Crucial Skills for Technical SEO

By Will King | December 8, 2019

Last updated: January 19, 2020

Technical understanding and capability are crucial skills for an effective SEO. Knowing how search engines crawlers interact with websites and the process that happens behind the scenes will help you improve the SEO health of your websites.

There are certain knowledge areas that will help you understand and perform technical SEO tasks. The purpose of this article is to suggest topics that anyone with an interest in improving technical SEO should consider learning.

Familiarise Yourself with Chrome Dev Tools

Behind the scenes of the Google Chrome browser is the incredibly useful developer tools. Think of dev tools as a way to look under-the-hood of a webpage. It provides rich and detailed information about a pages HTML structure, images, media, and any resources loaded into the page. You really need to familiarise yourself with this tool as it allows you to analyse the technical structure of a webpage.

Most SEOs will be familiar with the Elements tab which displays the HTML source code. More useful however is the Network tab which reports on all the resources a page loads. Think of this as everything a search engine could try to request when crawling your pages.

Understand How Http Requests Work

The Internet is built upon a protocol called http. It controls how a web browser connects to a web server to request and display a web page. When a search engine crawls a webpage, this same http process takes place.

A status code is part of the response a web server sends to a web browser and each code represents a status for the requested page. The most commonly known server status is 404 which means ‘page not found’. There are many others such as 301 which redirects the browser to a different page.

These server statuses are sent regardless of whether a person or Googlebot tries to access the page and have a huge effect on SEO. Technical SEOs need to understand what the most common server status codes mean and how they affect SEO. All of this can be analysed using Chrome Dev Tools.

Learn How Bots Crawl Websites

Crawling is the very beginning of any SEO process. If Googlebot can’t access (crawl) your content, it cannot be indexed and won’t rank for anything. This might sound simple enough but it does create lots of SEO challenges.

Firstly you want to get to grips with the robots.txt file. A robots.txt file should exist on every site and instructs search engines bots as to what pages can and cannot be crawled. Its purpose is to restrict access to certain types of content but it can be used to control crawling on any URL.

Crawling can be more complicated on websites that are heavily reliant on javascript to render content. Javascript frameworks such as React and Angular are popular at the moment but they can affect crawling. If you do use a JavaScript framework then you need to know about server-side rendering (SSR) and client-side rendering (CSR) as this influences how accessible your content is to search engines.

Get to Grips With Indexing

Crawling is only one part of the process. Search engines also need to index your content. If Google doesn’t index your pages, they can’t generate any organic search traffic. Some people get crawling and indexing confused as the same thing, but they’re very different processes.

There are lots of on-site factors that influence whether Google indexes a page. As a technical SEO, you need to understand a concept called canonicalisation. This is the process which controls which of your pages get indexed by Google.

There are some pages that you might not want Google to index and this can be controlled using something called a noindex meta tag. You have to know how these SEO concepts work and how they’re implemented on a website.

Learn the Basics of Programing

Programming languages don’t directly affect SEO, but a level of programming capability will help you perform SEO tasks. You don’t need to be a programmer or know an actual language such as javascript, PHP or python, but understanding the fundamentals of programming will help you.

More importantly, a crucial skill for any SEO is being able to communicate with all stakeholders. This will often include members of a development team with a limited appreciation for SEO. A basic understanding of programming improves developer relations and will help when discussing complex technical topics.

Nearly all programming languages do the same thing, just with different approaches and syntaxes.

  • Variables – Variables store information. Variables can be moved around and their information can be changed.
  • Conditional Logic – Programming decision making is controlled using IF statements. As in IF [something is true] [do something], ELSE [do something else].
  • Loops – Automation is achieved using loops. Loops repeat some sort of action until a condition is met. For example, [print Hello World] [10 times].
  • Functions – Functions are used to perform a specific action at a specific time. Functions help you write leaner code and this is generally a good thing. There’s a programming acronym called DRY which stands for “Don’t repeat yourself and this is where functions can help. Rather than repeating the same block of code, just create a function and call it whenever you need to,

Become a Google Analytics Expert

Google Analytics is the primary analytics tool for most web marketers. Whilst Google Analytics doesn’t affect technical SEO, it does help to develop a deeper understanding of the inner-workings of Google Analytics. I can say from personal experience that I benefited hugely by learning how Google Analytics actually operates. Once you understand how Google Analytics collects, processes and reports data, your ability to make sense of the data will vastly improve.

If you go beyond the basics and use Google Tag Manager to deploy your analytics you can go even further. With some basic javascript you can push information into your DataLayer and use GTM to pull that information into your analytics. This makes your reporting so much more insightful.

Where to Go From Here?

My advice to anyone who wants to get better at the technical aspects of SEO is to go and make a website and market it. Build it, break it, fix it. This is the best way to level up your technical capabilities.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything you need to know about technical SEO. It’s a broad roundup of knowledge areas that help with tech SEO.