When search engines don’t like the structure of your website, you’re going to struggle to make it work for you. Good technical SEO is the answer. Read about it here.
“I guessed SEO was just search engine optimisation. What is technical SEO?”
“Technical SEO is just another set of jargon which I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know if my website needs technical search engine optimisation and is it a ranking factor?”
Does this sound familiar? Don't worry. Read on to learn more...
You may have never heard the phrase 'technical SEO'. But, if you need to have a website that brings in visitors who buy your products or services, technical SEO is a factor you need to consider.
Your site' optimisation is not only about on-page search engine optimisation and off-page optimisation, like link building. You need to have solid technical SEO too.
The difference between a website which has poor and solid technical search engine optimisation can be dramatic in its effectiveness.
This post is a beginner’s guide to understanding technical SEO, why it’s important and what it can do to help your digital marketing strategy.
In search engine optimisation, there are two factors that decide on the success of your website, and its search rankings.
One of them is human-beings. For your website to be successful, it must be valuable, helpful and trusted by your ideal audience. You do that by creating high-quality content or tools which provide all the above.
The other aspect is search engines.
If search engines don’t like the site’s architecture, you will find it harder to compete and to get those first page rankings.
With good technical search engine optimisation, search engines will find it easy to understand your website, and compare it to your competitors. The friendlier your website is to search engine algorithms, the more reason for them to send your ideal visitors.
Technical SEO is the process of ensuring your website meets the requirements of search engines to get the highest organic search rankings possible.
If that doesn’t mean anything to you, how about the graph below?
This is a simple illustration of the difference having a website with good and poor technical SEO.
The graph is from the Google Analytics account of one of our clients showing visitors to their website over 12 months.
On the left-hand side of the graph are the months when they used a well-known ‘drag-and-drop’ content management system. There’s a gap in the summer, when they hadn’t added the analytics tracking to their new website.
And, then, in September, the client launched their new website on WordPress. Their organic traffic took off. Why?
Google’s ‘crawlers’ found it easier to navigate their website.
Nothing else had changed. The content was the same, the existing backlinks were the same. And, their marketing campaigns were the same.
That’s a simple demonstration of how technical SEO makes a difference to the success, failure or indifference to your website.
Although the client did not make any individual technical improvements to their web pages, the act of migrating to a CMS which is more SEO-friendly than their previous CMS shows its importance.
Technical SEO also includes checking for duplicate content issues, making sure that search engines know which version of your domain to prioritise (which you do with canonical URL and meta tags), and making sure the URL structure is easy to understand and optimised.
Before your head explodes, this is not difficult, so hear us out.
The robots.txt file is a text file which search engines check to see which webpages you do and don’t want them to index.
Most content management system have a way for you to do this easily. Some CMSs have a check box in the settings of each page.
There, you click it to say if you want search engine crawlers to index the page or not. This action updates your robots.txt file with a ‘noindex’ message for the search engines.
You’ve seen how the technical aspects of a content management system can make to the technical search aspects of a website. But, what makes the difference to how your website performs?
Search engines look at several factors to decide if your website meets their technical requirements. The list of factors includes:
Moving your website onto a better CMS can make a huge difference. But, for many companies, moving to a new CMS is a huge job. It takes time, money and significant planning. That combination of resources may not be possible or feasible for you.
What if the technical process of moving to a new CMS is out of the question?
How can you improve your technical SEO?
Before you start any work you need to understand what search engines reckon of your website. An SEO site audit will help you with this knowledge and you can use a free search engine optimisation site audit tool like this one to help you get the information you need.
An audit will highlight critical page elements including page speed, data snippets or code in your site structure which cause problems. Most websites have several technical issues, so don’t worry. It’s normal.
Another excellent free search optimisation audit tool is the Google search console’s mobile usability report. This will help you understand what Google thinks of your website and its performance in mobile devices.
If you haven’t already done it, set up a free Google Search Console account and use the webmaster tools to help you understand issues with your website. You have to verify your website with a snippet of code or a tag on your website, or domain host to show its your website. After 24 hours, you’ll soon start to see data about your website.
With all this information now available, you can start making changes to your website. But, there is something you should understand.
You may not improve some of your technical SEO due to the CMS you use. The design of many ‘off-the-shelf’ content management systems means their ease of use comes with a price.
Although, it might be easy to build the site yourself, the additional code they add to each webpage of your site can affect the technical SEO. It’s common for websites built using ‘drag-and-drop’ CMSs to have low mobile usability scores.
In short, you’re stuck with the code your CMS uses, and you won’t make a difference. But, there are jobs you can do to make a difference.
You can make a considerable difference to how quickly your pages load by checking the size in KBs of the images you use. If the images on each web page are more than 100 KB in size, the longer it takes to load.
Imagine if you have five images on your page, each of which is more than 100KBs. That’s over 500KBs, at least, for someone to download to their device for your page to show in full. Some pages we come across have images which are over 1 MB (a megabyte is 1,000 KB). That’s not good.
How can you compress your images?
Some CMS include image compression software already, but if your CMS doesn’t, use something like this free tool to ‘compress’ your images and reload the smaller, slimmer versions: batchcompress.com
A CMS like WordPress, Wix or Weebly have an array of ‘plug-ins’ to add tools to your site. The tools might be tools to help you collect data, social media sharing buttons or include galleries.
As tempting as they are to use, they often make your page load times slower. The plug-ins take time to load in your browser.
Use them sparingly and remove any plug-ins one by one and see what difference they make to your page speeds.
Check each page on your website for broken links. If the link leads nowhere on your site, you will probably see a ‘404 error message’ page. Edit the link so it points to a useful relevant page on your website.
If it’s a link to an external web page which no longer works, either delete the link or find another page.
This might be difficult if the CMS you use isn’t mobile-friendly. Most of them are mobile-friendly, or ‘responsive’, now, but they still have code on them which you can’t avoid and which decrease your page load times.
But, you should make sure you compress the images on your pages and reduce plug-ins you use which could hinder your page load times.
Adding SSL to your domain is not as complicated as it sounds. Most content management systems include a free SSL certificate as part of your package.
And, it’s often a matter of clicking one button in your account to make this happen. Plus, it takes moments to work.
You might have an XML sitemap on your website already. Type this at the end of your domain name to check - ‘/sitemap.xml’ e.g. www.example.com/sitemap.xml
If you get an error message, it means you don’t have one. Check your website account to see if there is a setting to add an XML sitemap automatically.
If you don’t have this available in your website account, there are tools like this one to help you create a sitemap.
This is a little more technical, but you can make your webpages stand out and be easier for search engines to understand by using schema markup.
Schema markup is data you add to each web page, which search engines then use to display more details about the page in the search results.
You can check if your pages have it using this tool from Google.
It’s easy to create the markup using tools and to paste it into the code of individual web pages.
Google’s preferred schema markup is called ‘JSON-LD’. You don’t need to know what it means, simply how to write it this ‘structured data’ and paste it into the page’s code.
Fortunately, there are some helpful tools available to help you do it, including this one by Merkle.
Yes, there are. Some agencies specialise in technical optimization, rather than on-page optimisation.
If you have a website which needs a technical overhaul, then you’ll find specialists that will help you improve it.
If you have several technical SEO issues on your website, and you have a budget to do so, it’s worth considering speaking with an agency that’ll help you understand what difference technical optimization will make.
A specialist might help you with creating a more mobile-friendly website, for example, using technology called accelerated mobile pages (AMP). AMP, as the name suggests, are versions of web pages which load quickly on mobile devices. Some prominent brands, including national newspapers, use AMP to provide a better experience for their readers.
Other work will include working on your webserver on aspects like browser caching or making use of a content delivery network (CDN) to make pages load faster.
Before you start looking for a specialist, it's a good idea searching for technical SEO tools to use yourself. Tools like the Ahrefs site audit tool or the free site audit tool here will give you a good idea of the issues with your site. The report will give you a checklist to work from.
You can then decide if you need help from a specialist, or if you can do the optimisation yourself.
At the start of this post, we asked ‘Why is technical SEO so important?’.
Your site structure is important. An organized site structure will make your site easier for search engines to understand, and will help your search efforts and rankings.
Technical SEO might not be suitable for all websites. But, it is one part of search which all digital marketers need to understand. And, they should decide whether it needs to be part of their strategy to grow their online business.
You don’t need to be an expert in technical SEO. But, you do need to understand its potential impact on your online business. Technical search is all about improving the user experience on your website. Search engines will reward the improvements you make.
Understanding Google’s indexing system, and how other search engines like Bing work, is important knowledge. Technical SEO could have a bigger impact than you expect. And, it could get you much better return on investment than continuing to pour money into digital advertising.
If you want impartial advice, get in touch with Digital Business. We’ll be glad to help you with a free audit.
Written by Will Hawkins