SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) forms the backbone of any organisation’s online digital presence: elevating it through the ranks of content found by search engines to gain exposure to the correct audience.
However, no matter what businesses may try to improve their search ranking (in particular above their competitors), their efforts may be in vain without strong technical SEO in place building the foundation from which to grow.
But what is technical SEO and how does it contribute toward an overall positive SERP (Search Engine Results Page) position? Let’s investigate…
Technical SEO Fundamentals: The Basics
Technical SEO refers to the optimisation activities that can be undertaken to improve a website’s structure for it to be better understood and ‘crawled’ by the programs that manage and integrate their algorithms.
In many cases, these tasks also improve the UX (User Experience) of a website and so improve the usability of the website to make it more easily navigable and likely to result in positive conversions.
As something from which the rest of SEO efforts can be built upon, technical SEO is a critical component of any optimisation strategy – and forms an element of the Woya Digital SEO success wheel for a comprehensive and whole approach.
Understanding Technical SEO: Why We Do It & Why It’s Important
Technical SEO underpins how a search engine is able to ‘crawl’ and comprehend a website’s content, so builds the foundation from which content SEO and other such elements can be built.
As a result, it’s a ‘must-have’ to get right, as without it having been completed correctly, other SEO efforts will fail.
As technical SEO is integrated within a site’s structure, it also impacts the experience that users of the site have. While not traditionally a ranking factor for search engines, good UX is now considered an integral contributor to SEO.
While Google doesn’t publicly release details of the exact formula for ranking success, they do state that UX elements are more important than ever in the analytic process of judging which sites rank where.
Understanding Technical SEO: Why Hire a Professional?
Technical SEO doesn’t just involve cosmetic tasks aimed at optimisation but also the setup and structure of the website at hand. As a result, such activities must be carried out correctly as errors could result in disruption to the website’s service, formatting, ranking or even uptime.
It is always recommended that an SEO specialist is hired for technical SEO tasks to mitigate the risk of any issues occurring.
Woya Digital has a team of exactly these specialists, ready to enact SEO improvements right into the foundations and coding of your website before embarking on work across more cosmetic elements.
Understanding Technical SEO: Setting The Stage For On-Page And Off-Page SEO
Technical SEO is one of the earlier steps in the process of managing and running an SEO campaign as it’s so deeply embedded within a website’s structure. As a building block from which other activity is then created, it sets the scene for both on-page SEO and off-page SEO activity.
On-page SEO refers to the optimisation of the content placed within a website and includes the provision of relevant SEO keyword usage, easy formatting and the implementation of shareable options for all pages. This presents the topic, relevancy and authenticity of a brand to search engines.
Off-page SEO refers to the optimisation of the way other sites direct and refer to the one in question. This includes links to the site, mentions of the brand and listings in appropriate directories – all of which demonstrate the authority and trust of a brand to web browsers.
Once the technical SEO basics are in place, on and off-page SEO can be worked on successfully.
Understanding Technical SEO: Key Factors
There are several key factors to technical SEO that need focus in order to best present a site to a search engine for its analysis:
Website Crawling and Indexing
Web crawlers (also known as search bots or spiders) are automated programs that scan websites and index their content to categorise and rank them.
The aim of this analysis is for web browsers to learn what is on every webpage and understand it well enough to file it for download when a user makes a query (search) for something relevant. This, combined with the search engine’s algorithm system for determining the importance of factors, ranks the results end users see.
Web crawlers are, in essence, analysis and filing systems. However, they must be able to move through a website in totality and catalogue it to understand what a site is, who it is for, and what it offers. If they are unable to do so, the site will either be presented incorrectly in search results or excluded from results altogether.
The technical SEO aspect of website crawling involves making the site as easy for crawler programs to navigate as possible. This means fixing any broken internal links, ensuring pages are titled and labelled accurately, and following links to and from external sources to build a picture of industry relevance.
Common issues that hinder web crawlers from properly indexing a website include not having a proper robots.txt code file in the site’s web server (this specifies the rules for such bots to access the site) and having broken links or incorrect internal navigation menus.
These are easily created and fixed and can have vast benefits on the SERP position of a website. Once the problems have been resolved, search engines can even be manually instructed to ‘re-crawl’ the site and update their records.
Site Architecture and Structure
A website’s architecture refers to the planning and design of the site that establishes how it works, its structure and usability.
This includes the grouping of content across pages into relevant themes: to make the site easily navigable and ensure information can be found without too many clicks for users, as well as for search engine crawlers.
A well-structured website is easy for search engine crawlers to work around and analyse, and so allows for the best possible comprehension of the site for technical SEO purposes. A coherent sitemap aids this, and if not included on the website already, can be manually submitted to search engines for their scanning.
Site Speed and Performance
Site speed is a key factor in SEO as well as UX as it provides a swift way for users to identify and consume the content they want to, or move on to another page (or site) if it’s not what they were searching for.
Now, fast-loading pages and content across devices is considered a critical factor of SEO as it has been confirmed to be an important element for the algorithm’s positioning in SERPs.
If a website doesn’t perform in the way it should, is laggy, or doesn’t load content in the way users would expect then it will be down-ranked by Google and other web browsers.
It’s imperative, therefore, that the infrastructure and content on a site load as wholly and quickly as possible. There are various online tools to test a site’s performance, such as GT Metrix.
With now well over half of search engine searches taking place on mobile or portable devices (Google US estimates that over 63% of their total daily searches happen on a mobile device), it is no longer enough for businesses to have a website that displays beautifully on a laptop or desktop PC but doesn’t format to smaller screen sizes.
Google now has separate crawlers to check for desktop and mobile optimisation and will prioritise those websites that perform well on both.
This mobile-first approach to indexing makes the correct and appropriate formatting of a site for smaller devices a critical job for SEO purposes. It is best practice for webmasters to take on a ‘responsive design’ approach that automatically adapts the formatting of their site to whichever device it is being accessed from.
Security and Accessibility
A key part of website UX is that the content within can be accessed by all who wish to. As such, a site should be as accessible as possible for a range of users and secure in them doing so – allowing users to browse and utilise the website without any risk to them and their devices.
Accessibility improvements are frequently considered just to be for the benefit of those with a disability, sensory, cognitive or motor impairment issue, but in fact, benefit all users. A variety of tools and technologies can be implemented into a website to improve its accessibility as well as technical SEO activities such as labelling the alt-text of images, allowing for keyboard menu navigation, and providing accurate and thorough meta tags and descriptions.
All websites to be indexed by a search engine should reside under HTTPS. This uses the SSL/TLS protocol to encrypt communications and ensure that any malicious hackers are unable to steal data as well as to authenticate web servers to prevent cyber attacks.
Structured Data and Schema
Structured data is a markup code within a site’s back-end that helps web browsers understand how to interpret a site’s data and display its content.
Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex have all collectively agreed to support certain structured data and schema so that it doesn’t need tweaking or changing to rank on each. This is a further signal for search engines to help boost SEO performance.
Web pages by themselves are considered ‘semi-structured’, usually just unstructured content with some metadata input to speak to search engine algorithms. Including structured data within schema markup allows for a boost to the ranking that metadata achieves, tailoring it more to the user’s needs and intentions to communicate better to both the search engines and the user searching.
Implementing schema on a website can be difficult so is usually managed by an SEO specialist alongside a web developer.
Core Web Vitals and UX
Core Web Vitals are a set of factors that Google ranks as important in a site’s UX. They grade a URL’s performance based on various elements within a page, from Poor to Good, identifying areas for improvement to boost SEO.
Currently, there are three Core Web Vital measurements: Largest Contentful Point, First Input Delay and Cumulative Layout Shift. Google considers sites with good UX to be the best to rank highly, and so those with decent scores can enjoy good rankings on SERPs.
Improving the metrics related to Core Web Vitals can help a website gain a competitive advantage against others displaying in their search results as well as providing a better UX overall, likely to result in a positive brand perception and increased conversion rates.
Redirects and HTTP Status Codes
HTTP status codes are backend server codes that communicate to a search engine the health of a website or webpage at any given time. These three-digit codes are essentially error messages returned to a browser when a server is unable to fulfil a request.
Where content isn’t available for a user to access (or, therefore, a search engine), a code is delivered. Businesses may opt to install redirects to other content on their domain rather than return a blank page while any issue is being rectified.
Proper redirects prove to a search engine that any content unavailability is only temporary and so avoids being down ranked as a result of an area being ‘down’.
A 307 redirect acts as a temporary fix in this instance and can be programmed in by an SEO specialist while the issue is being resolved. Without such a redirect in place, the search engine will assume there is a permanent problem and will rank it negatively accordingly.
Analytics and Monitoring
A website’s SEO efforts should not be tackled as a ‘one-and-done’ effort and form part of a continuous improvement cycle. Therefore, a website’s performance should be monitored on an ongoing basis. This can be achieved through tools such as Google Analytics to set up and present SEO-related metrics.
However, it is also recommended that a specialist service is used to best display and understand these statistics to avoid any misunderstanding and to ensure that any improvements can be made as swiftly as possible in line with algorithm developments and changes.
Google doesn’t release exact details of its algorithm updates and the frequency of them, but it’s believed that changes are made as often as twice a week – so websites must be updated often and not just left to meet the needs of requirements that may be quickly outdated, as its search engine rankings will suffer as a result.
Understanding Technical SEO: The Bottom Line
Technical SEO forms a critical part of a business’s digital marketing efforts and is the foundation from which SEO excellence can be achieved.
Investing time and resources in optimising a website from a technical perspective cements the best possible position from which to build SEO strategies and campaigns that will succeed time and time again.
To begin your SEO journey, get in touch with Woya Digital. Our team of SEO specialists will provide a full audit of your website to ascertain existing performance as a baseline from which efforts can be concerted and enacted.
Function better, convert better and rank better – all with the help of some clever behind-the-scenes technical SEO!