This is a guest post from John Pick. John is a veteran web developer and technology consultant. He specializes in bringing his client’s businesses “online.” By utilizing his skills as a developer he is able to take a modern online system or concept (such as WordPress, Google Analytics, CRMs, eCommerce) and tailor it to his clients needs.
If you want to drive quality organic traffic to your website, you need to optimize it for search engines. And because Google is the dominant search engine right now, optimizing your site means optimizing it for Google.
Search engine optimization is typically split into two parts:
- On-page optimization: Where you create engaging, unique, well-structured, and keyword-rich content people want to read.
- Back end optimization: The technical set up that makes it possible for Google to find, understand, and rank your site in the first place.
In this article, we’ll be diving into the second, looking at a few things to set up on the back end to help make sure you rank on Google.
This simple technical SEO checklist every developer should use. There are a lot of ideas in here that might be familiar to you and hopefully some that aren’t.
We’ve gathered all the information here into a structured, repeatable order, so you can refer to it whenever you launch a new site or troubleshoot an existing one.
An 8-point technical SEO checklist to optimize your website for search
Optimized pages are fast on both desktop and mobile. 52% of all web traffic is mobile, so your mobile speed has a massive impact on your ranking. Google has even started giving mobile-optimized pages the preferential treatment (we’ll get into that later).
Speed isn’t enough, though. The data on your page needs to be accurate and properly tagged, so you don’t run into crawl errors that stop your site from being indexed by Google. That’s why good, regular housekeeping is essential if you want your website to rank. Periodically cleaning up dead links and making sure you aren’t accidentally duplicating content will keep the tech overlords happy. Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s dive into the details.
1. Set up your Google Search Console
Setting up your Google Search Console should be the first thing you do. The console is a free tool from Google that helps you optimize a site for search. Set up is pretty painless and can be done in just a few minutes.
If you don’t have an account, you can sign up for one here.
First, head over to the Google Search Console page and select the property type you’d like to add. If you registered your property with Google Domains you can skip this step as your domain is automatically verified.
If you’ve already added your property, click on “Already started? Finish verification” at the bottom of the screen.
You’ll typically be prompted to verify domain ownership via a DNS record. Just follow the instructions on the screen.
If you verify your domain via DNS record, you’ll need to wait for a few hours so all the data can go through.
You can also verify your domain using the URL prefix. If you need to verify your domain this way, enter your complete URL. For example, if your site is https://awesomewebdev.com/ it needs to be entered exactly like that. Don’t miss any backslashes at the end of the URL. If your site is still WWW or is using HTTP, you need to add properties for those as well.
If you choose this verification method, Google will ask you to download and upload a file to your site.
For other verification methods, like using HTML tags, Google Analytics, or Google Tag Manager, just follow Google’s instructions.
2. Help Google index your site
Now that Google search console can show you how your website is performing, it’s time to submit your XML sitemap. The XML shows Google what your site should look like – architecturally – and makes it easier to crawl larger pages with multiple links.
To add your site map, follow these steps:
- Sign in to your Google Search Console
- Select your website from the sidebar
- Go to the Index section and click on sitemaps
- Add a new sitemap by entering the URL and hitting “submit:
- While you’re here, remove outdated or invalid sitemaps
By following these simple steps, you’ll give Google the road map to your website. Now their web crawlers know what your site is supposed to look like and which pages are most relevant.
3. Check for (and fix!) any site errors
Site errors affect Google’s ability to crawl your pages. And if Google can’t crawl your pages, it can’t index them, meaning they won’t show up in search.
If you recently switched to the new Google Search Console, or if this is your first time, we’ll show you where to find (and fix!) relevant errors.
To check for errors, use the URL inspection feature in your console. This shows you exactly how Google sees a particular page.
Google will then show you what’s working – and what isn’t – based on the information you’ve uploaded.
Adding a robot.txt file to your site tells Google which pages you don’t want it to crawl. If you’re having trouble with a robot error, check it’s configured correctly.
First, check which pages you’re instructing Googlebot not to crawl. With robots, it’s about telling Google what not to do as everything else will be crawled except what you specify.
It’s better not to use a robot.txt file all all than to use one that isn’t correctly configured, because Google will cease to crawl your site until errors are resolved.
404 errors happen when a page cannot be found. They can confuse search engines and return bad search results to searchers. It’s important to find and fix these, because you may be missing important information, or losing out on leads.
URL errors don’t affect your whole website, just individual pages. Make sure that all URLs have been looked over based on the results in Google search console. Once you’ve checked the URL, mark them as fixed. If the error persists, Google will let you know during the next crawl.
4. Don’t forget the metadata
The more SEO info you give Google, the better it can index your site.
The page title is the first thing users see in the search results, usually in bold:
When you’re writing a site title, add the keyword you’re targetting near the front and keep it under 65 characters, including spaces. If it’s relevant, add the name of your business, as in the example above.
Site Meta Description
Usually referred to as the meta description, your site description is visible in Google’s search results and tells both Google and searchers what your site is all about.
Your site’s meta description should briefly and concisely tell readers what you do and who you do it for. Keep it under 160 characters to avoid your description cutting off.
Alt tags for all images
Alt tags tell Google what the images on your site are about. In addition to helping SEO, alt tags provide useful information to users who may not be able to see the images on a webpage.
5. Get an SSL certificate
An active SSL certificate is essential for your site to rank highly on searches. Google has been encouraging and monitoring SSL certification for years. In 2014 they announced strong HTTPS encryption would be a key ranking signal going forward. As of 2019 they’ve taken it one step further and labeled any site without a certificate as unsafe in the address bar. This is a big warning for users not to enter private data.
Because it’s so important, there are a number of ways to get an SSL and the all-important HTTPS encryption.
Using a web host that already has SSL Security
There are a number of web hosts that provide SSL certificates and automatically configure web servers to support HTTPS connections. Google also lists websites that provide SSL security for free, including their own.
Google also offers free SSL for using their products. One of the easiest ways to get SSL is to use Google My Business, create a site through that product, and then integrate it with your secure domain.
Google’s web host partners can also provide SSL certification for your site though there may be costs associated with some.
- Bluehost (WordPress)
Get an SSL certificate from a Certificate Authority (CA)
You can also obtain an SSL certificate for your domain directly from a certificate authority such as Let’s Encrypt, or use your host. Usually your providers will offer free SSL encryption for their customers.
Just remember, you will have to configure the certificate on your web host or on your own servers if hosting it yourself.
6. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
If you want your site to rank, mobile optimization isn’t optional. Pay attention to the following.
- Avoid using flash: If you really want to create special effects on your phone, and you’re sure they won’t slow down your site, use HTML5 instead.
- Limit (or optimize) your pop-ups: If you are using mobile pop-ups, test the user experience, and make sure they show up correctly. Otherwise, they can affect load speed and lead to higher bounce rates.
- Design the layout with all kinds of hands in mind: Keep your touchscreen navigation clean and simple.
- Optimize page titles and meta descriptions: Be as concise and specific as you can.
7. Consider using AMPs
Accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) are essentially stripped-down HTML copies of existing webpage content that offer faster load times than standard HTML5 documents.
Websites can serve AMP pages by implementing the rel=amphtml tag into their HTML. Pages with AMP code contain a three-step AMP configuration.
- HTML: This is a stripped-down version of traditional HTML code.
- JS: This is used to fetch resources, and it’s stripped down to cut down on rendering that’s not necessary.
- CDN: This optimized network is designed to chase pages and apart from them to AMP code.
Using AMP pages cuts down on the need for additional CSS by getting rid of big images and unnecessary backend code to increase load times.
8. Supercharge your page speed
In July of 2018, Google launched an update to its SEO ranking system. This update told us that page speed is a major ranking factor.
Some research shows that Google might be specifically measuring time to the first byte (TTFB) as a key page speed metric. But it’s not just about that. If your site loads slowly, Google will crawl it less, and as a result fewer pages will show up.
Page speed also affects the user experience. The slower your page loads, the more people will leave (bounce), and your bounce rate also affects page indexing.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Use file compression: File compression can speed up your render speed. You can use a tool like Gzip.
- Get rid of unnecessary redirects: Keep redirects to the bare minimum
- Use browser caching: This helps speed up render time. You can set when you want data in the cache to expire. But be careful setting too long of a time period if your site design frequently changes as it can result in validation issues and a slower page render.
- Get your server response time up to speed: The amount of traffic, server software, and your actual server all affect load time.
- Use a CDN: Content distribution networks use servers around the world to deliver information faster.
Your SEO job is never quite done
Using this checklist will help you get started, but there’s so much more you can do. Google’s developer information is a great place for the latest requirements in SEO, so make sure you stay up to date.