Technical SEO is one of the most exciting parts of SEO in my opinion and certainly one of the most crucial ones. There is a unique satisfaction you could get when you see Google indexing more and more pages of your website. At the same time, it feels like you’re walking on a field of landmines and one mistake can make your website virtually gone on search engines.
Sounds scary right? But don’t worry, this guide is written to make sure that you don’t step on a landmine.
Just because it has “technical” in its name doesn’t mean you need to have developer skills to do it but you will need assistance from a web developer from time to time. You might not realize it yet but you’re probably doing it already since technical SEO is part of a regular SEO audit you should be doing. In this article, I will walk you through technical SEO and its best practices.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing a website to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index. Generally, it also includes any technical aspects of SEO. Not only does technical SEO guarantees your website appears on search engine results but it also highly affects your rankings.
1. Check for Noindex Tags
The noindex tag is used to tell search engines to not show a specific page on the search results. Meaning if you have a great piece of content that is ranking really well and you accidentally add a noindex tag on it, it might disappear from the search results in a few days. Make sure that all of your important pages are indexable and only use the noindex tag when necessary. To check if a page has a noindex tag on it, you could simply go to its source code and find a noindex tag or use install browser tools/extensions to make things faster.
2. Check your Robots.txt File
The robots.txt file is used to block search engine bots from crawling URLs that are specified in the file. You could use the robots.txt file to prevent search engine bots to enter certain parts of your website for security purposes or if you want a certain section of your site to not appear in the search results.
By default, your site’s robots.txt file can be seen by adding robots.txt on your domain: “https://yourwebsitehere.com/robots.txt”.
Take note that once Google already indexes a page and you want to remove it from the search results, you should put a noindex tag on it first then block it through the robots.txt file to prevent it from being crawled again.
3. Secure your Website
Installing an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate on your website is one of the basic technical SEO optimizations that you can do. In fact, making your website on HTTPS is one of the most known minor ranking factors. Not only does this affect rankings but it may also affect user experience. Browsers may show a warning message to a user before entering a non-secured website. This can scare away users and it’s definitely a loss of traffic.
4. Submit your Website on Google Search Console
Submitting your website to Google Search Console (GSC) should be the first thing that you need to do once your website is up and running. Verifying your website on Google Search Consoles guarantees that your website appears on the search results. There are a lot of other benefits as well. Having your website on GSC allows you to monitor your organic clicks and impressions. Google will also notify you of errors when crawling and indexing your website through GSC.
5. Have a Proper XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap file is the list of all URLs on your website. You then submit the sitemap to Google Search Console. Google treats all URLs in the sitemap as priorities for crawling. You could easily install an XML sitemap by downloading a plugin and from there, you can control what pages are excluded or included in the sitemap.
6. Optimize URL Slugs
Optimizing the URL slugs of your pages is one of the easiest tasks to do for technical SEO and it is also an important one. It can affect your rankings since it is a place where you could add your target keyword and it makes your website look good for users. Optimize URL slugs by making it clean and easy to understand and refrain from using random letters and numbers.
7. Optimize Site Speed
Optimizing your website’s speed is always the way to go. Not only does it affect rankings, but also it affects user experience. You could use tools such as GTmetrix or Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s site speed and get recommendations on how you could further improve it.
For this one, you might need the assistance of a web developer on your team. But as an SEO, you could also do optimizations yourself such as compressing images, installing site speed optimization plugins, or moving to a faster hosting provider.
8. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
You might also need the assistance of a web developer on this one. Having a mobile-friendly website should be a top priority. Google gives high importance on mobile usability and it is known to be one of the top ranking factors. And since a large number of users come from mobile phones, it is best to make your website easier to use for them. Alternatively, you could use AMP or accelerated mobile pages to easily make mobile versions of your pages.
9. Remove Links to Dead Pages
Linking to dead pages or 404 pages is a waste of link juice. Always be on the lookout for outbound links to 404 pages and make sure to update them and link them to live pages. If there is an internal link on your website to a page that you deleted or does not exist, search engines might be confused and you might see coverage errors on your GSC report. Use SEO crawlers to find links to dead pages and update them immediately.
10. Look for Orphaned Pages
Orphaned pages are pages that are not linked from other pages of your website or are not part of your website’s link ecosystem. This makes it hard for search engine bots to crawl and index these pages. You could use SEO crawl tools like Screaming Frog and Netpeak Spider to look for orphaned pages and check if these pages have any value.
11. Implement Structured Data Markup
While structured data doesn’t affect rankings directly, it certainly helps search engines have a better understanding of your website and its contents. Having the right structured data markup enables your website to have rich snippets in search results and boost your click-through rate. You could use Google’s structured data testing tool to make sure that the markup you implemented has no errors and is accepted by Google.
12. Check your Canonical Tags
Canonical tags are known to be an advanced SEO strategy as it requires careful implementation. Like the noindex tag and robots.txt, improper canonicalization of pages in your website can massively affect how Google crawls and indexes your website.
A canonical tag is used to denote that a page has the same contents as the page it is canonical to. By default, all pages should be self-canonical. For example, this post: https://seohacker.wpengine.com/google-may-2020-core-update/ should have the code <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://seohacker.wpengine.com/google-may-2020-core-update/”> in it.
Should you want to set a different canonical to a page, you could use tools like YoastSEO or you could ask your developer to implement the code on different pages. In my experience, canonical tags are mostly used on e-commerce websites as they tend to have multiple product listings with minimal differences with each other.
Take note that if you want to check if Google is reading your canonical tags correctly, you can use the URL inspection tool on Google Search Console, click on Coverage and it will indicate the user-declared canonical and Google-selected canonical. Google always follows the user-declared canonical but in some cases, Google’s bot would select its own canonical because it may find similar pages on your website.
And there you have it! Thirteen best practices for technical SEO. I hope this guide made you realize that technical SEO isn’t as hard as it seems but is definitely essential and must be done thoroughly and with care. A technically sound website can be the difference between your SEO success or failure. Make sure that you follow these best practices and improve your website rankings.