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The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

technical seo

Most businesses already know the importance of SEO, but how much time are you spending on your technical SEO as part of your overall strategy?

Don’t worry if the answer is a big fat zero. Many companies don’t put enough importance on technical SEO, focusing on link building and content optimization instead.

Technical SEO is an often overlooked component of the SEO trinity, but without it, Google wouldn’t even be able to find your site in the first place. We’re here to guide you through technical SEO and how you can use it to aid your business.

What Is Technical SEO?

As was hinted at in our intro, when people talk about SEO usually the focus is on keywords or link building. Don’t get us wrong, on-page and off-page SEO are vital components of your SEO strategy, but technical SEO needs to be given regular attention as well.

The three parts work together to give a complete strategy. Each part can’t thrive without the others.

Technical SEO, at its most fundamental level, refers to how ‘healthy’ your website is technically speaking. If your website is slow or contains many broken links, it would be considered unhealthy. If your site isn’t optimizing for crawling or indexing, it would be considered unhealthy. 

If your website is poor technically, it doesn’t mean Google will completely ignore it. We’ve all seen barely usable horror shows high up in the rankings with no idea how they got there. But if Google struggles to crawl and understand your website, it’s likely certain pages will be ranked lower or missed entirely.

This isn’t to say technical SEO is just a process in appeasing Google. Improving your technical SEO has a heap load of benefits for your users like faster load times and easier navigation.

In this sense, technical SEO is no different from any other. Google wants to deliver the best results possible, with the best experience possible on site. So a site with great optimized on-page content, that is also healthy and delivering a great user experience is the best result in Google’s eyes.

Why Should You Optimize Your Technical SEO?

By practicing and optimizing your technical SEO, you’re telling Google your site is the best answer to a given query. It can help raise your rankings and if done well, give you additional benefits in search engine results pages such as rich snippets. 

As a worst-case scenario, ignoring your technical SEO can cause you to drop out of the rankings altogether. Too many sites have experienced this at crucial points like a CMS migration due to poor implementation of technical SEO. 

However, one of the most important reasons to optimize your technical SEO is future-proofing your site. Google is constantly changing the goalposts with algorithm updates. Those sites paying attention to the best technical SEO practices as dictated by Google are less likely to be left behind on the next major algorithm update. 

There’s a huge amount of factors to consider for technical SEO – from duplicate content to site architecture. We’ll guide you through the best technical SEO practice for 2020, as well as the free tools you’ll need to get there.

Technical SEO Tools

A good craftsman never blames his tools’ has never been less true than it is for technical SEO.

You need the right tools to get the correct information about your website, otherwise, you’re just making guesses as to what’s wrong. Fortunately, your greatest weapon for technical SEO – Google Search Console – is free to use and easy to learn.

Formerly Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console (GSC) will help you monitor and troubleshoot your site’s presence in SERPs. You can use it to check things like mobile usability, submit sitemaps, and even render pages to see how Google views your site. It’s an incredibly useful tool, but not the only one you should be contemplating for a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Technical SEO Audit

If you’re not using an agency, who should be regularly running technical SEO audits of your site, then you need to do it yourself. There’s a wide variety of free and paid for technical SEO tools for auditing your website. Much of the debate over which is best comes down to personal preference, but the big contenders are:

  • Screaming Frog
  • Ahrefs
  • SEMrush
  • Moz
  • Ubersuggest

Best Practices for Technical SEO

The best time to consider technical SEO is when you’re building your site, and we’ve written before about the importance of web design on SEO. But all is not lost if your site is already up and running, it just requires a little more elbow grease…

Secure Your Site

A secure website is a technically sound website, which means implementing HTTPS. If you haven’t done this already, it’s crucial you do. 

HTTPS ensures no one can intercept data sent between the site and the browser. So it ensures your users’ credentials are safe. You can see if yours, or another website, has HTTPS by looking for a lock icon on the left-hand side of the search bar on most browsers. 

Not only does it improve your user experience by making your site secure and safe, but Google has confirmed HTTPS as a ranking factor. Not a huge one by any means, but a secure website ranks better than an insecure equivalent. 

You need an SSL certificate for an HTTPS URL. This authenticates your website and enables the encryption process. Your web developer should be able to help you with this. 

Site Architecture

If you’re regularly getting lost on your website, how do you expect your users to find their way around? Or Googlebot for that matter? 

Your site architecture needs to be three things: logical, consistent, and flat. The first two work together in that your site should be laid out logically in a consistent structure, for example, home page > category page > product page.

Flat refers to the idea that on any given page on your website, you should never be more than a few clicks away from any other page. This is partially so users don’t find themself stranded on a random page with no internal links back to the rest of your site. But it also helps Google’s crawler, Googlebot, find all your pages and index them with ease.

Breadcrumb navigation can also help with this process and internal linking. Google loves breadcrumb navigation so much that they use it on their own search results. It helps people, and crawlers, understand how pages are related to each other.

URLs

We’re going to harp on about consistency a whole lot in this guide.

You don’t need to overthink your URLs. Yes, they should include your keywords, but they should be doing this naturally as that’s what the page is about. No, they shouldn’t include a horrifying collection of gibberish numbers or letters.

URL structures help Google, and your users, understand the bigger picture of what role that page plays within your overall site hierarchy (much like the breadcrumb navigation). Let’s take three URL examples:

  • www.examplesite.com/shoes/womens-shoes/nike-revolution-running-shoes
  • www.examplesite.com/nike-revolution-running-shoes
  • www.examplesite.com/shoes/womens-shoes/5261008742

Which do you think Google prefers?

If you answered the first URL, you’re right. If you answered the other two… maybe it’s time for a basic SEO refresher.

Page Speed

More than 50% of mobile users will abandon a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. That fact alone should tell you how important page speed is, for your users and Google.

Page speed probably has the largest impact on rankings out of any of the technical SEO factors – unless you use a Robots.txt incorrectly! If your site loading speed is poor, it makes a significant dent in your SERPs and on your bounce rate.

You can check your page speed with Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool will suggest a variety of options for you to increase page speed. Most often the guilty culprit is usually web page size, third party scripts, or non-optimized images. 

It’s worth a quick pause here to note, sometimes your pages can’t be sped up any more than they are. Large, resource-filled pages providing in-depth information will still provide a great user experience in some instances. As long as it’s not a consistent problem across the entirety of your site.

Mobile Usability

It’s 2020 so we hope we don’t need to preach to you about the importance of mobile usability. You should be thinking mobile-first all the time now.

You can use Google Search Console to run a mobile usability report on any given page of your website. This handy free tool will come back with any suggestions on how to improve the mobile experience like increasing the text size and fixing clickable elements. 

XML Sitemap

Don’t panic, not having an XML site map doesn’t mean you won’t appear in search results at all. Though, that’s not to say it isn’t important. Google staff have confirmed XML sitemaps as a key tool Googlebot uses to discover and crawl URLs. 

There’s a huge range of free tools available online to build free sitemaps. Once built, you can submit your sitemap in Google Search Console, as well as use it to manage your sitemap once submitted. 

Duplicate Content

This falls somewhere between on-page and technical SEO, but it’s definitely worth a mention. You can use a variety of free tools like Screaming Frog to identify duplicate content on your site and amend it.

For ensuring your content isn’t too similar to another website, you can use free tools like Copyscape to identify duplicate content hosted on other websites. 

All this being said, sometimes duplicate content is unavoidable. In these instances, you need to no-index tag these pages. Alternatively, for very similar product pages with small variations, you can use canonical tags to inform Google of which the main page is.

Robots.txt File

A powerful tool, and disastrous in the wrong hands. A small mistake with your Robots.txt file can end in your site being unable to be crawled. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ensure you do your homework properly or get a web developer to handle it.

When used properly, a robots.txt file can tell crawl bots, like Googlebot, which pages to crawl. This can be useful in avoiding pages pointless for SEO, and to avoid crawlers overloading your site with requests. 

Error Pages

Don’t just ignore error pages assuming barely anyone will find them. Delete them or better yet, redirect them to a more useful page. This includes going through your site and checking all internal links to ensure there are no dead links. Remember in most instances, the best redirect is a permanent 301 redirect. 

Hreflang Tags

For websites that function internationally with countries that speak the same language, for example, America and the UK, search engines need a little help.

This help comes in the form of hreflang tags. They let you define a page by saying which country and language it’s meant for. This additionally helps for duplicate content as Google will know they’re catering for different regions as independent pages.

Structured Data

If you know anything about SEO, we’re sure you’ve heard of structured data or schema mark up. There’s been endless studies and debate over whether structured data affects rankings, with recent case studies suggesting there’s no correlation.

Structured data is a specific type of code, used to dissect pieces of content on a page into information chunks so that Google can understand those informational chunks more easily. 

This doesn’t mean you should just ignore it though. Using structured data gives you the chance to utilize rich snippets, a search engine result with additional data. This has great benefits like increasing organic click-through-rate, improving user experience, and increasing visibility in SERPs. 

Structured data is a serious tie investment, especially if you haven’t got an experienced web developer doing it for you. However, implementing it across your site is not only improving your user experience but also future-proofing your site should it ever become a ranking factor. 

GHAX Technical SEO

As you’ve probably figured out by now, technical SEO involves a lot of time-consuming tasks as well as quite a bit more technical know-how than on-page or off-page SEO. This is why so many businesses turn to SEO agencies for help.

GHAX Marketing can help with all your SEO needs, we’re technical SEO experts. In fact, we’re so confident you’ll love what we can do for your business, we offer a no-obligation, free 30-minute growth session and strategy plan. Find out how we can help you today.

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Antonio Calabrese Founder GHAX

Hey, I’m Antonio Calabrese, Founder at GHAX. We love working with businesses who are serious about growth.

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