Most marketers know that carefully created, and frequently updated, content is one of the keys to an effective SEO strategy. But did you know there are also some aspects of how your website is built that affect your rankings? These often unseen details are categorized under "technical SEO." You could be doing (or not doing) things on your website that are keeping it from rising to the top of search results. Marketers need to know what to look for on their websites and what to ask their web developers or their SEO managers to address.
Check out these five items to be sure you have a good start on technical SEO for an improved Google ranking:
1. Redirects: Tell Google Where your Content Is
Over time Google takes an inventory of the pages on your website. Naturally you may not keep every page you ever created. And honestly, part of your content strategy should be combining or removing pages that have little content and/or low visits.
But before you make your changes you need a plan for what you're going to tell Google. Never just delete a page. Tell Google where to go instead of the old page. If you don't, Google will show the link in search results only to send your potential customer to "404 Error - This Page Does Not Exist". Not good. And Google will stop offering your content in search results as often if they find that you're not keeping up with it.
It's possible to tell Google, using redirects, where to go if a page is no longer available at the address they've indexed. Google likes this because it creates a better, and more helpful, experience for their users. You'll like this because it means someone looking for your products or services can still find you, even if they're redirected to a slightly different page. It's a win win!
To get redirects added you'll need to document your old URL and where it should be redirected to. Your website developer will then instruct the server to send your visitors to the correct page. Depending on the content management system you use, you may have the ability to do this without the developer. But we recommend talking to them first. They sometimes have ways to redirect whole sections and make things easier for you.
2. Always HaVE An XML Site Map
SEM Rush tells us that "submitting a site map to Google Search Console is a great way to help bots navigate your website faster and get updates on new or edited content."
What is a site map for Google and how do you submit it?
The XML sitemap is a list of pages on the website that Google will read. It's not a pretty page or a listing that humans would want to read. Its primary purpose is to provide a thorough and faster indexing of your website in Google's search results.
This is not the same as the site map that you often see linked in the footer of a website that shows you every page on the site with a link. That will need to be created as well, but should be an easy-to-read page that people can easily use to find something they're looking for.
Your content management system may create an XML sitemap file for you. Just be sure to check what is created. Some WordPress plugins create a list of sitemaps. That's not what you want. You want to go to https://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml and see something like this.
You can also have a sitemap created through services like XML-Sitemap.com. Once you have the file you'll need your web team to add it to the website's code.
Don't forget the last step! That's telling Google through the Search Console that you've added an XML file!
3. Videos With Transcripts
The content in your videos is most likely filled with important phrases. Be sure this content is working to improve your SEO by following these steps:
- Invest in a video hosting service. This gives you control over how the player looks, the calls to action in the video, reporting, and most importantly, transcripts of the video that count towards your SEO. Our preferred service is Wistia. It does all of these things for you.
- Post your videos in Wistia and embed them on your website. This will give you the SEO credit and not YouTube.
- Pay the small fee to create the transcript. You can do this through Wistia or another third-party service. We're talking a few bucks here.
- Then post your video content on YouTube, with any adjustments you may need for your video to stand alone on a third party website (ie: Add the logo, change the intro or outro, etc.)
For more information on creating videos quickly, and on a small budget, read our blog: 3 Ways to Create Videos That Look Great and Cost Almost Nothing.
4. Website Load Time
The speed at which your website loads on the screen matters. Google provides a whole list of do's and don'ts to keep your page speed optimized. But how do you know if you even need to worry about this?
- HubSpot suggests that less than 3 seconds is a best-in-class website practice.
- Loading a page somewhere between 3 and 5 seconds means there may be a few things that could be tweaked for improved speed.
- If the page takes more than 5 seconds there may need to be significant re-work done to get the page load time down. Your web developers should be able to analyze the page to see what can be done, starting with the Google list mentioned above.
Test your page speed and current SEO at Hubspot's Website Grader. Google also offers a page speed tester. But keep in mind that it's assuming a very low grade mobile phone signal (probably the equivalent of 3G) when doing its testing. Your results in the Google performance test should be cross checked with other services.
5. HTTPS with an SSL Certificate
You probably already heard that your website needs to have an SSL certificate so that your web address starts with HTTPS. It's been a few years, but we still run into sites that don't have it or its expired and needs to be renewed to work correctly.
Google wants it and that means you need to make it happen if you want to keep up with the latest requirements. After all they hold the reigns when it comes to deciding what appears in search results. If you haven't done it already, or don't know how, let us know so that we can have a look for you.
If you already have HTTPS, be sure you redirected your old http pages to the new https version. If not, do that first.
Then, check to be sure all elements of a page are secure. That includes images and scripts. If they're not all associated with your SSL certificate, Chrome will display a red notice.
Also, be sure your site map links to all of the HTTPS pages and no longer to the HTTP pages. We offer a free technical website audit that will help you find if this is a problem.
Finally, make sure you update your Google Analytics and Google Search Console settings to look at the HTTPS URLs for your site.
How to Get Your Technical SEO Evaluated
To be honest you may need a web development expert for some of the SEO activities we've described. But knowing what needs to be addressed is important.
We offer a free Technical SEO audit. It's not biased. It's just an assessment of these 5 things and several others.
If you don't have an overall SEO strategy in place for your website we recommend getting started on right away. These technical SEO items will be a piece of the overall plan. And you may want to read more about other features that every website should have. Download our free booklet below.