The basics of technical SEOPosted by Ryan Jones on Oct 23, 2018. Reading time: 13 mins
With virtually infinite information instantly attainable through the internet, the importance of standing out from the online crowd is more significant than ever. One of the best ways to give your business more clout in the online world is to work to put your business at the top of the most relevant search engine results pages (SERP).
This means developing strategies for search engine optimisation (SEO), such as publishing remarkable and unique content, building a network of authoritative backlinks, and utilising keywords strategically. But that's only part of the SEO equation. Your search engine optimisation strategy should never overlook the importance of technical SEO.
In this article, we have created a checklist of necessary technical optimisation steps to ensure your site is found, understood, and shown to your intended audience by their chosen search engines. Examine this list with a critical eye, focused on finding places where you can improve your site or your company’s practices to push yourself to the top of the search engine result pages.
You can also use Google Search Console to get an in-depth look at how your site performs online to give you a better idea of areas where improvement may be required. This guide will give you a rundown of the basics of technical SEO, processes involved, and tips and tricks for how you can implement a technical SEO strategy for your own business to improve customer relationships, online authority and revenue.
What is Technical SEO?
According to Search Engine Land, “Technical SEO is the practices implemented on the website and server that are intended to maximise site usability, search engine crawling and indexing.” In order for your site to be found and understood by search engines, and thus shown to potential clients, your site needs to be configured in a particular way and meet specific standards.
Search engines like Google or Bing endeavour to give their users the best possible content, and while your site may already be beautiful, or you've spent significant time designing and redesigning it, your efforts will go unrewarded if they don't align with standard technical SEO practices.
When any given search engine crawls the net, they are searching through a series of links for new or updated URLs. This process helps search engines to identify sites that should be at the top of SERPs, what sites may not be as usable and therefore less desirable as top search results. Once the process of analysing a site for content and quality is completed by a search engine crawler, the site is then indexed. In the process of indexing, the page location (URL) and content are recorded and added to the index by the search engine.
All the information gathered in the process of crawling and indexing a site becomes the basis for how sites will be ranked on search engine pages. Suboptimal quality sites or sites that need updating will rarely make it to the top of search engine result pages, and thus are less likely to be seen or found by the average consumer who often won’t venture past the first few links on a search engine result page, much less past the first page and onto the second.
Get Secure with HTTPS
In July of 2018 Google announced it will start informing users whether or not the site they are on is secure. If a website URL starts with ‘https://’, the site is secure. If the website URL starts with ‘http://’ the site is not considered secure. The additional S is for the Secure Sockets Layer – SSL – which is a security technology that creates an encrypted link between a web server and a browser.
This is an easy one to check off your Technical SEO list and can be done by installing an SSL certificate on your website. By using an SSL, you ensure all data transmitted between the web server and browser remains encrypted. Essentially, an SSL ensures your customers’ information and transactions remain safe and confidential. If you run an e-commerce site, for instance, your customers want to know their payment information is kept safe, and that little ‘s’ can give them that peace of mind.
You may think that your site doesn't need cybersecurity, because who would be targeting your customers? It may surprise you to know that in a study conducted, using a variety of Australian businesses across a broad range of industries, 90% of businesses experienced attempted security breaches. With the threat of hackers and cybersecurity breaches, customers have become warier of clicking links and inputting their information if they have even the slightest doubt about the security of a site.
Giving your customers peace of mind by securing your website won't only increase their confidence in you and your business, it can also increase sales. For instance an SSL installed on a beauty website increased transaction value by 24% on average, per transaction. This makes perfect sense - a trustworthy company with a trustworthy website make for more sales, more returning customers, and more revenue for your company.
Ensure Your Site is Responsive and Mobile-Friendly
As mobile devices have become increasingly popular, a significant portion of Internet browsing is done on the go, on a mobile device. Because of this, many websites designed prior to the rise of the personal mobile device simply won't cut it anymore, and your SEO results will be negatively impacted as a result.
For instance, if someone searches for ‘pizza’ near them while on a mobile device, and your pizza restaurant doesn't have a mobile site, the mobile user will find it either very difficult or impossible to view the site enough to decide whether or not to visit. To combat this, it is important either to update or create a new website with a more responsive and mobile-friendly design.
A ‘responsive’ website design adjusts itself automatically so that it can be navigated and read easily on any device (meaning desktops, tablets, smartphones, etc.), ensuring that no matter where your customers are viewing your website from, they always get the best information, and the most high-quality browsing experience possible.
A responsive and mobile friendly website will also always be prioritised by search engines when pulling up search results. As mentioned before, search engines crawl the net to find new and updated URLs, then indexes them to be shown to Internet users in an order that is most beneficial for their given search. The sites that show up at the very top of a results page are sites evaluated by search engine crawlers as the best results for a given search.
Until March of 2018, search engine crawlers indexed the desktop versions of sites, which didn’t always yield the best results for mobile users. In March, however, Google rolled out their mobile first index system. This system now indexes and ranks mobile websites in order to give mobile users a better experience. Because of this, ensuring your site’s mobile version is up to par can help put your site at the top of a SERP.
If you don't already have a mobile website, now is the time to hop on the bandwagon, as mobile shopping and e-commerce have been steadily on the rise. In Australia from 2006 to 2013, mobile broadband led to a $33.8 billion economic increase. By making your products or services available to mobile users there can be noticeable and very real increases in traffic to your site, and as a result, profit increases.
Speed Your Site Up
When ranking websites, search engines use site loading speed (and as a result, page loads speed) as a signal to the algorithm for where to rank pages. By configuring search engine result pages in such a way that their users only get the fastest websites ensures search engines continue to be used and relied upon for the best information. Slow load times will result in a lower ranking thus fewer visits to your site and less exposure and influence in the online world. A faster load time will promote better search results for your company and help you extend the reach of your business.
But ensuring your site works and loads quickly isn’t just for the search engine robots - your customers appreciate it too. Fast loading web pages improve upon user experience, helping you to keep customers coming back again and again for reliable and fast service. Stats on Australian web pages with a slow loading time tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time spent on the page.
In fact, your site should load in under 3 seconds, or you risk losing potential or returning customers who don't want to bother waiting for your content to load when they can find faster options. Slow pages also tend to negatively affect conversations, reducing your business’ online authority and growth. These consequences not only impact sales and user experience but can even cause an increase in operating costs.
Beyond load times, click depth maintenance is another way to speed up the usability of your site and keep customers on your site for longer. Important pages should be no more than three clicks away from your home landing page. This will ensure customers don't become frustrated by not being able to find what they are looking for and will lessen the risk of losing customers who otherwise would have been interested in what you have to offer. By ensuring internal links are well curated, you also increase the ease of search engine crawling your site, giving you a better chance at higher SEO rankings.
Improve Structure and Site Appeal
The usability of your site, and where it will be ranked by search engine crawlers, also depends on how your site is set up, how readable it is and what sort of content it has. Search engines want to give their customers exactly what they want, so specifics and detail are integral to successfully finding yourself at the top of search results.
A huge part of ensuring your site’s content is structured properly, and is concise, is to check for any duplicate content issues. A rel canonical URL can help you with this. A canonical URL specifies the 'preferred' version of a web page, which indicates to a search engine which duplicate page or duplicate information to show in search results. This will help search engines to more accurately crawl your site and find appropriate and pertinent information for people searching within your industry. In other words, if multiple pages with similar or identical content exist, establishing which one is the most accurate or thorough ensures no confusion on the part of search engines and search engine users.
Another important element of site structure is how you write and format descriptive texts. Meta descriptions (short descriptions to summarise web page content - often seen under search results on search engine result pages) should be as descriptive and concise as possible in order to give a search engine crawling your site the most accurate information available, thereby ensuring your site gets seen. This does not mean to fill a meta description with keywords, but rather to be as descriptive as possible so clients searching for very specific products won't overlook what you have to offer.
If your site has recently been redone or moved to a new URL, it is important to serve a 301. A 301 redirect allows you to send consumers and search engines to a new URL while still attributing 90% - 99% of link equity/ranking to the new URL. This means that changes made to your site or pages on your site can be made without risking the loss of your page SEO, or causing new SEO issues.
Create an XML Sitemap
An XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap is a list of the URLs of pages included on your website. Creating an XML sitemap is the most convenient way for search engines and other services to crawl your site, see the full extent of it and index it accurately. Every updated URL should be put on your XML sitemap and links should be checked regularly for accuracy. Most experts agree that fewer URLs yield the best results - so sticking to the most important pages is a good way to start your XML sitemap, but search engines like Google crawl up to 50,000 URLs on an individual XML sitemap.
Broken links should never be left on an XML sitemap, as this can result in URLs being ignored when crawled, which in turn can impact where your site is indexed and ranked for the worse. In addition to ensuring all links are working and up to date, sorting your XML sitemap will greatly increase its success. Randomly listing pages without any sort of organisation will not do the trick, so take some time to put URLs into categories, and group them together.
Not sure what to do next? Refuel can help
If you know nothing about Technical SEO and need to go through the whole process of setting up for the first time, that's not a problem. Refuel Creative is here to help! We are SEO experts, and can help you through the entire process from to start to finish. For more information visit our website or call today to discuss how setting up basic technical SEO can help you to reap the enormous benefits of SEO.
Ryan is the Founder & CEO of Refuel Creative. He's a HubSpot certified marketer and SEO expert.