This Technical SEO Guide is here to help you navigate and correct the basic onsite issues that you may be facing. The goal is to ensure that you can take practical action whilst working through the guide. So, if there is anything you don’t understand or you need further help with, please feel free to leave comments below, email or call us, and we’ll be happy to help.
Running a successful holistic SEO campaign requires a number of skill sets. You need to be able to:
1. Fully optimise your website so it loads super fast, is secure, offers a great User Experience (UX), is mobile friendly, addresses crawlability issues and so on.
2. Write and produce content that is engaging and addresses the issues your prospect market faces and,
3. Reach out to publishers within your industry or region, who will find your material to be useful to their audience.
In today’s guide we’re going to focus exclusively on point one.
Technical SEO – On Site and On Page Optimisation
On site and on page optimisation are key pieces of the SEO puzzle that are in your control. In essence, it’s the technical quality of your website. The speed it runs at, the HTML code you use to optimise your content, the Schema markup code you add to pages, the way its structured and laid out, whether its mobile friendly and so on.
You want to maximise this to the hilt. Some of it you can do yourself. Some of it you’ll need to ask your Web Developer or Marketing Agency to do for you.
Best Practice Technical Excellence Required
Aim to ensure you employ best practice technical excellence. This includes elements like:
1. Meta tags: Title, description, canonical, header tags, alt text
2. Page URL,
3. Site structure,
4. Optimal site speed: reduce image sizes, use of CDN, hosting, google Lighthouse, site speed checks,
5. Secure site: https secure with a security certificate,
6. Mobile friendly: responsive design,
7. Optimal crawlability: Google Search Console – 404’s, robots.txt, sitemaps, indexation issues,
8. Schema Markup:
And so on…
We have a checklist available for download to help ensure you correctly address each of these on site issues step by step. Please download it now so you stay on track when implementing the below procedures.
1. Meta tags:
A. Meta title
Every page on your website should have a unique HTML title tag. This is a key signal for Google to understand what the topic of each page is about. In addition, the title tag is the first thing users see when looking at a page of Google search results. As such, becoming skilled at writing both keyword optimised and appealing title tags is essential.
If possible start the title tag with the target keyword you want to be found on Google for. So, for example, if you are targeting the keyword “Bromley boiler service” on a given page, then your title tag may well be “Bromley boiler service | BUSINESS NAME” or “Bromley boiler service | Repairs & servicing | BUSINESS NAME”.
You want to ensure it is descriptive, appealing and increases the chances of a user clicking your result instead of your competitors. Reason being, if you have a high CTR compared to the norm for your position on Google, then it may help you rise up the rankings. Conversely, the opposite is also true.
Mobile Vs Desktop
The title tag result will display differently on desktop as opposed to mobile results. Desktop results have more space to play with whereas mobile do not. As such, what may appear fine on desktop may end up being cut off on a mobile search. As such there’s no set number of characters, although a good rule of thumb is not to exceed 60. Hence why including your target keyword at the start is recommended.
Include your business/brand name in the result if possible. If people make multiple searches on a given topic and keep seeing your name pop up, it will help generate brand recognition and clicks on your results.
Finally, do optimise your title tag from time to time if necessary. You might find that your initial title tag has a low CTR. Use your Google Analytics landing page and search query reports to check this. If the CTR is low, think about how you can improve your call to action. Look at the results page for the given search term you are targeting. What makes your competitors stand out from you? How can you differentiate your result? Once you have your answer, update your title tag and continue to monitor the results.
B. Meta description,
The meta description is where you get to summarise what each page of your website is about in 155 characters or less (although Google periodically changes the number of characters available). It’s what appears in Google’s search results below your title tag and URL.
Think of it as your elevator pitch. What makes your page special? Why should someone leave Google to visit your page rather than one of the other search results?
It’s vital to include the keyword you are targeting on your page if possible. It’s not a ranking factor. However, by including the keyword someone has searched for, you increase the chances of catching their eye. This, in turn, increases the chances of them clicking through to your result. And this element, the CTR, is part of the algorithm.
Characteristics of a Good Meta Description
- 155 characters or less,
- Contains the target keyword,
- Includes a call to action – Available now! Learn more!
- Matches the content – stay on topic,
- It should be unique on every page of your website,
- Contain vital data. On product pages including the price, SKU and availability can all help drive the sale!
Practice writing and optimising your meta descriptions. They are a key means of getting people off of Google and onto your web page. As such, use your Analytics reports to monitor poor performing pages and update your meta descriptions where appropriate.
C. Header Tags
These are the H2/H3/H4/H5 HTML tags you want to keyword optimise and include in your websites pages and blog posts. Really they’re the sub-headings in any text on your site.
<h2>This is the H2 HTML code for the H2 tag</h2>
And it looks like this when implemented in the code.
This is the H2 HTML code
And as you can see each tag gradually makes the text smaller to the end user.
This is the H3 HTML code
This is the H4 HTML code
This is the H5 HTML code
Google interprets the code as being a hierarchy of importance. Namely, the wording in the h2 tag is pretty important, the h3 slightly less so, and so on.
So, continuing with our “Bromley boiler service” example, you would have that keyword in the title tag, meta description and in one or two H2 tag sub-headings.
D. Alt image tags
Adding images to your content can help with maintaining your users attention and illustrating points you make. It’s therefore important to use the alt tag to tell Google what your is in the images you use. For Google is not quite at the AI point of understanding what is in an image.
Where appropriate use the keyword you are targeting on the page. So, on the page targeting “Bromley boiler service”, you might include an image of a plumber hard at work with the alt tag “Bromley boiler service in action”.
E. Canonical tag
The Canonical tag is an essential HTML tag that you need to have on every page of your website. You need to use in order to avoid a duplicate content penalty.
What is Duplicate Content?
If you have a number of pages with similar or identical content, its known as duplicate content. Google doesn’t know which page to put in their search results.
As such, the canonical tag allows you to tell Google which version of your page you would like them to show.
T-Shirt Shop Example
So, for example, you may have a shop on your website selling t-shirts. You have one style which is available in 4 colours, Red, Orange, Green and White. All 4 colours have their own landing page and all 4 landing pages are using the same description text which has been keyword optimised for the term “funky t-shirts”. Which page should Google put in its search results for that keyword?
This is where you, as the business owner, need to make a decision as to which of those 4 colours you would like to prioritise putting in the search results. Let’s say you pick the white option. The other 3 pages will include a canonical tag pointing to the white t-shirt page and the white t-shirt page itself will have a self referencing canonical tag pointing at itself.
So the red, orange and green pages would all have the following as the canonical tag in their code:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/shop/white-tshirt” />
As would the white t-shirt page itself.
Here are the rules for using the Canonical tag:
A. It should be self referencing. For example, on the homepage of https://www.example.com/ the canonical tag should be as follows:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/” />
B. If not self referencing, it should point to the original source of the content being used on the page. For example, if the content on the page https://www.example.com/reference-material is using the same content that was first published on another page of your site, then the canonical tag should point to that page. If, however, you’re using content that was first published on someone else’s website, for example, on the page https://www.otherwebsite.com/reference-material, then the canonical should be set as follows:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.otherwebsite.com/reference-material” />
This way you’re telling Google “hey, I know we have directly copied someone else’s work but we’re being honest and telling you that the original publisher should get the credit.” If you fail to do that, and Google knows the other page is the original source of the material, you could face a duplicate content penalty.
There are some great plugins available to help you manage your meta tags. The one we recommend to clients is the Yoast Premium plugin. It allows you to keyword optimise your title and description tags, and keeps you on track through your blog post by advising things you can improve. For example, you have not included a keyword optimised sub-heading tag or alt image tag. These helpful reminders help to ensure your completed article has ticked as many of the optimisation boxes as possible before publishing.
As an added bonus, you can manage 301 redirects using the plugin (which you may need if you change your site URL structure – see point 2. Page URL: below). A 301 redirect is where you tell Google “hey, you know that page that you used to find here, well we changed the URL slightly and you can now find it over here”. It helps ensure Google can keep all your content in the index and pass any link juice your URL’s receive from other websites, onto where it needs to go.
Yoast also have a local plugin to help you with your local SEO campaign targeting. The plugin will include your NAP details within your code, so Google can quickly see your details align with your GMB listing and citation sources.
These plugins will save you a lot of time and make life a lot easier. So I highly recommend you paying for the yearly license.
2. Page URL:
This is where you include your target keyword in your page URL. So with the example of the keyword “Bromley boiler service” the page URL may end up being https://www.example.com/bromley-boiler-service. Such URL’s are far easier for people to remember should they want to revisit a page. In addition, they become easier for sites to link to you as they’re not having to copy some random string of nonsense like https://www.example.com/?4y24070124hidihd218y8y30pj.
With WordPress sites, simply navigate to Settings – Permalinks – Common Settings and select the Post Name option. This will ensure all future blog posts follow the URL friendly creation pattern. And if you do purchase the Yoast plugin, again you will be able to manage the SEO friendly URL’s when setting up blog posts and pages.
NB: If your site has been around for a while and you have posted a lot of content, you’ll need to 301 redirect your old URL’s to the new settings. Best to check with your Web Developer before making such a change.
3. Site structure:
You should aim to build your website like a like a pyramid with your most important pages at the top and linked to from all other pages of your website. So your Homepage would be at the top, followed by keyword optimised Category Pages.
Next up, will be your Product Pages (if you run an eCommerce store). And finally your Blog posts/articles/resources would be at the base of the pyramid.
You’ll want to use your Run Of Site (ROS) navigation to ensure all your most important pages (homepage and category pages) are linked to from all other pages on your site.
Do your keyword research at the start to ensure your category pages are targeting higher volume monthly search keywords. Your blog posts should target lower volume and long tail keywords.
Use Taxonomy and breadcrumbs so users can easily navigate your site without getting confused.
Link related blog posts to each other so users can easily find support articles within the context of your blog posts. The Yoast Premium plugin will suggest previous posts you have written that could be linked to from your current blog post. Try to do so to ensure all blog posts and pages remain in Google’s index and do not become orphaned pages.
4. Optimal site speed:
The speed at which your website loads is crucial both for users and Google. With the advent of smart phones, more people use their phone to navigate the web than via desktops. As mobile connection speeds can be slower, its crucial that websites load as fast as possible or users can and will move on to other, faster loading sites. Google will observe such behaviour and alter its rankings accordingly.
This is an area you will want to run by your Web Developer with. As such, here is a checklist to highlight to them:
Address Site Speed Issues Highlighted
- Reduce server response time
- Enable compression
- Leverage browser caching
- Optimize images
- Reduce file size with tools like https://imageoptim.com/mac, http://www.jpegmini.com/, http://www.punypng.com/
- Test with http://yslow.org/
- Avoid landing page redirects
- Minify CSS
- Minify HTML
- Prioritize visible content
Run tests to confirm optimum implementation:
There are a lot of WordPress plugins which will address caching. Two that we have used to good effect are as follows:
- CDN – A CDN is a content delivery network. It brings your site physically closer to your visitor. So let’s say your server is in London and a site visitor is in New York City. The load speed for this visitor may be very slow given the distance to your hosting server. If you add a CDN, however, you can deliver your site from a server located closer to the user.
Speak to your web developer or hosting provider to add a CDN to your site infrastructure.
A fast loading site is now essential for both your Google rankings and your user experience. Address this as a priority to help improve both. And be sure to run tests using the likes of Google’s Lighthouse every few months. It’s vital to stay on top of this issue as there are so many moving parts to this. As such, vigilance and testing are key.
5. Secure site
Google Chrome now highlights any website that does not have a security certificate applied. This is a negative ranking and user experience which needs to be addressed. For without a security certificate applied throughout your site, any user interaction that takes place is open to hackers to exploit.
So, for example, a user filling in your contact form, may have their name, email and phone number exposed to a hacker if you have not implemented an SSL certificate on your contact us page.
Again, speak with your web developers and insist they purchase, install and configure an SSL certificate for your site today. They cost as little as £100 a year so are well worth the investment.
6. Mobile friendly:
As per site speed, having a mobile friendly, responsive web design is absolutely vital. Google now indexes sites based on their mobile performance. So if your website is not mobile friendly, you are going to see yourself drop down the search rankings pretty fast, miss out on traffic and potential income. And you won’t recover until you address the issue.
Go to https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly and check if your site is mobile friendly. If it is not then you need to speak to your web developers about installing a mobile friendly responsive design template.
Conditions of a mobile-friendly website:
- Displays correctly on smartphones and tablets,
- Extremely fast loading speed,
- Content is easy to read – no need to zoom in and out all the time to specific page sections,
- Easy to navigate by touch,
- Search engines easily understand code and content.
Keys To Improving Mobile SEO Results:
- Ensure responsive design template is installed and working,
- Optimise site speed,
- Do not block HTML and CSS code,
- Do not use pop-up promotional messages,
- Avoid using too many redirects,
- Select appropriate viewport,
- Update Google as to site changes through Google Search Console.
The mobile version of your site is now the most important as far as user experience and Google rankings are concerned. Do everything possible to fix and optimise your mobile site design and experience. The search results and visitors that should come as a result will make it worthwhile.
7. Optimal crawlability:
This is where you’ll want to login to your Google Search Console account. Google Search Console really acts as the physician to your website. It allows you to see how healthy it is and how well its running.
Here’s a checklist of things to go through and check each month.
- Check Report Monthly.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Accelerated Mobile Page urls built.
- Applied correctly.
- Tested & Functioning.
- Check crawl errors.
- Apply relevant HTTP Status Code to crawl error page urls.
- Mark as fixed all page urls that have been fixed.
- Check robots.txt file is working correctly.
- Ensure XML sitemap has been added.
- Check for warning messages and apply fix.
Again speak with your Web Developer so they can check each of these issues with you first time around. Ask them to go through and give you training on how to check for improvements and errors. Some things they will need to fix whilst elements, such as HTML Improvements and Crawl Errors, can be fixed using the Yoast plugin.
8. Schema Markup:
Schema markup is code that you can add to your site which helps Google to provide more informative results to users. For example, we add Schema markup to our site so that Google regularly displays customer reviews next to our Google listings. This helps attract the attention of potential visitors.
The following is a list of Rich Cards and Content Types that you can apply to your site if relevant to your business and industry.
- Corporate Contact
- Sitelinks Searchbox
- Social Profile
- Fact Check
- Job Posting
- Local Business
- TV & Movie
The Yoast local plugin adds quite a few of the Rich Card elements when you set it up. It’s yet another good reason to buy the plugin rather than paying your Web Developer to code this themselves.
On-Page Signals Summary
As you can see, this important ranking signal is quite involved. In places it can quite technical. However, the more you learn and can do yourself, the more empowered you will be. Ask your Web Developers to assist you through the learning stages or higher an agency likes ourselves to help get you on the right road with this.
One final point to raise. Once you have fixed any technical issues you’ve encountered, your site is running at optimal levels and you’ve built some fantastic backlinks from other sites, you will have improved something called your Domain Authority.
You see, not all websites are created equal. A national newspaper with hundreds of thousands of archived pages, with millions of inbound links, has greater authority than a one page blog someone just set up. Domain Authority is effectively the status which you acquire through your various on-site and off-site work. It’s something to bear in mind moving forward.
Ultimately its the culmination of a quality holistic marketing approach. The higher your Domain Authority, the better the ranking signals you are sending, the higher the search rankings for competitive keywords you achieve.
On Site and On Page optimisation can appear to be a little intimidating when first encountered. However, so long as you tackle them in a methodical manner, you really have nothing to worry about.
I hope this guide has given you a starting overview as to the issues involved. Whilst it’s by no means exhaustive, the above are all great starting points for resolving some of the most regular on page and on site issues websites face.
If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below. Alternatively you can call us on 020 3289 5595 or email us. Good luck and please let us know how you get on.