Keyword research, link building, meta titles and meta descriptions: these are the first things that come to mind when talking about SEO. Of course, they are extremely important on-page elements and help you drive organic traffic. Though, they’re not the only areas of improvement you should be worried about.
What about the technical part? Your site’s page speed, mobile optimization, UX design matter no less. While they are not directly driving organic traffic to your website, they help Google crawl your website easier and index your pages. Besides, which user would stay on your site if it’s loading too slow?
All of these elements (and not only) are part of technical SEO, its behind-the-scenes elements. And we’re going to explore everything you need to know about technical SEO and its aspects.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO refers to the, well, technical part of SEO. It makes it easier for search engines to find, crawl and index your website. Along with the non-technical part of SEO, it helps to improve your website rankings and visibility. Also, technical optimization can make navigation through your website easier for users and help them stay longer.
You might wonder how technical SEO is related to other parts of SEO. Well, as you know there is on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO is totally under the website owner’s control, as it’s all about improving your website to get higher rankings. On-page SEO includes the processes such as keyword research, content optimization, internal linking, meta title and descriptions, etc. In general, it’s all about the processes that are going on on your website.
Some say that technical SEO is part of on-page SEO and it totally makes sense, as technical SEO refers to making changes ON your website to get higher rankings. Though, technical SEO focuses more on the backend website and server optimizations. While on-page SEO refers to the frontend optimizations.
What refers to off-page SEO, it’s about optimizations outside of your website, like backlinks, social shares, guest blogging. Backlink building is probably the biggest part of off-page SEO. Getting a good number of quality backlinks can highly improve your page rank.
Why You Need to Care About Technical SEO
Simply put, strong technical SEO is the foundation of all your SEO efforts. Without it, search engines won’t be able to find your website and you won’t appear on search results.
You may have great optimized content, excellent keyword research and an internal linking strategy, but all of that won’t matter if Google can’t crawl your website. Search engines need to be able to find, crawl and index your website so that you can rank.
And that’s not even half of the job. Even if search engines can find and index your website doesn’t mean you’re all set. And search engines have so many factors for ranking your website related to technical SEO, that you’d be surprised. Security of the website, mobile optimization, duplicate content… there are thousands of things you should think about(don’t worry we’ll cover them).
Let’s forget about search engines for a moment. Think about users. I mean why are you doing all this if not for providing the best experience for them. You’re creating all this amazing content and wonderful products for your audience and you must make sure they can find you.
No one is going to stay with you, if your website works too slowly, or has a poor site architecture. This is especially important for eCommerce SEO, as a bad user experience can have a big impact on revenue.
And the best thing about technical SEO is that you don’t need to be perfect in it to succeed. You just need to make it easier for search engines (and users) to find and index your website.
Further Reading: The Definitive 30-Step Basic SEO Checklist for 2022
How Indexing Works
Before diving into the important aspects of technical SEO, there are some terms that you should be familiar with. Particularly, I’m talking about how crawlers do their job. But if you know all that, you can skip this part and head to the next one.
Basically, crawlers find pages, go through the content of these pages and use the links on these pages to find more of them. That’s how they find new pages. And here are some important terms to know.
Crawler is the system that search engines use to grab the content from pages.
But how do they start finding pages? Well, they create a list of URLs they found through links. Also, there are so-called sitemaps, created by users or other systems, which list all the possible links of a website, to make it easier for search engines to find all the links.
When crawlers find pages that need to be crawled or re-crawled, these pages are prioritized and added to the crawl queue.
Processing systems handle canonicalization(we’ll talk about this later), send the pages to the renderer and process them to find more URLs to crawl.
When Google indexes pages, they are ready to be shown to users. The index is stored pages, that have been crawled and rendered.
This is a file that tells Google where it can or can’t go on your website. This is an important file, as there might be some pages that you don’t want and need to be indexed.
You might also have pages, that you want to be accessible for users but not for search engines. These are usually internal networks, member-only content, test pages, etc. We’ll tell you how to ban search engines indexing pages in the next part.
I’m not going to explain in detail how search engines function, as it would be worth a whole new article, and you don’t need to know all of that to optimize your page for technical SEO. You just need to have a basic understanding of terms and how indexing works, so that we can talk about the technical aspects of SEO.
Now, let’s start.
Technical Aspects of SEO
Let’s start with the structure. Many of you might not think of it as the first reason that affects the indexing of your pages. The truth is, many crawling and indexing issues happen because of a poor site structure. Also, it would be easier for you to handle other optimization issues. The number of your URLs, the pages you don’t want to be indexed, etc. all of this depends on the design and structure of your website.
Your website should have a “flat” structure. It means, all your pages should be a few links away from each other. This will ensure that all your pages are easily found and Google will crawl them all. If you don’t have that many pages, it might not make a big difference, but if you have a big e-commerce website, the structure will surely affect the website crawlability.
Besides, your website should be organized. If you have too many blog posts, consider dividing them into categories. It would be easier for both search engines and users to find your pages. Also, this way you won’t have any pages left without internal linking. There is a free tool – Visual Site Mapper that can help you look at your site’s architecture and understand what you need to improve.
Create a logically organized silo structure, put all your pages into categories to help search engines better understand your website.
There is probably no need in diving into the importance of a mobile-friendly website. No matter what kind of website you have, e-commerce or blog, it needs to be optimized for mobile. Especially when Google itself declares responsiveness as one of the important ranking factors.
As I reminded you about it, it won’t hurt if you check your website’s responsiveness again. Use Google Search Console’s Mobile Usability report, it will show you whether you have pages that are not optimized for mobile.
A sitemap is your website’s map, a list of all the pages on your website. Surely, Google can find pages following the links on each page. But still, sitemaps are one of the most important sources for finding URLs. XML sitemap not only lists your pages but also shows when your pages were changed, how often they are updated, what priority each one has.
Even if you have a well-organized website, an XML sitemap still won’t hurt. It’s pretty easy to create one if you don’t have it yet. There are plenty of online sitemap generators you can use.
Breadcrumbs guide users back to the start of the first page, by showing the path they took to reach this particular page.
Breadcrumbs are not just for user navigation, they are for search engines as well. For users, breadcrumbs help to make their navigation easier, so that they can go back without using the back button. And by having a structured markup language, breadcrumbs give accurate context to search bots.
Pagination tells search engines how distinct URLs are related to each other. It makes it easier for bots to find and crawl these pages. Normally, you should use pagination when you want to break up a content series into sections or multiple web pages.
It’s pretty simple to add pagination, you just need to go to your HTML file, <head> of page one and use rel=”next” as a link to the second page. On the second page, you need to add rel=”prev” to head to the previous page and rel=”next” to head to the next page.
Internal linking might not seem a part of technical SEO, but it’s still worth mentioning it here. When you have a flat structure it shouldn’t be a problem. The furthest pages should be 3-4 links from your homepage and contain links to other pages. Make sure that you don’t have orphan pages when no page links to them.
Recommended Internal Linking Tool: LinkWhisper
Remember the robots.txt file we talked about? We’re going to need it here.
The first thing a bot does when crawling a website is check the robots.txt file. It tells them whether they can or can’t crawl certain pages, what part of pages they can or can’t crawl. There are bad bots that scrape your content or spam your forums. And robots.txt can help you prevent bots from crawling your pages whenever you notice such behavior.
Sometimes, you may unintentionally block CSS or JS files which are necessary for search engines to evaluate your website. When they are blocked, search engines can’t open your pages and find out whether your website works or not. So don’t forget to check it.
You may have some pages that you don’t want to appear on search results (like your Thank You pages, duplicate content, etc.) For that, you can use the noindex tag to tell search engines not to index your page. It will look like this:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow” />
This way, search engines will crawl your page, but it won’t appear on search results. You can use the nofollow tag if you don’t want bots to follow the links on your page.
P.S. You should put this in the <head> section.
If you’re creating original and unique content, you may not have this issue, but it’s still worth checking. In some cases, your CMS can create duplicate content with different URLs. This can even happen to your blog posts, especially when you have a comments section. When users write many comments under your posts, you might end up having multiple pages of the same blog post with a paginated comments section. Duplicate content confuses bots and negatively influences your rankings.
There are many ways you can check whether your website has duplicate content. You can use the Ahrefs audit tool, the Content Quality section to check the duplicate content. And, you can use the Copyscape’s Batch Search feature for double-checking.
One of the ways to solve the duplicate content issue is to add noindex tags. Another one is to use canonical URLs. Canonical URLs are a great solution for pages that have very similar content. It can be a product page, that features a product with different sizes or colors. When users choose the product features, they are usually headed to exactly the same page with the changed feature. Users understand that these are the same pages, but search engines don’t.
To handle this issue, you can simply add canonical tags in the <head> section. It will look like this:
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://example.com/sample-page” />
Add this to your duplicate pages and place the “main” page as the URL. Don’t mix the noindex and canonical tags, it’s a bad practice. If you need to use both, use the 301 redirect instead. And, use one canonical tag per page. Google ignores multiple canonical tags.
If your website has different languages, it might create duplicate content. You need to help Google understand that these are the same pages written in different languages. Also, you probably want to show the right version to each user.
To solve this issue, you can use the hreflang tag. It won’t help Google to detect the language of your page, but it will help bots understand that these pages are variations of one page. Hreflang looks like this:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”lang_code” href=”url_of_page” />
You need to add it to all the alternate pages you have. Read what Google says about the hreflang tag.
Redirects and Errors
You need to make sure that your redirects are set up properly. Maintaining a website is a continuous process, you regularly update, delete some pages and create new ones. It’s okay to have some dead links or broken links, you just need to set the right redirects to them. Here is the list of errors you need to take care of:
- 301 Permanent Redirects
- 302 Temporary Redirect
- 403 Forbidden Messages
- 404 Error Pages
- 405 Method Not Allowed
- 500 Internal Server Error
- 502 Bad Gateway Error
- 503 Service Unavailable
- 504 Gateway Timeout
To avoid errors, you need to regularly check your URLs and make sure you use the right redirects. Remember both users and search engines hate ending up on a non-existent or wrong page.
Important Note: Too many redirects can slow down your page load speed. Don’t use too many redirects and redirect chains, try to keep their number to a minimum.
Have you noticed the lock icon in the address bar?
Well, it’s a sign that this website uses HTTPS protocol instead of HTTP. It’s also called SSL – Secure Sockets Layer and it creates a secure encrypted link between a browser and a server. In 2014, Google already prioritized HTTPS over HTTP and announced that these websites would be given preference. Now it’s 2022, and SSL is not just an advantage but a necessity.
Most website builders have this protocol by default. But if you don’t have it, you can install an SSL certificate.
Further Reading: Why is HTTPS Essential for Good SEO?
Users hate slow pages and they can leave your page without even waiting for its content to load. Search engines don’t like slow pages either, which means page speed can influence your rankings. It won’t make your page become the first, but if you have a great SEO-optimized page with slow loading, you won’t rank high.
Most of the SEO tools have page speed tests that will help you know if you have any speed issues. High-res images, the cache can increase your page size, which is one of the main factors of slow loading time. If you don’t want to have low-quality images, test your website without CDN and check third-party scripts (e.g. Google Analytics), which can also slow down your page.
Structured Data Markup
There is no evidence that Schema or Structured Data Markup helps search engines to rank a website. Though, it can help you get rich snippets. You can use structured data to add reviews, ratings or product prices to be shown in SERPs.
Even if it’s not going to improve your position in SERPs, it can encourage users to click on your page. Rich snippets tell valuable information to users, so use them to get more traffic.
Phew. This was a lot of information, and it’s just the basics. Each of the mentioned aspects is worth a long blog post about them. But as I’ve mentioned earlier you don’t need to be perfect at technical SEO, you just need a properly working website that doesn’t have major issues, and the rest you can do with on-page and off-page SEO.
Remember to regularly check your website’s technical elements. Ahrefs, SEMrush and other SEO tools have many features that show your website’s performance. Keep an eye on them.
Further Reading: The 21 Best SEO Tools to Power Your Search Engine Marketing
Jasmine Melikyan is a digital marketer with an avid passion for content creation, SEO, and the newest technological advances. She loves creating engaging content and scaling start-ups through creative growth strategies.
Hero photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash