Everyone knows the value of content and words on a page. From page titles and meta descriptions to body copy, the words you use to describe your products, services, and brand are paramount to connect target users from search to your website.
Although, while on-page keyword optimization is important, there’s a lot of off-page optimization happening that can greatly impact the success — or failure — of your site’s visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Introducing technical SEO.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO, quite simply, is SEO that’s separate from your content. This includes how your site is built, such as sitemaps and site speed.
Comprehensively, technical SEO summarizes:
- Code tags, such as noindex, disallow, and nofollow
- Redirects and canonical URLs
- Site security and HTTPS configuration
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Page load speed
Google and other search engines’ frequent algorithm updates, to keep up with the advancements in search technology — including voice search and mobile-first indexing — has upped the ante for SEO experts to stay on top of trends.
For purposes of this, we’re going to give you tips for the really low-hanging fruit: HTTPS, 400-level errors, page titles, and meta descriptions.
First Thing’s First: Start With a Technical SEO Audit
Before you get worried about how to fix your technical SEO, it’s best to start off with an audit. An audit will help reveal any issues you may have and where you can invest the most time to improving your website.
Crawl your website
How do you start with an audit? Make sure you have good tools at your side. Screaming Frog, for example, is a helpful website crawl tool that delivers results on HTML page titles, meta descriptions, subheadings use, 400-level errors, and more.
Screaming Frog will deliver multiple tabs of results on your current website. See how SEO expert Neil Patel recommends using Screaming Frog to sleuth out technical SEO errors.
Review your crawl results… and beyond
Do you see error pages right off the bat? Are there any site speed issues revealing themselves? The crawl results should show what’s working and what’s not, fairly quickly, giving you somewhere to start repairing.
And away from your crawl results, explore your website’s presence on your own. Start at your favorite search engine, such as Google, and see where you rank for competitive keywords. Use the “site: [YourDomain]” search to see all pages of your website.
Meta descriptions, page titles, and keywords will be visible to you, just like they are to your search audience.
Once you’ve revealed your issues, start chiseling away at the solution.
Fix Noindex, Disallow, and Nofollow Codes
There’s no point in wondering why a page of your site isn’t being found if it’s got a noindex or nofollow tag buried in the code. Those two culprits literally prevents search engines like Google’s crawl spiders from reading your site and indexing it for search results.
- Noindex – Tells search engines not to index your site in search results
- Disallow – Tells search engines not to crawl your site
- Nofollow – Tells search engines not to follow links to your page (internal or external)
But be sure you understand the page of your site where they appear. There may be a reason for them. Search result pages, for example, are good pages where noindex and nofollow code should be found.
Similarly, if you have pages with other canonical URLs pointing to it, you probably don’t need them to be indexed and ranked (and you don’t want to compete), so throw a noindex tag in there, too.
Repair Any 400-level Errors
“Error 404: Page not found.” We’ve all landed on one of those pages at one point or another. It’s annoying, too, because if you’re a first-time visitor, you’re not really sure where to go to find what you’re looking for.
Enter: Redirects. Redirects help prevent this from happening, if possible, so users who land on a previously indexed URL can get to the page that’s meant to appear.
What is a 400-error? According to SEO experts at Airbrake, 400-level errors are client error responses, meaning it’s less likely to be a server ping issue or a broken portal, and more likely that a page was left behind in a relaunch, or a page was removed from the site and not redirected for indexing.
However, Moz cautions to fixing all 404 errors with 301 redirects. “If the pages returning 404 codes are high-authority pages,” Moz recommends, “you should employ 301 redirects to the most relevant page possible.”
By not fixing a 404 error, you’re telling search engines that nothing is there, and it’s time to stop visiting. Fortunately, Google has some great tips for establishing custom 404 pages that don’t deliver out-of-the-box error jargon and instead help your visitors get back on the right path.
Establish a Secure Version of Your Site (HTTPS)
In July this year, Google’s Chrome browser started marking non-HTTPS sites as “not secure.” It wasn’t really a hidden message either. A bold “x” in the corner of your address bar and a tooltip alerts users that your site isn’t secure, and that they should be wary of the information they share.
Yikes. This can hurt your site’s reputation, and your conversion rates. As a result, Google urged all webmasters to secure SSL certificates for their websites. SSL, or secure socket layers, protect your site by creating an encrypted link between your web server and the browser. It protects the user’s data, as well as your brand’s internal information, so it’s essential for most organizations to have in their pocket.
According to Search Engine Land, making the switch to HTTPS also helps with the loss of referral data that can happen. Without HTTPS established, this traffic can appear as “dark traffic,” which won’t give you a comprehensive view of your analytics.
Need more information? Check out Search Engine Land’s tips for securing your website and moving from HTTP to HTTPS.
Write Unique Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
Insert heavy sigh here. Writing those pithy little meta descriptions can be a chore, and page titles feel like something your content management system (CMS) should be able to do for you…right?
Wrong. While many CMS platforms can generate your page titles, they don’t always generate the right way. And page titles are still a great way for placing valuable keywords that your searchers are using to find you online. By ignoring page titles (and their power), you’re leaving your site’s indexing up to the Google gods, and you don’t have to do that!
The same goes for meta descriptions. While keyword-packing your meta descriptions are a thing of the past, the value of the content found in a meta description is still important. Why? Because these short storefront-like pieces of content can help encourage users to visit your website. By ignoring them, you’re again putting your site’s fate in the hands of Google to summarize the page content for you.
Writing Page Titles
Page titles are the pieces of content you see on a SERP — they’re often blue, underlined links that lead users to a page of content inside a website, or a website’s homepage. You’ll often see them in your browser tabs, too.
Page titles are utterly essential for search engine results and proper indexing, and by incorporating keyword research and knowing what type of traffic you’re hoping to attract, you can write effective page titles that work in your favor.
When developing page titles, consider these tips:
- Do not exceed 70 characters, including spaces
- Keep your most important keywords toward the front
- Incorporate your organization or business name after your keywords
- If there’s space, include a location (if location targeting is important for your business goals)
- Make sure each page title across your site is unique
The crawl you did earlier should reveal how many page titles are duplicated, and those are agreat place to start. Check Moz’s recommendations for developing page titles, and use their page title preview tool to help!
Writing Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions, like their brethren page titles, appear on SERPs, too, but they’re not links. They’re the short pieces of content – sentences, really – that appear under the blue link. They give users a snippet of what the page is about, and hopefully inspires them to click.
Meta descriptions are not the place for keywords, though keywords play a part. Google bolds meta descriptions with keywords that match the user’s search, so while it doesn’t “weigh” the page in indexing in your favor, it can help users make the right selection. And, as we know, click-through-rate impacts search ranking.
When developing meta description, consider these tips:
- Do not exceed 155 characters, including spaces
- Entice the user to click by using active verbs – Read more, learn more, receive, get… these are active and helpful
- Be honest and transparent about what the page is about, and avoid pithy marking speak
- Make each meta description unique (just like each page of your website should be)
Like page titles, Moz has a great guide for building valuable meta descriptions, including information on the code and where you can find it. Check out their tips for writing meta descriptions.
Watch Your Page Load Speed
Last but certainly not least, your technical SEO includes your page load speed. Page load and site speed have been hot-button topics for search experts for quite some time, as Google and search engines have upped the ante on their algorithms to be wary of slow-load or heavy sites that don’t function well on smaller devices. Fortunately, a great place to start is Google’s site speed testers, including PageSpeed Insights.
According to user surveys, 79% of web visitors won’t return to a site with poor performance, and 47% of visitors expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less.
In early 2018, pagespeed became a ranking factor in mobile search. And as a web user yourself, you’ve probably noticed the AMP (accelerated mobile page) content that appears in carousels on the top of your mobile search results.
So what do you do if your page speed is sluggish? Well, fortunately there are a few things you can control, and unfortunately, there are a few things you can’t.
How to fix your page speed:
- Minimize your image sizes. Large images can be cumbersome for any webpage to load at an easy speed, let alone on a mobile device.
- Choose a fast, reliable DNS provider. DNS pings can prevent users from getting to your content quickly, so find a DNS provider that has a fast speed.
You may not have as much control over your server or even your CMS, both which can impact page speed, too, but if you have the opportunity to explore more streamlined, quick options, take the opportunity if you can.
Need more information? Check out Crazy Egg’s tips for speeding up your website and improving conversions.
Fix What’s Broken
Long story short, if you have broken elements on your site — from page errors to missing metadata — it’s time to get your hands dirty under the hood. You can provide great content and a great design to any user, but if the parts of the engine (technical SEO) aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, you’re not really delivering a great experience — or getting found efficiently.
Technical SEO isn’t as scary as it sounds, and the sooner you tackle the problems in front of you, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards from the search engines and your target audience.
Written By Erin Schroeder
Erin Schroeder is a senior content strategist and writer at Geonetric, where she helps healthcare brands organize user-first websites, content marketing, and brand messaging. As a former journalist, she never lost her love to write. You'll also see her articles on content strategy and user experience around the web, including UX Collective, UX Booth, and Prototypr.