It’s a discipline that’s so huge it can feel difficult to know where to even start.
What’s more, if you make a mistake while you’re tinkering with your technical SEO, you can derail your entire digital marketing efforts. But the fact is if the right technical foundations aren’t in place across your site for SEO purposes, then you’re not going to rank for any keywords worth ranking for.
Enterprise brands named technical SEO as its most successful strategy. (SEO clarity)
59% of SEO specialists state that technical on-site optimization is the most effective SEO strategy used. (Medium)
Plus, if you don’t peek behind the technical SEO curtain, you could even have a spanner in the works that could cause a disaster down the line. Just ask ASOS, whose SEO mistakes sunk profits by 87%.
If you want to dominate Google for your target keywords then you need to take your technical SEO seriously. The good news is that you don’t need to be a technical wizard to fix the most common technical SEO mistakes most small businesses make.
And as we’ll discuss later, your technical SEO doesn’t need to be flawless for your site to rank. We’ll demystify the art of technical SEO and give you actionable advice on fixing the fundamental mistakes most sites make.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is a wide umbrella that includes any technical process intended to improve your site’s organic search visibility. If it makes your site faster or easier for search engines to crawl, index, and understand, then it’s technical SEO.
Major pieces of the technical SEO puzzle include:
Your site’s architecture and URL structure
How fast your site loads
Thin and duplicate content
404 pages, 301 redirects, and canonical tags
Analysing Google Analytics and Search Console data
As you can see, technical SEO covers a lot of areas. It also crosses over with plenty other digital marketing disciplines.
For example, any content marketing strategy worth its salt is based on thorough keyword research, while the correct use of hreflang is as much about your site’s accessibility as it is about its SEO.
Why is technical SEO important?
You could create the best content in the world and pull off the greatest outreach campaign of all time. But if your technical SEO is lacking, you won’t rank for your target keywords.
That’s because Google wants to give searchers the best possible user experience, so it gives fast sites that are easy for it to understand precedence in the search results.
If you don’t have the foundations in place through your technical SEO, you can’t build any authority in the search results. And if your competitors have optimized the technical aspects of their site then you’ll seriously struggle to keep up with them in the search results.
Plus, if you’re not on top of your technical SEO, you could be making a serious mistake that completely derails your entire SEO strategy. For example, the misuse of your robots.txt file could block your entire site from Google’s crawlers.
Don’t I need to be a developer to do technical SEO?
One important thing to note is that you don’t need to be a developer to reap the rewards of technical SEO.
It’s much more important that you understand how search engines work and how to communicate changes you want to make to your site to a developer than how to code yourself.
8 most common technical SEO mistakes
Your site’s technical SEO is crucial to its success in the search engines, and you don't need a degree in computer science to make improvements to your site that help boost its search visibility.
But where do you start? Here are the biggest technical SEO mistakes business owners make – and how to fix them:
1. Targeting the wrong keywords
Google’s algorithm analyses a handful of factors on each page to determine which searches it would be a relevant result for. These factors give you a chance to tell Google exactly what a page is about – and what keywords you want it to rank for.
Optimize your pages for keywords effectively and everyone wins:
Google can easily understand exactly what your page is about and serve it in relevant queries.
Google’s users get the best results for their searches.
Your content ranks for your target keywords, driving relevant traffic to your site.
Target the wrong keywords with a page – or none at all – and you won’t rank for the phrases that could make a difference to your business.
For example, without targeting the keyword, G2 wouldn’t rank at the top of the organic search results for a term as competitive as ‘CRM software’:
To make sure you’re in with a chance of ranking for your target keywords:
Include it word-for-word in your page’s title tag (preferably as the very first words, as long as that doesn’t require sacrificing readability).
Include it in the page’s URL (preferably word-for-word if that works within your URL structure)
Include it in your page’s H1 tag word-for-word
Include it within the first 200 words of the page’s body content word-for-word
Include variations of it throughout the page
Include long-tail variations of the term as sub-headings throughout the page
Include LSI keywords throughout your content (related keywords a comprehensive article would have to include, like ‘basketball’ and ‘Chicago Bulls’ in an article on Michael Jordan)
If it didn’t, it would struggle to rank for this term given how competitive it is. Of course, if SEO success was as easy as following these steps for every page on your site we’d all sit at the top of the Google search results for our target keywords.
But fail to follow best practice when it comes to optimising your pages for your target keywords and you simply won’t rank for any terms worth ranking for.
How to know which keywords to target
There are few things more critical to your SEO success than whether you’re targeting the right keywords. To make sure you’re hitting the keywords that have the biggest benefit to your business, perform thorough keyword research.
During this process, don’t overlook performing a competitor keyword analysis to make sure you’re not missing out on any terms your competitors are ranking for. Claiming top spot for these terms hits two birds with one stone – boosting your search visibility while diminishing the competition’s.
Common mistakes when it comes to optimizing a page for a keyword
Picking the wrong keyword. By far, the biggest mistake marketers make when it comes to optimizing a page, is picking the wrong keyword. Take the example of Manhattan Tech Support, a business that only provides its services in New York City but has optimized this service page for the generic term ‘managed IT services’:
As a result, this page appears near the bottom of the first Google results page for the term ‘NYC managed IT services’, despite that being the keyword it should be directly targeted at:
Tweaking the target keyword of this page is a simple change that could ultimately have a huge impact on this small business’s bottom line if it was to improve its ranking for this term by just a few spots.
Review the keywords you’re targeting – especially with your key services pages – and make sure they match up with exactly what you want to rank for to ensure you’re not making a similar mistake.
2. Keyword stuffing
Another common mistake is keyword stuffing – the practice of forcing your keyword into your content an unnatural amount of times. While this used to be an effective tactic way back in the early days of search, it’s an incredibly outdated practice that will actually get you a penalty from Google today.
Mention your keyword a few times throughout your article in a natural way, but be sure not to try and cram it in every paragraph.
3. Failing to take searcher intent into account
Before you optimize any page for a keyword, make sure its content matches searcher intent.
While Apple would love to rank top for the term "best smartphones," users searching Google for that term are looking for an unbiased comparison, and they’re not going to get that from one of the biggest smartphone brands.
So before you race to try and rank for a keyword, check what kind of content appears at the top of Google’s results for it and make sure the content you produce aligns with that.
If you can’t produce a genuinely quality piece of content for a term – as Apple couldn’t for "best smartphones," then your efforts will be better spent optimising for other keywords, even if they receive fewer searches a month.
4. Slow site speeds
If your site loads slowly, your rankings will suffer. Site speed is not only a direct ranking factor, but also has a big impact on the UX signals Google uses to measure a site’s quality.
For example, bounce rates increase by 50% if your website takes two extra seconds to load. And the more who people bounce off your site, the lower you’ll sink down the search engine results pages.
So, make sure site speed optimization is at the top of your technical SEO to-do list.
Common mistakes when it comes to site speed
Using uncompressed media files. Uncompressed media files can grind your site speed to a halt. Just ask Dollar Shave Club, whose homepage has the lowest possible site speed according to Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool due to an autoplay video that takes an age to load:
Steer clear of site speeds like this by being careful not to overload your site with too many uncompressed media files. You can ensure this by optimizing and lazy loading your images, as well as leveraging browser caching.
5. Neglecting your mobile site
Today, the majority of all website traffic comes from mobile phones. What’s more, your mobile site is about to become more important than ever, with Googling currently rolling out mobile-only indexing.
That means that soon, the only version of your site in Google’s index is going to be the mobile version. That poses a big problem for any site that’s fallen into the same trap as A Gift Personalized – having a fine desktop site speed but a glacial mobile site speed:
The mobile version of this site takes over 14 seconds longer to become interactive than the desktop version.
To avoid making the same mistake, be sure to check both versions of your site in Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool and prioritise changes that improve your mobile site’s speed in advance of Google’s mobile-only indexing.
6. Poor site architecture
Site architecture is one of the most overlooked aspects of technical SEO. However, it’s an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to efficiently distribute link equity throughout your site.
Used intelligently, internal links can be leveraged to give your less established pages a boost from your most authoritative pages.
What’s more, your site architecture is one of the few SEO levers you can pull that’s 100% in your control. You can influence exactly how link equity is spread across your site without having to rely on any external factors.
A particularly effective approach to site architecture is to create topic clusters that build your site’s authority and relevance in a particular subject matter. Topic clustering and interlinking is exactly how G2 established its authority, and it’s a method we recommend if you want to follow suit.
You can see at a glance how creating a cluster out of these pages will help establish Best Value Schools’ authority on the topic of MBA programs, especially as each of these linked resources interlink between one another.
Of course, most sites’ most authoritative page is its homepage. A simple way to help new pieces of content become established in the SERPs as quickly as possible is to add a section to your homepage that automatically links to your latest pieces of content.
This will send link equity directly from your most established page to your newest pages, helping to quickly boost their authority.
Again, this doesn’t have to be anything complex, as this section of Looka’s homepage shows:
Beyond these specific techniques, be sure to use every opportunity you spot to naturally link between pages on your site. This will help create as tight of an internal linking structure as possible, which will give your less authoritative pages across your site an SEO boost.
7. Neglecting structured data
The easier your site is for Google to understand, the more likely it is to be favoured by its algorithm.
Structured data, or schema markup, is a way of speaking directly to search engines so they don’t have to work to interpret the content on your site.
Instead of leaving Google to guess the context of a certain piece of content, you can tell Google exactly what kind of information it’s interpreting – without changing the experience for human visitors.
This allows Google to crawl and index your site more effectively, which will improve your organic rankings. Marking your content up with structured data also means it can appear as a rich snippet in the Google results.
This adds extra information on top of the title and description, making your page more appealing to searchers:
This can be particularly effective at driving the click-through rates of product pages. For example, by using structured data to show its 4.4 star Google review rating, Jitbit has set its helpdesk ticketing system apart from the competition in the SERPs:
Structured data also gives you a chance to appear in SERP features such as carousels, increasing your real estate in the Google results for your target keywords:
You can also find the full structured data vocabulary on Schema.org to find the best markup to use in each instance. Of course if you’re not a developer, you won’t want to be making changes to the back-end of your site.
Luckily, there are plenty of plugins, like Schema App Structured Data for WordPress, that allow you to add structured data to your pages without you having to touch the source code.
For the best results, get to grips with the basics by reading Google’s guidelines then use a plugin so you don’t need to get a developer to implement each piece of schema markup for you.
8. Not dealing with duplicate content
Duplicate content – having the same content on multiple pages on your site – can wreak havoc on your ability to rank for your target keywords.
It not only makes your site bloated and difficult for search engines (and users) to understand, but also leads to keyword cannibalization issues that can seriously hamper your ranking potential.
More often than not, duplicate content is caused by a technical issue rather than a human mistake. For example, your CMS might create two versions of a page: one that ends in a backslash and one that doesn’t. Or one where the URL slug begins with a capital letter and another that’s entirely lower case.
In Google’s eyes, each of these URLs are independent pages:
And that’s not all. Duplicate content issues can also be caused by both the www and non-www or http and https version of a site being indexed by Google.
You can also run into duplicate content problems if a page exists as both site.com/example and site.com/catagory/example.
How to identify and fix duplicate content issues
As you can see, there are plenty of ways duplicate content can be caused. Luckily, it’s a simple (although time-consuming) process to fix.
The easiest way to identify if your site is suffering from any duplicate content issues is to use a site crawler to get a full picture of every URL associated with your site.
From there, you can find duplicate content issues and resolve them.
First, choose a URL structure you want to stick with across your site (i.e. either site.com/example or site.com/example/).
Then, use 301 redirects and canonical tags to make it explicit to Google which URLs are duplicate pages and which are the real versions.
After this, you’ll need to go through your site and change any links that now point to redirected or canonicalised pages so they point to the main version of the content.
If your site is plagued by technical SEO issues it will seriously struggle to rank for your target keywords.
And while technical SEO can be daunting, hopefully you now understand five areas that you can tackle today – no technical expertise required. This will give you the best possible chances of outranking the competition and getting the most from the rest of your digital marketing efforts.
Make fewer mistakes with better software.
Using top-tier SEO software is one way to mitigate technical SEO mistakes before they occur.
Adam Steele is the Founder and COO at Loganix, a SEO fulfilment partner for agencies and marketers. Loganix builds easy-to-use SEO services that help businesses scale. Check out their SEO guides and templates on the blog.
Make fewer mistakes with better software.
Using top-tier SEO software is one way to mitigate technical SEO mistakes before they occur.