Technical SEO practices you Must Not forget
Technical SEO helps you lay down a strong foundation when optimizing your website for search engines, and your users. Did you forget this important step? If you did, then your search engine optimization campaign is missing its base.
There is more to optimizing your website than just implementing On-page SEO techniques! when it comes to achieving high ranking, boosting your customer retention, and reducing your site's bounce rate!
Now that you've chosen a company to host your website, implemented On-page SEO factors such as writing great content, optimizing all your meta tags and checking them twice, you believe your work is done, and you just have to wait patiently to reach page one of the search engine result pages (SERPs). You think you're done? You are not! Read on.
We have compiled a list of Technical SEO techniques you must also know of in order to prevent your search engine optimization campaign (all that hard work) from being a failed campaign and sink your website to the bottom of SERPs.
TECHNICAL SEO TIPS WE'LL COVER ARE
- Web hosting
- Choosing the right CMS (Content Management System) if you want to use one
- Plugins and Extensions
- About Robots.txt
- Optimizing your images for speed
- Scaling your images
- Specifying your image dimensions
- Using CSS Sprites to combine your images
- Customizing your 404 error page
- Leverage browser caching
- Enabling Gzip
- Minify your CSS
- Combining your CSS
- Specifying a Vary:Accept-Encoding Header
- Minifying redirect and using them properly
- What about Sliders?
- Avoid duplicate content
- Use CDN (Content Delivery Network)
So grab yourself a good cup of coffee (or your favorite drink), and let's delve into the Technical SEO part of optimizing your website. Enjoy!
Many website owners don't think of web hosting as an important part of their SEO campaign, thus, they end up spending a lot of money on their website design and search engine optimization campaign, and forget that a good web hosting company will offer you the best hardware and software configuration that will not improve your website's page speed, but also high search ranking, high customer retention and increases sales.
Our web hosting and SEO talks about how your web hosting could be affecting your SEO.
I've seen web designer using only one CMS (content management system) to design every type of website such as an eCommerce, informational, company presence, or a blog website, and that is not the right approach.
Do they use one specific CMS because they have more skills and experience in that particular CMS and not the others? Are they biased?
Below is a short list of web design tools, or CMSs we recommend (just a few and not in any specific order of preference)
- Joomla - Good for many types of site and can be used for a blog site but we do not recommend it. Why? Well, because we believe in choosing the right tool, for the right reason
- WordPress (from wordpress.org) - Good for blogs, newspaper and magazine sites
- Magento (CE): for eCommerce sites - Do you really need Magento EE? not really, plus, there is a yearly cost, and it is not cheap
- Drupal - Not really a CMS per say but a tool set that can be used to build a blog, social network, eCommerce, but is it the right choice for your eCommerce or blog site? Only you can answer that
- PrestaShop - Another free shopping cart for online stores
Many web designers will install plugins, or extension either for testing purposes, or to actually add a feature to the site but one thing they forget to do is
- Uninstall the plugin - If the plugin or extension did not work, don't just disable it! Uninstall it completely
- Secure - I've seen installed plugins that the JED, or WordPress has deemed it unsecure and unstable that they removed it from their repository. So only install plugins/extensions that are updated regularly and don't forget to check the reviews or extension issues posted by other users
Just like when choosing a hosting company for their new website, many website owners will opt for a free template, or theme versus a professional one. Just in case this is you, know that some free templates are bloated with poorly written code, large images (as their page or menu background), and possibly not SEO friendly.
When choosing a template or a theme for your content management system (CMS), make sure that the template/theme
- Implemented valid CSS code that meets the W3C Markup Validator
- Has valid HTML5 code
- Is not bloated (with images used as the background for the page, or the menus)
- Is Responsive
Robots.txt is the first file search engines look at when they come to your website to let them know what directories you want them to crawl, and which ones you don't want them crawl. Note that even though a lot of search engines that will obey your instructions, there are many that will ignore those instructions.
That is why we recommend you use the article Robots tag area and set the rule (index follow, index no follow, no index/no follow, and so on) rather than depending on the Robots.txt. Why? Because you might, by accident, block important directories, such as images, templates, and so on.
OPTIMIZE YOUR IMAGES FOR SPEED
Some website owners (or designers) don't bother to take the time to optimize the images to improve the page speed even further. One client contacted us a couple of months ago asking us to look at his website slow speed, and after performing a site audit, we informed her that one culprit (from many) is the amount of large images her site has, and that were not optimized for speed (reduce image file size).
We told her that one single image was 465KB (she had many large images on a single page) and she wanted to improve her page speed, she would needed to optimize each and every image, using free tools available online.
We ended up optimizing all her email and uploaded them to her images folder, which improved the speed (and lowered her inodes).
If you plan to put a 300x300 image on an article, do not upload a 600x600 and then resize it using the editor! Using your preferred image editor (or a free online tool), resize your image to the desired dimensions, optimize it to improve speed (by reducing its total file size) and then upload the image(s).
SPECIFY IMAGE DIMENSION
Whether you should specify the image dimensions in your HTML or not will depend on the image width and height, and whether you want the image to work accordingly on a mobile device (automatically resize accordingly). When you specify the width and height of every image, you are helping the page to load faster by eliminating the need for the user's browser to re-flow the image. This approach has a down side. Read below.
If you have a 600x600 image, and you want it to be view-able as intended on a mobile device, then I do not recommend specifying the width and height of the image because if you do, the image will not resize accordingly on the device the page is being viewed on.
The other option is to have two images, one for the mobile device, and one that is meant to be viewed on a laptop or desktop.
COMBINE IMAGES USING CSS SPRITES
The more images your site has, the more trips a browser has to do! S0 why not combine your images using CSS sprites? CSS Sprites will reduce the number of round-trips needed to load those images, thus reducing the total number of bytes to be downloaded for a specific page.
LEVERAGE BROWSER CACHING
These files can be large and can take longer to download, especially on mobile devices like smartphones, iPad, and so on)
If your page as a total of 60 files that need to be downloaded in order for the page to look as intended, the browser will have to make 60 trips (HTTP). When the same users comes back to your site, goes to another page (previously visited), the page will load faster because the files are already stored in their browser, even if they refresh the page. This will reduce the amount of bytes (or KB) the user's browser will have to download.
When I visit your site for example, my browser make a call (not a phone call) to the server and requests all the files needed to load the page I am visiting. The larger the files are, the longer it will take to travel through the pipe (from the server to my browser).
The Gzip feature, when enabled, will reduce the file size drastically (I've seen the time reduced by up to 70% when Gzip was enabled), thus improving the site speed, or page load.
When I visit a page of your website, through the search engine result pages (SERPs) for example, my browser will need to load all the script tags needed to render the page I am visiting and view the content above the fold, which is the most important part of the page.
MINIFY YOUR CSS
There are good template maker out there but not all templates/themes are created equal! That is why we recommend that you get your theme/template (if you don't have the time, nor the skills to custom design your own from scratch) from a reputable template designer company.
I've seen CSS files with over a thousand lines of code, and most of those lines were just comments, and white spaces. Minifying your CSS will remove all unnecessary comments and white spaces found in the CSS file, thus improving page speed.
So we recommend that you
- Backup the CSS file first
- Minify the CSS file using a free online tool
- Renamed the original CSS file to something like custom-css.bak
- Upload your minified CSS file
COMBINE CSS FILE
Most of the websites I visited, has many CSS files (blame the template/theme being used) required to render the page as intended, and the more CSS files your site uses, the longer it takes for the page to load.
Combining your CSS files into one file will improve the page load because instead of loading multiple CSS files, the browser will only have one CSS file to deal with, thus reducing the page load time (improved download speed)
SPECIFY A VARY: ACCEPT-ENCODING HEADER
Because of some proxies might serve compressed version of the resource to users that don't support compression, when you specify the Vary: Accept-Encoding Header, you are telling such proxies (with the bug) to have both copies (compressed and uncompressed versions) of the resource and serve them accordingly
Every time your are redirecting a page to another one, you are making your visitor wait additional time for the request-response cycle, thus resulting in poor user experience (UX). So restrict your use of redirects to only when it is really necessary.
I hate sliders (carousels) not only for SEO reasons, but also for user experience, and especially on a home page. If a web designers recommend the use of a slider on your website, we recommend that you fire them. And if the SEO company you hired to work on your search engine optimization campaign does not recommend that you do away with the carousel, then fire that company also. We are serious.
Why are sliders bad for SEO
We are just going to mention a few SEO problems with sliders, and here they are
- Multiple H1 tags - You should know that one of many best SEO practices is to have one H1 tag on a single page. Unfortunately, many sliders wrap the heading of the slider using the H1 tag. Plus, H1 should should appear before any other heading tags like H2 - H6
- Too Slow, or too darn quick - I've seen sliders where the slides take forever to load and go to the next slider, or too quickly. The slider will have a negative effect on your SEO campaign, site speed, and user experience. So loose the slider - Pretty please... I beg of you!
- Now you see one content, now you see another one - Let's assume I am a search engine bot and I came to your site to do my job, which is to look at your content, index it, then try to rank your page (I know you want me to give it a two thumbs up and first spot on SERP, right?). Well, here is my dilemma. I am confused and have no clue what your site/page is about because with the help of your slider, you keep playing switcharoos on my by giving me different headline with some text every 3 seconds. Make up your mind and choose one topic or else.
- Sliders pushing real content below the fold - If I came to your site to buy one of your product, don't make me scroll down, and down (trust me, I've seen my share of websites with unlimited scrolling).came to buy a product from you, don't make m
- Click me, click me!!! - Did you know that most people do not clicks on the slider, or carousels? If you didn't, now you do. Google it! You should always serve your users (and search engine bots) with the content they came for be it a service you offer, or a product you sell, and not your slider with flashy images.
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a distributed network of computers located in multiple data center throughout the world with a purpose of delivering content to an end user from a server that is located the closed to him/ner, thus, improving page download. So do we recommend CDN? Yes we do! So before choosing that hosting company, find out whether they offer Free CDN, and whether it is free just for Non-SSL, or with SSL?
OUR RECOMMENDED TECHNICAL SEO TOOLS
There are hundreds of SEO tools you could use to audit your site and get detailed report how your site is doing that might be affecting your site speed, ranking and increasing your site speed.
- GTmetrix - Analyze your site's speed and improve speed
- PageSpeed - User Google's developers tool to help make your site faster
- Firebug - A good FireFox extension to add to your site audit tools
- Pingdom tool - Test your site load time and find other bottlenecks that might be affecting your site's SEO
- WebPageTest - Test your website's performance
- YSlow - A Firefox extension that will suggest ways to improve your site's performance
Did we forget to include one of your technical SEO tip? Then we ask that you forgive us and take the time to share it with the us all by commenting below, and we will make sure to add it to this article and give you credit!
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Technical SEO tips your site can't live without!