Charlie Whitworth is a well-known expert with 9 years’ experience in technical SEO. He currently leads a 10-strong organic search team at digital marketing agency, Banc, and is a well-known speaker and trainer on the conference circuit, having presented and run training sessions at numerous events include BrightonSEO (the industry’s largest, most well-known meeting).
Optimising on-page content, implementing keywords, and building relevant links may be the pillars of SEO, but technical factors which fly under the radar also impact your campaigns. While Google has moved in a more user-centric direction with its most recent updates, optimising technical elements can pay dividends in boosting rankings, engagement and conversions on your site.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to technical SEO; an e-commerce site would have a far different priority list to an SME brochure site, for example. So, we would advise caution when applying what you think are silver bullets to every campaign, as these are unlikely to have the same impact for every type of business and website.
This will also depend on the SEO health of the site, as some recommendations are fixes and others, enhancements. A prudent plan can only be established following a thorough audit of the website, its Google Search Console account and server log files.
That said, there are technical SEO factors that come up time and again which can garner significant improvements, making your site a hospitable environment for search engines to ensure optimum performance. Here, we’ll take a look at five technical elements which can affect SEO success.
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Site speed is now a direct ranking factor, particularly for the mobile search engine results pages (SERPs). Since Google switched to mobile-first indexing and directed attention towards engagement and user experience, sites with slow loading times have been penalised in SERPs – particularly those which lack relevant, engaging content.
Optimising site speed is usually well rewarded in organic search, and there are several easy-to-implement techniques to boost loading times. Simple actions like optimising images, enabling compression and reducing redirects can shave precious milliseconds from your site speed, and there are lots of tools available to monitor load times at a granular level, including Lighthouse and the Chrome UX Report.
One of the biggest reasons we see for poor performance can come after a big migration or change in site structure. This is when substantial changes to the platform, design, structure or location of the site have had a significant impact on organic search visibility.
As we touched on above, you shouldn’t overdo redirects as this can interfere with site speed and leave your htaccess or web config files in a mess. That said, redirects remain one of the most powerful tools available to an SEO, helping to recapture lost authority and ensure a site can be easily indexed by search engines.
When implementing redirects, always ensure you are using 301 permanent URL redirection. This will tell search engines to index the new URL and forward ranking signals, so you retain the authority and visibility of the page.
Although it isn’t perfect for every type of site, we recommend a website conforms to a strict silo structure in terms of URLs and how these are used for your site's architecture. These are not only helpful for users, ensuring your breadcrumb trails are uniform and your site is easy to navigate, but also help ensure that your website’s authority is spread appropriately – so all pages benefit from a steady flow of PageRank from your most authoritative pages.
When developing and refining your site’s silo architecture, it’s important that all your key pages are part of your site structure and linked to appropriately. Failure to implement internal linking can leave you with orphaned pages which are unlikely to perform, and which can interfere with how your site is indexed and ranked in organic search.
Crawl and index bloat
Crawl bloat is when we are making search engines work far too hard by crawling unnecessary, low quality URLs. This inevitably causes problems with how well search bots are able to crawl your site and access your high-quality content. It can affect websites of all types and sizes, and will impact organic performance if not monitored and addressed regularly.
Combatting crawl bloat is a matter of restricting Googlebot’s access to empty, duplicate or sparse URLs, ensuring that crawlers focus on your best pages when indexing your site. Of course, you need to be sure that the pages aren’t required, but if they are parameter based, session IDs or similar, then the chances are you are wasting a lot of Google’s resources – something you won't be thanked for in terms of rankings.
Google Search Console and your robots.txt file are your friends when looking to address these issues. With rel=nofollow set to become a hint next March, rather than a directive, we would recommend restricting these URLs altogether or better yet, find out how to stop these being generated in the first place.
Title tags and meta descriptions
Optimising title tags and meta descriptions may sound like an old-hat and overly simple technical SEO strategy, but it still forms the bedrock of any successful SEO campaign. It’s easy to dismiss this classic SEO technique, but optimising the meta data of your pages is still a direct and powerful ranking factor, and can make all the difference in how your site performs compared to your competitors in SERPs.
When optimising title tags, many SEOs stop at simply ensuring that they are using their pixel allowance, but there are all sorts you can do with secondary keywords, provided you are doing regular and intricate keyword research. For those looking to refine and optimise their title tags, we’d recommend this in-depth guide from Moz.
Don’t underestimate meta descriptions either, as these can be the best way to boost your click-through rate. There is lots of debate about a good CTR being a ranking factor too, and although the jury is still out on that one, good title and meta optimisation should still be near the top of your agenda.
Charlie Whitworth, Organic Search Director at Banc
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