Search Engine Optimization August 5th, 2020
When it comes to SEO, most savvy business owners are aware to an extent of on-page SEO best practices and off-page link building. The final part of SEO is something that isn’t talked about enough.
Today we will be looking at technical SEO, or to be more precise, we will be looking at the most common technical problems a website can face and how to fix them.
This will be an actionable guide that will help you improve your website’s visibility.
Technical SEO covers a wide range of topics that help search engines understand your website and make your website easier to crawl.
According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, Google uses over 200 signals to determine where a website should rank on the search results page. Some of these ranking signals include page speed, HTTPS security and the content length on your page.
With these ranking factors in mind, you can look at your website to find any issues that it may have, fix these issues and improve your website’s organic traffic.
Below is a list of the most common technical SEO problems along with the solutions to fix them.
A common technical SEO issue that we see is a website that isn’t secure. Having a non-secure website presents you with two problems.
Websites that don’t have an SSL certificate installed can show up lower in the search results than a website with one. This alone should be enough to get you to install an SSL certificate.
The second problem you can face is most modern browsers will now show a “not secure” message in the address bar at the top of the page. Having this on your website is not going to give your website visitors the trust they may need to buy your product or service from you.
To fix this problem, you are going to need to install an SSL certificate on your website. Most modern website hosting providers can do this for you, and depending on your hosting provider, you could even get this done for free.
One problem you may face after installing the SSL certificate is the “mixed content error,” which will show up as a warning in the Google Chrome console, and your website may still show up as not secure in the address bar.
To fix the mixed content error, you will need to inspect the page (CTRL + I on Google Chrome), go to the console and look at the resource showing up as non-secure. Usually, the problem is caused by a hard-coded link, file or image.
When you have located the resource referencing the non-secure version, you need to reference the secure version. An example of this can be seen below:
would need to change to:
These changes can either be made in the code if hard-coded or if you are using a content management system such as WordPress, you can go into the content editor and make the changes there.
If a website doesn’t load quickly, people will click the back button and look for another result. Google knows that this isn’t the best user experience, and it will show other results higher than your website.
You can check your current page speed on Google’s page speed insights tool or GTA Metrix, which I prefer because it breaks down parts of the site that take the longest to load. Both tools will give you a score and recommendations on how to improve your speed. Below are some of the common issues when it comes to having a slow website.
Improving page speed with an existing website can be difficult because not all websites are coded in the same way, and some methods that we will discuss can make your website display incorrectly.
Some of the main issues that cause slower websites are from:
If your website isn’t custom-built or built on a page builder tool, there is a good chance that your website is slower than it could be because of the bloated code under the surface of the website.
Website themes are meant to be used by the masses for multiple types of businesses and layouts; therefore, they need to contain a lot of code to fit the purpose. This is good for the developer because it allows them to make more sales with their themes, but it’s bad for your website as there are multiple scripts and thousands of lines of code that don’t need to be on your site.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much choice when it comes to fixing a bloated theme other than choosing a less bloated theme or starting from scratch with a custom website design.
If you use a content management system such as WordPress, you can install plugins to help achieve various actions on your website such as a popup, a cookie bar or a contact form. You should be aware that too many plugins on your website will slow your website down.
Quite often, website owners will install multiple plugins that reference different code libraries and will have thousands of lines of code that take time to process. A custom solution could have been made in a few hundred lines and wouldn’t have needed to reference external libraries.
Some plugins on a website can help the website owner, but having more than necessary is going to kill your page speed. If you install plugins on your website, be sure you actually need them, and there isn’t a better solution out there.
This fix is simple and only takes a few seconds to fix. If you are uploading images to your website, which are large and don’t need to be, you should compress your images, so your pages load quicker.
To compress your images, you can use photo editing tools such as Photoshop, or if you don’t have it, you can search online for image compression tools.
When compressing your images, you should compromise between image quality and the size of that image.
Cheap website hosts are often slow and can cause your website’s “time to first byte” to take forever to load. If your website is out of the normal range or much slower than your competitors, you will be at a disadvantage when ranking for the same keywords as them.
Upgrading your current server or switching over to a new website host will improve your website’s speed, which could improve your website’s current rankings.
You can improve your current website’s speed by turning on caching on your web server.
In its simplest form, caching is the webserver remembering what the final output of a file should look like and serve that to your website visitor rather than loading a fresh version of your page every time.
Caching can decrease the time it takes for a web page to load. You can set caching up easily on your hosting server. If you are using WordPress for your website’s back end, there are caching plugins that can do heavy lifting. You may also want to check with your hosting provider as many of these offer a server-level cache that can be turned on.
Another solution to speed your website is to use minification, which looks at the code on your website and shrinks file sizes down by taking additional space out of each file.
Minification can cause problems with libraries not working and your website to not look like it should. We recommend testing out minification on a staging environment first. If you don’t have a staging environment, your website developer should be able to set one up for you.
Search engines crawl websites with their bots and put them into their databases to show on the search results page when someone types in a relevant query.
Every website has a search engine crawl budget, and when that budget is used up, the website won’t be crawled until the next crawl. It’s important to make the most of your crawl budget. We do this by making sure the bot doesn’t get lost on our website.
To check for any issues that could stop these bots from crawling your website, you need to take a look at your Google search console account.
Once inside, click on the coverage heading, and you will see all of the crawl errors on your website. Common crawl errors include:
The most common error you may encounter is the 404 error, which means that the page linked no longer exists. Depending on what caused the error, such as an internal or external link will depend on how you will fix it.
If an external website is pointing to an old page or a page that doesn’t exist, you can do a 301 redirect that takes the user from the missing page to a page that exists.
If a link on your website points to an old page, you can remove the reference to the old page and reference the new page. However, if your website is on the larger side and you have many links pointing at that page, you may opt for a 301 redirect for convenience.
301 redirects are useful for directing users to new pages when the old ones have been removed or deleted. The problem you will find with 301 redirects is that they become overused and can cause something called a redirect chain that is bad for your SEO.
A redirect chain occurs when a page is redirected to another page that has already been redirected. It sounds a little complicated, and a small redirect page could look something like this:
Page A redirects to > Page B that redirects to > Page C
The problems with redirects are that they are very difficult for Google bots to find the final destination page, especially when the redirect chain is longer.
If Google bots give up and can’t find the final page, it will be difficult to rank that page. Redirect chains also cause your page speed to be lower as the bot has to load up each page in the redirect before getting to the final live page.
To fix a redirect chain you need to change the 301 redirects from Page A to B, To Page A to C. Cutting out B in this process will eliminate the redirect chain and will make the Google bots job of indexing the page easier.
Looking at the above example:
Page A will now redirect to Page C.
Page B will now redirect to Page C.
The redirect chain is broken, and your page speed and your website can be crawled faster and easier by the search engine bots.
Unstructured URLs can cause issues when it comes to user experience. Websites with longer and messier URLs are at a disadvantage compared to those with shorter, keyword-focused URLs.
Take the following example:
Which link is easier for the search engines to get information from? The same question goes for a user. The first URL doesn’t explain to the user what the page is about, where the second URL is clearly about technical SEO tips.
When creating URLs for your website, keep them short and include your keywords within them. If you use the WordPress CMS, you can change the URL structure under the permalink settings.
A prevalent problem, especially when it comes to local SEO, is duplicate content. Local service businesses may target different areas with their website, and this is done through local landing pages.
A national plumber may have a page for plumbing services in Ottawa, Quebec and Winnipeg. Instead of creating unique content for each location, they may use the same content, only changing the location name.
Google will treat this content as duplicate, and it will harm your chances of ranking high in the search results.
To fix duplicate content, you have a few different options. For a location service, as mentioned above, you need to create a new copy for each page so that it is unique.
If you have two or more pages that aren’t for local clients, you can then “merge” these pieces of content with a canonical tag. A canonical tag tells the search engines which page to treat as the original page, which can help your website avoid any punishment from duplicate content.
An orphaned page on a website is a page that isn’t linked to from other website pages. Google doesn’t like pages that stand alone from the rest of the site, so having them can hurt your website.
Fixing an orphaned page is simple; you can either delete that page or link it to it from other pages on your website—the more internal links pointing at the page, the more importance Google will give to the page.
Having content on your website of little value can cause Google to issue your website with a thin content penalty. Websites that use tools to “spin” content and affiliate websites with no useful information are often issued these penalties.
Thin content also makes it difficult to rank, and it should be avoided at all costs. If you believe your website has thin content, you should either delete those pages or add more content to make the pages useful for potential visitors.
To improve the content on your website and give it a better chance of ranking on the search engines, you can look at your competitors’ pages and see the type of content they produce and aim to match or better that content.
I would be shocked if there wasn’t a website out there that didn’t have at least one meta description or title problem. Meta titles and descriptions can be too long, too short, blank or duplicated.
Going through every page on your website looking for these errors can take too much time and cause a lot of frustration. To find out if your website has any meta descriptions or title problems, you can use Screaming Frog, Ahrefs or SEMRush to run an audit.
When the audit comes back, you will see your website’s problems; you can then go in and fix these issues.
Your website should be mobile responsive. If it isn’t, your search engine rankings will be affected. The only fix for this problem is to redesign your website and make it mobile-friendly.
Your mobile site could face penalties if you use intrusive interstitials. To get around this problem, you can either not display interstitials on the mobile device or require them to take up less space.
If your website also uses different sitemaps for mobile and desktop devices, you should upload the two different sitemaps.
Technical SEO is a fundamental part of a successful SEO campaign. Optimizing your on-page and off-page SEO while having a faulty website minimizes any results you could have.
In this article, we have listed the most common technical SEO faults and how to fix them.
If your website is currently suffering from these issues, it could be causing your business to lose customers and slow your company’s growth. Now you know how to fix these issues, you can go ahead and mark out a plan to do so.