Technical SEO is one of the most important aspects of your digital marketing program — and the success of all of your other SEO work can hinge on technical fixes. As an SEO, you can spend weeks performing keyword research and demonstrating expertise and authoritativeness through awesome longform articles. If an error leaves those articles uncrawled by Google and other search engines, your hard work could be going to waste.
On smaller teams, we find that the basic tasks of search engine optimization tend to fall to the marketing pros or content creators. The technical side of search can be intimidating for those of us with, say, liberal arts backgrounds. Aaron Denny, Technical SEO Specialist here at DemandSphere, spoke at Found Conference on the importance of technical SEO. He discussed ways that even non-technical marketing SEOs can master the fundamentals — even if they’re using a platform and relying on plug-ins.
Keep your plug-ins in check.
Pop-up websites from WordPress or Squarespace make it easier than ever for small business owners and content creators to build a website quickly and easily. Many of these platforms have made huge strides in DIY search engine optimization, providing plugins and tools that perform SEO checks for you.
Aaron says the array of platforms and plug-ins available today is, in a word, “awesome.” Open-source CMS platforms like WordPress give small content creators all the foundational tools to hit the ground running. By cutting out development time, creators can take ideas from to launch (and ranking) faster than ever. However, ease of use can work against you — especially if you’re using a ton of plug-ins to effortlessly inject code into your site. A “from-scratch” site developer knows exactly what their code is doing. Those of us who rely on a patchwork of plug-ins can wind up flying blind.
Content management systems can generate pages and page sections due to various flaws in plug-ins. In one example from his own work, Aaron says that a site-directory tool on his site created a host of pages sorted by bulk parameters: pages like “staff whose last names begin with ‘K.’” Due to a setting in the directory’s sorting plugin, the sorting tool’s taxonomy was crawlable: it was indexed by Google and shown in search results. That error led to Google indexing 26 unique pages: one for each letter of the alphabet.
The creation of 26 junk pages might not be the end of the world, but multiple technical problems pile up, those problems can be detrimental to findability. Google doesn’t visit every page during a crawl, so bogging down the crawl with low-quality content can affect your “crawl budget.” While Google is crawling those useless pages, it isn’t crawling your high-quality content. In addition, websites can suffer penalties from “thin content” pages.
So, how can you combat technical issues without building a hand-coded site? Check out a few of the tools at your disposal.
Get comfortable with Search Console.
Google Search Console is a great place to start when troubleshooting technical errors, so make a priority of creating and using a Search Console account. Aaron calls this set of tools “your technical guardian angel,” due to the ease of use of its general performance reports and its automated notifications regarding technical issues. With just a little digging, you can really maximize the information gleaned from these reports.
Get in the habit of checking Search Console reports — and go beyond the front page of SC to make sure that Google is picking up what you’re putting down. Errors can hide in plain sight! Even if you haven’t received error notifications or note a lack of coverage in sitemaps, go the extra mile to confirm that every part of your site is working well. Be especially prudent when you’ve recently updated your site.
Aaron found the staff directory error hidden deep within Search Console. While clicking through the Site Maps tool, Aaron discovered that, while he had only submitted one sitemap for his site (the correct one!) Google crawlers had located nine separate sitemaps. Most of those indexed maps linked to various tools and taxonomies that had been purposefully added to the site — all good. However, one sitemap was linked to that alphabetical sorting tool. De-indexing the sorting tool took those 26 junk pages out of Google SERPS.
Resolve basic findability problems across your pages.
Not every technical issue will have a simple solution. In addition to checking on on your sitemaps, Aaron suggested a simple, periodic audit of your site’s pages. When checking for findability errors, you’ll want to:
- Resolve broken links and 404 errors. Having broken links on your website negatively affects findability. Google won’t point users to a page that may or may redirect to a 404. When you delete a post or page, add a redirection — we’re all guilty of finding a nest of outdated pages and going full Marie Kondo, but you need to do so carefully. When adding internal links, double-check to ensure that those links work. Google Search Console’s coverage tool shows errors that Google encounters while trying to crawl your site, and several CMSes offer broken link checkers.
- Figure out redirect chains. Redirect chains occur when more than one redirect connects the initial URL and the destination URL. These create unnecessary slowdowns for users, weaken backlink associations, and affect crawlability. Some CMS platforms and SEO tools offer a total list of redirects. Make sure your 301s point to a final destination.
- Manage thin content. Some pages on your site just aren’t meant to be crawled. Taxonomy pages (like the ones in Aaron’s example), “thank you” pages, and under-populated category pages are all examples of thin content. Indexing this stuff takes away from your crawl budget. Follow Google’s advice and keep those results out of the SERPS with a noindex HTML tag.
- Manage duplicate content. Duplicate content just appears, as if by magic, in most CMSes. That’s often because products or articles fall under multiple categories, and some CMSes allow every version to be indexed. So, use canonical tags. The canonical tag tells search engines which version of a URL you want to appear in search results.
When it comes to technical SEO, there is almost always room for improvement. Plug-ins and templates may be the architecture upon which you build your marketing efforts — that’s 100 percent fine. But you can maximize their use by organizing content, ferreting out problem areas, and keeping sitemaps clean. By keeping an eye toward the technical, you can make sure your work pays off.