- Technical SEO is about optimising your website so that it’s functional, organised and ready for both search engines and human visitors.
- Google prioritises mobile-friendly, secure websites. You should consider these factors in your technical SEO plan.
- An XML sitemap will tell search engines about the important content on your site. Once you’ve created a sitemap you can submit it to the Google Search Console tool.
- Search engines prefer web pages that display authority, relevance and expertise.
What is technical SEO?
If you think of your website as a theatre production, technical SEO is everything that’s going on backstage.
Google and other search engines are constantly crawling and indexing web pages, and technical SEO can help streamline this process.
There are certain things you can do behind the scenes to improve your ranking position. For example, your website structure and navigation should be a priority. By making sure Google can crawl your pages without roadblocks, you’ll have a better chance of reaching the top of the organic search results.
We do technical SEO for the benefit of Google, but it’s for visitors too. A design that’s easy to browse, fast-loading and free from broken links is a must if you want people to stick around.
Unless you’re tech-savvy, technical SEO can be difficult to master. SEO experts use a range of tools to tweak web pages as Google’s algorithms change. These tools make the work easier and can provide useful insights into potential optimisations.
What’s the difference between technical SEO, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and content?
Humans want answers. Fast. That means our reliance on search isn’t slowing down. In one year, search engine use went up by 20%. And, with the prevalence of smartphones, information is literally at our fingertips.
If you want your target audience to find you, a robust SEO strategy is important. By covering all your bases, your web pages can be the full package.
We’ve already given you a brief rundown of technical SEO, but how does it compare to the other pillars of SEO? Here’s a quick side-by-side view of the other components of a good SEO strategy:
- On-page SEO – is all about optimising the individual pages on your website. On-page SEO includes tags, meta descriptions, alt text, code optimisations and more.
- Off-page SEO – this covers everything you do outside of your website to boost its reputation. This typically focuses on link-building, maintaining social media profiles and listing your website on local directories.
- Content – content is all the text, image and video information on your website. Content plays a major role in how websites are ranked by Google. Pages with high quality, knowledgeable and expertly-written content are more likely to rank.
What does technical SEO cover?
Technical SEO covers a range of areas. Here’s a rundown of the key things you need to do to maximise your technical SEO strategy:
1. Understand how crawling and indexing work
Search engines continuously crawl the internet for quality content. Once a page is discovered, it will be rendered and examined. If it meets the requirements it can then be indexed, ready to appear in search results.
Without crawling and indexing, your website won’t get valuable traffic from Google and other search engines.
So, we need our website to be crawlable, and we also need to encourage those crawlers to come back on a regular basis. There are a few strategies you can use to improve your chances of repeat visits from crawlers. We’ll go into some of them in more detail as the article progresses, but here’s a quick rundown:
- Create sitemaps
- Add structured data
- Improve loading speeds
- Remove duplicate content
- Take website security seriously
- Make sure your pages are mobile-friendly
If you want to learn more about this topic, check out our in-depth guide on How Google Search works.
2. Improve site security
Cybercrime is increasing at an alarming rate, with a predicted annual cost of $10.5 trillion by 2025.
While nothing can stop scams, identity theft, malware and phishing, Google offers some protection to its users. For the last few years, the search engine has been putting security-conscious sites first.
You may have noticed that some websites have an “http://” while others have “https://”. The “s” stands for “secure” and is an essential technical SEO component.
There are two protocols that will encrypt and secure information as it’s transferred from the server to the browser. The original option was SSL, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s being phased out and replaced by TLS, which stands for Transport Layer Security. TSL is superior to SSL because it provides additional security and speed.
Depending on the browser, the “https://” will usually show a lock symbol – when you click it you’ll find the security certificate with the issuer and validity period.
There can be variations, but most certificates need to be renewed every year. Fortunately, they’re very affordable and web hosting companies often include them in their plans.
3. Optimise page speed
39% of web users expect a page to load in less than 3 seconds. 14% of people think anything over one second is too long to wait. Google agrees and favours web pages that have a load time of 2 seconds or less.
Use the PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tool to see how your web pages measure up. When you input your web address, the tool will generate a report with different tabs for mobile and desktop users.
The “Performance Score” insight is a good place to start because it covers a range of metrics. If you want to concentrate on page speed, look at the “Speed Index.”
PSI has a traffic light system to rank each metric. It looks like this:
- Red triangle: A score between 0–49. This is a warning that your page needs significant improvement.
- Amber square: A score between 50–89. The page has a medium score and needs improvement.
- Green circle: A score between 90–100. This is a good score and something to aim for.
Page load speed isn’t just a measure of how quickly the entire page loads. Google breaks load speed into a few smaller categories.
First Contentful Paint (FCP) refers to the time visible content starts to load. And, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is the time it takes for the main content to load.
With this tool, insights are broken down into different elements with Opportunities and Diagnostics. Here’s an example of issues that can impact page speed:
You can often improve loading speed with small tweaks, like optimising image sizes. Other times, you may need to make complex changes to the website and server-side code.
4. Shake up your URL structure
Your URL is the address used to find your webpage. Search engines look at the URL to try to understand what the page is about.
A typical URL structure will look something like this:
- Protocol: https:// for a secure site, or http:// for an insecure site
- Subdomain: www – which stands for “world wide web”
- Root domain: the website name
- TLD: top-level domain, e.g. “.com” or “.com.au”
- Slug: the category and page title
There are a few rules that’ll make your URLs SEO-friendly and appealing to the end user. For example, they should be short and snappy, and closely match the content of the page. In most cases, the page title and URL slug can be the same.
Stay away from all-caps. For Google, URLs are case-sensitive, so a slip of the caps lock may cause damage. Spaces and underscores are also a big no-no. You can separate each word with a hyphen:
- RIGHT: /how-to-train-a-dog
- WRONG: /howTOTRAINa_dog
Numbers should only be used when relevant to the article. So, if your post is called “Top 10 Dog Training Tips”, the URL can be “/top-10-dog-training-tips”.
If your website runs on software such as WordPress or Shopify, the default slug will usually be clean and ready for search. You can double-check by browsing your site and looking at what shows up in the address bar.
You can include keywords in your URL, but don’t go over the top.
5. Consider product schema
Structured data is also known as “product schema.” By adding structured data markups to your pages, you can create a richer search experience.
Simply put, you can add snippets of code to your HTML to give Google more information. The search engine uses these details to display more relevant results. It can improve the way your listings are shown in search results.
Product schema is useful for both search engines and users because it tells them exactly what to expect from your product pages.
There are a range of product properties you can use, including:
- Product descriptions
- Product price and price drops
- Ratings and reviews
- Product availability
- Shipping details
- Offers and awards
While there are clear benefits to structured data, implementing it does take some SEO know-how. If you’re confident, start with this how to add structured data tutorial. Alternatively, if you use an SEO agency, make sure it’s on their to-do list.
6. Check your sitemaps
A sitemap is a file that acts as a roadmap for your website. The preferred format is XML (Extensible Markup Language) but some websites use text or RSS instead.
The file should contain information about your website’s pages, files and videos that you want Google crawlers to visit. The purpose is to make it easier for search engines to connect the dots and add your pages to Google’s index.
Your sitemap can contain up to 50,000 URLs. If your site is bigger than this, you’ll need to spread the links over multiple files.
Sitemaps are sometimes built into web software and will be generated automatically. If you’re not sure, you can check your domain like this: https://domain.com/sitemap.xml.
Do you really need a sitemap?
A sitemap will never harm your website. They are most beneficial to larger websites with complex structures. Adding a sitemap is also a good way to kick off the crawling of a new site, and show search engines where everything is. And, if you have media files such as images and videos, a sitemap will ensure they’re indexed correctly.
The free Google Search Console for web owners is a convenient tool that’s packed with features. If you do create a sitemap, log in to your account, choose your property and submit the sitemap URL.
7. Make it mobile-friendly
A mobile-friendly design is essential. It’s so important that Google now uses mobile-first indexing as its first choice. This means the mobile version of your website is the focus of indexing.
If you want your website to be crawled and indexed correctly, the mobile version and desktop version should be similar. For example, you should use the same structured data, content and metadata.
Checking your site for mobile compatibility is simple. The first step is to open up your URL on your mobile device to see how well it performs. Does it load quickly with clear navigation and a dynamic design? Is everything where it should be?
If you’re serious about technical SEO, there are a few more steps you can take. Remember how we recommended the PageSpeed Insights tool to improve the loading time of your web pages? Take another look at your URLs, but this time put your focus on the Mobile tab.
Any issues will be flagged with suggestions for improvement. For example, there may be security, browser and accessibility errors appearing in the mobile version.
Just like your page speed, you should aim for a mobile-friendly score in the green.
8. Know your site architecture
A site with a clear structure will be easier to crawl. The term “site architecture” refers to the way your pages link together.
The goal should be to create a design with “flat site architecture”. Using this method, every page on your website should be accessible in less than four clicks.
It all starts with your homepage, followed by categories, sub-categories and content. Here’s an example of how the site’s architecture should look:
As you can see, creating a clear structure takes a common-sense approach. It’s easy to navigate for humans and web crawlers alike.
Having the right architecture is important, but there are other ways you can improve your site’s navigation and crawl-ability.
For example, some web properties use a feature called Breadcrumbs. Remember the children’s fairytale, Hansel and Gretel? They found their way back home following a trail of breadcrumbs. Without them, they would surely have ended up as the main course.
In web terms, this is a virtual navigational trail that shows the hierarchy of the pages. Breadcrumbs sit at the top of your pages, under the menu bar. If you have an e-commerce website, the Breadcrumbs may display on page like this:
Home > Brand > Brand Name > Product Name
Internal links can also help with navigation. You can link to internal pages in your content and add links in your footer pointing to pages like Contact Us and About Us.
9. Fix duplicate content
When you have the same content on more than one page, it’s called “duplicate content.” Google only indexes pages that are unique. Duplicate content can result in your website not being indexed, or it may cause your own pages to compete against one another, hindering your SEO efforts.
It’s unlikely that you’re intentionally publishing duplicate content. Technical issues and human error can both cause this issue.
For example, tracking codes can lead to variations in URLs. If a session ID is auto-generated, the content may be duplicated. Or, if the website is set up incorrectly, the page may be accessible by both “http://” and “https://” which looks like duplicate content in the eyes of Google.
If you have multiple URLs with the same or similar content, you need to decide which one is king. The page you choose will be the canonical URL. What happens next depends on the cause of the problem.
One option is to add a rel=canonical attribute to your preferred page. This lets Google know it’s the main version. That’s the URL Google will crawl and index.
Or, you can use a 301 redirect. It’s a simple fix that can be added to duplicate content. Permanently redirecting duplicate content to the canonical page can fix any issues you’re having.
Don’t forget, copying text from other sites is also classed as duplicate content. Even if you have permission to repost (e.g. press releases and product descriptions), it can still impact your results. It’s better to write original content wherever possible.
Stand out with authority, relevance and experience
Technical SEO will take your website to the next level. But, SERPS are generated quickly and there are a range of factors that influence what we see.
Google expects top-ranking pages to have three things:
What are they? Let’s take a look.
There are two types of authority: Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA). It’s a ranking system that started with Moz, which determines how your URLs will fare in Google.
Pages with high authority will usually receive a higher ranking than those with a low score. The scale ranges between 0 and 100, with 100 being the best.
Hitting 100 isn’t easy. Only Google and YouTube have perfect DA scores:
SEO can be the key to improving your DA and PA. A well-structured website with backlinks from reputable external websites is just the beginning.
The second ranking factor is relevance. Search engines favour content that’s a close match to the search term. The goal is to provide quality content to users while giving them the answers they’re looking for.
Improving the relevance of your pages usually falls under the other pillars of SEO. For example, creating insightful content and resources is a good starting point.
You can add keywords to your web pages to mirror popular search terms, just be mindful to avoid keyword stuffing.
Experience comes down to the consistency of the content on your website. Do you have a voice that explains the topic clearly? Is the content written by an expert? Are users finding the information they’re searching for?
For example, if you have a website that promotes your mechanic workshop, consider writing guides about at-home car maintenance tips. Providing accurate, well-written DIY guides helps to show Google that you’re an expert mechanic, which can boost the rankings of your other pages.
Search engines want the best content they can get their hands on, and sites with authoritative, experienced voices always stand out.
After all the hard work of technical SEO is done, you can show your experience by putting quality information on every single page of your site.
Get the lowdown on technical SEO
SEO can be broken into a few main pillars, including on-page, off-page and technical SEO. Technical SEO covers everything you do behind the scenes to improve the organisation and navigation of your web pages.
Technical SEO can be the most challenging part of your SEO strategy. It requires an in-depth understanding of how Google crawls and indexes websites.
Optimising your website, improving security and organising your URLs in the correct way can all make a difference. But it’s often a job that’s better left to the pros.
The team at Gordon Digital are experts in all things technical SEO, and we can help your website make it to the top of Google!
Technical SEO is complex. But it’s a crucial part of the SEO strategies we design. With a bit of expertise, we’re able to use technical SEO to make your website easier to navigate for humans and search engines alike!
You can get in touch to find out more, or book a strategy session if you’re ready to get started.