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All the talk about technical SEO is more than just a trend. Sure, over recent years Google has underscored the importance of speed, security, and structured data markup, but oftentimes it’s technical SEO that can yield more immediate transformations in a site’s rankings. This especially holds true for large sites with lots of pages or domains that have earned quality backlinks.
For a site to realize its true potential in Google Search, technical is SEO an absolute must. The slightest hiccups can wreak havoc on a site’s performance, thereby creating a mysterious glass ceiling and plateaued rankings. To help you pinpoint and correct any disruptive bottlenecks, below I’ve outlined seven technical SEO tips to effectively avoid such crippling issues from occurring.
Verify Google Search Console, Analytics, and Tag Manager
While these integrations may seem obvious, it’s vital to have these foundational tracking and analytics tools in place. Having free tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Google Tag Manager properly configured and verified is essential to measure performance and pinpoint technical issues as they arise.
These tools shouldn’t be considered “one-and-done” implementations. In fact, they should be an integral component to your SEO toolkit. Allot time to review alerts and messages generated by these tools regularly to stay ahead of possible problems.
1. Scan for Crawl Errors and HTTPS Status Codes
Crawler tools like Screaming Frog make it incredibly easy to generate crawl and to find any problematic URL errors, including 404 errors. As a free alternative, you can also use Google Search Console to pull this data; however, the process involved may not be as seamless as paid tools like Screaming Frog.
Similarly, you’ll want to evaluate your site’s HTTPS status codes to ensure the secure URLs are being properly indexed. A ranking factors study by SEMrush found that HTTPS (or having a secure site with an SSL active) is a very powerful ranking factor that can directly impact your site’s rankings.
When migrating to HTTPS, you’ll need to define proper redirects, as the search engines and users will not have access to your site if you still have HTTP URLs in place. In most cases, they will see 4xx and 5xx HTTP status codes instead of your content. For this reason, it’s important to check-in with Google Search Console regularly, or run scheduled crawl reports every month, to ensure your site’s error list is empty, and that you fix any errors as soon as they arise.
2. Google “Site:” Search
One of the simplest technical SEO tools at everyone’s fingertips is Google Search itself, specifically, doing a “site:” search of a particular domain. Essentially, this is an easy way to see how Google is crawling and indexing a site. Sometimes the results can be very revealing.
For example, in the figure below you can see Google is crawling various unique extensions of the same URL (/courses/) with the same metadescription duplicated for each. In this case, it’s best to disallow all “/courses/” URLs as they don’t offer much value and dilute the site’s SEO.
A few considerations when conducting a “site:” search on Google:
- If your site is not at the top of the results or non-existent from the SERPs altogether, then you either have a Google manual action or you’re accidentally blocking your site from being indexed (probably via robots.txt).
- If you see redundant metadata and multiple URLs being indexed, then you likely have a duplicate content issue and need to prevent unwanted URLs from getting indexed.
- If your metatitles and descriptions are cutting off (…), consider shortening the amount of characters used (typically under 70 for titles and 160 for descriptions).
3. Assess Site Performance
Site speed has become a popular topic in the SEO community. Now a widely-considered ranking factor, site load speed aligns with Google’s mission to serve users with the best possible experience. For this reason, fast-loading websites that offer quality user experience are often rewarded.
In almost every scenario, a slow loading site that takes more than four or five seconds to render will not realize its full SEO potential. To add fuel to the fire, a slow site will often experience a diminished conversion rate for users across all channels, beyond just organic.
In addition to GTmetrix, there are other tools that may be worth exploring to test and improve your site’s performance. These include Google PageSpeed Insights and Web.dev, all of which deliver actionable guidance and in-depth analysis across a number of performance metrics and ranking variables. The recommendations provided by these tools can vary from simple image compression to more advanced modifications based on how servers interact with requests. If all this sounds foreign, then you may want to engage with a knowledgeable development team to help make sense of the information.
4. Integrate Appropriate Hreflang Tags
Having an international web presence introduces unique SEO challenges for a site’s technical integrity. The most common issue is incorrectly adding hreflang declarations on sites that offer several different language options. Imagine if you had American users who continually landed on a page written in Dutch. Those users will likely bounce immediately, which in turn can cause the site’s SEO performance to suffer.
By integrating the appropriate Hreflang tag, Google and other search engines can display the most appropriate content according to a user’s location and browser language settings. Here are a few of the most important things to consider when reviewing Hreflang tags:
- Keep a consistent implementation method. This can be done either in the header of each page or done in the XML sitemap; the important takeaway here is to choose one method and stick to it.
- Each page should include tags for ALL of the regionalized versions that exist for that page.
- A default should be declared to be a fallback.
- Hreflang tags should not be used as replacements for canonicalization.
5. Canonicalize All Pages
If there’s one issue that commonly surfaces for most sites, it’s duplicate content. More specifically, it’s Google and other search engines discovering multiple versions of the same page.
In fact, we’ve encountered sites with over five different URL versions of the same page. In turn, these pages step on each other and dilute the SEO value of the true page you want ranking. When this problem arises, it’s usually due to a faulty set up of the server or a CMS platform that’s just not very SEO-friendly. For example, one recent project involved a site that had the following URLs generated for its ‘About Us’ page:
To a search engine, the one About Us page above looks like five unique pages, all with the exact same content. Not only can this cause confusion, but it can even make a site appear spammy or shallow with so much duplicate content. The fix for this is canonicalization.
This feature is available on most CMS platforms; however, it just requires diligence and effort to canonicalize all pages of a site. In the figure above, the canonical URL feature is available under the advanced settings in the Yoast SEO plugin, one of the most common tools available for WordPress sites.
6. Audit a Site’s Robots.txt File
The robots.txt file, also known as the Robots Exclusion Protocol, or REP, is another tool used to communicate with search engines. This file enables webmasters to specify which pages or categories should not be processed or crawled. In short, certain URLs can be disallowed, preventing search engines from crawling and indexing them.
Robots.txt is a file that often gets updated over time to adjust the crawling parameters of certain directories or content on a site. Additionally, you can ensure the privacy of certain pages (i.e. PPC landing pages) by making them inaccessible to search engines. Regardless of your intentions, it’s important to audit a site’s robots.txt file from time to time to ensure it aligns with your SEO objectives. Although such cases are rare, it’s possible certain pages and categories of interest may not be getting crawled and indexed.
Lastly, it’s important to review the robots.txt file for a reference to the site’s XML sitemap. If a sitemap structure sees regular updates, then it’s imperative you update the reference in the robots.txt file too.
7. Evaluate a Site’s Responsiveness
In short, sites that are not responsive (mobile-friendly) will eventually suffer in the search results. By using tools like Google’s Mobile-friendly Test, you can understand just how responsive your site is on mobile devices. Further, this tool also reveals more detailed technical insights that can help you optimize a site’s performance, similar to GTmetrix.
With mobile now the dominant platform for web browsing, having a responsive site is absolutely critical not just for SEO, but also for a site’s user experience and conversion rate. If your website is still not mobile-friendly, then this is the year in which you should prioritize a responsive redesign.
These seven technical SEO tips are certainly not the entire picture of what needs to be considered for a site’s health, but we can attest that they comprise some of the most important technical elements that you should regularly monitor.