Search engine optimization is complex, involving both on-page and off-page factors. But technical SEO focuses on the underlying technical aspects that impact how search engines view your website. From page speed to link architecture to HTML code, technical SEO aims to optimize all the behind-the-scenes elements that search engines use to rank pages.
Paying close attention to technical SEO can give your website a competitive advantage. Search engines reward technical excellence and well-designed sites, so prioritizing technical SEO can result in higher rankings and more organic traffic.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO refers to the underlying technical aspects of a website that can impact its search engine optimization and rankings. And it should be part of your long-term SEO strategy. Technical SEO focuses on optimizing:
HTML: Ensuring clean, valid HTML code that search engines can easily interpret. This includes using appropriate semantic tags, minimizing duplicate content, and avoiding deprecated tags.
Internal linking: Creating an optimized internal link structure helps search engines discover and understand all pages.
URLs: Implementing a URL structure optimized for search engines with relevant keywords in URLs and the proper use of redirects.
XML sitemaps: Submitting XML sitemaps to help search engines find all website pages to crawl and index them properly.
Structured data: Using schemas and structured data markup to provide search engines with machine-readable information about page content.
Crawlability: Fixing any technical issues that may prevent search engines from properly crawling all website pages.
Security: Implementing security best practices to protect a website from malware and exploits that could impact SEO.
In summary, technical SEO focuses on all the technical details and behind-the-scenes website optimizations that can support overall SEO efforts and help pages rank higher in search results.
Now I’ll explain each technical SEO factor in detail.
Page Speed Optimization
One of the most critical areas of technical SEO is page speed optimization. Google has long stated that page speed is a ranking factor, so the faster your pages load, the higher they tend to rank. You can optimize page speed in several ways:
Leverage a content delivery network (CDN): A CDN stores website assets on servers worldwide, speeding up visitor load times based on location.
Reduce the number of HTTP requests: Every external asset on your page (images, scripts, etc.) results in an HTTP request, so reducing these requests speeds up load times.
Compress images: Use techniques like JPEG compression and image scaling. This can significantly reduce image file sizes with little visible impact.
Enable browser caching: This tells browsers to store website assets temporarily so they don’t have to be requested again, speeding up subsequent page loads.
Host your website on a fast server: The speed of your host impacts how quickly your pages can be served to visitors.
By taking these technical SEO approaches to page speed optimization, you have a good chance of beating competitors that neglect this important ranking factor. Faster sites are seen as higher quality and more user-friendly by Google.
Smart Link Building
Link building is crucial to SEO, but technical SEO focuses on building links. Here are some aspects of technical link-building to consider:
Internal linking: How pages link to each other internally affects SEO. Use keyword-optimized anchor text in moderation and create a hierarchical internal link structure.
External links: The anchor text, source codes, and linking pages of external links impact rankings. Ask for high-quality, relevant links from authoritative sources.
Anchor text: Use a mix of broad and exact-match anchor text in external links. Too much exact match anchor text can be seen as unnatural.
No-follow links: Google respects no-follow links, and they don’t pass PageRank. But too many no-follows can make your site seem untrustworthy.
Link spam prevention: Avoid unnatural linking tactics like link exchanges, automated link building, and article submission networks.
Redirected links: Any redirects in your link profile should be 301 redirects, not 302s. Google sees 302s as temporary.
Internal link equity: Distribute your internal link equity wisely among pages to boost their rankings.
Syndicated content: Request a do-follow link to the original page if the content is syndicated on other sites.
By focusing your link building through a technical SEO perspective and considering all these details, you can develop a high-quality, natural link profile that helps boost your rankings. Proper technical link building sets you apart from competitors who just accumulate as many links as possible.
Ensure to avoid outdated SEO practices when you are building links.
Valid HTML and CSS
The HTML and CSS that make up your website pages dramatically impact how search engines view and index those pages. Technical SEO involves maintaining clean, valid HTML and CSS code that works well for SEO. Here are some areas to focus on:
Validate your code: Use the W3C validator to identify and fix any errors in your HTML and CSS. Google pays attention to validation.
Keep your markup semantic: Use the appropriate HTML tags (header, nav, main, section, etc.) to mark up different sections of your pages semantically.
Avoid deprecated tags: Don’t use outdated HTML tags like font, center, and iframe. They won’t work as well for SEO.
Limit nested tables: Avoid using nested HTML tables for page layout. Google finds them difficult to interpret.
Remove duplicate content: Identify and fix any issues with pages having largely similar or identical content.
Use heading tags wisely: Include heading tags for important sections, but don’t overstuff them to manipulate rankings.
Separate content and design: Keep HTML for content and CSS for design – don’t use HTML for styling.
Add alt text for images: Include relevant alt text for all images to help search engines understand your content.
Well-crafted HTML and CSS form the foundation for how search engines interpret and index your site. Technical SEO focuses on the details of your markup and code to ensure your website’s underlying structure works as well as possible for SEO. This technical edge over competitors can translate into better rankings.
301 Redirects and URL Structuring
URLs and redirects also fall into the realm of technical SEO. The structure of your URLs and how you implement redirects can significantly impact search engine optimization.
Use 301 redirects: Use 301 (permanent) redirects to pass link equity whenever you move or change a URL permanently. 302s are only temporary.
Avoid URL shortening: Search engines can’t interpret shortened URLs well, so avoid things link bit.ly and instead use keyword-optimized full URLs.
Limit URL parameters: URL parameters (like ?id=123) can be problematic for SEO, so avoid them when possible.
Create meaningful, keyword-optimized URLs: URLs with relevant keywords tend to rank better. But avoid stuffing or over-optimization.
Use relative URLs for assets: Relative URLs (/images/logo.png) are preferred over absolute URLs for images and scripts.
Limit URL changes: Frequently changing URLs can cause you to lose link equity and rankings. So minimize changes when possible.
Remove duplicate URLs: Having duplicate or near-duplicate URLs can cause issues. Make sure each URL is unique.
Avoid URL encoding: URL encoding (%20 instead of spaces, etc.) is unnecessary and can create duplicate content issues.
Create a shallow URL structure: Limit the number of subordinate URLs beneath main-level URLs – keep your URLs shallow.
Avoid URL cloaking: Permanently redirecting URLs to show different content is considered cloaking and is against Google’s guidelines.
Technical SEO involves every detail of how your URLs are structured and how redirects are implemented. The correct URL practices can support your SEO efforts, while poor URL management can hinder rankings. Giving technical URL optimization the attention it deserves sets you apart from competitors.
Responsive web design, which optimizes your website for any screen size, is another important aspect of technical SEO. Search engines favor sites with responsive designs because they’re more accessible and usable for users.
Some ways responsive design supports SEO through technical SEO efforts:
Mobile-friendliness: Google rewards mobile-friendly sites in rankings. Responsive designs optimize content for any screen size, including mobile devices.
Consistent URLs: Responsive sites serve the same content across devices using consistent URLs, which Google prefers. Avoid redirecting mobile traffic to separate mobile URLs.
Faster page speeds: Users on mobile networks tend to have slower connection speeds. Responsive designs tend to load faster, benefitting page speed and SEO.
Image optimization: Image files are optimized and resized automatically for different screen sizes using responsive techniques like CSS sprites, providing a better user experience.
More accessible: Optimizing websites for multiple screen sizes makes content more accessible overall, which search engines view positively.
Handle content reordering: The ability to reorder or hide content for different screen sizes allows for a customized experience but still provides all main content.
Semantics work well: HTML semantics and responsive design techniques like media queries work together for SEO.
Better user experience: The streamlined, optimized experience and responsive design provide users translates to a better experience for search engines crawling your site.
A responsive website design shows technical SEO excellence that differentiates you from competitors with separate mobile sites or non-optimized designs. The core techniques of responsive design – fluid grids, media queries, and flexible images – create technical benefits that search engines recognize.
Crawling and Indexing Issues
Another crucial technical SEO factor is ensuring search engines can properly crawl and index your entire website. Problems in this area can significantly limit your SEO success.
Manage your crawl budget: Search engines limit how much of any site they can crawl and index based on their crawl budget. Work to expand this limit over time.
Avoid cloaking: As mentioned in the previous section, cloaking pages to show different content to search engines is against Google’s guidelines and can penalize your site.
Remove crawl errors: Address any URL, server, or HTML errors that search engine crawlers encounter to allow proper indexing of pages.
Resolve soft 404 issues: Ensure all pages return a 2XX HTTP status code. Pages showing a 404 error code won’t be properly crawled or indexed.
Limit pagination: Excessive pagination that serves the same content across multiple pages can exhaust a site’s crawl budget and cause duplicate content issues.
Improve site architecture: A well-organized information architecture with optimized internal linking helps ensure all pages are discoverable by crawlers.
Check XML sitemaps: Submit an XML sitemap to search engines and check to make sure no pages are missing from being crawled.
Include all content: Ensure all website content – main pages, blog posts, products, etc. – is properly linked and crawlable via XML sitemaps or navigation.
Monitor indexing: Tools like Google Search Console let you see which pages have been crawled and indexed so you can identify any issues.
By optimizing how your website is crawled and indexed through technical SEO best practices, you ensure search engines can properly discover all of your content. Any roadblocks in this process limit your potential rankings and organic traffic. Giving technical crawlability the focus it deserves helps you stay ahead of competitors.
Speed Up Your Website
As discussed in the Page Speed Optimization section, website speed is an important ranking factor for search engines. You can speed up your entire website to gain an edge through technical SEO approaches.
Hosting: As mentioned, the speed of your web host impacts your site’s performance. Use a fast host to help optimize speed.
Choosing a stack: The programming languages and frameworks you use (LAMP stack, WordPress, etc.) also influence speed. Choose optimized options.
Caching: Enable caching in your code and hosting. Full-page, browser, and CDN caching can all help boost performance.
Database optimization: Issues with your database server can slow down page loads, so optimize your database to run efficiently.
Images: As noted earlier, optimizing image file sizes and using techniques like image sprites can significantly speed up websites.
Compression: Enabling compression of HTML, CSS, JS, and other assets on the server side can decrease file sizes for faster downloads.
Browser requests: Reducing the number of external assets (images, CSS, JS) required for pages reduces HTTP requests and speeds up page loads.
Child themes: For themes like WordPress, using a child theme instead of modifying the parent lets the theme cache updates speed up your site.
Plugins: Limiting the number of plugins you use to only what’s necessary eliminates potential performance bottlenecks they can cause.
CDN: Using a content delivery network to serve and cache static assets can significantly speed up how quickly your website loads for users.
Technical SEO approaches to speeding up your website cover a wide range – from coding optimizations to database improvements to infrastructure choices. The cumulative effect can dramatically boost performance and help you compete against slower sites. Faster speeds also improve the actual user experience on your website.
Avoiding Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects
Cloaking and shady redirect techniques are some of the biggest technical SEO no-nos, which go against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Avoiding these practices is essential for technical SEO success.
What is cloaking?
Cloaking involves showing different content to search engine crawlers than what users see. It’s a form of deception Google strongly penalizes.
What are sneaky redirects?
Sneaky redirects manipulate URLs to deliberately confuse crawlers or pass link equity incorrectly. Google frowns upon them.
Why avoid cloaking?
Cloaking and redirect tricks are seen as manipulative and deceptive. Google issues penalties – from warnings to full manual actions – for sites found cloaking.
Cloaking techniques to avoid:
- Server-side cloaking. Varying content based on the requesting user agent
- Cloaking through iframes. Serving iframe content to search engines that differ from the actual page
Sneaky redirects to avoid:
- Doorway pages. Redirecting from temporary pages made just for search engines
- Hidden redirects. Redirect chains that obscure the destination URL
- URL masking. Redirecting from one URL to another with different content
Alternatives to cloaking:
- Focus on creating high-quality, unique content
- Continually optimize your on-page SEO the right way
- Build links naturally from relevant sources
Technical SEO means avoiding messy techniques and working within Google’s guidelines. Steer clear of all cloaking and sneaky redirects to maintain a technical edge over competitors who attempt these risky methods. Healthy SEO practices like unique content and natural link building will achieve much better results over the long run.
Setting the Right Header Tags
HTTP headers provide information about your website to search engines and browsers. Using the right headers and meta tags falls under technical SEO best practices.
Common HTTP headers for technical SEO include:
- X-Robots-Tag. This tells crawlers how your pages should be indexed. Values include “no index” and “no follow.”
- Content-Type. Specifies the content type (image/jpeg, text/html, etc.) used by browsers and search engines.
- Expires. The Expires header tells crawlers and browsers how long cached content remains fresh.
- Cache-Control. Similar to Expires, Cache-Control controls how long content stays cached.
- Vary. The Vary header indicates what part of a request (cookies, user-agent, etc.) results in varying content.
- Link. The Link header enables you to declare relationships between code pages.
- X-XSS-Protection. This enables a browser’s XSS filter to help prevent cross-site scripting attacks.
Meta tags in your website also act as HTTP headers:
- Describes the page summary.
- Lists relevant keywords, though keywords hold little weight for rankings.
- The page title is an important on-page SEO factor.
- Points to the canonical (original) version of duplicate or similar pages.
For technical SEO, you want to set header tags and meta descriptions that accurately reflect and describe your content while supporting your on-page SEO efforts. Headers like no-index and nofollow should only be used when appropriate. Ensure robot headers match your intended crawling and indexing.
Headers and meta tags form the basic technical foundation search engines use to understand your website. Getting them right – or wrong – can respectively help or hinder your technical SEO and overall SEO success.
Use Structured Data and Schema
Adding structured data to your website through schema.org is one of the most powerful technical SEO techniques. It can dramatically boost your search visibility and authority.
What is structured data? It’s a standardized format for presenting machine-readable information about pages and their content.
What is schema.org?
It’s a joint initiative by Google, Bing, Pinterest, and Yandex to create a standardized set of schemas for structured data.
Why use schema.org?
When implemented correctly, structured data through schemas:
- Improves rankings. Google explicitly states it uses structured data as a ranking signal.
- Shows up in Rich Results. Data structured with schemas may appear as Rich Snippets, Knowledge Graph cards, and more in search results.
- Builds domain authority. By marking up your content with schemas, you show Google you understand technical SEO best practices.
Common schema.org types to use:
- ArticleSchema – For articles, blogs, and news pages
- ProductSchema – For e-commerce product pages
- FAQPageSchema – For your frequently asked questions pages
- EventSchema – For upcoming events, you want to be shown in search results
- RecipeSchema – For food and drink recipes
- PersonSchema – For author profiles and staff directories
To implement structured data:
- Choose the appropriate schema type(s) for your content
- Add the schema to your website code using JSON-LD, microdata, or RDFa formats
- Test your schemas using the Structured Data Testing Tool
- Submit sitemaps and request Google re-crawl your pages
Using structured data through schemas should be a major part of your overall technical SEO strategy. When done right, it provides a huge boost that competitors may neglect. Richer search result placements will help you generate more organic traffic.
Technical SEO focuses on optimizing all the underlying aspects of your website that search engines use to evaluate and rank pages. From page speed and link architecture to HTML markup and XML sitemaps, technical SEO aims to get every detail right to support your overall SEO efforts.
By prioritizing technical SEO through the approaches outlined in this article, you set yourself up to get the maximum benefit from all your on-page and off-page optimization work. Technical excellence and high standards are things search engines actively reward in their algorithms.
Giving technical SEO the attention it deserves allows you to develop an edge over competitors. Though technical SEO requires patience and perseverance, when done properly, it can provide a serious boost that translates into higher search rankings, more organic traffic, and increased leads or sales over time.
So start by analyzing the technical health of your website using the technical SEO checklist in this article. Identify any issues holding you back and prioritize fixes based on potential impact. Then implement technical SEO best practices on an ongoing basis as part of your routine website maintenance and optimization.
By making technical SEO a strategic priority, you can gain a major advantage and help propel your overall SEO – and business – to the next level.
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Cover Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash.