Website Development

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the part of On-Page SEO that addresses the crawling and indexing phase of your website’s inclusion in popular search engines.

Let’s back up.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving your website’s domain authority and relevance to your most sought-after keywords.

Well-executed SEO results in your website being listed as a top result on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when a user searches for those keywords.

You obtain very little organic traffic if your website ranks lower than the top 3 positions for any keyword. 90% of all searchers never make it past the first SERP.

By improving your website’s authority and relevance to the point where it ranks on that crucial first SERP, more of your warm prospects will discover your website instead of a competitor’s website.

Search engines keep an index, or library, of every web page the search engine has ranked. They use intelligent “Spiders,” or Web Crawlers, to crawl the internet, following every link they come across to assess each web page’s authority & keyword relevance. These crawlers will periodically revisit every website in the index in search of changes in authority or relevance to reassess the ranking.

When a user searches for a keyword, the search engine algorithm will return organic search results (that is, not paid ads) that consist of the highest-authority websites relevant to that keyword.

That’s SEO in a nutshell.

So how do website owners and digital marketers pull this off? Using the two key SEO branches — On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. It’s not an either/or proposition. To make a website a top organic search result, you need both.

Off-Page SEO consists of driving authority to your domain from other websites, usually in links from those websites to yours. Links pointing at your website, especially from top-rated and authoritative websites, convey authority to your website.

Search engine web crawlers make a map of the internet and the interlinking of each website. Each link pointing at your website is like a “vote” for its authority. Search engines constantly upgrade their crawler algorithms to detect legitimate links and prevent website owners from gaming this system.

Yet an essential part of SEO happens on your web page itself. When people think of on-page SEO, they often think about stocking the page with content that will assign it relevance for the right keyword and a volume of content that will denote authority.

What about the first moment the crawler discovers your website and adds it to the search engine’s index? What about every time it returns to the page to update your website’s ranking? The crawler is not a human; it is a computer algorithm. It speaks in ones and zeroes and follows an automated process.

Technical SEO means adapting your website to speak the web crawler’s language. It’s not about the content users see but what the web crawler sees. It’s about calibrating the technical aspects of your website so that the crawler interprets it as worthy of high ranking. It’s also about helping the web crawler do its job so that your website gets appropriately discovered, analyzed, and indexed.

If you’ve not optimized your Technical SEO, the crawler might interpret your website as poorly designed and worthy of little authority. In addition, it might miss whole sections of your website, like your blog or product catalog. All of these unforced errors will cause your website to rank low off the bat, making it hard for it ever to reach top SERPs regardless of how much authoritative content or off-page SEO you throw at it.

A website with great Technical SEO starts with the wind at its back, entering the search engine index with as high a rank as it can get. Your other On-Page and Off-Page SEO efforts will be much more successful because they are on top of a foundation of excellent Technical SEO.

Why is Technical SEO important?

As the name implies, Technical SEO is technical. But unfortunately, many organizations, and some SEO providers, don’t address it because they don’t have the in-house talent or technological know-how to get it done.

But Technical SEO is the foundation on which all other SEO efforts rely. So if you try On-Page or Off-Page SEO with a website that has terrible Technical SEO, it’s like you’re walking into a boxing match with one hand tied behind your back.

Think of your Technical SEO as your website’s first impression on the search engine web crawlers. They determine (according to an automated algorithm) how thoroughly your website gets indexed, as well as the authority and relevance your website will be assigned to choose its ranking.

Optimizing your website’s Technical SEO puts your best foot forward and helps the search engine crawlers do their jobs.

Why Should You Care About Organic Traffic?

Why bother? If SEO is complicated, and Technical SEO is even more complex, why bother with it at all? Why should you spend all that time, effort, and money to earn your way to the top of SERPs when you can buy your way up to the top of SERPs in the form of pay-per-click ads?

Paid search ads are a separate wing of the digital marketing world — Search Engine Marketing (SEM) instead of SEO. However, these ads have a place in any well-rounded digital marketing strategy, especially early on. They can provide an early boost of traffic to your website, allowing you to perform split-tests on headlines and metadata, as well as test assumptions about user behavior.

Yet SEM is a double-edged sword as clicks go to the highest bidder. There’s a reason the sponsored listings that appear at the top of your Google searches are typically more notable brands and not mom-and-pop brands — those enterprise-level brands can afford to bid higher on the best keywords. But unfortunately, some advertise solely to squeeze out competitors and keep them from gaining market share, even if their SEM runs at a loss. As a result, many small-to-medium-sized brands are left to fight over any relevant long-tail keywords they can afford.

Even if your paid ads make it to the top of a given SERP, you aren’t getting all the bang you expect for your buck. According to Search Engine Watch, 94% of all search engine traffic goes to organic search results. Not the paid ads that Google places on top. Users deliberately scroll past those ads to find the organic search results.

Why do users do this? Because the word is out. When users see that “Sponsored” or “Ad” tag on a search result, they know that the brand didn’t earn its way to that position through relevance — they bought it. They are essentially attempting to buy or rent that user’s attention. Users don’t appreciate that. They value their attention and want to give it to brands they consider worthy.

In short, whether they fully understand this behavior or not, users trust the search engine’s algorithm to deliver them the most authoritative and relevant content based on their search inputs. As a result, users will reward successful SEO with far more qualified traffic than SEM.

SEO may take a long time. For example, if your website currently sits on Page 15 of SERPs, the journey to Page One might feel arduous. But once you get there, SEO is like a snowball. It gets stronger and stronger with time, even as you expend less and less effort to maintain your position. In contrast, paid ads are an ongoing expense.

SEO, moreover, offers compounding returns. Over the long term, organic search traffic, earned through SEO, is far less expensive, more plentiful, and warmer in buying temperature than paid-search traffic.

Common Technical SEO Issues

So what can go wrong with a website from a Technical SEO standpoint? What code-level issues can cause search engine web crawlers to rank your website lower, fail to index a part of your website, or fail to index your website altogether? Here are some common issues that a Technical SEO Agency can help you fix:

 

  • Slow Load Speed

Google data indicates that the “bounce rate” (people leaving your page as soon as they arrive on it) increases dramatically for websites that take more than three seconds to load.

Users are impatient; they expect their pages to load quickly. Search engines aren’t in the business of contradicting those user expectations; they are giving users what they want. If they return bad user experiences high on SERPs, users will lose trust in the judgment of that search engine to deliver them the best content. Search engine web crawlers can evaluate how quickly your page loads.

If the performance isn’t up to par, search engine algorithms will tend to rank your website lower. Therefore, one of the most critical tasks on the Technical SEO checklist is to increase the website’s performance to load as quickly as possible. The search engines will reward this effort handsomely.

  • Lack of Mobile Optimization

As we mentioned above, search engines are in the business of giving users what they want — the most relevant, authoritative content. A great user experience is a sign of authority.

It leads to happy customers. An excellent mobile experience is another user expectation. More than half of all searches take place on mobile devices. Search engines aren’t doing their job if they’re returning mobile-challenged websites on mobile SERPs. Search engine giant, Google, has famously adopted a “mobile-first” indexing algorithm, meaning the Google crawlers inspect and index the mobile version of the website first, not the big beautiful desktop version.

If it detects a poorly optimized or slow-leading mobile website, your SEO ranking will suffer. Therefore, thorough Technical SEO must address the optimization of the mobile experience. Mobile optimization includes responsiveness and a mobile website that loads quickly on mobile devices with smaller processors.

  • Duplicate Content

Search engine algorithms penalize “duplicate content” as evidence of plagiarism. However, most websites end up with some degree of duplicate content penalty because the search engine web crawlers can index the same content two or more times.

The availability of “domain.com” and “www.domain.com,” or the HTTP vs. HTTPS (secure) version of the website, can result in double-indexing of the same content. In addition, syndicated RSS feeds, and blog tagging can also cause search engine web crawlers to index content twice.

Technical SEO experts can arm your website with tools that will prevent the search engine web crawlers from indexing your content twice. For example, a “robots.txt” file can be used to identify certain pages as not to be indexed. A “rel=canonical” tag can also be used to identify one version of the content as “canonical,” so the search engine crawlers ignore all the others.

If your website serves duplicate content, it should be addressed and remediated. Letting the search engine crawlers index the same page multiple times and penalize you for “duplicate content” is a huge unforced error.

  • Bad Redirects

Especially when a website gets moved from one URL to another, it may be necessary to use 301 redirects to direct the user to the correct website and retain the residual domain authority from the old domain.

But if you did not set up your redirect correctly, your website could end up with the dreaded “404 Not Found” error. These bad redirects indicate a poor user experience, and search engine web crawlers will penalize your ranking accordingly.

Finding and correcting all these bad redirects can be a challenge, especially on a big website, but it is worth it from a Technical SEO standpoint.

  • Awkward URLs

Some web content management systems (CMS) automatically assign new pages, blogs, or directories gibberish URLs — for example, “domain.com/index.php?p=368285.” Both users and search engine web crawlers identify such awkward URLs as a lack of authority. Additionally, it makes them hard to index and categorize.

Technical SEO experts can clean up the URLs, making them more accessible to index and add relevance and authority to your search engine ranking. Don’t forget those bad redirects, though — make sure to use proper 301 redirects so that the old URLs still redirect to the right place and you don’t get penalized for any “404 Not Found” errors.

  • Hard to Interpret

One essential technique to increase your website’s relevance to search engines is to perform keyword optimization, a type of on-page SEO. However, you can also make your website easy to interpret and categorize at the code level, a level users won’t see, but search engines will.

A Technical SEO expert can add a markup language to your website called structured data. Human eyes won’t see this code markup, but search engine web crawlers will, and it will help them interpret the website, properly categorize it, and assign relevance to your website.

  • Hard to Index

You might stock your website with rich, relevant, authoritative content, but that content won’t help your website if search engine web crawlers don’t index your entire website.

Remember, web crawlers prowl the internet searching new websites, following the pathways available to them — hyperlinks. Unfortunately, many websites with a robust index of subpages forget to provide these crucial pathways — internal links that connect one part of the website to every other section of the website.

If a web developer omits hyperlinks, web crawlers might run up against a dead end, with no pathway to whole sections of the website. As a result, those sections may end up left out of the search engine index, and you get no credit for the authority, relevance, and overall impact of that content.

Part of Technical SEO involves making sure the search engine web crawlers can find the entire website index and add it to the search engine index. For example, it might include scrupulously interlinking all subpages.

However, an easier way may be to create an XML website map, a kind of “table of contents” with links that direct crawlers to every page in the website index without any twists, turns, or possible dead ends — every page in the index is right there, linked to the website map.

Building an Effective Technical SEO Strategy

Technical SEO is no small undertaking, especially if attempting to optimize an extensive and existing website. To succeed in a reasonable amount of time, without the excess expenditure of resources, it helps to have a sound strategy to follow. Here are the steps to creating that strategy:

  • Conduct a Technical SEO Audit

Every major project starts with an honest assessment of the starting point. The first step in creating a technical SEO strategy is to perform a thorough audit of the technical aspects of your website, including DNS, schema, and off-site factors, and evaluate what impact they might have on your website’s search engine ranking.

The audit should also cover whether your website is fully indexed by the major search engines or what barriers, if any, are limiting your index, and whether you face any liabilities for duplicate content from dual indexing.

  • Perform a Gap Analysis

Once you know your starting point, it’s time to set your sights on where you want to be. A gap analysis identifies the end goal of your technical search engine optimization and compares that to the starting point determined by your audit. This process helps you create a “to-do” list of Technical SEO fixes and improvements that will form the nuts and bolts of your strategy.

  • Prioritize Your Technical SEO To-Do List

Next, perform a “triage” on your Technical SEO wish list. Which improvements will make the most significant impact? Which will be the easiest to perform? Do any of the steps need to be completed in sequence? This step will be critical when it comes time to create your budget and timeline.

  • Identify the Talent and Resources Needed

Now that you know what needs to happen and in what order, it’s time to delegate. Who will do the actual dirty work of optimizing your website for Technical SEO? Maybe you have the talent in-house to perform some simple or even complex tasks.

Other tasks may benefit from an experienced hand. For example, you might want to look into a third-party Technical SEO service provider to consult or perform the fixes themselves.

  • Set a Budget and a Timeline of Milestones

Every good strategy sets parameters for how long the project will take, how much it will cost, what tasks you should complete first, and when. Chart your Technical SEO strategy in terms of timeline and budget, deciding on project milestones and accountable persons.

Remember to think of the budget not just in terms of money but in terms of human resources expended. After all, human resources are most organizations’ most considerable expense.

  • Plan for Follow-Up

Technical SEO used to be a one-time affair. However, with the pace of website technological advancements and search engine algorithm evolutions, more and more organizations are waking up to the reality that Technical SEO is an ongoing operational necessity.

Treat it as such by implementing a follow-up plan — ongoing Technical SEO assessments that ensure your website hasn’t fallen behind and always has the wind at its back.

Technical SEO’s Changing Best Practices

Websites are constantly evolving, and search engine algorithms race to develop with them as websites become more complicated and incorporate new technologies. Likewise, Technical SEO changes and adapts to incorporate new web development standards. Recent or looming changes in Technical SEO best practices include:

  • Mobile-First Indexing

As we mentioned above, the rise of mobile search has prompted a significant change in how search engines evaluate websites, typified by Google’s “mobile-first indexing” protocol.

Under this protocol, Google’s crawlers look at the mobile version of the website first and index it first. The assumption is that it is harder to optimize a high-performance website for a small mobile browser than a powerful desktop browser.

The Google algorithm holds websites to this higher standard because a website that performs well on mobile devices is almost guaranteed to perform well on desktop browsers since the mobile website is harder to optimize.

Mobile optimization has been a big deal for years, but mobile-first indexing has recentered the mobile user experience within the web development universe.

  • More Than Just Page Speed

When we talk about “page performance,” we usually mean “loading speed” — how long the user has to wait, tapping their fingers and toes, for the page to load. But search engine algorithms are taking this assessment even further.

After all, page load speed is not a race — it’s a function of user satisfaction with the experience. The search engines’ bread and butter — satisfied users repeatedly returning to perform searches. So naturally, want to produce the best user experiences possible at the top of their SERPs.

Search engine algorithms are evolving to reward other hallmarks of good user experience, including SSL certificates (HTTPS instead of HTTP) and minimal inclusion of ads and banners above the fold. Therefore, Technical SEO must address these aspects of UX to be maximally effective.

  • Cumulative Layout Shift Penalties

Intersecting with the previous point, cumulative layout shift (CLS) is going on the chopping block, and justly so, for its deleterious effect on user experiences. Users hate cumulative layout shifts.

Even if you have never heard that term, you have probably encountered CLS and hate it too. CLS occurs when a website partially loads, and you begin to read the content, perhaps click on a link–but then more of the page loads, and the layout shifts. Maybe the content you were looking at disappears, pushed further down the page.

Maybe the link you were about to click shifts position, and your click lands on a different link you didn’t mean to click — perhaps even an ad. You angrily bounce back, wondering if that was an intentional tactic to trick you into clicking on something you didn’t want to.

Search engine algorithms evolve to detect cumulative layout shifts and penalize the offending websites heavily. If your website experiences CLS, consider yourself warned – now is the time to fix it.

  • Optimization of Javascript

For most of their history, search engine web crawlers mostly scanned the raw HTML coding language of a website, making whatever deductions it could about the authority and relevance of the website based on what is found in that basic markup.

Generally speaking, the crawlers were at a loss to interpret JavaScript, a more complicated computer language used to create the dynamically updating elements on modern websites.

That historical condition is becoming obsolete as search engine algorithms evolve to make basic interpretations about the website’s authority and relevance based on the content of its JavaScript.

Technical SEO must now address the HTML on a website and the JavaScript. It’s a liability but also an opportunity — a chance to weaponize another portion of the website in the pursuit of that elusive top SERP ranking.

Hiring Technical SEO Experts

When you face a significant business undertaking like Technical SEO, it’s fair to ask if you can complete the job using in-house resources. After all, using the team you have might save time and money — never a wrong move for an organization with finite resources.

Several aspects of SEO can be done in-house, after all. For example, someone on your team can write content. Someone else may have basic proficiency in web development or content management systems. You might even be able to acquire some backlinks through relationships with other companies or guest-blogging opportunities.

Here’s the thing about Technical SEO — it’s technical. Basic web design abilities don’t cut it. It’s like the difference between painting a wall and cutting into it to fix an electrical issue. You have to get your hands dirty at the code level. A single mistake could cause a major malfunction, and not every mistake can be reversed easily.

In short, you don’t want to entrust a task as important and sensitive as Technical SEO to an inexperienced hand. Furthermore, the cost of Technical SEO experts is dwarfed by the cost of remedial work, downtime, and lost productivity that a slipshod attempt can cause.

Even if you have someone on your team with the skills to perform Technical SEO, is that the best use of their time? Presumably, you have them on the payroll for a reason, and perhaps that purpose can’t necessarily be postponed for Technical SEO.

Your team may have the technical ability, but an expert Technical SEO agency may be in a position to perform the work faster and more efficiently by knowing where to start, what to look for, and the best fixes for any issues they may uncover.

Ultimately, as with any other branch of SEO, time is money. Technical SEO is essential because it forms the foundation of your other SEO efforts. When built on the foundation of good Technical SEO, you will see results from your other optimization efforts much faster. That alone makes an expert Technical SEO agency worth it.

Technical SEO Costs

When considering a new service, it’s fair to wonder what the costs will be and set a budget you can afford. The costs of Technical SEO can vary widely based on the scope of services required and the complexity of the website.

Most technical SEO services start with a Technical SEO Audit — an assessment of the website’s current status and an inventory of possible improvements. A top-to-bottom Technical SEO Audit, starting from the DNS level and continuing through the schema and off-site factors, typically takes around two weeks, with prices starting at about $3,000 with a median of approximately $5,000. However, a massive website may run the cost of the audit up to $30,000 and beyond.

Once the audit is complete, your service provider will usually hand over an implementation list. To hire a third-party service provider to implement the audit’s recommendations, you can generally expect pricing ranging from $100 to $175 per hour of contract work.

Suppose your company requires technical SEO consulting services, either for implementation or ongoing maintenance. In that case, prices for reputable consulting agencies start at around $1,000 per month but may push into the $3,000-$5,000 range for complicated websites.

Read more