Technical SEO definition: Technical SEO is the term used for optimising a website and server for efficient crawling and indexing and can ultimately have an impact on rankings. It refers to all the codey-techy stuff ‘under the hood’ of your website – the things that help a site to work the way you want it to. For example, the links your users click, the code that makes fancy things happen on a site, as well as the boring things like how images are delivered. It includes optimising for speed and user experience, and Structured Data (AKA ‘Schema markup’), which can help highlight a site in the SERPs (search engine result page) to impact organic CTR (Click Through Rate).
Personally, I like to describe technical SEO as a bit like the foundations of a building – if the foundations are built poorly, eventually the building will fall down. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule – Pisa has a famous tower which can attest to this. But, for every Leaning Tower of Pisa (and there is just the one), there are thousands of buildings which have fallen down due to dodgy foundations.
Why is it important to optimise a site for search engine robots? They will not buy anything or need services from your company, right?
Let’s go back to basics to explain this better – for a website to be indexed and then to rank for your keywords in the search results, it needs to be crawled by the search engine robots (AKA ‘Spiders’ or ‘Crawlers’) first. The way a site is put together can impact how easy – or difficult – it is for the robots to access pages on your site.
Optimising a site for easy crawling can do wonders for the frequency of crawls, and the more frequently a site is crawled, the more likely it is that the latest content and pages get indexed, enabling them to rank. Not getting technical SEO right, can have a significant impact on how well a site ranks. Some SEOs refer to this as optimising crawl budget – which is an accurate way of describing it, as Google does ascribe crawl budgets to each site. Crawl budgets are not something to get massively concerned by, in and of itself.
Whilst it is true that the search engines won’t be purchasing from you or using your services, what they can do for you is send visitors who are looking for exactly what you offer to your website, from the SERP (search engine results page). So, whilst I always say ‘optimise your content for people, not search engines’, this is not really the case for the technical SEO elements that help make your site work.
These things should be optimised for the search engines – it’s all very well having a fancy page that has bells and whistles to do something ‘magical’ on your website, but if users can’t find it, then all the time, effort and money spent on that page is probably a waste.
This isn’t to say that making your site better technically won’t impact the human beings you want to do business with – it will of course, because anything you do to optimise the code on your web pages, from making the site load faster to fixing broken links does and will positively impact site users too.
So, where to start?
When we take on a new SEO client, one of the things we typically offer in the first month of our working relationship is a technical SEO audit. This is because we consider technical SEO to be the first step in making sure your website can be found by the people looking for the services or products that you offer. It can also take time for developers to action the points raised in the audit, so getting the audit to new clients is always going to help get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
The first thing we’ll do is crawl your site. Personally, I use two crawling tools: Sitebulb and Screaming Frog. These tools work in similar but slightly different ways and look for errors or issues to be fixed. Sitebulb provides a solid overall picture of the site’s technical SEO health, whereas Screaming Frog is great for delving into the details needed to convey the information back to your developers for fixing.
Why is technical SEO important?
Optimising the code on your site is one of the best ways of ensuring your pages are crawled and indexed efficiently. Some elements of technical SEO are ranking factors, such as optimising Core Web Vitals (a set of metrics that are used to measure user experience and site speed) or the utilisation of SSL Certificates. Some elements are not ranking factors as such, but help to improve crawl efficiency, such as the use of a dynamic XML sitemap (a dynamic XML sitemap will update ‘on the fly’ ensuring it is always up-to-date and indicative of the pages you have made available. It should be uploaded to Google via Google Search Console (GSC) to essentially ‘tell’ Googlebot to crawl the URLs, and because it is dynamic, it will always be up-to-date and accurate).
So, it’s just the case of uploading an XML Sitemap and fixing Core Web Vitals then?
I hear you ask… Well no, that would be a major over-simplification of the entire process! Those things do generally help and if you do nothing else they are certainly a good choice, but technical SEO is about so much more. Things like ensuring the correct canonical URLs are specified or for international sites that hreflang tags are implemented correctly across the site(s). Making sure pages load quickly and the site architecture lends itself to natural growth for a strong content led SEO strategy.
To get the most out of your website, it is important to regularly audit the technical SEO of your site, to ensure that everything is as it should be. This is especially important if you have many people updating the site – that new intern who has been tasked with uploading content may not necessarily know or understand what is and isn’t important and let’s face it, we’re all humans and humans are prone to make mistakes. Even the very best humans make mistakes! Regular technical SEO audits will help catch any technical mistakes made when uploading content.
How do you know a technical SEO audit is needed?
I don’t know about you, but I have no idea if everything in my car is running as it should, just by looking at it or even when driving it. I’m no mechanic so whilst I do the regular ‘maintenance’ tasks needed to ensure it runs well, the only way of knowing for sure is when I take it in for its annual expensive day out at the garage.
Think of a technical SEO Audit as being a little bit like taking your car to have a service. It may show that nothing is wrong with it (yay!), or you may discover that the brakes need something doing to them or simply that the washers need replacing – some could be catastrophic if unattended (the brakes), some might be ‘nice to haves’ but most of it is information you couldn’t get by yourself – you need a qualified and experienced mechanic to do the service, to tell you what is needed to keep your car safe and running efficiently.
You know your car needs a service at specific times – you’ve reached the milage to have a service so you book it in, or you know that it needs to be done annually, even if you don’t drive it often enough to reach the milage when the manufacturers recommend a service. The same applies to technical SEO auditing – it is best tackled regularly, for large sites with a lot of editors adding content is more likely to need ‘a service’ sooner than a site with just the one editor and very few updates.
Ideally, its best to have a technical SEO audit performed at least once a year, but larger sites may be better to be audited more frequently due to the scope for technical errors ‘building up’ – to take it back to the car service analogy – a car with high milage needs a service sooner than one that’s only used to ‘go to the shops’ once a week, and an older car may require more work than a newer one and so on. A larger site with lots of editors should ideally have a technical SEO Audit performed at least twice a year, if not quarterly.
Essentially, what I am saying is that most websites should be audited for the technical elements of search engine optimisation regularly – how regularly will depend on the size of your site, how often and by how many people it gets updated and how much budget you have available for this kind of work.
After conducting a thorough technical audit we will provide a report, which highlights where improvements can be made (and as every site is different, this will be totally unique to your site) and produce spreadsheets breaking down the issues for the developers to work from. We like to include as much information as possible on how to address the issues raised. Sometimes though, the developer will need to find the best solution to fix the problem, and is often the best person to do this because they understand the code on your site better than we do – they built it after all. For this reason, it’s really important that you have allocated a budget for fixes with you developer as well – this is a common bottleneck for us.
As mentioned before, all sites are different, and the solution to fix issues on one site may not work for another (but check out our article on the most common issues we’ve encountered when conducting technical audits for our clients here for a few of the most likely issues your site may have), which is why it is extremely important to have your developer ‘on-side’ and happy to address any issues we raise. It is never about suggesting that a site is not built correctly – more about suggesting that it is not built optimally, and our audits are designed to help it get there. Sometimes compromises must be made, and knowing what these are from early on in the process, can help us plan how to overcome such issues with other SEO techniques such as digital PR or content optimisation.
However, technical SEO is the best first step towards ensuring your site can rank well. It may not be glamorous or exciting (like digital PR can be), but it will definitely help improve the chances of your web pages ranking well.