What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is a tricky area for many SEO strategies. Technical SEO comes down to the crawl statistics and indexability of your website. We see a difference in the way Google crawls pages in comparison to previous years. With all the new updates and innovations that Google is working on, it becomes hard to get started with technical SEO without any technical expertise. Long story short, not every SEO specialist has the skills and knowledge for technical SEO. But we will guide you through all of the different themes and techniques!
Why is technical SEO important?
Previously, many SEO marketers spent time focusing on content and link building. These two pillars within SEO will, of course, always be of vital importance. At the same time, we have noticed by experience that technical SEO is increasingly necessary. This is mainly due to crawl and indexing problems with websites. To make your business’s website more popular for crawlers, the use of technical SEO should be a key factor in your approach!
SEO technique is the first step to a successful webpage
Well begun is half done! If the technology of a website is in tip-top shape, it saves a lot of repair work, headaches, and time for both web development and marketers in the future. Examples of aspects that you will probably not change after a website is delivered are the site structure, the URL structure, and the main menu. That’s why this first step in SEO is an essential factor when it comes to building a webpage that works in your favor.
Most websites underperform on the technical front
Many websites underperform or tend to neglect the maintenance of technical SEO, it is the part that even large companies forget to focus on. They see technical SEO as a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of thing, but in fact, technical SEO needs time, effort, expertise, and consistency. When we analyze websites, we see this as a common problem that results in a loss in the site speed department. Which, in turn, results in a poor user experience. By improving your technical SEO, and thus doubling down on site speed, you simultaneously optimize the use of your crawl budget. This will greatly improve the crawlability and indexability of your pages and your website as a whole.
Working with SEO tools does not mean you are a technical SEO expert
All that glitters isn’t gold. Using free tools sounds appealing, but these tools will also have limitations. They provide limited information about possible limitations within your technical SEO, or they simply don’t disclose all the flaws.
Think about, for example, the robots.txt file. Most tools only inspect whether the robots.txt file is present. If it is, then according to the free SEO tool, you have succeeded at this point. We’ve experienced firsthand, though, it happens frequently that a robots.txt file is not properly completed and too few or too many pages are excluded.
Understanding technical SEO insights
With your analysis, you obviously want to understand the right technical SEO insights. Within technical SEO, you will encounter a lot of professional terms like sitemap, robots.txt file, 3xx and 4xx status code links. Knowing the meaning of such a term is essential, but even more important is understanding and knowing what steps to take in practice. If you don’t know how to change a link to a 301 status code link, we especially recommend: to read on!
A checklist for your technical SEO analysis
Let’s get down to business! To make it easier for you, we have developed a checklist of things to include in a technical SEO analysis. These factors are outlined in order of importance.
The structure of your website is an important indicator for Google to index pages with less or more priority. You do this by adding internal links in the header menu.
If you redirect a lot of content to a certain page, this represents to Google that this is an important page for you. This will help Google rank the page with the most priority. A good link structure also prevents orphan pages. Orphan pages are website pages that are not linked to any other page or section of your site. You want to avoid these types of pages at all costs.
The header menu is used as navigation within a website. Additionally, it appears on every page. That’s why it remains an important part of technical SEO. How to develop a good header menu is shown below.
- Think in terms of revenue, margins and SEO what your most important pages are. Also pay attention to the results of the keyword research;
- Add these pages to the header menu in a logical and organized order;
- Test the menu with different CRO tools such as Hotjar;
- Talk to a business relationship to provide feedback on the menu.
The more internal links you include in the main menu, the less value will be directed to the really important pages. In this case, imagine your website has 15 pages. If you show 7 of those 15 pages in the header menu, more link value will go to the 7 pages compared to having all 15 pages in the header menu. That’s why you want to make sure that the most important pages appear in your header menu, and you don’t flood your header with less valuable pages.
We often see that certain pages, created solely for SEO, are located in the footer of the website. In case you find a non-valuable page for the header menu, the footer is a possible solution. In the footer, you will often see shortcuts to information pages, such as the contact or about us page.
Another way to use internal links is from the content of a page. The idea behind an internal link in the content is to alert the visitor to other relevant pages. You indicate to Google that there is value to the page you are linking to.
On this page, you will find several internal links, because there are topics mentioned where there is additional information. This ensures that your page is seen as a relevant source of information.
Website loading speed
There are many ways to improve the loading speed of your website. In the paragraphs which follow, we will discuss the factors on which a website usually does not perform at its best.
At the same time, this aspect is easily managed with the tools within the SEO arena. There are several ways within technical SEO to understand the number of kb’s of an image. The easiest way to do this is by using Screaming Frog. We will explain how to find out more about these insights in more detail below.
- Install Screaming Frog and enter the domain name;
- Click “Start” and wait for the scan to finish;
- After the scan is finished, click on ‘Images’. In one of the columns, you will see the size of the images. This is indicated by the ‘Size’ column
- Click on the ‘Export’ button
Knowing which images are too large, the second thing you can do is make a selection of the images that need to be reduced in size. On the Internet, you can find numerous tools that can help you with this.
A redirect chain (301-redirects) occurs when there is more than one redirect between the initial URL and the destination URL. Obviously, this is weird for searchers and especially for Google’s crawlers. You can easily detect these redirect chains with Screaming Frog. For this, you do the following:
- Go to ‘Reports’ and click on ‘Redirects’.
- Then click on ‘Redirect chains.
You will receive an export of all found redirect chains of the website. After that, you will have an overview of the redirect chains. You can change internal links and set 301-redirects to ensure the searcher is directed to the right page. Often, we see referrals within websites where you do get sent to the correct destination URL, but with 1 or 2 intermediate steps. Most of the time, these are old pages that have had their URL changed. These types of chains also cause loading speed problems and need to be fixed. The paid version of Yoast eliminates these problems. When you change a URL or delete a page, it automatically creates a 301 redirect.
Hosting is another element that affects the loading rate of a website. When you are looking at a hosting company, it is beneficial to at least have the loading speed at a high level. This aspect coincides with the location of the web hoster. The so-called resources CPU (computing power) and RAM (working memory) impact the loading speed. So if it turns out that your website is loading too slowly, or you need more processing power and better working random-access memory. You can upgrade this (temporarily) at almost any hosting company. For internationally oriented websites, server location is very important. These days, this is easily handled with the use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
A website at its core is built with HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). This can be managed these days with very helpful tools such as WordPress. However, there are a few important things that every website owner should be aware of. We mention two of the most important areas where time can be saved.
Unnecessary use of CSS
CSS is responsible for the layout of HTML and promotes ease of use. CSS is an important element for every website. As well, we have noticed that many Websites are using CSS unnecessarily. You can figure this out through Google’s Pagespeed Insights. The number one reason for unnecessary use of CSS within WordPress websites are improperly built themes and the use of Page Builders. So before creating a website, educate yourself on themes and page builders and the effect of CSS code. Within themes, a Web developer can also make modifications. If you have a lack of knowledge about web development, we highly recommend you to avoid making any modifications yourself.
- Always include the most important HTML elements in the unrendered version of the source code.
- Consider an accessible header menu for Google’s crawlers;
- Make sure the viewport consists only of HTML elements;
The mobile-friendliness of a website is becoming more and more a priority. As we can see, Google has certainly paid attention to responsive design in the Web Core Vitals and in its previous updates. Therefore, the chances of ranking within SEO with non-responsive design are reduced. Within many website builders such as WordPress, responsive design is usually all-included. Moreover, there are also specialized plugins to implement this as well. An alternative, if you don’t have a WordPress website, is to rebuild your current website with CSS. To make your designs look good and correctly, you can reduce the pixels of the screen. The downside of this, is that you have to maintain two websites, which leads to increased costs. A website may face difficulties with responsive design. This can be caused by anything. In many cases, these errors are signaled within Google Search Console.
Duplicate content, whether internal or external, is something you always want to avoid. Google does not acknowledge any added value to the page because of duplicate content. In fact, Google is more likely to reject it and with the consequence
that other pages lose their SEO value. To ensure that you are avoiding internal duplicate content, it is essential to prioritize the followings steps;
- Establish a separate keyword focus per page. In this process, keyword research will help you out;
- Make sure the key page is separate;
- Make sure the URL structure of the page is correct and make sure the important page is close to its source;
- Bundle the content and set 301 redirects from the old pages;
- Optimize one of the two conflicting pages with content and reduce the content of the other page.
- Set one canonical tag.
- Perform link building.
How do you get clear that two pages are causing contradictions? There are several ways to figure this out. The first possibility is to use the Siteliner.com tool. In this tool, you enter a URL of a page that you think is possibly equivalent to another page. Alternatively, you can also add the domain name, if you’re not sure where the two pages clash. In addition to Siteliner, you also have the Screaming Frog tool. Within Screaming Frog’s configuration settings, you can enter the so-called “threshold” for duplicate content. Another way is to enter a keyword within the search function of all HTML pages. With these steps, you are able to detect possible internal duplicate content.
HTTP status codes
A hyperlink shows up in the structure of HTML pages. These pages are formatted in HTML, and they all have an HTTP status code. The HTTP 200 status code indicates that the page is crawlable by Google’s robots. This is a good sign, nevertheless, there are other types of HTTP status codes. We are detailing the most important status codes within technical SEO in the following paragraphs. We also explain why it’s important to clarify these.
301 status code
The 301 status code represents a URL that has been permanently redirected to an HTTP 200 status code. People set a 301 redirect in Google to indicate that a page has been permanently moved. An HTTP-301 status code is not a bad thing a priori, but we’ve found out that people forget the secondary tasks, such as changing the internal links to these 301 pages. After setting up a 301 redirect, make sure that the internal links to this 301 page are also changed.
404 status code
An HTTP-404 status code on the page occurs when the web server cannot retrieve and render the URL. When that happens, we often see internal links leading to a 404 page. You want to avoid and prevent this. To be able to do this, you must first understand the number of 404 pages on your website. There are free tools for this on the Internet. But, we recommend, Screaming Frog for monitoring 404 pages. Because this tool allows you to easily and quickly see the number of internal links to the 404 pages. After you figure out the 404 pages, set up a 301 redirect.
503 status code
A 503-HTTP status code is encountered when the website is live, but the web server cannot fulfill your request. In this case, the page exists, but you’ll see no information or any content appear. The cause of a 503 error is caused by the web server. This happens when the server is offline due to maintenance or because there are too many requests from users that cannot be processed by the web server. The solution is to upgrade the server’s random access memory, work processes, or resources.
With a canonical tag, you indicate the identical page. When you’re linking from page X to page Y with a canonical tag, you’re indicating that page Y is the identical page. You want to be found on this page through organic traffic. This allows you to avoid pages to cause contradictions. Canonical tags are indexable. So you shouldn’t confuse this with a no-index tag. Canonical tags are often used in e-commerce websites with different filters in color, material or brand. This is because in some cases the filters show a URL that is not easy to be read. When these URLs do not have a canonical tag, you are basically telling Google that these URLs are allowed to be indexed. This is causing potential internal competition. Screaming Frog helps you understand which URLs contain a canonical.
A sitemap is a directory in which the indexable pages of the website are shown. A sitemap can be entered as an XML and HTML file. The XML sitemap is meant for Google’s crawlers and the HTML sitemap for users. An XML sitemap for a WordPress website is easy to install. To do so, use an SEO plugin such as RankMath or Yoast. In addition, you submit a sitemap to Google Search Console. The following notes are important when implementing the XML sitemap.
- Make sure that different locations (page type, country) are displayed in the sitemap. This can be done with the tag <loc>;
- Make sure the XML sitemap is actually an XML file type;
- Avoid having canonical links, no-index, and 301-redirects listed in the sitemap.
Within the robots.txt file, you can mark which pages the crawler should not index. In other words, these are the pages that Google doesn’t need to inspect. Think of special web pages that only the website owner has access to or has special file types such as PHP. Here are a few tips on shaping the robots.txt file:
- Implement the robots.txt file behind the root domain (no subfolders);
- Always reference the XML sitemap from within the file;
- Do not exclude CSS files or other files that align with the layout and functionality of your website;
- Make sure to disallow or allow in the correct order.
The hreflang attribute is not relevant for websites with a national focus. The hreflang attribute is interesting for websites with an international focus that has multiple different language versions. To properly instruct Google what language extension is a good implementation of hreflang attribute is of the importance. Google has prepared a document that discusses hreflang attribute in detail. Here are some tips!
- Make sure the country and language code is in the right order. Start with the language and specify it with the country;
- Always set the X-default. The X-default is the fallback option for the crawlers. This is the page without a specific targeting of a country;
- If a particular language does not have a page, never refer to the homepage.
Creating a technical SEO scan: where to start
So, let’s get the ball rolling! In this final chapter, we’ll spend some time on creating a technical SEO analysis.
Step 1. Select the right technical SEO tools
The previous chapters discussed various tools. In this section, we will mention the tools we use for technical SEO.
Screaming Frog is by far the most feature-rich and advanced tool for conducting a technical SEO audit, but it’s also the tool that requires the most expertise. This tool doesn’t identify areas where a website can improve, but it does provide the data to say so. This means you need to understand the output based on the scan itself. In Screaming Frog, there are standard reports such as redirect chains and orphan pages. When data is generated from this regular report, it implies that at least some things are wrong. With a paid version of Screaming Frog, you can analyze all the mentioned issues from previous paragraphs.
A Screaming Frog membership is free up to 500 URLs. This is fine for small and basic websites, but not for larger and more complexed web shops. If you have a web shop, we definitely recommend purchasing a Screaming Frog membership. The yearly costs are €185.00. With this paid membership, it is possible to collect more technical SEO data.
To find out in-house duplicate content, use Siteliner or Screaming Frog. Siteliner is a free tool. Once you enter a URL, you get a report with possible internal duplicate content. The tool also indicates which similarities are involved and will also show the page it clashes with.
Google Search Console
Within Google Search Console you will find within site-vitality, issues in which a website has difficulties. Google Search Console does this based on the LCP (Largest Contentful Pain), FID (First Input Delay) and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shifting). Problems within responsive design often have a direct impact on the CLS.
Page speed insights
You find out the LCP, FID, CLS by entering the website URL into Google’s Page speed Insights tool. From this audit, suggestions for improvement regarding your website will emerge.
Want some more in-depth content about our favorite SEO tools? Check out our blog about SEO tools!
Step 2: Create a technical SEO audit
In order to make sure you don’t scroll around pointlessly, we’d like to name all the SEO factors mentioned above. There are numerous other technical SEO features to name, but we’ve made a list of a few important ones below. However, they are not listed in order of importance.
- In-content links
- Image size
- Redirect chains
- Use of CSS
- Responsive design
- Duplicate content
- (In links) 301 redirect
- (In links) 404 page
- Canonical tag
- Hreflang attribute
Step 3. Highlight areas for improvement and create a schedule
After your technical SEO audit, or scoring the factors listed above, prioritize each individual area for improvement. Keep in mind that the areas are interrelated.
In this specific situation, when you fix duplicate content and set a 301 redirect, you know you need to change an in-content link. It is wise to have time and employees assigned by task. That will ensure everyone is informed, and it is clear what’s expected from them.
Step 4. Fix the technical issues
Most technical SEO points are fixed by a web developer. Keep up direct communication with the technical web developer and tell the person why this is important. The most common reasons are:
- Google crawls your website more often;
- New pages appear faster in Google’s index;
- It improves the overall user experience.