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Technical SEO does seem to get pushed aside when people want to focus everything on content. In 2017 it really is more essential than ever to ensure elements of your website are in line with guidance to ensure you get the maximum visibility possible for your website. In some respects this is understandable as with good quality content you can provide your audience with the information they are seeking. However if your Basic Technical SEO is not sound then you could be leaving huge volumes of traffic on the table. The reason for this is your fantastic content may be missing out on search visibility if there are factors preventing it from ranking as high as it could do for your intended search terms.
This post is designed to give you an understanding of the very basics of Technical SEO. Below the Table Of Contents Will Take You To The Different Sections.
Table Of Contents
- Introduction To Technical SEO
- Technical SEO Fundamentals
- The Importance Of Page Load Times
- Error Free Crawling
- Website Architecture
- Is Your Website Mobile Friendly
- AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages
- Structured Data
There are many different aspects you need to consider while trying to get rankings for your website. The main three are Technical SEO, Off-Page SEO and On-Page SEO. I will say now that the lines between on-page and technical SEO can be blurred. But, for the sake of this post I will leave On-page SEO as the optimization of the content within the page and Technical SEO as other factors on the website and server that are taken into account by Google when deciding on relevant rankings.
Off and On Page SEO are vast subjects in themselves and I will not cover them in this article. However before I move on with the Technical SEO, just in case you are unsure I will very broadly sum up the Off and On page SEO terms.
On-Page SEO is an element of search engine optimisation that concentrates on ensuring that your created content is “optimised” (focused on) your main target keywords. There are other factors which need to be taken into account such as overall user experience. These are just some of the factors we as SEOs take into account when we conduct On-Page SEO.
Off-Page SEO primarily involves inbound marketing with the primary objective of gaining quality links to your website. This is a very large subject of which I will be writing many more posts about later on but for now consider a link from a reputable source as a “recognition” of your work and Google treats them as such.
That is all I will cover on those two subjects for the moment as it is literally possible to write a series of books on each of those subjects. Now let’s get back down to helping you fully understand exactly what is meant when referring to Technical SEO.
Much has changed in the search marketing world over the last few years. Googles technology has come forward in leaps and bounds. They have over 200 ranking factors that they take into account of which many of these come under the “technical” umbrella. I won’t cover the entire list of 200 here as Brian Dean covered them in his Google Ranking Factors blog post. Someone said on Twitter the other day that Search Engine Optimisation should now be known as Search Experience Optimisation and I would actually tend to agree. Google wants to improve the web, as they get better at prioritising quality content they want to push us to up our game as well. Personally I like this approach and those that are stepping up to the plate are the first in line for the rewards.
I am hoping by the time you have finished reading this you will learn something that you did not already know. The intention is that you will then be able to take action and make sure that you stay ahead of the curve.
Fundamental Technical SEO Aspects
Technical SEO is a very deep subject and some of the issues I will cover later could be hard to spot to the untrained eye. However some points which I am about to mention should really be considered standard best practices on any webpage. However, when time is tight it can be easy to forget the small things while focusing too hard on the creative content.
- Make every effort to ensure that your page load speeds are kept to a minimum.
- Having your H1 Tag at the top of the page and preferably only one H1 Tag. You can have more according to Matt Cutts however he urges caution. They don’t say how many but as an educated guess Google will take into account the amount of content and the content subject matter. Best practice is however to stick to one and then utilise H2 / H3 tags and so forth.
- Ensuring all of your images on the website have Titles and Alt Tags. On one of your images make sure the Alt Tag is your Main Target Key Phrase.
- Build clean urls and avoid dynamic characters such as %, &, ?, $, =, +, .cgi and cgi-bin
- Keep only your top level urls in your menus, link to inner pages from your top level pages
- Is Your Site Mobile Friendly
- Are you employing AMP
- Can Google crawl your website fluidly
The above steps really are simple fundamentals of Technical SEO and you would be surprised how many people forget more than one of them when producing content, myself included. Because of the importance of getting your Technical SEO aspects correct, especially the fundamentals I recommend that you use a check sheet to ensure that everything is in place before you publish your content. Remember it is far easier to get things right from the outset rather than have to readdress issues at a later point. I will approach each of the following from a beginners perspective so that you can easily follow the guide.
The Importance Of Page Load Times
Page load time is something that Google as taken into account in their ranking factors for some time. More importantly if your website is slow to load then your visitors will be fast to leave. User experience (UX) is extremely important to Google. Ensuring your website is fast enough might seem basic enough but the following stats taken from this Kissmetrics Blog Post show some concerning figures:
- 73% of mobile internet users say they have encountered websites that are too slow to load.
- 51% of mobile internet users say that they have encountered a site that has crashed, frozen or received an error.
- 38% of mobile internet users say they have encountered a website that ‘wasn’t available’.
- 47% of internet users expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less. My personal opinion is that as internet speeds increase that 2 seconds will lower even further.
- 40% of internet users will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
- A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% loss in conversions.
Using those figures a 1 second loss in page load time on an eCommerce website taking £1000 per day, those losses can add up to £25550 per annum. Kind of puts the importance into perspective, right!
The main issue with slow page response times is that ‘result jump / pogo’ing effect’ comes into play. As an example, a user is searches Google for ‘Buy Trainers Online’ and got the results showing below and the first organic result was mandmdirect.com/01/trainers. However should the user click on the site and it failed to load within 2 seconds or less then there is a good chance they will jump to position 2 and so on as illustrated below. Please note these results are for illustration only and I am not saying the No1 result is too slow in reality.
There are inevitably times when page load speeds are somewhat out of your control due to unusual server loads. However, if the issues occur too often then they will undoubtedly lead to a rank drop. If your nearest competitors have consistently better load times then you could literally be giving away sales. With the top 3 organic results taking on average 62% of the traffic ensuring your page speed is fast enough is critical for your conversion rate.
There are some easy fixes that you can take to ensure that you at least stand the best chance of increasing your average page load times. If you are using WordPress (which over 25% of all websites do) then some things you can take note of are:
- Reduce Unnecessary WordPress Plugins
- Ensure you are using the best web host you can possibly afford. The figures above are proof that this is not an area you should skimp on.
- Utilise a CDN (content delivery network) for your static content.
- Utilise Google AMP
Optimise your images. This is easily done with WordPress as you can simply use a plugin such as EWWW Image Optimizer which will reduce image sizes using lossless technology.
Constantly test your website speed. The best place to start with this is to analyse your website with Google Page Speed Insights. It is always good to get a second opinion on this as well of which a great tool to use is GTMetrix. They will alert you to any issues that your website might currently be suffering from and offer advice on how you can fix them.
Select a good host in order to get the best possible speeds. If you are using WordPress I strongly recommend that you use a specialist WordPress host. For commercial sites I highly recommend WPEngine as the best in class. If you have more than one site and budget is tight then you can also consider SiteGround although I would highly recommend that you go for the top package (GoGeek) and also purchase a dedicated IP address for each of your sites.
If you are running other content management systems or websites using other web technologies then you should take a look at Heart Internet VPS services. I am recommending from personal experience in the UK but there are plenty of options out there.
Is Your Website Easily Crawled Without Errors
This is where I will start to cover issues that can seriously affect the performance of your website but you may require the use of some external tools in order to quickly identify issues.
To make sure that my website is setup correctly I want to scan my site to look for errors such as 40X errors, broken links, redirects, thin content, missing titles, missing meta descriptions and duplication issues.
To do this I use a tool called Screaming Frog SEO Spider. If you are an SEO yourself and you are not using it, then you should be. Seriously. If you are just looking at doing your own Technical SEO checks then you could could possibly get away with using the free version, but in my opinion the paid version is worth its weight in gold. If for no other reason that when you are doing your SEO Audit Checklist it will save you so much time. There are so many things which you can do with the SEO spider and Seer Interactive have made a guide for this.
The reason we look for these errors is that Googlebot needs to be able to flow smoothly through a website in order to find all the pages and help you get them indexed. By coming across error pages it is wasting time. You want the spider to be spending the time crawling the pages you want it to find rather than running into brick walls. It is fairly easy to ensure a correct setup with a new website. However, when you have a large website it is not uncommon for a websites architecture to go awry over time.
As I mentioned earlier it is best practice to only have your top level pages in you menus. From there you can link to the deep content from those pages. Think of it like a waterfall effect. Pour in the water at the top and it can only flow through the links. If the can make it through to your deep pages then you are on the right track.
By having a logical site architecture you are also taking into account user experience. For instance if I went to the Ameva Digital content marketing page, a logical progression from there would be to link from there to a sub category such as “content marketing strategy”.
A site structure should look something like this:
What we should always aim for is that no page on your website should be any more than 3 clicks away from your homepage. Obviously if you are setting up a website from scratch then achieving this is very simple. If you have an established website then re-organisation can be an epic task. Great care should be taken when completing this task but the end result is always well worth the time you spend on it.
Is Your Website Mobile Friendly
Since around April 2015 Google has given a boost to pages which are mobile friendly in its search results. Many referred to this update as ‘Mobilegeddon’ as there were still (and still are to this day) many sites which are not mobile friendly. With the search engine results being significantly affected on mobile devices and tablets people really cannot afford to ignore having a mobile friendly design.
The most common ways to have a mobile friendly design is to have either a specific mobile design that shows when being viewed through a mobile device. The other way is to have a mobile first responsive design. If you would like advice on any of this then get in contact with us and we can point you in the right direction.
If you are unsure whether or not your website is mobile friendly then you can use the Google Mobile Friendly Page Checker and it will tell you in a few seconds how Googlebot sees your website in mobile format. Hopefully you will see a result like this below.
Have You Enabled AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) For Your Web Pages
AMP is a Google backed project to help have mobile pages load quickly on mobile devices. Since February 2016 Google officially integrated AMP listings into its search results.
Honesty time here, at the time of writing this I have not implemented AMP on our website, as many of you will understand the customers come first and sometimes our own websites suffer because of it. Anyway, I will be doing this shortly and will make another post which I will link to from here about implementing it and how easy / complicated it is. More importantly I will be writing about if it has made a difference to our metrics.
When Google first went about prioritising mobile friendly websites they did originally have a tag on the mobile search that said ‘mobile friendly’ like the image below (Credit to Search Engine Land for the image). This ran from around April 2015 up until they removed the tag in 2016 in order to try and clean up the search page in August 2016.
In the advent of AMP however they have a small tag that appears against the search result. The point to note however is the fact that the AMP search results are at the top of the page. Google always strives for a clean, crisp and fast experience so how long the AMP tag actually stay remains to be seen.
While Google has yet to announce that AMP is a ranking factor many searches show that running AMP does indeed have an influence. News bases items certainly have an effect (see the image below). As Google wants to improve the overall user experience for mobile users and speed is a major factor then expect to see better visibility if using AMP on your site.
Structured Data – Your Content Is Good – Let It Be Found
While we all expect Google and the other search engines to be the all seeing eye and use their mind boggling algorithms to correctly work out your intentions through the on page content, it doesn’t always work out that way. While the search engines are getting better literally by the day it is good practice from ourselves to add in Schema Markup to point them in the right direction.
Many people mistaken schema markup as something that is used for Local SEO, more specifically NAP (Name, Address and phone number).
The majority of Schema Markups are done for the following items:
- Creative Work
With that said, Schema Markup really is far more than this. If you take a look at the full list of markups available then you will see what I mean.
While Schema Markup is not (as far as we know) a direct ranking factor it is certainly best practice to use Schema Markup where relevant to help the search engines along the way. Search Engines can use the Schema Markup to correctly categorise and create Rich Snippets for the web page. I strongly urge that businesses and people use Schema Markups every time it is possible to do so.
For instance, if I do a search for “Steak And Ale Pie Recipe” on Google then I get the following results.
The Schema markup in these cases have been used to provide:
- The Images
- The Star Rating
- Cooking Time
This information is helpful to Google to decide on relevance of your page and also very helpful to their users. The more information that a user can obtain before choosing a result will help the user know they are finding the right recipe before they have even clicked. Therefore it is essential that as marketers we help our clients ensure they are using Schema Markup wherever possible. One main advantage of using Markups are that it definitely helps you to increase your click through rate.
I hope that you have found something useful within this post. This post was made to help those with no real understanding of Technical SEO have somewhere to start from. It is by no means overly technical but more the very basics of Technical SEO. If you want to delve deeper into the world of the Technical SEO then Mike King (Aka iPullRank, a MUST follow on Twitter by the way) wrote a great post on The Technical SEO Renaissance which takes things to a far more advanced level. In my opinion if you are an SEO it is your duty to understand technical SEO to the deepest levels as it is integral to our jobs. If you employ an agency for your SEO then take it to them and ask for the results of their full technical analysis. If they cant give you one, then look for a different agency because they are not doing everything they can be for you, period.