They’re a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong. But they’re also fun.
That’s why so many people want to do a cannonball into the backlink pool. Meanwhile, their technical SEO is left to shrivel up in the sun.
Don’t do that. Here’s the thing:
If your technical SEO is all wrong, building backlinks isn’t going to matter as much.
Why? Because your site has to actually work — from an SEO perspective — for that link juice to do its thing.
Think of your site like a car. Technical SEO is the tires. Backlinks are the gasoline.
Try gassing up a car with no tires. You won’t get anywhere. (And in this economy, you’ll waste a ton of money.)
That’s why you have to get your technical SEO together before you invest in backlinks.
What does that mean, exactly? If you cover the areas we discuss below, you’ll be off to a great start.
To index your website’s pages and display them in search results, Google has to crawl your site and “read” those pages.
Your robots.txt file tells the crawlers exactly which pages they can access and what they can do with them.
It’s a handy tool used for a lot of things involving bots. Want to see yours? You can usually find it by adding /robots.txt/ after your domain extension. Like this:
You’ll see a lot of jargon in there. You don’t have to read it all. But if you see “Disallow: /” by itself anywhere in there, you’ve got an extremely important item on your to-do list for today.
That’s because you’re hiding your entire website from Google. That means you won’t show up in search results.
There are other potential problems with robots.txt, of course. You don’t have to be a developer to figure them out. Google has this handy robots.txt tool.
As you get more advanced with this aspect of technical SEO, you can play around with disallowing particular types of pages that you don’t really need to show up in search results, such as author pages or category pages. When you reduce the number of pages you’re asking Google to crawl, you can get crawled and indexed more efficiently.
Learn more about our On-Page SEO Service.
Here’s the thing about sitemaps: You’ve got to have one.
And not just a list of links to all your site’s pages and posts thrown into your footer. (Although an HTML sitemap like that can also be helpful.)
What you really need — like right now — is an XML sitemap.
This is a simple text file you upload at the root directory level of your site, usually at /sitemap.xml/ right after your domain.
It serves a few purposes, not least of which is to make sure none of your important pages or posts is orphaned. With a properly constructed XML sitemap, Google can reach every page on your website that you want it to.
Not a technical SEO pro? WordPress and similar content management systems provide plugins that will automatically generate and update XML sitemaps for you.
You may not pay much attention to URLs. But Google does.
That’s why you have to make sure your URLs are good.
What does good mean in this context?
Header tags (H-tags) tell search engines what your content is about. They go in order, from H1 to H6.
Each H-tag level looks different from the others. And that causes many website owners to make a fatal SEO mistake:
They use H-tags for aesthetic purposes.
Don’t do that. It’s not worth it. CSS is for looks — H-tags are for SEO.
How can you tell if you have H-tag issues? Here are some ways to find out:
If you have these H-tag errors on your site, all you’re doing is confusing Google. And that’s no way to rank No. 1 for your target keywords.
Google doesn’t want to rank sites that can get hacked or expose users to malware.
That’s why your site has to be secure. This is an essential tenet of technical SEO.
Where should you start? Begin with the simplest and most essential thing: an SSL certificate.
That’s the part that gives you the “s” in “https,” and it’s basically required at this point.
Most hosting providers give you one automatically, and if you don’t have one, ask your host about it.
Other site security issues can get you pretty far in the weeds if you try to do them manually.
Luckily, there are a number of plugins and add-ons that will cover your bases for you. Just make sure you have one in place and that it’s functioning like it’s supposed to.
Your content management system (CMS) should save you time. It shouldn’t confuse you and slow you down.
Oh, and it shouldn’t be so bulky that it slows your site down, either.
There are a number of CMS options, each with its own pros and cons.
But WordPress is behind 43 percent of all websites for a reason. It’s easy to use, lightweight, customizable and free.
Ultimately, the CMS you use is up to you. But make sure you choose one that will grow with you and allow you to take advantage of all those juicy backlinks you’re going to build one day.
Have you moved your site from one domain to another? Have you deleted pages or consolidated content?
If so, did you remember to set up proper 301 redirects?
Many people skip this essential part of technical SEO — often to devastating effect.
Here’s the problem from an SEO perspective:
If you had a website or webpage that had backlinks pointing to it, you completely lost that backlink power if you didn’t set up a redirect when you moved to another domain or URL.
What a waste.
Then, of course, you have the issue of a bunch of broken links on your site. And Google doesn’t like it when you delete a page it’s displaying in search results.
They don’t want Google users ending up on 404s when they click a search result, after all. And the algorithm might punish you if you make that happen.
Like many aspects of technical SEO, there’s an easy way to do redirects and there’s a hard way. The easy way is usually with an SEO plugin like RankMath or Yoast. The hard way is to do it in the code.
Either way, get it done before you invest in backlinks.
Speaking of server response codes like 301s, you really need to make sure your server is communicating well with browsers in general.
Every time a user visits your website, their web browser sends a request to your server. Your server sends a response.
This response tells the browser what to do next — display the page, throw an error, redirect and so on.
If your server is sending responses that begin with the number 2, you’re all good. That means everything is working.
But if you’re getting 4s and 5s, you’re in trouble. Those are errors. And Google notices them when it tries to crawl your site.
If you know a lot about server logic and architecture, you can find, diagnose and fix these errors yourself.
If you don’t, there’s a plugin or add-on for that. Use it to find the errors and implement the fixes.
Site speed is tricky. A lot of things can influence how quickly your site loads for users. And you need to stay on top of them.
Because slow site speed hurts both user experience and SEO. It’s a double-whammy.
Want to see how fast your site is? Google made a free tool for precisely that purpose.
Plug in your site, see desktop and mobile speed and get a detailed list of ways to improve your site speed.
You may never get a perfect site speed score. That’s OK.
The point is to improve it and keep everything moving as quickly as possible. That enables the best results for your users and the best performance in search engines.
Google is all about mobile. That’s why it uses mobile-first indexing.
That means you have to pay attention to how your site looks and functions on mobile.
How do you do that?
Test it with Google’s mobile-friendliness test.
Just pop your URL into the tool, wait a moment and get the results.
(You can also continuously monitor mobile friendliness of your site with Google Search Console.)
If you have pages that aren’t mobile-friendly, make the recommended adjustments until you pass.
It’s painstaking and time-consuming, but it’s worth it.
Further reading: Silos for SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Site Architecture That RANKS