SEO is equal parts art and science, but most business owners prefer to focus on the art at the expense of the science. Creating content, working with web publishers and performing other tasks that require imagination and ingenuity can be fun and rewarding, but at times you will need to put energy into technical SEO.
If you aren’t particularly tech-savvy, you should certainly rely on SEO services equipped with effective tools — but if you want to know exactly what SEO professionals are doing to keep up your technical SEO, here’s a typical checklist for 2020:
Can you spot a difference between these URLs?
If your answer is “no,” then you might have a problem. Very small changes to the URL can alter the location of the website, with the result that a search engine might not know which domain is the right one — and worse, search engines might penalize you for having duplicate copies of your domain. If you do own variants of your domain, you should establish 301 redirects to the main variant (usually https://www.domain.com), and you should try to de-index incorrect versions of your website from search engines.
There are two different kinds of page redirects: 301 and 302. Ideally, 302 redirects are only used on a temporary basis; if you expect a redirect to remain in place, as it might for a domain variant, it should be upgraded to a 301. Perhaps even more importantly, you should verify that your site does not force web users and search engines through a chain of redirects or a loop back to their original page.
Search engines crawl the internet, looking for new pages and content to index. However, errors on a website and URL can cause a search engine’s attempt at crawling to fail, which essentially negates your efforts to use that page for SEO. Some SEO tools, like the Google Search Console, help you identify errors and excluded pages, so you can resolve these issues in a timely manner.
Website speed matters — not just because web users prefer a fast site but because search engines can crawl and index more of a website if it boasts high speeds. You should regularly test the loading speed of your site using free tools, like Google Speed Test or GTMetrics, and take steps to make your site as fast as possible.
Like website speed, broken links are bad for both user experience and search engines trying to crawl your site. There are several reasons links break:
- The destination page has moved
- The destination page has been removed and no longer exists
- The entered URL is incorrect
Over time, all links are susceptible to link rot simply because the web grows and changes in unpredictable ways. As with site speed, you need to regularly check on your links and repair all links associated with your website, to include internal links, outbound links and backlinks to your site.
HTTP is the protocol for how devices connect over the web — but it isn’t secure. Search engines tend to mark web pages that continue to use HTTP as “not secure” and rank them lower in search. You need to work with your website developer to migrate your site to HTTPS, which boasts secure encryption to keep web users safer. As importantly, as you migrate, you need to fix old HTTP links on and off your site.
Speaking of the URL, the structure of the web address is more important than you might think. Ideally, your domain name will be SEO-friendly — containing keywords that help boost your site’s rankings while telling both search engines and web users what your site contains. However, webpages can also have an SEO-friendly structure, which typically eschews long incomprehensible strings of characters for legible words separated by hyphens. Consider the difference between these two URLs:
One is difficult to read, let alone type out, while the other clearly indicates what the page contains. Because search engines are increasing in their semantic awareness, shifting your URLs to the latter structure is a smart SEO strategy.
You never want to bury content in your website. Forcing visitors and search engines to click through more than three links to reach a page is a good way to ensure that page never sees the light of day. You might restructure your website to allow easier access to the most important pages, or all pages for that matter.
SEO is a wide field that requires a number of skills — and diligence is one of them. Often, technical SEO is more dependent on organization and reliability than technical knowledge or ability. If you can obtain the right SEO tools and have a comprehensive SEO checklist, you might be able to manage your own SEO — but for most, outsourcing to a dedicated SEO professional remains the best choice.