Technical SEO optimization can seem overwhelming, however, not making it part of a website’s SEO strategy is a costly mistake bloggers often make. If you’ve been putting off learning how to better SEO optimize your blog, let’s combat your blog’s SEO problems with a number of techniques that will help maximize your search engine ranking.
What is Technical SEO Optimization you’re asking? There’s no one accepted definition, though Search Engine Land has defined it as
“the practices implemented on the website and server that are intended to maximize site usability, search engine crawling, and indexing. We’re going to keep it a little simpler and define it as SEO optimization techniques related to the structure of your website. These are techniques other than keyword research or on-page SEO.
Keep in mind, these strategies are geared primarily at WordPress bloggers though they should translate to other blogging platforms fairly easily. The concepts are all the same – only the execution will be somewhat different.
Google cares a lot about User Experience – sometimes abbreviated UX – when they determine search rankings. Yoast has a great post that discusses user experience in itself in great detail. For our purposes, though, we’ll think of it as a combination of how a user feels from using your website with how easily they’re able to use your website. A large number of the tips we’re going to cover below directly relate to user experience so keep this definition in mind as we go along.
Technical SEO Optimization Battle Plan
Alright, now that we’ve briefly addressed what Technical SEO Optimization is and have talked about User Experience, we can begin. I’ve laid out our battle plans below.
- XML Sitemap
- Post Categories
- HTTPS / SSL Certificate
- Mobile Friendly Design
- Permalink Structure
- Site Speed Optimization
We’ll start out by tackling the easier topics first then charging our way in to the more complicated ones.
If you find you need help implementing some of the suggestions found in this post, I provide IT support services to bloggers and may be able to assist you. Check out my IT services website for more information.
Are you ready for battle? Show me your GRR face!
XML Sitemaps are like a machete for search engine crawlers – they cut through all the content of your site to give the bot a clear path to navigating all of the important pages. The usefulness should, hopefully, be plainly obvious. The more easily Google knows how to crawl your site – the more likely it is to actually do so. The good news for you – you may already have a sitemap and not even know it!
If, like the vast majority of WordPress bloggers, you have either the free or premium version of Yoast SEO plugin installed, all you need to do is – literally – flip a switch to turn it on, if it’s not already. You’ll find this setting under SEO → General on the Features tab. Now all you’ve got to do is register this sitemap with Google and you’ll be good to go.
Another great feature that comes included with the Yoast SEO plugin, is the ability to implement breadcrumbs – links that allow users to navigate backward through the hierarchy of the pages and posts on your website – much like Hansel & Gretel left a trail of breadcrumbs behind them in the woods in hopes of using it to find their way home.
If you look at the top of this post, you can see an example for yourself of exactly what I’m talking about.
To enable this feature, look under SEO → Search Appearance and then on the Breadcrumbs tab you can click Enable and set other options. A little way down the page, there’s the heading Taxonomy to show in breadcrumbs for content types. On this dropdown, I highly recommend you choose Category to include your blog post’s category in the breadcrumb trail. We’ll discuss why in a minute.
Now, to implement the breadcrumbs on your site is not quite as easy as turning the feature on. We need to add code to your site to tell Yoast where to display the breadcrumbs. It doesn’t know on it’s own where you want them to be. Yoast has created a guide to implementing breadcrumbs. The best solution is to add code one time directly to your theme, however, if you’re not experienced with making these kinds of changes it’s likely not the best idea for you to do so. Luckily, you also have the option to manually include a shortcode at the top of every post and page and Yoast will add the breadcrumbs there.
How Does This Help With SEO Optimization?
Now you may be wondering – how exactly does this help my SEO optimization? Fair enough question. Adding breadcrumbs serves two purposes.
1 – Breadcrumbs improve the usability of your website. Remember we mentioned user experience earlier? Anything you can do to make it easier for people to find their way around your site is a plus in Google’s book.
2 – Remember I mentioned adding the post category to your breadcrumbs above? Including the category not only increases the possibility that users might look for other content in that category by clicking the link, but more importantly for our SEO strategy it’s like adding a bonus relevant keyword to your page for Google to consider when indexing your site. The more Google knows about your content the better.
Since we’re discussing your blog post categories, let’s talk a bit more about them. As I said above when we talked about using them in your breadcrumbs – it adds an extra keyword onto your page. We can even more effectively use this strategy by creating subcategories using targeted keywords.
Let’s use a cooking blog as an example – food is an easy topic to understand as a hierarchy. Our hypothetical food blog might have Appetizers as a primary category. Let’s take that a step further into subcategories, which might look something like these:
- Fresh Fruits
- Deep Fried
Now instead of our recipe being listed under Appetizers, alone, we get something like Appetizers > Deep Fried which adds extra meaning for Google to pick up on. When using these subcategories, these extra detailed keywords show up on our post as another piece of the breadcrumbs we setup in the previous tip.
HTTPS / SSL Certificate
Google in recent years has made a big push to get websites converted from HTTP to HTTPS. Web traffic sent over HTTPS is encrypted from the server to the viewer to protect users from what are called man-in-the-middle attacks that can result in the attacker obtaining usernames and passwords or other sensitive information that someone enters into a website – home address, credit card information, social security numbers, etc.
Since 2014, Google has given priority in search rankings to websites that use HTTPS over HTTP. Additionally, starting with the release of Google Chrome ver 68 in July 2018, Google now flags any website loaded over HTTP instead of HTTPS as being insecure. Google can’t make it more clear how important this factor is with your SEO optimization efforts.
Something to keep in mind – especially for bloggers who do a lot of promotion on Pinterest – any links that lead back to your blog that are setup with HTTP instead of HTTPS will need to be redirected to HTTPS or else your site visitors will be shown the “insecure” flag when visiting your website.
To enable HTTPS for your website, you need to have what’s called a SSL certificate installed on your web hosting account. Many, but not all, web hosting providers will give you a free certificate through a group called Let’s Encrypt. If your hosting provider doesn’t offer free certificates, Cloudflare provides its users (even free accounts) with the ability to generate free origin certificates that can be installed into your hosting.
Some Helpful Advice
To test whether or not you’ve already got a SSL certificate setup on your hosting account, simply type in https:// in front of your website address in your browser. If the page loads without any errors, then you’ve got a functioning SSL certificate.
If you have any problems with your SSL certificate setup, a useful utility to have handy is this tool from Qualys SSL Labs that can test your SSL certificate.
Lastly, while it’s uncommon to encounter problems with setting up a SSL certificate, it’s not unheard of – especially with certain hosting companies. If you have problems with your certificate, it can potentially cause your entire site to be unavailable. If working with your hosting company’s support team isn’t resolving your problem, be sure to contact a professional for help.
Mobile Friendly Design
Simply put, your blog absolutely needs to be mobile friendly, or what we would call responsive. Responsive design refers to website design that adjusts itself to the type of device it’s being viewed on. Having a mobile friendly site is another major factor for Google when considering overall user experience. In fact, Google has altered their indexing methodology to look at the mobile experience of your website before they look at the desktop version. Moz has a great writeup of how mobile-first indexing works and it’s effect on SEO.
Over 50% of all web traffic is viewed on mobile devices like phones and tablets now. As a blogger, if you pay attention to your analytics, you’ll likely notice that 70% or more of your visitors are on mobile devices. Having a site design that offers a poor experience to mobile visitors won’t just sit poorly with Google – readers will simply not visit your site again.
When you setup your blog, make sure the theme you use is designed to be responsive. For every change you make to the site design be sure to test how your website looks on mobile devices. Both Chrome and Firefox browsers have tools to allow you to emulate devices of different resolutions for this exact purpose. Additionally when doing your mobile testing, make sure that your site is easy to navigate, that picture sizes adjust well, and that font faces and sizes are easy to read.
If you find that there are adjustments you need made on your blog to improve the mobile design / experience of your readers, you can either learn how to modify HTML/CSS code or hire someone to make the adjustments for you.
Think we’re done talking about post categories yet? If you answered NO, you’d be absolutely right!
But wait! you’re saying.
The heading says we’re talking about permalinks now!
Yes. Yes we are. We’re going to add our post categories to the URLs of our blog posts. Adding the categories to our URLs is another way of making use of our categories as keywords for Google to use when indexing our content. Some of you reading this might be getting an immediate RED ALERT in your head about this idea because changing your permalink structure will require redirecting all of your existing content to new URLs. If this was you, pat yourself on the back and give yourself a cookie because you’re absolutely right.
This technique is easiest to implement when your blog is BRAND NEW.
If you intend to implement this strategy, you’ll either want to have a quality redirection plugin setup to handle the redirects of your existing content to their new URLs or you – or someone you’ve hired – will need to modify your site’s configuration (on Apache you’ll do this in .htaccess) to redirect your content. I imagine the vast majority of you will opt to do this via a plugin.
To make the actual change in your permalink structure, look under Settings → Permalinks and choose the Custom option. Change the format in the text box to read:
Then save your changes and that’s it! I recommend you have a redirection solution figured out BEFORE you make this change.
Site Speed Optimization
It almost goes without saying – everyone WANTS their website to load quickly. We all know that a slow loading website can be a huge detriment to keeping visitors on your blog instead of abandoning ship before the page even loads. Google, too, loves websites that load quickly. This is another major factor that goes into the user experience equation.
There’s two tools I recommend for checking your site speed and I suggest using them both as they help you in two very different ways.
The first is WebPageTest.org. This gives you an overall idea of how fast your site loads. The “waterfall graphic” also gives you insight into what might be slowing down your page load speeds.
The second tool I suggest you use is Google’s Page Speed Insights tool. What this tool does is give you a score for your page speed optimization efforts on both mobile and desktop with suggestions on what you need to do to improve your scores.
This process can get very technical at times. If you’re not at all sure how to proceed, but have scores that absolutely need improved, I recommend hiring a professional to make these adjustments for you.
The war for better SEO scores has only just begun, but you’ve survived the first battle!
That was a ton of information, I know, but these Technical SEO Optimization tips will make a positive difference in your blog’s search engine ranking. I recommend you re-read this post an extra time or two and make notes if necessary so that you’ve got a full understanding of the techniques I’ve described.
If you found this post helpful, be sure to pin it to Pinterest, share it on social media, and subscribe to my email newsletter to stay updated on future blogging tech tips like this one. Also, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks for reading and good luck with your SEO optimization adventure!