Episode Overview: Knowing which technical aspects of your site to optimize is tricky, and depends on the technical ecosystem of your website and its data. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Senior SEO Consultant Kathy Brown about how to determine if your site maintains a strong technical SEO foundation and how to best use Google Search Console in your technical optimization efforts.
- A full audit provides a complete picture of every technical optimization opportunity.
- Google Search Console’s index coverage report provides a plethora of useful technical information about your site including excluded URLs, which can be used to identify crawl anomalies.
- Business sites should maintain their organizational schema to ensure their site’s features can be readily translated to SERP features.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
- Kathy Brown: Website // LinkedIn
- The Voices of Search Podcast: Email // LinkedIn // Twitter
- Benjamin Shapiro: Website // LinkedIn // Twitter
Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to talk about some technical SEO. Joining us today is Kathy Brown, who is a senior SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, which is an enterprise-grade SEO and content marketing platform that helps marketers make better, more data driven decisions. Yesterday, Kathy and I talked a little bit about what technical SEO is and some of the changes that she’s observed and even a little bit about which direction she thinks Google is going to head in terms of their understanding and prioritization of technical SEO.
Ben: And today we’re going to talk about how you can tell if your site has a strong technical SEO foundation. Okay, here’s the second part of my conversation with Kathy Brown, senior SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, Kathy, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Kathy: Glad to be here.
Ben: Good to have you back on the show. Yesterday, we talked about what technical SEO is and some of the changes that are happening. My takeaway is that Google is better at understanding some of the dynamic components of your website. They’re obviously focused on site speed, and they’re really just trying to make sure that wherever they’re driving their users, it is a place that has a good user experience. As we start thinking about understanding about how a website meets Google’s criteria from a technical capacity, how do you evaluate whether a website is performing, whether it’s underperforming, I’m sure there’s always something you could do. How do you think about who’s doing a good job and whether it’s a solid foundation of technical SEO?
Kathy: Well, first I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that to get a complete picture of your website, you really do need to do a full-on audit. And when we do an audit, we have a whole checklist of things we check to make sure they aren’t problems. But that being said, I’ve gotten to the point where I can kind of quickly look at a site and see if there’s some major issues. So I thought it might be kind of interesting for this podcast is just to pass along a couple of the quick things I do just to see if I see a problem.
Kathy: And why don’t I just dive into the first one, which is the index coverage report in Google Search Console. So hopefully you have your site set up with Google Search Console. You have a profile set up for your site and with the new Google Search Console, which is not so new, I guess it’s been a year or two now, Google introduced a report called the index coverage report. And it will tell you all sorts of things, but the one thing I would suggest you do is you go over and look for the box excluded URLs, and you click on that box. And what I’m hoping you will kind of look for is let’s say you have a site of about 30,000 pages. If you have five million excluded URLs, I’d have a concern about that.
Kathy: And of course you need to dig in and figure out why. And there’s a number of reports in the index coverage report for excluded URLs that can be useful. I mean, sometimes you’re excluding URLs on purpose and that’s perfectly okay, but if you see a high number of URLs that have a crawl anomaly, or you have a whole list of URLs that are discovered but not indexed, that’s probably something you need to kind of take a deeper dive into to sort of see why there’s these URLs that Google has crawled or just discovered, but they’re not in the index. So that’s usually a little bit of a warning sign that you got something going on that needs to be dug into a bit further.
Ben: So when Google is spending the time to crawl your website, and you’re finding that there is a high volume of pages, which they’re just saying, Skip, you probably have a problem.
Ben: What are some of the other ways that you can evaluate your foundation?
Kathy: So yeah, you need to kind of dig into those and there could be all sorts of reasons why pages have ended up there. A lot of times with larger websites, you sometimes get extra pages that are just created due to the dynamic nature of the site that you may not even be aware of, but Google is finding and crawling and not indexing or crawling and indexing that are just pulling down the performance of your entire site. So that would definitely be one place I like to look at least fairly quickly to see if I see a problem, especially if there’s a large number of excluded URLs.
Ben: Okay. So you’re digging into a big website and you’re finding what Google is crawling, seeing what information they’re accessing and if they’re indexing it. Let’s say that this website that we’re crawling has a good crawl to index rate. What’s your next step?
Kathy: This is old school, but I always do it. I always do, and it’s very temperamental and not that accurate, but I always do a site colon for the site. So it’s just a command, if you go to the browser, you type site, S-I-T-E, colon, and then the domain. Some of this is just to educate me because clients tend to not mention things like, “Oh yeah, we have a subdomain that we forgot about. So when you do a site colon, and then you want to kind of skip to the end, you kind of skip to the end and you can kind of do that by going down to the bottom and just clicking the biggest number. So if it shows you one through 10, you just click on 10 and then it shows you 10 through 15, you click on 15.
Kathy: You want to look at the pages that are kind of at the end of that list. And if they look like crappy pages with not a lot of value to them, or you see the message, Google has found results that are very similar to the ones we’re already showing you, which is what we call the supplemental results, that’s also perhaps an indication that you have something going on. And what I found sometimes is that people, they just don’t look at their site in the SERPs, which we’ll get to in the moment, or they just don’t understand that they have all these extra pages that have kind of gotten into the Google index. And so a quick review and a site colon just for subdomains you forgot about, that you didn’t know you had indexed as well as these sort of extra pages that you didn’t know got indexed usually can be a telling thing to take a look at.
Ben: So first you’re looking to see what Google is crawling and what they’re going to put in their index. Then you’re running a scan to see what is actually showing up in the index, you’re looking through the site colon. And what’s the last step that you’re going to do when you evaluate whether a site has a strong foundation of technical SEO.
Kathy: Well, this is definitely a more specific scenario, but these days I usually look for this kind of thing. So with both sites today, they should be marked up with some kind of structured data. Whether if you have an ecommerce side, it’s marked up to have reviews and product schema. And pretty much all business sites really should have organizational schema. And yeah, I mean, it may not crash your SEO if you don’t have any of this stuff, but I usually check to see if it’s there and sometimes I’ll just do a search for if it’s an ecommerce site for one of the products and just see if the extra features which we call rich results, whether it’s the rating stars or the prices, or sort of the extra bits of information show up on the product when it’s listed in SERP.
Kathy: So if it’s a recipe, there’s also the bits of extra information that comes with a recipe. I just look to see if that stuff is showing up because a lot of times people would put schema and it’s broken, it doesn’t work, and when it comes to ecommerce, that stuff is pretty darn important. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to tell a really quick story. I had a client that had a site for job postings. So his site was all about job postings for a certain discipline. And he was freaking out because you could actually search for jobs and Google has a special feature that shows you all the jobs that are possible.
Kathy: And what happened is his structure data was there on the desktop version of the site, but it wasn’t there on the mobile version of the site. So when Google moved him to mobile first indexing, all his job postings went away. And that was a big problem for him because he was reliant getting into that Google feature to get visibility for his jobs. So it does depend on the type of site for what I look for, but generally I just want to see that the structure data is kind of showing up in the places I expect it to.
Ben: So you mentioned Google’s mobile first indexing. Are there any other things that you think about in terms of technical SEO foundation that are specific to mobile? How much are you looking at the difference between mobile and desktop SEO?
Kathy: Yeah, I mean, the situation I just talked about, I mean, that was a site that actually had a different mobile version of their site versus the desktop. So it was actually different HTML and all of that, which is valid, you just need to make sure it works. In this case, they didn’t. A lot of sites are responsive, but when it comes to mobile, I mean, if they do have different HTML, I’ve definitely seen a lot of cases where the mobile version of the page is emitting information, which could be really important to helping them to rank. So if I know they have kind of a different mobile version than a desktop version, I’ll definitely look for that.
Kathy: I mean, the other thing about mobile is just the speed. Most of us who work on the web, we have high end laptops, fairly fast internet connection. And you don’t really see the kind of speed problems as much as you would if you’re out in the boondocks and you’re on 3G and you have a slower phone with not a very good CPU in it. And we need to remember that some people are accessing our site with a slower device and we need to account for that. It can make a really big difference when you change devices and change your internet connectivity, especially if you have big, huge images, that can really slow things down. So I think with mobile, those are really the two things that I kind of would for is just different HTML than the desktop and the speed.
Kathy: But I will also mention, and this gets a little bit more deeper into things, and this is when you kind of have set up a project with one of the SEO suite softwares out there, such as like Searchmetrics, I’ll sometimes really start dig into, you’ll notice that sometimes for some keywords, the pages rank worse on mobile than they do on desktop or vice versa. And that is definitely something to dig into. So I just wanted to mention that as a bit of a third thing.
Ben: Okay, Kathy, I appreciate you coming on and walking us through some of the ways that we can evaluate if our websites have a strong foundation for technical SEO.
Kathy: Thank you very much.
Ben: All right. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Kathy Brown, the senior SEO consultant at Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Kathy, you can find the link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter, her handle is KathyAlice, K-A-T-H-Y, A-L-I-C-E. Or you can visit her blog, which is webenso.com. W-E-B-E-N-S-O dot com.
Ben: Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter and my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back into your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.