Search engine optimization (SEO) is the gold standard for increasing your rankings, online business, and recognizability. However, it is a complex topic that doesn’t necessarily come with a standard guidebook and a summarized checklist.

SEO has multiple layers, various aspects, and ways of being looked at to get the most out of it. Technical SEO and on-site SEO are essential and should be considered seriously early on in the game.

SEO has become a booming industry over the last decade since businesses that get the highest-ranking also get the most traffic. This traffic directly relates to higher profits for many.

“67% of all the clicks resulting from a search query are on the first five organic results.” (Databox, 2019)

Although it might seem intimidating, it doesn’t mean that it can simply be ignored either. Knowing the essential aspects of SEO is often enough to get your business by. Knowing enough about the topic also gives you the ability to define your goals when you invest in an SEO company.

Table of Contents

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the SEO aspect that involves improving all of the technical parts of your website. These all work together to increase your ranking. How does it do this?

Technical SEO is all about increasing readability for search engines, making it easier for them to understand your site and what you are all about. It is a more specific part of on-site SEO but has been steadily separated and summed down to involve more specific aspects.

The best way to understand technical SEO and what it takes is to know how search engines work. The way they function determines how you approach technical SEO and is most important to address first.

Although there are more search engines than only Google, it is best to use it as a solid starting place.

“Across the world, Google accounts for 86% of mobile searches and 76% of desktop search traffic.” (99 Firms, 2020)

Others you might want to pay attention to as you progress include Bing, Yahoo!, and Baidu. However, all of these together don’t equal out to what Google has.

How Search Engines Work

The whole purpose of a search engine is to sort through the billions of online entries and posts that have amassed over the last three years.

The World Wide Web first became publicly available on August 6th, 1991. (TheNextWeb, 2011)

Since it has become wildly popular, the tech industry’s giants found solutions to keep it clear of some of the clutter and get the user their answer faster.

This solution was primarily centered around search engines.

Search engines use three primary functions to get their job done: crawling, indexing, and ranking.

  • Crawling: It sends out a team of robots to scour across the Internet for all kinds of content, new and updated. It mainly looks through coded content under every URL it can find.
  • Indexing: Essentially, it files it away, organizing it under specific kinds of content. Upon being filed into its index, it will be able to display the page under relevant searches.
  • Ranking: Every query has to have an organizational list. The search engine will provide the pieces it believes best suits the searcher’s question. The idea is that the results will be ordered from the most relevant to the least.

Getting your content to be found and recognized as a valuable and relevant piece of information is essential for increasing your rankings. You need to ensure that your content is indexed correctly, and then better rankings follow.

The Importance of Technical SEO

Although it might already seem clear to you, the importance of SEO shouldn’t be lost. Without acing technical SEO, you won’t rank even with fantastic content. Search engines have to be able to go through their steps of crawling, indexing, and ranking your site, or you will be utterly disguised on the internet.

A study done through Medium’s partnership with seoClarity and BuzzStream back in 2017 helped define why technical SEO is essential. It has only grown since then.

“Out of all the respondents, 59% reported that their most effective SEO strategy was technical optimization.” (Medium, 2017)

Characteristics of Technical SEO

To understand it better, we have laid out some of the most significant characteristics defining a site with excellent technical SEO. Below is a checklist that correlates to this list, helping you figure out what you need to do to optimize your site.

●??? Site architecture

The architecture of your site is arguably the most critical aspect of technical SEO. Website architecture relates to the structure of a website’s pages and how they are all linked together.

This aspect comes into play in a search engine’s first step to finding you. It needs to be able to thoroughly and conveniently navigate throughout your entire site. Having a website with an ideal architecture helps them locate anything they are looking for across all of your pages.

Another reason it is so effective is that internal linking to high-priority pages gives them more link authority. These important pages will be recognized by Google and receive a higher ranking, just what you want for sites like your homepage.

Beyond search engines, it also helps the people directed to your page to find what they need, keeping them satisfied and lowering your bounce-back rate.

What is a good rule of thumb for setting up your site architecture? Keep it simple.

●? XML sitemap

Using an XML sitemap is another way to keep your site more organized. Typically, if your site is already well organized, an XML sitemap isn’t necessary. However, when it comes to increasing rankings and inflating your SEO, there aren’t many things that fall into the “extra” pile.

An XML sitemap is essentially a list of pages that are on the site. They function to give a search engine a “roadmap” throughout your site for search engines. It can effectively direct them to the most critical areas on the site so that they can rank you more appropriately.

If you consider building an XML sitemap for your site, you can use a sitemap generator to create one. There are quite a few

●? Mobile-friendly optimization

Optimizing a website so that it is mobile-friendly is a process called mobile SEO. It ensures that your site will look great when someone accesses it from their phone. It also works through processes that allow it to function correctly on mobile devices.

Optimizing your site for mobile usage keeps it a positive experience for users on any device. The more satisfied they are with the site, the more likely they are to stay, and the lower your bounce rate becomes.

If anyone needs convincing that this is an essential aspect of their technical SEO strategy, consider how the use of mobile devices has skyrocketed over the past few years.

“In 2019, of all the worldwide online traffic, 52% came from mobile usage, and 45% of it came from desktop usage.” (Impact Plus, 2019)

If you would like to check whether your site is mobile-friendly, there are online tests, or you can use a mobile device to check it yourself.

●? Lack of duplicate or thin content

One of the most important parts of SEO is site value. Having “thin content” means that your site’s content offers very little or no value to the user. These pages can often be landing pages, but no page should be one with thin content for the most part.

Search engines like Google consider affiliate pages that are low-quality or doorway pages with thin content. These pages will automatically be ranked lower.

It is important to identify parts of your website that have thin content to fix it. Look through your website to search out the areas that might have thin content and bulk them up to improve each page’s ranking. If you don’t know how to find them or what to consider thin content, you can:

  • Use an SEO crawler to search out pages that have the least word count.
  • Use the crawler to locate content that could cause a duplicate content issue.
  • Check out your backlink statistics.
  • Look for copywriting issues.

If you think that a page has thin content, try to bulk it out with outstanding content. Bulk up the copy and fix any copywriting and duplicate content issues.

●? Quick loading pages

Having a website that loads quickly is a surprisingly important aspect of SEO. Web pages that don’t load fast enough are extremely deterrent for those searching for answers on the internet. Now is the age of instant gratification, and statistics show just how much that applies to internet searches.

“About 40% of people will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.” (Neil Patel)

If you are struggling to get your website to load faster, then there are some solutions to work through to speed it up.

  • Simplify your site’s code
    • Do this by getting rid of unnecessary spaces.
    • Eliminate line breaks and indentations in code such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
    • Reduce the number of redirects.
    • Optimize all of your images.

The ideal loading time for a mobile site is between one and two seconds. It is also essential that there are no obvious delays in load time and that everything runs smoothly. It not only impacts users, but it also changes how search engines choose to rank your site.

●? No 404 error pages

One of the essential characteristics of a technically appropriate SEO is that there are no dead-ends on the site. There should never be a link that you click that leads to a 404, or otherwise, error code.

Look through your website for any links that don’t lead anywhere. You can use tools online to help check your site and verify the absence of any of these pages.

When either search engines or those searching find dead-end pages or pages with error codes instead of information, they will find it very off-putting. Depending on how many of these there are, search engines may start to rank you lower, and backlinks will become less valuable.

●? Secured websites (SSL)

In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Security, would be a ranking signal from then on since security is one of their “top priorities.”

That means that having a secured website is one of the many ways to enhance your ranking. The more security that a search engine can detect, the better you sit regarding that particular ranking signal.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer certificates. They act like an activated padlock across that web page and start the HTTPS protocol to ensure that the web server’s connection to the browser you use is secure. You can often see the result of the security as a symbol that appears just to the left of the URL.

Websites with very little protection or those that the browser detects as a risk can result in pop-up warnings for visitors. Not only is this off-putting for the visitor of the website, but it also doesn’t help your overall rankings.

Since July of 2018, visitors to a site are reminded that it is not secured by HTTPS.

Some SSL certificates are free, while others for larger websites or those that offer a more comprehensive security package can cost more than $1,500 each year.

●? Structured data

Structured data can also be termed schema markup. It uses a type of code to make it easier for search engines to follow their steps through your website and rank you higher. It communicates to them what the data on your site means and where it fits appropriately.

It is easy to integrate this kind of code onto your website, and it makes your content seem much “richer.” It is an especially valuable tool for those that struggle with having thin content that doesn’t lend itself to much adaptation.

Another term some use for this gives you a clue as to their function: “snippet bait.” One of the best ways to learn how to markup your particular pages is to utilize Schema.org. It was a project developed by the largest search engines to exemplify the code you can use.

●? Hreflang tags

Although this characteristic doesn’t apply to most websites yet, hreflang tags are becoming more useful with the rise of globalization.

These tags are the technical answer for those sites that want similar content published in multiple languages. Since English is the most commonly spoken language globally, many people who construct websites in their native tongue will also want an English version.

Simply put, you use hreflang tags in your coding so that Google knows which language a specific page is in and can rank you for those users conducting searches in that language.

Technical SEO Checklist

  • Simplify your site architecture
  • Construct an XML sitemap
  • Optimize your website for mobile devices
  • Search for and bulk up thin content
  • Get rid of duplicate content
  • Speed up loading time to less than three seconds
  • Search for and fix links to 404 error pages
  • Secure your website
  • Create structured data for important pages using Schema.org
  • Include hreflang tags on pages meant for different languages

What is On-Site SEO?

On-site SEO is also commonly called on-page SEO since it is the action you take when you optimize specific elements on a website page. This kind of SEO often involves optimizing a combination of the content on the page and the HTML source code.

The Importance of On-Site SEO

Optimizing content and HTML source code helps search engines interpret page content, and visitors understand what it is all about. This part of SEO targets each page instead of the entire website’s foundational aspects, like technical SEO, does.

Great on-site SEO helps the individual pages to rank higher. The higher that each of these pages ranks, the better that the overall website does.

In a separate study from that done for the outlook on technical SEO, 57% of polled marketing executives advocate that on-page content development was their most effective SEO tactic. (Impact Plus, 2020)

Again, most of this is based on the way that search engines go about their business. As they have become more advanced, they focus more on relevance and even semantics. Having well-optimized pages is essential even for a well-structured website that is coded well.

Characteristics of On-Site SEO

Just as there are fundamental practices followed for bettering your technical SEO, there are typical characteristics of a well-adapted on-site SEO structure.

●? List of target keywords

Keyword development is among the most important aspects of on-site SEO since it carries over into most other methods.

You can develop your list of applicable keywords to help your website rank in the appropriate searches. There are also plenty of keyword list tools available online for free. The best ways to develop your keyword list include:

  • Identify competitors in the topic and compare your keywords.
  • Figure out how your target audience searches your topic typically.
  • Review previously successful pieces of content and their most applicable keyword phrases.
  • Use an online keyword development tool like the Google AdWords keyword tool.

After you have developed your list of keywords, you need to sort them. Which ones are the most relevant and popular? You need to have a primary keyword that is proven to increase conversion rates. Then you can organize the rest as secondary keywords.

●? Keyword cannibalization / Keyword stuffing

Using keywords can be more of an art than a science. They are a precious facet of on-site SEO while also allowing you to sabotage yourself.

One of the ways that you can do so is keyword cannibalization. It doesn’t help you rank higher for a particular keyword if you target it across several pages. It might seem like it would, but instead, it can deeply hurt your SEO since it pits you as competition against yourself.

Keyword stuffing is another phrase that has changed from a desirable tactic to one that no longer works. It has now become a danger to your overall ranking.

Search engines have become more sophisticated in recent years and can now tell the difference between high-quality content and ones that are simply trying to rank higher. Theoretically, keyword stuffing decreases the usefulness of the content. Examples of this tactic include:

  • Lists of number like addresses and phone numbers
  • Needless repetition of the same word, so it ends up sounding unnatural
  • Large blocks of text that list the cities and states you want your webpage to rank on

To resolve this issue, when you develop your keyword list, figure out their density as well. Most online tools that help you determine the initial list will also have the means to develop keyword densities.

●? SEO optimized titles

Keeping your information clear is a positive practice for any part of your website development. It still holds true for the site architecture as much as how each page is set up. Each one of the titles on the page should be compelling and should create an impression. They also need to describe the section they preside over accurately.

Making them compelling is what sparks interest in a potential visitor and making them applicable with a primary keyword is the way to catch a search engine’s attention. This is also where appropriate header tags come in.

Header tags are elements of your HTML, from H1 to H6. They identify the headings and subheadings running through your content. Spaced appropriately, they create further interest for someone scrolling down your page.

Using the right header tags isn’t as critical to your on-page ranking as they used to be; they are still prime real estate for keyword-rich context for search engines.

●? Optimized on-page content

Perhaps one of the most apparent aspects of on-site SEO is optimizing the content on each one of your pages. Often, this heavily involves your target keywords.

Once you know your keyword density, take full advantage of it instead of undershooting. It is good to insert your target keywords as naturally as possible into the first 100 words of your content.

Think of the search engine as a bored college student who only wants to read your page’s abstract summary. The earlier you can put in your target keywords, the better the search engine understands what it is all about.

●? SEO-friendly URL

For each one of the pages on your site, you will have to create a URL. You want your URL to act as an extremely simplified summary of what your page is about. Doing so helps both the search engine and the visitors.

It is best to make your URLs as short and sweet as possible. Don’t build them out through six different pages. It is also instrumental if you use one of your target keywords in each URL. The search engines will appreciate you more for it.

●? UX signals

CTR is one of the more significant UX signals. It is the metric measuring how many people click on your site after running a search through an engine like Google. It is not a confirmed factor that search engines use to rank web pages, but most believe it is. That makes it important enough to consider seriously.

Increasing your CTR is also a great way to drive traffic to your site. Some of the best ways to improve your CTR include:

  • Consider using questions in your title tags.
  • Fill in any meta descriptions that are missing.
  • Use rich snippets by reviewing Schema.
  • Keep your URLs simple and straightforward.

Depending on your niche areas, you need to make your title tag as descriptive and catch as possible. Keep your audience in mind, and what kind of information pulls them in.

The most critical UX signal is the bounce rate, a proven metric that search engines use in your rankings. The bounce rate measures how quickly someone moves through your site, whether they stay on one page, then leave, or continue through the site.

●? Use EAT

EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It is another metric that Google raters use while they assess webpages. They have been putting even more of a focus on promoting high-quality content as their algorithms have become more sophisticated. This framework gives them another means to do so.

You need to consider the tone of authority you use when you are constructing any piece of content. Use words that mean something and put them together in a way that communicates real ideas effectively.

●? Appropriate tagging and titling (Title tag / an HTML tag / Meta title)

Although we have touched on title tagging previously, it is important enough to take a brief spotlight for a moment. A title tag can also be called an HTML tag. It is a hidden keyword at the top of a web page that helps to define how a web browser will format your content.

A title tag individually doesn’t significantly impact your SEO, but if they are missing, it can negatively impact your results. Make sure that it isn’t missing so that it doesn’t have a bad impact on your ranking.

●? Optimized Meta-Description

The title tag isn’t the only area to pay attention to, but you should also ensure that your meta description is complete. These can have a more significant impact on your SEO than the title tag since you can use keywords to optimize it.

One of Google’s slogans to encourage the use of meta-descriptions is that “you know your content best.”

Typing your meta description out, including your primary keyword, allows both the search engine and searching visitors to understand better what that particular page involves.

●? Content updates

Once you publish new content, you can’t check it off the list for good if your goal is to optimize on-site SEO thoroughly. Instead, put it on the backburner for a little while before cycling it through again.

When you update your content, focus on areas such as:

  • Bringing any facts, statistics, or time-sensitive information up-to-date
  • Adding additional content to keep it relevant and enrich the reader experience
  • Edit for any missed mistakes from previous publications
  • Take into account newer adjustments in search engine ranking algorithms

Updating your content at least once a year keeps you up-to-date with the search engines. It allows it to rank higher for some time after being updated.

●??? Optimal image usage

Any piece of content or a webpage deemed more valuable should be optimized with images to make it more appealing. However, watch out for overloading the page so that it doesn’t slow down the website’s loading rate.

Using images enables you to have a better user experience and increases your opportunities to rank on Google since you can show up in image searches.

Make into a checklist

  • List of target keywords
  • Keyword cannibalization / Keyword stuffing
  • SEO optimized titles
  • Optimized on-page content
  • SEO-friendly URL
  • UX signals
  • Use EAT
  • Appropriate tagging and titling
  • Optimized meta-description
  • Content updates
  • Optimal image usage

Which One is More Important: Technical SEO vs. On-Site SEO?

The way that your entire site is structured and projected to search engines and your visitors is all tied into technical SEO. It is the whole foundation of your site and forms of the basics of getting it ranked. If you do not have the aspects of technical SEO sorted out, it will lead to a lack of rankings. Even worse, it could mean no rankings at all.

On-site SEO is still important, don’t get us wrong. However, it is Robin to technical SEO’s Batman and should be treated as such. It helps to boost the rankings that you already have, not form the basis for them.

Focus on technical SEO first, and then once you feel like that has been temporarily aced, shift the limelight to on-site SEO. Remember that neither one of these things is ever perfected in a technological world of changing algorithms and updating information. Continue to revisit the strategy for each to keep your rankings as high as possible.

In Summary

Both of these primary aspects of your complete SEO strategy are influential. The primary thing is to keep the website layout sensible and straightforward and maintain high-quality work and content to enrich visitors’ experience.

If you know that your SEO strategies need some work but need some additional guidance on how to do this to start seeing better results, get in contact with Firestarter SEO today.

Resources: