What Is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing a website for search engines, but it can also include activities meant to improve user experience.
Common tasks associated with technical SEO include the following:
- Submitting your sitemap to Google
- Creating an SEO-friendly site structure
- Improving your website’s speed
- Making your website mobile-friendly
- Finding and fixing duplicate content issues
- Much more
In this post, you’ll learn the fundamentals and best practices to optimize your website for technical SEO.
Let’s dive in.
Why Is Technical SEO Important?
Technical SEO can greatly impact a website’s performance on Google.
If pages on your site are not accessible to search engines, they won’t appear or rank in search results—no matter how valuable your content is.
This results in a loss of traffic to your website and potential revenue to your business.
Plus, the page speed and mobile-friendliness of a website are Google-confirmed ranking factors.
If your pages load slowly, users may get annoyed and leave your site. User behaviors like this may signal that your site doesn’t create a positive user experience. As a result, Google may not rank your site well.
The first step in optimizing your site for technical SEO is making sure search engines can effectively crawl it.
Crawling is an essential component of how search engines work.
Crawling happens when search engines follow links on pages they already know about to find pages they haven’t seen before.
For example, every time we publish new blog posts, we add them to our blog archive page.
So the next time a search engine like Google crawls our blog page, it sees the recently added links to new blog posts.
And that’s one of the ways Google discovers our new blog posts.
If you want your pages to show up in search results, you first need to ensure that they are accessible to search engines.
There are a few ways to do this:
Create SEO-Friendly Site Architecture
Site architecture, also called site structure, is the way pages are linked together within your site.
An effective site structure organizes pages in a way that helps crawlers find your website content quickly and easily.
So when structuring your site, ensure all the pages are just a few clicks away from your homepage.
In the site structure above, all the pages are organized in a logical hierarchy.
The homepage links to category pages. And then, category pages link to individual subpages on the site.
This structure also reduces the number of orphan pages.
Orphan pages are pages with no internal links pointing to them, making it difficult (or sometimes impossible) for crawlers and users to find those pages.
Pro tip: If you are a Semrush user, you can easily find whether your site has any orphan pages.
Set up a project in the Site Audit tool and crawl your website.
Once the crawl is complete, navigate to the “Issues” tab and search for “orphan.”
The tool shows whether your site has any orphan pages.
To fix the issue, add internal links on non-orphan pages that point to the orphaned pages.
Submit Your Sitemap to Google
Using a sitemap can help Google find your webpages.
A sitemap is typically an XML file containing a list of important pages on your site. It lets search engines know which pages you have and where to find them.
Which is especially important if your site contains a lot of pages. Or if they’re not well-linked together.
Here’s what Semrush’s sitemap looks like:
Your sitemap is usually located at one of these two URLs:
Once you locate your sitemap, submit it to Google via GSC (Google Search Console).
Quick note: If you don’t already have GSC set up, read this guide to activate it for your site.
To submit your sitemap to Google, go to GSC and click “Indexing” > “Sitemaps” from the sidebar.
Then, paste your sitemap URL in the blank and hit “Submit.”
After Google is done processing your sitemap, you should see a confirmation message like this:
Once search engines crawl your pages, they then try to analyze and understand the content of those pages.
And then the search engine stores those pieces of content in its search index—a huge database containing billions of webpages.
The pages of your site must be indexed by search engines to appear in search results.
The simplest way to check if your pages are indexed is to perform a “site:” search.
For example, if you want to check the index status of semrush.com, you’ll type site:www.semrush.com into Google’s search box.
This tells you how many pages from the site Google has indexed.
You can also check whether individual pages are indexed by searching the page URL with “site:” search.
A few things can keep Google from indexing your webpages:
The “noindex” tag is an HTML snippet that keeps your pages out of Google’s index.
It’s placed within the <head> section of your webpage and looks like this:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
Ideally, you would want all your important pages to get indexed. So use the “noindex” tag only when you want to exclude certain pages from indexing.
These could be:
- “Thank you” pages
- PPC landing pages
To learn more about using “noindex” tags and how to avoid common implementation mistakes, read our guide to robots meta tags.
When Google finds similar content on multiple pages on your site, it sometimes doesn’t know which of the pages to index and show in search results.
That’s when canonical tags come in handy.
The canonical tag (rel=”canonical”) identifies a link as the original version, which tells Google which page it should index and rank.
The tag is nested within the <head> of a duplicate page and looks like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/original-page/" />
To learn more about canonical tags and how to implement them correctly, read our guide to canonical URLs.
Technical SEO Best Practices
Creating an SEO-friendly site structure and submitting your sitemap to Google should get your pages crawled and indexed.
But if you want your website to be fully optimized for technical SEO, consider these additional best practices.
1. Use HTTPS
HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP.
It helps protect sensitive user information like passwords and credit card details from being compromised.
And it’s been a ranking signal since 2014.
You can check whether your site uses HTTPS by simply visiting it.
Just look for the “lock” icon in the address bar to confirm.
If you see the “Not secure” warning, you’re not using HTTPS.
In this case, you need to install an SSL certificate.
An SSL certificate authenticates the identity of the website. And establishes a secure connection when users are accessing it.
You can get an SSL certificate for free from Let’s Encrypt.
Important: Once your website moves over to HTTPS, ensure you add redirects from HTTP to the HTTPS version of your website. This will redirect all the users visiting your HTTP version to the secure, HTTPS version of your site.
2. Make Sure Only One Version of Your Website Is Accessible to Users and Crawlers
Users and crawlers should only be able to access one of these two versions of your site:
Having both versions accessible creates duplicate content issues.
And reduces the effectiveness of your backlink profile—some websites may link to the “www” version, while others link to the “non-www” version.
This can negatively affect your performance in Google.
So only use one version of your website. And redirect the other version to your main website.
3. Improve Your Page Speed
Page speed is a ranking factor both on mobile and desktop.
So make sure your site loads as fast as possible.
You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check your website’s current speed.
It gives you a performance score from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the better.
Here’re few ideas for improving your website speed:
- Compress your images – Images are usually the biggest files on a webpage. Compressing them with image optimization tools like Shortpixel will reduce their file size so they take as little time to load as possible.
- Use CDN (content distribution network) – CDN stores copies of your webpages on servers around the globe. It then connects visitors to the nearest server, so there’s less distance for the requested files to travel.
4. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly
Google uses mobile-first indexing. This means that it looks at mobile versions of webpages to index and rank content.
So make sure your website is compatible on mobile devices.
To check if that’s the case for your site, head over to the “Mobile Usability” report in Google Search Console.
The report shows you the number of pages that affect mobile usability.
Along with specific issues.
If you don’t have Google Search Console, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
5. Implement Structured Data
Structured data helps Google better understand the content of a page.
And by adding the right structured data markup code, your pages can win rich snippets.
Rich snippets are more appealing search results with additional information appearing under the title and description.
The benefit of rich snippets is that they make your pages stand out from others. Which can improve your CTR (click-through rate).
Google supports dozens of structured data markups, so choose one that best fits the nature of the pages you want to add structured data to.
For example, if you run an ecommerce store, adding product structured data to your product pages makes sense.
Here’s what the sample code might look like for a page selling the iPhone 14 Pro:
"name": "iPhone 14 Pro",
There are plenty of free structured data generator tools like this one, so you don’t have to write the code by hand.
And if you’re using WordPress, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to implement structured data.
6. Find & Fix Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content is when you have exact- or near-duplicate content on multiple pages on your site.
For example, this page from Buffer appears at two different URLs:
Google doesn’t penalize sites for having duplicate content.
But duplicate content can cause other issues, such as:
- Undesirable URLs ranking in search results
- Backlink dilution
- Wasted crawl budget
With Semrush’s Site Audit tool, you can find out whether your site has duplicate content issues.
Start by running a full crawl of your site in the Site Audit tool and then going to the “Issues” tab.
Then, search for “duplicate content.” The tool will show the error if you have duplicate content and offer advice on how to fix it.
Learn more: Duplicate Content: SEO Best Practices to Avoid It
7. Find & Fix Broken Pages
Having broken pages on your website negatively affects user experience.
And if those pages have backlinks, they go wasted because they point to dead resources.
To find broken pages on your site, crawl your site using Semrush’s Site Audit. Then go to the “Issues” tab. And search for “4xx.”
It’ll show you if you have broken pages on your site. Click on the “# pages” link to get a list of broken pages.
To fix broken pages, you have two options:
- Reinstate pages that were accidentally deleted
- Redirect older posts with backlinks to other relevant pages on your site
After fixing your broken pages, you need to remove or update any internal links that point to your newly deleted or redirected pages.
To do that, go back to the “Issues” tab. And search for “internal links.” The tool will show you if you have broken internal links.
If you do, click on the “# internal links” button to see a full list of broken pages with links pointing to them. And click on a specific URL to learn more.
In the next page, hit the “X URLs” button, found under “Incoming Internal Links,” to get a list of pages pointing to that broken page.
Replace internal links to broken pages with links to your newly fixed pages.
8. Optimize for Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are speed metrics that Google uses to measure user experience.
These metrics include:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Calculates the time a webpage takes to load its largest element for a user
- First Input Delay (FID) – Measures the time it takes to react to a user’s first interaction with a webpage.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures the shifts in layouts of various elements present on a webpage
To ensure your website is optimized for Core Web Vitals, you need to aim for the following scores:
- LCP –2.5 sec or lower
- FID – 100 ms or lower
- CLS – 0.1 or lower
You can check your website’s performance for Core Web Vitals metrics in Google Search Console.
To do this, visit the Core Web Vitals report in your Search Console.
You can also use Semrush to see a report specifically created for Core Web Vitals performance.
In the Site Audit tool, navigate to “Core Web Vitals” and click “View details.”
This will open a report with a detailed record of your site’s Core Web Vitals performance and recommendations for fixing each issue.
Learn more: Core Web Vitals: A Guide to Improving Page Speed
9. Use Hreflang for Content in Multiple Languages
If your site has content in multiple languages, you need to use hreflang tags.
Hreflang is an HTML attribute used for specifying a webpage’s language and geographical targeting.
It helps Google serve the language- and country-specific versions of your pages to users.
For example, we have multiple versions of our homepage in different languages. This is our homepage in English:
And here’s our homepage in Spanish:
Each of these versions uses hreflang tags to tell Google about the page’s language and geographical targeting.
This tag is reasonably simple to implement.
Just add the appropriate hreflang tags in the <head> section of all versions of the page.
For example, if you have your homepage in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, you’ll add these hreflang tags to all of those pages:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x-default” href=”https://yourwebsite.com” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”https://yourwebsite.com/es/” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”pt” href=”https://yourwebsite.com/pt/” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”https://yourwebsite.com” />
Learn more: Hreflang tags for SEO
10. Stay On Top of Technical SEO Issues
Technical SEO isn’t a one-off thing. New problems will likely pop up over time.
That’s why regularly monitoring your technical SEO health and fixing issues as they arise is important.
You can do this using Semrush’s Site Audit tool. It monitors over 140 technical SEO issues for your site.
For example, if we audit Petco’s website in Semrush, we find three redirect chains and loops.
Redirect chains and loops are bad for SEO because they contribute to negative user experience.
And you’re unlikely to spot them by chance.
So this issue would have likely gone unnoticed without a crawl-based audit.
Regularly running these technical SEO audits gives you action items to improve your SEO.