What Is Technical SEO? (And 10 Tips for Optimizing Your Site)

Sarah is a Web Marketing Specialist at WebFX. Certified in Google Analytics and Google Ads, Sarah also specializes in content marketing, as well as marketing and advertising on ecommerce platforms like Amazon. In 2006, she was awarded Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award. When she isn’t polishing her award, she’s spending time with her flock of ducks. Follow her on Twitter @the_berry_bot.

Like peanut butter in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you need technical SEO for search engine optimization (SEO). If you don’t optimize your website for technical SEO, you’ll hold your site back from ranking number one (or even on page one) in search results.

What is technical SEO? Technical SEO is backend website optimizations, like improving page speed, internal linking, or usability, that help web crawlers and web users use and understand your website better, which can lead to higher rankings in organic search results.

This guide helps you learn more about technical SEO by answering questions like:

Keep reading to get started with optimizing your website for technical SEO so it can rank higher in search results — which means more traffic, leads, and revenue for your business. Oh, and if you’re curious about your site’s technical SEO, use our free SEO checker to get an instant assessment!

WebFX SEO Checker

  • Site Speed Analysis
  • Content Grade
  • URL Optimization Check
  • Page Link Audit

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO is a set of website and server optimizations that make your site easier for crawlers and website visitors to understand and use. Optimizing for technical SEO can help your business rank higher in search results because you offer an exceptional user experience (UX) and high-quality content.

Why is technical SEO important?

Your company should optimize your website’s technical SEO for a few reasons, including:

  • Technical SEO influences your rankings in search results
  • Technical SEO impacts your website visitor’s actions and decisions
  • Technical SEO affects your website’s conversion rates, lead generation, and sales
  • Technical SEO helps your business compete with competitors that also use SEO
  • Technical SEO maximizes your ROI from SEO as a digital marketing strategy

If your organization invests its time, energy, and money into SEO, then you want to get the most value from it. That involves including technical SEO optimizations in your strategy, whether you manage your SEO in-house or with the help of an SEO company.

How is technical SEO different from on-page SEO and off-page SEO?

When talking about technical SEO’s definition, it’s helpful to explain on-page SEO and off-page SEO. If you’re curious about how technical SEO compares to on-page SEO and off-page SEO, reference the table below. Or, continue to the next section, where you’ll learn how to get started with technical SEO!

Type of SEO Definition Optimization Examples
Technical SEO Focuses on backend website and server optimizations Page speed

Internal linking

Sitemaps

On-Page SEO Focuses on frontend website optimizations Title tags

Content

Meta descriptions

Off-Page SEO Focuses on optimizations outside your website Link building

Social sharing

Guest blogging

How to get started with technical SEO

Are you ready to begin optimizing your website for technical SEO and reaping all the benefits of SEO, from higher rankings to better sales numbers? Then check out this technical SEO checklist. It provides a list of tips and action items for technical SEO.

1.      Make a Google Search Console account

If you haven’t already, you want to create a Google Search Console account. Don’t worry— it’s free.

Within Google Search Console, you can see your website’s overall performance in search results, as well as the performance of individual pages. Plus, you can view errors that Google’s crawler, Googlebot, encounters when visiting your site.

Since Google Search Console offers an inside look into how Google perceives your websites, you want to use this free tool. It can help you submit pages to Google, monitor Google rankings, fix Google crawling issues, and more.

Get started with Google Search Console by following our Google Search Console setup guide!

2.      Create a robots.txt file

Next, you want to create a robots.txt file.

A robots.txt file serves as an instruction manual for web crawlers. You can even specify instructions for specific web crawlers, like those from Google or Bing. Ideally, you want to use these instructions to prevent crawlers from overwhelming your server with requests or from viewing unimportant pages.

What you don’t want to do, however, is to block web crawlers from your entire website.

If you block web crawlers from your website, you prevent search engines from indexing your site. That means your website won’t appear in search results, which means you will have a challenging time getting traffic to your site.

The good news, however, is that Google helps you create an SEO-friendly robots.txt file.

Robots.txt checker tool

 

In addition to offering a quick guide on creating a robots.txt file, Google also offers a robots.txt test tool, which you can access when logged into your Google Search Console account. You can use this free tool to check your robots.txt file and ensure it provides the right instructions to web crawlers.

3.      Build an XML and HTML sitemap

Besides creating a robots.txt file for your site, you also want to build an XML and HTML sitemap.

An XML sitemap serves as a map to your website, which crawlers use to find the most important pages, like your products or services, on your site. Users will not use an XML sitemap. Instead, they’ll reference your HTML sitemap (more on that later) if they have too.

Creating an XML sitemap is easy, especially if you have a WordPress site.

If your WordPress website uses the Yoast SEO plugin, for example, that plugin will build an XML sitemap for you. Don’t have a WordPress site? No problem. Pick from the dozens of free XML sitemap generators, like Screaming Frog, to make your sitemap.

Then, submit your XML sitemap to Google via Google Search Console.

Once you complete that part of this technical SEO checklist, move on to creating your HTML sitemap.

Sitemap location for technical SEO

 

An HTML sitemap also serves as a roadmap to crawlers, as well as users. People can usually find HTML sitemaps when looking at the footer of a website or when (unfortunately) arriving on a 404 page. These sitemaps, however, help crawlers and users explore your website, which is why they’re helpful.

Generally, your sitemap will include the most important pages on your website, like general product or service pages, as well as about pages. It won’t have every single page on your site. If you do add all your website pages to your HTML sitemap, you’ll lessen the value of your sitemap to users.

Look at Apple’s HTML sitemap as an example:

 

HTML sitemap example for technical SEO

The company highlights a range of important pages, including:

  • Find an Apple Store
  • Manage Your Apple ID
  • Genius Bar
  • And more

Ideally, you’ll want to keep your HTML sitemap to 100 pages or less. Remember, though, choose the most relevant and valuable pages. Don’t add 100 pages because you can, instead, add the most useful pages.

4.      Use HTTPS

Go to your website.

Now, check your browser’s URL bar.

Do you see a padlock or a “Not secure” message before your website’s URL?

HTTP website example for technical SEO

 

If you don’t see a padlock, then you need to move your site from HTTP to HTTPS.

HTTPS improves your website security by creating a secure connection that encrypts any data submitted by a user, like someone’s credit card information, email address, or phone number. People do more shopping and communicating online, making HTTPs a must for any business.

You also want HTTPS because:

  • Google uses HTTPS as a ranking factor, which means it can help you rank higher in search results
  • Users reference the HTTPS padlock when shopping online, which can influence online sales
  • HTTPS protects customer data, which helps your business protect its brand

Get started with moving from HTTP to HTTPS by purchasing a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate.

Generally, SSL certificates cost around $0.80 to $125 per month. Depending on your website hosting provider, however, you may get an SSL certificate for free. Check with your hosting provider, and they can help you install the certificate.

If your website host doesn’t provide an SSL certificate, proceed with purchasing and installing your certificate yourself. In addition to the installation, you’ll need to set up the appropriate redirects from your HTTP to HTTPS pages.

For this step, get the help of someone experienced with SEO, like an SEO consultant.

They can create the necessary redirects and will  follow SEO best practices. Incorrect redirects can damage your SEO (and rankings) severely, which is why it’s so critical to have SEO-friendly redirects created for HTTPS.

5.      Establish an SEO-friendly navigation

Whether you have a small or large website, you want to take a second look at your site’s navigation.

Your navigation often describes your main navigation menu, which usually appears at the top or left-hand side of your website. In some cases, however, your business may have additional menus that people can use to find additional content.

Main navigation example for technical SEO

 

For this technical SEO checklist, however, focus on your main navigation menu and these best practices:

  • Keep your main navigation to seven core menu items
  • Make your main navigation menu the same across pages
  • Use keyword-rich anchor text for navigation items, like “Residential Landscaping Services”
  • Organize menu items within sub-menus, if appropriate

When choosing which pages to feature on your main navigation, think about your most valuable pages. These often include product and service pages, as well as descriptive pages about your business and policies.

6.      Follow an SEO-friendly URL structure

Technical SEO often focuses on the discoverability and usability of your website, which is why this technical SEO checklist includes a to-do that focuses on optimizing your site’s navigation and URL structure.

If you want to make the most of SEO, follow these rules for your URLs:

  • Use lowercase letters
  • Separate words with “-“
  • Keep URLs short (most URLs will feature your target keyword)
  • Avoid symbols, like “#” or “&,” and dates

In addition to these best practices, you also want to nest your URLs appropriately.

URL example for technical SEO

 

For example, if you write an article, it makes sense to nest that article under a page that contains or houses informational resources. You may have the following URL, for example, www.example.com/resources/example-article/ versus www.example.com/example-article.

Nesting your content like this can provide users, as well as crawlers, with context.

They get the hint that what they’re viewing is likely an informational piece of content versus a sales-focused page. That additional context can help search engines rank your content more appropriately, which gives you a better chance of ranking for your targeted keywords and reaching your target user.

7.      Develop a mobile-friendly website

Every business must have a mobile-friendly website, especially for SEO.

Google now follows a mobile-first index, which means it crawls and indexes your site from the perspective of a mobile user. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, your business will see the impact in your search result rankings.

Check and see if you have a mobile-friendly page with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Mobile test for technical SEO

 

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you’ll want to invest in responsive web design.

Responsive web design makes your website friendly to all devices, from desktops to tablets to smartphones. It’s also a smarter and more cost-effective solution than building, maintaining, and optimizing a second mobile site.

If you don’t have the resources to create a responsive website in-house, you can always invest in responsive web design services. Some technical SEO agencies, like WebFX, offer responsive web design services so you can take care of your SEO and web design projects in one place. These services will help you launch a mobile- and SEO-friendly site on your preferred timeline.

Bonus Read: Why using a mobile SEO checker is crucial

8.      Optimize page speed

Page speed is an ongoing SEO optimization — and it’s an essential one.

When you optimize your page speed, you help improve a page’s load time. A faster load time means less waiting time for users. They can start reading your content and interacting with your page sooner, which increases their chances of staying on your site.

Ideally, you want pages to load in three seconds or less to meet the expectations of 83% of users.

If you want to check the speed of your pages, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Check page speed GIF

 

This tool will provide customized recommendations for how to improve your page speed.

You can also follow several page speed best practices, which include:

  • Compressing images, as well as HTML and JavaScript files
  • Minifying CSS, HTML, and JavaScript
  • Using browser caching
  • Getting a content distribution network (CDN)

In most cases, you’ll need the help of a developer to review and implement these best practices. If you don’t have an in-house developer, you can always outsource the task via page speed optimization services. WebFX, for example, offers U.S.-based page speed optimization services.

For more information about optimizing your page speed, check out our site speed checklist!

Bonus reading: On-page SEO checker

9.      Improve internal linking

As your website grows, you’ll want to incorporate internal linking into your technical SEO strategy.

With internal linking, like with sitemaps and navigation menu, help crawlers and users discover your content and stay on your site. Internal links also offer clues or context about a page’s focus and keyword targeting.

For example, take the following sentence, with the underline representing an internal link:

“Before you start baking your first batch of cookies, make sure to get a good pair of oven mitts.”

Based on the anchor text, “good pair of oven mitts,” you can guess that the link goes to an article on how to choose a pair of oven mitts. Or, the article may compile a list of A+ oven mitts. Either way, you know the article relates to high-quality oven mitts.

Technical SEO internal link example

In addition to using descriptive anchor text when linking between pages on your website, you also want to ensure every page on your site has internal links. When publishing content, for example, make it a part of your process to create one-to-three internal links to that new page.

This approach will help crawlers find and index your content faster, plus provide helpful context.

10.   Add structured data to relevant pages

When it comes to technical SEO, structured data is another worthwhile investment of your time.

Structured data is a type of markup that provides search crawlers with additional information about your page, like whether your page includes a recipe, a product, or a review. In some cases, structured data can also generate an enhanced look for your page in search results, which users will see.

Structured data in SERPs

 

The recipe markup, for example, will often generate the following information:

  • Cooking time
  • Calories
  • User rating

You can check whether pages use structured data with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

Technical SEO structured data example

A range of structured data types are available, including:

  • Recipe
  • How-to
  • Event
  • Job posting
  • Rating
  • And more

If relevant to your page, add structured data.

Use a free tool like Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper, for example, to markup existing pages. This tool makes your work easy by allowing you to generate structured data by highlighting page elements, like price, rating, and more.

Once you finish marking up your page, check your work with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

If you have a WordPress site, the Yoast SEO plugin will add structured data for you.

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