Technical SEO for Dummies

A man holding a laptop looking very confused

Content is king. That’s the phrase. 

But even the best content will struggle to reign over the digital landscape without a robust technical foundation. 

Enter technical SEO – undoubtedly the unsung hero behind the scenes, quietly shaping the destiny of your website in the realm of search engines. If content is king, then technical SEO is the king’s horse, or castle, or even its kingdom maybe.

Simply put, technical SEO is the ongoing process of optimising your site’s infrastructure, making it easier for search engine crawlers to navigate and understand, ensuring your content gets the spotlight it deserves.

And because it’s “technical”, people often also see it as “difficult” or “complicated” and opt to focus on the content-side of SEO. Like everything, there’s a lot to learn, but we shouldn’t be afraid to get stuck in.

This is for “dummies” though, right?

Absolutely, and lord knows we don’t need any more jargon, industry-speak or acronyms in SEO, so from here on in, I’m actually going to explain things as simply as possible. If only for my own benefit…

Let’s look at some of the more common issues faced by technical SEOs.

Canonicalisation

Imagine you have several versions of your favourite book that you keep in different places in your room – on your desk, on a shelf, in your shed… I dunno. Now, let’s say you want to tell your friends where to find your favourite edition of this book if they want to borrow it; you know, the sparkly one in hardback, with the best illustrations. You’d want to give them some pretty precise instructions to make sure they knew exactly where to find this edition, right?

Well, websites are a bit like that too. Sometimes, sites have a few different web addresses (URLs) that lead to the same content (or very similar content), just like having the same book in different places. Search engines, like Google, might get a little confused about which address to show people when they’re searching for that information.

A rather confusing signpost

So, to help Google understand which URL is the most important, or the main one, SEOs can use something called a “canonical tag.” It’s like a signpost that tells Google, “Hey, out of all these places, this one is the most important one! Show this to people who are looking for it.”

By doing this, it helps make sure that Google knows which address to pick when someone looks for that information. This way, it’s easier for people to find the right stuff when they’re searching online.

Best Resources for Canonicalisation:

Poor Link Profile

Imagine you have a favourite video game, and when your friends play it they agree it’s a great game. They then tell their friends who, in turn, want to play it and so on and so on. That’s a bit like what happens with websites on the internet.

Backlinks are like when someone says, “Hey, this website has cool stuff!” and then gives a special shout-out to that website by putting a link to it on their own page. These links are important because they help websites become more popular and liked by search engines.

But sometimes, not all shout-outs are good. Imagine if someone said your favourite video game was too hard, the graphics were bad and was at best a 4/10 – and they hadn’t even played it! That wouldn’t be fair, right? In the same way, some links from other websites can be nasty. They might come from places that talk about weird grown-up things or try to trick the nice search engines.

If your website ends up with a lot of these not-so-nice links, it can make your website look pretty rubbish to search engines. It’s like having a load of those bad reviews for your favourite game – it might not get a sequel or DLC because people might think it’s not good.

To keep a website strong and liked by search engines, it’s important to have good, trustworthy links from other websites that say nice things about it. This helps the website show up more often when people search for things online.

Best Resources for Healthy Link Building:

Broken Links

Imagine you are exploring a new town on your bicycle, taking in all the famous landmarks. You are pleasantly riding along to the next landmark and -poof- the road has gone, along with the landmark. No trip to the Natural History Museum for you! That’s a bit like a broken link or a 404 error on the internet.

A broken link is like trying to follow a road on a map but hitting a dead end – it doesn’t take you where you wanted to go. And a 404 error is like trying to find a building in a new town, but it’s not there anymore or someone moved it without telling you. Imagine the frustration you would feel, what would you do next?

A good 404 page offers advice, or helps redirect you via a search bar – it might even suggest what you were looking for. There’s plenty of good advice for 404 pages out there. Better still, if you were the person that removed the page, your site should take you automatically to the next best thing.

A broken chain of links

Search engines are like tourist guides in a city. They want to show people the best roads to the right places. But when there are too many broken links or missing places (404 errors) on a website, the search engines might think your site isn’t organised or taken care of and they’ll suggest a different website entirely.

Redirects are like signs that say, “Hey, the museum you’re looking for is now in this new place!” They guide you to the right spot. In the same way, redirects on the internet help people and search engines find the new spot for a webpage when it’s moved or changed.

All of this helps people explore the internet without getting lost and makes search engines happy because they can guide people to the right places easily.

Best Resources for 404s, Broken Links & Redirects:

HTML Title Tags, Metas and Headings

I like to think of HTML tags as important parts of a book. For example:

Title Tags

A book’s title gives you a clue as to what the book is about. For example “A Complete Guide to British Birds” is probably all about the types of birds you might find living in the UK. On a webpage, the title tag is like the book’s title. It tells people and search engines what the page is about. If the title is missing or misleading, it’s like a book without a cover. You might not know what’s inside.

Just like when you pick a book to read because its title sounds interesting, people decide to click on a search result based on its title tag. So, if a page has a good, clear, and catchy title tag that matches what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to click on it.

Search engines also use these title tags to understand what a web page is about. When the title tag has words that match what people are searching for, the search engine might show that web page in the search results.

Meta Descriptions

You know how books have a “blurb” on the back cover? That’s what a meta description is like for a web page. It’s a short summary that tells you what’s inside the page. If it’s missing or confusing, it’s like having no summary, or a bad one, for a book – people might not know if they want to read it.

While meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings, a good meta description will likely result in more clicks which will indirectly contribute to its overall performance and user engagement.

A woman sat down on the floor reading a book, with a stack of books behind her

Headings

When you read a book, the chapters usually have titles. Take my British bird example from earlier, there’s probably a cracking chapter about owls, and woodpeckers, and we have a good idea of what each chapter contains because of the heading.

That’s like heading tags for web pages  – they organise the different parts of the page, making it easier to understand. But if they’re mixed up or missing, it’s like having a book with chapters all jumbled – you’d get your tits and your warblers all mixed up. Nightmare.

And, just like chapters in a book, heading tags are important in SEO because they help search engines figure out what a web page is talking about, so they can show you the best ones for what you’re searching for.

Best Resources for HTML Title Tags, Metas and Headings:

Page Speed & Core Web Vitals

This one is fairly simple to explain. People are impatient, we hate waiting for things.

If there are two queues we join the shorter one, or the one moving quicker. If we have a choice between a good price and a delivery time of 10 weeks, versus a more expensive price and it’s next day delivery – chances are we pick the latter. It’s basic user experience; we get what we want quicker and we’re happier for it.

Page speed is exactly the same. When you search for something on the internet and click on a website, if it opens super quickly, like magic, it’s awesome! But if it takes too long, it’s like waiting in line for a Greggs sausage roll – torture.

A long queue of people

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are kind of like the page speed rules that check things like whether the website opens fast, can you click on things easily without waiting, and does the content move around a lot while you’re trying to look at it. 

Imagine standing in line at the supermarket checkout and the person on the tills is slow, the barcodes don’t work and people keep swapping queues, items, and assistants on the tills. There have to be rules, people, otherwise society would fall apart. Search engines also like websites that follow these rules because they want to show people the best websites in their searches.

And whilst CWVs aren’t a direct ranking factor, if all things are roughly equal between you and your competitors, the site with the better page speed and performance will fare better.

Best Resources for Page Speed and Core Web Vitals:

Mobile Friendliness

Another easy one to understand. It’s no longer the 90’s and everyone has a mobile phone now, in fact over 58% of the web traffic worldwide comes from a mobile device. Search engines haven’t been slow to recognise this, and Google has been talking about mobile-first experiences since at least 2015.

With experience playing an even bigger role in SEO nowadays, it stands to reason that having a bad mobile experience will affect your ranking.

Being mobile-friendly means having a responsive design, optimising your media for smaller screens (and data limits) and considering how users view websites on a mobile device at every turn.

Like I said: easy.

Best Resources for Mobile-Friendly:

Blocked Pages & Resources (e.g. Robots.txt)

A website’s robots.txt file is basically a document that tells search engines which parts of the website they can explore and which parts they should ignore. 

Sometimes, website owners use this list to keep certain pages or things hidden from search engines because they might be private, not ready yet, or not worth showing in search results.

A stop sign on a laptop, but in google colours

So, blocked pages and resources are like secret spots on a website the owners have marked as off-limits for search engines to see or use. It’s a way for website owners to control what information search engines display in their results and to prevent search engines from wasting resources on non-essential content. Examples might include:

  • Script files
  • CSS files
  • Media and attachment URLs
  • Taxonomies (e.g. category and tag URLs in blogs)

It’s worth noting that whilst Googlebot and other respectable web crawlers obey the instructions in a robots.txt file, other crawlers might not.

Best Resources for Blocked Pages & Resources:

In Summary

So there you have it: technical SEO is easy, and there are always plenty of resources out there should you ever get stuck. 

Understanding the fundamentals of technical SEO might not be as sexy as content marketing or give you the buzz of a hot digital PR campaign, but its significance in building a strong foundation for all the fun SEO stuff can’t be overstated – and ignoring it won’t get you very far at all.

After all, what good is a king without a kingdom to rule over?

Jump in!

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