In case you’re already considering clicking away at the sight of the word ‘technical’, don’t worry. Technical SEO isn’t some deeply complicated and mysterious field, nor does it require particular expertise to get a hold of.
Below we’ve outlined a roadmap of tips and methods you can use to optimize your SEO performance on a technical level. But before we dive into the actionable part, we should dedicate a bit of space and discuss what technical SEO is all about.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO refers to SEO work that doesn’t concern itself with content, but rather on helping search engines properly crawl and index your website.
As you can see from the diagram above, there is a certain overlap between different types of SEO. It’s because of that, for instance, that this guide also covers the quality of content on your web pages.
Following the guidelines outlined below will make sure your website meets the criteria laid out by search engine algorithms, both with security and structure in mind. This will, in turn, increase your SEO score and search result rankings accordingly.
Technical SEO Guide
1. HTTPS & SSL
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encrypts any information exchanged between your browser and the server. It’s pretty easy to spot a website using SSL – the URL will start with ‘https://’ instead of ‘Http://’.
As a result of the increased importance of internet security, as of 2014, Google has started an initiative to have SSL on every website. To reinforce this, the Google algorithm now gives preference to websites with SSL when displaying search results.
If your website doesn’t have an SSL certificate installed, this should be your number one priority. You will need to contact your hosting provider and have them enable SSL on your site.
The process of installing SSL is similar to migrating your website to a new hosting domain. Follow the procedure your hosting provider outlines and you should be able to install SSL without lowering your SEO rankings.
2. Decide on a Preferred Domain
By default, you can reach every website out there by using and URL starting with or without ‘www’. As a website owner, it’s important you decide on whether to use ‘www’ early on and to be consistent with your choice throughout the website’s lifetime.
This might seem confusing, since if your website’s URL is ‘website.com’, you can reach it whether you type in ‘www’ or not. And true enough, for a visitor on your website, it doesn’t make a difference. The problem lies with search engines: they tend to treat ‘www.website.com’ and ‘website.com’ as two different websites. This can create duplicate content and indexing issues, which in turn lower your SEO scores.
In order to avoid this problem, you will have to choose whether you want to use ‘www’ in your domain name or not. From an SEO standpoint, there is no difference, so it all comes down to personal preference.
To set up a preferred domain, you will first have to register your website with Google Webmaster tools. After this, you will need to verify both variations of your website’s URL (https://www and https://). You will then need to do the same in WordPress. You can find the relevant options under General > Settings.
3. Fix Content Related Issues
Ever since the series of Panda updates, Google has been more and more strict when it comes to monitoring duplicate and low-quality content. Penalties received for duplicate content can have a major effect on your traffic, which is why this is one of the first issues you will have to deal with.
As discussed above, technical SEO doesn’t cover content, strictly speaking. In this context, it’s useful to go over the potential content-related issues, since having high-quality content on your website gives you a solid foundation to base the rest of our tips on.
The quickest way to fix this issue is to simply delete any pages with duplicate content you can find. While this may sound obvious, it will be a great help to search engine crawlers. They will now have a much easier time finding out which pages on your website are more important than others.
Be careful to set up proper redirects from any page you decide to delete, as pages suddenly missing can confuse visitors. Below you will find more tips on how to use redirects in the most effective way possible.
Once you’re done removing duplicate content, you should still be left with a solid number of pages featuring original content, especially if your website has a blog section. What you want to do now is go over your pages and blog posts, making sure the content posted is of the best possible quality. Going forward, this will ensure a high SEO ranking in the long run, since search engines will come to view your website as more trustworthy.
As an additional measure of making sure your website gets indexed correctly, consider using structured data when creating page descriptions for search engines.
4. Use Structured Data Markup
Structured data markup is a section of code that will help search engines better understand what the content of your website is about. With structured data, search engines will have an easier time indexing your website and placing it in the search results for relevant keywords.
Structured data also allows you to use rich snippets:
As you can see in the example above, the snippet not only contains a short description of the page, but also the rating for the recipe and average cooking time. These additional elements are available through the use of structured data.
Even though the use of structured data itself doesn’t factor in determining your SEO score, Google will increase your search rankings if you’re using rich snippets. This will, in turn, affect your SEO indirectly, since better ranking will mean more traffic.
The simplest way to implement structured data into your website is to use Google’s markup helper. When you enter the URL of the page you want to edit, the helper will take you through the process step by step. As you highlight the bits of text you want to add to your rich snippet, the helper will offer categories you can apply it to.
After you’re done, you will be able to see an overview of your website’s code with the new structured data highlighted:
5. Optimize Your URL and Navigation Structure
The way you structure your website will be one of the most important factors when it comes to determining your SEO score. A well-structured website will attract more visitors and increase customer retention and conversion. Also, search engines will have an easier job of crawling and indexing it properly.
A good place to start is by adopting a branching website structure. This means that your homepage leads to different category pages, depending on the facets of your website you want to showcase on them. These category pages can further be divided into subcategory pages, or they could show important details about the themes they cover.
You can also apply this type of structure to your blog section, making sure no post is further than a couple clicks away.
Once you have your structure set up, you may need to manually go over the URL of your website pages. Automatically generated URLs tend to be long and confusing, which makes it harder for visitors to navigate your site. As a best practice, follow the guidelines below when generating URLs:
- Make sure you only use lowercase characters
- Use a dash, rather than an underscore, to separate words in the URL
- Make the URLs short, but descriptive enough that a visitor can know what the page is about at first glance
- If possible, remove unnecessary words, such as articles
- Make sure you include keywords in the URL, but avoid keyword stuffing
6. Optimize Your Site’s Internal Structure
Sooner or later, you will need to use redirects on your website. Whether it’s because you’ve deleted a page you no longer find relevant, or you’ve posted an updated version of an old page, using the right redirects will be crucial to keeping your SEO score high.
There are two main types of redirects you can use: 301 and 302.
301 redirects mean that the old page is being permanently redirected to a newer one. When a search engine crawler runs into a 301 redirect, it will transfer a large portion of the old page’s authority (over 90%) to the new page. This is because, since you are using a permanent redirect, the old page no longer factors in the search engine algorithm’s score.
On the other hand, 302 redirects are considered temporary. If you use this type of redirect, the search engine will assume that the new page will be down soon, and will only transfer a small part of the old page’s authority, expecting it to be up and running in a short time. If the redirect stays in place for a while, your SEO score is likely to go down, resulting in a loss of visits.
With this in mind, it would be best that you use 301 redirects whenever possible.
Another important redirect page not mentioned above is the 404 page. If you take nothing else away from this section, let it be that you should build a custom 404 page. Your 404 page needs to be designed consistently with the rest of the site and have a minimum of two links to other areas of the site. These can lead to either the front page, previous page, or some other important page, like contact.
7. Consider Using Breadcrumb Menus
A breadcrumb menu refers to a set of icons or links located at the top or bottom of the page. These links let the users return to a category page or the front page without having to use the back button on their browser.
Breadcrumb menus also serve to give search engine crawlers a better understanding of the structure of your website. For this reason, they come highly recommended by Google and can help you boost your search engine rankings through technical SEO.
8. Optimize XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap serves as a sort of a roadmap, helping search engine crawlers understand your website’s pages while indexing them. Besides telling the search engines where each page is located, this file also includes other useful information, such as:
- The date when the page was created
- The date when the page was last modified
- The priority ranking of each page within the website
In order to optimize your website for a better SEO score, you will need to edit the XML sitemap so it only shows relevant pages. Generally, you’ll only want to include pages, blog posts, and categories that include original content. These will have the most impact on your search engine ranking. You’ll also want to skip author pages, tag pages, and others with low or no original content.
9. Optimize Robots.txt
Robots.txt is a file found in the root folder of your website. Its purpose is to inform any search engines trying to rate your site on which pages they can crawl and index. If Robots.txt isn’t formatted properly, search engines accessing your site will have a harder time crawling it and this will negatively impact your SEO score. Below you can see an example of a Robots.txt file.
As you can see, you can use ‘Allow’ and ‘Disallow’ to specify which pages can and cannot be crawled, respectively. The goal of this step is to make sure there are no blockings formatted in such a way as to prevent the search engine crawlers from indexing your entire website.
To edit and optimize your Robots.txt, use an FTP client to connect to your website’s root directory. Here, you will find the file, which you can download to your local PC and open with an appropriate text editor. Once you’ve made the necessary changes, reupload the file to your server.
10. Page Speed Optimization
Ever since 2010, Google has set its algorithm to consider TTFB (time to first byte) as a significant factor when determining SEO rankings. However, this is not the end of the story.
A poll by aykira.com found that 47% of visitors expect a web page to load within two seconds or less. So, Google considers total page speed to be important when ranking websites. Because of this, it’s important to create a comprehensive strategy for optimizing your website loading speed.
Use the following points as a guide when reviewing the ways you can increase your load speeds:
- Make sure your server uses a 64 bit OS.
- If you haven’t already, upgrade to PHP 7.2.
- It’s crucial you optimize the size of your images since this is the number one cause of slow load times.
- Use as few plugins as possible.
- Make sure that WordPress and all of the installed plugins are updated to their latest version.
- Using a premade theme with plenty of integrated plugins will slow your site down. In cases like these, it may be better to have a custom theme made.
- Use a minimum amount of scripts in the head HTML tag of your website.
If you’ve followed all of these tips, and still find your loading time is longer than it should be, you can use tools like Google page speed insights and Google mobile speed tools. These will give you a more detailed overview of all the factors affecting your website speed and it can help you with your technical SEO. You should also consider hiring a specialist who can do a loading speed audit and recommend measures to improve it.
11. Make Sure Your Website is Mobile Friendly
Making sure your website has a responsive design that will make it mobile friendly is now considered a given. Google itself has made it clear that having a mobile-friendly design will have a very positive effect on your website ranking.
If your website doesn’t already feature responsive design, this should be your absolute priority. Even if it means hiring a developer, the increase in SEO rankings and visits to your website will more than make up for any potential expense.
If, however, you’ve already implemented mobile-friendly design features to your website, there are still a few things you can do to make sure you take full advantage of Google’s ‘mobile-first’ approach to search results.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your desktop and mobile websites have the same content, including any internal links. This will make sure that Google’s crawlers index your mobile website the same way they would your desktop one.
After that, you need to make sure your mobile website is properly optimized for performance. This means that your load time must be under 6 seconds. Do note that using AMP will not have an impact on your mobile performance. Because of this, you’ll first have to optimize the responsive coding to achieve a fast load time and only then use AMP to shorten the load time even more.
12. Consider AMP
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a concept introduced by Google aimed at reducing load times for websites on mobile devices. It does this by presenting mobile users with a stripped-down version of a website, removing scripts, forms, and comments, but keeping text, images, and video.
However, visitors will only be able to access the AMP version of your website through Google Mobile results and other apps that support AMP, such as Twitter. Even so, Google Mobile will sometimes promote AMP pages, which can make up for any loss in traffic.
As with any new tech, there are pros and cons to using AMP. On the plus side, since your mobile pages will load faster, there is a higher chance that visitors will spend more time on them, and even share them and provide backlinks. On the other hand, AMP pages can be difficult to implement and you might have to hire a developer to help you build an AMP version of your website. Also, having to maintain two versions of the same website can needlessly complicate your analytics.
13. Run a Trial of Your Website With Google and Bing
Once you’ve built your website and are ready to launch it, you can register with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. These tools will let you submit your website for crawling and indexing which is very important for technical SEO.
All you need to do is provide your site’s XML sitemap and Google and Bing will crawl your website and show you how it would rank in search results. You can use this information to see if there are still some areas you could improve that would increase your SEO score.
Aside from this, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools will also allow you to test how mobile-friendly your website is, show you search analytics for your site, and much more.
Though it might seem daunting at first glance, gaining a solid understanding of technical SEO is well worth the time and effort spent. What’s more, once you used the methods described above, chances are you won’t have to use them again. Be mindful of the tips we’ve laid out and you’ll be setting your website up for long-term success.