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WordPress SEO Without an SEO Plugin

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WordPress SEO Without an SEO Plugin

I optimize some of my WordPress sites without an SEO plugin because often, they simply have more features than I need for certain projects.

In this column, you’ll learn how to do WordPress SEO without an SEO plugin.

This is not intended to persuade you to not use one, but to show you how to take full control of your SEO without a plugin if you so choose.

SEO Plugins Are Useful

SEO plugins are recommended solutions for publishers who cannot code PHP, who are lost with HTACCESS files, and for those to whom robots.txt files are a mystery.

The technical side of SEO has a relatively high bar in terms of coding. SEO plugins democratize web publishing.

A major complaint about SEO plugins is how bloated with unnecessary features they are. But this isn’t the case across the board.

There are SEO Plugins that are lean and fast as well as modular, so you can choose which SEO features you need.

An example of this kind of SEO plugin is The SEO Framework. It’s an excellent choice for those who want more control over their SEO but prefer to pick and choose the features they need.

SEO plugins are the safe choice for publishers who are risk-averse and don’t want to experiment with alternatives. A lot is at stake, so the best choice is often the most trusted solution.

Why I Don’t Use SEO Plugins

This year, because of the headaches caused by an SEO plugin bug, I launched a site without any SEO plugins. I was happy with my results and transitioned other sites away from SEO plugins.

I moved away from a single SEO plugin simply because it seemed I could control a website’s SEO better.

It was a round trip journey back to where I had started with WordPress — optimizing WordPress without a dedicated SEO plugin.

Reasons I Do Not Use an SEO Plugin

There are four reasons why I don’t use an SEO plugin:

  1. Features that duplicate what’s already in WordPress or in a theme.
  2. Unnecessary features that solve presumed problems.
  3. The complexity of SEO plugins can introduce numerous bugs and conflicts with other plugins.
  4. Greater control over SEO.

Reasons Why I Prefer Standalone Solutions

  1. Easier to code a solution that handles one problem.
  2. Some SEO features don’t need a plugin.
  3. Standalone solutions are easier to maintain.
  4. Leaner WordPress installation without unnecessary features.

SEO Features You Need for WordPress

WordPress has a fairly robust core nowadays. Things like canonicals are done automatically.

Many WordPress themes contain SEO features like schema markup, breadcrumb navigation, Open Graph meta data, and so on.

While your exact needs will vary according to the template you use, here are a few things to look for.

Necessary WordPress SEO Features

  • Breadcrumbs with Schema.org Structured Data.
  • Meta descriptions.
  • Open Graph meta data.
  • Removal of category base.
  • Schema metadata.
  • A way to easily add the nofollow attribute to selected links.

WordPress Plugins for SEO

Optional WordPress SEO Features

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs is a useful feature.

Adding Schema structured data to it will get you enhanced listings if you rank in the SERPs. And the enhanced listings may help the click-through rate.

It’s possible to code breadcrumb navigation without a plugin. The code is supposed to go into your website’s “child” functions.php file.

Most tutorials say to add it to your theme’s function.php file but you’ll lose your breadcrumbs if the theme is updated and the functions.php file is part of that update.

Getting breadcrumbs right can also become complicated because you still need to associate schema markup with the breadcrumbs. So that’s even more coding.

It can be done but at this point, it might be easier to offload the responsibility of making sure it works to a plugin.

I have found that using BreadCrumbs NavXT WordPress Plugin is an adequate solution. It handles the breadcrumbs and the schema data.

The NavXT plugin was the subject of a medium-level vulnerability but it was quickly patched. This was unusual for this plugin and unlike more serious events associated with dedicated SEO plugins, it did not cause problems for users.

Meta Description

I have found Easy WP Meta Description an adequate solution for meta descriptions. Meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor but they do show in the SERPs if you rank.

Google will rewrite your meta description if a phrase from your web page is a better match. With that said, Google does a fine job of providing a relevant snippet from your page.

So it’s up to you. You can add your own meta description or let Google tell the user why your site is relevant to the query.

Title Tag

I craft an article title that is adequate to use as a title tag. If it’s good enough to serve as the title of the article, it should be good enough as the title of the web page. There are workarounds for coding this into the theme as well as plugins but I think those are superfluous.

Open Graph Meta Data

Strictly speaking, this isn’t an SEO feature but could influence how much traffic goes to your site. It allows you to specify an image and wording to show when your URL is shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Open Graph Meta Data plugin helps you present a professional appearance that will appeal to potential site visitors.

Remove Category Base from WordPress

The word “category” isn’t necessary for your URL structure. Shortening your URL to the domain name, the actual name of the category, and the page name is a best practice.

A shorter URL is easier to remember, less likely to be mistyped, and can tell users and search engines what the page is about using the least amount of words. Read more about the Remove Category Base plugin here.

WordPress Plugin for Schema Structured Data

The Schema WordPress plugin will integrate most Schema structured data you’ll need, including reviews and article schema.

Schema markup can be coded by hand, as well. For example, you can take the JSON-LD script for reviews and paste it into the bottom of your review directly into the WordPress editor while in Text Mode.

Then, manually adjust the descriptive fields for rating, product name, etc.

JSON-LD review template with author:

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "http://schema.org/", "@type": "Review", "itemReviewed": { "@type": "Thing", "name": "NAME OF PRODUCT" }, "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "NAME OF REVIEWER" }, "reviewRating": { "@type": "Rating", "ratingValue": "ENTER THE RATING EXPRESSED AS A NUMBER", "bestRating": "ENTER A NUMBER THAT REPRESENTS WHAT THE TOP SCORE IS, LIKE 5 OR 10" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "NAME OF YOUR PUBLICATION" } } </script>

Pretty much every element of structured data can be handcrafted and manually or even automatically inserted on a post-by-post basis, or by editing your template directly.

You don’t have to use a plugin. But the plugin is clearly the best way to scale this process and have it up to date no matter how often WordPress updates.

Ultimate Nofollow Plugin

The Ultimate Nofollow plugin adds the option to make a specific URL nofollow at the moment you are creating that URL. There are additional options for sitewide nofollows, should you need those. But I don’t use them.

Optional SEO Features for WordPress

Attachment Pages Redirect

If you have inadvertently created web pages for every image attachment in your WordPress site, this plugin will easily solve your problem.

The Attachment Pages Redirect plugin will restore your individual attachments to their correct behavior. Just install and activate it and that’s it, your problem is solved.

The Attachment Pages Redirect plugin needs no setting up. Just activate it and forget it. Fixing rogue attachment pages couldn’t be easier.

Just make sure to use the correct setting for redirecting attachments to the post when uploading media in the future.

Redirect manager

This is a useful plugin if you feel uncomfortable editing htaccess files to create redirects. Use this if you have a legitimate reason to redirect an old page to a new page.

404 Responses Are Not Unhealthy

Don’t use a redirect manager to redirect a deleted page to the home page.

Some SEO plugins try to scare you into believing that 404 error codes affect the “health” of your site. But that is incorrect. 404 response codes are not inherently harmful to the “health” of your site.

  • Some 404 responses are due to spammers linking to your site with a partial URL. That’s normal and nothing to worry about. The 404 response is the perfect response.
  • Some 404 responses are due to an internal linking error by the publisher. That’s your error (you mistyped the URL). That’s something to fix by updating the URL to the correct URL.

The truth about 404 response codes is that they are perfectly natural and do not make your website less healthy.

Google’s John Mueller states that 404 response codes are not something that needs fixing. He also states that 404 response codes are natural:

“There’s no need to “fix” crawl errors on your website. Finding 404’s is normal and expected of a healthy, well-configured website.

If you have an equivalent new URL, then redirecting to it is a good practice. Otherwise, you should not create fake content, you should not redirect to your homepage, you shouldn’t robots.txt disallow those URLs — all of these things make it harder for us to recognize your site’s structure and process it properly. We call these “soft 404” errors.”

WordPress SEO Without an SEO Plugin

Here is more information from Google about 404 response codes.

XML Site Map

Google uses site feeds to crawl a website. If you add a page, Google can find your feed and discover it in that manner.

That’s why I list XML site map as an optional solution. Here’s what Google’s developer page says:

“Use Pubsubhubbub if you use Atom/RSS for your sitemap and want to broadcast your changes to other search engines in addition to Google.”

Google can also discover the web page through the normal process of crawling from link to link.

Another option is that you can choose to submit the URL individually or through a site map; see complete instructions from Google here.

If your site is not updated often, you can crawl it with an app like Xenu Link Sleuth and choose the option to create an XML site map. Then you just upload it to your server. No web hosting resources are needed to generate the map other than allowing Link Sleuth to crawl your website.

Or, you can use a plugin like the Google XML Sitemap Generator plugin.

Redundant SEO Plugin Features

You may find features included in SEO plugins that are redundant or not necessary.

Canonical URLs

Canonical URLs are built into WordPress. You don’t need an SEO plugin to handle this.

Robots.txt and htaccess File Editors

If you have a text editor or an HTML editor, then you have all you need for editing a robots.txt file or updating an htaccess file. Additionally, you should only mess with those files if you know what you’re doing.

If you are skilled enough to edit these, then you don’t need a WordPress plugin to handle this. Just open your text file and an FTP app like a normal person, right?

404 Status Code Redirection

SEO plugins provide this under the mistaken belief that 404 status codes are harmful. As noted above by Google’s John Mueller, 404 response codes are fine. Just fix the ones that are due to actual errors, like a typo in the URL.

Sitemap Generators

As noted above, a site map is not strictly necessary because Google crawls URLs via RSS feeds and links.

However, a site map is useful if you have made major changes and want Google to discover them as fast as possible. In this case, a manually generated site map is useful, as you don’t have to install a plugin to generate it.

You can still install a site map generator plugin and that makes far more sense to do than installing a huge SEO plugin to do this one single task.

Keyword Research and Word Processing

WordPress and your server resources might not be the best platform for conducting keyword and word processing functions. If you want a real-world app for checking your content, use a real software program like the Hemingway App. If you want to do web page analysis use a real app that generates a word cloud.

All of these kinds of functions are limited on an SEO plugin anyway. A standalone app will do a better job.

Why Use Six Plugins Instead of One?

An all-in-one SEO plugin might be just a single plugin, but it’s still behaving as if it’s ten or more plugins.

Count the features on your SEO plugin and count each one as a single plugin. You’ll be surprised that you could be larding up your WordPress site with the features of twelve plugins – features that you may not need.

So the question shouldn’t be about whether you need six plugins versus one. The question should be how many features do you need?

For me, the clear answer is a lot fewer features that are offered by all-in-one WordPress SEO plugin solutions.

All in One is Not the Same as All You Need

As you can see, SEO plugins are useful for users who have little to no skill with coding or WordPress. SEO plugins accomplish an important task for users who don’t have the skills to choose what solutions they need.

A dedicated SEO plugin is a good choice for a large organization that wants to play it safe and not have to deal with individual plugins or handcrafted solutions.

However, for those with more skill or who aren’t constrained by bureaucratic constraints, SEO plugins can be overkill.

People are installing SEO plugins by default, essentially sleepwalking through their WordPress SEO.

This article shows that you don’t need everything a dedicated SEO plugin offers.

There are alternatives to installing an SEO plugin with features you don’t really need. An all-in-one solution may not be what you need.WordPress SEO Without an SEO Plugin

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Google Reveals Two New Web Crawlers

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Google Reveals Two New Web Crawlers

Google revealed details of two new crawlers that are optimized for scraping image and video content for “research and development” purposes. Although the documentation doesn’t explicitly say so, it’s presumed that there is no impact in ranking should publishers decide to block the new crawlers.

It should be noted that the data scraped by these crawlers are not explicitly for AI training data, that’s what the Google-Extended crawler is for.

GoogleOther Crawlers

The two new crawlers are versions of Google’s GoogleOther crawler that was launched in April 2023. The original GoogleOther crawler was also designated for use by Google product teams for research and development in what is described as one-off crawls, the description of which offers clues about what the new GoogleOther variants will be used for.

The purpose of the original GoogleOther crawler is officially described as:

“GoogleOther is the generic crawler that may be used by various product teams for fetching publicly accessible content from sites. For example, it may be used for one-off crawls for internal research and development.”

Two GoogleOther Variants

There are two new GoogleOther crawlers:

  • GoogleOther-Image
  • GoogleOther-Video

The new variants are for crawling binary data, which is data that’s not text. HTML data is generally referred to as text files, ASCII or Unicode files. If it can be viewed in a text file then it’s a text file/ASCII/Unicode file. Binary files are files that can’t be open in a text viewer app, files like image, audio, and video.

The new GoogleOther variants are for image and video content. Google lists user agent tokens for both of the new crawlers which can be used in a robots.txt for blocking the new crawlers.

1. GoogleOther-Image

User agent tokens:

  • GoogleOther-Image
  • GoogleOther

Full user agent string:

GoogleOther-Image/1.0

2. GoogleOther-Video

User agent tokens:

  • GoogleOther-Video
  • GoogleOther

Full user agent string:

GoogleOther-Video/1.0

Newly Updated GoogleOther User Agent Strings

Google also updated the GoogleOther user agent strings for the regular GoogleOther crawler. For blocking purposes you can continue using the same user agent token as before (GoogleOther). The new Users Agent Strings are just the data sent to servers to identify the full description of the crawlers, in particular the technology used. In this case the technology used is Chrome, with the model number periodically updated to reflect which version is used (W.X.Y.Z is a Chrome version number placeholder in the example listed below)

The full list of GoogleOther user agent strings:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/W.X.Y.Z Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; GoogleOther)
  • Mozilla/5.0 AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko; compatible; GoogleOther) Chrome/W.X.Y.Z Safari/537.36

GoogleOther Family Of Bots

These new bots may from time to time show up in your server logs and this information will help in identifying them as genuine Google crawlers and will help publishers who may want to opt out of having their images and videos scraped for research and development purposes.

Read the updated Google crawler documentation

GoogleOther-Image

GoogleOther-Video

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ColorMaker

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ChatGPT To Surface Reddit Content Via Partnership With OpenAI

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ChatGPT artificial intelligence chatbot app on smartphone screen with large shadow giving the feeling of floating on top of the background. White background.

Reddit partners with OpenAI to integrate content into ChatGPT.

  • Reddit and OpenAI announce a partnership.
  • Reddit content will be used in ChatGPT.
  • Concerns about accuracy of Reddit user-generated content.

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All You Need to Know

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All You Need to Know

SEO tracking involves regularly checking a set of metrics to evaluate a website’s performance in search engine results. Some of the most widely adopted metrics include keyword rankings, organic traffic, conversions, and referring domain growth.

Tracking the right metrics is crucial for SEO (search engine optimization) success. You need them to analyze your SEO performance, report to stakeholders, and take the right kind of action to improve your site’s visibility (such as improving content or building more backlinks).

Besides keeping an eye on your own website’s key metrics, it’s also smart to check out how your competitors are doing on the same metrics as you. If you notice they’re getting good results, you can figure out what tactics they’re using and consider using them too.

You can track SEO for your site to a fair degree using free tools like Google Search Console or Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. If you want deeper insights, better data, and the ability to analyze your competitors’ websites, you’ll need a tool like Ahrefs.

This guide is aimed at getting you started with tracking your SEO progress the right way. We’ll cover:

  • What metrics are worth tracking in SEO.
  • How to set up the tools to get the data you need.
  • How to track your competitors.
  • How to go a step further and build an SEO report.

While there are numerous metrics and KPIs you could track, it’s not necessary to monitor all of them continuously. You really just need these seven key metrics to effectively gauge whether your SEO efforts are working.

1. Keyword rankings

Keyword ranking refers to where your page shows up on the search engine results page (SERP) for a specific keyword. It’s like a spot on a list, and you want your page to be as high up on that list as possible — the higher the spot, the more visitors you can attract.

A typical relationship between position and traffic. Traffic drops dramatically with every position in the SERPs.

It’s important to keep an eye on where your keywords are ranking because if they drop lower on the list, your website might get fewer visitors. But you don’t have to watch the rankings for every single keyword, just the main ones that matter most for your key pages.

Also, if you notice your rankings are climbing higher, that’s a good sign. It means that your SEO efforts are paying off.

How to track keyword rankings

To track your keyword rankings, it’s best to use a rank tracker tool like Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker; a tool that allows you to create a list of keywords and automatically monitor their positions in the SERPs for different locations, both for mobile and desktop.

Rank Tracker will suggest keywords for tracking when you set up a new project. Just make sure you’re tracking them in the locations you want to rank (that is, countries where you can serve clients and languages in which you create content).

Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs.Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs.

No need to add each and every keyword from that list. Just add the ones that are important to you and you’ll likely want to track and improve. Typically, you’ll want to track target keywords — the main topic of the page and the main keyword you optimize for.

Once added, you can see your keywords in Rank Tracker’s Overview report.

Overview of tracked keywords in Ahrefs.Overview of tracked keywords in Ahrefs.

Another way to start tracking keywords is to hit Add keywords in the top right corner — best for adding single keywords or importing a list from a document.

Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.

And once data starts rolling in, you will be able to see your ranking progress in time. In the screenshot below, the Ranking history report with a quick insight into recent ranking history and a full ranking history graph.

Ranking history in Ahrefs.Ranking history in Ahrefs.

Why do you need an SEO tool in the first place?

Google’s search results are personalized based on things like your location, browsing history, language, and device.

So when you check the SERPs manually, you might see results that are tailored specifically to you, which might not reflect the more general or widespread rankings.

2. Share of voice

Share of voice (SOV) is a measure of how many clicks your website gets from search engines compared to the total number of clicks available for the keywords you’re tracking.

The higher your rankings, the higher your Share of Voice, and the larger your slice of the market pie.

SOV is a one-of-a-kind metric because of two things:

  • It considers your performance in context to your competitors, giving you a more accurate picture of where you stand in your industry.
  • It doesn’t take into account the search volume of keywords with all of their fluctuations. If you see that your traffic has gone down but your Share of Voice (SOV) remains high, it suggests that the lower traffic is because the keywords you’re targeting have become less popular overall, rather than a decrease in the effectiveness of your SEO strategies.

How to track share of voice

The share of voice metric is another reason to get a rank tracking tool. If the feature is supported, these kinds of tools calculate the metric automatically, so there’s no need to keep a spreadsheet with manually tracked numbers.

In Ahrefs’s Rank Tracker, you’ll find SOV under the Competitors tab.

SOV metric in Ahrefs. SOV metric in Ahrefs.

SOV is calculated by taking all of the tracked keywords into account, yet some of your keywords might be more important than others. If that’s the case, you can track SOV only for a certain topic, SEO campaigns, specific authors, etc. Just select a set of keywords and assign a tag for them.

Adding tags in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding tags in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.

Then, simply select that tag in the Competitors report.

Competitors overview in Rank Tracker. Competitors overview in Rank Tracker.

3. Organic traffic

Organic traffic is basically the number of clicks that come to your website from people finding it through Google. If your website shows up higher on the SERPs, usually more people will click on it and visit your site.

Keeping track of how many visitors come to your site from search engines helps you understand if what you’re doing with SEO is actually working. If you see more visitors over time, your SEO efforts are paying off.

Organic traffic is the pinnacle of SEO, but it’s also important to understand which keywords drive that traffic. So although it’s arguably the most important metric, it’s never a good idea to track this metric alone.

How to track organic traffic

There are basically two ways to track organic traffic: through Google Search Console (and integrations) and through SEO tools.

In terms of raw organic traffic from Google Search, the most accurate data will likely come from their Search Console (for Bing, that would be Webmaster Tools). You can view this data right inside the tool or integrate it with analytics tools like Google Analytics, Hubspot, and Ahrefs for more convenience.

Performance report in GSC.Performance report in GSC.
GSC integration in Ahrefs. GSC integration in Ahrefs.
The cool thing about using Ahrefs for your GSC data is using weekly and monthly data to see spot trends easier.

Raw traffic data is useful for getting a quick snapshot of your current performance, tracking growth trends, and calculating traffic growth for your reports.

But to dive a bit deeper into your organic traffic data, you might want to use a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer because it makes it easier to analyze performance. Here are a few ways you can use the Overview and Top pages report in that tool.

Overlay competitor data on top for a quick performance analysis.

Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.
Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.

Overlay organic pages to see how adding new content correlates with traffic.

Clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic. Clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic.
In this example, we see a clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic (a sign of effective SEO).

See performance in a year-over-year comparison to gauge the impact of long-term projects.

In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.
In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.

Use daily traffic chart to pinpoint the exact day when a traffic increase or decline happened (for instance, due to a Google core update).

Organic traffic affected by Google core update. Organic traffic affected by Google core update.

Identify pages that account for the biggest traffic losses and improve them. You’ll find this in the Top pages report inside Site Explorer.

Top pages report in Ahrefs.Top pages report in Ahrefs.

4. Conversions

Conversions measure how effectively your content translates into tangible results, like profits, content downloads, free trial sign-ups, or any other user action valuable to your business that indicates you’re dealing with a potential customer.

Conversions from organic visits to paid customers are typically hard to measure since this comes down to measuring the ROI of content, which is complicated in itself. However, when we asked marketers about this metric, we found a few interesting ways to solve that problem. For your inspiration, here’s what they measure:

  • Conversion as revenue/signups correlation with traffic. This metric assumes that more website visitors increase your chances of turning them into subscribers or buyers.
  • Conversion growth from bottom-funnel content. Content aimed at users who are on the brink of purchasing can greatly boost sales because it provides that last bit of persuasion they need to complete a purchase.
  • Conversion from first page to paying customer. If the first page a visitor lands on leads to a sale, it’s a clear sign that your content is doing its job effectively.

How to track conversions

Conversions are usually tracked with website analytics tools like Google Analytics 4 (GA 4) or Matomo. They always require a custom setup for each website you want to track, but it’s not an overly complicated process.

For example, in GA4, conversions are called “key events” and are based on tracking user interaction. If a specific event takes place, such as a purchase, a file download, or a form completion, the tool records this as a conversion.

To set up conversion tracking in GA4 you first need to create an event that will be counted as conversion and mark it a key event in the Admin panel of your site (aka property).

Key events control panel in GA4.Key events control panel in GA4.

Then, to see conversion from the organic traffic channel (the channel you’re optimizing with SEO), go to the Advertising panel.

Advertising panel in GA4.Advertising panel in GA4.

Here are a few ideas to use this report:

  • See how many and which key events were driven by organic search in the last month or quarter.
  • See how organic traffic stacks up to other acquisition channels.
  • See the share of organic traffic for events with longer conversion paths (the attribution paths tab).

For more information about how to properly set up GA4 for conversion tracking, see this guide.

5. Referring domain growth

Referring domains are essentially the individual websites that link back to your website. By monitoring these, you get a clear picture of how your link profile is expanding over time.

As your link profile grows with more quality links from diverse domains, it helps to build your site’s authority. This authority is crucial because search engines use it as one of the key factors to determine where your pages should rank in search results.

Essentially, the more authoritative your site becomes, the higher your pages are likely to rank and the harder it becomes for others to outrank you.

How to track referring domain growth

Here’s how to track referring domain growth using Ahrefs.

  • Set up a project (if you haven’t done so yet) and go to your Dashboard.
  • Click on the Backlinks card, which gives you a quick insight into backlinks growth.
  • Click on the card to get more data (if you need it).
Referring domains overview in Ahrefs Site Audit.Referring domains overview in Ahrefs Site Audit.
Referring domains report in Ahrefs Site Audit. Referring domains report in Ahrefs Site Audit.

Aim to build as many or ideally more links from unique domains than your competitors to increase your chances for ranking. Read our link-building guide to learn how:

6. Technical SEO issues

Technical SEO issues, often referred to as SEO health issues, encompass a range of potential hiccups that can hinder Google from effectively finding, crawling, and indexing your website. If Google struggles with any of these steps, your site might not show up correctly — or at all — in search results.

There are eight types of SEO issues you should keep a close eye on because they can impact your ranking the most:

Besides these issues, there are more than 100 other possible issues related to less important technical SEO factors and on-page SEO. I won’t cover all of them here since you can learn what they are and how to fix them right inside Ahrefs.

How to track technical SEO issues (aka SEO health)

Use Ahrefs’ Site Audit (free in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools) to monitor for serious technical issues, marked in the tool as “errors”.

  • Open Site Audit tool inside Ahrefs.
Where to find Site Audit in Ahrefs. Where to find Site Audit in Ahrefs.
  • Click on Errors in the “Issues distribution” card.
Issues distribution in Ahrefs. Issues distribution in Ahrefs.
  • Go to the issue list, then click on the question mark next to the error and follow the instructions.
All issues report in Ahrefs. All issues report in Ahrefs.

To keep your site in good SEO health, schedule regular crawls in Site Audit and fix the most pressing issues.

Note

Before we wrap up this section, here are some other popular metrics and why they haven’t made our list of recommended metrics to track regularly (although they may be useful for other things).

  • Domain Rating (DR). This metric indicates the overall strength of your website’s backlink profile. It’s a handy measure for quickly assessing other websites, particularly for link building purposes. However, it’s not the best metric for ongoing monitoring of your own site since it doesn’t provide specific actionable insights.
  • Click-through Rate (CTR). This measures the percentage of impressions on SERPs that result in clicks, and this data is accessible through Google Search Console. While CTR can be confusing as a metric for the entire site, it proves useful when analyzed at the individual page level.
  • Engagement metrics – Metrics such as bounce rate, engagement rate, dwell time, time on page, and session duration are often discussed in the context of SEO. However, they are either not directly relevant to SEO effectiveness or are unreliable for content analysis.

There are three ways you can track competitors using SEO tools.

  • Track competitors’ rankings for benchmarking.
  • Track multiple metrics for a portfolio of pages.
  • Monitor for noteworthy events: new keywords, backlinks and brand mentions.

Let’s look at them in more detail.

How to track competitors’ keyword rankings

To track your competitors’ rankings, use a rank tracking tool that allows you to automatically monitor their positions on the keywords you target yourself. So whenever you add keywords you want to target in your strategy, the tool will track both your and your competitors’ rank for that keyword.

In Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker all you need to do is set add your competitors’ URLs (you can track entire domains or specific directories). You can do it as soon as setting up your project or add them later on in the Competitors section.

Competitors overview report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Competitors overview report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.

You can use competitor ranking data to:

  • Improve the pages where your competitors outrank you to gain more SOV.
  • Set goals and benchmarks.
  • Compare historical rankings to your performance over time.
  • Quickly see the competitive landscape; see how well you’re doing compared to competitors.
  • See how much more traffic you could gain if you outranked competitors.

How to track multiple metrics for a portfolio of pages

You can also track more than just rankings. Using the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs, you can monitor key metrics such as traffic growth and the increase in referring domains for multiple competitors all at once to analyze their overall SEO performance.

Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. Portfolios feature in Ahrefs.

You can use this feature to monitor specific pages on your competitors’ sites (such as topics on a blog) or combine all your competitors’ sites to see how your entire niche performs in organic search.

To create a portfolio in Ahrefs, go to the Dashboard and click New > Portfolio, then fill in the URLs you want to track.

How to create a new portfolio in Ahrefs.How to create a new portfolio in Ahrefs.

Tip

This feature is especially useful if you’re managing SEO for multiple clients — you can track their entire portfolio as one.

It’s also handy if you have multiple authors on your content team; for example, you can track all articles written by a particular author or keep tabs on all guest and freelance posts.

How to track competitors’ new keywords, backlinks, and web mentions

The final method of tracking your competitors allows you to get email alerts when a competitor:

  • Ranks for a new keyword. Useful for getting content ideas from your competitors’ new content.
  • Rise and fall in keyword rankings. For example, if you see an important keyword suddenly climbing into the top 3, that means your competitor is doing something right, and it’s worth investigating. It’s worth noting that this feature scans, all of the keywords, the site ranks for and not only the ones you track, so it gives you a much wider scope.
  • Gain or lose backlinks. Both situations are potential link building opportunities.
  • Their brand or product is mentioned online. So, when a competitor gets featured in a review, ranking, or digital PR, you can add that site to your list of link building/PR prospects.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.

To set it up:

  1. Go to Ahrefs Alerts (in the More dropdown menu)
  2. Choose the type of Alert you want to set up.
  3. Click New alert or choose from one of the projects and fill out the details. In case of the mentions alerts, see our documentation to take advantage of advanced queries.
How to add a new keywords alert. How to add a new keywords alert.

Tip

You can also set this feature for your own website. Since Ahrefs Alerts monitors all keywords you rank for, you’ll know if any of your keywords suddenly rise or fall in rankings. 

This is especially useful to spot important keywords you haven’t yet added to Rank Tracker.

If you’re doing SEO for someone else, at some point, you will need to put all of those metrics in a report.

In some cases, it may be enough to show the raw data with a few sentences of commentary. This is true in in-house environments when you’re reporting to someone who can interpret the data themselves, especially if you’ve worked with them for a long time.

But if you’re reporting for a client, raw numbers won’t be enough. Additionally, you will need at least these three elements:

  • Executive summary: Summarizes the entire report, focusing on major points and outcomes for quick reading by senior stakeholders.
  • Opportunities for improvement: Identifies potential areas for SEO enhancements.
  • Roadmap: Outlines past achievements and future steps in the SEO strategy.

It’s also important how to report data for your and your stakeholders understanding and convenience. For instance, many clients require a live interactive dashboard with all the data available at all times (similar to these Ahrefs templates for Looker Studio).

Example of an live reporting dashboard with SEO data. Example of an live reporting dashboard with SEO data.

Others prefer a document where everything is laid out in layman’s terms — they appreciate the data but they don’t really want to deal with it.

Excerpt from an SEO reporting template. Excerpt from an SEO reporting template.

We’ve put together some resources, including a template, to help you quickly and efficiently create a solid report:

Final thoughts

A few tips before we wrap this up:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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