4 Poorly Understood Technical SEO Factors
:: By Larry Alton, @LarryAlton3 ::
On the surface, SEO seems pretty accessible, and it’s true that you can learn some of the basics through just a few hours of online research. In principle, all you need to rank high for queries relevant to your site is a good backlink profile, which you can build manually with the right investments, and a surplus of high-quality content.
However, there are other factors at play that can make or break your strategy, and they’re not as easy to grasp. These are technical SEO factors, which require some degree of coding or site structure familiarity, and they’re commonly missed by amateurs, throwing a wrench into otherwise solid SEO strategies.
Let’s check out a few of them and discuss what you need to know.
1. XML and HTML Sitemaps
One very important technical aspect of SEO involves the development and implementation of sitemaps. There are two common types of sitemaps: (1) Standard formatted HTML sitemaps and (2) XML formatted sitemaps. The HTML sitemap is what’s generally used for human site visitors. The XML sitemap, on the other hand, is intended for search robots like Google. You need both versions to appease both human and robot visitors.
“There are plenty [of] reasons and advantages to having sitemaps,” MediaOne Marketing explains. “Apart from making site navigation easier, this tool is also a better way of communicating instantly with search engines for indexing purposes. With sitemaps, changes on webpages are easily identifiable and are sure to be indexed much faster.”
2. /Robots.txt Files
Another technical SEO element you need is the /robots.txt file. This file gives search robots instructions about your site. Here’s how it works: A robot visits your website URL – such as http://www.example123.com/home. However, before it does that, it starts by checking for http://www.example123.com/robots.txt. Here, it will find certain information and directions that tells the robot how it’s to proceed and which pages it’s not allowed to access.
You can read all about the details of /robots.txt files by checking out this guide, but the important thing to remember is that these files aren’t hidden or anonymous. Anyone can search them, so don’t try to hide information there.
3. Mobile Optimization
Did you know that there are now more mobile-only Internet users than desktop-only users? This signals a huge shift in how Web content is consumed, and thus necessitates a response in how web pages are developed and displayed.
Google’s official stance on the issue is that website owners need to develop responsive sites to satisfy users. They encourage this by giving a slight bump in searches from a mobile device. They also add “mobile friendly” tags to sites that do well on these devices. Furthermore, non-mobile friendly sites are pushed down in the rankings. In other words, you need to invest in responsive sooner rather than later.
4. Proper 301 Redirects
Redirects are a particularly confusing topic for many people. They are necessary to keep your site up to date and relevant, but using the wrong codes can damage your site’s overall UX and directly affect search engine rankings.
There are two major types of redirects. There are 301 redirects – which are permanent – and 302 redirects – which are temporary. 301 redirects are important because they tell a search engine that the page has been permanently moved and will transfer the vast majority (90-99 percent) of the old page’s authority to the new version. However, if you mess up and use a 302 instead, you won’t get the authority transfer and will probably lose some of your traffic.
Don’t Forget the Technical Aspects
While developing high-quality content and authoritative backlinks are certainly integral to SEO success, don’t forget about the more technical aspects. Nailing these technical factors is what separates average websites from outstanding ones.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.