Technical SEO: a complete step-by-step on how to leverage your website
SEO strategies cannot be sustained without a consistent foundation. Even if you create amazing content and build a qualified link network, Google will not keep your site on top if it takes too long to load or has too many pages with errors.
We’re talking about structural problems of a website, which concern technical SEO.
If you think of optimization as a pyramid, technical SEO is the foundation that supports content production, link building, and authority building strategies.
So technical problems need to be avoided and corrected — or your pyramid may collapse.
In this article, we will explain:
What is technical SEO
Technical SEO is the set of optimizations related to the internal structure of a site. The intention is that the pages become faster, more understandable, traceable, and indexable — which is basic for all the rest of the SEO strategy to work.
Technical SEO is part of on-page SEO, representing the optimizations under your control within your pages.
On-page SEO, however, is more comprehensive and involves content production strategies, for example, that are not part of technical SEO.
In addition, there is also off-page SEO, which refers to the relationship of the site with other players to gain authority in the market and build a network of relevant links.
In turn, the technical SEO deals with what is behind the pages, the code, and the architecture of the site.
This is what you need for Google to find your links and put them in the ranking. Although technical SEO factors can influence the ranking, the focus here is on tracking and indexing.
Afterward, content and authority building strategies will be responsible for getting your pages up in the search engine ranking.
The importance of technical SEO
Technical SEO is the principle of any search engine optimization strategy. This is where you should start because this part of optimization ensures that your links are found and indexed in the Google directory.
You need to ensure, for example, that your pages are indexable by Google. However, some detail in the HTML code of the site may get in the way of your plans.
Many website administrators get desperate because their site does not appear in the search engine, while a technical SEO audit could quickly identify this problem.
Also, technical SEO can help Google to better understand your pages. We’ll see later that structured data and site architecture, for example, fulfill this function.
With this, the search engine can read important information from your site and understand which paths to follow. Thus, Google can index pages to the correct keywords.
But make no mistake: the technical SEO should not aim only at Googlebot. Although techniques are essential to facilitate the algorithm’s work, they are also responsible for providing better user experience. And that is the focus of Google.
The search engine intends to offer the best results for what the user is looking for. And the best results are the pages that are aligned with the search term and that offer a good browsing experience.
When you simplify the site codes, for example, it becomes simpler and more understandable for the bot, but it also improves the navigation experience by accelerating loading speed.
Another example is when you make your pages mobile-friendly, and the visitor can easily access the site using any device.
When Google notices your effort to improve the user experience, it could lead you to gain ranking positions.
Main factors of technical SEO
Now, let’s understand what the key technical SEO factors that you can optimize are.
However, some optimizations are a little more complex and may require specialized professionals. Tinkering directly with code is not simple and, without specific knowledge, you can make some serious mistakes. So if technical SEO goes beyond your knowledge, don’t hesitate to ask a developer for help.
See below the main factors of technical SEO!
If a page takes a few seconds to open, this delay may already be a reason for the user to give up accessing it.
Think With Google has found that loading time of up to 5 seconds increases the user’s probability of giving up the visit by 90%.
Improving the speed of pages is a task for technical SEO. After all, the loading time is linked to the site’s internal structure, such as the size of images, the organization of code, and the hosting server.
First, you need to identify how fast your pages are loading.
Google itself provides a tool for this: the PageSpeed Insights. This tool gives you a score for your upload speed and indicates the factors you can optimize to improve it.
Another well-known tool is GTmetrix, which shows you the loading speed (not just a score) and the opportunities for improvement.
As you can see from these tools’ reports, there are many technical SEO actions that you can perform to improve loading time.
These are some of them:
- compress the files sent by the server (Gzip);
- reduce the size of the page images;
- create Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs);
- take advantage of the browser cache.
Google has long been concerned with the search experience of mobile users. Since the introduction of smartphones and tablets, the search engine realized that the search’s future was mobile. Therefore, it has spared no effort to make mobile search more efficient.
In 2015, Google already announced the mobile-friendly update, which made responsiveness a ranking factor.
One of its most recent actions was adopting the mobile-first index, which began to prioritize the mobile version indexing since searches from mobile devices have already surpassed desktop searches.
In short: you already know that mobile is important for SEO. Now, it is important to know what technical SEO actions you can take to improve the indexing and the ranking of your pages.
The most efficient way to do this is to have a responsive website. With this feature, your pages display the same HTML code and the same URL, regardless of the device. CSS code, in turn, is used to render pages according to the user’s screen size.
For the Google algorithm to automatically recognize your pages’ responsiveness, you need to add the “viewport” tag to the HTML code header. This tag guides the browser on adjusting the page dimensions and scale according to the device width.
If this tag doesn’t appear, the browser tries to adapt the page display in the best way (like in the image on the left, just below).
However, this tends to provide a bad user experience. And so Google may consider that your pages are not mobile-friendly.
In general, tools for creating websites, such as WordPress, Wix, or Shopify (for e-commerce), already include optimization for mobile devices. So you don’t have to worry so much about coding.
But it’s always worth testing if your site is mobile-friendly. You can do this with a tool that Google makes available for free: the mobile compatibility test.
Take the opportunity to evaluate your website and optimize the points that the tool’s report suggests as improvements.
Before thinking about improving your site’s positioning in search results, there is first a basic step to take for it to appear there: tracking. This is the first step the bot takes to organize websites.
So you should know if Google is tracking your pages. The first step is to send a sitemap, which tells Google all the pages to crawl on your site.
However, even if you show the way to the bot, it is common for it to find errors in the pages and not actually do this.
To identify which problems hamper tracking and indexing, you can use the Index Coverage Status Report, available in Google Search Console.
In this report, you can see which pages have been indexed and which have had problems.
Pages may not be indexed for several reasons. These are some of them:
- server errors;
- redirection errors, such as a loop redirect;
- URL blocking by robots.txt file;
- URL blocking by the “noindex” tag in the page code;
- non-existent URL (error 404).
Each URL must be analyzed to correct the error that is preventing its indexing. Remember that you may be losing valuable visitors to your business if your pages are not being indexed.
A large part of technical SEO is to facilitate Google’s work in tracking. And one way to do this is to show the bot the paths to follow within your site to understand the hierarchies between pages and the connections between internal links.
For that, you need to have a well-thought out architecture, based on a logic of hierarchization and categorization of pages. This becomes even more important in robust sites, with many pages, which requires a clear organization.
A good site architecture reflects itself in factors that influence crawling and indexing, but also in Google’s page ranking. The factors are:
- the formatting of URLs: so that they are friendly (example.com/category/subcategory);
- the creation of sitemaps: which guide the bot in crawling the website pages;
- the internal linkage: that shows Google which pages hold more authority on the site.
With these actions related to the site’s architecture, you help Google understand its contents, perform a complete scan, and make the structure more understandable for the user to navigate through.
Images have power. They are not just “pretty faces” on a website — they can delight visitors and persuade them so that the pages meet their business goals.
However, behind them, there must be technical SEO at work to ensure that they fulfill their role without jeopardizing the loading speed and user experience on the page.
When you view an image on the web, you may not imagine it carries so much important information for technical SEO. This information has the function of identifying that image to Google, which, despite the algorithm’s evolution, can only understand text.
Now, let’s see the main elements of images that you can optimize, not only to improve the pages SEO but also to increase the chances that they will rank well in Google Images.
The first technical SEO element for images is the file name. It is the text that you edit on your computer even before you upload it.
It needs to be descriptive and friendly, so Google understands what the image represents (e.g., red pencil.png instead of IMG586.png).
Another data loaded by the image is the alt text. This is the alternative text, which serves to be displayed to the user when the image does not load. It is also used in accessibility tools for users with special needs.
The alt text also fulfills a function in SEO by informing Google of that image’s content and helping the bot to index it.
The image size is determinant for the page loading speed. When you reduce your files’ size, you improve the ranking of the page as a whole (by speeding up loading) and of the image itself, as Google prioritizes smaller files.
If compared to JPG and PNG, more advanced image formats — JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP — have better compression while maintaining quality. Prioritize these formats to speed up loading.
The ideal thing for technical SEO is to upload the images in the exact dimensions they will be used. This prevents the site from resizing and the image from taking up unnecessary space, delaying the upload process.
Images below the page limit (i.e., that do not appear to the user yet) could have their upload postponed.
To do this, use the lazy load feature, available in the Lazy Load plugin for WordPress, for example. This way, images are only loaded when the user reaches them.
Duplicate content is one of the most important technical SEO subjects since it commonly happens and can have a great impact on optimization.
When we talk about duplicate content, we refer to both text and images copied from other sites and content repeated within your own website, even without intention.
The first case is easy to avoid: just focus on creating original content for your audience. Plagiarizing text and images from other sites is not only unethical but can also result in copyright crimes.
The second case is more complex and requires some technical SEO actions. You can have duplicate content on the site, for example, when you update a page and create a new URL for it without disabling the old one.
Another example is when the same content can be accessed by different URLs, for example:
When Google realizes that there is duplicate content on the site, it tends to prioritize the ranking of the original content. However, this is not always clear to the bot, and the outcome could be a penalty for both pages.
So, to solve the problem of duplicate content on your website, you first need to identify which pages have this error. Siteliner is a specific tool for this and shows how many and which pages have duplicate content.
After checking which pages have duplicate content, you can show Google which is the preferred page to index and rank. You do this by applying the canonical tag to the main page’s code.
Another solution is to use Redirect 301 to direct both users and bots to the main page, which you want to gain authority. This is a way to prevent your pages from competing with each other in the ranking, giving priority to only one of them.
By now, you must have realized that Google likes organized sites, right?
The organization makes the bot’s task easier, as it can understand the pages and learn where to follow its scan.
The structured data, then, helps in this task. Its function is to make markings within the pages codes to guide the searcher on certain aspects of its content. Basically, they help to describe your site to the algorithm.
These markups can be used not only for tracking and indexing but also for displaying search results.
One of the main uses of structured data in technical SEO is rich snippets. If you’ve already searched over a recipe on Google, you’ve come across them.
See this example:
The information about evaluations, comments, and preparation time are structured data markups. This type of marking can also appear in other types of content, such as films, local businesses, and products.
In addition to helping Google understand its content, they also convey richer information to users, who have more grounds to decide which link to click on.
But structured data is not just about rich snippets. Another widely used example is the breadcrumbs, which present the path taken by the user (categories and subcategories) to reach that page. You can also use this information in the search results.
You could also use them simply to help Google understand what a certain area of the page is about.
For example, you can insert contact information on the page, which will become clear to your visitor. However, the bot will have to make an effort to understand what that section is about.
To make its task easier, you can create a markup informing this. In the code, this markup would look more or less like this:
Google also wants to help developers create efficient, structured data (and prevent them from practicing black hat with this resource). That’s why it has created the Structured Data Markup Helper, which also assists in inserting them in your website.
You can also use the Structured Data Testing Tool to test if everything went as planned with your markups. The report shows how Google is scanning your pages and if there are any problems reading the data.
In site architecture’s topic, we talked about creating sitemaps to guide Google within its link structure. Now, let’s detail a little more with this feature, which is essential in technical SEO strategies.
The sitemap is a file (usually in XML format) that contains all the pages and documents of a site, as well as the connections between them.
When you present this file to Googlebot, it identifies which pages it should crawl and which are the most important.
The sitemap is even more important for sites that are very large or have isolated pages. Thus, the file ensures that all of them are crawled and indexed by the robot.
There are different ways to send the sitemap file to Google. The simplest way is via Google Search Console, which has a specific sitemap reporting tool.
But with some more advanced knowledge, you can specify the file path within robots.txt or use the “ping” function to request the sitemap tracking.
In this link, Google explains how you can do all this.
There is nothing more frustrating than doing a Google search, finding exactly the result you wanted, but facing a 404 error that prevents you from viewing the content.
You must have been there and know how it feels. Google also knows that this is a problem for the user experience and usually penalizes the pages that frequently present this error.
Error 404 is a site response to a user request. When it appears, it means that the user requested an address, the site was able to communicate with the server but did not find the requested address.
This can happen when a page has its URL changed, and the user tries to access the old URL. To prevent them from encountering a 404 Error, sites can redirect visitors to the correct URL by applying 301 redirection.
However, these errors can happen even if all URLs are correct. When the URL has a typing error, for example, Error 404 may appear. In this case, to prevent the user from leaving the site, you can create a custom error page, suggesting other paths to the visitor.
Another very common error — and frustrating experience for users — is the unavailability of the website. In this case, the visitor is not faced with an error page. They simply cannot find the site!
Even worse, when this happens, Google can’t read the site either. And so the pages cannot be indexed. When this happens frequently, the search engine understands that your site no longer exists. This way, your site could disappear from searches.
If you don’t want this to happen, you need to take care of your website’s availability. This is usually related to the website hosting service, which should ensure that your website stays online as long as possible.
In the hosting agreement, you must establish an SLA (Service Level Agreement), which determines the time of availability promised by the company.
The infrastructure of these companies is planned to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, it is common for hardware and software failures to occur, as well as upgrades and maintenances that cause downtime. Therefore, the availability time is never 100%.
Even so, you need to keep an eye on the hosting service and calculate the uptime of your site to check if the SLA is being met.
When creating a website, you need to consider the variability of browsers that currently exist. While some users use modern browsers such as Google Chrome or Safari, many still use Internet Explorer as the standard for navigation.
However, each browser reads the sites differently, which can hinder viewing in some cases. Older browsers, for example, do not support some more advanced development standards.
Therefore, developers should consider each browser’s limitations, and a technical SEO audit should check the compatibility in each browser. This is especially important if your audience tends to use older browsers.
Google is always concerned about the security of websites. After all, one of the worst experiences the user can have is to fall into fraudulent activity or have their information hacked.
In 2014, for example, Google announced that the adoption of the HTTPS protocol would become a ranking factor for the algorithm. The intention was to encourage more and more sites to adopt secure and encrypted connections to increase security on the Internet.
Sites that adopt the HTTPS protocol guarantee the protection of user data in registration and payment pages, for example.
Besides increasing the site’s security and its users, these measures also convey confidence to those who will login or purchase from that page.
To adopt HTTPS, you must first purchase an SSL certificate, which you can do using the website hosting company.
When migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, it is important to ensure that all functionalities will remain available after the change. Therefore, make tests before the complete change.
Also, realize that the URL of your pages will change, so you can use the canonical tags to avoid duplicate content and tell Google what the main page is.
The migration process to HTTPS is usually quite complex and can cause problems for the site.
That’s why it’s important to have specialized professionals doing it. You don’t want your site to lose data or be unavailable for a whole week, right?
Anyway, these are the main issues you need to take care of. However, technical SEO requires constant attention: no matter how detailed you are in the code and optimizations, there is always some opportunity for improvement or some mistake that went unnoticed.
Therefore, adopt a routine of monitoring and analyzing, especially the points that we list in this article. Any failure can jeopardize your SEO strategies and the positioning of your pages on Google.
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