Technical search engine optimization (SEO) is a foundational component of SEO that, as its name suggests, addresses technical aspects of a website that can have an impact on its search positioning and visibility. Technical SEO includes, but is not limited to, SSL implementation, XML sitemaps, robot files, redirects, broken links, duplicate content checking, malware scanning, and resolution of mobile usability issues.
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that provides a secure and encrypted connection between a web browser and a web server. It helps to ensure that the data exchanged between the user’s browser and the website remains private and secure.
When a website has an SSL certificate, the communication between the user’s browser and the web server is encrypted, making it difficult for malicious entities to intercept or tamper with the data being transmitted. This is particularly important for sensitive information such as login credentials, personal details, and financial transactions.
When a user visits a website with an SSL certificate, the browser displays a padlock icon in the address bar, indicating that the connection is secure. Additionally, the website’s URL typically starts with “https://” instead of “http://”. This added security is crucial for protecting sensitive data and fostering trust between users and websites.
On any site with SSL enabled, it’s important for all referenced components on each page to be delivered through HTTPS URLs as well. This helps to ensure that all content is delivered through an encrypted connection and prevents the users from seeing warnings about insecure content.
An XML sitemap is a file that lists the URLs of a website’s pages, along with optional additional metadata about each page, such as the last modification date, frequency of changes, and priority. The XML sitemap, while invisible to users, helps to ensure that the website’s content can be found and indexed by search engines.
Here are some key reasons why you might need an XML sitemap:
- Search engine crawling. Search engines use crawlers (also known as spiders or bots) to discover and index web pages. An XML sitemap provides a roadmap for search engine crawlers to navigate through your site, helping to ensure that all relevant pages are crawled and indexed.
- Improved indexing. By providing additional information about your pages, such as their last modification date and priority, search engines can be guided to prioritize certain pages when indexing. This can be especially helpful for large websites with regularly updated content.
- Discovery of non-linked pages. If certain pages on your site are not easily accessible through regular navigation or are not well-linked from other pages, an XML sitemap can serve as a means for search engines to discover and index these pages that a user may not discover on their own.
- Handling of large websites. For websites with a significant amount of content or complex structures, an XML sitemap can aid in organizing and presenting the site’s information to search engines.
Creating and maintaining an XML sitemap is a good practice for SEO as it helps search engines understand and navigate a site more effectively, potentially leading to improved visibility in search engine results. Many content management systems such as WordPress have plugins available that automatically generate XML sitemaps, making it easier for website owners to implement and maintain them. However, such tools are not foolproof and should be reviewed periodically.
The “robots.txt” file is a standard used by websites to communicate with web crawlers and other automated agents, such as search engine bots. The main purpose of the robots.txt file is to control the behavior of web crawlers and prevent them from accessing certain areas of a website. This can be useful for various reasons, such as protecting non-public information, avoiding duplicate content issues, or preventing crawlers from accessing parts of the site that may not be relevant for search engine indexing.
It’s important to note that while robots.txt can be effective in guiding well-behaved web crawlers, it is not a foolproof security measure. Malicious bots may choose to ignore the directives specified in the robots.txt file. For sensitive information or pages that should not be accessible to the public, additional security measures such as user authentication and proper access controls should be implemented.
Redirects (including redirect chains)
Website redirects are instructions that automatically take visitors from one URL to another. Some of the most common redirects include:
- Permanent redirects (301). This type of redirect informs search engines that the original URL has permanently moved to a new location. It’s beneficial for maintaining search engine positioning and transferring link equity from the old URL to the new one. Without such redirects, users may become frustrated when trying to access pages through links that no longer work.
- Temporary redirects (302). These redirects indicate that the move is temporary.
- Meta refresh. This is a type of redirect that relies on an HTML meta tag to refresh the page automatically after a specified time or immediately, taking users to a different URL.
In many cases, redirects are used as a temporary measure to prevent uses from reaching dead-ends as they browse a website. Over the long term, however, it can be beneficial to correct the source links rather than relying on redirects. Here are some of the reasons why:
- User experience. Excessive or slow redirects can frustrate visitors, leading to a poor user experience and often a higher bounce rate.
- SEO. Improperly implemented redirects can negatively impact SEO due to loss of link equity and indexing issues.
- Crawl efficiency. Search engine crawlers may spend more time crawling unnecessary redirects, impacting the efficiency of their indexing process. This could potentially slow down the indexing of new content and/or burden the host server.
- Page load speed. Each redirect introduces an additional HTTP request, which can contribute to slower page load times. This can be particularly important for mobile users or those on slower Internet connections.
- Consistent URL structure. A consistent and clean URL structure can be beneficial for both users and search engines. Redirects can sometimes lead to messy and confusing URL structures if not managed properly.
In summary, fixing website redirects is crucial for maintaining a positive user experience, optimizing for search engines, and ensuring efficient crawling and indexing of a website.
Broken links and other error codes
Website broken links are hyperlinks that no longer point to a valid destination or resource. This can happen for various reasons, including changes in the URL structure, deletion of pages, or the target page being moved. One of the most common causes of broken links is the redesign of a website.
Broken links can have several negative implications:
- User experience. Broken links frustrate users and can lead to a poor experience on your website. Visitors may leave the site and not return if they encounter too many broken links. Google’s search algorithm is believed to factor this type of user behavior in its search rankings.
- SEO. Broken links can negatively impact a website’s SEO by preventing search engine spiders from properly crawling and indexing pages. This can result in lower search engine rankings and reduced visibility in search results.
- Credibility and trust. Users may lose trust in a website that contains many broken links. They may question the reliability and recency of the information provided.
- Website maintenance. Over time, websites undergo changes, especially as content is updated or removed. Managing and fixing broken links is part of regular website maintenance to help ensure a seamless user experience.
To address broken links, website administrators should regularly perform link checks and use tools that automatically identify and report broken links. When broken links are identified, they should be promptly fixed by updating the linked URLs or removing the links if no suitable replacement is available.
Duplicate content checking
Duplicate content refers to identical or substantially similar content that appears in more than one place on the Internet, either within the same website or across different websites. Some websites try to recycle content with minimal changes in order to target search phrases without writing original content. Duplicate content can have negative implications for websites for several reasons:
- Search engine positioning. Search engines aim to provide diverse and relevant results to users. When search engines encounter duplicate content, they may struggle to determine which version is the most relevant or authoritative. As a result, they may choose to display only one version or prioritize one over the others. This can lead to a reduction in search visibility for the page(s) containing the duplicate content.
- User experience. Duplicate content can confuse or irritate users who encounter similar or identical information across different pages.
- Crawl budget. Search engines are known to allocate crawl budgets to websites, determining how often and how deeply they crawl the site’s pages. Duplicate content can waste this crawl budget on redundant information, preventing search engines from discovering and indexing new, valuable content.
- Penalties and filters. Some search engines may impose penalties on websites that consistently use duplicate content as a manipulative tactic to inflate rankings. In extreme cases, websites might be filtered out from search results altogether.
To address these issues, website managers should aim to create unique and valuable content, use canonical tags to specify preferred versions of content, and implement proper redirects when necessary. Regularly monitoring for duplicate content and managing content appropriately can help maintain a website’s search engine visibility and overall performance.
Website malware refers to malicious software or code that is specifically designed to infect and compromise websites, often to carry out various harmful activities such as:
- Data theft. Malware may be designed to steal sensitive information such as user credentials, personal data, or financial information.
- Phishing attacks. Some malware may create fake login pages or forms to trick users into providing their login credentials or other confidential information.
- Defacement. Malicious actors might deface a website by altering its appearance or content to spread a political message, promote a cause, or simply to disrupt the normal functioning of the site.
- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Malware can be used to launch DDoS attacks, overwhelming a website’s servers with traffic and causing it to become inaccessible to legitimate users.
- SEO spam. Malicious software might inject spam content into a website to manipulate search engine rankings or redirect users to malicious sites.
- Drive-by downloads. Malware can exploit vulnerabilities in a website to initiate automatic downloads of malicious files onto the visitors’ computers without their knowledge or consent.
- Malicious redirects. Some malware can redirect users to other harmful websites, leading to further exploitation or phishing attempts.
Regular security audits, software updates, and the implementation of security best practices can help protect websites from malware attacks. Website administrators should also use security tools and monitoring systems to detect and remove malware promptly if their site becomes compromised.
Mobile usability issues
Many organizations think of the desktop view of their website first and foremost, despite the fact that recent data suggests that more than half of all website traffic comes from mobile devices.
Mobile usability is crucial for providing a positive user experience on websites. Here are some common examples of issues that can arise for mobile website users:
- Unresponsive design. Websites that are not optimized for mobile devices may have layouts that are difficult to navigate on smaller screens. To mitigate this, a responsive design should be implemented to help ensure that the website’s appearance adapts to various screen sizes.
- Excessively small interactive elements. Buttons, links, or navigation elements that are too small can be challenging to tap accurately on touchscreens. There are objective standards that guide developers to design larger, touch-friendly buttons and links to improve the user’s ability to interact with the site on mobile devices.
- Overlapping elements. Elements such as text, images, menus, and buttons may overlap or get cut off due to inappropriate scaling or positioning on smaller screens. Professional developers should test and adjust the layout to ensure that all elements are properly displayed without overlapping.
- Complex menus. Dropdown menus that work well on laptops and computer monitors might be less user-friendly on mobile devices, leading to confusion or difficulty navigating. To simplify navigation for mobile users, consider using a hamburger menu or accordion-style navigation to save space and improve usability.
- Inadequate search functionality. Search bars that are difficult to find or use can frustrate website visitors seeking specific information. To address this, developers should make the search feature easily accessible and ensure that it provides relevant results.
- Slow loading times. Pages that take a long time to load can lead to a poor user experience, especially on mobile devices with slower Internet connections. Optimizing code and images, caching, minimizing HTTP requests, and other techniques can help to improve a site’s loading speed.
- Inconsistent navigation. Inconsistent navigation between desktop and mobile versions can confuse users who switch between devices. It is important to maintain a consistent and intuitive navigation structure regardless of screen size.
- Interstitial pop-ups. Pop-ups that obstruct the entire screen can be disruptive and frustrating for mobile users. If pop-ups are necessary, ensure they are appropriately timed, easy to dismiss, and don’t hinder the user’s ability to navigate the site.
- Non-optimized forms. Forms with small input fields or complex layouts can be challenging to complete on mobile devices. Forms should be optimized for mobile users by using larger input fields, clear labels, and a limited number of required fields.
Regular testing and user feedback can help identify and address these issues, ensuring a smooth and user-friendly mobile navigation experience.
Questions about technical SEO and what it means for your website? Please feel free to contact us today.