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2020 certainly proved to be a red-letter year in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO). Many changes were observed and websites needed to adapt to these suggestions to boost their online exposure. Some trends included the curation of personalised content, mobile-responsive web pages and the growing relevance of local SEO.
Now that we are more than six months into 2021, what does this year have in store? There are many trends worth noting and one unique example involves the use of “technical” SEO. What does this type of search engine optimisation entail? Why is it critical and what can businesses do to implement any changes that may be necessary? If you are unfamiliar with this topic, the information found below should never be overlooked.
What is Technical SEO?
Search engine optimisation can be broken down into two primary categories:
- Off-page SEO
- On-page SEO
Off-page SEO is concerned with factors that occur outside of the website which may impact rankings. Examples include backlinks. On-page SEO instead revolves around how changes within the website itself can its ranking within a search engine results page (SERP). Technical SEO is one component of on-site SEO.
As you might have already guessed, technical SEO aims to make a website rank higher using internal modifications such as coding changes and content optimisation. While this practice will often occur “behind the scenes”, its impact is indeed very real.
Why Has Technical SEO Become so Important?
The main intention of any search engine is to supply users with the most relevant answers when a query is made. This is accomplished using a series of algorithms which “crawl” through a specific website. If the information contained within the pages is presented clearly and concisely, the site is more likely to be listed within the SERP.
On the contrary, sites that are technically sloppy or laden with coding errors can cost a great deal in terms of online exposure. These tend to be penalised by search engines such as Google and Bing. As a result, conversion rates will be much lower.
It should also be mentioned that technical SEO involves more than simply catering to the requirements of search engines. By creating streamlined and user-friendly pages, the sites themselves will be much easier to navigate by a visitor. Thus, this type of search engine optimisation can also lead to higher levels of customer engagement.
What Variables are Associated with Technical SEO?
We can now see that technical SEO may be thought of as representing the “nuts and bolts” of website design to some extent. So, what types of methods are employed and what results will they ultimately provide?
Search engines such as Google will partially base the rankings of a website on how long it takes to load. Furthermore, a new factor known as Page Experience now considers how fast a visitor can view the content within a website. So, slow loading times are simply out of the question.
It is also prudent to highlight that up to 40 per cent of all online shoppers will leave a page if it fails to load within three seconds. Technical SEO averts these situations by addressing issues such as clumsy coding, outdated links or improperly optimised images. However, this is only the beginning.
Providing Clarity for Search Engines
We briefly touched on the notion of a search engine “crawling” through a website earlier in this article. These bots (sometimes known as “spiders”) will search through individual pages to better appreciate what each portal contains. We can think of technical SEO as providing a digital fingerprint for your site.
The type of crawling is likewise able to prioritise certain pieces of content over others. So, users will be presented with the most relevant results when they make a standard search engine query. This is crucial for anyone who hopes to emphasise a certain aspect of their online presence.
Eliminating Outdated or Dead Links
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All of us have encountered 404 errors on occasion. These occur if we happen to click on a link that no longer exists. Such situations can harm the overall user experience, so they must be eliminated at all costs.
Technical SEO can create additional options such as redirect links if a page is no longer active. In most situations, the user will thereafter be sent to a newer page or to an inbound link that contains similar information. In other words, the overall engagement process will no longer be placed in jeopardy.
Finally, sites containing numerous dead links tend to load slowly. This is detrimental when dealing with search engine rankings (as highlighted in the previous section). Technical SEO packages contain several tools which allow webmasters to detect and eliminate these links.
The Elimination of Duplicate Content
There can be times when multiple copies of content may appear within a single website. While this is often purely by accident (such as creating a duplicate page and forgetting to delete the old link), some site owners purposely include duplicate content in the hopes that it will improve their SERP (search engine results page) rankings. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Duplicate content confuses search engine crawlers. As a result, they are forced to interpret which page should be ranked at the top of the results. In most cases, the appropriate page will fail to be listed. There are likewise instances when every page will be ranked at a lower status.
Although these scenarios normally do not impact the end-user experience, they can result in penalties from search engines. The good news is that technical SEO offers an option known as canonical linking. Canonical links are designed in such a way as to tell search engines which page(s) should be ranked and which ones to ignore entirely.
Tackling Security Concerns
Many cutting-edge cybersecurity trends emerged in 2020 and one of the most well-known involved the growing importance of SSL encryption. Of course, this concept is certainly nothing new. It is always crucial that a website offers various safety measures so that the personal details of visitors can be kept behind closed doors.
SSL encryption scrambles all data that is sent to and from a website. This information can thereafter only be unlocked if both the sender and the recipient possess a one-time digital “key”. This is thesame security protocol that is used by banks, financial institutions and even some governments.
Sites equipped with SSL encryption will be denoted by “HTTPS” as opposed to “HTTP”. Thus, it is very easy for a visitor to see whether or not a website is adequately protected. A growing number of browsers are likewise advising their users to not visit a website that fails to offer SSL encryption. So, this type of encryption should never be taken for granted.
It is therefore perfectly understandable that Google has now included SSL certification as an element within their SERP ranking system. Technical SEO tools will allow webmasters to determine if their portal requires an upgrade. If it does, this change can be implemented within an extremely short period.
What About Structured Data?
Structured data is like a list of ingredients found on the back of a food product. The only difference is that this type of information is mainly concerned with search engines as opposed to the human visitor. Structured data tells search engine crawlers specific details about the products or services that you happen to be offering.
As the name suggests, structured data must be created in a specific format for easy referencing. In most cases, it is wise to work with a third-party service to take the technical guesswork out of the equation. Portals such as Yoast provide a schema graphthat can be used to observe how internal data is mapped and to enact any recommended changes.
Catering to an International Audience
Many of the most successful websites regularly cater to customers from different countries. This can represent a challenge when dealing with issues such as cultural differences, time zones and language barriers. So, these websites will need to create pages for each specific demographic.
The only potential problem is that search engines may encounter difficulties when directing a visitor to a specific site if it is not labelled correctly. This is when the power of hreflang tags will come into play. Hreflang tags are used to highlight which page is intended for a discrete audience. For instance, one visitor can be redirected to a page dealing with a Spanish-speaking visitor base while another user can be sent to a portal associated with North America.
Please note that hreflang tags can be used to denote languages, regions and countries. The webmaster will decide which one is the most appropriate. Technical SEO tools will always include the option to utilise hreflang tags when needed.
Providing a Digital “Map” of the Site in Question
We are now beginning to see that technical SEO is largely concerned with providing a “road map” for search engines to navigate. Another way in which this can be accomplished is using an XML sitemap. While these sitemaps are not always mandatory, they can be extremely useful elements if the website contains sloppy internal linking.
XML sitemaps are simply lists of all of the pages contained within a website. So, search engines can quickly crawl through this collection until they land upon the right link. This link is thereafter displayed on a search engine results page when a relevant query is entered. XML sitemaps will normally contain other bits of information such as:
- Images and videos
- Specific tags related to on-site content
- Hierarchical information (such as when a page or a specific piece of content was last updated)
XML sitemaps are extremely useful tools and even sites that are known to have clean coding should possess one.
A Mobile-Responsive Website Design
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A study conducted in 2020 found that nearly 90 per cent of all Internet users employ a mobile device to access the online community. Unfortunately, the content within a website may not always display correctly when viewed through smartphones and tablets. Here are some of the problems which can occur:
- Images may not resize correctly.
- Users cannot zoom in or out (important when reading text).
- Graphical content may fail to load entirely.
- Pages might not display properly.
Any of these scenarios can have dire effects on the end-user experience. Additionally, search engines are now beginning to penalise sites that do not possess a mobile-friendly design.
Technical SEO can help webmasters avoid these rather serious consequences. Modifications such as the inclusion of long-scrolling text alongside image optimisation will ensure that the site displays equally across multiple devices. As the number of smartphone users continues to grow, the importance of mobile responsiveness cannot be overstated.
Technical SEO: One Piece of a Larger Puzzle
It is now clear to see why technical SEO should represent a vital component of any search engine optimisation strategy. However, let us not forget that off-page SEO is just as important. Variables such as social media exposure, blog posts and outbound links can likewise have a massive impact upon the rankings of any website.
Although technical SEO does not necessarily have to represent a complicated task, there are still some elements that can be tricky to those with little prior experience. Therefore, it may be a good idea to work with a third-party SEO firm that possesses a great deal of working industry knowledge. As the online community continues to evolve, there is no doubt that technical SEO will become an even higher priority.
Paula O Gorman is the design and marketing manager at Promotive, a marketing agency based in Ireland that understands the importance of SEO for their own business and clients. Technical SEO is extremely important for the process to work, as on-page and off-page wont work alone.