What exactly is technical SEO, and how can you explain it to your client? Our own search scientist Russ Jones defines it as “any sufficiently technical action undertaken with the intent to improve search results.” These are actions like optimizing site speed, including descriptive meta titles and descriptions, and ensuring you have the proper redirects in place.

Many times, technical SEO to-do lists come from a comprehensive audit that identifies all of the components of site optimization for crawling and indexing that need to be fixed. These can be one-time fixes that don’t need to be updated regularly or areas that need to be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that best practices have continued to be implemented.

Describing technical issues to clients can be a challenge for obvious reasons. Instead of using SEO and developer jargon, focus on explaining the effect of something you’re doing. For example, a 301 redirect is a way for search engines and users to permanently find a page’s new home, making it easier to find. Try to convey the importance of technical SEO attributes in a way clients will understand to keep them engaged and eager about the improvements you’re making on their site.

Back-end factors and site health issues

A client may rush to judgment if they see a sudden drop in organic search visibility, blaming Google for not giving them proper placement in search results or, heaven forbid, even you, the SEO. But many clients fail to realize that their technical site health is behind many issues with sites ranking (or not).

Common culprits are things like improper no-index instructions in the robot.txt file or incorrect redirects that cause errors and site load timeouts. These areas should be monitored using an SEO analytics dashboard and addressed with each regular report.

If errors can be fixed before the report is sent out, this can boost your client’s trust: they’ll know your agency is addressing issues as they arise. Fixing errors as they come up and then reviewing them with the client after the fact (if they don’t need to know at the time) makes reviewing reports less stressful and more about how proactive you are at optimizing the client’s sites.

A few other site health issues to include in your reports are:

  • Metadata optimization
  • HTTP status codes (4xx, 5xx, redirects, etc.)
  • Schema optimization
  • Minifying images, JavaScript, and CSS as needed
  • Removing or adding plugins to optimize site performance (and why)
  • HREFLANG implementation or issues
  • Other best-practice areas, such as proper canonicalization, disavow requests, and internal linking additions

For many sites (especially those with large amounts of traffic or a significant number of pages), this type of reporting and technical SEO work is par for the course for ongoing SEO maintenance. The search industry is always changing. As long as Google and other search engines roll out new algorithm changes or best practices announcements, SEOs must work to roll that into their clients’ technical SEO efforts.

Current and expected impact

Within your overview of work done, reports should include the current and expected impact of changes. This sets client expectations and helps them understand how ongoing technical SEO can help their website visibility and traffic continue to grow.

Next steps: Prioritization and progress

For issues called out in the report that haven’t been fixed yet, a timeline of expected progress by prioritization should be included. This includes flagging areas that need to be addressed immediately, as well as an explanation as to why urgency should be placed on some items and not others. Clients also appreciate it when you provide supplementary resources to explain issues in more detail, allowing them to research the potential impact elements and decisions may have on their site.

Most clients leave it up to their SEO to determine priority when it comes to technical issues. For the most part, deciding what’s most important comes down to what will have the most short- and long-term impact on a site. This should be weighed against what will also have the most potential upside. Here’s an example: if a site has too many plugins (but it doesn’t greatly affect site speed) but they also don’t have the proper redirects in place for deleted or moved pages, it may be more important to fix redirects first, as those can affect how users and search engine crawlers access pages on the site. Proper site navigation has a trickle-down effect for search visibility and user experience in time on site.

Priorities should also be set according to client goals and their unique site. E-commerce sites may have different issues and priorities than a news publication site. Many technical SEO elements are important to sites regardless of vertical, but when it comes to getting more granular with things that need to be addressed, deciding prioritization can be a little more nuanced.

Addressing the priority of technical SEO issues also has the opportunity to identify when to pull in the web development team and what actions are necessary for resolution. Set concrete deadlines when working with outside teams so it doesn’t languish in limbo. Developers have a better understanding of SEO when it’s explained why the issues are so important and how they have greater implications for the rest of the site.

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant I: Urgent & ImportantQuadrant II: Not Urgent & Important
Not ImportantQuadrant III: Urgent & Not ImportantQuadrant IV: Not Urgent & Not Important

It might be helpful to use a prioritization and time management grid like the above, developed by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Focused on technical site health issues, your grid might look something like this:

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantPrimary page issues, high-volume issuesNon-primary page issues, mid-volume issues
Not ImportantOptimizing for vanity keywordsVideo sitemaps, meta keywords tag

Because developers, client leadership, and SEOs must all work together to fix technical SEO issues, it’s important to include education in your reports that explain the urgency of issues and their long-term effects if nothing is done. When possible, include case studies or actual examples of how the issue has affected the client site or a similar site. This helps validate the importance of issues as set by the SEO team.