Search engine optimization is the process of curating your website so that it is positioned as a top result when someone is inquiring on a search engine (Google, Bing, and Yahoo are examples). Technical SEO focuses on how your content is structured on your website, and whether search engines can understand what you are talking about.
Before We Begin: Focus on User Experience
Google, along with other search engines, maintains guidelines for webpages so that the results they offer are as helpful as possible to those who are searching. Best technical SEO practices make it easy for Google to read your webpages and determine whether your content is relevant to their users’ questions. If your website isn’t very user friendly, the search engines may drop your rank in favor of others who offer a better user experience.
#1: Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is often cited as the number one technical issue websites have. Identical or very similar content can affect your ranking on the search engine results page. Just because your website doesn’t have identical pages, doesn’t mean you can’t be charged with duplicate content. Make sure that you aren’t keyword stuffing, repeating the same phrases or words over and over again.
Websites with more pages can run into issues with duplicate content. A simple solution to cutting down on duplicate content is keeping an editorial calendar and record of what you have published. Writing content about the same topic is fine, just make sure that you are approaching it in a new and fresh way that will delight your users.
#2: Difficult or Impossible Navigation
Are there broken internal links on your website? Are pages not found when you click on them? Navigation issues on your website can really hurt your SEO value, so it’s important to check the website and ensure it’s easy to navigate and easy to reach all the pages you say you offer. If you or your users cannot access certain pages, search engines won’t be able to see the information either.
Knowing some basic error and redirect codes and what they mean can help diagnose any navigation issues you might have:
- 301 Redirect – A 301 redirect permanently redirects one page to a new URL, this is important because the SEO value from the old URL is passed to the new URL.
- 302 Redirect – 302 redirects only temporarily redirect the page to a new URL.
- 404 Error – A 404 error means that the browser was able to find the server and communicate with it, but that your page was not found.
- Soft 404 Error – This error message shows when your page tells a user that the page they are searching for no longer exists.
Making sure that your SEO sitemap, the list of pages available to users and search engines, is both up-to-date and correct, helps to ensure that your navigation issues are eliminated. Check your website regularly for issues that may arise, a difficult-to-navigate website can be frustrating to your users, ruining their experience with your brand.
#3: “Black-hat” Backlinks
Backlinks are a powerful tool in building your website’s authority. If other people online are linking to your content, search engines register you as having higher authority on your chosen subject matter. “Black-hat” is a term used to describe shady practices designed to generate backlinks without creating useful material. Google, in particular, has been cracking down on these “spammy” links and penalizing offenders who have been using “black-hat” to build authority and rank higher on their search results page.
Paying someone to link to your page, keyword stuffing, spamming your users or other pages with links to your site is all considered “black-hat.” Bottom line: focus on creating useful, thoughtful content that will be useful to others, and you are more likely to see long-term growth and higher rankings on Google.
#4: Improper or Missing Labels
Search engines can’t “see” webpages the same way users can, they only read the text on the page to determine what your subject is. Make sure that your headlines describe the content on your page and clearly state your subject matter. Because search engines can’t see, they won’t register any images you might have on your page. Having alt tags that describe the image help search engines understand what you want to express with your image.
Having a checklist is a good way to make sure that you have relevant and clear labels on all your webpages:
- Does the URL contain the keywords you are trying to target for that specific page?
- Does your title tag properly describe the page?
- Is your meta description optimized to express what the page about?
- Does the webpage have a clear headline that tells the reader what to expect?
- Do images’ alt tags clearly tell search engines the subject of the image?
Consistent messaging is part of focusing on user experience. It’s frustrating to click on a webpage that you think will help, only to find that they aren’t offering what they claim. Once you have labeled every element on the page, check that you are delivering on what you offer.
#5: Page Speed
Page speed measures how quickly it takes to load a page on your website. Not only is it very frustrating to come to a page and have to wait for it to load, but the slower a page loads the lower your ranking may be.
Google has suggested that page speed affects its rankings. Often the bots that search engines use to crawl websites only have a certain amount of time to index a site, so slower page speeds mean that your entire website might not be indexed. If pages are not being indexed, that means that search engines don’t know those pages exist, giving you zero SEO value.
Here are a few tips to boost your page speed:
- Optimize images. Larger images take longer to load and can lead to really slow page speed.
- Reduce the amount of redirects. Each time a page is redirected to a new URL, that lengthens the amount of load time.
Faster websites are more pleasant to use. People searching for answers are often looking for quick answers. It is now believed that an adult’s attention span is eight seconds, that’s less than a goldfish! Slow page speed can mean dropped leads as people back off your website to look for something quicker.
#6: HTTP vs. HTTPS
HTTP stands for hypertext transfer protocol. It’s the application that allows your website’s server to talk to your web browser.
A secured HTTP, denoted by HTTPS, encrypts the data passed along that connection so that it is secured. Until recently, a secured link was only required for pages where you entered login or e-commerce information (credit card numbers, home addresses, etc.), but the growing consensus is that now all pages should strive to have a secured link.
Most of that change in thinking has come from Google. Google has announced that they are considering adding HTTPS links as a ranking factor for their algorithm. There is no indication that not having a secured site currently hurts your rankings, but that could quickly change. Eventually every unsecured site will have a red warning (seen below) to users that the site they are on is unsecure.
Switching to a secure URL is a forward-thinking technical SEO strategy, and it provides peace of mind to those using your website.
#7: Mobile Responsiveness
According to Google, 50% of all searches conducted on their engine come from a mobile device. In the United States, that number is approaching 60%! That means that most of your internet traffic could be coming from a mobile device.
Because of this major shift in search, Google has focused on rewarding sites that have optimized for mobile devices. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices you could be dropping in rank on search engines, frustrating potential customers, and losing traffic.
Responsive design means that your website recognizes the device that has accessed it and adjusts the layout so that it is user-friendly for that device. There are a few things you can do with development to ensure that your device is mobile friendly:
- Avoid Flash – Most mobile devices don’t support Flash, updating to a more modern technology is a better option.
- Add a viewport meta tag – This allows the browser to scale your page to fit the device that’s searching.
- Avoid fixed-width viewports – This doesn’t allow the page to fit a mobile screen and forces a mobile searcher to scroll side-to-side as well as down.
- Use a larger text size – Smaller text is hard to read on mobile, meaning searchers have to zoom in.
- Avoid pop-ups – Full-screen pop-ups aren’t very mobile friendly and can lead to a poor mobile experience.
By focusing on mobile experience for your website, you are sure to delight users who are shifting away from the traditional desktop or laptop.
Let’s Get Started!
Technical SEO may seem daunting. There are hundreds of tips and tricks out there to rank higher on search engines, but the key is empathy. Think about the people who are coming to your website, what are they experiencing? Are you making sure that it is easy to access your information? Do people enjoy coming to your website?
PHOS is here as a guide to any potential SEO issues you might have. If you are overwhelmed or puzzled by your web rankings, we are here to help you diagnose the issue and get you on the right track.