June 8, 2017

Technical SEO Glossary

7 key factors to maximize your organic search success

What is technical SEO anyway?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving and promoting a website in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. Simply speaking, it’s about ranking higher in the search engine results for keywords related to your site. When search engines crawl sites to index in search results, they look for content that is fast, accessible, and relevant.

There are over 200 factors that go into SEO, encompassing both on-page (such as technical SEO and content) and off-page (such as backlinking and social media) factors.

Technical SEO specifically refers to the backend fixes you can make on your site to improve speed and accessibility.

Can’t I just write a few articles?

There’s no denying that writing more resources will help boost your ranking in search. If you don’t have any content on your site, then there won’t be anything for a search engine to crawl and index! But content is just one piece of the puzzle.

Technical SEO provides a foundation for your website that will help increase the ranking of any content you create. A best practice for long-term SEO growth is to make sure your site is up to snuff on the technical side, and then to keep delivering high quality content.

And the quickest way to get your site up to snuff? Understanding the key factors of SEO and prioritizing the fixes that will drive the most impact. Below is a technical SEO glossary of 7 high-priority factors so you can make any crucial changes (and know why they are important) with or without technical knowledge.

1. 301 Redirects

Say you had a landing page for a campaign on your site, but the campaign ended so you took down the page. If someone searches for that campaign on Google and chooses that URL, they’ll end up on a 404 Not Found Error page. I cringe, you cringe—and search engines may lower your ranking. For any pages that are permanently deleted, setup a 301 redirect to transfer 90–99% of the ranking to a new page. Why “301”? (It just refers to the HTTP status code for the redirect.)

2. Anchor Text

This is the text that is hyperlinked. If you are linking to a page on your own site, you want the text that is hyperlinked to be concise and relevant to the page you are linking to. Search engines use anchor text to see how people understand your content, and therefore what that content might be about. Whenever you link internally, or when you ask partners to link to your website, you want to be sure the anchor text is a relevant keyword or phrase.

For example, “click here to learn more about content marketing” connects the keywords “click here” to our content marketing article, which isn’t very informative (and is increasingly out-of-date, as more people access the internet on mobile devices). But “learn more about content marketing” connects that topic to our article—much better.  

3. Alt tags

Search engines want your content to be accessible not only to “robots” crawling your site, but also to other people! One way to do this is to add alt tags to all images. Also known as “alt text,” this is the text that you attribute to images on your site. Search engines cannot see images, so this text allows them to know what the image is of and to determine if it is relevant to the content of your article. And screen readers, browsers used by the blind or visually impaired, use alt tags to tell people what is in an image.

Most content management systems will allow you to easily add alt text when you upload or edit an image. You can also add it directly to the image source code: <img src=”http://www.yourimage.com” alt=”This is the image description”>

4. H1 (and 2 and 3) tags

Just as search engines can’t see images, they also can’t determine what’s important in your article unless you show them. Breaking up content into sections and subsections helps search engines to determine what the major and minor points are. Plus, it helps improve the user experience for your readers, who are more likely to skim content than to read every word.

“H1 tag” refers to the coding label you put on the title of an article, which would look like this: <h1> Title of My Article <h1>. “H2” and “H3” tags are used to break up content further into subsections.

5. Meta description

A meta description is a brief summary of your article that appears under the headline in search. Think of it as an advertisement for your content: What will the reader learn, and what will they gain from reading your article instead of another article? Keep meta descriptions to 160 characters or less to optimize for mobile.

6. Robots.txt

Robots.txt is a text file that webmasters use to tell search engines how to crawl their site. It is part of the robots exclusion protocol (REP), standards that regulate how robots crawl the web and serve content to users.

In other words, they make sure people are getting content that is relevant to what they are searching. Your robots.txt file will tell search engines what pages you want to show in searches (labeled as “follow”), and what pages you want to hide (labeled as “no follow”).

7. Sitemap

Basically, a sitemap is a list of all your site’s URLs in XML file form. If your robots.txt file is a directory, your sitemap is an archive of all the the pages on your site. It helps people to more easily find content on your site which means makes your site more accessible and it improves the user experience.

If you want to dive deeper, check out these resources on SEO and website optimization:

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Meredith Esquivel
Meredith is the Digital Marketing Whaler at Whole Whale, a digital agency that leverages data and technology to increase the impact of nonprofits. She is fascinated by human behavior, particularly how digital “body language” can inform marketing strategies for social good. Certified in both Google Analytics and Google AdWords, she is a classic philomath and is always seeking new and engaging ways to reach audiences online. She has conducted content marketing/SEO trainings and crafted data-driven content strategies for a wide array of nonprofit clients.