When it comes to SEO, the importance of good quality content and relevant, authoritative links is generally recognized. When asked about the three most important ranking factors, Google search quality senior strategist Andrey Lipattsev mentioned three things:
The SEO world went agog with this revelation, and much emphasis has since been focused on these three signals.
However, another equally important factor is technical SEO. If you don’t get it right, even those three most important ranking factors might not make much of a difference in helping you get ranked.
For example, if you have poor technical SEO your website could be uncrawlable, unindexable, and inaccessible. As a result, no matter how great your content is the search engines won’t be able to access or index it. With this understanding, not only is it clear that technical SEO is essential, but also that it is even more important than all the other ranking factors.
The following seven tweaks will give you an edge and help your search rankings when it comes to technical SEO.
Enable HTTPS for your website
Many businesses still do not have HTTPS enabled for their websites. Many of those who advocate enabling HTTPS make a business and conversions case, including arguments that it will show that secure padlock and a green bar in users’ browsers, which makes them trust websites and conversions. While that’s good enough reason to enable HTTPS, SEO is another equally important reason.
Enabling HTTPS is one of the few technical SEO tweaks that will take just a few minutes of your time yet yield significant results for your rankings. Google itself has come out to admit that it uses HTTPS as a ranking signal — although, at the time it made the revelation it said its impact isn’t that much, however, others have found out over time that Google tend to give prominence to HTTPS-enabled websites.
In a case study tracking performance in search rankings after enabling HTTPS on its site, SEO Hacker reported a 480% increase in keyword rankings compared to its closest competitor during the same period.
Pay special attention to your web host
There has been quite a bit of debate over the years on the subject of web hosts and their impact on search rankings, but it is a fact that your web host will affect your rankings with real consequences.
Your web host affects your rankings in so many ways. For one, website speed is another technical ranking factor, and your server specification and configuration, determined by your web host, will influence your site speed.
Server downtime will also affect your rankings: while an unusual one-day downtime won’t have the biggest difference, intermittent downtimes caused by a poor host will. When giving people SEO advice, I always advocate avoiding bad hosts.
Prepare for mobile-first indexing
Studies have shown that there are more mobile internet users than desktop internet users, and also Google has said the majority of web searchers on their platform are mobile users. As a result, after experimenting for a period of 18 months, Google announced its intention to start to roll out mobile-first indexing for web users.
Here’s where this can become a problem for you:
- If your site isn’t optimized for mobile readers your rankings will suffer
- If the mobile version of your site is poorly-optimized compared to the desktop version, your rankings will suffer.
To prepare for this change, it is best to have a responsive website that adapts to all devices. Alternatively, you can design a separate version of your site for mobile users. Regardless of your approach, do not neglect mobile visitors.
Confirm that your content is being indexed
Search engines will only rank content that they index. If your content isn’t being indexed, or if it isn’t being properly indexed, it won’t be ranked.
Another technical SEO tweak is to check and ensure that your content is actually being indexed. To do this, go to Google (or any other search engine of your choice) and search for “site:yourdomain.com” (without the quotes, of course!).
If your site is being indexed, the result should show a number of pages proportional to the number of pages on your site. If it shows nothing or fewer pages than are available on your site, you might want to check that you’re not preventing search engines from crawling and indexing your site. You should also take a look at your sitemap to ensure it is functioning.
Pay attention to your sitemap
Search engines keep advancing and will try to find most of your links somehow, but not having a sitemap will often result in them missing a lot of your content. At the same time, having a sitemap that is outdated is tantamount to not having any at all.
If you don’t have a sitemap, create one and submit it to the search engines or link to it where it could be seen and crawled. If you have a sitemap, make sure it is automatically updated on a regular basis.
Audit links from your site
You also want to perform regular audits of links from your site: whether it is external sites you are linking to or internal links to other pages on your site, you want to ensure the following:
- Regularly check for and remove dead links or broken links to other sites
- Regularly check to ensure that internal links to other pages on your site are properly done
- When you redirect a page on your site, you should make sure that the redirection is properly done: use the 301 redirect for permanent redirects, and 302 for temporary redirects
- Perform regular audits to identify orphan pages on your site — in other words, you want to look for pages that are not linked to from any other page on your site (thereby making them difficult to find and crawl by the search engines) try to have them linked to.
Enable Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools)
Perhaps one of the best things you will do to give you an edge when it comes to technical SEO is enabling Google Search Console. The Search Console is a dashboard provided by Google that allows you to monitor the health of your website. It will regularly notify you about technical issues related to your website that could negatively impact its rankings: this includes crawling issues, indexed pages returning 404 errors, how Google sees your website from a security perspective, mobile usability errors related to your site, etc.
If you can only take one advice from this article, let it be this: install Google Search Console and regularly follow its advice to ensure your site is technically compliant.
John Stevens is the CEO of Hosting Facts.