A Non-Technical Guide to Technical SEO
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO refers to the search engine optimization that takes place “off page.” Technical SEO can seem overwhelming to anyone who is not well acquainted with it, however, once you break it down it’s not that complicated. Technical SEO generally falls into three categories: (i) meta tags, (ii) URLs and redirects, and (iii) structured data.
Meta tags provide search engines and searchers with information about what content they can find on a given webpage. Meta tags provide search engines with information, such as a page title or description and allows the search engine to display it in organic search results. This provides both the search engine and searcher with context about what they will find on your page and allows the search engine to serve more relevant search results to users. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of meta tags, I cover some of the most essential ones.
Although the description tag has no direct impact on Pagerank, it’s a very important tag for attracting organic traffic. A well optimized description will give your page SEO value and more importantly attract organic traffic. Without a description tag, a searcher will not know what your page is about and is less likely to actually click on it in an organic search result.
Your description tags should provide a 150 to 160 character description of what a searcher can expect to find on your page. It's ok if your description goes over this limit, you should just keep it between 150 to 250 characters. Your description tag should make use of one to two target keywords and provide a description that tells the searcher what information they can find on your page without providing so much information that they do not need to click on your page. While it’s important to use keywords in your description, you should never keyword stuff.
The goal of the title tag is to tell the searcher and search engine what the overall topic of your webpage is. For example, your home page should say something like “Home | Website Name.” It’s very important to write a well optimized, and accurate title for all of your pages because the title tag has a direct impact on Pagerank.
A well optimized title tag makes use of one to two target keywords and accurately tells a searcher the topic of your page. Each page should have an original title that includes the name of your page, your website or brand name, and a target keyword. You want to keep your title under 60 characters so it does not get cut off in search results, however it’s not a big deal if your title goes over the 60 character limit. While it's important to take advantage of keywords in your titles, you should never keyword stuff because it will comes off as spammy and can hurt your Pagerank.
The alt tag provides the visually impaired with a description of an image and helps the search engine understand what an image is and how it relates to the surrounding text on your page. Alt tags allow you to derive SEO value from images by including keywords and a description of the image. When writing an alt tag, you should make use of a few high value keywords, however, your priority should be to write a clear description of the image. At the end of the day, this tag is meant to help out the visually impaired and just so happens to have some added SEO value.
You should add a canonical tag to a page that has duplicate content on it. For example, if you have a blog with different filter views, such as “most popular,” “most recent,” and “top rated,” you will have three different URLs with the same content. Without a canonical tag, the search engine will not know which version of the page to display for relevant search queries and your pages might not display at all. To prevent your content from not showing, you should add a canonical tag to the “most popular” and “top rated” page views so the search engine knows to only display the “most recent” page in search results. Any time you have duplicate content, you should always add a canonical tag so the search engine knows which version of your content to display in search results.
URLs and Redirects
When naming or renaming a page's URL, it's important that the URL is well optimized for SEO. All of your URLs should be static, or readable by humans, and ideally between 50 and 60 characters long, however, they can be up to 100 characters. Studies suggest that people are more likely to trust and click on shorter static URLs than those that are just numbers and letters. To get the most out of your URL, make sure that it accurately reflects the title of your page and make use of one to two target keywords. Again it is very important to avoid keyword stuffing as the search engine and user may see this as spammy.
Whenever you delete a page or change the name of a URL, it’s essential to always redirect the old page to the new one. If you're removing a page forever, make sure you redirect the old URL to the home page or the next most relevant page. If you’re just changing the name of a URL, make sure that you redirect the old URL to the new URL for the page. If you don’t redirect old URLs, you run the risk of getting 404 page not found errors which can hurt your SEO and make for a worse user experience.
You always need to redirect old URLs to new ones because old URLs can stay on the internet after they are removed as search results and as external links. It's also important to redirect old URLs because if you don’t do so, you could lose some valuable domain authority from old links. While it's important to always redirect URLs, you never want to have a redirect chain. A redirect chain is when an old URL redirects to a new URL that redirects to an even newer URL. Redirect chains can harm user experience by slowing down website load speed and make it difficult for search engines to crawl your website. To avoid redirect chains, always make sure that your old URLs directly redirect to the most recent version of a page.
Structured data (or structured schema) are code you add to your website to give search engines context about your website and how it should classify your content. Adding structured data to your website gives the search engine a better understanding of your content, making your content eligible to rank for Search Engine Result Page (SERP) features.
For more information on Structured Data and how they impact SERP features check out our blog on structured data.
Hopefully this blog broke down technical SEO for you in a way that made it more digestible and easier to understand. It’s very important to understand technical SEO and take advantage of it to get the most out of your website. As scary as technical SEO may seem, most website builders and Content Managemnt Systems (CMS) give you tools that make it a lot simpler.