An introduction to Technical SEO
Search engine optimization is divided up into 3 main categories (click here if you want a recap of what SEO is).
There are some overlaps between Technical and On-page SEO since most of these technically happen “on-page”; however, Technical SEO is more “under the hood”.
Here we will go over the very basics of what Technical SEO covers.
What is Technical SEO
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing your website to make sure that it can be properly crawled and indexed by search engines. You could have the best content with perfectly optimized on-page that attracted many high-quality links, but if this page cannot be crawled and indexed, there is no way that it can rank in the search engines.
You have probably noticed that websites can usually be accessed by both the www and non-www version of the URL. These are essentially two different URLs; hence, one should be chosen as the default/dominant version to avoid indexing issues, duplicate content problems, and link-equity loss.
Proper Implementation of SSL and HTTPS
SSL, short for Secure Sockets Layer, has become more abundant over the past few years and Google’s Chrome browser now labels non-SSL websites as “Not Secure”. If you collect any personal and financial information of users, it is crucial that you have SSL implemented. Once SSL is implemented, you will need to make sure that all the http:// versions are correctly redirected to its https:// equivalent. Beware that improper implementation and redirection can result in a decrease in rankings.
A robots.txt is a text file on the root directory which instructs search engines which pages can be crawled and indexed. Make sure that the pages you want ranked can be crawled and indexed.
Example of pages you may not want indexed: User pages, shopping carts, etc.
There is some overlap between on-page optimization, but URLs should be kept short and descriptive. Avoid long URLs with unnecessary characters and words. If possible, include target keywords without “keyword stuffing”.
Navigation and Website Structure
Your website should be logically structured and easy to navigate. All content should be accessible within a few clicks; therefore, the “depth” of the website should between 3 and 5.
Canonical URLs tell search engines which version of a page to prioritize when indexing them. Each page on your website should have a canonical URL defined by the tag within the header tag of the page.
The canonical tag is especially important when we are dealing with either many different versions of a page or few pages with similar content. Without proper canonical tags your website could run into duplicate content issues which will hurt rankings.
Choose a specific page you want indexed and make sure the pages with the same or similar content have the canonical tag with the URL of the chosen “prioritized” page.
Over time, most websites will get 404 pages. The best practice is to 301 redirect the page that no longer exists to another page with similar content; however, if that does not exist, a properly optimized 404 page is the next best option. This 404 page will let the user know that the page no longer exists, but will have suggestions of alternative pages they might find useful.
An accurate version of your xml sitemap should be submitted to search engines.
The xml sitemap is an xml file that lists all pages and posts on your website, including their URL, title, date of publishing, and date of update. Search engines can use this xml sitemap as a guide when crawling your website. Make sure that the xml sitemap is accurate and kept up to date. Be careful when compiling this file because if the search engine finds that your sitemap is incorrect, it will no longer trust its contents.
Many of the page-speed elements can be tweaked directly on the website (on-page) and its contents; however, there are a few elements that have to be adjusted either under the hood or away from the page. HTML and CSS should be minified when possible, and compression should be enabled on the server side. Having a fast server, enabling browser caching, and using a CDN can also speed up your websites’ load time.
Responsive Design – Mobile Friendliness
This is also covered in the on-page section of our guide but we will go over it again here. With more than half of all searches happening on a mobile device, your website should be properly optimized for smaller screens on these mobile devices. Furthermore, Google is switching over to mobile first indexing, meaning that they will index your site based on the mobile version of your site. Due to this, it is important to have the exact same content on both the desktop and mobile versions of your site.
We are not a big fan of pagination. If possible, we like to have our article on one long bake, broken up with visuals like pictures, videos, tables, lists, etc. However, if you are required to cover content across multiple pages you should make proper use of the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” links to make it clear to the search engines which page to index and what the relationship between the paginated pages are.
Hreflang for multilingual websites
If your website uses more than one language, the hreflang attribute should be used in order to provide the correct language to users depending on location and language used in their search. This will help your website avoid duplicate content and indexing issues.
Once again, no matter how great your on-page and off-page optimization is, it will be meaningless if the search engines are unable to crawl and index them. All three parts of SEO work closely together and must be done correctly for maximum effect. We understand that this can be overwhelming – Please contact one of our locations to get a free consultation for your project.