Technical SEO Checklist

u/alwayssunny

Where/how did you learn Technical SEO?

Hi everyone,

I am the SEO for an medium-sized ecommerce site. My previous experience included working for 2 marketing agencies where, unfortunately, we just couldn't give all of our clients 100% of our attention. I guess it was a good way for me to get my feet wet when it came to digital marketing/Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but didn't prepare me for working in-house somewhere.

When I started my new job, I wasn't used to giving my full attention to one site – especially an ecommerce site that's always changing. I'm great with SEO as it relates to content marketing and anything to do with our product pages, but Technical SEO is still an area where I really, really struggle.

I guess there are a few lower level technical areas where I do okay (pagination, breadcrumbs — who knew there would be so much to consider with these –, xml sitemaps/crawling the site, url redirects, etc), but anything more in-depth than that scares the hell out of me. I also helped with moving our site from HTTP to HTTPs, but even that took some time to fully understand.

I wasn't – and still am not – ready for other situations that are tossed my way. We have a great tech team who handles all of our technical implementation (SEO or otherwise), but I still freeze up when they want to make a change to the site and ask "Will this affect SEO in any way? How does this affect SEO? Can we get an SEO signoff for this?"

It was explained to me that if the tech team has technical skills that are a level 10, an SEO only needs technical skills around a level 2, but I'm struggling to even feel comfortable at a level .5 or 1. I'm not proud to admit that, but it's true.

This is a long way of asking… where and how did everyone else learn? Where should I start? I learn best by actually doing – I think that's just the nature of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) anyway. I guess I might need to create a test site on my own.

I'm starting a JavaScript class soon, but even those fail to mention how JavaScript and/or other programming languages relate to SEO.

I might be able to learn a more technical concept in itself, but there's the disconnect there of, "Okay, now what? I can know this all day long, but I might not be able to talk about how changes to X concept relate to SEO."

I should note that I'm not just looking for handouts or for someone to hold my hand through this process. I know learning more technical concepts takes time and I know there are people out there who have spent countless days, weeks, months, years learning this stuff without a ton of help. I'm certainly not expecting anyone to come along and just place everything I need to know right into my lap. I'm most definitely willing to do the work and put in the time; it would just be nice to know where I should start :)

I really appreciate any suggestions or help you toss my way. I'm looking forward to strengthening my Technical SEO skills in <year>. Thanks!
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jefflouella
I started off my career as a Web Designer / Developer. I built 100's of websites for clients before ever getting into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It really built my backbone of understanding the web. I constantly have newer SEO users say "I want to learn more technical SEO, can you teach me." It's hard to teach. You need to learn it on your own. It's not for everyone and you need to be in it for the long run. Here is what I suggest.
👉 Build a website. While you can learn some good things from implementing WordPress, don't at first.
👉 Build the HTML from scratch. Hand code the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Build some JS functions. It doesn't need to be pretty but learn the basics.
👉 Try MySQL to store some information and learn a little PHP (or other language) to pull the information into a page. Then build a form to submit information. This is a playground site. The goal isn't to get the page to rank, but to learn how a basic website is built; from configuring the server to coding the page.
👉 Repeat steps 1-3 a few times.
👉 After you hand built a few basic sites, play with implementing WordPress. Implement Magento. Install Drupal. These are all free Content Management Systems (cms)s. Don't use a 1 click install for them. Download the packages and install by hand.
👉 Embrase your inner nerd.

TechSEO isn't an overnight success or just about reading 1 book on the subject. I truly think you need to have all the basic understandings of a developer. Once you have the basics, it's then about incremental learning.

I've spent a ton of my life in my desk chair on Friday nights, up at 2 am, late after work, up before work trying to learn this stuff. Now that I am married and have kids, it's harder for me to find the time. I sometimes feel like you do. The web keeps expanding and technologies changing every day. The concepts are basically the same, but there are different ways of implementing. One thing I have learned, Google Search is usually 3-4 years behind the newest technologies for WebDev, so I feel I can stay ahead of them.

alwayssunny ✍️
I really appreciate your response. I definitely plan to build a website and do everything from scratch so I'm hoping that helps clear up some of the disconnect between SEO and more technical items that I'm struggling with now. Thanks again!

johnmu
The thing to know about technical SEO is that it's not some hand-wavy, magic-dust, voodoo activity. You're in charge of maintaining & improving a race-car, you can't change the oil filter based on some random one-off experience-report blog-post you found online, you need to know how to do it, and how to do it correctly. Over time, you'll realize there are subtle variations & hacks that work, but there are technically correct ways to do things, and many, many ways that are absolutely wrong. The tricky part is that search engines try to deal with terrible work, because lots of people do it wrong, but you need to learn how to do it right, if you want to succeed with technical SEO.

A great way to learn how to do it right is to do it all yourself. Build a website, make a crawler, be a search engine. I don't think it's for everyone (there are other aspects of making an online business grow that are important too!), it takes a lot of time, concentration, and practice, but if you love focusing on details, it can be quite fun.

chewster
This is like asking how did you learn to build a house

jefflouella
Right. Start by learning how to cut wood. Learn how to make framing joints. Learn electricy, then plumbing. There is a process and you can learn it. It will just take years of learning. I learn the most by trying and failing. Then trying again and fixing.

alwayssunny ✍️
I 100% agree. More than you know. But I only have a few years experience under my belt and I don't see the harm in asking for advice from people who have likely been in my shoes before. I'm not asking for all the answers and I'm not entitled enough to think that someone is just going to drop everything right in my lap. I'm sorry if it came off that way. It's just nice to get a feel for the path that others took when they were in my position.

alwayssunny ✍️
Responses like this are exactly why I was hesitant to ask this question. I'm not looking for a one-size-fits-all type answer, I'm not looking for someone to do all the work for me, I'm not looking for handouts. I'm simply asking for a bit of advice from a more advanced group of people. People who have done the work, made mistakes, and learned a new skill along the way. I'm asking because I respect the hell out of anyone who is super advanced in this field because that's exactly where I want to be in the future.

I'm not afraid to try, I'm not afraid to make mistakes, I'm not afraid to fail. But I also don't think there is anything wrong with asking for advice from people who have been in my position before.

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deleted
Saw this course pop up and thought it could be a good place to start. I have never taken it so I can't vouch for how indepth it will actually be. Even if it is basic, which I would think it has to be at only a 2 hour long training, it may give you additional resources or at minimum some guidelines to follow for further self learning. https://moz.com/training/technical-seo-site-audit
A lot of it does come down to suffering through making some mistakes or things breaking and doing the frantic dance of "what the hell happened". Following the make your own site path is the safest way to make those mistakes without worrying about the consequences but it also won't prepare you fully for the happenings at a medium, probably fairly established, e-com company. The "what the hell happened" is part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and something even the best SEO users had to do and probably still do from time to time.

In the meantime, how approachable is the tech team you work with? Can you have them explain things to you in more depth and on the flip side can you explain to them your concerns over a project to try to come to a mutual ground? Ie – I am worried if we do X, blah blah will happen, because of Y. Even just that sentence can open the door to a conversation where you have the opportunity to learn more about the way they work, any restrictions they may have on their end, and if there were multiple ways they were thinking of implementing the change to begin with. The programming classes should help make those conversations easier too. Also – does your company have records of code releases? Has the SEO team before you documented any known bugs from certain code releases in the past? Those are goldmines for being able to pair up a certain tech SEO event with any good/bad SEO happenings.

alwayssunny ✍️
Thanks for the response! I've actually taken the Moz and DistilledU "Technical SEO" courses and find that they don't cover a ton of stuff that you have to deal with when you work on an ecommerce site. It has been a while since I've taken each of those courses, though, so it might be worth going back through them. I should also note that our primary site is over 5,000 pages; products are constantly coming and going and changes are always being made inventory-wise. So many of the technical concepts I have to consider are very much specific to our site and hard to learn through any training course. Like I said, though, I may go back through the Moz and Distilled technical courses just to refresh my brain — sometimes it's easy to forget the basics.

The tech team is decently approachable. We have a family of three different sites, though, so tech is constantly busy and constantly worrying about things more important than what I have to say :) That said – when needed – they do welcome discussions with all departments (Search Engine Optimization (SEO), User Experience (UX), content, etc) to ensure that we are making the best possible decisions and changes for our site. They would never make major changes to the site without running everything past all necessary departments. They're not going to sit down and train me on all things tech, but they do elaborate if and when needed to make sure whoever they're talking to is on the same page. Despite all of that, I still find myself having a disconnect between the seo world and the tech world.

Our company does use jira to track all past tickets and that has been a great place to learn as well. I've made a point to go through past tickets and read comments between our former seo and our current tech team. I've learned quite a bit just from doing this and I'm sure there are even more tickets out there that I need to go through.

Thanks again for your comment!

deleted
Yeah – I've found similar issues with any of those online trainings, but like you, haven't taken one in quite a while. Maybe they are better? Who knows. It sounds like you are taking all of the right steps to get to where you need to be and honestly being self aware of that is the hardest part which you've already accomplished.

Curious with products changing so much does the site fall into the flash sale type category? You don't have to fully answer that if you aren't comfortable sharing. I think this recommendation is fairly basic but it is something you can easily do right now. Get your top competitors and dig through their sites with all available tools you have so you see where they are now with their tech seo. Then go to wayback machine and look at where they were 6 months, 1 year, 2 years ago. You can try to get a basic idea of their seo strategy evolution and its success. Go a step further and see if you find any organic visibilty trends with something like Searchmetrics. Whether you see a jump or a drop, you can see if those timelines align with any code changes you found in your wayback machine research. It won't give you perfect answers and you'll have to make loose conslusions on whether a specific change caused the jump or drop but it at least gives you some ideas to explore further.
alwayssunny ✍️
Yea I try to be pretty upfront about what I know and what I don't know (on here, obviously, but especially at work). The tech team prefers someone who is comfortable saying "I don't know" over someone who tries to pretend like they know it all (but actually doesn't). With my SEO knowledge and their extensive tech knowledge, we always find a solution – but sometimes it's tech who is the primary problem solver if I don't know the answer. I'm sure they get frustrated with my lack of technical skills, but I think they appreciate the times when I'm upfront and tell them that I genuinely don't know the solution.

Our site isn't a flash sale type site. Just regular ecommerce. That said, we do have seasonal products. Right now, we're still primarily seeing fall/winter type products sell, but our merchandising team is already gearing up for spring/summer by already adding those seasonal products to the site. The site may not change every day, but it does at least once a week (sometimes more, depending on the circumstances).

We do competitor audits but it's mostly in terms of content/keyword rankings. You mentioned Searchmetrics though… we do use SM to track our visibility and our competitor's visibility, so we at least have that information as well. I haven't done much of a Tech SEO competitor audit before, but that's a good idea. Thanks!
deleted
You're lucky you've got a pretty supportive team and a good grip on how to communicate with that team. So many people either don't have any support or just bullshit their way through without ever being like "hmm, I don't actually know" so congrats on being better than that haha.

I'd start exploring competitors with view source and inspect element. Important to do both since view page source gives you the html and inspect element will give you whats in the DOM – you can explore javascript then. See if you can find a basic technical seo audit checklist and go from there. I say start basic so you don't end up super overwhelmed and in the black abyss of inspect element for hours chasing dead ends, which is SUPER easy to do. Then start adding in more indepth technical audit examples you've found. I don't have a great checklist to start you off with I am sure someone else has posted one in other seo threads before.

techyseo
You should check out SEO conferences, and go along to Technical sessions – there's a load of free conferences available and i'm pretty sure that there are some good meetups around where you can discuss all Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many conferences & events have really good speakers, and is a really good place to learn about different areas of the industry.

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