At this point in the digital transformation, most marketers understand how crucial search engine optimization (SEO) is for generating strong organic web traffic and becoming an authoritative brand. We even shared a few basic SEO tips in a previous Journal to help explain the differences between organic SEO and paid search engine marketing (SEM).
As critical as SEO is, many brands struggle to keep up with changes in search algorithms or to generate enough content to be competitive for those prized top spots on a search engine results page (SERP). And competition is fierce — in most industries, long-established brands and powerful aggregator sites dominate the first several SERPs, leaving smaller or newer brands with limited options but SEM to get in front of searching prospective customers.
SEO is also a moving target, a little-understood practice comprised of factors identified by experts and sometimes confirmed by Google or Bing. Even so, we know a few things will always be true of SEO — if you have a solid website and regularly publish authoritative content grounded in keyword research that’s relevant to search engine users, you should be just fine. But for those ultra-competitive marketers who are already doing everything they can to publish targeted SEO content, technical SEO could make all the difference in climbing up the search rankings.
First, what is technical SEO? Simply put, technical SEO is an umbrella term for all the technical factors in your website’s construction, interface and behavior that also provide powerful signals to search algorithms in determining how your website should rank on the SERP. These factors go beyond the words on your website to show search engines that your site is worthy of sending their users to.
We asked Trilix Vice President of Technology Yancy de Lathouder to offer some technical SEO tips. Whether your website is a few years old, just launched or is under construction, implement these tips to get an extra boost in organic search performance — after you’ve made sure your content is proficient.
Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.This advice is particularly important for new websites because search engines’ robots may not have crawled your site yet, but it’s also important for sites that have undergone substantial changes in a short period of time or that are adding a large volume of new pages all at once, as you might when launching a new product or service area. Yancy noted, “Submitting your sitemap to search engines ensures your site is indexed in a timely manner rather than waiting for your site to be randomly found and indexed. For larger sites, or for sites with rich media with associated metadata, submitting a sitemap can be extra beneficial.”
Help the robots.Search engines use robots to crawl the web and build their databases. Those robots access websites and index titles, summaries and the contents of webpages to quickly compile useful data that search algorithms use to tell you which of the web’s estimated two billion sites is best equipped to answer your query. Websites contain a robots.txt file that directs the robots’ work on any given page, and your webmaster should ensure the robots are given proper instructions in the robots.txt file housed in your website.
“This file is used to tell a search engine which files of your site should be indexed and which files shouldn’t,” said Yancy. “Maybe your site has some content that you don’t want to be included for content-sensitive reasons, or there may be directories in the site that house administrative materials, or non-content-related text that the search engine should ignore. It’s important to know the restricted pages could still be indexed if it is linked directly from an external site.”
Further, for pages that you’ve allowed search robots to crawl, it may be helpful to designate a canonical page for search indexing in case you may have a duplicate page, a redirect domain or perhaps use a campaign-specific “vanity URL.” This will help signal to search algorithms that your site isn’t actually packed with duplicate content that could confuse or frustrate users.
Adopt HTTPS encryption (if you haven’t already).HTTPS has been a ranking signal for Google since 2014 , and at this point, it’s also crucial to produce users’ trust for your site. Yancy observed, “An SEO benefit alone isn’t the reason to secure your site. You should secure your site to protect your users and your server.” Google agrees, and that’s why this level of site security is table stakes to play the SEO game at this stage.
Be responsive.Responsive web design — that is, a set of web development and design practices that make websites render text, images and other design elements legibly and cleanly on a variety of web-enabled devices — is critical to site usability even without SEO concerns. But with more than 60 percent of Google searches taking place on mobile devices, responsive design is an important signal to search algorithms because of how it affects users. “The direct impact specifically to SEO with responsive design is more about the speed of page load on mobile devices than anything else,” said Yancy. “Properly designed responsive sites not only load faster, but they can load the initial viewing frame before the rest of the content, causing a more favorable speed measurement.”
The implications of responsive design can be far-reaching. “Pages where users spend more time will be ranked with a better page quality by Google and will, therefore, enjoy a better page rank,” Yancy added. “Responsive websites provide a superior experience for mobile viewers and will increase the time a user spends looking at content. Similarly, a poor bounce rate will reduce your page ranking. Responsive sites overall have smaller bounce rates than similar non-responsive sites,” he concluded.
Check your site speed.In 2018, Google confirmed that site page speed, particularly for mobile sites, is a factor in page ranking. Yancy declared, “You don’t need any more reason than that to ensure your pages load quickly.” Since site speed is extremely technical, communicate the need for speed to your web developer. “In addition to having a robust hosting platform, a website’s structural issues can influence mobile page load,” added Yancy.
Give your URL keywords, too.We’ve probably all copied a link and found an unappealing alphanumeric string following the domain when the URL is pasted. It turns out that search engines think all those characters are annoying, too. “Pretty URLs play a role,” noted Yancy. “For instance, a URL like https://www.trilix.com/journal/jolly-holiday-lights-celebrates-25-years-of-success-for-make-a-wish-iowa/ has keywords, tells the user what the page is going to be about and allows Google to help decipher the meaning of the page’s content, particularly if the URL text matches with content-strong tags like the H1 tag. Separating words with a dash allows Google to recognize each word, as opposed to separating them with underscores or some other delimiter.” Consider that URL, which anyone can understand, in comparison to something like https://www.trilix.com/journal/?id=4876 , which, as Yancy observed, “provides no hint to the user or to the search engine.”
Finally, remember that checking every box in the technical SEO book won’t mean anything without content. “Content is still king!” concluded Yancy. And only a full-service marketing agency with content marketers and web developers can take care of both sides of the SEO coin.