This is the fourth and final part of a series of four articles looking at “what is SEO?”. In these Beginner’s guides we help you navigate the valuable but sometimes confusing world of SEO.
Within these guides, you’ll find some key tips and techniques of how you can improve the visibility of your website and increase a potential customer’s chances of being led to it through a search engine
Everything discussed in these four guides will help you to increase the ranking and authority of your website. In essence, the more trustworthy the search engines believe that your site is, the more likely they are to show it to people.
Technical SEO refers to the technical practices and tools available, behind the scenes of your own website, that can help to build your ranking and domain authority. With technical SEO, there are actions that you can take as the website owner as well as actions that need to be implimented by your website hosting company. This is why choosing the right website hosting company is incredibly important. We have chosen Kualo, not only are they reliable and fast (great for SEO) but also run on renewable energy.
Technical SEO can get complex, but we are going to detail a few simple techniques that can dramatically improve your ranking. No specialised coding skills required. Just a quick site audit to make sure you have optimised it with more than just on page and off page SEO.
There are quite a few possible components to technical SEO, and so we’ve divided this into 3 key areas, to keep things clear:
1 – Site Speed: how to speed up your site using optimisation techniques
2 – Search Engine Tips: how to structure your site so that Google crawlers find it easy to read and categorise
3 – Effective Housekeeping: Tidying up errors and clutter that might be harming your ranking
Step 1: Site Speed
Site speed is vitally important. Think about how you search. If a site is taking a while to load do you stick around? Or do you click the back button and try somewhere else? 40% of people will abandon a website that takes over 3 seconds to load. A slow loading time can lead to your potential audience “Pogo sticking”. Bouncing in and out of sites like a pogo stick, only staying on site for a matter of seconds before moving on. This really is a problem for your ranking. Google records the average time spent on your site.
Search engines can use the length of visit to judge how useful your site is. Your site authority is based on their idea of how helpful people find your site. If you have hundreds or even thousands of pogo stick bounces your rankings drop like a rock.
In a recent poll 47% of people stated they expect a site to load in less than 2 seconds! People aren’t patient, they want the content now and a 3 second wait feels like a long time when you can click around for a faster site. This doesn’t even take into account the value of your site as they won’t have seen it yet.
In regards to site speed, it’s not just broadband and wifi to consider. Mobile phones are now the number one choice for many of the world’s web users. They typically have a slower connection than your average home broadband. If your site is slow on a PC it’s likely to take forever to load on a mobile.
So, what can you do?
•Use CDN to localise your files
•Use as many plugins as possible
•Have numerous CSS requests for images
•Choose a slow host because it was the cheapest
Check your site
Google provides a great free resource that will analyse your site and give you a list of free tips to speed it up. You just pop your URL in the box and press “Analyze”. Also check out your current download speed from a number of global locations with this free tool from Pingdom.
7 of the areas measured are listed below, with tips for improving your website:
1 – Image optimisation
When images are created they store “meta data” about the image in the image file. This data is useful for the image creation software but it has no use for your site at all. It’s surplus bloat making your image files larger than they need to be. The larger the file the slower it loads.
The solution is image optimisation. Using optimisation software you can trim off this excess data giving you a lean file with just the required image data included.
2 – What about the smaller images?
Think about how many images your site sends to the user. We aren’t just talking about beautiful sunsets or product shots. Look at every button. Every graphical heading. Every image link. Each one of these has to be requested and sent to the user one at a time. That will slow your load time down as the browser crawls through all the requests.
What if you could take a whole load of these images and make them into one image with one image request. That is what a sprite is. It’s a technology used for decades in the gaming industry to squeeze content rich games onto your PCs, consoles, and phones. There is software available to put all your buttons, for example, onto one image then call them off in the CSS using co-ordinates. Sites such as Facebook and Amazon use this approach. This process can also be completed manually.
3 – Host choice
This is a quick but effective tip. Research your host choice. Find a host that has a fast upload speed. When your customer downloads your site your host is uploading it to them. Pick a slow host because it was cheap and all your hard work is reigned back in by a slow transfer rate from the host.
4 – HTTP compression
Have you ever used Winzip or Gzip to zip a folder to make it easier to send?
Imagine if you could send your site to the user zipped so the files are all smaller and transfer faster. Well you can. It’s built into the browser your customer is using. The server will compress the file and the browser will unzip it and display the contents.
So the powerful computers at either end do a little extra work this isn’t noticeable to the end user, but the speed of the process is greatly improved with smaller files.
So, what can be compressed? Text elements can be compressed and some image formats are not compressed by default. Do you have an ICO file for your site icon? Do you use SVG graphics and fonts? These aren’t compressed by default so you can compress them for a speed boost.
5 – Beware of Excessive Plugins
Plugins are great. They make website creation and maintenance so much easier. But, it can be tempting to try plugins out because they look interesting, then leave them hanging around. Maybe you found 3 different plugins to display your header image and wanted to try each one before you made your choice?
It’s great to try plugins out, but do remember to clean up your site afterwards. An excessive number of plugins left in the back end of a site can have an impact on your site speed.
Be organised. List the plugins you need for your site. List the ones you actually use. Remove or deactivate the rest.
Why is this important? Every single plugin active on your site has to be processed and run as your site loads. If you are loading a excessive number of plugins you don’t need, then your user is waiting for your content for no reason.
6 – Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
Content Delivery Networks are the answer to a problem you probably didn’t know you had. If you have a good hosting deal based in America, but you have customers in the UK, or China, those files have to travel through the internet like a long game of pass the parcel to get to your customer. Put simply the shorter the distance geographically between your server and your customer, the quicker the files are passed to them.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to start buying up hosting world wide and copying your site over and over (definitely don’t do that, Google hates duplication). Content Delivery Networks will copy your site to servers around the world. They handle the call to your sites files locally so it doesn’t look like multiple sites with the same content. All the copies respond to requests to your one domain but they serve the files from the server that is closest to your customer. This ensures the quickest time to load the site for every visitor no matter where they are.
7 – Be Responsive
This isn’t directly speed related but it can be. It is definitely bounce related. If a mobile user loads your site and it’s not optimised for them they will bounce away again. If it takes ages to load they will close it. Even if it loads super fast but looks huge and jumbled they will close it. Use a responsive theme or design. By responsive here we mean a site that adapts to the screen size it’s being displayed on.
Have smaller alternate images for the mobile version so they download faster and display properly. Let the text flow into new block shapes so it doesn’t flow off the side of the screen. Mobile users will scroll down but they wont like scrolling left and right too to navigate the site.
Many themes will handle this for you. What if you can’t change your current theme to be responsive? Create a mobile version of the site. When the user enters the URL it will detect that they are using a mobile. It can then load a secondary version of the site designed specifically for those users.
Step 2: Search Engine Tips
Ok, so that has got your site to the customer when they want it. So what’s next?
Your customer isn’t the only one reading your site. In fact for your customers to find it a search engine has to read it first. This work is not done by humans so shiny graphics won’t help here. Google uses algorithms called “crawlers” or “bots” to read through your site. The info they gather is used to categorise and rank it.
Technical SEO optimises your site to be read by these non-human visitors too. For example, if you provide what they are looking for fast, error free, and well laid out Google really likes you. You get ranked for being just what they were looking for.
•Have a strong layout
•Use canonical info so search engines can find things
•Describe the content well in meta descriptions
•Use repetitive terms
•Have vague descriptions
•Use a flat site structure
This is actually a very simple Technical SEO process. Silo your website. Many people when starting out have what’s called a flat structure to their site. This means they have the top level domain and all their pages are one step below that. The problem with this is it’s hard for search engines to piece together which pages are relevant to which subject.
By using silos to categorise your website, it means that a search engine can find all of the pages related to the page it’s crawling in the same area. The related category, such as /seo/thepage.html, means the crawler can quickly link your relevant content together. A well siloed site will rank well. Search engines like a quick easy way of getting a complete idea of your site layout.
If you like superhero comics you may have heard the term “That’s canon”. In this context “canon” means the officially recognised original version.
What has that got to do with your website? Well you can use canonical tags to state which URL points to the original master copy of a page. This tag means that no matter where the information gets used or linked to the original is known to Google.
All this reduces the likelihood that Google will think you are spamming duplicates on the web. It can save you from having your ranking penalised.
Clear meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are approximately two to three sentence description of the content of your page. This means that the part the Google searcher sees is that first few characters.
If you want people to click your link you need to grab their attention. Write in the active voice. Include a call to action. It should include the focus keyword. It should include unique and structured content.
Step 3: Effective Housekeeping
Finally, removing errors and clutter is important. If the crawlers find dead ends, duplicate content, and confusing error codes they will drop your rank. With a little bit of searching and a read through of your articles you can identify any of these key problems and eliminate them. Search engines will reward you for this simple set of tasks. This is where Technical SEO can get a little more technical. Here are just a few headlines.
•Scan for crawl errors
•Check your error codes
•Forget 301 redirects
Don’t Duplicate Content:
Google hates duplicate content! In the past people have used duplicate content to pepper their sites with the keyword they are targetting. This used to work. Google got wise to what it views as keyword spamming. They will penalise you for it. Don’t copy content to multiple pages on your site. Link to it if necessary. Don’t create multiple sites with the same content.
Anywhere that you find yourself typing the same words again, Google can see that. If you do it too much it will lower your ranking.
Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO – Conclusion
Users want a fast responsive experience. Google has to be confident your site is a good source for their search clients.
Technical SEO is such a large subject that there are more tips not covered here. We’ve selected areas that you can address simply to start you on your road of getting the fastest site possible, ranking well with the search engines.
If you have any questions about this, please do speak to one of our team to find out more.
Head of Web Development at We Do Stories. Karl joined us after over 12 years working in the web and software development industry. He now uses his extensive experience to oversee all the work of our web development team as well as writing our technology and web based articles.