Technical SEO: The Ultimate Guide

Google shows first the results that have proved to be the best answer of a searcher’s query. The good news is, that you can optimize your website, so that search engines can index it faster and understand it better.

Technical SEO helps search engines understand and index your content. It is a complex process that takes time and efforts. Big part of it you set up once and then you can forget about it. If you use a CMS, like WordPress — your HTML code will be automatically optimized, once you build the correct architecture.

Here you have the most important points to improve your site.

Types of SEO

There are 3 ways you can improve your site visibility – off-page, on-page and technical SEO.

Off-page SEO
Here are the links to your website, that come from other relative and authoritative websites. They help Google trust your website more.

On-page SEO
This aspect of search engine optimization is focused on your content. How relevant it is, how well it is optimized for keywords and whether it provides a good user experience.

Write your articles to serve your readers in first place. Crawlers listen to people to determine what content is valuable and what not.

Technical SEO
This aspect of SEO is focused on how well search engines can understand and index your content.

Here we will focus on the technical aspect of SEO, or how you can help Google understand your content better and index it faster.

I have prepared a checklist for you, to help you improve your technical SEO.

Download the Technical SEO checklist

Google Search Console

Google Search Console lets you track important aspects of technical SEO. If you don’t have an account yet, go and register one. It will provide you all the technical issues your website has when it comes to search engine optimization.

If you own more than one websites, you can make a separate account for each of them.
After you register, you will have to Add a Property. Click on the red button and follow the instructions.

Once you add your website you will see an overview of the current status and all potential technical SEO issues of your website that you have to solve. On the dashboard screen you see the Crawl Errors, Search Analytics and Sitemaps.

Under Crawl errors you can see all the “Not found” or 404 status pages of your website. Sometimes you have to remove pages from your website – if they are not relevant, or this is a page of a product from old collection that you don’t offer any more.

In such case you have to make sure, that visitor stays on your website if they have landed on a 404 page. You can accomplish this through custom 404 page where you can give them an opportunity to do a search, or see your most popular posts or products. You can also redirect the user to a relevant page via 301: permanent redirect.

In WordPress you can use a plugin to monitor and redirect your 404 pages – 404 Redirected

After you install the plugin, under settings you will find a separate submenu, where you can monitor and redirect such pages. Under Captured 404 URL’s, you will find the list of not found pages and clicking on edit of every link you can redirect it with 301: permanent redirect or 302: temporary redirect.

Next on the search console dashboard you see Search Analytics. Here you will find more information about the search queries that have led to your website. You see information about Clicks, Impressions, CTR and Position of your webpages. You can filter the results according to search query, page, country, device, search type and dates.

This will help you understand how people come to your website, which are the best performing posts and how many of them are positioned on the first page in Google. Knowing that – you can use these pages to redirect your readers from there to another relevant content on your website via internal linking.

Here you also see how people visit your website. Is it through desktop, tablet or mobile device? You can also compare data. For example, under Search Type you can compare web vs image to see what type of search brings more readers to your website.
Under sitemaps you can add or test XML sitemap. Here you also see the index status of your website.

How many web pages are submitted for indexing by your xml sitemap and how many are indexed by Google.

If you have more URLs in your sitemap than you have indexed pages, you want to look at the not indexed pages to see why is that. It could be that Google is ignoring these pages, because they have duplicate and/or thin content, or a canonical tag is instructing Google to ignore them. Or the pages might be too far from the site navigation – more than 4 levels away from the homepage or another page, making them hard to find.

On the left side you see more options, where you can gather all the information you need to improve your search visibility.

Aspects of technical SEO

Technical SEO includes the following aspects:

1. Website Speed

When showing search results, Google considers also the pagespeed of your website. Make sure your webpages load quickly and avoid flash. In Google pagespeed Insights you can test your website pagespeed on mobile and desktop. After the test is done, this tool will show you the issues you have and provide you with information how to fix them.

The most important thing here is to optimize your images. Use not too big in size images that have been compressed. In WordPress you can use Smush or Compress JPEG & PNG images to compress your images automatically.

Another important step is that your CSS and JavaScript files have been minified. This allows you to speed up your website. You can do it manually via https://cssminifier.com/ for CSS files and http://closure-compiler.appspot.com for JavaScript files or just install W3 Total Cache in WordPress, which will do not only this, but also minify your HTML, set expire headers, caching and many others that will improve your page loading time.

2. Website architecture

It has to be easy for a person who sees your website to get oriented fast in it. Same counts for search engine crawlers that examine your website. The most important thing to play attention here is the structure of your website.

Simple site architecture

Your menu items should be the main topics around which you create content. So you would ideally have 4 levels – the Homepage, then the Category pages. They should lead to the Subcategory pages and finally to the Single posts.

Is your HTML markup valid?

You can check this here: https://validator.w3.org/

Enter the URLs of all the different templates that your website uses, like homepage, single post page, category, tag, etc. It is important that you check all different templates, because they have different HTML structure. After you submit an url, you will see whether there are any issues and information how to fix them.

Head section of your website

Meta tags

Are there included meta tags in your website? Here are the meta tags, that have to be present in your head section:

<meta charset="UTF-8">
<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
<meta name="description" content="post description - this has to be unique for each post/page">
<meta name="keywords" content="relevant keywords, separated by comma">
<meta name="author" content="John Doe">
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

The keywords meta tag is optional but you can include it and list the post tags in it.

Make sure that your meta descriptions are not missing, or you have more pages with the same meta description.

Open Graph

Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest use Open Graph to display your web pages, when someone is sharing them. You can include the following Open Graph meta tags in your head section:

<meta property="og:url" content="the post url" />
<meta property="og:description" content="post description - this has to be unique for each post/page" />
<meta property="og:locale" content="en_EN" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="website name" />
<meta property="og:type" content="article" />
<meta property="og:title" content="the post title" />
<meta property="og:image" content="url path to the post thumbnail" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="width in px" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="height in px" />
<meta property="og:video" content="url path to the video" />

Twitter cards

Here you can find more info about Twitter Cards – https://dev.twitter.com/cards/overview

To drive more traffic and engagement to your website, you can include meta tags which will display your posts like cards on Twitter.

Here are the meta tags you will have to include in your head section for Summary Card with Large Image:

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image">
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@nytimes">
<meta name="twitter:creator" content="@SarahMaslinNir">
<meta name="twitter:title" content="Parade of Fans for Houston’s Funeral">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="NEWARK - The guest list and parade of limousines with celebrities emerging from them seemed more suited to a red carpet event in Hollywood or New York than than a gritty stretch of Sussex Avenue near the former site of the James M. Baxter Terrace public housing project here.">
<meta name="twitter:image" content="http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/02/19/us/19whitney-span/19whitney-span-articleLarge.jpg">

And this is how your posts will look on Twitter, after including these meta tags:

Title tags

Play attention to the length of your titles and that they aren’t duplicating. Write less than 65 characters headlines of your posts, as Google won’t display more than that anyway.

Include your main keywords in your post title. Your headline is the first, and perhaps only impression you make on a prospective reader. It makes them decide, whether your post is relevant to their search and whether it’s worth clicking on. Via a good headline, you can provoke reader’s interest. Here you can find great tips on how to write appealing headlines to your posts: http://www.copyblogger.com/10-sure-fire-headline-formulas-that-work/

Here you can get ideas for new long tail keywords, you can use in your headlines: https://yoast.com/suggest/

Size of Post content

The length of your post content in words is also important. Aim for at least 1900 words for every post that you publish. Make sure that you cover as many as possible aspects of the topic you are writing about and include links to authoritative websites. This will signal search engines, that you have covered the topic in depth and will provide extra value to your readers.

Internal Links

Another major way Google crawls websites is by following their internal link structure. Include internal links to your posts, that are in the same category. The SEO benefit of building a “silo” around your main topics, is that it builds you “topical authority“. This is also a great way to increase your pageviews and improve the visibility of your older articles.

Custom 404 page

Don’t let people leave your website, if they land on a 404 page. Give them an opportunity to check out other posts or perform a search. Another thing you can do is capture and redirect your Not Found pages, with plugin in WordPress. Above I have covered how to do this.

robots.txt

If you use WordPress, best you can do is to update it to the latest version and don’t touch your robots.txt file. Blocking your JavaScript and CSS files prevents Google from fully rendering your website and it doesn’t likes that at all. This may lead to your website being categorized as not mobile friendly, although it actually is.

If you don’t want to show a section of your website in the search results, you can use a robots meta tag with value: noindex, follow. This way the search engines will be able to properly distribute the link value pointing at those URLs across your website.

Here you can read more in depth article about robots.txt – https://yoast.com/wordpress-robots-txt-example/

Sitemap.xml

Including an xml sitemap to your website helps search engines understand your content better. If your website is very large, you will need more than one XML sitemaps. A single sitemap can’t be more than 10MB (uncompressed) or 50,000 URLs.

If yours is larger or contains more URLs, you will have to break it into multiple sitemaps. In WordPress you can use Yoast SEO to optimize your website. Next to SEO improvements, this plugin also creates a sitemap, that you can submit to the search engines, so they understand your site architecture better.

SEO friendly URLs

The url structure of your posts matters. You have to consider the following:

  • make your URLs human readable, this gives better user experience and leads to higher rankings. Avoid long and ugly URLs.
  • use shorter URLs – according to Brian Dean from Backlinko they tend to rank higher on Google first results page.
  • include your target keyword in your URL
  • use canonical URLs – for example for product variations (color size, etc.). You can have different pages for each size or color, but make sure they are specified as related to the main product via rel=”canonical” link tag in the head section of the webpage.
  • use HTTPS if possible – Google has confirmed, that they use this as positive ranking signal – https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2014/08/https-as-ranking-signal.html

    3. Link equity

Check for redirects, broken links and “nofollow” links. These may have negative effect on your SEO efforts.

Limit redirects

The more redirects on one page, the slower it loads. If you have too many redirects, the Googlebot might eventually stop following the chain.

Get rid of broken links

Broken links lead to bad user experience, that’s why you have to make sure you get rid of them. You can easily find broken links on any page with this Chrome Extension  – Check My Links. The program also highlights the broken links in red, so you can find them fast.

nofollow links

Links with a meta robots tag “index, nofollow” or “noindex, nofollow”. If you are link building and getting nofollow links, you will get very little to no returns of your efforts. This is a command telling Google not to pass any equity, trust or credit through a link. You can detect nofollow links via this Chrome extension – NoFollow.

4. Is your website Mobile Friendly?

Increasing the importance of mobile friendliness was one of the biggest changes to the technical SEO recently. Mobile friendly websites rank higher in Google results on mobile devices, especially for local results. And you know that the tendency of using mobile to browse the web is growing. The good news is that even if you lose some rankings, it won’t be permanent if you fix it.

“But have no fear, once your site becomes mobile-friendly, we will automatically re-process (i.e., crawl and index) your pages.”

If you don’t know whether your website is mobile fiendly, you can test it here: https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly

In the Search Console, under Search Traffic -> Mobile Usability you can also see whether your site has any issues with mobile friendliness.

The best option if your website is not mobile friendly is to use Responsive web design. Bootstrap is one of the most famous frameworks you can use. This way your content will adjust, according to the visitor’s screen.

If it happens that one visitor has shared a link to your site from their phone, it will resize and display correctly if someone visits it from desktop screen automatically, without you having to set up redirects, according to the device.

Another option is to adjust your CSS stylesheet. You will have to specify the width of the HTML elements in percentage, instead of fixed pixel values. This way they will always be relevant to the viewer’s screen. You can also use media queries to specify how your content should look on different devices.

@media(max-width:480px) { 
CSS styles for mobile devices in portrait orientation
}
@media(max-width:768px) { 
CSS styles for mobile devices in landscape and tablets in portrait orientation
 }

Here you can find media queries for all standart devices: https://css-tricks.com/snippets/css/media-queries-for-standard-devices/.

5. Structured data markup – rich snippets and microformats

Rich snippets

Rich snippets are displayed by Google in the search results when a post contains structured data markup. Their inclusion is very important technical SEO aspect.

Implementing structured data markup in your HTML helps Google understand and index your content better. Include the relevant schema to your web pages. This way you can describe each section of your content. With “itemscope” you specify what topic the entire div element is about. Visit Schema.org to learn more about rich snippets and see examples.

Google supports rich snippets for the following data types:

  • Product – Information about a product, including price, availability, and review ratings.
  • Recipe – Recipes that are being displayed in web searches as in the picture above.
  • Review – A review of an item such as a restaurant, movie, or store.
  • Event – An organized event, such as musical concerts or art festivals, that people may attend at a particular time and place.
  • Place –  A fixed, physical location, such as accommodation,  local business, residence, tourist attraction.
  • SoftwareApplication – Information about a software application, including its URL, review ratings, and price.
  • Video – An online video, including a description and thumbnail.
  • News article – A news article, including headline, images, and publisher info.
  • Science datasets

Visit https://developers.pinterest.com/docs/rich-pins/overview/ to see examples for Article, Movie, Place, Product and Recipe rich snippets.

Another, more intuitive option for adding structured data to your HTML code is via Google’s markup helper. It takes you step-by-step through the process and incorporates the structured data in the HTML code of the page, according to your selection. After you are ready with marking the sections of your page, click on “Create HTML” and you can see the source code with the changes, highlighted.

Microformats

Microformats, similar to schemas help search engines understand and qualify your content better. They are “a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards”. You include them by adding the relevant class names to your HTML sections.

All microformats class names use prefixes:

h-* for root class names (e.g. h-card);
p-* for plain text properties (e.g. p-name);
u-* for URL properties (e.g. u-photo);
dt-* for date/time properties (e.g. dt-bday);
e-* for embedded markup properties (e.g. e-note);

You might find these overwhelming. It is most important that you add the relevant schemas and microformats to your single posts.

After you have added structured data markup to your HTML pages, you can validate it here – https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool

The Structure Data Testing Tool detects which schemas and microformats you have included in your HTML code and lets you know if there are missing properties or classes and how to fix them.

6. Thin or Duplicate content

Duplicate content is a serious technical SEO issue. If you have such content, get rid of it. Since 2011 Google has started targeting low quality or duplicate content websites with their Panda update, followed by the Phantom update. These updates filter such websites and punish some of them severely. Duplicate content can confuse the search engines because they don’t know which page is most relevant.

How you can find duplicate content?

Go to the Search Console and under Search Appearance -> HTML Improvements you can see whether you have any duplicate content. Once you know where are the issues you can easily fix them. Here you have 3 options:

  • Delete such content
  • Rephrase it
  • Add “canonical” URLs to the duplicate pages, telling Google which is the preferred page for this content.

If you have thin content in your website, you better get rid of it, as it doesn’t provides your readers with any value and it just won’t help you rank higher in the search results. You can also review such articles and update them, so they provide as much as possible relevant information.

7. The role of web design in SEO?

You can have the most in depth article, but if your web design is confusing readers, they will leave your website fast. This user behavior will signal Google that this is not a post that users prefer and it will list it lower in the search engine result pages (SERP).

Visiting a page, when you search for information, you scan the content to see whether you will find what you are searching for. If on the page are too many distractions, this can make you leave it and move on to the next result.

A good web design should let visitors focus on the content. You can use fancy animations very limited or even better not at all. Cool JavaScript or CSS animations are more appropriate and might be of your favor in a product promotional website.

Draw your visitors’ attention to the content and after they have read it (or at least a significant part of it) offer them a possibility to check other articles, they might be interested in.

Inclusion of Related Posts can improve noticeably your rankings. If you provide your readers with great content – it will at least double your pageviews.

Forget about Pop-ups, they are mostly very irritating to your visitors! Instead, you can ask them to sign up for your newsletter, or like your Facebook page, by offering them extra value. This can be a checklist (like I did in this post), a free mini course or an Ebook. Something that will save them time and they can turn back to anytime.

I hope that you have learned valuable information about technical SEO in this article, that will help you improve your website’s visibility in the search results.

Download the Technical SEO checklist, that I have prepared for you.

Apply what you have learned and share your results in the comments below.

If you have any questions or some experience with technical SEO, leave a comment.

Thanks for reading!

Irena

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