Technical SEO is the process of fixing on-site issues and finding ways to optimize your website for search crawling. It is different from other SEO components such as keyword research, analytics, and social media strategies. Using technical SEO can have a direct impact on your search engine rankings.
Some of the most common tasks handled by Technical SEO is adding security, improving site indexing, increasing page speed performance, removing duplicates, identifying broken links and much more. We will be going through the most common SEO problems – showing how to diagnose them, what they mean and how to resolve them.
Diagnosing Technical SEO Problems on your website
There are 3 important steps to take to diagnose technical SEO.
- Understand the problem.
- Draw up a plan.
- Execute the plan.
The first step is probably the hardest since it is not always obvious what the issue is. Some may be simple and quick to solve, while others require further analyzing. Let us go through them:
Understand the problem
Firstly, do we have any data collected? It is important to collect as much data as possible using analytical tools so that we can understand the problem better. As with everything, we cannot solve the issue without having a dataset to work with. Do we know the symptoms of this issue and do we need to solve this urgently? Just as it is important to understand the problem, it is also just as important to know its priority and how it is affecting our ranking.
Understanding a problem takes most of the time. However, once you identify the issue, solving it is usually straightforward as there are techniques in place that will resolve the issue at hand.
Draw up Plan
If you have a plan you save a lot of time since you make sure you execute correctly the first few times. Once a plan is set, you can follow the same plan for similar issues.
Drawing up a plan requires a hypothesis as part of the scientific process. To create a hypothesis, you need to think of the cause of the issue, think of anything you need to test and indicate what results in tests would make it true or false. You also need to outline where to start and give a time estimation.
Execute the plan
Now that you have a plan in place, it is time to actually execute it. Executing a plan involves looking at your hypothesis and building a case for or against it. For technical SEO issues, the plan usually involves the following steps:
- Send user-agent to Googlebot and check your site.
- Check the DOM of your website.
- Send URLs to crawlers such as Screaming Frog and see if the issue can be found.
- Analyze data from Google Analytics platform and Google Search Console.
- Review your keyword ranking tracker.
- Check your log files (especially if the issue is crawling-related)
Most common SEO Problems and what they mean
Without a suited technical SEO framework in place, all your work for on-page SEO and off-page SEO will not give you the wanted outcome. Your rankings will drop, and you will be questioning just how it happened. That is why it is important to at least know the most common SEO problems and understand what they mean.
|1||Duplicate content||Refers to substantial blocks of content within or across domains that completely or similarly match other content.|
|2||Title tag issues||Tags directly influence your ranking and so missing, duplicate or too short/long titles can have adverse effects.|
|3||Not using meta descriptions||A meta description is a short summary of your content and it is what users and crawlers use to identify what your page is about.|
|4||Broken internal & external links on your site||Broken links are not easy to trace and require third-party tools. Not fixing them can result in an increase in bounce rates and a decrease in search rankings.|
|5||Hreflang for SEO||Each hreflang tag shows bots crawling the page where to find the intended content for users who do not speak the first page’s language|
So now that we know the most common issues, let us take a deeper look into each issue.
Duplicate Content and why it matters
Duplicate content refers to content that appears on the web at more than one web address. It is not technically a penalty to have duplicate content but it can dramatically impact search engine rankings, nonetheless. Google finds it difficult to detect which of the duplicate content is more relevant to the given search query.
Duplicate content can cause three major issues for search engines:
- Not knowing which versions to include or exclude from their indices.
- Not being able to know where to direct the link metrics such as trust, authority, anchor text or link equity. Should it link it to one page or separate the link metrics for each version?
- They have no knowledge of which version to rank for query results.
Keeping this in mind, it is pretty clear as to why site owners suffer rankings and traffic drops. These consequences result from not providing the best search experience as search engines will not show multiple versions of the same content. Moreover, rather than all inbound links pointing to one piece of content, the link equity is divided between other links with the same/similar content. Inbound links are a ranking factor and so this will impact your search visibility for a piece of content.
Duplicate content is not intentionally created but it is estimated that almost 30% of the web is actually duplicated content. So how can content be duplicated unintentionally?
URL parameters that have click tracking and other analytics code can pose duplicate content problems. The issue is not only due to the parameters but also the order in which the parameters are shown in the URL itself.
www.example.com/seo-process?c… is a duplicate of www.example.com/seo-process?c…&cat=3″ class=”redactor-autoparser-object”>www.example.com/seo-process is a duplicate of www.example.com/seo-process?cat=3&color=blue
The same might happen for session IDs. This happens when a new user visits your website and is assigned a different session ID that is stored in the URL. Another issue is using printer versions of content as they can be perceived as a duplicate.
HTTP(S) and WWW/Non-WWW Pages
If you have content that resides on both versions of www.example.com and example.com, then you have ended up with duplicates of those pages. The same applies for HTTP and HTTPS versions. You may be prone to duplicate content issues if you create duplicate content for both. It is best to make use of redirections instead.
Scraped or copied content
Content can include blogs, editorial content, and product information pages. Scraper can republish your blog content on their own sites which is a common duplicate content source issue. However, a common issue for e-commerce sites is product information. If many e-commerce sites sell the same items and make use of the same manufacturer’s description, there will be duplicate content in multiple locations across the web.
For information on how to resolve duplicate content issues, see here.
Title Tag Issues – what your page is about
The title tag is an HTML tag that lies at the head of your webpage. It provides the initial context into what you are going to talk about. Having a <title> tag is essential to succeeding in your search rankings. Having missing, duplicate, or crudely written title tags can have a negative impact on your SEO.
Title tags are featured in the search results as a link, in the browser window and as the first text in your content. It is the most visible aspect of your page.
In order to optimize your title tag, you need to keep in mind the following:
1. Map out your site
Know where each page fits into the context of your subject. Each level you get into your page hierarchy, the more detailed your title should be. For example, the title for your home page should be less specific than a specific product page.
2. The topic needs to be relevant to your title
Evaluate the content of the page and choose a title that uses the same keywords as your content but still relevant to the context.
3. Unique title tags
Your blog post or page’s title can be ignored by the search engine if it is duplicated. It will instead try to use the content found on your page.
4. Use dynamically generated options
Find ways to semantically code your tags. Most Content management systems will automatically generate the title tag for you. You can then find ways to add more detail and customize your title. This will prevent creating duplicated titles.
5. Use keywords with search intent
Know what your audience is searching for (phrases and words). Perform keyword research to be able to match the searcher’s intent. Your goal is to answer the user’s query in your content.
6. Title = Call to Action
Since the title tag will be shown as the link on the search results page, the text here highly impacts the searcher’s decision on whether to click through or move on to the next result. You should focus on answering the question or the searcher’s requirement. You need to have a clear understanding of what your page is about and what your visitors should expect. This is referred to as the call to action (CTA) and it is critical to earning their search click.
7. Do not overdo it
Withdraw from using repetitive or titles resembling spam. The search engines focus is on context and not literal keyword use, frequency and quantity. Trying to include as many keywords in your title will only result in negative SEO effects. Choose phrases that are relevant and clear to the topic and stick with the searcher’s intent.
Not Using Meta Descriptions – a double SEO problem
A meta description is an HTML attribute that outlines the summary of the page’s content. Search engines display the meta description under the title link in their search results. This can highly influence click-through rates.
Meta descriptions can be any length, but Google recommends you keep it short and concise and use up to 160 characters. Make meta descriptions long enough to be sufficiently descriptive but the optimal length can vary depending on the situation.
A meta description should draw your readers to a website from the search results. Your description should be compelling and grabs your readers attention. It is important to note that search engines make the keywords in bold format and this can catch the eyes of visitors. So ideally, its best to match your description to the user’s search terms as much as possible.
Never use quotation marks since Google cuts off the description when it appears in the search results. In fact, it is even better to remove any non-alphanumeric characters to prevent truncation. Lastly, never duplicate your content – always keep it unique to your content.
Remember that search engines may not even use your meta description if your descriptions don’t sufficiently answer a user’s query. In this case, search engines usually identify a snippet from the target match that better answers the searcher’s query. Therefore, although you can try your best to match the intended search query, you must make sure your content is relevant enough to still show up in searches.
Broken Internal & External Links on Your Site
Broken links can make a bad user experience and devalue all your SEO efforts. No matter how many hours of work you put into optimizing your website, having broken links can hinder all your hard work.
When users click on links and reach 404 dead-ends, users get frustrated and leave, giving rise to an increase in bounce rates. Moreover, your broken links will curb the progress of link equity throughout your site which will greatly impact your search rankings.
In order to avoid these issues, you need to frequently analyze for broken links throughout your website.
Luckily, there are various tools you can use to find broken links and most of them are free. The best one is Google Analytics. Just log into your Google Analytics account and select Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages.
You can set the evaluation period to check for broken links. My recommendation is to set it monthly. Next, scroll down and change the default Page in viewing options to Page Title.
This will enable you to create a Page Filter. Click on Advanced to set up the filter. In this case, you should set filtering to Include>Page Title > Containing> “Your 404 Page Title”, just like below:
When you apply, you will be shown with one or more page titles containing that name. For each page title, you can see how many times the 404 error was shown and from which page. You can then export this data into a spreadsheet and go through the broken links and fix them.
Once you have done this the first time, you need to create a report so that you can track your changes. You should also analyze the reasons why they are not working. Should these pages be redirected or not? Some errors may be due to human error such as mistyping. Therefore, it is best to take note of the links that have a high rate of clicks.
Multiple Versions of Homepage
If your website is targeting users internationally, you may want to consider translating your website into different languages. In this way, you can cater for different countries or regions. However, although it is good for your users, it may not have the same positive result for search engines.
By publishing translated versions of your content on different URLs will not help search engines understand the relationship between URLs and how your site can be navigated. This may inevitably lead to pages not ranking as well as they should.
With the introduction of hreflang, this problem can be solved relatively easy. Hreflang is an HTML meta tag that indicates the language and location of the page. Hreflang basically tells the search engines where to locate the content for other languages.
When a user performs a search in Google, it goes through the following process:
- Determines how to rank a URL based on its search algorithm.
- Checks the page’s source code and looks for any hreflang tags
- Resolves the user’s location via the IP address and language settings.
- Displays the most appropriate URL in the search results and sends the user to that URL.
In this way, search engines check for the correct version of a page based on the user’s language settings.
The success of your website does not only depend on one aspect of SEO. Technical SEO is crucial and directly impacts your search rankings, crawling and indexation. The process of SEO is not to be taken lightly – even one mistake can lead to drastic consequences. Therefore, you need to take the time to identify and fix common SEO issues with your site. Technical SEO works together with keyword research, website optimization and other techniques to create a site that ranks highly and drives traffic.