How Technical Details May Be Holding Your Site Back

It can be extremely frustrating to go to a website and have a horrible experience, whether through slow site speed, broken links, or incorrectly categorized pages. All of these factors and more can keep visitors from finding what they need from your site, and search engines take that into account. The technical details of a website can influence ranking in many different ways.

Need to Know Basis

Technical issues for websites can get very complicated, or should we say, technical. Depending on your level of responsibility in regard to your company website, there are different levels of information that you may or may not need to know.

  • At the highest level, the main thing to understand is that the poor performance of a website can harm search engine rankings. Google, in particular, values a website that performs well for visitors and can downgrade sites that do not provide a good user experience.
  • Marketing professionals need to consider that 3rd-party add-ons to a website such as Facebook pixels, remarketing, and other tracking, all require code that can add to server load.
  • Content creators should know that different aspects of their content, including images or videos, can impact the performance of a web page.
  • For web developers, understanding the different technical aspects that may affect a website’s performance will allow you to streamline how different parts of the website are loaded.

Technical Issues That Are Important for SEO

All technical problems of a website are important for the overall user experience, but there are some specifics that relate to SEO, especially when it comes to Google. While Googlebot and RankBrain may not care that an image is not formatted correctly on the page, it will have a problem if the image does not load at all.

Sample of an image HTML code

Here are common technical categories that can affect your search engine ranking.

Site Speed

The speed in which a website and the pages in that site load, especially on a mobile device, are very important as a ranking factor to Google. While a site that already loads quickly will probably not rank more highly if it becomes faster, a site that loads slowly may be penalized.

Common issues that affect page speed:

  • Image sizes
  • Render-blocking javascript
  • Font loading
  • 3rd party WordPress plugins 
  • Other resources called from external locations

Site Health

The overall health of a website is a signal to Google whether the content on it is healthy as well. Things like a properly configured DNS, correct sitemap(s) submitted to Google Search Console, accurate canonical URLs, spiders not being blocked, and the presence of SSL certificates are signals that Google uses to help rank a site.

Site Content

Within website pages, small details that are missing or poorly configured can add up to a big problem. While the main content of a page may be well written and full of user-friendly information, it is easy to overlook some facets that help search engines understand the page intent.

Here is a sample of the technical parts of page content that should be addressed

  • Title Tags
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Heading Tags
  • URL Structure
  • Duplicate Content
  • Thin content
  • Popups and Ads

Site Links

Links in every web page are important factors to search engines, not only discovering more about your site, but also the entire web. Google takes links seriously, so you should as well.

Sample of a website that has a broken link

Broken links, or links that return any error code (generally codes that start with a 4 or 5, such as 404 or 500), are especially looked down upon by search engines. Too many linking errors can seriously reduce your crawl budget, possibly keeping other important pages from being indexed.

301/302 and other redirects, while necessary, should be kept to a minimum. While a 301 redirect tells search engines that the resource has been permanently moved and they should consider the new location as the version that should receive all the weight of the old one, it sometimes takes a while for that to register in search results.

Redirect chains and loops are also an important technical issue to avoid. Google does not like to be taken on multi-hop trips to be able to find a final destination, and a small amount of authority is lost with every redirect. A loop is a worst-case scenario – where a link redirects to a page that itself links back to the original. In those cases, a final destination can never be reached.

Finding Technical Issues With Your Website

A comprehensive technical site audit would be the best way to find out which technical details on your website need to be addressed. When looking at specific items that may be problematic, there are some tools that can come in handy.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Google has developed its own in-house tool, PageSpeed Insights, to help web developers get a sense of the different technical details that may be slowing down their website. New to the data given is Web Vitals, signals that represent how an average user may experience how your page loads.

PageSpeed Insights results for 201 Creative

Screaming Frog SEO Spider

A spidering tool that you run from your local computer, Screaming Frog helps you find broken links, errors, redirects, and more. It will also list the title tags, meta descriptions, and other important content-related technical aspects of the website. The free version is limited to 500 pages per site, but is still very robust.

Sample of a Screaming Frog analysis for a website

Google Analytics Signals

Search engines have come a long way in understanding how visitors interact with websites. Some of the most important metrics in Google Analytics have always been Bounce Rate and Session Duration. These two numbers help gauge the interest of visitors to the site, and whether they deem the site worth staying on after their initial interaction.

A high bounce rate and an overall low session duration can signify a lot of things, but, if these numbers suddenly spike, they can also be an alarm that there are technical problems with the website. If visitors have problems navigating the site or viewing content, they will leave, and quickly.

While it has never been announced, it is believed that Google bases some ranking importance on these numbers in addition to the other performance metrics that are officially part of their algorithm.

Sample of an audience overview report from Google Analytics

Wrapping Up

The value of a website to a user can be limited by technical mistakes that may drive away potential customers. Making sure that your site operates quickly and efficiently will help with both user retention and search engine ranking.

Zach Good
 

Zach Good is the Technical Director of 201 Creative, LLC. He specializes in search engine optimization including technical, internal, and local SEO.

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