Technical SEO

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Technical SEO - The Ultimate Search Engine Optimization Solution

When Google had rolled out “Penguin”; I was working for an SEO agency in Germany at that time the traffic of a few of our clients had dropped suddenly.

A while back it was absolutely normal to buy some backlinks as part of your SEO strategy. But today it is not usual.

For learning SEO we first understand the concept behind keyword research that is to try to understand the intentions of users, screen the current content, and do a technical SEO audit. The latter has become a firm part of every SEO strategy with dozens of tools able to help you.

Things to Keep In Mind

What is Technical SEO?

Paul Shapiro organized a conference at TechSEO Boost, Russ Jones gave a good definition to explain what is Technical SEO. He said, “any sufficiently technical action undertaken with the intent to improve search results”.

Alexis Sanders, Technical SEO manager @ Merkle, gives a more specific definition: “Technical SEO covers the crawl, index, and render portion of the “crawl, index, rank” model. At a high level, you need to learn how to answer these questions:

  • Can search engine bots crawl/find your page? (includes topics such as status codes, sitemaps, information architecture, robots.txt, facets)
  • Can search engine bots index your page? (includes: meta robots)
  • Can search engine bots render your page? (includes: JavaScript, the DOM, page speed)
  • Can bots understand content on your page? (includes: structured data (Schema.org, HTML), accessibility)
  • Are you sending search engines the proper signals for dealing with ranking content? (e.g., canonical tags, dealing with pagination)
  • Is this page worthy of ranking? (includes: content relevance, authority, HTTP, UX, mobile-friendly, site latency)”

The big technical SEO topics are:

  • Crawling
  • SSL
  • Rendering
  • Indexation
  • Page speed
  • Site structure
  • Content optimization
  • Mobile
  • Migrations
  • Status codes

When I learned SEO, Google was really simpler. But nowadays its quite complex as if you enter Search Engine Optimization today you surely feel overburden

That is why I wrote this article, which will assist you in learning Technical SEO

How Technical SEO Got Put On The Map

There has always been a degree of technical approach to SEO. However, over the past 5-7 years, technical SEO has become its own discipline along with content (marketing) and link building.

That is also how co-founder and head of SEO @Elephate, Bartosz Goralewicz got started:

“I started in SEO around 2011–12, most SEOs know that it wasn’t the best moment to start. I figured that this was a huge opportunity for me. I remember people making fun of “white hat SEO” and saying that only links matter. I started looking into what was called “on-page SEO” and as things evolved, I went deeper and deeper.”

The rise of Technical SEO is the result of three trends:

  • First, the ongoing war of Google against backlink spam and “overly active” link building.
  • Second, the rapid progression of Google’s algorithm.
  • Third, the sophistication of websites.

A sudden spike in the penguin algorithm and a penalty for a manual link forced SEO to look for other levers to increase organic traffic. In addition to content and content marketing, technical SEO has proven more powerful than pre-penguin.

Google’s algorithm has improved significantly for Penguin, as you can see as it updates:

  • 2003 — Florida (anti-keyword stuffing spam)
  • 2005 — Jagger (anti-link spam)
  • 2009 — Caffeine (near real-time indexation)
  • 2010 — MayDay (anti-thin content)
  • 2011 — Panda (“quality”)
  • 2011 — Google starts using SSL in search
  • 2011 — Freshness (prioritizing fresh content)
  • 2012 — Penguin (anti-link “spam”)
  • 2012 — Knowledge Graph
  • 2012 — EMD (downgrade exact match domain)
  • 2013 — Phantom (quality update)
  • 2013 — Hummingbird (core algorithm overhaul)
  • 2015 — Rankbrain (contextual search)

Google introduced standards that made it easier for Webmasters to control and monitor indexation however the two short years between 2011 and 2013 shaped much of what Google is today. 

  • 2005 — Google introduces XML sitemaps
  • 2009 — rel-canonical tag
  • 2011 — Schema.org
  • 2011 — rel=next/prev

Obviously, the technical SEO toolset is much greater. It covers so many disciplines that it is a role by itself, and that is how organizations should relate to it.

The sites themselves have become more complex and interactive, which complicates page speed, indexing and rendering.

Consumer behavior in relation to using other tools to view website changes, for many years, the revolution has focused on “mobile devices,” and in the coming years it will be based on voice search.

That raises the question: “what technical SEO actually is and what fields it covers.”

Break it Down

What Are The Different Types Of SEO?

At Syndiket, we believe four types of SEO exist – and we have an acronym to represent those 4 types of SEO. The acronym is T.R.A.P. 

“T” stands for Technical, “R” stands for Relevancy, “A” stands for Authority, and “P” stands for popularity. Search engine optimization has many smaller divisions within the 4 types, but all of them can be placed into one of these 4 buckets.

Generally, technical SEO for local businesses carry the least importance for ranking. Technical SEO has a bare minimum that is required and this usually includes things like site speed, indexation issues, crawlability, and schema. Once the core technical parts are done, minimal upkeep is required.

Relevancy is one of trivium elements of SEO. It has equal importance with popularity signals and authority signals. Relevancy signals are based on algorithmic learning principles. Bots crawl the internet every time a searcher has a search. Each search is given a relevancy score and the URLs that pop up for a query. The higher the relevancy score you attain, the greater your aggregated rating becomes in Google’s eyes. Digital marketing is a strange thing in 2020, and ranking a website requires the website to be relevant on many fronts.

Google’s Co-creator, Larry Page, had a unique idea in 1998 which has led to the modern-day Google Empire. “Page Rank”, named after Larry Page himself, was the algorithm that established Google as a search engine giant. The algorithm ranked websites by authority. 

Every page of a website has authority and the sum of all pages has another authority metric. The authority metric is largely determined by how many people link to them (backlinks). The aggregate score of all pages pointing to a domain creates the domain score, which is what Syndiket calls “Domain Rating”, per Ahrefs metrics. The more a site is referenced, the more authority it has. But, the real improvement to the algorithm came when Google began to classify authority weight. 

If Tony Hawk endorsed Syndiket for skateboarding, it would carry a lot more authority than 5 random high school kids endorsing Syndiket. This differentiation in authority happened in 2012 with the Penguin update. Authority SEO is complicated but VERY important.

Popularity signals are especially strong for GMB or local SEO, but popularity and engagement are used for all rankings. The goal of this signal is for Google to verify its own algorithm. You can check off all the boxes, but if your content is something real people hate, Google has ways to measure that. Syndiket has proprietary methods of controlling CTR (click-through rate) but we also infuse CRO methods into our work to make sure people actually like the content. Social shares and likes are also included in this bucket.

How do you learn technical SEO?

To learn something you always need a proper mindset, knowledge relevant to that subject and related applications. The problem is many people focus on the knowledge part and that is where they stumbled. 

We will start by exploring the required mindset to learn technical SEO.

The Right Mindset for Learning Technical Search Engine Optimization

Every brain surgeon begins with basic biochemistry at a medical school. In technical SEO, you also start with the basics and then specialize. This requires some humility, but it is essential to success.

It implied that you don’t need to know everything. As the matter of fact you can’t know everything.  Bartosz Goralewicz is a strong advocate of that mindset:

“If you can’t explain why something happened (e.g., a website drop), the healthy thing to do is say ‘I don’t know what caused that drop’.”

The quality of good Technical SEOs is that they never give up, if they are not aware of the answer they try to find out but never give up.

The epic thing of this industry is that it changes constantly, so it requires a constant effort to learn SEO trends to be in the game. Google never stops growing and we have to reverse engineer ranking factors.

There is one word to keep up with ever-changing topics: continuously learning. This means that you can never stop educating yourself. SEO professionals should invest at least 10-15% of their time on learning the trends.

Alexis Sanders agrees: “Learning Technical SEO is definitely a moving target. It is constantly evolving and advancing, so learning it is an ongoing process, with many rabbit holes (so many crawl traps to explore!”

This leads us to another requirement to become good technical SEO: be ready to change your mind when the data is verified.



    When you look closer, some are not able to drop their theories and beliefs even when the data and experiments say otherwise. SEO is very dynamic. If your SEO beliefs haven’t evolved over the last 5–7 years, then your chances of success are close to 0.

  — Bartosz Goralewicz

This mindset is essential: humbleness, continuous learning, and flexibility.

Now we come to our next topic that is what you should actually need to learn: Knowledge

What should you learn to become proficient at technical SEO?

“The good thing is that all of this information is much readily available online, to be learned for free. There are tons of websites where you can take university classes on these subjects, read free textbooks, and tutorials on them.”

— Paul Shapiro

The amount of content should not be a problem nowadays. It is all free.

Alexis Sanders recommends “keeping up with industry news and following relevant publications and blogs, such as:

  • Google Webmaster Central Blog
  • Google Research Blog 
  • Google’s Blog 
  • Bing Search Blog
  • Moz’s Blog
  • Search Engine Round Table
  • Search Engine Journal
  • The SEM Post
  • SEMrush Blog
  • Search Engine Land
  • SEO Skeptic by Aaron Bradley
  • SEO by the Sea by Bill Slawski
  • Deep Crawl’s Webmaster Hangout Notes
  • Merkle’s Digital Marketing Reports

The way you want to develop your knowledge is to start with a broad one and then narrow it down. If you want to build a tall house, you need a solid foundation.

Here is a rough outline of what a syllabus could look like:

YouTube is a site where you can get knowledge on almost every topic below is a list of YouTube channels about web development:

  • LearnCode.academy
  • DevTips
  • Wes Bos
  • Codecourse
  • Quentin Watt Tutorials
  • LevelUpTuts
  • The Net Ninja
  • howCode
  • Traversy Media
  • LearnWebCode
  • Google Developers
  • Brad Hussey
  • freeCodeCamp

Learning to program takes time and requires a lot of practice. One tool that I find consistently useful is “Anki”, which is a spaced repetition app. This enables you to learn with digital flashcards and a system that helps you store information in your long-term memory. Spaced repetition repeats things that you find difficult to remember more often, and things that you can’t keep easily in mind. 

Secondly, take a look at some of the most commonly used SEO tools and start putting your knowledge into practice. Chrome developer tools and the Mozilla developer tools documentation. Both have very underestimated technical tools, and the documentations gives very interesting and useful information on many topics of web technologies.

Later, they will also help you evaluate the “health” of the page or site. In 2018, a number of technical problems are associated with the following:

  • Entity-based ranking.
  • How Javascript is rendered.
  • Progressive web apps and AMP.

Thirdly, to know aspects of SEO, such as how the search engine and its technical components work. To understand the difference between an “Indexer” and a “Crawler”, what is the “Document-Term Matrix” and the concept of “semantic search”. The patent for “Scheduler for search engine crawler” should enable you to understand the complexity of the subject.

Spend some time on reading the original Google paper, the PageRank patent and the other 9 patents of Bill Slawski’s top 10. On top of that, Ian Roger’s explanation of PageRank is great and don’t forget the “How search works” section by Google.

Then, dive deeper into the big topics:

  • Crawling: log file analysis, XML / HTML sitemaps, mobile bot crawl behavior
  • Mobile: AMP, Progressive Web Apps, Responsive design
  • SSL: HTTPS, HTTP/2
  • Structured data: Schema markup, Microdata & JSON-LD, Rich Snippets
  • Migrations: domain migrations, relaunches, CMS changes, HTTP to HTTPS
  • Page speed: rich media and script compression, CSS sprites, CDNs, server speed optimization, parallel downloads and minify, caching
  • Rendering: critical rendering path/lazy loading, DOM rendering, Javascript frameworks rendering
  • Content optimization: entity optimization, duplicate content, thin content
  • Status codes: 3xx, 4xx, 5xx
  • Indexation: canonicalization, robots.txt, meta-tags
  • Site structure: internal linking, URL structure, taxonomy

On top of that, get to know Excel, Screaming Frog (or another crawler), MySQL and how to use the (MAC) terminal. They are not core technical SEO skills but will be needed and are good to know for many applications.

“Also, everyone says this, but building a website is helpful to understanding basic web infrastructure. It definitely helped me empathize with my clients’ dev teams. Using those skills can also help you to test, which I have found is useful for gaining a deeper understanding of SEO.”

 — Alexis Sanders

Keep in mind that the best source of information is a combination of people and content. Learning from someone who is already in the game is much more prudent and can also show you how to do it. When I started, I went through a 9-month training in which I studied craft from scratch.

Don’t shy from learning from people, try to look at what people share and read it. Ask questions on twitter, there is no doubt that in the field of SEO people are very encouraging to each other, they are really very supportive. Always be proactive about mentorship.

A couple more tips from Alexis Sanders:

  • “Work with application program interfaces (APIs).
  • Author comprehensive, useful publications.
  • Participate in online courses, code tutorials, and educational videos on Lynda.com, Udacity, Coursera, Codecademy, CodeSchool, and Google.
  • Creepin’ on John Mueller’s “Tweets and Replies”.

Now we are going to discuss the last section- Application

How to Apply What You Learned About Technical SEO

SEO is a practical field, it has an element of learning by doing, without applying the knowledge you cannot master it.  There are many ways to learn SEO such as books, videos, manuals, e-books, blog articles. But you will never know anything without actually doing  it. No matter how many books you read about “driving a car,” without driving you will not be a good driver. The same idea applies to technical SEO.

The most important tip that I give to people starting out on SEO is to have your own project. Start a blog, a small online store, a wiki – anything! Apply what you learn from this and draw your own conclusions. You also need to develop an understanding of how long it will take to implement certain recommendations and how to measure their success. One of the best methods to do this is to create a checklist of SEO pages, go through it and analyze how it improves your site.

Just like Paul Shapiro, I became very interested in the web in high school and taught myself web design and development (“I had done freelance web design and development in high school, and a self-taught programmer at a very young age”).

My first blog was about Muscle Cars. It started as a pure learning project and ended up yielding a couple hundred bucks before I burned it (another lesson learned). A good SEO does not rely solely on one single project he always has a couple of “projects” running.

The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Learning Technical SEO

The first serious mistake you can make is that you suppose that you can learn technical SEO in a short amount of time.

  “ I think the biggest mistake is potentially thinking that technical SEO is something you can just check the box off as something you know after taking a single Udacity course. Since it requires knowledge of web development, computer science and more to be adept, it’s a long process, and something you’ll likely develop knowledge in over time.”

— Paul Shapiro

People often overlook the variation of complex web developments: “There are so many variables, especially as complexity is added. Patrick Stox had a stellar talk at TechSEO Boost entitled ‘Everything That Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong’, which covers some SEO snafus.” (Alexis Sanders)

One of the reasons that people take a little longer than they want is the necessary hands-on experience that I mentioned earlier.

 

    “When you learn technical SEO, remember to rely only on hard data and experiments. If you do that, I am not worried about your future career.”

 

    — Bartosz Goralewicz

You need to be flexible and adapt to changes in order to get success. Bias and the Failure to change your mind based on evidence are two of the biggest mistakes SEOs can make. Not continuing to learn is a safe way to get left behind in any digital marketing discipline. Knowing better than what the data suggests is another sure shot at failing.

Technical SEO does not exist in quarantine. According to Alexis Sanders, it is important to be aware of the bigger picture (“For example — Failing to balance recommendations with client needs and capabilities”) and the relationships with UX and dev teams:

“If you’re not bringing in donuts for your UX and dev teams, today’s the day! In all seriousness though, technical SEO, UX, and development work are all deeply intertwined, so play nice.”

Finally, don’t just look at SEO. One mistake SEO makes is to consume content only around SEO, attend SEO conferences, and give up everything else. Once you reach a certain point, do not learn anything at the same time. Instead, pay attention to topics such as conversion optimization, social media marketing, email marketing and, of course, paid search. This helps you put SEO in the maximum possible context and expand SEO with creative use of other channels.

The Most Important Lessons from Alexis Sanders, Paul Shapiro, and Bartosz Goralewicz

Bartosz: “Most of my work is research. What I learned and what continues to amaze me is that I often assumed that a lot of concepts were too complex for me and that others understood it. We are all characters from “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and we don’t want to look stupid so we don’t ask questions about what we don’t understand. 

My dead-simple JavaScript experiment article gathered 600+ links from 200+ referring domains on top of ~40k visits just because I couldn’t find a clear answer regarding how Google is really indexing and ranking JavaScript pages. What is even more interesting is that this isn’t a “one-hit wonder”. If you look around our community there are hundreds of things we are very excited about, but nobody has gotten to the bottom of how these things work. You find out, and I guarantee that you’ll be one of the most successful technical SEOs.

Paul: “You don’t have to learn alone, and you can learn from others. There are a lot of smart people who can help as catalysts to your learning. The SEO community is special in that I think there’s a lot of people willing to help you. I’m always learning from other smart minds in the industry, people like Patrick Stox, JR Oakes, Russ Jones, Emily Grossman, Dawn Anderson, Hamlet Batista, Max Prin and so many others who I appreciate, but can’t name due to brevity. I’m thankful to all of them though.

Alexis: “In terms of my process, I recommend:

  • Be disciplined, thorough, and consistent with learning.
  • Research on your own first, then ask an expert.
  • Have fun with it. Interact and engage with information. There are a ton of resources available to learn in a playful environment.
  • Some fun Technical SEO things: 

How to Learn Technical SEO and Where It Is Going

The process of learning technical SEO requires patience, continuous learning, time, and application. The best way to start is to gain knowledge in a broader sense, and then delve into topics that are important and interesting to you at the moment. You can learn it completely for free, just from content on the internet. But the best teachers are those who know their job. It is good to have a well planned approach to learning new topics because they will keep coming up in technical SEO.

Alexis Sanders’ process for Learning SEO Issues:

  1. “Start with Google SERPs
  2. Consult Google documentation
  3. Read every article/piece of content on page one and page two (yes that me, that <1% of CTR on page two…)
  4. Make note of questions that arise during initial exploration
  5. Copy/paste highlights into a document
  6. Organize information in a slide deck
  7. Process information and try to visualize
  8. Consider how various data and trends connect
  9. Get answers to the recorded questions
    – Try to find answers via research (minimal half hour)
    – Ask someone for help and advice
    Places to ask:
    – Reddit (e.g., https://www.reddit.com/r/bigseo/)
    – Google Webmaster Hangouts
    – Twitter (e.g., Google Webmasters, John Mueller, Gary Illyes, etc.)
  10. Try to speak on the topic (talking through usually helps pinpoint gaps in understanding)
  11. Rinse, repeat (until learning plateau is hit)”

SEO is continuously evolving what you are learning right now might be outdated by the time you have really understood it. You should take a look at a very dynamic topic, such as technical SEO, as well as where it goes.

You may think that as the Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly advancing which enables machine to learn at some point Google can perfectly understand websites. But this is not the complete truth. Only because something is understood, it doesn’t mean it can’t be enhanced. Therefore it would be foolish to consider that technical SEO is not essential anymore at some point.

 So far, Google seems to increase the complexity every year, however this increase makes ground for technical SEO. Instead of disappearing, technical SEO is being divided in to various disciplines for example mobile technical SEO, crawl optimization (crawling, rendering, page speed, log file analysis), and classic technical SEO (status codes, SSL, structured data, site structure, migrations, indexation). More over all of these mentioned fields are developing on their own and becoming more complex.

As I mentioned at the start that there were some clients of mine who got hit by Penguin, we helped them by building a strong technical foundation. And Penguin released them from algorithmic penalty on next iteration. All this happened through technical optimization which helped them performing better than ever.

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