What is Technical SEO? A Beginner’s Guide

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Creating and maintaining a successful site starts with a strong technical foundation. This is where technical SEO comes into play. Technical SEO refers to the optimization of website and server aspects in order to increase the ranking of its pages in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Optimizing your site from the technical side will help both users and search engine spiders. If you have a well-organized, mobile-friendly and fast site, you will keep visitors on your site. It also makes it easier for site crawlers to crawl and index your site more effectively.

Page and Site Speed

To be successful, you need a fast website that loads quickly on both desktop and mobile devices. Search engines prefer sites that load quickly and consider page speed a significant ranking signal. In July of 2018, Google announced a new ranking algorithm for speed for mobile searches.

You want to avoid something called pogo sticking which is closely related to bounce rates. Pogo sticking is when a user visits multiple search results to find what they’re looking for. Let’s say you click on the first result but it doesn’t load fast enough. You immediately return to the search results and try the next search result.

This quickly creates higher bounce rates and lowers the average time on a page. This tells Google and other search engines that you weren’t happy with the first result or maybe even the second or third. As a result, this could affect the rankings of web pages and your bottom line. As page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123%.

You can help improve your page speed by focusing on specific page attributes that can decrease the load time of a specific page on your website. Here are some aspects of your website you can review:

    • If you have images on your site, make sure they are optimized to the proper size
    • Check for the number of plugins you use and which ones that aren’t being used
    • Using a good content delivery network (CDN)

Site speed is just as important as page speed. It refers to the loading speed as users move from page to page. Google has also indicated that site speed is one of the signals used in their search rankings. Site speed is about rendering, pre-rendering and seamlessly guiding people through the various important paths and funnels you define with your site. According to Google, as the number of elements — text, titles, images — on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%.

Site Structure

The design and structure of your website is a very important factor when it comes to SEO. It helps to create a great user experience where visitors can find what they want easier which will most likely keep them on your site longer. It also helps search engines to crawl and index your site easily and efficiently.

A good site structure also helps in creating sitelinks on search engine result pages. Sitelinks provides an incredible advantage because they can increase the ability to navigate your site and directs users to the most relevant information. Through Google’s algorithm, they reward websites with excellent site structure.

A better site structure helps site crawlers to crawl your site. The goal for site crawlers is to index the content of your website so they can return the information in SERPs. Since crawlers don’t automatically see everything on your website, having an excellent structure makes it easier for them to discover your whole website.

Sitemap

An HTML sitemap improves the user experience by helping users easily navigate your site. It also helps visitors, who may be lost, find a particular page on your website by searching the site or navigating through the site menus.
Sitemaps can also be created in an XML format. An XML sitemap is similar but it is created for search engine crawlers to understand your website. Search engines use an XML sitemap to crawl every page of your website. XML sitemaps are helpful for a new website that may not have many links to it or one that has dynamic or achieved content that is not well-linked.

Hierarchy

Another way to help create good site structure is by creating a simple and effective site hierarchy. A hierarchy is a way to organize the content of your website in order to create easy navigation and URL structure. Creating a flat site hierarchy keeps your website organized in a short and easy way. It means that users and search engines are able to access any page on your site within 4 clicks or less. Using a logical hierarchy will make it simple for both users and site crawlers.
Using category pages allows you to easily organize your content. It allows you to silo content by organizing it into different categories. Each main category should serve a purpose and should be specific. This will help search engine spiders that land on any page, navigate to a category, then visit the most recent posts related to the category page. When creating the subcategories, each one should relate to the main categories. It doesn’t make sense to have a category for “Men’s Clothing” and a subcategory as “Kids T-shirts”. You want your categories and subcategories to make sense to users and crawlers so they aren’t confused. Without category pages, every time you want to create a new page, the page will be randomly added to your site outside of your structure creating confusion. The goal of categories and subcategories is to create a naturally flowing hierarchy making it as easy as possible for users and crawlers to go from general content to the more specific.

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Mobile Optimization

It’s no secret that mobile usage is on the rise. As of 2019, mobile traffic is more popular than desktop traffic. This means having a mobile-friendly site is key in engaging with all of your audience and it’s also a significant aspect of how users visit and use your site.

In 2015, Google rolled out its mobile-friendly update that would boost the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Google also enabled mobile-first indexing on July 1, 2019, where they predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.

If you have a desktop and mobile site with separate content, your mobile site should contain the same content as your desktop. If your mobile site has less content than your desktop site, you should update your mobile site by adding all critical content like text, images and videos. It’s also important to have structured data and metadata present making sure that titles and meta descriptions are consistent for both sites.

Tip: You can check the mobile responsiveness of your website in your browser.

    1. In the top right corner, there is the “Settings” menu. Click on the dots.
    2. It will open a drop-down menu. Find and click on “More tools”.
    3. Another menu will open up. Find and click on “Developer tools”.
    4. You will now see the current webpage in responsive design.

Site Security

Assuring your site is secure is crucial in building trust among your users and search engines. That means using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate on your website and transferring your HTTP site to HTTPS. In 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal and that they want to see “HTTPS everywhere” on the web.

An SSL certificate is essential in protecting server-client communication and encrypting every bit of information. This is especially important in protecting users when sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers are being shared online.

SSL also provides authentication to your website. Installing an SSL certificate requires a validation process by Certificate Authority (CA), a third-party organization. This process verifies the identity of you and your business and once proven, your website receives trust indicators.

Types of SSL Certificates

Domain Validated Certificates (DV)

A Domain Validated Certificate is only verified through the vetting of the applicant and doesn’t include any company information. It offers a lock in the address bar, but doesn’t show organization details because none exists.
The purpose of a DV is to validate domain ownership only. They are not associated with a particular person, place or organization.

Organization Validated Certificates (OV)

An Organization Validated Certificate is similar to an Extended Validation Certificate in that it confirms the right to use a specific domain and reviews the organization associated with the domain.
An OV Certificate still requires vetting of the company information and this information can be viewed when a user clicks of the Secure Site Seal. This gives users an enhanced sense of trust because they know who is behind the site.

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Extended Validation Certificates (EV)

With an Extended Validation Certificate, the Certificate Authority checks if the applicant is able to use the specific domain and reviews the organization. With an EV, It verifies the legal, physical and operational existence of the business and the right to use the domain.
Because this certificate comes with the most comprehensive verification checking and domain verification, it is most preferred. EV certificates can be identified by a lock image beside the URL, the organization name and country ID.

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Site Errors

There are many common technical errors that can negatively affect your website’s ranking. Whether it is a user or a website crawler, nobody likes site errors. It is crucial that you identify and fix these errors so that it doesn’t affect your ranking.

Redirects

There are two kinds of redirects — 301 and 302 redirects. 301 redirects are permanent redirects and are used when you are looking to permanently replace a page. 302 redirects are temporary redirects and let’s search engines know that the redirect will be gone soon.

If you’re looking to replace a page or redirect it, using a 301 redirect will tell search engines the page has been permanently moved to a new URL. By doing this, it will transfer most of the old page’s authority to the next one. Also, search engines will not continue to crawl or index the old page you no longer want to use. But, using a 302 redirect will keep the authority of the original page you aren’t even using.

404 Errors

There is nothing more frustrating than landing on a page that is no longer available or cannot be found. This is known as a 404 error and is a very common error for websites. They can cause user frustration and, as mentioned before, pogo-sticking. This can happen if you moved a page without a 301 redirect, someone linked to an incorrect page or you deleted a page.

As a solution, you can optimize your 404 page with a custom page. You may be thinking, “Wouldn’t it be easier to redirect that page?”. Well, it’s not that simple because it is difficult to track the source of the 404 error.

You can create a custom and optimized 404 page by including the same structure and navigation bars as the rest of your website to make it easier for users to return to another page. You can also offer alternative pages that are related to the page users were initially looking for.

Duplicate content issues

Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar”. When there are multiple pages with similar content, it is hard for Google and other search engines to determine which page to rank. Duplicate content is also bad for visitors because if visitors are finding that the content is too alike, they most likely won’t be coming back.

Conclusion

Technical SEO is the most important SEO tactic in establishing a strong foundation for your website. Optimizing the technical aspects of your website will help both users and search engines have a good experience on your site. With a technically optimized site visitors can freely and enjoyably explore your site with no delays, confusion or errors. Search engine spiders will be able to easily and efficiently crawl and index your site, preparing it for the SERPs.

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