What is technical SEO – tips and best practices
To make your SEO strategy as successful as possible, you need to take a multi-faceted approach. In addition to securing backlinks and creating quality content, you also need to work on refining your website's technical SEO to ensure your efforts are having the desired effect. Even the strongest backlinks and best content on the web won't have the same effect for your website if you've neglected your technical SEO.
Before you completely overhaul your website, you should know what technical SEO actually is, how it can affect your rankings, what aspects of your website need attention, and tips for properly testing and updating your website. Once you understand what technical SEO is and how to perform it, you can determine how best to use it for your overall SEO needs.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is a subfield of the SEO industry that focuses on analyzing the technical features of a website that interact with search engine crawlers. In general, the goal of technical SEO is to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your website. By ensuring that your website is secure and error-free, crawlers can better navigate and interpret your website during the indexing process.
All websites need to optimize their infrastructure when implementing their SEO strategies, regardless of the niche. Technical SEO has similarities to on-page SEO - in fact, much of technical SEO takes place on-page rather than off-page - but it is independent of the content on a particular page. Despite the name, technical SEO is relevant to both human readers and search engine crawler bots. You need to consider both types of users and optimize for them to do effective technical SEO.
How does technical SEO affect the ranking of a website?
Search engines need to visit and evaluate your site to determine how it should rank in search results, i.e., what keywords it should rank for, what position it should occupy, and how well your site or page meets a searcher's intent. To this end, search engines have developed web crawlers, which are automated bots that comb the Internet to index websites. These bots navigate through websites by looking at their files and following the links.
Generally speaking, if a bot visits more pages and spends more time on your site, it can get a more accurate picture of your site and better determine how it should be ranked. Since bots usually navigate a website via links, they are likely to leave your domain if your link structure is confusing, full of errors, or broken; other technical issues such as an abundance of errors or a slow server can also deter crawlers. If they spend less time on your site or can't crawl it at all, you've lost an opportunity to improve your ranking in search results.
Technical SEO supports and enables other important SEO strategies, including link building and on-page SEO. Your backlinks lose some of their impact if bots can't crawl your site. Furthermore, poor link structure, header instructions, and other technical issues can make it difficult for human readers to use your website. If your website is hard to use or doesn't function properly, they will continue their search elsewhere. So, technical search engine optimization is crucial to the usability of your website and ensures that you get indexed and rank for relevant search queries.
Technical SEO checklist
Whether you are new to technical SEO or need to update your website, there are some things you should pay special attention to during a technical audit. These elements are the most important aspects of technical SEO that can have the biggest impact on your website and your overall SEO strategy.
The first element of technical SEO you should evaluate is your robots.txt file. Simply put, this file tells bots how to crawl your website. It doesn't necessarily tell the bots to crawl a certain way, but rather helps them crawl your website.
Robots.txt files are simple text files that reside on your website. You can formulate various commands to direct it in the direction you want, whether to prevent a page from being indexed or to direct it to a specific file path. For each command, you must either use a placeholder - indicated by an asterisk - or specify a "user agent" - the name of a bot to which the rule applies. Here are some of the most common robots.txt instructions:
- Disallow: This instructs a user agent not to crawl a particular URL.
- Allow: This applies only to the Googlebot and allows pages or subfolders to be crawled even if the parent page is not allowed.
- Crawl-delay:This specifies how many seconds a bot must wait before it can crawl a page.
- Sitemap: This command is an effective way to tell bots which content to crawl.
Use these commands carefully to communicate which pages you want bots to crawl and which you don't. Although it may seem counterintuitive, even the disallow command can be beneficial if used properly.
Page error codes
When you browse the Internet, you make requests to a server to access web pages. If a page appears as usual, the server has successfully processed your request. However, if something goes wrong, you will be greeted with a page error code. Each code has a different meaning, and some of these error codes can have a negative impact on your technical search engine optimization, as they can confuse crawlers.
Here is a brief breakdown of the various status codes:
- 1xx (Informational): The server has received and understood your request, but is still processing it.
- 2xx (Successful): The request was successfully accepted and the Internet browser received the expected response.
- 3xx (Redirection): The server received your request, but you were redirected to another location.
- 4xx (Client Error): The request cannot be completed due to an error on the website.
- 5xx (Server Error): The request was valid, but the server cannot complete it.
Error codes of all kinds can affect the usability of your website and have a detrimental effect on your SEO efforts. For example, Google manager John Mueller has confirmed that 5xx status codes can have a negative impact on your ranking in Google search results. The best way to deal with these error codes is to correct them instead of ignoring them. This makes your website easier to use and navigate for humans and bots alike.
You also need to watch out for duplicate content on your site, as pages with the same URLs, titles, title tags, and text content can be confusing to both crawlers and human readers.
Although some may say otherwise, search engines do not penalize you for duplicate content on your website. However, they filter out duplicate content from search results, which can lead to an equally damaging loss of traffic. Again, you won't be penalized for duplicate content, but it is a highly suboptimal practice.
If you have two very similar or identical pages, they must compete with each other for visibility. Crawlers rarely display more than one version of the same content and must decide which page is best to display in search engine results. As a rule, it is best to remove or correct duplicate content, as unique content can improve your website's position in search results, while duplicate content cannot.
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a security technology that enables encrypted communication between a web server and a web browser. Essentially, this helps protect sensitive data - including phone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers and passwords - from hackers who might try to steal it.
It is quite easy to see if a website has an SSL certificate installed. A URL that has a secure application protocol displays "HTTPs", where the "s" stands for "secure"; an unsecured URL displays simply "HTTP".
Search engines prefer websites that have SSL certificates. Google, for example, has openly stated that this is one of its ranking factors. Given two websites of equal quality and authority, Google gives preference to the secured website in search results. Installing an SSL certificate is an easy way to boost your website's performance in search results while proving your trustworthiness and authority.
A sitemap is a file that contains information about the pages and content of your website. Primarily, sitemaps are used to help human users and search engine bots navigate through your website. But they can also provide useful information about the content of your website, such as when the page was last updated.
Most search engines recommend the use of sitemaps as they simplify the indexing process for crawlers. Including a sitemap in your robots.txt can help the bots crawl the pages of your site that you want indexed; it's a straightforward technical solution. You can also register your sitemap directly with the search engines so that it is clear how you want your site to be crawled.
A URL, or web address, indicates the location of a web page on the Internet. But not only that: URLs also show the file structure of a website. There are two main ways you can structure your URL: with subfolders or with subdomains. Usually subfolders are better than subdomains for SEO purposes. Search engines can treat subdomains as if they are completely separate websites, which can greatly dilute your authority and link value.
A subdomain is a part of your root domain that functions almost like an independent website. If your URL is https://www.example.com, there might be a subdomain on your website https://blog.example.com. Subdomains are especially useful if you are working on more than one server or want to address multiple audiences. A subdomain can also rank for its own keywords independently of your root domain, gaining link equity for itself. Depending on your niche, this can be a useful marketing tactic, but it usually takes more effort to make your root domain big using subdomains.
Subfolders, a smaller folder under your root domain, are the next option. If your URL is https://www.example.com, there might be a subfolder on your website https://www.example.com/blog. When using subfolders, all of your link equity and keyword rankings are tied to your root domain; nothing works independently. While subdomains can still be valuable for SEO purposes, subfolders are easier, faster and more effective to optimize.
Mobile Responsive Design
Mobile devices have become as important to search engine optimization as desktops, and search engines check to see if your website has mobile responsive design. While not every search engine can handle mobile compatibility yet, those that do prefer sites that adapt their display and usability for people on mobile devices. Google, for example, prefers websites and pages that are suitable for mobile devices.
Some elements that can improve your mobile design are:
- Text you can read without having to enlarge it.
- No horizontal scrolling to see the entire page.
- Exclude features that are unusable or difficult to use on mobile devices, such as Flash videos.
Adapting your website design to mobile devices improves your website's usability, shows search engines that you support mobile users, and gives your technical SEO strategy an extra boost.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) is a free tool that allows you to monitor your position in Google search results. You can also appear in search results without signing up for the GSC, but if you choose to do so, you can confirm that your website can be crawled and indexed by Google. In addition, you can request that your website be crawled when you update or publish new content, and you can receive alerts when Google encounters a problem with your website. This can provide invaluable insight into the technical health of your site and alert you to relevant issues without you having to review or search for them, resulting in faster repairs than if you were to search for them manually.
Technical SEO Audit Tips and Tools
There are many tools you can use to simplify the process of reviewing your technical SEO.
Some of the most popular tools that are currently available are:
- Google Search Console.
- Screaming Frog.
- SEMRush Site Audit.
- Think with Google.
- Yandex Metrica.
Conducting a full audit depends on your needs. Each website is unique, and factors such as its age or size can affect how you should audit it. In addition, each of these tools serves a different and specialized purpose; most of them work best when used for some specific tasks of a technical audit. Which tools you choose and how you use them depends on what you want to accomplish with your technical audit.
Finally, conducting a technical SEO audit can be difficult, especially if you're not sure how to proceed. In this case, you should hire a professional link building agency to perform an SEO audit for you. This can help you update your technical SEO and make it easier to maintain as you expand your knowledge and implement your other SEO strategies.
Development of a long-term strategy
Steps you should take in developing your long-term strategy include:
- Reinforce your signals of authority;
- Organize your website carefully;
- Build high-quality backlinks;
- Develop content optimized for keywords;
- Consider developing optimized linkable content;
- Determine what your long-term goals are;
- Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs);
- Determine what your niche is;
- Start developing the style and voice of your website;
- Develop a style guide;
- Build helpful connections.
For your long-term success, it is also helpful to make sure that your website is properly structured and uses valuable technical elements and strategies.
Technical SEO best practices for Google News
The following technical SEO strategies can help optimize your news content:
- Use structured data to help Google understand your content.
- Use standard file name extensions, such as .jpeg.
- Make sure that a robots.txt file or metatags do not hinder Google from displaying your images.
- Use tracking pixel codes to track impressions.
- Secure the pages of your website with Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).