The Impact of Technical SEO on Your Ability to Be “Right Place, Right Time”
Your online content strategy is immaculate. Your analytics give you a thorough understanding of your prospects’ journey. Your design is award-freaking-winning. But you’re still struggling to connect with prospects in the right place and at the right time and therefore your demand marketing program is struggling to realize success. Most notably, you don’t see the level of traffic and conversions that you expect from your strongest engagement channel: your website. Sound familiar?
Even the best demand marketing programs can fail for one simple reason: people can’t find you. Unfortunately, most marketing teams will spin their wheels trying to figure out what’s happening, investing more and more into a content strategy in an effort to boost search rankings and more and more into new channels in an effort to be in the right place, never to realize that the problem could actually be that they never built a strategy for their own website’s technical SEO structure.
Technical SEO has a huge impact on your online visibility, and not just search rankings. Conversion rates always suffer when sites get slower, online ads cost more when the mobile experience isn’t prioritized, and press releases can’t bring in traffic if old links lead to dead ends.
The negative impact that neglecting technical SEO can have on your demand marketing success can be sinister, and hard to pinpoint, that’s why it’s crucial you take into consideration the strategic impact of technical SEO so that your demand marketing program can thrive.
What Is Technical SEO?
SEO can be broken down into three categories: technical, on-page, and off-page. Most marketers are familiar with on-page and off-page SEO. These focus on your site’s content strategy and its relationship to the rest of the web. If you’re not considering on-page and off-page SEO in your content strategy, that’s a separate conversation, and we recommend reading Four Steps to Take Before Launching New Content to get started.
Technical SEO, however, is about improving technical aspects of your website in order to make it easier to crawl, easier to understand, and more valuable overall to search engines. Ultimately, it’s about two things: ensuring the maximum number of people can find your website and ensuring you have an accurate representation of your users. And the best part? Anything you do to improve technical SEO will inherently improve the end user experience.
Technical SEO often involves a full audit of your website in order to understand what issues might be hindering it. Most sites, for example, are A LOT slower than we realize. For most of us, we use the internet as part of our jobs, on work laptops connected to high-speed, private (or lately, home) networks. But when Google checks if your website is fast enough, it uses a mid-tier Android device on a mobile network. So an audit is necessary to understand search engines’ perspective of your website.
Why does this matter? Because if Google deems your site too slow, or if Google can’t read the content on your site, your site is much less likely to come up in the search results when a user is actively researching solutions to their pain point. If you’re not shown in search results, or if your ads aren’t served because of site performance, then it becomes next to impossible for your content to meet users in the right place and at the right time.
Even those who have found you through a direct link via a different engagement channel are much less likely to stay on your site if their experience is subpar. Think again about how slow load times, dead links, and missing redirects impact the user experience and result in a high bounce rate. Now, you’re not only missing out on traffic, but you’re actively spending money on leads that leave your site before conversion. I recommend reading How to Optimize your Marketing Engagement Channel Strategy to learn more about this.
Mastering technical SEO is critical in order to reap the rewards of a strategic demand marketing program. Otherwise you will never be in the right place at the right time. So, what are the most common problems and how can you solve them?
Common Technical SEO Issues (And How to Solve Them)
First and foremost, technical SEO should be a part of your demand marketing strategy from the beginning. But even before beginning, as mentioned previously, a full audit is highly recommended. That being said, let’s look at some of the most common technical SEO issues and their solutions.
Fix this first. If you take nothing else away from this article, take the understanding that the best and most lasting improvement you can make to your site’s technical SEO is to make your site as fast as possible for as many users as possible.
For most sites, backend performance is in great shape. Web hosts have gotten better and better at serving pages quickly through an efficient cache. But the frontend – what happens after the browser begins to process a page – is often left unaddressed. And these differences can have a noticeable impact on performance and search rankings. While Google and other search engines avoid being emphatic about the exact consequences of page speed, studies such as Neil Patel’s analysis of 143,827 URLs, show the clear correlation.
Take the two sites below. On the left is a Google PageSpeed Insights report for ANNUITAS’ new Insights section. On the right, is a competitor’s resource section.
Both pages load from the server incredibly fast. But on the ANNUITAS site, we take special care to treat search engines and visitors to a lean, performant site. On this page we’re loading a couple dozen content offers, every author, and a newsletter sign-up form. But Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool barely notices the weight. The competitor’s site, however, focuses on serving a huge amount of content without concern for optimization, and Google notices. This means that, given the choice between the two sites (if all other variables are held equal) Google will prefer the site on the left.
So what do we do differently? We:
- Optimize images through a plugin (automated)
- Defer offscreen images (lazy load, automated)
- Minify everything that supports minification (automated)
- Eliminate render blocking resources
- Work with developers to delay non-critical scripts and styles
- Work with developers on any remaining bottlenecks
The result is a page that is fast no matter your device or network. Everyone wins. If your site serves international users, this is doubly-important, as a bloated site can have noticeable impacts on internet costs.
Content Structure and Visibility
Content is the backbone of your demand marketing strategy. You’ve taken the time to understand your buyers and created content that they will find relevant and engaging. But when it comes to SEO, how you present that content matters just as much as what’s on the page itself.
Search engines have gotten ridiculously smart when it comes to understanding web content. Because of that, it’s more important than ever (especially because of the extreme amount of content and competition on the web) to provide semantic, meaningful structure to your content. That way, you’re helping search engines “read” your content and positioning your website to be served as often as possible.
So, how do you do it? Use markup to define what your content is and how it flows at the micro and macro levels. Unfortunately, that’s not what most people are doing. Here is a basic, micro-level example of bad practices, which might look very familiar.
On its face, to the end user, the hierarchy is very clear. A main point with subpoints and supporting paragraphs, followed by the introduction of a new section and further supporting content. But what does Google see?
Google sees the most important part of the page (the top-level heading, or H1), then a bunch of paragraphs (the fact that some of them are bold is meaningless to hierarchy), then the most important part of the page again??? And then another paragraph. To Google, the hierarchy of this content is almost entirely flat, and the message is muddled due to lack of structure and redundant H1s.
And of course, this is a very simple example. But it was also lifted directly from a very popular website. I just added the Latin.
At the macro-level, search engines want to understand your site as a whole. For this you need thorough sitemaps, clean, easily readable URLs, and a plan for any dead or updated links to redirect to a new destination.
Going Above and Beyond
Once you’ve set a good baseline, your website can really stand out by focusing on deeper integrations that truly highlight the value of your content and your site’s commitment to inclusion.
At a glance, Structured Data looks like just a way to make recipes look better in search results. But it’s so much more. Structured Data is about taking the guesswork out of content semantics, and directly defining what your content is and how users can interact with it.
The most common examples for our clients include:
Taking a closer look at Subscription and Paywalled Content, this structure provides a solution for a common demand marketing strategy: gating premium content behind a form submission. Google provides a way to define how the content is gated, what content will be revealed upon submission (so that content can still be indexed even if it is hidden), and other Article-level data such as headline, author, and description.
Without this in place, gated content runs the risk of either appearing to Google as an attempt at cloaking, or simply never getting indexed. If search engines believe that you are cloaking your content in an attempt to game SEO, your site could be penalized.
SSL certificates are a given for most sites now. But security for end-users also means keeping your CMS constantly up to date and patched, ensuring none of your third party services or plugins are vulnerable, and using a web hosting service that makes site hacks nearly impossible.
For this reason and many others, we host with Pantheon, a cloud-based host focused on WordPress. Pantheon automatically ensures that:
- Our certificate is always up to date
- Our WordPress version is always the latest
- We are alerted of any plugin releases or vulnerabilities
- Direct access to files on the live site is impossible
- Our site can be reset to a daily backup within a matter of minutes
ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) Compliance is about ensuring your website is navigable and usable to those with a permanent or temporary disability. This might mean a blind person using your website entirely through a screen reader, or it might mean someone with their arm in a cast using their keyboard instead of a mouse. Either way, compliance means that the maximum number of people can use your website. Besides being a very awesome thing to do, ADA Compliance is also a legal requirement for many companies, and provides an improvement to your site’s technical SEO.
But, a note of caution: Any company that tells you that ADA Compliance can be automated through scans or plug-and-play tools is a scam. Like all meaningful improvements of your online presence, compliance takes care, conversation, and strategy. If you’re going to do it, do it right, and hire an expert that will work closely with you to understand your audience, your brand, and how compliance will affect both.
How to Move Forward with Technical SEO
Hopefully by now it’s very clear: Search engines want to reward sites that take care of the end user. Site speed, hierarchy, security, compliance – these are all means of improving the end user experience through a fast, safe, inclusive website. Technical SEO then could be described as improving your end user experience in such a way that those steps are also clear to search engines, so that when search engines are choosing between pages to present to users in organic search and ads, your pages stand out not just as well-written, but as well-meaning.
But how do you take the next steps in ensuring your site is putting the best face forward? There are many tools available to get a high-level picture of your site’s standing. Here are a few that we use regularly:
These tools help provide a high level picture of tactical issues and low hanging fruit. For example, maybe some of your URL redirects are broken, or maybe you use multiple top-level headings on a single page. Maybe images aren’t getting sized correctly, or you’re missing a few meta tags. But as you can probably tell from the discussion above, this won’t get you very far.
Unfortunately, technical SEO can’t just be thrown over a wall to a developer or an agency. It takes conversation, compromise, and people who understand its importance. Ensuring your site performs well and serves its audience can often mean difficult discussions with design over the weight of key pages, or time spent with marketing understanding the usefulness of a dozen third party tracking scripts. But most importantly, Technical SEO must be considered in the context of your Strategic Demand Marketing Plan. Like all foundational pieces of online demand marketing, it needs to be backed by strategy. Without that, you’re just guessing. Read more about how to make the critical shift to a strategic demand marketing state here.