects are directed properly.
For more on how to migrate your site and maintain your traffic, check out my full guide here.
36. URL Errors
Another possible issue could be with the URLs themselves. Check to make sure that no pages are reporting 404 errors that aren’t supposed to.
37. Pages Left out of Your Sitemap
This goes back to making sure you update your sitemap frequently.
If you add a new page to your site but fail to update your sitemap, search engines won’t know to crawl it.
Make it a part of the official process to update all pages and URLs when anything new is added to your site.
38. Your Meta Descriptions are Too Long
While technically meta descriptions can be any length, Google will often cut off descriptions that exceed 160 characters.
Best to keep it under the 160 mark, and if you do exceed make sure any important keywords are included before the possible cut off.
39. There are Too Many Nofollow Exit Links
Nofollow links have their uses. Mainly the following three:
- Links to untrusted content
- Paid links
- Crawl prioritization
Beyond that, you shouldn’t be overusing nofollow in your outbound links. Some sites use nofollow in an attempt to prioritise internal spider crawling, but fair warning: Google’s not a fan of this.
40. Your robots.txt File is in the Wrong Order
This one isn’t quite as common in, but worth mentioning since Google lists it specifically in their guidelines.
Be careful when ordering your file (or make sure your developer is); you could have the correct commands listed, but if they don’t work together correctly it could lead to unintended URLs being crawled.
41. You’re Not Using Using Custom 404 Pages
Someone might link to your site with an invalid URL. It happens to the best of us, and unfortunately, causes SEO problems in the process.
When that does happen, don’t show the visitor a generic 404 error message with a white background.
Instead, deliver a user-friendly 404 error message.
Even though the page doesn’t exist, you can still use your own color scheme and layout. You can also provide a link to your home page so users can search for the article or page they were hoping to access.
42. You’re Not Using Breadcrumb Menus
Put breadcrumb links on your web pages. That’s an especially a great idea if you’re running an ecommerce site with lots of categories and subcategories.
You’ve probably seen breadcrumbs as you’ve wandered about cyberspace. They look like this:
Categories > Electronics > Mobile Devices > Smartphones
Each one of those words or phrases is a link. That means search bots can crawl them.
And they will crawl those links.
As a bonus, breadcrumbs also make life easier on your visitors. Sometimes, they’ll just want to go “up” a level or two and browse your website by following a different path.
To the untrained eye, technical SEO issues aren’t easy to spot.
Hopefully, this list gave you a better idea of what to look for (and what can wrong) on the technical side of SEO.
If you suspect any of the above could be happening on your site, it’s time to have a long look at your site and your SEO efforts. And if you still have questions, feel free to contact us.