Welcome back to our recurring blog series on the marketing funnel. We’re continuing to walk you through how and why it’s important to optimize each precious element of the path to conversion. Last time, we covered content SEO. If you haven’t checked it out yet, start there. Today we’re talking about technical SEO. (Yes, SEO is so important we’re covering it twice!) Technical SEO covers any SEO work that is done aside from content. It’s essentially the foundation of your website. And if the foundation is laid wrong, your house won’t stand. While technical SEO efforts often go physically unseen, it’s just as important as any content SEO efforts your team is making. Think a friend could utilize something from this blog series? Make sure you encourage them to sign up for our newsletter here. We’ll also be highlighting some takeaways in our social channels, so be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
Let’s Get Technical
As a marketer and audience developer, I’m still rounding out my knowledge on technical SEO. There’s a lot to unpack and the inner workings of the world wide web has never been anything I longed to understand. However, it’s important that audience developers understand some of the most foundational elements of technical SEO because it plays a crucial role in ensuring that your website is appearing high in search.
Technical SEO is not sexy—let’s just get that out of the way. It’s tedious and requires someone to be paying attention to the all the little details. Technical SEO involves making sure that your website is functioning properly and is readable for the search engines—and it’s (very) important to master technical SEO in order to do well in search. If your technical house is not in order, none of the on-page SEO strategies will do much to move the needle at all.
There are a lot of elements involved in technical SEO but for today, let’s focus on website speed, crawlability, and indexability.
This shouldn’t be news to you; if your website loads slowly, your website visitors will leave your site.
In addition to users abandoning your website (which is detrimental to your rankings in search ... more on that in a moment), a slow loading website is being held against you by search engines as well. Site speed is one of Google’s top ranking factors and has been since 2010 and now the “time-to-first-byte” (TTFB) corresponds with rankings. TTFB is the amount of time needed for a browser to load the first byte of your page’s data.
Google wants their users to have the most optimal user experience, and a slow loading website is not one, which is why it weighs this factor so considerably when determining where your site ranks on the search engine results page (SERP).
The other way that slow load time can harm your SEO is the subsequent user behavior. 53% of visitors will leave if your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load. 3 seconds! Attention spans are short and nobody is going to wait around for your website to load. If it still takes a long time for your entire page to load, many visitors will leave … and quickly. If you’ve heard the term “pogosticking”, this is it. A user will jump into your page only to quickly jump out—and Google notices. If users are constantly coming onto your site and quickly jumping off, Google will take that as a negative user experience and could penalize your ranking on the SERP as a result.
Identifying Page Speed
There are a few websites, including Google itself, that will help you identify issues with load times on your website. One of our favorites is gtmetrix.com. Take 5 minutes and run your website through a quick page speed test on gtmetrix.com. Not only will you receive a page speed ‘grade’ (everyone likes receiving a good grade), but you’ll also be offered specific recommendations about where you can speed up your website. The most common culprit? Images. Large and slow-to-load images are the #1 way we see publishers typically slowing their sites down.
Crawlability and Indexability
Crawlability is how easily a search engine can access and crawl content on a page. Assuming your website is ‘crawlable’, the crawlers of the internet can access your content easily by following the links between pages.
What makes a website less crawlable? 404 pages (error pages on your site), dead links (links that don’t go anywhere), or broken links (links that don’t take users to the intended destination offsite). These all affect the ability for search engines to crawl your website which is why they are crucial to identify and correct.
Indexability, on the other hand, is the search engine’s ability to analyze and add a page to its index (index = tracking your page!). So, what will make your pages unable to be indexed? Well for one, you may have blocked them yourself. You can deliberately block crawlers from indexing certain pages on your website and there is often a good reason to do so (competing content, duplicate content issues, etc.) but it’s easy to accidentally block other pages as well. A simple code error could block an entire section of the website … we’ve seen it happen.
Improving Crawlability and Indexability
You can improve the crawlability and indexability of your site a few ways. First, always submit a sitemap to Google. Your sitemap contains direct links to every page on your website and is essentially a cheat sheet for Google. You can submit this directly to Google within Google Search Console.
Second, practice good internal linking. If a webpage isn’t linked from within your website, Google will have a harder time finding and following it. If a page is important to you, link to it prominently throughout your website.
Google and a bunch of other search engines got together to make a common crawl/indexing language so that search engines can “skim” your content and index it quickly. This helps Google/Bing’s SERPs load more quickly and gives their users a better experience. You can adopt this language (schema.org) into your meta data and give them content to index you by on purpose, rather than relying on search engines to crawl your page and make assumptions.
Employing these few techniques will have a big impact on your site searchability, so start now. When it comes to SEO, there is a lot to cover. Rome wasn’t built in a day. So yes, start now, but start slowly. Make sure you track your work, too, so you can see how your efforts continue to affect your website health and rank.
Later in the series, we’ll cover how to drive users down your funnel to become newsletter sign-ups, event ticket purchasers and subscribers. Up next: Paid social. Interested in chatting about SEO more? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.