What is Technical SEO and Why is it Important?

Technical SEO men running on an athletic track
Sabrina Dougall

Technical SEO refers to work that improves the user experience of a website, and appeases robots that rank it on search engine results pages (SERPs), from a website technology perspective. This means improving the responsivity, structure and site speed of your website to signal to Google (and other search engines) your website is technically sound.

Experts in technical SEO work mainly in the back-end of your website. That means they're less concerned with color schemes and image choice, focusing instead on tags, links and core web vitals.

If you're thinking that sounds complicated, you'd be right. Technical SEO is not a task for amateurs, and it requires ongoing efforts. Unless you are skilled in this area, you should certainly hire a qualified professional instead of attempting to hack into your own mainframe.

Don't know where to find a reliable technical SEO expert? We're happy to offer our unique matching service for savvy businesspeople like yourself. Simply let us know what type of website support you're looking for and we'll put you in touch with SEO specialists you can trust.

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Technical SEO: What, How, Why?

Technical SEO (search engine optimization) relates to on-page SEO, that is, work on your website to improve the way it functions. Every so often, bots from search engines “crawl” over every website on the internet, record metrics, and rank each website. Your website will be ranked higher or lower according to its technical performance. This directly determines how many web users will see your website on SERPs. 

We know that the top result on Google has a click-through rate (CTR) of approximately 28%. Around half a percent of users click a result from the second page. Big difference, isn't it?

Technical SEO click-through rate SERP example
Here's a Google SERP for "New Jersey halloween costume rental". We've marked up the average CTR for each of the top three results according to data from Backlinko.

SEO experts make tweaks to various elements of your website's internal workings to provide a better experience for web visitors. Google is constantly tinkering with its Page Experience ranking factors. A recent significant page experience update was completed in August 2021, for instance. This shows the importance of regularly keeping an eye on Google's algorithm changes.

Technical SEO stands in contrast to off-page SEO which mostly involves persuading other websites to include URL links back to your website. Such work is more closely akin to press relations: widening brand awareness through techniques such as giving interviews or writing a guest blog.

Did you know?

Google makes regular changes to the way it ranks websites, known as “algorithm updates”. These can impact the position of all websites on SERPs, which can lead to rises or critical drops in ranking overnight. Sometimes Google releases helpful information on these, though details are vague at other times.

Back to technical SEO: what are some of the core tasks involved? Below are three main activities an SEO expert should carry out regularly across the websites they are working on.

Why? Because Google said so, of course! The closer your website adheres to technical SEO best practices, the more likely Google is to rank your website higher on SERPs. That means more web traffic, and, hopefully, more conversions for your business.

1. Increasing Site Loading Speed

How quickly a web page loads is based on a wide range of factors, from the choice of website builder to the size of image files. Technical SEO work involves testing site speed using various tools, and making targeted changes to on-page elements to increase speed. This is incredibly relevant to commercial priorities of a business: research found a five times greater conversion rate for a site that loads in one second compared to a website that loads in 10 seconds.

If you want to get really technical, you should be aware of a key test the SEO expert performs. To measure the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric, a technician times the seconds it takes for the main image or textbox on a webpage to load. Ideally this should be no greater than 2.5 seconds.

Technical SEO core web vitals Google PageSpeed Insights screengrab
Google PageSpeed gives vital insights into the technical SEO performance of your website.

2. Improving Webpage Stability

When you're reading an exciting story online and want to navigate to the next page, your finger hovers over the “Read More” button. In the microsecond between tapping the button and loading up the extra text, the webpage suddenly shifts its layout. Instead you end up selecting a totally unrelated article link. Now your phone is loading a page you never wanted to read in the first place. Darn it, how annoying.

This may seem subtle, but resolving this frustrating phenomenon is a crucial technical SEO activity. Your SEO expert will measure Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), and make adjustments to get that metric towards zero. Google released evidence to prove this activity positively impacts domain (website) ranking.

3. Boosting Site Responsivity

The third crucial technical SEO metric to improve is how readily the website responds to a user's interaction. When you're trying to log into a website account, you may open up the website's homepage, then click “Sign in” somewhere at the top of the page. The time is takes from the moment you click “Sign in” until you can start to enter your log-in details is the First Input Delay (FID). Ideally this duration is no greater than 100 milliseconds (approximately 0.1 seconds).

Configuring Your robots.txt File

Unless the code of your website is correctly configured, you can actually block search engine bots from crawling (scanning) and indexing (listing) your website. This would be a disaster because nobody googling “Brooklyn dry cleaners” would ever find your local laundry services via the search engine.

Avoid this by ensuring your robots.txt file is set up properly, so that search engine bots (aka “spiders”) crawl and index your website as you wish. Your website architect should correctly configure this file in your website's backend and direct spiders to navigate your website correctly. For instance, you'll need “nofollow” directives for affiliate links so that crawlers don't detract from your website score because you've linked to paid promotional pages.

on-page SEO screaming frog crawler screengrab
SEO software, such as Screaming Frog, reveals which pages on your site are blocked from crawling by search engine bots.

What to Know Before Hiring a Technical SEO Expert

As we've seen, technical SEO improves the usability of your site for human visitors. It also “tells” search engine bots how to navigate and understand your webpages when crawling your site. Both of these factors affect your ranking position on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Unless you're willing to invest at least ten hours a week into making technological improvements to your website, you're much better off paying to outsource your technical SEO work.

Curious about costs?

The best way to get started on SEO is with a full site audit. Then you'll know exactly what needs fixing and what's already working well. We've written a handy guide to SEO audit costs.

Now, it's important to be aware that the best SEO expert in the world may not be able to get every web page on your site listed #1 on Google. Reasons may include: the business niche is very competitive, insufficient resources, or your website is simply too new.

That said, let's look at some key points to look out for when hiring a technical SEO:

Green FlagsRed Flags
Can provide case studies of improved CTRCan’t provide examples of past success
Can explain Google algorithm updates in depthBelieves “nobody knows what Google wants”
Uses a range of professional SEO toolsRelies on their “best guess” to assess your website
Takes time to understand your business goalsWorks in a set way that you can’t influence
Keeps up to date with SEO newsStill using SEO tactics from 2014
Can clearly explain their tasks and ideasWon’t go into detail about their methods

What do we learn from the above? That your technical SEO must be able to break down the complex nature of their work for your understanding. Despite the intricate technological focus of their day-to-day tasks, any SEO expert needs to be able to clarify how and why their activities benefit your business.

The best SEO agencies take the time to understand how your website supports your business goals, be it selling products, raising awareness, capturing email data or promoting events. The SEO expert then structures their work around improving your website in order to reach the specific audience you need through SERPs.

If you're scaling up a large organisation, it can be practically impossible to tackle all of your technical SEO in-house. Thankfully our research can help you choose the best enterprise SEO firm so you can grow successfully.

Want to speak to an SEO expert you can trust? Let us find you one today.

How to Hire a Technical SEO Expert

Now that you've got a great grasp on the main features of technical SEO, you're ready to start hunting for your partner professional. We're pleased to offer you a match-up service to take the hassle out of SEO expert hunting. All you have to do is express your interest in SEO services and we'll ask a trusted SEO manager to get in touch with you.

It goes without saying that all our website marketing experts adhere to technical SEO best practices. That means if you're willing to commit to a working relationship of at least one year, you're sure to see some tangible improvements to your website's user experience.

Remember, even if you're not investing in technical SEO right now, your competition certainly is. The rule of thumb with technical SEO is to plan for long-term success, rather than take shortcuts that produce sloppy results. When it comes to such a vital pillar of your digital marketing strategy, you'd be wise to invest in external expertise sooner rather than later.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina Dougall Web Marketing Expert

Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master’s in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camen New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.