11 Technical Factors for Successful SEO
I have found that there are two kinds of search engine optimization professionals: those with a marketing background and those with a penchant for coding.
SEO marketers are typically decent writers and often times very talented content strategists. They are capable of deftly incorporating keywords into site content that is both appealing to visitors and attractive to search engines. What golden grills and platinum chains are to the hip hop industry, high PageRank links and golden triangle rankings are to the SEO practice. The SEO marketing types are typically knowledgeable about the best method for attaining both – the creation and distribution of compelling, optimized site content.
Technical SEOs, on the other hand, break down barriers that would otherwise thwart a great SEO campaign. They can spot impending danger where most of us just see endless slashes, braces, semicolons and other alpha-numeric combinations interlaced throughout. SEO technicians eliminate indexing obstacles and open the lines of communication between the websites and the Google. Some of these people can write, but it’s been my experience that most prefer to leave all that to writers.
One such member of the technical SEO camp is Oliver Tani. I’ve worked with Oliver on a number of different SEO projects and have been awe-struck by his talent. He helped me fully understand the potential issues websites can cause Google and the other engines when all they want do is add your site to their index. A list of 11 technical factors that can affect the way in which Google picks up your website follows.
(WARNING: I may get a bit nerdy with the verbiage in the checklist below. If this information doesn’t make sense, contact me. I’m happy to explain further.)
When you enter your website address into a browser as http://www.yoursite.com does it render? When you enter your website address into a browser as http://yoursite.com (without the www) does it also render? If both the www and non-www version come up without one redirecting to the other, you have a canonicalization problem. Search engines view your site as two different sites, which can cause a duplicate content issue. This can often come up when you have multiple domains for a single site. Use a 301 redirect to solve this problem and to stop confusing Google.
2. Server Status
This one is normally a “gimme” as you will know most often when there is a problem with your server. To check the status of your server, you can use a header check tool. The result you are looking for here is “200 OK”. Common error statuses are 400 – Bad Request, 404 – Not Found, and 500 – Internal Server Error. Unresponsive servers or those with errors make it difficult on search engines to find and index your content.
When websites were first built, sitemaps were used as a tool for navigation similar to an office lobby directory or the Yellow Pages. Since then, visitors have warmed to present-day, conventional navigation structure. However, sitemaps still serve a purpose for SEO. They provide search engines a handy list of all the pages you have on the website. Sitemaps should use text links of descriptive terms (i.e. keywords) for each page. Be careful not to include too many links on one page (to be covered in #9), and break the sitemap into pieces if necessary. Sites should also include an XML sitemap to allow easy indexing with Google Webmaster Tools.
Think of a Robots.txt file as either a Welcome mat or a “Beware of Dog” sign for your website. A robots.txt file should be present to let search engines know that they are more then welcome to index your site. You can also use this file to tell search engines to stay away from certain pages or directories that you may not want coming up in search results.
5. Friendly 404 Pages
Websites change. Some pages are added. Nearly all are edited at some point. A few may go away permanently. For those pages that are removed, Google may not always get the memo right away. An old or dead page may still be included in Google’s index. To avoid having a potential or returning customer receive an ugly error page, it is recommended to build a custom 404 page. These pages offer a visitor friendly transition to other relevant pages on your site. Here are a few good samples.
6. External Scripting
Frames allow site owners to show text and graphics within a scrollable, embedded window on a page. Unfortunately, this outdated content presentation technique is still used by sites that are simply old school. Frames present a SEO problem in that they don’t allow Google to view and index content within the frame. Eliminate frames to accentuate important content on your web pages.
8. Dynamic URLs
Here’s an example of a search engine friendly URL string: www.yoursite.com/directory/page.htm
Here’s an example of a dynamic URL string:
The search engines have evolved to handle dynamic URLs much better than they did in previous years. However, it is still recommended to clean up URL strings as much as possible. The more convoluted the URL, the harder Google has to work to find and index the page. If possible, use keywords in your URL strings to entice search engines further.
9. Excessive Links
Earlier, I recommended inclusion of a sitemap. These are very important to a website’s ability to get indexed properly. Conversely, sitemaps and other web pages that include an excessive amount of links can be a red flag for search engines. Pages with more than 100 links may appear to Google and others as Link Farms. These pages are classified as those that divvy out links just for the sake of divvying out links. Bad news if you are a website owner trying to garner rankings. Additionally search engines may not index all the links on your page if you have too many. The more links you have on a page, the less authority or power that particular page carrying the links has with Google.
10. Preferred Coding
If there is a common theme here, it is this: make the search engine’s job a piece of cake. Certain coding practices that use complex table structure or are not compliant with W3C standards can be problematic. Clean, CSS-based code is preferred when developing sites for SEO success. This method uses the least amount of code possible to display text and images on a page that you would like to be indexed. In other words, eradicate all the extra coding as noted in #6 and give Google the content it needs to rank your site appropriately.
11. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content primarily stems from an old SEO trick gone bad. Developers would create dozens and in some cases hundreds of pages on a site just for search engines. These pages would be nearly identical except for their keyword target. For example, Page A would use “tow truck company” in a repetitive manner and that phrase would be replaced by “tow truck services” on Page B. All other page elements and text would remain the same. The smart kids at Google picked up on this hack and subsequently outlawed duplicate content. Site owners should be careful to eliminate and/or modify pages that present seemingly similar information. 301 redirects should be implemented in cases where multiple URLs point to the same page content (e.g. yoursite.com, yoursite.com/home.htm, and yoursite.com/main.htm all show the same content but render as separate pages).
If you are a site owner or marketing manager, does your site pass with flying colors? If you are a technical SEO professional, are there other important factors for which you check?