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The Ultimate Guide to Technical SEO



Technical SEO is a complex and ever-changing field, but it's also one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO). By understanding the technical aspects of your website, you can ensure that it's crawlable, indexable, and user-friendly for search engines.

In this guide, we'll cover all the basics of technical SEO, from robots.txt to hreflang. We'll also provide tips and tricks for optimizing your website for technical SEO success.


What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the process of optimizing the technical aspects of your website for search engines. This includes factors such as your website's structure, code, and security.

Technical SEO is important because it helps search engines understand your website and its content. When search engines can easily crawl and index your website, they're more likely to rank your pages high in search results.


Why is Technical SEO Important?

There are a few key reasons why technical SEO is important:

  • It helps search engines understand your website. When your website is technically sound, search engines can easily crawl and index your pages. This means that your pages are more likely to be included in search results.

  • It improves the user experience. A well-optimized website is easy to use and navigate. This means that users are more likely to stay on your website and interact with your content.

  • It can improve your rankings. A well-optimized website is more likely to rank well in search results. This can lead to more traffic and leads for your business.


Technical SEO

There are a few key areas of technical SEO that you need to focus on:


  • Your website's structure. Your website's structure should be easy to understand for search engines. This means using clear and concise URLs, and having a logical navigation system.

  • Your website's code. Your website's code should be well-written and free of errors. This will help search engines crawl and index your pages more easily.

  • Your website's security. Your website should be secure from hackers and other threats. This will help protect your website from being taken down or hacked, which can damage your SEO.

Core Web Vitals: Essential Metrics for a Great User Experience

User experience (UX) has become a paramount factor in determining a website's success. Google, recognizing the importance of UX, introduced Core Web Vitals, a set of essential performance metrics that measure how fast and smooth a page feels to users.


Why Are Core Web Vitals Important?

Core Web Vitals play a crucial role in enhancing user experience by focusing on five key aspects:


  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the time it takes for the largest visible content element to become visible on the screen. A fast LCP ensures that the most important content is loaded promptly, creating a positive first impression.

  2. First Input Delay (FID): Measures the time it takes for a user to interact with a page after loading. A low FID ensures that users can engage with the page without delays, providing a responsive and interactive experience.

  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures the visual stability of a page as it loads. A low CLS ensures that the page's layout doesn't jump around unexpectedly, preserving a clean and organized visual presentation.

  4. First Contentful Paint (FCP): Measures the time it takes for any content to become visible on the screen. A fast FCP sets the stage for a positive user experience by indicating that the page is loading.

  5. Interaction to Next Paint (INP): Measures the time it takes between a user's first interaction and the next paint event. A low INP ensures that the page remains responsive after initial interaction.

Key Core Web Vitals Metrics


  1. Good: 75th percentile or better

  2. Needs Improvement: 50th percentile to 75th percentile

  3. Poor: Below 50th percentile

Timeline for New Core Web Vitals


First Input Delay (FID): Replaced by Interaction to Next Paint (INP) effective March 2024.


Google announced that Interaction to Next Paint (INP) will replace First Input Delay (FID) as a Core Web Vital starting in March 2024. This change reflects the evolving nature of web experiences and the growing importance of touch-based interactions. INP measures the time it takes between a user's first interaction with the page and the next paint event. A low INP indicates that the page remains responsive even after the initial user interaction.


How to Measure Core Web Vitals

Numerous tools can be employed to measure Core Web Vitals, including Google PageSpeed Insights, Chrome DevTools, and WebPageTest. These tools provide comprehensive reports on your website's performance, highlighting areas for improvement.

Prioritizing Core Web Vitals

Optimizing your website for Core Web Vitals demands a holistic approach that addresses various aspects of page loading and user interaction. This may involve optimizing image sizes, reducing server response times, and implementing lazy loading techniques.

The Significance of Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are not just about delivering an exceptional user experience; they also play a role in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Google has announced that Core Web Vitals will be utilized as ranking factors in search results, making it crucial for website owners to prioritize them.


Robots.txt

Robots.txt is a file that tells search engines which pages on your website they can and cannot crawl. This is a helpful tool for preventing search engines from crawling pages that are not yet ready for public consumption, or that you do not want to be indexed.


Tailoring Robots.txt for Different Regions

When dealing with an international audience, it's essential to customize the user experience based on their location. This is where the strategic use of `robots.txt` comes into play. For instance, if you have specific pages or content tailored for a particular country or language, you can use `robots.txt` to guide search engines toward these pages, improving visibility and relevance in local search results.

Robots.txt and Hreflang Tags

An advanced strategy involves combining `robots.txt` with hreflang tags. Hreflang tags are used to indicate the language and geographical targeting of a webpage. By using these in conjunction with `robots.txt`, you can effectively guide search engines to index the correct language version of your website, enhancing the user experience for international visitors.

Regular Audits and Updates

Regular audits of your `robots.txt` file are recommended, especially if you make frequent changes to your website's structure or content. This ensures that your international SEO efforts remain effective and that search engines can access and index the most relevant content for each region.


A example of a correct country set-up on robot.txt
Robot.txt example


In this example:


1. Disallow Directives: We're telling bots not to crawl certain directories (like `/fr/private/`), which could be private or irrelevant sections of the French version of the site. This is repeated for German (`/de/private/`) and Spanish (`/es/private/`) versions.

2. Sitemap Directives: We provide sitemaps for each language version. This helps search engines understand the structure of the site and index language-specific content more effectively.

3. Allow Directives: These lines are particularly important as they explicitly allow crawling of the entire French, German, and Spanish sections of the site.

Remember, `robots.txt` is a powerful tool and should be used with care. Misconfigurations can lead to unintentional blocking of search engine bots, which can negatively impact your site's SEO performance.


Hreflang

Hreflang is a tag that can be used to tell search engines which language version of your website to show to users in different countries. This is important for websites that target multiple languages or countries. More information about international SEO


Here's an example of how hreflang tags should be correctly implemented:

Assume you have a website with English, French, and Spanish versions targeted at the United States, France, and Spain, respectively. Your hreflang tags would look something like this:


html

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com" hreflang="en-us" />

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com/fr" hreflang="fr-fr" />

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com/es" hreflang="es-es" />


In this example:

  • The first tag tells search engines that the default English version of the website is targeted at users in the United States (`en-us`).

  • The second tag indicates that the French version (`/fr`) is targeted at users in France (`fr-fr`).

  • The third tag shows that the Spanish version (`/es`) is for users in Spain (`es-es`).



Technical SEO can be boring but it is important for your website this image shows my pigs Emilia and Hamlet
Emilia and Hamlet

Additional Key Points:


  • Consistency Across Pages: These hreflang tags should be included on every page of your website, in each language version. Each page should link to all other language versions of that same page.

  • Self-referential Hreflang Tag: Each page should also include a hreflang tag referring to itself. This is a best practice and helps avoid any confusion for search engines.

  • Language and Region Codes: Always use ISO language codes (e.g., 'en' for English, 'fr' for French) and, if needed, ISO country codes (e.g., 'us' for United States, 'fr' for France).

  • Avoiding Common Mistakes: Ensure there are no broken URLs, and avoid mismatched or incorrect language and region codes. Each language-region pair should be unique and correctly match the content of the page.


HTML Codes


HTML codes are the building blocks of your website. There are a number of HTML codes that can be used to improve your website's SEO, such as:


  • Title tags: Title tags are the titles that appear in search results. They are important for attracting attention and increasing click-through rates.

  • Meta descriptions: Meta descriptions are the descriptions that appear under your title tags in search results. They are also important for attracting attention and increasing click-through rates.

  • H1 tags: H1 tags are the main headings on your pages. They are important for organizing your content and helping search engines understand the structure of your pages.

  • Alt text: Alt text is the text that appears when an image cannot be displayed. It is important for accessibility and SEO.

The most important HTTP status codes which are particularly relevant for SEO:


400 Series: Client Errors


  • 404 Not Found: This indicates that the server can't find the requested resource. In SEO, 404 errors can negatively impact user experience and site quality if important pages are missing. It's essential to fix these errors by either restoring the missing pages or redirecting the URLs to relevant content.

  • 410 Gone: Similar to a 404, but it indicates that the resource was intentionally removed and will not be coming back. It's a stronger signal than a 404 and can be useful for SEO when you want search engines to quickly deindex a page.

  • 403 Forbidden: This error means access to the requested resource is denied. This might be a problem for SEO if search engines are blocked from accessing important content on your site.

  • 401 Unauthorized: This status code indicates that authentication is required to access the resource. It's not typically used for public pages and thus not often a direct SEO concern.


500 Series: Server Errors


  • 500 Internal Server Error: A generic error message indicating that the server encountered an unexpected condition. Frequent 500 errors can harm a website’s SEO as they impact user experience and site reliability.

  • 503 Service Unavailable: The server is not ready to handle the request, often due to maintenance or overloading. Using this status code during planned downtime can prevent SEO damage, as it tells search engines to try again later.

  • 504 Gateway Timeout: This indicates that a server did not receive a timely response from another server. Consistent 504 errors can be problematic for SEO, as they suggest to search engines that your site is unreliable.


300 Series: Redirections


  • 301 Moved Permanently: This is used for permanent URL redirection. It's crucial for SEO when you move content to a new URL and want to pass the page's authority and ranking power to the new URL.

  • 302 Found (Temporary Redirect): This status code indicates a temporary redirection. It should be used when the move is not permanent, but be cautious, as search engines may eventually treat it like a 301 if it's in place for a long time.

  • 307 Temporary Redirect: Similar to 302, but with stricter adherence to the method used in the request (GET or POST). It's important for temporary situations, but like 302, extended use can lead to SEO issues.

  • 308 Permanent Redirect: This is a permanent redirect like 301 but maintains the request method across redirects. It’s less commonly used but can be important for maintaining SEO value during a permanent redirect that needs to maintain the method (POST or GET).


Other Technical SEO Factors


In addition, there are a number of other technical SEO factors that you should consider, such as:


Page speed: Page speed is important for both users and search engines. Slow-loading pages can frustrate users and lead to higher bounce rates.

Mobile optimization: More and more people are using their mobile devices to search the web. It is important to make sure that your website is optimized for mobile devices.

Security: Security is an essential part of any website. You should take steps to protect your website from hackers and other threats.


Conclusion


Technical SEO is a complex and ever-changing field, but it is also one of the most important aspects of SEO. By understanding the technical aspects of your website, you can ensure that it is crawlable, indexable, and user-friendly for search engines.


Here are a few tips for improving your technical SEO:


  • Use a website crawler to identify any technical issues on your website.

  • Get feedback from a technical SEO expert.

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest technical SEO trends.

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