Technical SEO refers to the process of improving a website’s architecture and backend elements to improve its visibility and performance on search engines.
Tackling such SEO projects often requires collaboration between technical SEO specialists and web developers, especially for large sites.
Technical SEO examines page load speed, site architecture, security, internal linking, etc., to eliminate friction points that might hinder search bots from properly crawling, indexing and rendering a website.
Technical SEO vs. on-page SEO vs. off-page SEO
In a nutshell:
- Technical SEO is a process designed to maintain your website’s technical health.
- On-page SEO revolves more around keyword research and content efforts.
- Off-page SEO involves activities, such as link building and digital PR, that aim to boost the external authority signals pointing to your website.
Technical SEO focuses mostly on the code-level deployment of your website to improve crawlability, allowing for quicker and more extensive content indexing.
To some extent, technical SEO elements overlap with on-page SEO. For instance, an on-page SEO specialist examines webpages and makes changes to metadata items (i.e., title tags, meta descriptions, H1s, etc.) based on keyword research.
A technical SEO specialist then focuses on factual code errors related to metadata. This includes issues like overly long page titles or missing meta descriptions without the task of writing or creating metadata for each element.
Another area of overlap is internal linking. On-page SEO focuses on adding internal links strategically to boost the link equity of particular pages. Conversely, technical SEO approaches internal links from a broader perspective, focusing on code errors and overall site link architecture.
Technical SEOs conduct a thorough site crawl to identify broken links and provide recommendations for resolution. Unlike on-page SEO, technical SEO is less concerned with the specific anchor text of individual links and prioritizes the overall health of the site’s link structure.
Technical SEO and off-page SEO are distinct practices, typically attracting different skill sets. While they generally operate at opposite ends of the SEO spectrum, there is some overlap, particularly in link auditing.
In the past, this involved assessing your backlink profile for harmful links and disavowing them to avoid penalties. However, recent critiques from Google’s John Mueller have cast doubt on the efficacy of disavowing toxic links.
Link auditing has shifted to a more positive approach, focusing on evaluating your links and those of competitors for “best in class” examples. After this analysis, conclusions are drawn.
For instance, if competitors get strong links from events, the goal is to get you to those events. Armed with these insights, the digital PR specialist aims to generate real-world activity, securing high-tier editorial coverage.
- Focuses on website’s technical aspects and code-level optimization.
- Aims to enhance the site’s crawlability and overall technical health.
- Addresses issues like metadata errors, broken links, and site architecture.
- Revolves around optimizing individual webpages’ content and elements.
- Involves keyword research, content deployment, and metadata optimization.
- Typically examines on-page factors like page titles, headings, and internal linking.
- Concentrates on building external signals and authority for the website.
- Often referred to as digital PR, it seeks to boost the site’s online reputation.
- Involves activities like link building, content promotion, and earning editorial coverage to improve rankings.
Technical SEO’s role in an overall SEO strategy
Technical SEO is crucial in overall SEO strategy. Simply put, other efforts are futile if a site has significant technical issues or is not indexable.
In a comprehensive SEO campaign, the technical SEO audit is typically done first and is often the most extensive. This means technical SEO is in play right from the start for practical reasons.
If a website has issues hindering indexing, other efforts become ineffective. The on-page SEO team often depends on aspects of the technical SEO audit to guide their initial actions.
For example, if there are large chunks of the site with no on-page content, meta descriptions or H1s, that must be tackled. It’s only once the house is so that an on-page SEO team will perform their own analysis (usually based on keyword and/or ranking data) to champion new site sections to build out.
Likewise, the off-page SEO team often waits for the technical SEO person to complete competitive link auditing. Typically, the technical SEO audit comes before analyzing competitor links.
This places technical SEO at the center of the SEO campaign, especially in the early stages. As the campaign progresses, the technical SEO team uses tools like Ahrefs or Lumar to monitor site health, but their involvement is usually reduced by then.
- Technical SEO is a crucial component of an overall SEO strategy.
- Other SEO activities like content and link building are ineffective if a website has significant technical issues.
- In a comprehensive SEO campaign, the technical SEO audit is typically the first step and the most extensive one.
- Technical SEO plays a central role in the early phases of an SEO campaign.
- On-page SEO relies on the technical SEO audit to address issues like missing content, meta descriptions, or erroneous H1 tags.
- Technical SEO monitoring is done over time using tools like Ahrefs or Lumar.
- A technical SEO’s skills are in constant demand, and they often serve as a technical bridge between various aspects of SEO.
Common technical SEO activities
Here’s a list of activities commonly completed by technical SEO professionals.
Accessibility and indexing checks
- Uncovering and tackling page indexing problems using tools such as Google Search Console.
- Ensuring that all indexing signals (e.g., robots.txt, no-index tags, canonical tags, XML sitemaps) agree with each other, without sending contradictory signals to Google.
Content management system (CMS) tasks
- Engaging in some broader CMS work, if needed. (Smaller, single-page issues might be offloaded to on-page / content SEO teams.)
- Deciding which CMS to migrate to if the current CMS isn’t very SEO-friendly.
- Ensuring proper website crawling using industry-standard tools such as Screaming Frog.
- Analyzing crawl data to power technical SEO audits.
- Understanding how best to configure crawlers (on a site-by-site basis) and monitoring the crawl. (No one wants to accidentally DDoS their client with crawling software!)
Domain work and migrations
- Deciding on which new domain name to select for SEO benefit.
- Carrying out large-scale website migrations, which may be domain external or domain internal.
- A domain external migration involves moving a website (and its associated SEO rankings) to a new domain.
- A domain internal migration involves moving to a new CMS (which writes URLs differently) within the same domain (redirect work is still needed).
- Tackling non-migration-related redirect work, such as the de-tangling of legacy redirect chains.
Metadata analysis and issue scoping
Top-level site security
- Understanding and implementing HTTPS / HSTS header responses to keep website users safe.
- Deploying content security policies, blocking external embeds via X-frame options, etc.
- Deploying schema or structured data which Google uses to enrich their view of a page’s content, boosting its chances to appear for rich snippets in the SERPs.
Usability and site speed
- Working with web designers or front-end developers to ensure that a website is SEO-friendly.
- Dissecting page speed performance issues and checking whether the site passes Core Web Vitals assessment.
Internal link architecture and wider site architecture
- Addressing internal linking errors (e.g., a nav link pointing to a redirect, resulting in tens of thousands of links to redirects on your site).
- Managing wider site architecture issues (e.g., faceted navigation filters spawning tens of thousands of URLs that need to be canonicalized).
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Advanced technical SEO activities
These activities require a more seasoned technical SEO professional to tackle.
Improving page speed used to be simple – compress some images, minify your scripts, and get good speed scores. But things have changed.
Today, most speed problems are tied to congestion in your users’ web browsers. Now, we optimize our websites to deliver serve content the fastest way possible, even on devices with limited capabilities.
Log file analysis
Log files reveal which pages and resources crawl bots have asked for and how often. Examining patterns in this data can uncover interesting anomalies.
For instance, you might observe that a specific part of your site isn’t getting any Googlebot requests. Why? It could be due to a problem with a robots.txt rule blocking Google from crawling that section.
Log file analysis is valuable. It has been part of the technical SEO toolkit but gained mainstream attention with tools like Screaming Frog’s Log File Analyzer. Despite this, it’s still seen as an advanced technical SEO method.
Edge SEO is a subset of edge computing, a practice that involves making technical and architectural changes to process data closer to the source or the end user.
This reduces latency, making technology faster, unlike cloud computing, which relies on centralized data centers, less efficient for many users.
Edge SEO is just applying edge computing with SEO in mind – for instance, aiming for faster-loading pages that may rank better on Google.
Here’s a list of some common technical SEO tools. From indexing checks to full site crawls, these are the best tools for the job. (While this list doesn’t include all technical SEO tools, it covers the fundamentals.)
Google Search Console
GSC is used for accessibility and indexing checks and other wider applications, such as viewing which Google keywords supplied the most clicks and impressions.
Search Console can also check your schema implementation and Core Web Vitals adherence across your site. The best part? Google supplies this tool for free, so verify your website.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
Screaming Frog is a crawler tool for website analysis that runs from your desktop environment. The size of the crawls that this can handle is only limited by the power of your local machine.
You must keep an eye on the crawl to ensure you aren’t crawling too quickly, causing your client’s site to time out.
It is also great at spitting out lots of data, though typically, the output will require more handling on your end.
Ahrefs’ Site Audit is great for quick top-line analysis. It crawls a site and generates a user-friendly dashboard highlighting technical SEO issues for prioritization. Compared to Screaming Frog, Ahrefs is more user-friendly.
It’s often recommended to use a deep crawler like Screaming Frog alongside a cloud-based crawler like Ahrefs to combine detailed data and insightful analysis.
Lumar (formerly Deepcrawl)
Lumar is probably the best compromise crawler between Screaming Frog’s data spitting and Ahrefs’ more actionable insights.
Chrome Dev Tools is particularly useful for its Performance tab and Lighthouse module, which can help to examine page speed issues in depth on an individual page basis.
The embedded Lighthouse module is foundation technology, which is utilized by the (separate) PageSpeed insights tool.
PageSpeed Insights is a great tool to perform a deep dive into page-speed issues on a single webpage. It can tell you whether a page passes or fails the Core Web Vitals assessment, should sufficient field data (from the CrUX / Chrome UX report) be available.
Tip: Don’t forget to expand the diagnostics area of this tool’s reports. There’s some very interesting stuff in there, which will help you to dissect issues regarding a clogged main thread.
Screaming Frog Log File Analyzer
Screaming Frog can help you understand crawl bot behavior and identify potential crawl issues.
It’s simpler than exporting raw log files and creating complex spreadsheets for analysis. The tool is cost-effective annually, making it a valuable asset.
Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
Most of the other listed tools can provide exported snippets of data in Excel or CSV format.
Without a spreadsheet tool that can import and manipulate that data for further analysis, they would be useless.
Large-scale CSV manipulation applications
Sites with millions of internal links might overwhelm Excel when exporting data from Screaming Frog.
Fortunately, Screaming Frog can export to CSV, and tools like Delimit by Delimitware and ModernCSV are great for handling large data volumes. You can then trim the data to make it compatible with Excel.
Thinking of a career in technical SEO?
If you have done your time as a junior SEO associate or an SEO executive, chances are you’ll soon be looking to specialize.
Are you thinking of a career in technical SEO? Here are some of the skills and traits you will need:
- Technical web expertise: Proficiency in understanding and optimizing website code, structure and architecture.
- Proficiency in auditing techniques: If the thought of spending multiple days on single audits bores you to tears, technical SEO is not for you.
- General awareness of HTTPS and HSTS adherence for top-level website security.
- Familiarity with structured data.
- General understanding of user experience and its relationship with SEO.
- Analytical thinking: The ability to analyze data and identify technical issues.
- Problem-solving skills: Capability to diagnose and solve complex technical challenges.
- Strong communication: The skill to communicate technical issues and recommendations to non-technical team members.
- General data analysis: Proficiency in data analysis and the use of spreadsheets to extract insights.
Technical SEO is an excellent career choice that I am very happy with.
Technical SEO: The backbone of a robust SEO strategy
Technical SEO is a crucial component of any effective SEO strategy.
By optimizing a website’s infrastructure and eliminating friction points that hinder crawling and indexing, technical SEO lays the groundwork for other efforts like content creation and link building to be successful.
Technical SEO specialists address critical issues from site migrations to page speed, metadata, internal linking, and more using the right tools and auditing techniques.
Requiring a specialized skillset, technical SEO is an exciting career path for those with the analytical abilities and technical know-how to diagnose and resolve complex website issues.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.