Have you tried to increase your search engine rankings by investing all of your time, money, and effort into methods like keyword research and backlinks? While those on-page and off-page search engine optimization strategies can certainly help, you cannot forget about technical SEO, an often overlooked part of the ranking puzzle that we will cover in this guide.
Some consider technical SEO a part of on-page SEO since some of their methods or tactics overlap and intersect. For this guide, we will keep them separate. Although its definition will differ according to source, technical SEO essentially refers to the methods used to create and optimize websites so they can be easily crawled, indexed, and rendered by search engines.
Even with the best content in the business, an eye-catching design, and a bevy of backlinks, a site lacking technical SEO will fail to reach its potential. With the proper technical SEO strategy in place, you can enhance your rankings and visibility on the search engine results pages (SERPS). What makes up a comprehensive technical SEO strategy? Addressing issues like URL structure, page speed, user-friendliness, and more, which we will discuss in further detail.
Read: Internet Marketing vs SEO
As mentioned, some feel as if technical SEO falls under the on-page SEO umbrella since some of their methods overlap, such as page speed, user-friendliness, mobile-responsiveness, etc. And while that is true, and they are also similar since you can control both technical and on-page SEO since they deal with your site and not external factors, they do differ and should be considered separately, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle when trying to achieve your ranking potential.
True to its name, on-page SEO encompasses things on your website. Through on-page SEO elements like titles, meta descriptions, content, header tags, images, calls to action, and more, you can tell search engines and visitors what your site is about. Simplistically, you could look at on-page SEO as the front end of your site that the visitor sees, while technical SEO is the back end containing the scripts, codes, etc., that deal with your site’s speed, security, and overall infrastructure.
If you are new to SEO and are unfamiliar with some of its tactics, here is a brief on-page SEO checklist to get you up to speed:
Are those the only on-page SEO elements? No, but they are some of the most important ones you can focus on to improve your rankings.
You can more by reading our comprehensive guide: What is On-Page Search Engine Optimization?
We also have a great article discussing the best SEO Tools for On-page SEO.
As its name suggests, off-page SEO deals with practices that do not relate to items or content on your site. Instead, off-page SEO focuses on things on outside platforms or websites that you do not have any control over. It uses votes of confidence from links from other sites (aka backlinks) to let search engines know how useful and popular your page is. The higher quality and quantity of backlinks you have and the more brand mentions you get, the higher ranking you can achieve.
Here is a quick summary of some of the top off-page SEO tactics you can combine with technical SEO methods (which we will reveal in a minute) to improve your ranking:
Many people overlook technical SEO because it seems complicated and out of their range of knowledge. Why should you invest time and effort into technical SEO? Besides the obvious answer of increasing visibility and generating more traffic so you can boost your business or brand, it is because a properly implemented technical SEO strategy can provide the following benefits:
What makes up a comprehensive technical SEO strategy? All of the elements in the checklist below.
A basic yet essential part of any technical SEO strategy is your URL structure. If done correctly, your URL’s appearance tells searchers and search engines what your page is about.
For example, if your URL starts with HTTPS, that says your page uses Hypertext Transfer Protocol and the Secure Socket Layer (SSL). In simple terms, that “S” at the end says that you are using the security protocol that keeps the page’s content and your visitors’ information secure:
Beyond the beginning of the URL, you can see that it also reflects what is on the page, which is the site (HTMLGoodies), the section or category (CMS), and the title of the post (Best WordPress Drag and Drop Page Builders). To get the best ranking, make sure your page URLs follow a similar, sensible structure that does not keep the searchers or search engines guessing.
Breadcrumbs are a type of navigation that form a visual trail visitors can use to backtrack to where they started. A breadcrumb menu does this by telling a visitor how the page they are currently on relates to the rest of the website.
For instance, if you are on a clothing website, a breadcrumb menu at the top could look like this:
By seeing those breadcrumbs, you can click on Athletic Shoes to go back a page and look for running shoes, or click on Shoes to go back two pages and search for sandals, dress shoes, etc.
For user-friendliness, breadcrumbs should be highly visible to visitors so they can navigate your site without having to use the clunky Back button. But since search bots also use breadcrumbs, they should have a structured markup language that provides accurate context when your site is crawled.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It makes your site more secure by providing a protective barrier between the web server, which fulfills an online request, and the browser. When can SSL’s added security really come into play? When a visitor enters personal contact or payment info into your site. With SSL protection, hackers will have a much harder time stealing such data.
You probably are more familiar with SSL than you think. If you have ever looked at the URL bar of a browser and seen https:// and a lock symbol at the beginning of a web domain versus the standard http://, that means that the site had an SSL certificate. How can it affect your page’s user experience? Positively since many suggest that web users avoid entering info into sites that lack https or the lock symbol. If you ask for sensitive data without those added comfort symbols, you may not get it, as visitors may feel as if they are at risk for hacking.
Visitors are not the only ones who value SSL, as so do search engines. In 2014, Google announced that SSL would be a ranking factor. As such, you should make it a priority to set your preferred domain to your home page’s SSL variant.
You will need to migrate non-SSL pages on your site from http to https once SSL is set up. While time-consuming, it is an essential move to making your site secure, giving your visitors peace of mind, and adhering to Google’s wishes for SEO.
You can migrate non-SSL pages by doing the following:
A technical SEO audit will let you know if there are any gaps or errors in your technical SEO strategy. It can check your website’s health and let you know of any issues that must be fixed to get the highest search engine ranking possible and avoid losing traffic to your competitors.
How often should you conduct a technical audit? That answer varies depending on who you ask, but some suggest doing a mini audit each month, and performing a full technical SEO audit every four to five months. A proper audit can take about an hour for those who are experienced. Beginners can complete technical audits within a few hours, provided they know what steps to take or use the proper SEO tools.
Several SEO tools can simplify the auditing process. Not only can they help with technical SEO, but they may also have features that check your site’s on-page and off-page SEO for any glaring issues. Here are some of the top technical audit tools that can also help you via other SEO-friendly features:
Example of SEMRush Interface
Some of those tools will cost you for their services. And while they may be convenient, they are not the only auditing option, as you can also perform manual audits on your own. Here are some steps involved if you decide to conduct a manual SEO audit for technical issues:
Here is our pick for the Best SEO Software (Paid and Free Tools).
Ensuring site crawlability is essential to any technical SEO strategy. Search bots must crawl your web pages so they can collect information about your site. If they cannot do their job, they will not be able to index or rank your pages.
How can you make your site more crawlable? Here are some tips:
Web robots will crawl your site by first looking for the Robot Exclusion Protocol, or /robot.txt. This lets or prevents specific robots to crawl your site or specific sections or pages. Since malicious bots that spam your forums or scrape your content exist, you may want to block them from crawling your site. Robot.txt will allow you to do just that. You can also use it to keep search bots from wasting your crawl budget on unnecessary data by excluding pages like a login or Thank You page.
You can think of indexing as Google’s file cabinet. After a search bot crawls a site, stores the content, and finishes indexing, the page will appear in the SERPs if it matches a user’s query. You can make sure Google properly crawls and indexes your content by using the Google Search Console. This free tool lets you submit sitemaps to help Google catalog your content and see when a new page has been indexed.
Rendering is a process where a web browser builds a web page that was requested so visitors can see a user-friendly version of the website minus all of the complicated code. It occurs as follows:
The more efficient the rendering process, the higher the Core Web Vitals scores. The less efficient the rendering, the more issues you may have with page crawling, advertising income, and sales.
You want to make it as easy as possible for Google to understand your website’s content. One of the best ways to do so is by building structured data, which creates a highly-detailed site description in a Google-friendly code or schema.
A great way to become more familiar with this technical SEO tactic is to use Google’s very own Structured Data Markup Helper or Codelabs.
Statistics show that users are not too patient when it comes to page speed. The more time your page takes to load, the more they start to contemplate going elsewhere. According to Think with Google research, bounce rate significantly increases quite quickly, all within a 10-second span, and here is proof. As page load time shifts from:
As you can see, it does not take much to turn a user off, which is why improving your page speed should be one of your top priorities when devising a technical SEO strategy. Here are some ways to make your page speed faster:
In 2021, Google tweaked its ranking algorithm to include page experience. This meant that the search engine giant would place a premium on user experience and site speed, with Core Web Vitals representing a large piece of the puzzle.
What are Core Web Vitals? They are a subset of factors Google uses to calculate a page’s user experience, such as a lack of malware and popups, mobile-friendliness, and HTTPS. Specifically, there are three Core Web Vitals, which are:
You can view these Core Web Vitals via the enhancements section of the Google Search Console. Here are tips to improve each so you can improve your user experience and boost your rankings:
Read more Core Web Vitals Tips.
A user-friendly site puts the users’ needs before anything else, including Google. This does not mean that you neglect search engines via your technical SEO methods. It just means that you design your site with the visitor in mind to ensure an enjoyable experience. By doing so, you can keep visitors coming back for more and get the bonus of a ranking boost from Google, as user-friendliness is vital to the search engine.
One way to ensure user-friendliness is through AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages, an open-source HTML framework Google developed to help web designers create content that prioritizes mobile usage. With over half of web traffic coming from mobile devices like phones and tablets, using AMP can make sure that your users have a smooth browsing experience on the go. Using the AMP framework to build your web content can give users what they want, plus give you preferential ranking from Google since the search engine giant recognizes mobile’s growing popularity.
Another way to make your site as user-friendly as possible is through mobile-first indexing, where developers and search engines prioritize a site’s mobile version for indexing. To see if your site is using mobile-first indexing, head over to Google Search Console and look at your latest crawl log for a page that was recently added to your site. If the Googlebot smartphone crawled that page first, you are now on mobile-first indexing and on your way to a more user-friendly site.
While many feel that anything related to content is on-page SEO, remember that on-page and technical SEO sometimes overlap. What is the primary problem with having duplicate content on your site? Google aims to index pages with distinct, unique content. If you have multiple pages on your site that are similar, the search engine will struggle to rank them.
Duplicate content can come in many forms. It could be a blog post or article copied identically elsewhere on your site, but a near-match could also get you in trouble. For instance, if you have an e-commerce site selling shoes with multiple product pages and want to save time, avoid the temptation to use the same shoe description for different brands. Simply changing a title or a line or two on a page may not prevent it from being seen as a duplicate, and this could cause you to take a ranking hit.
Sometimes duplicate content may not be your fault. If you find that a competitor is copying your content and not giving you credit for it, contact them. Ask that they either remove your content or accredit it, so you get the desired ranking results. Another way to avoid the duplicate content issue is to implement canonical tags to mark the original info source, which we will discuss in a moment.
Duplication is not the only content issue you could run into when trying to shore up your technical SEO, as thin content can also be a problem. What is thin content? It could be an article, blog post, or page that is lacking and does not give search engine crawlers enough info to work with.
For example, you may have a website that represents a local cleaning service. However, you do not describe the service being offered on one of the pages, as you only have a list of phone numbers or employees that customers can call. Or, you may lack internal linking on the page, preventing crawlers from heading to other parts of your site. Another example of thin content is having content on a page that does not match the search intent of a user. In short, you want to ensure that each page is complete with relevant, high-quality content and some form of internal linking to make the crawler’s job as straightforward as possible.
As mentioned, canonical tags are a way to avoid being penalized for duplicate content on your site. These markers (rel=”canonical”) tell search engines that the URL is a copy or duplicate of a page. Canonical tags are found in a page’s HTML code in the <head></head> section.
When using these tags, do not point (or canonicalize) to a page that redirects to another page (aka 301 redirect). Also, be sure that you only canonicalize to relevant content.
Your on-page, off-page, and technical SEO efforts resulted in a site with a solid Google ranking. Now, you want to expand your reach by letting people in other countries who speak other languages absorb your content as well. How can you do this to achieve your more global goals? By using the Hreflang attribute.
This HTML tag helps search engines decipher the exact language you use on a page. With it, you can show how two pages different in written languages are related. When is the Hreflang attribute essential? When you are looking to target audiences according to their location.
For example, if you own a business in Spain and are opening a new branch in neighboring France, you want to ensure that your French visitors receive the correct page version so they can understand what they are reading. With the “hreflang=fr” tag, Google will know that anyone with a France IP address should get the French page version. By adding this simple tag, you can make your page more accessible and user-friendly, resulting in better traffic and eventual ranking.
HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) errors can block your site’s critical content from search bots, making their jobs impossible. They can also keep users from accessing your content and make a bad first impression that keeps them from revisiting your site. As such, you will need to spot and fix any HTTP errors as quickly as possible to avoid sabotaging your search engine rankings.
You may encounter several HTTP error types, and each has its own fix. Here are some of the most common ones:
Have you ever seen the boxes above search results that offer answers to specific questions? Those are called Featured Snippets, and they exist so searchers can quickly get the answers they seek without having to click an extra link. To get placement in these valuable snippets, Google says you will need to provide the best answer to a searcher’s question.
While Featured Snippets may stray from the schema markup, keep them in mind when creating your content, as earning placement above the search results is a great way to get an SEO boost.
Over half of searches come from mobile devices, and that number is likely to climb in the years to come. To address growing mobile usage, Google came up with Google Discover, a tool that lets users customize a content library by picking their favorite categories, such as politics, music, sports, etc., so they can see stories and updates aligned with their interests. If you do not personalize it, Google Discover displays data according to your search history by default.
Since Google Discover is still somewhat new and a bit difficult to figure out on the SEO side, some believe that you can increase your chances of placement on the feature by following the topic cluster model. Succeed, and you could enjoy the traffic and SEO boost that comes with a user base that is highly engaged and receives a steady stream of your content.
Read more Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips, tutorials, and SEO Tool reviews.
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