WordPress SEO is more than installing Yoast or Rank math plugins and calling it a day. As the industry evolves, so must your SEO strategy.
One of the most neglected aspects of WordPress SEO is technical optimization.
After all, it’s not nearly as fun to work on HTTP headers and server responses as it is to write engaging content for your readers.
While technical optimization isn’t the most glamorous job, there’s no getting around the fact that your website won’t stand a chance in the SERPs without it.
Luckily for you, WordPress has plenty of tools that make technical SEO a breeze, even for the non-techies with zero coding skills.
From SEO-specific plugins to helpful debugging tools, there’s plenty of everything for everyone.
And the best part? You don’t need to be a tech wiz to take advantage of them.
WordPress Technical SEO Audit Checklist
If you’re not tech-savvy or don’t feel like fiddling around with your website code, then perhaps you should consider outsourcing the audit to a professional WordPress SEO service.
However, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to carry out the audit yourself, then this checklist should help get you started.
Checklist #1: Get Rid of Unnecessary Plugins
We guess — you thought we would suggest the opposite, didn’t you?
Surprisingly, too many plugins can slow down your server, throwing a wrench into your website’s performance and creating other headaches.
Not to mention, some of these plugins may be incompatible, creating conflicts and potential security vulnerabilities.
So, it’s a good idea to audit the plugins installed on your website and eliminate any unnecessary ones.
Opting for a customized theme with built-in features will reduce the need for a ton of extra plugins and will also make your website run smoother.
Checklist #2: Pay Attention to Your Core Web Vitals
In the simplest terms, core web vitals are metrics that measure the speed and performance of your website.
Google started taking them seriously in 2021.
And there’s a reason why:
The faster your website, the more users are likely to stay on it, and the better its chances of ranking higher in the SERPs.
To check your website’s core web vitals, use Google’s Page Speed Insights or Pingdom Tools.
These tools will give you a detailed overview of what needs to be fixed for your website to meet Google’s standards.
Stats show that the average website takes about 3 seconds to load fully.
If your website falls behind this benchmark, it’s time to take action and get your website’s performance up to snuff.
- FID (First Input Delay) measures the time it takes for your page to respond to a user’s input, such as clicking a button or submitting a form. Anything over 100ms is considered poor performance and should be addressed immediately.
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) measures how quickly the main content of your page loads.
If your LCP score exceeds 2.5 seconds, your website needs serious optimization.
- Finally, CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) measures how much visual content on a page shift while loading.
The lower the score, the better. Google recommends keeping your CLS below 0.1 for the best performance.
Checklist #3: Make Sure Your Website is Mobile-friendly
More than half of all web traffic now comes from mobile users.
And if your website isn’t optimized for them, you’re losing out on a massive chunk of potential customers or readers.
With mobile-first indexing, Google prioritizes websites that are optimized for mobile devices.
So, don’t expect your website to rank well if it isn’t mobile-friendly.
The easiest and quickest way to check for mobile-friendliness is to opt for a responsive design.
The good thing about WordPress is that nearly all themes are responsive by default.
But it would help if you double-checked to avoid any unwanted surprises.
Checklist #4: Choose a Good Host
You do not want to skimp on this one.
A good hosting provider will provide a secure website environment and speed up its performance.
You want to research and find a hosting provider that meets your needs.
Choose wisely, and you will be rewarded with faster website speeds, better uptime, and improved security.
A good web host will also provide you with the following:
- One-click WordPress install: Unless you’re an experienced web developer, you’ll want to be able to install WordPress in just a few clicks.
Make sure the hosting provider you choose offers this feature.
One way to go about it is to choose a WordPress-managed hosting solution like WPEngine.
WPEngine auto-installs WordPress so you can get up and running in no time.
- Auto-renewing SSL certificates: A web host should offer a secure and encrypted connection for your website by providing an SSL certificate.
Plus, it should also be able to auto-renew the certificate without your manual intervention.
- Automatic backups: Automatic Backup: A hosting provider should have an automated backup system in place so that your data is secure and retrievable if something goes wrong.
If your website suddenly crashes, you can restore it without much hassle.
- 24/7 technical support: Technical issues can arise anytime, and you want to be sure your hosting provider has your back.
- Staging environment for testing your ideas: A staging environment allows you to test out any changes you make to your website before pushing them live.
It is a valuable tool for developers as it prevents them from making any mistakes that might impact the performance of their website.
- Fast loading speed (one of Google’s ranking factors)
- SSD Drives (Solid State Drives are faster and more reliable than traditional HDD drives)
- Unlimited connections: some web hosts may offer a good deal on paper but limit the number of simultaneous connections, drastically slowing down your website.
- No Inode Limits: Web hosting companies cut costs by limiting the number of inodes or index of nodes a hosting package can have.
Inodes define the number of files and folders a website can store, so ensure your hosting provider doesn’t impose any limits on them.
Checklist #5: Pre-connect for Third-party Content/Use DNS-prefetch
Most website owners don’t like to hear that a plugin they’re using or looking to buy from a vendor is slowing down their website or causing some serious performance issues.
Even after finding out about this plugin, there’s usually little they can do.
But what if you could solve this issue without removing the plugin?
DNS-prefetch is a technique used to pre-connect for third-party content, thus reducing latency and improving website performance.
It tells your browser that it should start connecting to certain websites before the user clicks on the link. It simply does the DNS lookup for third-party content (plugins) just in case the user requests it.
This way, when the user sends the request, the connection will have already been established, speeding up the delivery process.
How WordPress DNS Prefetching Technique is Done
The WordPress DNS prefetching technique is straightforward. All you have to do is add a special code to your website’s header.
This code instructs the browser to start connecting for third-party content, thus improving website performance.
You can easily add this code to your website by installing a plugin like WP Rocket or manually editing the header.php file of your WordPress theme.
Here’s the code you need to add:
<link rel=”dns-prefetch” href=”//example.com”>
Simply replace “example.com” with the URL of the third-party resource you want to pre-connect.
You can use GTMetrix or other page speed testing tools to check your latest website performance report and see which third-party content is slowing down your website.
Go to GTMetric and enter your website’s URL in the search bar provided.
Under “Performance,” you want to look at the “Specify a Cache Validator” section.
This section will show you all the third-party content slowing down your website.
Just copy the URL listed and add it to the code above to replace “//example.com.”
Now, watch as your page speed soars.
Checklist #6: Use an Optimized Theme
Your WordPress theme is more than just a pretty face. It’s the backbone of your website and needs to be optimized for the best performance.
Optimized themes load faster, reduce page size and render quickly on various devices.
These themes are designed with SEO in mind, so they’re well-coded and optimized for search engine bots.
The clean code ensures that search engines can easily crawl and index your website’s content.
So, how do you know if your theme is optimized?
Take the demo version of the theme and run it through a speed testing tool such as GTMetrix or Google PageSpeed.
If the results are good, then you’re good to go.
In case they aren’t, try a few other themes.
By switching to an optimized theme, one of our clients saw a 50% reduction in page loading time.
Even better, switching themes can be done without compromising your website’s content or design elements.
Overall, WordPress SEO isn’t as complicated or intimidating as it may seem initially.
Checklist #7: Use a CDN to Deliver Content
As the name suggests, content Delivery Networks (CDNs) is a network of data centres and servers distributed across the globe.
When users visit your website, the CDN delivers content from the nearest server to them, significantly reducing page loading times.
So, instead of a user’s web request travelling over long distances and taking up valuable time, the CDN serves content from a server that’s geographically closer to them.
In addition to this, CDNs also improve website security by helping protect your website against malicious attacks and DDoS attempts.
Many CDN services are available today; however, the two most popular ones are Cloudflare and StackPath.
Both offer free plans with paid options for more advanced features.
Once you’ve signed up for a service, point your domain name servers to their network and enable the CDN settings.
Checklist #8: Optimize Your Robots.txt File
WordPress comes with a well-done robots.txt file out of the box.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
You can easily optimize your robots.txt file and make sure all the right content gets indexed and none of the wrong content does.
Crawl bots might get a little aggressive in crawling your website and end up indexing pages that you don’t want them to.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, you can use your robots.txt file to tell search engines which page not to crawl.
That prevents them from wasting time crawling those pages, leaving them with more time to crawl the important ones.
You can also use your robots.txt file to block any content you don’t want to be indexed in search engines, such as duplicate pages and low-value content.
It also doesn’t make sense to crawl pages such as login and admin pages.
Here is an article you want to read to get more information on optimizing your robots.txt file:
Another usage case for robots.txt would be to block foreign search engines such as Yandex, Baidu, and Naver from crawling your website if you have no business in those countries.
You can easily do that by adding a line of code to your robots.txt file.
Checklist #9: Remove Media Attachments and Tag Pages from the Index
Media attachment and tag pages are usually thin, low-value pages that don’t contribute to SEO. Any sensible SEO strategy would suggest removing these pages from the index.
Tag pages are auto-generated by WordPress when you add tags to your posts.
These pages contain a list of all the posts tagged with a particular keyword and don’t offer any unique content for search engines to index.
In addition, tag pages can also lead to duplicate content issues if not handled properly.
To prevent these issues, you should block these pages from being indexed in search engines.
You can do this by adding a no-index meta tag or using Google Search Console to remove them from the index.
An even better approach would be to use the Yoast plugin to remove the pages by adding a robots no-index meta tag to all of them.
Media Attachment Pages
WordPress creates attachment pages for any media files you upload to your websites, such as images and PDFs.
These pages are usually worthless from an SEO perspective.
Unless you’ve written a unique description and optimized the page, there isn’t much value that search engines can extract from them.
They also lead to duplicate content issues since they contain the same content as your post or page.
The best way to handle these pages is to use the Yoast plugin to add a no-index meta tag.
That will help prevent search engines from crawling and indexing them.
Checklist #10: Remove Category Pages from the Index
Category pages are another point of concern when it comes to SEO.
WordPress auto-generates these pages for every category you create and adds them to your website’s sitemap.
However, these pages are usually thin and low-value, with no unique content for search engines to index.
Instead, they list all the posts that belong to a particular category.
They can also lead to duplication issues if not handled with care.
Big brands such as Amazon, Yelp, Home Advisor, and many others have customized their category pages and made them provide additional value for search engine bots.
However, if you’re a small business or blog, it might not be feasible to do this.
That’s because you must custom-develop them and figure out how to make them valuable to the user.
So, a better approach would be to remove them altogether from the index.
Checklist #11: Add Structured Data to Your Website
Structured data markup is a type of data that follows a particular format that helps search engines and other bots understand your content better.
When SEO talk about structured data, in most cases, they’ll be referring to Schema.org structured data.
Some refer to it as data markup, rich markup, or simply schema.
It’s a way of adding additional information to your web pages so that search engines can crawl and understand them better.
Adding schema markup to your WordPress site is incredibly easy. In some cases, it may require advanced coding knowledge.
The simplest way to add schema markup to your website is to find a theme natively supporting it or use a plugin like Yoast SEO.
Yoast allows you to easily add schema markup for various types of content, such as articles, products, reviews, events, and more.
Side Note: While schema isn’t considered a ranking factor, it could get you a top-ranking spot if Google establishes that the marked-up data is fit for a featured snippet.
Checklist #12: Avoid AMP
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a Google-developed technology designed to make mobile pages faster.
Google has been pushing this technology heavily, and while it may seem attractive at first glance, there are some downsides to using AMP.
Google has also backed off on its push for AMP, so it’s not as important as it once was.
Sometimes, AMP can create visibility issues with certain search engines and cause duplicate content problems.
For good technical SEO, we suggest you work on fixing your load speed and other performance issues rather than implementing AMP.
If you do decide to use AMP, make sure your primary content is served as HTML and not just an AMP page.
Checklist #13: Optimize Images Files
Image filesize is one of the biggest performance killers and can also cause usability issues.
Large image files take a long time to load and can slow down your website.
We recommend compressing all images before you upload them to your WordPress site.
It also helps to use proper file formats for the web, such as JPEGs or WebP.
Imagine uploading a high-definition image on your website but only displaying it in a small size.
That’s a waste of resources.
For this, you want to optimize your images before you upload them.
You can use a tool like Kraken.io or Imagify to compress and optimize the images.
These tools allow you to resize, crop, and optimize your images without sacrificing quality.
You can also use plugins like Smush or EWWW Image Optimizer to do the same thing inside WordPress.
Internal linking is a critical part of any WordPress SEO strategy.
It helps search engines find and crawl all the pages on your website and helps visitors find more information by connecting related content.
When linking to other pages on your site, use keyword-rich anchor text and add contextual links where appropriate.
It’s also important to ensure that all your internal links are working correctly.
Google Search Console can help you find broken internal links so you can fix them before search engines crawl them.
Another highly debated SEO topic is the use of heading tags, specifically H1 and H2 tags.
The debate is mainly around how many H1s can be used on a single page and whether all pages should have an H1 tag.
We recommend using one main H1 tag per page, with multiple sub-headings (H2, H3, etc.) to structure the content.
Google uses heading tags to understand what each page is about. So, you want to make sure you’re using them in a way that describes your content accurately.
Heading tags also give visitors an overview of what to expect on the page, making it easier for them to scan and find the information they need.
Here’s what each tag should be used for:
- H1 tag: H1 tags are like a page’s main heading or title or the main subject.
- H2 tag: Subheading of the page: This allows you to break up content into smaller sections.
- H3 tag: Subheading of the H2 section: You can use this to break down content into even smaller sections further.
If you can, avoid using H4, H5, and H6 tags, as they don’t carry much weight in terms of SEO.
Checklist #16: Optimize Your .HTACCESS file
Apache servers have a .htaccess file, while Nginx and IIS don’t.
A .htaccess file helps you control how your web server responds to requests from visitors.
It can enable compression, redirects, caching, and more.
It’s also a great way to secure your website and help protect it from malicious attacks or misuse.
The good thing with WordPress is that it comes with a basic .htaccess file.
But, if you want to optimize your site for performance and security, you need to customize it per your needs.
You can customize it for GZIP comprehension, Cache-Control, Expiry Dates, 301 redirects, and more.
You’ll need some technical knowledge to do this, but it’s worth the effort if you want your WordPress SEO optimized for performance and security.
We recommend consulting an experienced developer before making any changes to your .htaccess file.