The rapid development of web technologies, search engine algorithms and the overall digitalisation of the global market have transformed the once overlooked task of SEO into a core aspect of digital marketing. More than ever, SEO is a vital practice for businesses to survive the competitive digital environment.
The increasing complexity of search engine algorithms – you can read about Google’s BERT update here - has expanded the remit of SEO, making it more challenging to adapt to all the algorithmic nuances and being able to conquer the top results on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Technical SEO is just one part of that complex SEO mix. And one that can often be overlooked and hugely undervalued by businesses when attempting to improve organic performance.
What is Technical SEO?
In a nutshell, technical SEO ensures that important pages are available to the end-user and unlocks the potential for higher rankings.
To achieve that, web content needs to be discoverable by search engines, eligible for indexing and to provide an optimal user experience - to encourage user interaction and, ultimately, conversions.
The pillars of technical SEO
- Ensure search engine spiders can discover your content
- Ensure pages are eligible for indexing
- Provide optimal experience to the users
Technical SEO: How to Make Sure Your Content is Discoverable
The priority for technical SEO specialists is to make sure the content of a website is discoverable by search engines. How easy this is to do for search engines is referred to as the ‘crawlability’ of your website. There are three things to consider:
Robots.txt is a file on the root directory (e.g https://www.example.com/robots.txt) that tells search engines how to crawl your site. From here you can control whether engines can crawl certain sections of your domain or not. Make sure it is not set up to disallow engines from crawling important pages.
Status codes are 3-digit responses from the server helping with the diagnosis and fixing of configuration errors. If you want a page to be accessible, it should be returning a 200 success code. If your pages are returning error codes (4xx page errors or 5xx server errors) their content will not be available to the engines (or users!).
Technical SEO: How to Make Sure Your Content is Indexable
Once the search engine spiders crawl a page, they need to determine whether it should be added to its index for serving to the users via the search result pages.
While in some cases we may not want some pages to make it to the SERPs, we need to ensure that all our important pages are eligible for indexation. Among other things, the robots meta tag and canonicalization are important elements that we typically inspect closely to avoid any indexation pitfalls.
Robots meta tag
The robots meta tag is a directive which instructs search engines on how to crawl and index a page. It is often used to prevent engines from indexing certain pages (checkout pages, promotional landing pages).
It is important to be cautious with the usage of the tag because sending a wrong directive to the engines can result to preventing important pages to making it to the SERPs.
A canonical tag is typically used to prevent duplicated content from reaching the SERPs. Content duplication is bad for SEO for a few reasons:
- Google may choose to index the wrong page
- Waste of crawl budget
- Dilutes link signal (backlinks to different versions)
- May be considered as a deliberate action to manipulate rankings
Incorrect canonical tagging often results in problems with indexation, therefore it is important that it is correctly applied.
Technical SEO: How to Improve Website Performance
Once crawlability and indexability are ensured, technical SEO focuses on the website’s ability to achieve higher organic visibility, provide better UX and gain conversions. Things like website security, page loading speed, accessibility, structured data, interlinking, backlink profile and many more have a direct impact on a website’s overall organic performance.
Technical SEO: 5 Tips to Get Started
There are more than 100 factors that contribute to the technical health of a website. Don’t worry, we won’t go through all of them here. Instead, below we’ve outlined the 5 most important tips to get you started on your journey towards a healthier (and more performant) website.
1. Get Your Redirects Right
Redirects are needed when changing URL structure, deleting or consolidating pages. Sending both users and crawlers to the right page is a crucial aspect of SEO and requires a clear and well-defined strategy.
Ensure that users do not land on error pages (404) and that you use permanent redirects (301 status code), as they carry over link equity to the destination page.
2. Avoid Duplication
Content duplication can be the result of many different issues and causes confusion to both search engines and users. Addressing the issue with redirects or canonical tagging will prevent the negative impact it can have on rankings.
Common causes of duplication
- Dynamically generated URLs (filters, user searches)
- Both secure (https) and non-secure (http) versions indexable
- Both with and without www versions indexable
- URLs with and without trailing slashes
- Posts under multiple website categories
3. Get Secure
Serving the site from an HTTPS domain is a direct ranking signal, as it means that the content is safe for the user to interact with. Make sure that your website holds an SSL certificate, and all link references point to the HTTPS domain.
4. Improve Page Speed
Page speed is not only an important ranking factor but also a crucial aspect of user experience.
You can find a detailed report on your pages using Google page speed insights. However, images typically have the biggest impact on page loading speed, as they can increase the size of a page significantly. For this reason, make sure to use optimised images to avoid the impact on speed.
For more information and easy-to-implement tips on how to improve the performance of your website, head on over to our blog post, ‘8 Ways to Improve Website Speed (and why it matters)’.
5. Improve Website Architecture
Good site architecture is not only important for UX, but also for the crawlability of the website. Ensuring that crawlers can easily navigate the website is a necessity for ensuring higher indexability.
Technical SEO: Final Thoughts
The implications and importance of technical SEO are considerable – not only does it hugely impact the likelihood your website will rank well for the terms you are targeting, elements of technical SEO direct effect the experience of your users.
Arguably, focusing on more visible facets of SEO is going to have a lesser impact on performance if you haven’t first got the foundations of your website in proper order. Only with the proper groundwork in place will your ambitions for growth be truly realised.
If you have any questions about technical SEO and how you can improve the technical performance of your own website, you can drop our SEO team a message on our contact page.