What is Technical SEO, and why does it matter?
Technical SEO is the optimizations performed on your server and website that allow search engines to crawl and understand your content effectively. It is the foundation of your website’s structure and content for search engine happiness. With technical SEO, you ensure that the search engines will understand the value you give to their visitors. In return, they will send you leads, allowing you to gain revenue as a business. Search engines are starting to use very advanced methods, such as artificial intelligence, and using actual web browsers to see what your site offers. By giving the search engines great content on a well-built, organized website, you will see your organic rank increase.
How it impacts your rankings
There are many factors involved in Technical SEO, but here are a few key points that will significantly affect your ranking:
- SSL – Search engines favor a secure site over one that is not, so by installing an SSL certificate, you will automatically rank higher than all websites without one.
- Mobile – Mobile is moving ahead of desktop, so you must be mobile-friendly to get ahead of your competition.
- Speed – If your site is fast, visitors stay longer. The more efficient and smooth your website is, the better your ranking.
- Content – Good content gains traffic. Redundant, “spammy” (overuse of keywords), irrelevant content will lose traffic.
- Site Structure – If your site is set up correctly, and everything is organized (content, internal links), you will rank higher.
Search Engine Visibility
One of the essential things to know about search engines is that they need to find your content and read it before they can even determine if it is good or not. This process breaks down into several distinct steps to cover.
A search engine starts by trying to find your content. If it can’t, it will just move on, and your site will not exist to its users. The most basic of this is known as the robots.txt file. The file is to be located at yoursite.com/robots.txt and describes what the search engine is allowed to see, and ignore. These are hard rules for any search engine that honors this. Making a mistake here could cause your site not to be correctly seen or not seen at all. Lastly, the robots file can also tell where it can find the sitemap. Aside from the robots files, a search engine will also try just to read the site itself. Basic navigation means both visitors and search engines can get to your content.
After finding how to get to your content, and maybe locating a few pages, indexation is needed. Besides the basics of crawling the page itself, a file called a sitemap can be given to the search engine directly, or the robots.txt file.
This is a data file [in the XML file format] with a specific structure that describes your content, where it is, and its importance as you consider it. It also references to other sitemaps if you are doing any sort of grouping.
Next, your site needs to tell search engines that when they requested the content, it was successful. This is a more technical check and is considered as metadata when getting a response for asking for a web page.
The most common and usually expected answer for this is HTTP 200, which is a status code that indicates a successful response.
Lastly, on the page itself, you need to ensure that you are telling search engines that they can index this page and crawl to the pages it references. This action is further metadata in the page itself, also known as a robots “tag.”
Now search engines have found your content and can see it. Now you need to be sure that what they see isn’t complicated, confusing, or otherwise hard to work with. At this point, AI and real web browsers are used in many cases so they can see what an average visitor sees. Having much bloat on the page, a broken page, a ton of widgets, or an otherwise bad UI/UX can impact how your page is indexed, and the quality of content and UI are rated as a whole.
When looking at SEO as a whole, page speed is one of the other huge factors for SEO, user happiness, and thus conversions. Despite page speed optimization being a whole different process in itself, it is much too important to overlook. If your site is slow, the search engines basically won’t like it. Users will bounce out from impatience, and you will eventually stop getting traffic and thus revenue.
Mobile Page Speed
Over 50% of users are on a mobile or tablet-like device as of 2019, and that grows roughly 2-3% every year! That means there is a 1 in 2 chance of mobile users, and soon 1 in 3 chance of desktop users visiting your website. That is why Google has started getting more serious about adding mobile as a significant ranking factor. It is so vital that pagespeed optimization now is more about speeding up mobile rather than making desktop priority. Being fast on the desktop should be implied!
A cache is a mechanism to download, process, or otherwise compute a webpage, store it for a period of time, and then send it to whoever requested it or just use it, depending on the need. Once saved, it will be reused rather than recomputing or fetching it again. There are many different “types” of cache for various purposes. However, in this case, we are merely referring to browser cache, one of the most common ones. One excellent way to manage this and deliver files faster is called a CDN, or Content Delivery Network. By using cache, you will improve performance and reduce the time it takes to download, render, and fully load a page.
Content optimization is the next subgroup of tasks. These steps will give your website a better chance of being shown to more people searching for your products or services.Your content must be pleasing to look at, easy to read, relevant, informative, and not redundant. The following are a few things to watch out for when optimizing content.
Duplicate content can be defined as anything like simple copy/paste, plagiarism, or having almost identical pages content-wise (intentionally or unintentionally). It can be seen as spam or low-quality content and is something you do not want to get penalized for since it can cause the page to get rejected by search engines and not indexed at all.
KISS: “Keep it simple, stupid,” or “Keep it stupid simple.” The common acronym applies here as you do not want your content to be overly complicated. It should be easy to read and understand. KISS also ties into page speed and rendering in a way that the whole page should be simple. If it’s too busy, you can’t make sense of it, or one area is distracting from the actual content, the search engines won’t like it since they are thinking more like people these days. If they think it’s too much, you may not see any visitors. A minimalist webpage design with your content prominently displayed often works best.
A common occurrence with building content on a website is taking 5 MB images straight from your camera and uploading them as-is to the website without any sort of optimizations done. Not only will the photos be oversized, but you will probably be forcing visitors to waste much bandwidth and CPU downloading and rendering the oversized images. This could be especially troublesome for mobile users and their data! The platform you use, such as WordPress, may allow you to do image compression, and optimize the size of the images after uploading. Assessing the size of your image files beforehand could also be a good practice.
When it comes to reading content, you MUST have a mobile-friendly version of your site. Having your design and content built for mobile is a critical requirement for modern development, content management, and technical SEO. Often websites will be created with a “mobile-first” responsive design, which means the mobile site is built first, and the desktop site last.
We have talked about how your content should be the best it can be for both search engines as well as visitors. Now let’s talk about your site’s structure overall. This is more of the big picture for content and organizing the site in general. Having a good website structure will show search engines your site is worthy of displaying in its users’ search results, which leads to more traffic.
Breadcrumbs are one of the most basic navigational elements, besides a menu. It gives you context to know where you are in a site, as well as how deep you are in it. It also will usually be a set of links to allow you to jump up to more general content pages in the overall site structure. Since search engines are like people now, they can also use this as context in crawling and indexing your site.
Structured data is a newer addition to technical SEO, but a powerful and important one. It allows you to use a few defined standards to provide extra details about a page or specific content. You can identify content as people, products, reviews, or any other significant, actionable pieces of information. This info can be used by search engines to show a rating number or extra contextual information that can help draw them in. It can also help with ranking in the first place, also known as “rich text” snippets.
Internal links are simple, but compelling for not only the visitor but the search engines too! The premise is pretty simple. When talking about or referring to other things that you also have content for, you link to it. These links will get your visitors to see more of your site they may never have known existed. Also known as silo links, this relates to taxonomy, or the process of categorizing your content.
Status codes are the metadata that is delivered with the response or reply for a request for a web page (HTTP request). They are also standardized and important for search engines to know if there is an issue with the requested content. The codes are grouped into five different classes, as follows:
- 100-199 = Informational responses
- 200-299 = Successful responses
- 300-399 = Redirects
- 400-499 = Client errors
- 500-599 = Server errors
The goal is always to make sure that you don’t have any pages returning bad or wrong status codes. Negative codes will prevent that content from being seen by both users and search engines.
Web page redirects fall most commonly to HTTP 301 and 302 status codes. The difference being 301 is telling everyone it is permanent, and 302 is temporary. These redirects are essential in case content has moved. They are also crucial if someone accessed content that doesn’t exist, and they will be redirected to the closest match, so they don’t bounce off. However, if no match can be found for content that doesn’t exist, ensure the error page is user friendly. The error page is known as the 404 page, based on the fact that the status code for “not found” is 404.
SSL stands for “secure sockets layer” and is a form of security used for websites that handle the personal information of its users. If a site has SSL, you will see a lock icon and “https://” preceding a web address in your browser, which indicates that your website is secure.
In the last few decades, the media has stated that all eCommerce and Banking websites should have SSL or not be trusted to enter your personal information. SSL simply encrypts the data you send and receive from a website so that no one can snoop on you or your visitors’ data. It may not sound like such a big deal to some. Still, the fact is, not having it means that anyone tech-savvy enough with an internet connection can get into your website and compromise your visitor’s personal data as well as your own! Due to the need for user privacy on websites, search engines are making this a requirement.
To get indexed well, and sometimes even indexed at all, SSL is a must. It is now becoming as important a ranking factor as being mobile-friendly!
Migration is the process of moving your website from one hosting provider to another, or even sometimes to a new domain as well. Sometimes this can be an essential technical or business move for various reasons. You do need to ensure that during these transitions, your SEO stays consistent, your redirects do not break, and you do not get any new site errors. If changing domains, your internal links should be updated, and everything needs to reference the new domain, rather than the old.
There are many further details to be considered, so this is something we recommend to be performed by a professional. If done improperly, you can cause more harm than good, so if you need assistance, we’ve got you covered!
Wrapping it up
There is a lot involved in Technical SEO, and even some of the areas like page speed optimization can be very detailed. Some of these requirements can be rather technical and have cross-over with needing both a qualified SEO professional and website engineer. If you need help, we are happy to assist with your technical SEO needs!