Technical search engine optimisation (SEO) describes the efforts of a webmaster to ensure their website is compatible with search engine guidelines, and can be indexed and ranked for keyphrase searches accordingly.

Whilst marketers perhaps best understand the implications of getting SEO wrong, it is often developers that implement technical SEO decisions.

Although technical SEO is not as time consuming as ongoing optimisation such as link building, get it wrong and you can scupper the search performance of your website fairly quickly (indexing issues occur upstream of quality scoring).

In Econsultancy's newly updated SEO Best Practice Guide, the analogy of a train is used - no matter what the carriages look like (on-page content), if the engine (technical SEO) doesn't work properly, nobody will ride the train. 

The most appropriate time to consider technical SEO is during a website's construction. If this doesn't happen, lengthy and involved technical SEO audits may be needed to identify and fix problems, with possible periods of uncertainty as changes are made.

However, technical SEO is not just about site build; updates by search engines and changes in your own business direction or customer behaviour may necessitate change, too.

So, let's get down to brass tacks, what actually is technical SEO?

Technical SEO considerations when creating and maintaining a website include the following.

Future-proofing the site architecture

As the website grows over time, the architecture has to be able to cope. Ideally, pages should not be buried too deeply (more than four levels down) within the site, which means planning a 'horizontal' site. This allows search engines to regularly crawl, cache and index pages.

Categorisation is a big part of site architecture in ecommerce, dividing a catalogue of products into categories and assigning URLs. Products may need to live in several categories, which brings further considerations such as canonicalization (see below).

Other decisions to be made include: 

  • the appropriate use of subdomains
  • the formatting of URLs
  • using the correct parameters for dynamic content (such as product filters)
  • the submission of sitemaps (including mobile and video) 
  • applying a 'robots' meta tag and using the robots.txt file (to give instructions to search crawlers, such as 'do not index')

site architecture

Canonicalization

Canonicalization is the process of choosing a preferred URL when there are several choices for an individual page. Canonicalization issues often occur with the homepage (for example, if many different international URLs point to the homepage, or more simply if www.example.com and http://example.com do so).

Tags and redirects are used to solve these issues so that search engines do not understand such URLs to be evidence of duplicated content.

Pagination

Pagination, often used for ecommerce categories when displaying lots of products, can create crawler issues, duplicate content (similar to canonicalization) or simply 'diluting' the relevancy of your content by spreading it further.

Again, using the correct meta tags is the key to ranking effectively for paginated content.

Website cannibalisation

Namely, ensuring this doesn't happen (similar content competing in search and leading to lower positions overall) by understanding what content you want to rank highest and determining the correct structure for internal linking, subdomains and international sites to enable this.

For more on this topic see our article about World Cup rankings and The Daily Mail's architecture.

cannibalization

Redirection

Redirection is used to ensure users are served the most appropriate content for them, which could be contextualised for their location, language or device.

Speed optimisation

Site speed can be optimised in a variety of ways including content delivery networks, caching solutions, minifying code, asynchronous loading or using Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) HTML, which does all of these things and more.

HTML markup

HTML can be enhanced to give specific specific information to web crawlers. This markup is needed to have content formatted at its best.

Examples include:

  • Open Graph - telling Facebook how your content should appear
  • Twitter Cards
  • language tags
  • title, description and header tags
  • structured data markup e.g. to show rich snippets in search

Don't forget to download our SEO Best Practice Guide!

That should give you some idea of what technical SEO entails. For lots more, including detailed how-to instructions, see Econsultancy's new SEO Best Practice Guide, which also includes a range of other sections such as on-page optimisation, link building, measurement and more.

Ben Davis

Published 26 January, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

1054 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Daryl Cygler

Daryl Cygler, MD of Making It Happen at DC Digitas

Whilst everyone talks about how 'Content is King', Technical SEO is the castle that you build around your king. Not my quote (Omi Sido) but a great anology on the importance of it as the basis of everything to build from.

6 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

And mobile is the drawbridge? Just joking. ;)

6 months ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Grahame Palmer, Marketing Director at All Things Ecommerce Ltd

The article is a concise (and accurate) outline of "Technical" SEO, but one important element has not been included... The web host - (the server, and the hosting infrastructure.)

Before one even begins to look at the website code, architecture and construction, it has to live somewhere. Large organisations usually set up dedicated servers on reliable hosts, or go the whole hog and construct a completely stand-alone gateway into the WWW. Lovely if you can afford it - along with the team of technical wizards who build and maintain it.

But small and medium-sized companies can't afford this, so most "rent" server space and bandwidth on virtual networks, or - if they have the technical know-how - set up VPN's on a hosted system.

However... few small and medium companies know how to assess the competence and reliability of such hosts, and many tend to go for "cheap deals" ("Web hosting for £2.99 a month"). For eCommerce and online selling - if it's to be done really properly - the host is a vital "business partner" whose knowledge and reliability can make or break your venture.

So... how does one know who to choose for this vital service?

First... decide on a software platform on which to operate your ecommerce venture. Many start-up's choose cloud-based portals, such as Shopify. These are fine, but have many limitations - both in terms of functional flexibility and the fact that they have almost total control over some key technical structuring, which, by the nature of how they work, tend to be "one-size-fits-all".

Ideally, and regardless of how small or large your initial set-up is, the way to go is to build a site on your own dedicated platform. There are many OpenSource systems available, from Wordpress's Woo-Commerce, to Zencart. All need technical know-how, but as the core platforms are "free to use", investment only needs to be made in customising it for your needs. (This is part of the business plan and needs to be budgeted for).

Then, once an appropriate platform has been chosen, one needs to find a good and knowledgeable web host to "house" it. And it is necessary to ask webhosts how much they know about your chosen platform. Get evidence of their know-how, and if you can, ask for guarantees. Get them to show you examples of other sites they host on the same platform, and (if possible) contact the owners of these sites and ask them how reliable their site's performance is. For many platforms, servers need to be set up in certain ways and with certain functions enabled. Your host must know both the server set-up needs, and how your platform behaves within this construct.

One of the first "actions" performed by search engine "spiders" is to evaluate the status of the host server. If things are not right at this fundamental step, then - as is indicated in the article above - the carriages of the train mean nothing.

6 months ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.