Beginner’s Guide: Technical SEO Basics Everyone Should Know
You may already know—SEO (search engine optimization) is a set of practices, skills, and tactics that help you improve the ranking of your website. Usually, this is separated into two core categories, on-page SEO and technical SEO. In this article, we’re going to discuss the historically more complicated skills—the technical side of search engine optimization.
The key takeaway is that you don’t need to implement all this technical SEO guide yourself. Our aim is to provide you with foundational knowledge, so you can conduct further in-depth research and find a step-by-step guide to optimize your website yourself. Alternatively, you can turn to a technical SEO agency that can complete the work for you.
Either way, understanding the basics of technical SEO ensures you have a working understanding of the principles before you proceed with any work. So, without further ado, let’s dive into it.
What Is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is improving the performance of your website, usually in the back end or code. It encompasses a range of disciplines that aim to make websites easier to crawl, index, load quickly, and improve user experience, resulting in improved search engine rankings. It is known to be more complicated and intensive than traditional, on-page SEO.
1. Start With Structure
One of the first things you’ll learn when building your website is to make it friendly for users. Content should be easy to find and no more than a few clicks away—that's the same for search engine crawl bots.
A crawler works its way through your website just like a user would, so creating a free-flowing sitemap structure should be at the top of your technical SEO checklist. If you overcomplicate and confuse your site structure by hiding pages deep in the system, it’s likely bots will never get to them, meaning they’ll never be indexed or ranked in SERPs (search engine results pages).
A great method to assess your existing or proposed sitemap structure is to draw it out like a tree. Start with the top-level pages you have in your navigation bar. Below them, add the pages they link to, and so on. If you find yourself adding a copious number of layers, you’ve gone too far. Remember, no page should be more than a few clicks away.
2. Page Speeds
The purpose of a search engine is to provide users with the information they need quickly and efficiently. The construction of your web pages, their loading speed, and the content and images within them all contribute to page loading. The quicker your site is, the more user-friendly Google determines it to be, the higher it ranks.
The most common cause of slow loading is the page size. Often, people insert high-quality images with large file sizes rather than optimizing them beforehand. We suggest compressing file sizes—they’ll keep their quality and load much faster.
One tool you can use to analyze loading speeds is Google PageSpeed Insights. Here, you’ll receive a performance rating from 0-100 and tips for improving that page.
3. Mobile Responsiveness
Nowadays, 64% of searches are conducted on mobile. So, it won’t be surprising to hear the majority of websites are ranked based on the mobile version of their content. If your pages aren’t optimized for mobile use, you’re missing out on the vast majority of your target audience.
You’ll easily pick up on a few mobile response issues, including:
- Words or images extend past the right edge of the screen.
- Clickable elements such as buttons or linked text are too close together and not working.
- Content is too small to read without zooming in.
- Elements that use hover functionality on desktop do not work on mobile, thus hiding content.
For in-depth analysis, use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
4. Crawling & Indexing Errors
You should frequently be checking your website for crawling and indexing errors. Scheduled monitoring of Google Search Console will allow you to keep on top of and minimize potentially catastrophic blunders on your website. If you haven’t created a Google Search Console account, you need to sign up and upload your XML sitemap. From here, Google will persist to index your site, documenting any errors it encounters, such as 404 page not found errors, pages not indexed, and many more.
While most of these errors on their own won’t heavily impact your ranking, a single major mistake can ruin months of hard work. One such error that springs to mind is accidentally adding a no-index tag in the header of a website, meaning search engines won’t look at any of your pages. Without looking for these errors, you can't discover them before it's too late.
5. Duplicate Content & Canonical Tags
Repeating the same content across multiple pages receives a resounding no from SERPs. If you’re found to be duplicating copy, your website will be penalized, and rankings will drop. Make sure you’re writing completely unique content for every page of your website. The more information you provide, the more reliable, high-quality, and valuable your content is.
However, there are situations where duplicate content is unavoidable. A prime example of this is e-commerce stores where a product appears in multiple categories. The workaround here is the canonical tag. Adding this tag shows search engines that another page is the original, meaning you won’t be punished for duplicate content.
Once you open the can of worms that is technical SEO, it’s easy to get blinded by the data and put off by the code. However, it’s equally as, if not more, important than on-page SEO— without it, search engines would never see your content to be able to rank it. Conducting a technical SEO order can fix your ranking performance—use the tools we’ve suggested above.
What you’ve read through is technical SEO for beginners—there’s much more to learn and many other tools you can use to improve your rankings. We suggest taking your time to get a working knowledge of the basics, implement what you can, then reach out to us to work on the advanced stuff.