Technical SEO is the starting point for all your SEO efforts. It's vital that you get it right
SEO tends to get divided into a few categories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO. For people focused on content and keywords, technical SEO can seem bewildering. But it's the backbone of everything you do.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the process of making a website crawlable and indexable by search engines. But technical SEO goes much further than that. It's not only about making it possible for search engines to crawl your site. It's about making it easy, and sending signals to search engines about how your site will perform. There are a plethora of concerns to take into consideration for technical SEO, but some of the main factors are:
Speed has been an important ranking signal for a long time. Google announced back in 2010 it would use site load speed as a ranking signal, and in 2018 announced it would also take mobile page load speed into account.
Site speed is determined using a couple methods. The first is the amount of time it takes for an entire page on your site to load. This is known as "page load time." The second method is "time to first byte," or the amount of time it takes a browser to receive the first byte of information from your server.
The main reason search engines use site speed to determine ranking is that it affects user experience. As internet connections become faster and faster, web users become more impatient with slow sites. According to Google's research, as page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability that users will bounce off your site increases by 123%.
Users bouncing off your site and back to the search results page is a signal to search engines that they didn't find what they were looking for, or were frustrated by clicking on the result. Search engines want to return results that satisfy what the user was looking for. If users are bouncing off your site because of slow load times, search engines will move you down the rankings.
Google wants to create a more secure web browsing experience (while simultaneously mining every bit of private data from you that they can). The search giant announced back in 2014 that it would take site security into consideration as a ranking signal.
What this means is it prioritizes sites that operate on "https://" rather than "http://." That added "s" means that information transmitted over a website is encrypted. Google will even go so far as to warn visitors to an "http://" site that they're visiting an unsecure site. This can increase your bounce rate and drop you in the rankings. Adding an "https://" to your site might not give you a massive ranking boost, but not having one will definitely hurt you.
Search engine bots crawling your site need to be able to figure out how pages relate to each other and which pages should receive priority.
A 404 is an error message that's returned when a site can't find a page someone is looking for. It could be because someone typed in a URL that doesn't exist, or it could be because they've navigated to a page that used to exist and no longer does.
404 errors can be a frustrating user experience. Search engines know this. That means if your site is returning a lot of 404s, you'll see a negative impact in search rankings.
A redirect is when you automatically send a user from one URL to another URL that's meant to take the place of the first. This could be because you've updated the URL of an old page. Redirects come in a couple varieties: 301s, which are permanent redirects, and 302s, which are temporary redirects.
Google has stated that pages won't be penalized for redirects, and that the new URL will retain the ranking of the old URL redirecting to it. However, excessive redirects can impact your site speed, which can negatively impact your ranking.
It's also important to never redirect canonicalized pages. For example, don't canonicalize Page 1 to Page 2 and then 301 redirect Page 2.
Mixed signals like this confuse Google and will result in your website being penalized.
Search engines use the links on a page to navigate your site and understand how all the pages relate to one another. Broken links essentially send a crawler to a dead end. They also make for a frustrating experience for users.
Sitemaps inform search engines which pages on your website are available to crawl. An XML sitemap sends a signal to search engines about the pages on your site that are worth indexing.
Google announced in 2018 that it would switch to mobile-first indexing. This means rather than crawling the desktop version of a site, Google's spiders will crawl the mobile version first. With more users accessing the internet from their mobile devices, Google heavily prioritizes sites that are mobile friendly.
Crawlability is, just as it sounds, the ability of a search engine spider to crawl a website. By default, most pages are crawlable. However, certain pages can have code telling search engines not to index the page. There are some very specific reasons for telling search engines not to index a particular page, but in most cases you'll want to make sure your page is available for indexing.
Search engines don't actually penalize for duplicate content, in spite of myths to the contrary. Google does, however, filter out duplicate content results. This can become a problem if, for example, you have two pages with duplicate content and page A ranks when you wanted page B to rank. While duplicate content won't incur a penalty, it's still wise to avoid.
Why is technical SEO important?
Technical SEO is the starting point for all your SEO efforts. Regardless of how amazing and useful your site's content is, if your technical SEO isn't up to scratch you run the risk of search engines not being able to efficiently crawl and index your content, or penalizing you for your technical errors.
How do I fix my technical SEO?
A good web developer will take technical SEO into account when building your website, so hopefully most of these basics have been covered. However, if your site was built some time ago and hasn't been updated, or if you built your site yourself, you may want to undertake a technical SEO audit.
A freelance SEO expert can help you conduct an audit of your site's technical SEO. They can identify and fix any issues, and give you some tips to avoid any SEO pitfalls in the future.