If you happen to mention 301 redirects or robots.txt in my presence, watch out. Our art director, Aaron, and I crack jokes about how we pronounce the Google Analytics _gaq.push()method in our heads. (Is it gack push? Or gag push?) Sometimes I get overly excited when asking our developer questions about page speed. (The questions are usually more along the lines of what does this mean.) To say I enjoy learning about technical SEO is an understatement, but sometimes it’s tiresome watching the same mistakes continually appear. The real fun is educating clients and sharing why these things are so important.

Here are a few common technical SEO mistakes or areas I frequently call attention to during a technical SEO audit:

Page speed

If you’ve read In the Plex, you know page speed is important to Google. And if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? It might not be a major ranking factor, but it has a direct impact on SEO, user experience and even social media. I often utilize PageSpeed Insights and even YSlow to analyze a site’s performance. Both leverage some interesting insights and provide suggestions on how to improve a site. My only bone to pick with them is that there’s no way to export its suggestions into a PDF. For all you plugin crazy WordPress users, try running Plugin Performance Profiler. Yes, I realize I’m suggesting a plugin to detect whether you have too many plugins. But it really helps pinpoint the bandwidth hogs so you can delete them. Just don’t forget to forget to disable the plugin when you’re done with it! In addition, I like to check up on clients’ page speeds using a handy site performance dashboard in Google Analytics. The dashboard allows me to see average load time, average server response time, visitor caching information, redirect time by country all at a glance.

Redirects

If I could create a neon sign for one thing, this would be it. So many people do this wrong! There are only two types of redirects you need to worry about – 301s and 302s. A 301 redirect should be used when you know the redirect is permanent – as in never going back. I always think of a scene from a movie I used to watch as a kid called All Dogs Go to Heaven. Weird, I know. But the end one scene rings as a loud reminder for 302 redirects: “You can never come back.” A 302 redirect should only be used used when you know the move is temporary – either the page is temporarily unavailable or you’re running a test. 302s are used when you don’t want to damage your rankings or history.

Redirect Path has turned into a must-have Chrome extension for me. Not only does it flag redirects and other errors, but it also allows you to view a chain of redirects. (Thanks to our SEM analyst, Kris, for sharing this with me!) According to Matt Cutts, after 4 or 5 redirects Googlebot is less likely to follow those redirects to the final destination. Five redirects is just plain excessive. Think about how disruptive it could be for the user. Instead, limit redirects to one or two.

And don’t redirect all your old pages to the new home page. It offers a bad user experience. Google recommends completing a one-to-one page redirect. If there’s no match between pages on your old site and your new site, Google recommends a redirect to a new page with similar content. Sure, it can be more time intensive, but it offers a better user experience. If you’re expecting to visit a page about electric ovens, would you really want to be directed to a general homepage? Or would you rather land on another similar page about electric ovens?

Duplicate content

You know those URLs with wonky parameters, paginations and sessions IDs (think search= or pag=) featuring the same content? Yeah. That’s bad. It’s even worse now after a more recent algorithm update. Whether it’s due to a weird content management system or not, the bottom line is it needs to be removed. Depending on the site’s complexity you can use either a 301, canonical tag or noindex. Screaming Frog SEO Spider is the best tool out there in my opinion to help seek and destroy all duplicate content. Plus, there are numerous other uses for this tool, a few of which are outlined in a great blog post by Distilled.

Flash vs. Javascript & HTML5

People are slowly beginning to realize they need to stay far away from Flash. In wake of HTML5 and JavaScript, both provide an even greater opportunity to create a more lightweight, interactive and robust user experience. The HTML5 introduction of microdata allows websites to structure their data into schemas and make it easier for search engines to display. While no browsers fully support HTML5, all major browsers (Chrome, Safari, Opera, Firefox and Internet Explorer) are continually adding new features.

Knowing flaws in technical SEO exist and doing something about them are two very different things. It’s sort of like telling someone their shoelaces are untied, but they ignore you and keep walking. Eventually, they’re going to trip and fall. Actually using the solutions to make the changes is what matters, which is where we come in and help our clients. There are countless elements factoring in to your technical SEO. Often too many to keep track of. Visibility in the search results boils down to creating solid technical foundation for your website. So, having the capability to know all the factors and successfully make the changes is increasingly important.

What tools do you use to check up on your site’s technical SEO? What are other areas of technical SEO you like to inspect?