Here’s why technical SEO is a key component to your brand’s overall digital marketing success.
Here, you’ll find:
- What technical SEO is
- How to determine your current technical SEO health
- Tips for improving your technical SEO
- How strong technical SEO benefits your brand
If you’re a marketing pro — and reading this right now — we’re going to guess you’re familiar with the concept of search engine optimization, or SEO. (And if not, you can find a full intro to SEO here.) But there’s a lesser-known part of this process that’s often swept aside: technical SEO.
Technical SEO is just as important as things like content and on-site SEO. Arguably, it’s even more important, since it can be more difficult to understand and tends to be the piece that’s ignored by companies and marketing teams. However, if your technical SEO is in tip-top shape, you can see huge improvements in some of your most important SEO KPIs.
In a survey by G2, enterprise brands named technical SEO as their most successful SEO strategy. Let’s dive into the most important steps for improving your website’s technical SEO health.
Audit your current SEO efforts
To make sure your technical SEO is where it should be, you’ve got to take a step back and look at where it currently stands. Conducting an SEO audit is one great way to do just that. A proper SEO audit is a mix of a manual walk-through of your site coupled with the use of trusted tools, such as SEMRush and Screaming Frog, to find common technical issues.
Some issues auditing tools look for when crawling your site include:
- Duplicate content
- Broken internal links
- Invalid robots.txt format
- Non-secure pages
- Slow page load speed
- Multiple canonical URLs
Once you’ve done an audit to identify what needs to be fixed on your site, the next step is to start addressing these technical issues. These audits can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an SEO expert and a web developer review and help you address the more technical issues that may arise from the audit.
Pro tip: You should register your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already. These free tools are powerful in understanding technical issues on your website.
Here’s a short clip from a recent webinar I hosted that delves into how to perform a technical SEO audit.
Understand how search bots crawl and index
Currently, Google has billions of pages in its index. Google and other search engines have their own bots (also called “spiders”) they send out to crawl websites via the source code on your website. But these bots don’t “see” web pages the same way humans do.
Think that if you just produce great content, Google will find it, rank it, and traffic will come? Not quite. If a bot can’t find or understand your pages, even if your content is the best on the internet, it can’t rank in the search results.
Despite how powerful search engines are, their bots crawl a finite number of pages across the internet. Because of this, you want to make sure they’re crawling the most important, high-quality pages on your site — not wasting time on low-quality pages. This is referred to as “crawl budget.”
Crawl budget is extremely key for larger websites. If you have thousands of pages, but your crawl stats show that Google’s only crawling a portion of them each day, it means they’re missing big parts of your site. You can improve your crawl budget by excluding crawlers from irrelevant pages. These could be:
- Admin or login pages
- “Thank you” or confirmation pages
- Paginated pages
- Testing and development pages
- PPC landing pages
Pro tip: Check which pages are indexed in search engines by doing a simple site:[website URL] search in Google. You can click through all the indexed results to see if a chunk of pages might be missing or if there are pages that shouldn’t be indexed.
Implement structured data
One way to improve how bots understand your website content is through structured data, also called schema markup. This is important for SEO and to prepare for the future of search, as Google and other engines continue to personalize the user experience and answer questions directly on their search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are hundreds of different schema types, and the best fit for your website depends on your product or service, industry, and the type of content you offer. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a highly useful tool if you’re not familiar with structured data. It walks you through the steps to add structured data to your site, notes which items need to be marked up, and creates the HTML for you.
Structured data is important because it can help you stand out in the search results and increases the likelihood of your site being shown in SERP features like Featured Snippets or People Also Ask, which can be hugely beneficial for your site. If you already have structured data on your site, you can check if it’s working properly by using the Rich Results Test tool.
Secure your site
The “http” in URLs stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it allows for information to be passed between web servers and clients. The “S” stands for secure. If a website isn’t secure, any information a user inputs on the page (like their name, address, or credit card details) are not protected and can be stolen.
On a secure website, the code is encrypted. This means any sensitive information cannot be traced. Having a secure site can give you a small ranking boost. Plus, web browsers like Chrome are getting more aggressive about letting users know if they’re on a non-secure site and could be at risk.
Check if your website is secure by looking in your browser. If your site has a lock next to the URL, it’s secure — if there’s no lock or it says “not secure,” then it’s not. Secure domains will also show “https” in the search bar, vs. just “http.”
Having a secure vs. non-secure site can be the difference between a user converting or not converting. If your website is secure, your audience can feel confident that their personal data is safe and that your brand is trustworthy. On the other hand, arriving to a site with warnings that the page they’re on isn’t secure may make users uneasy and cause them to bounce.
Pro tip: Page speed is another current ranking factor that you want to stay on top of by making sure your site is fast to load (on desktop and mobile). It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Core Web Vitals, as these are slated to become ranking signals in 2021.
Ensure your site is mobile-friendly
Websites that aren’t mobile friendly can have extreme difficulty ranking well in search engines. A good rule of thumb is to have a responsive website instead of a separate mobile site. You can test your mobile friendliness by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
But it’s not enough for a site to be simply mobile responsive. Your site should also have a positive overall mobile user experience. Mobile users are very fickle and will bounce quickly if they can’t find what they’re looking for fast.
Making sure your site is optimized for mobile users is a step many marketers forget to take, since we’re so often working from desktops. Google Search Console can also alert you to any mobile usability issues like clickable elements being too small or content being too close to the screen’s edge.
Review your website architecture
We’ve highlighted the importance of website architecture for SEO before. Basically, its goal is to make navigating your website easy, clear, and intuitive while making it easier for search engines to crawl your pages. The main components of website architecture are:
- Internal links
- URL structures
- Meta data
Navigation is important for user experience as well as search engines. Search bots crawl links and your sitemap, but they also use navigation to determine how important certain pages are on your site.
Because of this, you want to make sure your important pages are linked as “tier 1,” or most important. Ideally, you don’t have more than seven tier 1 items unless you have a really large website, and I usually don’t recommend linking tier 4 pages and beyond in the navigation to avoid clutter.
When bots are crawling your content, they’re following both internal and external links. Because of that, you want to use internal links to guide them to the important pages on your site.
You usually don’t need to link to your homepage internally since it’s going be your highest authority page anyway. You should, however, link to internal content, such as product pages and blogs.
Also, be sure to use keywords in your anchor text instead of generic phrases like “learn more” or “click here.” Bots use anchor text to help determine the topic of the content you’re linking to.
If your website host automatically creates URLs for you when you add new pages to your site, you may not think about URL structures much. But these structures are yet another signal that explains what your page is about to search engine bots. Check out these two examples:
Not to toot our own horn here, but it’s clear that one URL structure has a much clearer explanation of what a page is going to be about than another. Also, you should use keywords in your URLs when possible, and URL structures should follow your navigation’s structure (like how the above blog title comes after “/blog/” root category).
Pro tip: Avoid underscores in your URLs. Bots ignore underscores and will think anything separated by an underscore is one long word, so use hyphens instead.
Meta data refers to things like your site’s page title and meta description, which summarizes the page’s content. These elements can help your clickthrough rate when you follow best practices like:
- Including keywords
- Using pipes or hyphens to separate words
- Keep titles under 60 characters
- Keeping meta descriptions under 155 characters
The page title may cut off in search results if it goes too long, especially for mobile. It’s also worth noting that Google outputs the URL above page title now on the SERP. This is another reason URL structure is important and should be easy to read.
The more technical side of SEO can be intimidating. After all, it’s filled with code, jargon, and robots.
But by getting a handle on your technical SEO, you can be confident that your efforts are more thorough, well-rounded, and poised for maximum search engine visibility.