There are many different elements that affect your website's ability to show up on Google when people are searching for products and services that you offer. Broadly speaking, improving those elements is known as Search Engine Optimization — or SEO.
The goal of technical SEO goes beyond keywords to help search engines find your content and more easily understand what it's about. Technical SEO is all about the way your website is set up — including technical settings on the backend, how it's coded, and how you leverage certain features.
SEO can be a full-time job, but there are things you can do to improve your chances of getting found by the right people at exactly the right time.
Showcase Workshop recently sponsored the recent Managing Editor Live conference where K.J. Johnson from Search Influence offered her best tips for optimizing your SEO to get more visibility for your content. I learned a lot myself from this session and I've rounded up the best advice to share with you.
Foundational SEO tactics
If you’re familiar with SEO, you're probably familiar with these foundational technical SEO tactics, but it’s always good to revisit the basics. At minimum, your site should have the following for strong technical SEO:
- robots.txt file — this gives instructions to search engines on which pages on your site they should and should not crawl.
- Site maps — linked to you in your robots.txt file, these list out every page of a domain to help Google find all your pages.
- Meta descriptions — the short summaries of each page on your site that appear in search results to help a user decide if they want to click on your website.
- Image tag optimizations — a text description of the photos on your site.
These are technical SEO tactics that you or your web developer can easily implement.
When most people think of SEO, they think of keywords; this is where the actual content on your website comes into play. Content writing and technical SEO converge when you use other important tags in your code.
Title tags are shown in the browser tab and appear as the blue clickable link that users see in Google search results. The title tag is the most important tag on the page as it helps Google understand what the page is about.
Heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are used to organize your content. The header tags are the coding on the backend that tells Google what type of heading each header is.
In the early 2000s, Google used heading tags as a ranking factor, so it was vitally important to use keywords in those tags. Now, the algorithm is more sophisticated, so simply stuffing your headings with keywords won’t have much of an impact on your rankings.
Instead, Google looks at your headings as indicators of the broader context of your article, and for organizational queues. So it’s a good idea to use them to organize and break up your text, while ensuring they’re informational and accurately reflect the content in that section.
Johnson recommends avoiding headers that are simply styled text (bolded or larger font size), as Google won't be able to understand that they're headings. Instead, you should tag as H1, H2, or H3.
Top tip: Avoid having more than one H1 on a page, as there should only ever be one!
Advanced technical SEO strategies
Once you’ve applied the basics, there are some advanced technical SEO strategies you can implement to help make your site attractive to Google and help more people find your content.
Site speed refers to how fast pages on your site load. A few seconds is a long time to wait for something that's optional. Google (and users) expect your site to load fully within three seconds.
If you have a lot of images on your site, you can use the Smush.it plugin to optimize images without sacrificing image quality, or the Lazy Loading plugin to delay the loading of resources or objects on a webpage until they're needed.
Since having too many plugins — even helpful ones — also affects your site speed, you'll want to prioritize which plugins you install. To test your site speed, Google provides a page speed insights tool, which will give you suggestions on ways to improve.
Proper site structure is essential for Google to find your most important content and show it to relevant users. You can achieve and maintain good site structure in several ways.
To produce results, Google has created an index of all the pages that exist online, and graded them. They collect this information by sending out tons of search engine crawlers to crawl or read websites.
To make it easy on Google's crawlers, Johnson recommends having an organized site navigation that links to the most important pages on your site. Your navigation tells Google which pages are most important, which pages go together, and the overall topic of those pages.
Try to be strategic in naming each page in the navigation; for example, the about page might become something like “About Showcase Workshop,” which is more descriptive for Google and provides more context for the algorithm.
The second site structure element you want to think about is URL structure. You want to rewrite long URLs to focus on the keywords that people might actually search for. Consider editing the URLS of important pages so they're shorter and more direct.
Internal linking is another way to help Google understand which pages on your site are most important and, therefore, which pages Google should rank more prominently. Internal links are links on your own website that direct users to other pages on your website.
For example, when you link to the key pages from your homepage, Google takes that as a signal that these are important pages on your website, which should help them gain more prominence in Google rankings.
In-content links are the most famous form of internal linking. They are the manually-placed links that direct readers to other pages. In-content links are a great way to drive more traffic to other pages of your site, so Johnson recommends purposefully adding more internal links to the pages you want Google to pay the most attention to.
Schema markup on the back-end of pages helps Google understand the information on the page and make it easier to present the info to the user. Schema, basically put, is HTML code implemented on a site to help search engines better understand your content.
There are many different types of schema, including local business schema which highlights information like your business name, business hours, and even your social media pages.
Schema markup helps Google better understand your content even when a rich snippet is not available or even applicable. Google will release more and more rich snippets over time for different industries and types of schema. You can leverage schema to your benefit by understanding the available types and matching it to the content that's on your website.
As you can see, there’s a whole host of ways technical SEO can help you go beyond keywords to get Google to pay attention to your site. And, the more search engine-friendly your site is, the more likely your ideal customers will be able to find you when they need you most.
Thanks again to K.J. for this useful session.
Header image by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash