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4 Audit Tools for Technical SEO Problems You Won’t See

Throughout the history of SEO, people have discussed the pros and cons of relying on technical SEO tools. Relying on hints from audit tools is not th

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Throughout the history of SEO, people have discussed the pros and cons of relying on technical SEO tools. Relying on hints from audit tools is not the same as a real SEO strategy, but we wouldn’t be anywhere without it. It is not possible to manually check dozens of pages per page.

In favor of the search engine optimization (SEO) industry, many new audit tools have been created in the past decade, and a few of them stand strong as industry leaders. These few technical audit tools have done us a great service by continuing to improve their capabilities, helping us better serve our clients, our principals and other stakeholders.

However, even the best audit tools cannot find four important technical SEO issues that can harm your SEO efforts:

  1. Canonical for loop redirection
  2. hacked pages
  3. Define JS bindings
  4. Content hidden by JS

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Some of these problems can be detected by tools, but they are not common enough to appear on their desks. It would be impossible for the tools to detect other issues.

As with many cases in SEO, some issues may affect sites differently, and it all depends on the context. This is why most tools do not feature these in summary reports.

Before we delve into the specific issues, there are two specific requirements to help us find these issues.

Your favorite web crawler

While most tools won’t detect these issues by default, in most cases we can make some tweaks to help us detect them at scale.

Some of the tools you can use include:

  • frog screaming
  • Location
  • OnCrawl
  • deep crawl

The most important thing we need from these tools is the ability to:

  • Crawl the entire website, sitemaps and URL list
  • Ability to have custom search/extraction features

Google Search Console

This should be taken for granted, but if you don’t have access, make sure you have Google Search Console access for your technical SEO audits. You will need to be able to make use of some historical reports to help us detect potential issues.

Problem 1: Canonical loop redirection

The redirect core loop is when a web page contains a canonical tag pointing to a different URL which then redirects to the first URL.

This might be a rare issue, but it’s one I’ve seen that causes serious damage to a large brand’s traffic.

Why is this important

Canonical provides Google’s preferred URL for indexing and classification. When Google detects a canonical URL that is different from the current page, it may start crawling the current page less frequently.

This means that Google will start crawling the web page that the 301 redirects to repeatedly, sending some kind of loop signal to Googlebot.

While Google allows you to make the redirected page the canonical page, turning it back to the previous page is a confusing sign.

I’ve seen this happen to some of the big brands. Someone recently came to me asking to investigate why one of their homepages wasn’t driving the traffic they were hoping for. They invested a lot of money in SEO and had a well optimized page. But that problem was the sore thumb that stuck out.

How to spot canonical redirect loops

Although this issue will not appear in any default summary reports in standard auditing tools, it is very easy to find.

  • Run a standard crawl with your favorite technical SEO audit tool. Make sure to crawl sitemaps in addition to standard spider crawling.
  • Go to your base report and export all canonical URLs. Not the URLs the tool has crawled, but the URL in the canonical tag.
  • Run a new crawl with this list of URLs and look at the response codes report with this list of canonical addresses. All response codes should display a status response code of 200.

Problem 2: Hacked Pages

Websites hacked for profit is not a new topic. Most of the experienced SEOs have come across websites that have been hacked in some way, and the hackers have carried out malicious activities to either cause harm or make a profit for another website.

Some of the common SEO hacking happenings on websites include:

  • Site search manipulation: This happens when the search pages on a website are indexable. Then a malicious person sends a large number of backlinks to the search results page with irrelevant searches. This is common with search terms for gambling and medicine.
  • 301 redirect handling: This happens when someone is able to access the site, create and index pages related to their business. Then they 301 redirected them to their websites.
  • Removals from the site: This is the most obvious attack when a hacker tampers with your code to make your website unusable or at least not indexable.

There are dozens of types of site hacks that can affect your SEO, but what is important is maintaining proper site security and making daily backups of your website.

Why is this important

The most important reason why hacking can harm your website is that if Google detects that your website may contain malware or is doing social engineering, you may receive a manual action.

How to detect hacked pages

Fortunately, there are many tools to not only mitigate hacking threats and attempts but also tools to detect if your website has been hacked.

However, most of these tools only scan for malware. Many hackers are good at covering their tracks, but there are ways to find out if a website has been hacked in the past for financial gain.

Use Google Search Console

  • Check the manual actions report. This will tell you if there are any current penalties against the site.
  • Check the performance report. Look for any significant performance spikes. This can indicate when a change has occurred. the most important, Check URL List in the performance report. Hacked URLs can still be visible! Many of them have unrelated topics or maybe write in a different language.
  • Check the coverage report. Look for any major changes in each subreport here.

Check website login accounts

  • Take a look at all users to find any unusual accounts.
  • If your website has an activity history, check recent activity.
  • Make sure two-factor authentication (2FA) is enabled on all accounts.

Use online scanning tools

Many tools will scan your website for malware, but this may not tell you if your website has been hacked in the past. A more comprehensive option might be to have a look at https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and check all the website admin email addresses.

This site will tell you if these emails have been subject to data breaches. Lots of people use the same passwords for everything. It is common for large organizations to use weak passwords, and your website may be vulnerable.

Google has been well advised that it does not track or crawl internal links generated by JavaScript.

For now, we think our SEO audit tools should be better at detecting internal links generated by JavaScript. Historically, we’ve had to rely on manually detecting JS links by clicking on websites or looking at link depths in reports.

Why is this important

Googlebot does not crawl JavaScript links on web pages.

While most SEO audit tools can’t detect JavaScript links by default, we can do some minor configuration to help us. The most popular technical SEO audit tools can provide us with customized search tools.

Unfortunately browsers don’t display the original code in the DOM, so we can’t search for “onclick” or anything simple like that. But there are some common types of codes that we can look for. Just be sure to manually check that these are indeed JS links.

  • Most developers use the button tag to trigger JS events. Don’t assume all buttons are JS bindings, but defining them may help narrow down the issue.
  • data source: This pulls a file to use the code to perform an action. It is commonly used inside a JS linker and can help narrow down issues.
  • .js: Much like the data source attribute, it pulls some HTML tags into an external javascript file to find directions to perform an action.

Problem 4: Content hidden by JavaScript

This is one of the most unfortunate problems that websites fall victim to. They have a lot of great content to share, but they want to combine it to display only when the user interacts with it.

In general, it’s best to pair good content with a good user experience, but not if SEO is suffering. There is usually a workaround for issues like this.

Why is this important

Google doesn’t actually click anything on web pages. So if the content is hidden behind user action and not in the DOM, Google will not detect it.

How to find hidden content with JavaScript

This may be more complex and require more manual review. You need to manually check all problems found, like any technical audit generated from a tool. The tips below must be checked manually.

To check, all you have to do is check the DOM on the webpage and see if you can find any hidden content.

To find hidden content at scale:

  • Run a new crawl with a custom search: Use the techniques I discussed in finding JS bindings.
  • Check Word Count Wide: Search all pages with low word count. Check if it’s checked out or if the webpage looks like it should have more words.

Through experience, we learn to use tools as they are: tools.

Tools are not meant to drive our strategy but instead are meant to help us find problems at scale.

When you discover more uncommon issues like these, add them to your checklist and look for them in future audits.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of the search engine. Staff authors are listed here.

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About the author

John McAlpin leads SEO strategy for Cardinal Digital Marketing, an Atlanta-based search engine optimization agency focused on serving enterprise health care businesses throughout the United States. Currently based in Dallas, John is deeply involved in both the local and national SEO community and has a solid background in technical SEO, web development, and digital marketing strategy. John also provides freelance web development services for sites hosted on WordPress.


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