The Science Behind Technical SEO

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is a crucial part in the overall SEO method. That is why it is important to make sure that you understand the science behind methodical search engine optimization and how to fix them.

If you want your site to rank higher on the SERPs, it’s sound practice to check you’re not making any common technical SEO mistakes. Basic slip-ups in technical SEO methods could be costing you visitors and potentially eating into your profits.

Maybe you’re already aware of some issues with your site. If so, today’s technical SEO primer should shed further light on these commonplace problems. Even if you’re not aware of any technical SEO problems, it’s a smart idea to audit your site for these common issues periodically.

If you can get a handle on all of the common mistakes people normally make with technical SEO, you could drastically enhance the performance of your site.

Setting a solid foundation

If you’re trying to grow a website, setting up a strong, robust foundation is crucial for growth. When you have a crappy foundation you can bring in some organic traffic but not large amounts.

MOST COMMON TECHNICAL SEO MISTAKES

  1. 404 Errors
  2. 302 VS 301 Redirects
  3. Website Migrations
  4. Improper Set-Up of HTTPS
  5. Redirect Chains

1) 404 ERRORS

We’ve all clicked a link only to be greeted with “Page Not Found”. That’s a 404 error right there.

This particular error message indicates that the server was unable to find the webpage at the URL you typed in.

For example, imagine you were reading a blog post about top-tier colleges. You click on a link for acceptance rates at Cornell Law School. You’d expect the link to take you to a page filled with statistics, but you’ll get a 404 error instead if that page doesn’t exist.

404 errors typically occur when a page is deleted or moved to a new URL.

Mistyping a URL also results in a 404.

Sometimes, 404 errors show up if there’s a general internet issue. Refresh your page and see if that helps.

HTTP STATUS CODES

The internet is made up of two basic components – clients and servers.

Web clients are browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari therefore when you enter a URL in the browser and hit return, the client (browser) sends a request to the server, and the server responds. This also happens every time you click a link.  

This request is made using the HTTP protocol. Protocols are standards that everyone on the internet agrees to abide by, whether that’s a programming language or this type of use case.

So, the client makes a request by typing a URL or clicking a link. Status codes are in place to let us know whether the request was a success, a failure, or something between the two.

There are different types of status code and each type is categorized by the number at the beginning of a 3 digit code such as 1XX, 2XX, 3XX.

  • 1XX is an informational request
  • 2XX is a successful request
  • 3XX is a redirection request
  • 4XX is a client error request
  • 5XX is a server error request

This means that a 404 error is a client error request (i.e. a request sent from the browser).

Some 404 errors come from a systemic issue. An issue with your code could be causing your XML to generate faulty URLs. This might be the case if you suddenly find you’re getting more and more 404 errors. This should be simple to fix as it’s likely a single issue with your code triggering multiple error messages.

What’s the big deal with 404s, then?

WHY ARE THEY A PROBLEM?

404 error pages are a problem because they can hinder the crawling, indexing, and ranking of that page by search engines.

Google looks favorably on sites that provide a positive user experience. A high bounce rate usually indicates an uninteresting and unengaging site. A bounce occurs when someone arrives at a page and leaves almost instantly.

HOW TO FIND THIS ERROR

It’s important to address 404 errors and remove them regularly to improve the performance of your page.

So how do you find them?

You can detect 404s either manually or by using monitoring tools and broken link checkers. These applications scan your site and report any broken links.

MANUALLY FIND 404 ERRORS

In your Google Analytics console, go to:

  • Content > Content by Title

Next, you’re going filter your search in Analytics so it finds the occasions where visitors have visited your 404 error page. To create this filter, type “Filter Page Title: Containing”. Add the title of your 404 error page, whatever you named it when you created it.

When you press Go on the filter page, it should throw up all instances where people landed on your 404 error page.

You can filter this search further by manipulating the date range.

FIND 404 ERRORS WITH ERROR MONITORING TOOLS

Error monitoring tools do all this work for you.

Common applications include:

  • Broken Link Checker
  • Dr Link Checker
  • Dead Link Checker
  • Screaming Frog
  • SEMrush Site Health Checker

HOW TO FIX IT

Fixing the problem depends on whether they are incoming 404 errors or outgoing 404 errors.

Incoming 404 errors are links from sites that are pointing to your page. You can rectify this by redirecting the page to the correct page, or you could contact the webmaster and ask them to change it at their end. 

Outgoing 404 errors are errors that are on your own site. You can fix these using an error monitoring tool that will crawl your site and identify any broken links. You can then go into each one and rectify it by redirecting it to the correct page.

2) 302 Vs 301 REDIRECTS

When you want to redirect someone to a new page or new URL there are two types:

  • 301 redirects
  • 302 redirects

301 redirects are used for a permanent move to a new location while 302 are used for temporary moves.

It would make sense to use a 301 redirect

People sometimes use the temporary 302 redirect to avoid triggering Google’s aging delay. This aging delay is a filter in Google’s algorithm that prevents sites from ranking for up to 8 or 9 months.

If you use the permanent 301 direct to your new URL, Google will assume it’s a new site, and your page won’t rank for months.

So, a common workaround is to use the 302 temporary redirect so you don’t lose traffic. I’ll tell you now this is risky and you could be penalized.

Search engines handle each type of redirect differently, so you should use the correct type. If you don’t, you could confuse the search engines and harm your site’s rankings.

3) WEBSITE MIGRATIONS

A site migration is sometimes a natural part of your site’s growth. This could be a new domain name, a redesign, or switching from HTTP to HTTPS.

Common website migrations include:

  • Not planning adequately for risks
  • No back-ups in place
  • Giving robots incorrect access to a site
  • Not implementing redirects properly
  • Not checking for broken links
  • Failing to update your new website details everywhere other than your site

Get website migration wrong and you could lose traffic and rankings.

4) IMPROPER SET-UP OF HTTPS

HTTPS sites have an added layer of security to reassure visitors that a site is safe to use. Moving your site to HTTPS can improve your site’s ranking on Google.

To change to an HTTPS site, you need to first get an SSL security certificate.

The problem with switching to HTTPS is that visitors to your site may still get the private browser error message if it’s not set up seamlessly.

Also, changing from HTTP to HTTPS means that all internal and external links will need updating to reflect your new location. If you switch to HTTP but still have internal and external HTTPS links, this can affect your SEO, particularly if you don’t configure your server correctly. Google could consider your site as having mixed content and will impose penalties accordingly. 

If you have a database-driven website like Joomla or WordPress, you can download the MySQL Database file and edit this by replacing all HTTP references with HTTPS. So, find every reference to http:mysite.com and change it to https:mysite.com.

Another fix is to create redirects from all HTTP references to your HTTPS pages.

5) REDIRECT CHAINS

Redirect chains are where a page has more than one redirect.

For example, you might move a page to a new location, so you redirect your old page (A) to your new page (B). Then later, when you move the page again, you place a redirect from page B to page C.

Now, these redirect chains can harm your technical SEO as Google adds link equity to direct links. With a redirect, that link equity is diluted.

Redirect chains are also problematic because Google won’t be able to properly crawl your site. It also negatively impacts site speed, which in turn harms the ranking of your site.

HOW TO FIND REDIRECT CHAINS

To search for redirects you’ll need a tool like Screaming Frog, SEMrush, or Redirect Checker.

These tools scan your URLs for any mismatched 301 and 302 redirects. When you’ve audited your URLs, you can identify any with too many redirects. You can then configure them properly and repair any weakening of link equity.

HOW TO FIX REDIRECT CHAINS

Depending on the tool you use, locate the unnecessary URLs in the application then trace them on each page.

You can edit each link individually and redirect to a new page.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend that you regularly audit your SEO for these common issues so you can keep your site performing at its very best.

No matter how big your site is, doing a regular check for broken links and redundant redirects will speed up your site and provide your users with a much better experience.

If anything still isn’t clear or you’re struggling with anything I haven’t covered in today’s glimpse at technical SEO problems, reach out and I’ll be delighted to help out.

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