Does the phrase “technical SEO” send shivers down your spine? Are robots.txt, HTTPS, 404 errors and canonical tags foreign sounding words to you? If so, this guide will be an asset for you. And don’t worry, technical SEO is not as scary as it seems.
A good SEO strategy looks somewhat like a Venn diagram with a precise blend of on-page optimizations, off-site optimizations and technical optimizations. Content is king and backlinks are key to successful ranking, but if your website is not technically sound, neither of these matter. Technical SEO is the foundation of a good SEO strategy and without it, all of your other efforts could be in vain.
Let's break it down further:
Is your site secure? If not, it needs to be.
Site security is key in 2019. In addition to building trust with site visitors in this age of phishing attacks and hacking, HTTPS is a known ranking factor in Google’s algorithms. It is important that an SSL is installed on your server so that the site can be accessed using HTTPS instead of HTTP so that any data transferred between the site and server is encrypted. If your site does not currently have an SSL certificate installed, you can contact your hosting provider and ask them to add one to your site. It is important to follow an SEO specific website migration process when moving from HTTP to HTTPS to ensure all valuable link equity is transferred.
Just as a website can be secure or not secure, a website can also include a “www” in the domain or not include the “www” in the domain. There is no SEO benefit in choosing one or the other, but it is important that you stay consistent with what you choose and that the site does not serve both types.
You’ll go nowhere without speed.
How do you expect users to want to visit your site if it takes a long time to load? This is not a new phenomenon; the slower the site loads, the more likely a user will abandon the site. Not only is a slowly loading site a poor user experience, but it can also affect a site's ranking. Since 2010, site speed has been one of Google’s ranking factors. Specifically, “time-to-first-byte” is what Google correlates with ranking pages.
So now that you know speed is important, what's next? There are many factors that can impact page speed. Here are some of the more important ones to be aware of:
Image file size and unoptimized images
Server response time
Excessive CSS requests
We are not developers, we’re marketers. So how are we supposed to know when these issues are impacting our site’s page speed? Use a tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool
to help diagnose these issues. All you need to do is enter the URL and let Google run its tests.
The PageSpeed Insights tool will give you two metrics on page speed - mobile page speed and desktop page speed. It is important to test multiple pages on the site as some issues may affect one page and not the other. You do not need to fix every problem the tool highlights, but it is important to fix the issues that are causing the longest delay in loading time.
Page speed should be analyzed at a minimum when any changes are made to the site or on a quarterly basis.
Make sure mobile users can utilize the site too.
If the site is fast but is poorly optimized for mobile devices, you are going to lose a large chunk of prospective visitors. You can check to see if your site is mobile friendly with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
. Ideally in 2019 all sites should be mobile friendly, but if your site is not mobile-responsive, doing so should be your first priority. On the other hand, there are things you should not do with mobile sites, including creating a separate subdomain for mobile sites and/or serving different content for mobile versus desktop visitors, as these methods of optimization are outdated and frowned upon.
Perfect your URL structure.
It may seem small on this long list of technical SEO tactics, but URL structure is important for not only user experience but also how crawlers are able to see the site. URL best practices include:
Using only lowercase letters
Using dashes to separate words in the URL
Having short but descriptive URLs
Avoiding unnecessary words in the URL
Including keywords in the URL without “keyword stuffing”
Once you have a good URL optimization system in place, adding new content and creating new URLs will be a breeze!
Evaluate how the site is structured.
One of the most important items from a technical SEO perspective is the sitemap. First and foremost, a site needs to have a sitemap. If your site does not have one, you need to create one immediately. Tools like Yoast and Screaming Frog can help with generating a sitemap if a developer is unable to assist.
As you work through evaluating your sitemap you should look for the following items:
The sitemap is clean - Make sure the sitemap is free of errors, redirects and non-indexable URLs as this can cause confusion to the search engines.
The sitemap is up-to-date - The sitemap should be updated every time content is added or removed from the site. If you are using a plugin to generate the sitemap this may be done automatically but should still be checked periodically. You do not want search engines thinking that content is on the site when it isn't and vice versa. When new content is added to the site, making sure the sitemap is updated will help the search engines recognize the content sooner.
The sitemap is reasonable sized - Google will only crawl sitemaps that have under 50,000 URLs. While that is the maximum that Google will crawl, ideally the sitemap should be much smaller than that to ensure it is easy for the search engines to read effectively.
Submit your sitemap - Make sure that the sitemap is submitted to Google Search Console as this tells Google that it exists. Any time major updates to the site are made the sitemap should be resubmitted.
The sitemap should be evaluated any time content is added to the site to ensure that all valuable content is able to be found by the search engines. You don't want all that time and effort that went into creating your new product or services pages to go to waste, do you?
Make sure the site looks good to crawlers.
While crawlers may remind you of spiders, I can assure you that these search engine crawlers are not as scary (unless your site is poorly optimized). The way search engines index and read content are by using crawlers or bots. These crawls help determine rankings depending on what they find. If a crawler cannot find your site, your site will not be ranked. Keep in mind this is the worst case scenario, but don’t overlook the fact that if your site cannot be crawled due to poor optimization, it’s likely you’ll see decreases in your rank.
Once the sitemap has been optimized, the next step in technical optimization is to make sure the site’s robots.txt file is optimized and up-to-date and that the robots.txt file tells the crawlers where they can go on the site. It is crucial that the sitemap is added to the robots.txt file.
Two other items to be aware of are 4xx errors, also known as client-side errors, and 5xx errors, which are server side errors. The most common 4xx error is a 404 error which indicates that a page has not been found. 404 errors do not provide information on what was on the missing page or where a user should go to find that information. 500 and 503 errors are the most common server-side errors that webmasters experience. A 500 error means that there was an internal server error and a 503 error means that the server is currently unavailable. All 4xx and 5xx errors can be detrimental to your site’s SEO and should be monitored.
Structure your data.
Structured data, also known as schema markup, is an important part of the puzzle that is technical SEO. Schema is code that can be added to the HTML of your website to help improve the way search engines read your data. When schema is added to the code it allows the search engines to present your site's information in a more detailed way. Markup should be added to the following items to provide additional information to the search engines:
is a great resource for all structured data needs. The true value structured data has on search rankings has yet to be determined, but results with rich snippets and additional site links are likely to have a better click-through rate than those without. Schema is recognized and used by most major search engines.
Don't confuse the search engines.
Search engines are smart, but not as smart as us (at least not yet). If a page is removed from the site or is no longer relevant, you would want to implement a redirect. There are two main types of redirects: 301 and 302 redirects. 301 redirects are permanent redirects that tell search engines that a page has been moved permanently and will transfer the majority of that page's authority to the page it has been redirected to. A 302 redirect tells the search engines that the page is only temporarily moved and does not pass the link equity along to the new page.
Another important aspect of technical SEO is meta tags. The list of these tags may seem long, but when broken down they are fairly straightforward SEO items that should be included in any good technical SEO strategy.
Meta tags that should be evaluated include:
Rel prev/next (no longer accepted under Google’s new update)
Href-lang tags for multiple languages
OG tags for social sharing
No-index/no follow tags
Still not sure if your website is technically sound after reading this guide? Contact thunder::tech to learn more about how our Optimization team can help set your website up for SEO success!