Diagnosing Technical SEO Issues

March 3, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

So, this is probably going to hurt. Me, not you. I always pick the technical panels because I think you guys will find them most interesting… but I forget that I am not a technical SEO so trying to decipher the slides is often like performing brain surgery… on a rock.

A very sick Vanessa Fox is moderating speakers Adam Audette, Patrick Bennett, Gabe Gayhart, and Brian Ussery.  I spent ten minutes chatting with Vanessa and I can already feel the germs congregating in the back of my throat to ruin my day.  I’ll be starting the #blamevanessa hashtag tomorrow when I wake up sick and unable to move. Things to look forward to!

Okay, we’re starting. Let’s go. Vanessa really sounds like death.  She needs a stretcher. Or a hot towel. Or to maybe stop traveling so damn much.  [yeah, Vanessa, I said it.]

First up is Adam Audette.

Site audits and diagnosing technical stuff is a never ending process. Our sites are never perfect. It’s a continual process of going through the site, looking at it and fixing things.  He approaches SEO audits by looking for patterns, using his experience, and being a good problem solver. The basics can be easily taught but it does take time to perfect.  Collaboration helps.

Technical SEO is:

Part Art: Follow your nose. It takes diligence to dive in and find out what the problems are. It requires trust. The company has to trust you to find their issues.

Part Science: It’s very calculated in the processes. They’re always looking at a set number of factors and we’re documenting everything.  Project management of diagnosing SEO audits is really important. He uses Basecamp. It requires documentation and collaboration.

A Framework for SEO Audits

  • On-Page
  • Domains
  • Navigations
  • Sections & Categories
  • Pages Media


  • Backlinks
  • Social Media Signals
  • Cache Dates, crawl frequency, indexed pages
  • Toolbar PageRank

The Big 4 Factors

  • URLs
  • Site Architecture & Navigation
  • Deep pages (PageRank Dispersion)
  • Site Latency – speed of your site. This has gotten a lot of play lately.

Some Cool Tools

Using the command line is a great way to diagnose problems.  He mentions using Wget and there’s lots of code on the screen that I don’t understand.  My brain is suddenly yelling at me.  Adam also mentions that he uses SEOmoz’s Page Analysis Tool and LinkScape.  Because he’s super rad he wrote a post offering a free log file parsing script, that you may want to check out.

Next up is Gage Gayhart.

He starts off talking about his team structure but flips through the slides quicker than a person blinks. I barely saw them, let alone blogged them.


  • Full Crawl: Perform a full crawl of a site to ID each page on the site.
  • SE Simulation: Run consecutive crawls to simulate each engine.
  • Browser Crawl: View how a site is being rendered in the browser.


  • ID indexation gaps and issues.
  • ID crawler behavior.
  • ID opportunities to trim the fat.

Infrastructure Issues

  • Template Coding: If templates aren’t bot friendly or flexible for change.
  • Directory Structure: Everything from parameters being added to dynamic URLs or nonexistent structure.
  • File Naming Conventions: Granted this isn’t the end all/be all but it’s yet another opportunity to establish theme.
  • Code Base: Some CMS’ generate a bunch of unnecessary code.

Performance Issues

  • Images, Flash, AJAX
  • Flash Alternatives
  • Semantic HTML
  • Frames
  • Image Maps
  • Tables
  • Page file size – he calls this the ‘big 2010 thing’ people will start to worry about, again it’s tied to load time.

Redirect issues:

  • Expiring products or content. This would include expired special offer pages or season promotions.
  • Internal 302 redirects or multiple redirects.
  • Internal JavaScript/page-based redirects

When prioritizing what to do, you have to consider impact. How will this recommendation impact our client’s business? What about ease? How easy can a client implement it? Readiness – how quickly can they implement it?  If you have an inhouse SEO team, you probably have a better sense of what types of resources you’ll need and how to allocate them.

He ties in a case study for Ford Motor Company. They had a very Flash-heavy site. They had to do a site migration and deal with CMS troubles. They went in and collaborated with content strategy teams. They rolled out additional content and created a content migration plan.  They made sure the Flash was crawlable. Once all those things occurred they were able to up visitors by 66 percent.

Common Issues

  • Duplicate Content from canonical issues, mirror sites, staging sites, load balancing, pagination, non-localized international content, session IS.
  • Navigation Components: Maintaining the user experience. Robots.txt, XML Site maps, HTML Site maps.
  • Rich media & Content Accessibility

Brian Ussery is next.

Technical SEO: Images

  • Use detailed file names
  • Use keyword-relevant anchor text
  • Use Alt Text: Used to determine relevancy, by screen readers, people on cell phones, etc.
  • Place images near relevant text
  • Don’t place text in images
  • Provide info about images without spamming
  • Don’t block images
  • Use a license via CC
  • Use quality photos – bigger the better
  • Use direct names that describe your photos
  • Place images above the fold.
  • Specify width and height.

Provide as much meta data as you can about your images. Use tags, labeling, location info, etc.

Image Speed

Use the appropriate optimized image format

  • JPEG photos
  • Crush PNG for graphics
  • Optimized gifs for small and animated images
  • Don’t scale images in (X)HTML
  • Specify dimensions
  • Use a favicon with expiration to avoid 404s

It’s very difficult for the engines to extract images from Flash. Adobe doesn’t even rank top for [adobe logo] in Google Image Search. From Twitter: Use Flash like you would use cilantro – sparingly and for a single high-impact effect. Nobody wants to eat a whole bowl of cilantro. Heh.

Next up is Patrick Bennett.

He loves that on the Internet you can make up your own words. He’s using Crawlability and Indexability today and isn’t sure if they’re real. Eh, who cares.  At least they have vowels.

Developers are SEOs.  You have a responsibility in avoiding issues so don’t be afraid to speak up. Be forward-thinking with new marketing initiatives and an asset to your marketing team. Hurrah!

Crawlability Intro

Spiders have limited resources. You control how easy your site is to spider. How important is crawl-rate for your Web business? TechCrunch and Mashable are crawled by the second.  Once they published an article it already ranks.  If you didn’t hear, Mashable is the new Wikipedia. Think users first, spiders second. Spiders love to crash parties. They’ll come back as much as you want them to.

Are all of your pages created equal? You control which pages are indexed.

Crawlability/Indexabilty Checklist

  1. Convince spiders to visit often: Create static URLs that are updated frequently with the latest content and point links to them. Show the latest products that have been added. Do the same with your category pages.   Add a blog that is updated DAILY.
  2. Show spiders where to go: Use consistent navigation that points your users and spiders to most important areas. Use breadcrumbs. ID pages that change frequently and link them directly from your top landing pages. Follow Web standards. Think of getting the user to various spots with a couple of clicks.
  3. Block Spiders from less important content: Use Google Webmaster tools to create your robots.txt file. Don’t allow spiders to use their resources on pages that don’t need to rank.
  4. Give the spider a map to your site: XML and user sitemaps provide a list of all URLs on your site. Just another way to help the spider around.
  5. Feed the spider as quickly as possible: Implement server-side caching to reduce real-time database calls. Use a CDN server to increase the amount of parallel requests. GZIP the output of all text files. Limit the amount of code surrounding the content by leveraging external CSS and JS files. MINIFY the output of VSS and JS files. Use CSS sprites wherever possible.  You can use YSlow or Page Speed to see how well you’re doing.
  6. Don’t make the spider think too hard: Since the spider is only going to allocate a certain number of resources on your site, don’t create any bottlenecks. Some common pitfalls: broken links resulting in 404s, long URLs w/ multiple parameters or session IDs, duplicate content, duplicate title/Meta tags, excessive code surround the important content, base use of Title, Meta and H1 tags.

Time for lunch! We’ll see you back here later this afternoon to talk about some Facebook marketing tactics.  Hope to see you then. :)

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