SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Mark Sansum

Digital Marketing Executive, experienced in: SEO, PPC & Content Marketing.

Technical SEO in the very simplest of terms refers to any SEO that doesn't involve content. Search engines need to be able to crawl and index your website - if you make it hard work for them to carry out these tasks, you will be restricting your ability to maximise organic traffic.

In this blog post, you will learn the most important areas of technical SEO that you need to be keeping on top of in 2016, to help maximise your organic reach as we get closer to the new year.

Page Speed

Page speed is one of the many factors that play a part in determining your organic rankings in Google. Studies have also shown that users buy less on slower sites.

If your pages load slowly, not only will you provide a poor user experience – Google will index your pages at a much slower rate, which will increase the time it takes your pages to show up in search results. In an ideal world, all pages should load within one second but let’s be realistic, anywhere between two and three seconds is seen as good practice and will help Google index your pages quickly. So your content will show up in search results faster.

If you want to check your page speed, Google PageSpeed Insights is a great place to start – simply stick your URL into the search box and you will get a report that contains information on CSS, Images, User Experience and more.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMPs are the SEO hot topic of 2016. They are a project developed by Google to deliver ultra fast mobile pages that provide the user a trimmed down version of a web page – this is achieved via simple open source coding, taking out all of the unnecessary elements of a mobile page that we just don’t need on a handheld device.

The first adopters of AMP pages were the news sites, take a look on your mobile device at the latest news stories and you will most likely see the AMP logo in the new carousel:

amp-page-screenshot-hallam

However, it has now gone further than just news sites;  eBay has created thousands of AMP pages that act as the middle man. They serve ultra fast information on their products then pass the user to their mobile site to pay. Google hasn’t officially stated that AMP will become a ranking factor. However, when we strip it back – AMP pages are guaranteed to improve page load times, make pages more user friendly, increase engagement and, well . . . do all the right things to improve your rankings.

Structured Data (Schema Markup)

Structured data (otherwise known as schema markup) is essentially code that boosts your websites SEO and allows your site to be more visible and useful to potential customers. Without schema, a search engine will look at your site and think “OK, I know what this data is saying” but when you implement schema markup the search engine will say “OK, I know what this data means“.

The most common types of schema markup can be found on the schema home page:

types-of-schema-markup

Schema markup appears alongside your organic listing, for example when looking for things to do you will often see the events listed below the organic result:

event-schema-markup
Schema markup is a great way of increasing organic visibility and is super easy to set up, it is not officially a ranking factor – however, by increasing visibility, getting better click through rates and promoting additional content you will be on the right track.

Secured Certificate (HTTPS)

Back in 2014, Google announced that HTTPS encryption is a ranking signal. Fast forward to 2016 and there are still millions of sites that have not made the switch, despite it being a pretty straightforward task. HTTPS adds an extra layer of security because it uses SSL to move data – it is the secure version of HTTP.

Moving forward, as of October 2016, Google Chrome had 57.1% of the web browser market share. You may have noticed when you land on an HTTP site you see this little icon in the address bar:

http-icon-google-chrome
Google prefers sites that are trusted and certified, which makes absolute sense. HTTPS offers security and puts you in Google’s good books, so it’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t already made the switch, it’s definitely something to bring up with your development team or webmasters as we move closer to 2017.

XML Sitemap

Sitemaps are nothing new, this single page of content allows search engines to understand your website and how it is structured – if you want to have all of your pages indexed in a timely manner, and haven’t already – get yourself a site map set up now.

Once you have generated your sitemap, upload it onto your website, under the domain root folder, then submit the link to search engines and place a link on your website – typically in the footer, for example:

zavvi-sitemap-link-in-footer

Keeping up to date with your XML sitemap is an absolute must. When you delete/add pages, or change URL structures, make sure you update the sitemap, so that Google knows how your site is structured. It may seem very basic mentioning XML sitemaps in a post about ‘Technical SEO for 2016’ but you would be surprised by the number of websites we see daily that don’t have one, and as a result are poorly  indexed.

Redirects

Redirects are used to tell both users and search engines where to go if a page they are requesting is no longer available. Sounds simple, right? You would be shocked by the number of websites who migrate to a new site and incorrectly redirect pages, and in some cases – neglect redirects completely.

There are several types of redirects:

  • 301 – Permanent Redirect
    When you are permanently deleting a page and moving it to another location.
  • 302 – Temporary Redirects
    When you want to temporarily move a page. It’s very rarely needed but is the easiest to implement. Often, we see websites that have mistaken 302 for 301 and have subsequently had old pages being indexed, new pages being disregarded and link popularity being divided between the two URLs.
  • 307 – Temporary Redirect
    When you want to make sure visitors to the site don’t refresh a page multiple times when submitting sensitive data like credit cards and passport information.
  • 404 – Errors
    When the page can’t be reached on the server, situations could include: a mistyped URL or a deleted/moved page. Best practice for 404 pages is to redirect them as soon as possible to avoid losing traffic. In addition to redirecting the pages, create a custom 404 page to cover anomalies like mistyped URLs. A good example can be seen on the Debenhams website:debenhams-404-page
  • 410 – Errors
    When your website has pages indexed for content that you don’t want to rank for. For example, if your business no longer offers a certain service and you absolutely do not want to appear in search results for it anymore.

Redirects are not overly complicated. What often becomes an issue is keeping them under control and understanding which to use based on your SEO strategy. Tools such as Google Search Console and the Link Redirect Trace Chrome extension are a good place to start. Review how many redirect errors you have and create an action plan for getting these sorted.

Depending on the size of your site, the most simple strategy for new site migration redirects is to download your most up to date sitemap and mark next to each page exactly where its new home will be. If there’s a new page, you can use a 301 redirect but if there isn’t a new page planned, ask yourself “should I be creating a page for this content?” You can check Google Analytics to see if it has driven traffic or built up links and make a decision before the new site is live. If there’s no need to create a new page, redirect it to the most valuable page for the user, which relates to the content they were trying to access. Do not redirect all pages that aren’t being replaced to the homepage.

Conclusion: Don’t Wait for It to Become an Issue

Technical SEO requires varying levels of involvement, XML sitemaps can be created and uploaded to your CMS in a matter of hours . Moving from HTTP to HTTPS however will require development time and careful planning. There are simple ways to carry out technical SEO, it just requires a little bit of research. There are a tonne of helpful tools to help you succeed in technical SEO, many of which you can use for free. Did you know you can upload schema markup using Google Tag Manager? And AMP can be implemented in WordPress using a simple plugin?

This subject often stirs up the questions  “Will it really impact my rankings?” and “Will this require development time?”.  But, if you push it to the side, technical SEO will come back to bite you while your competitors progress in SERP rankings , leaving you lagging behind – so you need to act now!

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