Welcome back to our series on SEO for digital marketing! In this post, we’ll be finishing up with Technical SEO. If you’ve not read Technical SEO Part 1, we suggest you start there for a proper introduction to the topic, and some great tips!
And don’t forget, if you’re looking for help with technical SEO or digital marketing for your own site, you can always get some hands-on help with a free digital marketing strategy session, with our founder and CEO, Anna Colibri.
Now, onto Technical SEO Part 2!
Load Times and UX
Most of us have clicked on what seemed to be a promising link only for our progress bar to hang for what felt like an eternity. We gave up, pressed “back”, and loaded a new site.
That “eternity”? According to a recent study, it was around 6 seconds. For a full 40% of us, it was a paltry two seconds before we lost patience and abandoned the page. Abandoning a site after a single page is called “bouncing”, and it’s measured as your site’s “bounce rate.” If too many users abandon your site it will very quickly take a toll on your rankings. Check your Google Analytics and see what your bounce rate is. As a rule of thumb, a bouce rate under 40% is excellent, and something in the 60% range might be cause for alarm depending on your site. Over 70% is a clear red flag.
No matter what kind of content you’re delivering, page load times are extremely important to your users. Now, you can’t always control factors like mobile data throttling (when certain providers deliberately limit the speed of mobile devices on their network) with certain providers, outdated tech or software, or unusually heavy network loads, but you can at least do your part to properly arrange your site with alacrity in mind. (Yes, this will be different between mobile and desktop, but that’s complex enough to warrant its own section, further on.)
Page load speed is typically measured in TTFB (Time to First Byte), or how many milliseconds it has taken before the page has at least begun to be loaded. TTFB correlates extremely clearly with PageRank. It’s an open secret, as far as Google is concerned, but Moz has the numbers to back it up. Don’t expect to rank on page 1 if your site loads slowly and/or has a high bounce rate.
Avoid using too many plugins or trying to cram too many things onto a single page. Instead, have a unique page for each set of user rather than trying to cater to everyone all at one. Don’t make your site too flashy, either. All the flare in the world won’t impress anyone if no user sticks around long enough to see it.
When it comes to web design, less is always more. Keep animations to an absolute minimum, using them subtly and sparingly, and avoid using Flash. The technology is outmoded and flash support is inconsistent at best. Depending on your business, it might well be worth the money to move your site to a faster web host or a more capable server.
This post intends to give a general overview, but, for those of our readers who are well versed in technical SEO and are looking for something more advanced, you’d want to consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for any static (i.e. unchanging) content. This would distribute your page to a network of scattered servers so that a user could load most or all of a page from a source that was simpler, physically closer, and with better redundancy. It can be a great option under certain circumstances, but don’t think of it like a cheat code to quicker load times.
There’re some complex factors in the cost-benefit analysis, so be sure that you’re not signing up for a CDN blindly. Ask your web developer to advise you. You might also have read something about limiting or controlling browser caching by using an “expires header,” which basically just tells a browser to keep a record of parts of your site so that they can be loaded from memory, rather than re-downloaded on a subsequent visit. (And this is why you shouldn’t expect a speed boost from deleting your browser cache, folks!) There are definitely some perks, and expires headers are easy to implement, but they’re very easy to implement badly, and you can do some serious harm by misusing them. Don’t think they’re an easy answer, but do your due diligence and figure out how best to make them work for your business.
Un-optimized images are probably the single most common culprit for excessive load times, but, with so many different kinds of problems, they seemed to warrant their own section. Basically, images need to be small to be efficient, and they need to be efficiently loaded by a browser.
JPEGs tend to be smaller than PNGs, and in most circumstances they’re of perfectly good quality. SVGs, a vector image format, are best for scalability, but are probably over-engineered for most websites. If you didn’t know what an SVG was before reading this, odds are that your industry doesn’t call for it.
A great way to optimize images, and to increase page load times, is by using sprites rather than individual images. Sprites are spirit-folk from the Faerie world. They can be bound in iron and, by speaking their true names, they can be induced to use their magic to cause images to load faster.
Seriously though, sprites are great. They are a single image which itself contains all the little image artifacts your site will need. Think of an array of all the different visual parts of your menu, then make that a single file. Remember buying model airplane kits, and getting a sheet of plastic from which you’d punch out all the little pieces? Remember how much easier it seemed to get a single sheet to punch them from than it would have been to get each piece individually? Browsers have pretty much the same experience, so do them a favour and use sprites as liberally as you can. It’s easy work to use CSS to call for a particular portion of the sprite in a given place, and it saves you hours of work if you ever choose to rebrand your site or troubleshoot a loading error.
Have Fun with 404s
While we’re on the subject of loading errors, do yourself a favour and create a tongue-in-cheek 404 page for your site. It’s a little outside the scope of bare-bones technical SEO but it’s really worth your time. With a cartoon or a parody or a little browser-game you can make a world of difference for UX and it won’t go unnoticed for your DA. Another idea that benefits your SEO is to add links to key blog posts with catchy titles that can drive traffic to your website.
We’ve come to this. Google is pushing for mobile-first in pretty much every area, and you should, too. Most users are on their phones (or tablets, which continue to eke out a decent slice of the pie-graph) so put the needs of these devices first. Desktops are great at rendering and using well-optimized and cleverly laid-out mobile sites but mobile devices just don’t have a great interface for a desktop-first site. And make no mistake, mobile use is the new norm.
Mobile v. Desktop Users ComScore
Avoid flash, or any other content that doesn’t have universal playability. A “missing plugin” error message is always a slap in the face, and you’ll alienate a subset of your users by keeping your content locked away behind a software chasm. Most users will decide that your content is more trouble than it’s worth (to load a new plugin, or a compatible piece of software onto their device) and will quickly move on to one of your competitors.
Don’t overload your site with options and content either. Your home page, at least, should be simple and intuitive. Don’t offer me blog posts if I came for product listings, and vice versa. With one click I can make my intentions clear, and with another I should be able to find the thing I’ve come in search of.
If you’re ever curious about load times, or how well your site renders on mobile devices, you’re probably already using one of the best all-in-one tools for auditing and diagnosing your own site. Chrome’s Developer Tools let you pretend a different screen size and resolution, a different browser or operating system, different network speeds and limitations, and more.
You can record and play back your website’s loading process, so you can see how things come into focus in slow-motion. It’s a great tool for troubleshooting one of my own biggest pet peeves — when you click a link and, by the time the click is registered, the link has moved, usually because something has loaded above it and pushed it down, and the click registers on the wrong thing. It’s absolutely maddening, and it happens way more often on mobile than on desktop.
More in Store
So that’s been our breakdown of Technical SEO for digital marketing — what it is, and how to use it for your own site. We hope you’ve enjoyed, and we hope you’ll stick around for the rest of the series. We’ve got a piece coming soon which describes On-Page and Off-Page SEO, and another not long after that with a more detailed description of Local SEO (which we covered in overview in our recent Micro Moments post.) Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details. If you don’t want to wait, or if you have a specific question, don’t hesitate to take us up on our offer for a free digital marketing strategy session with our founder, CEO Anna Colibri.
Colibri Digital Marketing
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Originally published at colibridigitalmarketing.com on March 22, 2017.