Why technical SEO is so much more than just ‘make-up’
Technical SEO is vitally important for your website, and provides the foundations for an effective search strategy.
Why is technical SEO, is it much more than just "makeup"?
I was prompted to write this article having read a Search Engine Land guest post on the subject this week, written by Clayburn Griffin.
The author of that article doesn’t seem to value technical SEO so much. He says that “Technical SEO is easy, breezy, beautiful, but it’s no game-changer.” For me, this falls a long way from explaining what technical SEO actually is, and how important it is for your website.
In my role I will help clients with a huge range of SEO issues, and a large majority of those technical in nature. These can range from an erroneous implementation of hreflang or JSON-LD to helping a client target territories with no ISO country code – where GEO IP would only get you ~60% accuracy and browser location isn’t an option.
As an SEO who specialises in technical SEO, for me it is more of a process than a set of “esoteric skills” – although those skills do come in handy – it is about working with the clients needs, the developers needs and coming up with creative solutions for SEO, as it is not always possible to implement best practices.
The world without tech SEO
At the core, the assertion of the post is: Technical SEO can tart your site up for search engines, but won’t bring in the money.
And it is this assertion that I would like to challenge most vehemently, taking four examples from the technical SEO world.
1. Botched migration
We’ve all been there. A client is going through a migration but doesn’t want to shell out for a full service, saying “Our development team has done loads of these.” Only to watch from the side-lines as some fairly basic errors cost them all of their visibility, and only then to be asked for your help to fix it.
There is so much technically that can go wrong in a migration;
- No 301 mapping
- .htaccess rules not written correctly/efficiently
- Staging environment gets indexed
- Staging robots.txt or meta robots data brought over to live
- Different versions of PHP/Apache/jQuery between environments
I could go on, but the point is without technical SEO any one of these numerous issues could kill your site dead, overnight.
2. Faceted search
This is a common technical SEO problem for anyone working with ecommerce. How to deal with your faceted navigation.
- Are you creating duplicate content?
- Should you use canonicals or noindex in robots.txt?
- If so, where and which ones?
- Which faceted navs can be indexed and which should not?
- Rel prev/next on pagination or canonicals?
- Add more facets or remove?
- How should url re-writing be handled?
- How many products per page?
- Do your facets mirror your IA?
These are just some of the questions that come up for just this aspect of the site, and there is no definitive correct answer to them all; you can’t just check Google’s guidelines.
The answers to these questions change with every site, its needs and its current visibility.
3. Hreflang implementation
Here’s one for anyone who has gone international. Hreflang is not the simplest thing to implement and is often done incorrectly. People forget to self-reference, use the wrong codes, use incomplete codes, miss just one territory from their list, don’t include all versions of the page or simply forget to regularly audit their implementation.
Any one of those mistakes can break the entire implementation and leave you with duplicating content and rapidly falling rankings.
4. Optimising page load
This is perhaps one of the most all-encompassing technical issues an SEO can deal with. It is also one of the most frequently overlooked and poorly addressed; due in part to the wide range of skills required to fully address it, but also due to the cost of a lot of the solutions.
I always find this surprising as an old study from Amazon.com found that for every 100ms they improved page load their conversion rate increased by 1%!! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s a whole load of extra PlayStations getting sold at Christmas.
Page load speed can be effected from simple things like large image sizes, too many HTTP requests and multiple DNS lookups all the way to poorly configured servers, inefficient or badly curated code.
Truly improving page load speed could, and has, required completely rebuilding a website. Re-platforming, migrating subdomains and servers. And at every step of the way there are serious technical SEO considerations that must be made.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO, for me, is the science of search. It is bringing together what you know and testing it. Google won’t always tell you the truth about what works best, and may not necessarily know themselves.
You have to pore through technical specifications, stack exchange and webmaster central as well as conducting your own experiments and testing what you know.
More practically it is not just about going through the same tired checklist of robots.txt, 301 redirects and pipes vs hyphens, but about working with all other elements of a broader SEO strategy and with the client’s development, marketing, senior management and web teams to present the best possible version of their site to the world.
I do agree with some points in the article though. For one, there are plenty of people and agencies who say they can understand technical SEO and can help you with it, only to come unstuck when someone asks them the best solution for becoming mobile friendly.
And this does no favours for those of us still trying desperately to get away from the image of snake-oil salesmen and spammy, shoddy tactics.
However, without technical SEO your site will not rank for your keywords on Google.
I agree that it should always be part of a broader SEO strategy encompassing content and offsite optimisation. It’s far more than mere make-up.