When you’re running a website and competing to get to the top of search results, you need to apply more than just the basics of SEO. This is where technical SEO is important to give you that competitive edge. So, what exactly is technical SEO? It’s the process of optimising your website so that search engines can crawl and index your site more effectively, helping you to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). The ‘technical’ aspect is the focus on optimising areas that search engines crawl and index, which includes your site’s structure, speed and code. Essentially, technical SEO focuses more on internal factors, building the foundation of a high-ranking website. It’s all about making your website as easy to find and index as possible, so your pages must be well-structured and free of errors – site speed and performance also need to be exceptional.
Technical SEO helps improve search rankings, boosting visibility and organic traffic. It also benefits the experience of users, making your audience more likely to return to your website in future. The term ‘technical’ can make it seem intimidating at first and there is a lot to learn, however, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be smooth sailing! At Distinctly, we’ve been improving our client’s SEO for years, so if you’re in need of a helping hand, our technical SEO services are a great place to start.
Key advanced technical SEO terms
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of technical SEO, you need to learn the lingo. Here are some key terms – get those notepads out!
- Crawling – search engines send search spiders to detect new and updated content on your website. These spiders crawl and store this information for indexing and retrieval.
- Indexing – search engines index content they find during a crawl and store it. Once a page is indexed, it’ll appear in relevant search results.
- Retrieval – search engines search their index for relevant websites during a search query, retrieve these results and rank them based on relevancy.
- XML sitemap – an XML sitemap tells search engines the structure of a website.
- Robots.txt – this file controls which files search engine spiders can crawl.
- Structured data – a format for organising content on a website. This is used by search engines to understand a page and helps to form snippets on results pages.
- 404 error – this is displayed when a page can’t be found, these dead pages are bad for the user experience.
- 301 redirect – this can be used to remedy dead pages to permanently redirect the dead URL to another.
- ALT text – search engines are unable to read images, so ALT text is used to describe the image.
- HTML tags – HTML tags are also used by search engines to understand what’s important on your page. For example, the title will be ‘H1’ and so on.
- Secure Socket Layer (SSL) – an SSL is used by websites that have “HTTPS” to ensure that it’s safe to use.
Advanced technical SEO audits
Audits are a vital aspect of technical SEO to help build a strong website foundation. A technical SEO audit enables you to identify issues on your website that may reduce its visibility. It can also include a competitor analysis to spot gaps between your content and top-ranking pages.
How to perform an SEO audit
Performing an SEO audit can seem like a daunting task, which is why we’ve been so kind as to outline the steps below:
Step 1: Review your website structure
Your website’s structure is the foundation for strong SEO, and reviewing this regularly identifies issues quickly. The structure includes things like site hierarchy, URL structure and internal linking. Both visitors and search engines need to be able to easily navigate your website. Here are some things to look out for:
- Orphan pages — an orphan page is a page on your website that has no links pointing to it, which makes it difficult for search engines to crawl. You can find orphan pages using Screaming Frog, simply follow our guide on orphan pages to find out how.
- 404 pages — you can crawl your site on Screaming Frog to find any 404 pages, once found, you can redirect using 301.
Step 2: Secure your website
We recommend switching your site to HTTPS and securing using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). This adds extra security and trust to your site, which is especially important if you accept online payments.
Step 3: Submit an XML sitemap
To check whether your website has a sitemap, all you need to do is type into the search bar: www.[website]/sitemap.xml
If you don’t have a sitemap, it’s easy to create onto by using: https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
Now that you’ve created your shiny new sitemap, you need to submit it using Google Search Console and clicking on Sitemaps. You simply add your URL and submit. Now it’s much easier for search engines to understand your website.
Step 4: Check your robots.txt
Your robots.txt dictates what search engines can crawl. You can verify your robots.txt by searching for www.[website]/robots.txt
You can add or remove what you’d like search engines to crawl here. Although, we would be very careful about amending robot.txt as when done incorrectly it can deindex your website. Always use an expert when making changes like this. Your robots.txt will need to be changed when launching a new website, again, only an expert should do this.
Step 5: Optimise URLs
It’s important to make sure that your URLs are short and descriptive, with the main keyword featured. This helps improve your web accessibility whilst being easy to understand and remember.
Step 6: Improve metadata
Metadata is snippets of information that explain the contents of a page. Meta tags contain this information, telling search engines what a page is about. This means that you should ensure all pages have keyword-optimised title tags and meta descriptions – title tags should be between 50-60 characters whilst meta descriptions be under 155 characters.
Step 7: Optimise site speed
In today’s world, users expect everything to be instant. So, a slow website can cause people to leave your site. Speed also impacts rankings, so your site won’t appear at the top of Google if it’s slow. You can improve speed by doing a few things:
- Reduce image sizes
- Enable browser caching
- Enable Gzip compression (reduces the file size of your site)
Step 8: Fix content issues
Content plays a huge role in technical SEO and neglecting certain issues can negatively impact your SEO. Here are two main things to audit when it comes to your content:
- Duplicate content – if you have multiple pages of similar or identical content, this can be fixed with a 301 redirect.
- Sparse content – if pages have little or no useful content, then they may damage your search ranking. It’s not necessarily about the length of the content but the quality – aim to match search intent and answer the questions people are asking.
Step 9: Improve mobile friendliness
You should always regularly audit how your website performs on a mobile device – is it easy to navigate? Is it optimised for a mobile experience? You can use various plugins to help your site work well for mobiles.
Best technical SEO audit tools
To perform an effective SEO audit and fix the above, you need to utilise some of these amazing tools:
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider — this tool crawls your website and gives you an overview of links and website content. It’s a great way to audit your website for quick fixes.
- Semrush — Semrush is an accessible tool that can be used for technical audits to find orphan pages, check core web vitals and more.
- Google Search Console — a must-have tool for technical SEO that allows you to verify URLs, submit your XML sitemap and more.
- PageSpeed Insights — with site speed being such an integral part of technical SEO, this tool is indispensable, telling you how fast your website is and what’s slowing it down.
Indexing is a very important part of technical SEO – if your pages aren’t indexed, then search engines can’t organise or store the information and so you won’t appear in search results. You need to make sure that the pages you want people to find can be indexed by Google. You can use some of the site audit tools we mentioned above to check this.
It’s important to also be aware of the mobile first index which sees the mobile version of your website take priority over the desktop one. If you don’t have a mobile version, Google will index the desktop one, which will damage your visibility.
JS rendering issues
As mentioned above, Google now prioritises the mobile version of your website, which means it’s critical that you have a mobile-friendly website that offers a great user experience. You can use Google Search Console’s ‘Mobile Usability’ report to see how well your mobile UX performs. Things like device width and text size will be measured. All of these are quick, easy wins that will significantly help your search ranking.
Your URL structures will impact your site’s SEO and ranking. You want to have readable URLs that include keywords but remain memorable to your audience. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure URLs are easy-to-read
- Don’t use capital letters
- Include keywords
- Don’t use dates
Log file analysis
Log files are records of who accessed a website and what content they clicked on. These log files could be a search engine bot or a person viewing your site. The insights this data can provide are incredibly useful. You can plan your SEO strategy better, find answers to questions you have about your site and even justify making changes.
You can conduct a log file analysis by accessing your web service, these files are only available to the webmasters of the site.
Schema markup helps search engines to understand your content better, which results in a higher ranking for relevant queries. Thankfully, it’s incredibly simple to add to your website using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. You simply markup all the different elements of your page, Google then generates the HTML which you can then add to your own site.
A canonical tag tells search engines that a certain URL represents that master copy of a page. This prevents penalisation when duplicate content appears on multiple URLs, as you’re telling Google which version of the URL should appear in search results. By applying canonicalisation across your site, you’re making it easier for search engines to crawl your site without having to wade through duplicate content. It also helps the page you want people to access rank higher.
You can add this tag to pages using the following code:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”URL” />
Technical SEO doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. We hope our guide has helped you understand the importance of technical SEO and how taking things one step at a time can make a significant positive difference to your website. It’s important to focus on getting the foundations right, which will future-proof your website and improve rankings over time.