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Common Technical SEO Issues (from a Tech Lead)

I am the Technical SEO Lead here at Ranq, and I see that each of our clients requires their own unique approach when addressing technical website issues. I won’t go into all of the important technical items to look out for in this post, but I want to bring to light some of the common technical SEO problems that most if not all of our clients face so you can be on the lookout for them, too!  

Why addressing Technical SEO issues is important

I say it, other SEO professionals say it, and search engines say it (in their own way): content is king! It’s the house that can grow into a castle, but you can’t build a house without a foundation, right?

Simply put, technical SEO refers to the elements that help search engines understand the structure of a website and the indexing of the site. All the beautiful content in the world won’t mean much if it can’t be found on search engines. If technical SEO problems go unaddressed, it can even lead to your website being penalized, which doesn’t bode well for your online presence to say the least. 

Keep your website in good technical health and let that great content shine!

How we uncover Technical SEO issues

There are a number of great tools out there that can help you. Here is what we use at Ranq as a baseline.

  • Google Search Console: This gives you hard data provided by Google. From a technical standpoint, we do regular checks on the pages tab to understand if there are pages that are not being indexed and why they might now be. 
  • Ahrefs Site Audit Tool: We use this tool to track the technical health of our clients’ websites along with flagging a number of technical SEO issues that may arise. If you are looking for one tool that makes it simple and easy to understand what’s going on with your website, this would be the one.
    • Side note: SEMrush also has a comparable tool.
  • Screaming Frog: Screaming Frog’s SEO spider tool does deep crawls on websites that give a granular view of a website’s structure and any technical SEO issues. This tool isn’t as visually easy to digest as the Ahrefs site audit tool, but it provides great information once you get familiar with it. 

Common Technical SEO issues I see as a Technical SEO Lead

There are a number of different technical issues I see on our clients’ websites; however, there always seem to be a few I see more often than others. Because they’re so common, I thought I would share them with you so you can be on the lookout and stay on top of them. 

Broken links

The plague of broken links! This is a tech SEO error that 100% of our clients face. To be fair, it’s just the natural order of websites—or at least that’s what it feels like. Broken links are any link you have on your website that points to either an internal or external link that has a 404 or 410 status code (this means the page no longer exists). 

As websites grow, URLs can change, pages can be removed, and websites may shut down. These will more often than not lead to broken links on a site. If these broken links go unaddressed and start to pile up, it can spell bad news for the overall health of your website, not to mention the repercussions your website could face in rankings when Google and other search engines become aware of the pileup.

Why it’s important to address

First off, we can all agree it’s a little annoying if you are on a website and then click on a link only to be greeted by a giant 404 message. It’s bad UX (user experience). If a lot of this is happening on your website, the integrity of it will start to diminish in the eyes of users. 

Quick tip to stay ahead of this technical SEO error

Use a free tool like Broken Link Checker that I recommend using once a week, especially if you are publishing content regularly.

Pages in the XML sitemap that shouldn’t be

An XML sitemap shouldn’t be confused with an HTML sitemap. The HTML sitemap is meant for humans to look at to see the structure of a website and navigate to a page whereas an XML sitemap is for search engines to better understand the structure of your site and index pages. 

The most common types of URLs I see in XML sitemaps that shouldn’t be are 404 URLs, Redirect URLs,  and non-canonical URLs. The reason we don’t want such URLs in the XML sitemap is that you only want to place URLs in it that you want indexed by search engines. 

There are many reasons why this can happen, but it’s typically caused either by website owners who manually generate their XML sitemaps and don’t keep them updated or a system error/conflict 

Why it’s important to address

As I mentioned before, the XML sitemap is for search engines to better understand the structure of your website to index pages. Having pages you don’t want indexed in the sitemap can lead to search engines being confused and indexing pages that shouldn’t be—or not indexing pages you want to have indexed.

Quick tip to stay ahead of this technical SEO error

Most CMSs will automatically generate an XML sitemap for you, but if not, you can always use a tool like Screaming Frog or Yoast (for WordPress) to generate them for you. Once you have your correct sitemap generated, submit it to Google Search Console. 

Misuse or errors with the canonical tag

The canonical tag, when used properly, can be very important for a website. We use the canonical tag mainly when two pages are either identical or very similar in content. An example might be if you have a mini landing page for your service, but you also have a very similar landing page for that service that is tied to an ad campaign. The canonical tag tells search engines of similar URLs which should be prioritized and indexed.

Here are some specific examples of issues using the canonical tag:

  • Non-canonical in the sitemap: As mentioned above, this is when you place the URL that is not canonical in the sitemap.
  • Preferred page is not canonicalized: Simply put, this is when the canonical is pointing to the page you don’t want indexed. For example, you may have a URL linked in your header navigation, but a similar page has the canonical tag pointing to it. 
  • Duplicate content without proper canonical: There is no canonical tag on either of the duplicate pages.
  • Canonical URL has no incoming internal links: You want to be sure you have some internal links pointing to the canonical URL.

Why it’s important to address

You never want to have duplicate content on a website unless you address it correctly. Google and other search engines will be forced to choose which one to index. If you have a lot of duplicate content without properly canonicalizing, then you can end up being penalized. Your website could really suffer.  

Quick tip to stay ahead of this technical SEO error

Use a free tool like Siteliner to scan your website if you aren’t sure if you have any duplicate content on your website. You can also check Google search console in the pages tab and look under pages that aren’t indexed under the title “Duplicate without user-selected canonical”.

Links pointing to a redirect

There are many reasons why you would want to 301 or 302 redirect a URL to another on your site. A lot of the time we forget to update all the internal links that are pointing to that redirect URL with the new final destination URL. External links can often change as well, so it’s important to be mindful if the URL you initially externally linked to changes.

Why it’s important to address

While it is not a huge issue to point to redirect internal links, it is best practice to point to the destination URL to reduce server calls when loading a new page. External URLs that point to a redirect could be more troublesome, as the content on the new URL might not have the content you wanted to initially link to. 

Quick tip to stay ahead of this technical SEO error

The best way to get ahead of this one is to do regular crawls of your website using an audit tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush. These will uncover any such issues for you to address. 

Resolving these common technical SEO issues can mean happier days for your website rankings

There is a lot packed into technical SEO and a number of factors to consider. While you should always do your best to maintain a healthy technical SEO score, you may see some errors more than others. If you ever need any help solving these issues, feel free to send us a message. In the meantime, happy SEO-ing!

Author avatar
Max Frederick
Max Frederick is the Technical SEO Lead at Ranq. An SEO expert for 5 years, Max has reams of experience in managing and executing holistic SEO campaigns for clients. He also ran his own agency for 3 years, cultivating a deep understanding of the space, and is a jack-of-all-trades in all things SEO -- from content strategy to writing to campaign management.

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