Simplifying Technical SEO
Simplifying Technical SEO
Everyone who owns a website wants it to rank well in search engines like Google and Bing. One of the most consistent techniques for achieving high rankings is technical SEO. It focusses on technical changes you can make to a website to improve its crawlability, index coverage, and overall rankings.
Of course, technical SEO isn’t without some drawbacks. The main drawback being the complexity of managing the many different technical SEO techniques. It is easy to become bogged down in minor technical changes associated with technical SEO —losing sight of the changes that are most effective.
This guide will simplify the art of technical SEO by placing the most important techniques into three key categories. By focusing on these categories, you can obtain the most “bang for your buck” from technical SEO and not waste time on changes that do not have much of an overall impact.
“You can’t be an effective SEO analyst, or consultant, or in-house team member, because you simply can’t diagnose the potential problems, rectify those potential problems, identify strategies that your competitors are using, be able to diagnose a traffic gain or loss. You have to have these skills in order to do that.”Rand Fishkin 2015
What is technical SEO?
Before jumping into technical SEO, here is a quick reminder of the core goals of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in general. SEO is performed in order to:
- Help search engines access and index a website successfully
- Help search engines understand the structure of a website
- Provide plenty of high-quality on-page content which search engines can add to their index
- Help search engines understand the context of the content on a website
- Give search engines reasons to trust a website, view it as authoritative, and rank it above other websites
These goals are achieved through various SEO techniques like creating sitemaps, appropriately using title tags, creating high-quality original content, link building, using semantic HTML and so on.
Technical SEOrefers to the techniques that optimise your website or server to help search engines crawl and indexthe website thoroughly and efficiently. It’s all about making the website very responsive, logical, and easy to crawl.
The title Technical SEOis used to differentiate these techniques to on-page SEO (content building and optimisation) and off-page SEO (off-site website promotion like link building). Whenever you see technical SEO, just think technical changes to the website and server to improve indexability and crawlability.
Three key areas of technical SEO
The simplest way to approach technical SEO, is to focus on three key areas. This will ensure that you only use proven techniques that are effective at improving a website’s rankings.
1. Site structure and navigation
A properly optimised website should have a structure and navigation system that is logical and well-organised. This will allow both search engine bots and human visitors to move around the site easily and understand the kind of content that is available.
Check that the site is organised logically
Search engines use a website’s structure and navigation system to determine where the most important content is located. Google suggeststhat websites should use an organised and logical hierarchy that takes users from the “root” page (homepage) to more specific content.
A hierarchy like root page -> related topic listing -> specific topic makes it easier for both search engine bots and human users to see the types of content available on a website. It also makes it simpler for bots to index the site, understand the context of pages, and accurately list pages on search engine results.
Breadcrumbs are one of the most effective tools for helping both search engines and users understand where they are within a site hierarchy. They help visitors identify and consume related topics and move around the site more easily. Think of breadcrumbs as an essential indication of where a page sits within the site’s structure. Take a look at this great article on designing effective breadcrumbsto make sure your site’s breadcrumbs are working well.
Check URL structure
Search engines use the contents of a web page’s URLs to obtain more information about each page and how the site is structured. A good URL should:
- Be short yet descriptive
- Avoid using unnecessary characters
- Emphasise the keywords that you are interested in ranking for
- Use hyphens to seperate words
- Only use lowercase letters
A bad URL would be something like:
While a good URL would be something like:
Any search engine bot or human should know exactly what a page is about by simply looking at its URL. For more information on crafting great URLs, read this article by Moz which identifies common URL mistakes to avoid.
Check that links are functioning
A surprising number of websites contain broken links that redirect to missing web pages. In some cases, this can lead to a search engine not even knowing that certain pages exist on a website. Identify dead links by using a service like Dead Link Checker.
Internal linking structure
The way you use links throughout your content is also important for establishing the site’s structure and giving search engines contextual information. Some tips for using links include:
- Add links to relevant internal pages throughout page content
- Using appropriate keywords for each link
- Try to keep the click depth of your pages fairly shallow (using a limited site hierarchy)
- Use internal linking to inform search engines of valuable content on older pages
- Create category pages with links to all subcategories for context
Make all pages SSL
Most search engines have begun to place a greater emphasis on web site security in recent years. They want webmasters to provide sites that are highly secure and free of malware. As a result, they have begun encouraging webmasters to use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on all pages. SSL is a security protocol that encrypts the information sent between the client and the server. Search engines are also beginning to use the presence of SSL as a “trust signal” that can affect the SEO performance of a website.
Make the website mobile friendly
Although this step doesn’t technically fall under “site structure and navigation”, it is an important technical SEO task that must be performed. Mobile traffic now accounts for over 50% of all Internet searches, a figure that is expected to increase in coming years. It is crucial that your website can successfully accommodate mobile users. To test a site’s mobile friendliness, visit https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly. If the site is not considered mobile friendly, make the required changes.
2. Indexing and crawlability
These techniques will ensure that a website is correctly setup to be crawled and indexed by a search engine spider.
Check that all important pages are currently indexed
If a website has been incorrectly crawled by a search engine, several important pages many be missing from their index. Check that tis is not the case by logging into Google Search Consoleand clicking on Google Index > Coveragesection. If the total number of URLs listed does not match the number of pages that you have left open for indexation, there is an issue with the website’s indexability.
Ensure all pages are crawlable
Robots.txt is a plain text file that should be located in the root directory of a website. It gives instructions to search engine spiders about which pages they should crawl and index. It is important to check the contents of this file to ensure that it is not inadvertently blocking pages that you want indexed. Learn more about robots.txt optimisation.
Use an XML sitemap
Sitemaps are files that help search engines locate pages and understand how your site is structured. They can also be used to tell a search engine when a new page has been added or when a page has been updated.
Most search engines support several different sitemap formats including XML, RSS, and Text. Use one of these formats to create a site map and place it in the root directory of the website. You can also upload it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools. If you already have a site map, check that it contains valid data.
Maximise the website’s use of its crawl budget
A “crawl budget” is how many pages a search engine will examine within a set period. It’s possible to view Google’s crawl budget for a website by visiting Google Search Engine Console and click on Crawl > Crawl Stats. Looking at these statistics will tell you the search engine is successfully crawling your entire website. If you believe that a website isn’t being properly crawled because it exceeds its crawl budget:
- Look for any duplicate pages that you can remove from the site
- Identify any broken pages, links, or bad redirects that are wasting the search engine’s time
Use structured data markup
Structured data is additional code that be added to a website to give search engine bots more context about the information they are processing. It’s possible to use structured data to tell a search engine if specific information is a recipe, formula, graph, job posting, business contact information and so on. The additional context that this provides allows the search engine to use the information in ways that are more useful to the end-user, like Google’s featured snippets.
3. Site speed
Search engines have begun to place much more emphasis on website speed in the last few years. If a website is fast and responsive, it will receive a significant boost on the SERPs. Here are a few key areas that should be looked at for improving site speed:
Minify page resources
Optimise images for the Internet
Make sure that all of your images are the correct resolution and size for their purpose. Use software to serve up different versions of images to mobile and desktop users, use image compression software, and consider load-on-demand software for images.
User server side compression
Modern browsers are capable of receiving GZIP compressed files from web servers. This allows you to send HTTP responses in a compressed state, saving on bandwidth and speeding up download time.
There are many more steps you can take to increase website speed. Fortunately, Google has made this part of technical SEO simple by sharing their PageSpeed Insights Rules. Following these rules will ensure that any website you are working on is very responsive.
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