Business websites are complex, unwieldy, and sometimes finicky beasts. What may work one day could prove to be dysfunctional tomorrow. Plus, with the near-constant evolution of web technologies and development best practices, it can be a real challenge to keep on top of it all.
Thankfully, there are certain standards provided by the leading search engines that give us a foundation to build a fast, functional, and easy-to-use website.
Let’s look at the core factors of website “technical SEO” and how to keep your digital business running smoothly:
Business Website Design & Technical SEO: Sticking to the Basics
Nowadays, it’s super easy for just one person to build a website from scratch using the various free and paid content management systems available on the market.
The main contenders you’ve probably seen are WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix. They provide the tools for an average person with minimal to no experience in web design and development to make a modern- and professional-looking site without having to break the bank.
However, there are a number of potential pitfalls to handling something like this completely on your own that could leave your website underperforming -- or even broken.
As with most things, having some background knowledge on back-end website SEO can help you in the long run. Why? Because building a user-friendly and aesthetically modern website is only half the battle in attracting traffic and leads.
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the process of positioning your newfangled website in front of the most prominent search engines (i.e. Google) to increase your ranking in search engine result pages. The better your SEO, the more likely you are to appear ahead of the competition, with the ultimate goal of being on page 1 when someone searches a term highly relevant to your business.
SEO covers just about every aspect of a website:
- Meta description and title tags
- Site speed
- Script minification and optimization
- Dead or broken links and references
- Orphaned pages
- And so much more
Trying to learn what half of this means, let alone how to properly implement it, could be a nightmare in itself. So what happens when parts of your website aren’t up to speed and break? That’s when the errors come in.
What Are Technical SEO Issues?
SEO issues (or errors) are the result of a problem with a certain aspect of your website that, if left unchecked, will impact your search rankings. Some are much more important and need to be dealt with sooner than others -- the key is to know which.
For instance, a broken link to your services page on a very popular blog post would be relatively quick to fix and provide instantaneous results vs. an issue not as immediately relevant. When you have time, always circle back and fix less-urgent SEO problems, as they all have some sort of impact.
What Does Technical SEO Mean?
At its core, the fundamentals of technical SEO are tied to how your website performs versus how your sales and marketing content (i.e. blog posts) performs. You could have written the best blog post on an exciting new topic that could drive thousands to your website. But if it can’t be reached due to a broken link or can’t be indexed because it’s orphaned (we’ll explain), you won’t get those visitors.
In a sense, your technical SEO is the foundation your content can safely rest on. Take that foundation away, and you’re in for a difficult time.
Technical SEO Auditing
Now that you know the difference between technical and content SEO and some of the issues you can run into with them, what now?
Fortunately, you won’t have to look far for a solution: a technical SEO audit tool.
There are plenty of options to choose from that check a website for SEO issues and provide you insights on what makes it tick:
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- Ahrefs auditing tool
- Moz Pro
- Hubspot SEO tool
Some of these tools are geared towards certain, niche aspects, while others attempt to address everything. With these, you should be able to kick back and let the fancy web crawler magic do its work as it picks apart your site in search of potential problems.
Once the crawling is complete, it’s time to figure out what to do about the errors it found.
Most site-auditing tools like the above will categorize the issues it finds based on their immediate impact on the website’s SEO health. Typically, you’ll see them rated from “critical” and “high” down to a “warning” or “notice.”
Generally, you’ll want to tackle the highest-rated issues first, as these will have an immediate impact on anyone trying to visit your site.
Common Technical SEO Issues (and How to Fix Them)
Now that you’ve run your audit, it’s time to dive in and get these SEO issues fixed. Ideally, you’ll be up against some common and relatively simple errors to fix:
1. HTTP Response Code Errors
These will likely be the most common errors you will face on a continuous basis. You’ve likely happened upon a 404 error before when you’ve tried to access a webpage. This is just one example of an HTTP response code.
Without going into too much detail, here’s a crash course. When someone tries to visit your webpage, a protocol is initiated to fetch this data from your server. A lot of complex networking is happening behind the scenes, and there’s a batch of response codes it can send to your browser if it runs into a problem.
Some of the HTTP errors you’ll see most often are 403 and 404, which generally just mean that the browser (i.e. Google Chrome) made it to your server, but couldn’t access the information to load the webpage. A 403 indicates the content is disabled or restricted for certain visitors, like a bank statement that can only be accessed if they’re logged in. A 404 means that the webpage simply doesn’t exist.
The quickest fix for these errors is to set up a simple URL redirect, from the page that is causing the error to a new or existing page with similar information or uses. Make sure that redirects are set up when old pages are deleted or retired, as these URLs could still be linked elsewhere on the internet.
2. Broken Images and Media
Much like links within your content, any media you use on your website deserves extra-close attention. This is especially true if you find yourself embedding a lot of external media.
If you use services like YouTube and Vimeo as your primary video-hosting provider, you could eventually find that any media you embed could be unlisted and removed. This will sever that connection on your website, which could result in your content not making much sense to visitors.
We recommend self-hosting media files like images and documents yourself to reduce the likelihood of something being deleted. For video, it may be best to consult your website hosting provider and developer to understand the pros and cons of hosting your own media.
3. Mixed Content
“Mixed content” may be a bit confusing at first, as it doesn’t directly describe the issue at hand. This technical SEO error is caused by content on your page using two different protocols, which jeopardizes the security of your website data. That sounds more dangerous than it typically is.
Nine times out of 10, this issue is simply an image or video that uses HTTP (an unsecure protocol for transferring data) on a page that loads using HTTPS (its more secure cousin). This could be due to a content distribution network issue or that you have conflicting protocols being used on your website. The best place to start is updating the media source reference in your HTML to use “https://” instead of “http://”.
4. Slow Page Speed
All websites and pages are composed of files. Think of it as a library, and each book is a page. Your user’s internet connection is their limit to how large a book they can read at a time. The more pages in the book, the longer it takes to read.
Now apply this to download speeds. Think of a text-heavy Wikipedia page vs. a manufacturer’s homepage with a 50MB video on it. The more files a server must request to display the page, the longer it’ll take to load. Slow page loading is one of the leading triggers of SEO penalties.
This issue doesn’t necessarily just apply to large image and video files.
/*some code here*/
Notice that we are no longer referencing a file path to our script and have instead put it directly on the page so the server doesn't have to request a whole new file. This is only recommended for small scripts that require very infrequent edits.
If your poor page speed is the result of images and other media, resize them to be precisely the size they’re displayed on the page. You can also use less complex file formats that don’t require as much data like using a JPEG image in place of a PNG when transparency is not necessary. This simple adjustment can save you a couple kilobytes here and there which does add up considerably.
5. Meta Description and Title Errors
We’ve known for years that writing great meta descriptions and titles is a boon to SEO performance ... But what about the technical aspects of these two signals? It’s just as important that these bits of info lead into your page correctly and search engines find them without issue.
The first thing to do is confirm your metadata is being loaded on the page. The easiest way to do this is view the page source and make sure your appropriate <meta> tags are showing up where they need to in the head.
You may also receive error warnings if this information is duplicated across multiple pages. The simplest fix here is to write meaningful and unique content for each page’s metadata.
Technical SEO Issues & Safely Updating Your Site
At the end of the day, there’s simply too much to cover regarding technical SEO, best practices, and how to fix all of the possible errors you may encounter. However, you also have access to so many resources to help you tackle these problems at the source.
While fixing some errors may require minimal interaction with the guts of a business website, you may find that older websites are harder to maintain, as technical SEO rules are always adapting. If you find yourself redesigning or migrating your website, this may be the best time to fix these issues before they make it to the new and final version.