Technical SEO has a lot of moving parts and elements to consider, but there are some parameters that need more attention than others. We’ll identify these parameters and outline why they require more focus in order to optimize SEO.
What are the Most Important Technical SEO Parameters?
Robots.txt is an integral file that resides on a site’s server and acts as a directive.
What is Robots.txt?
Robots.txt is used by crawlers to understand:
- Which URLs they can access
- Which URLs, files and directories they cannot access
Why Robots.txt is Important
Robots.txt is simple in nature and one of the earliest parameters that you should educate yourself on. When it comes to technical SEO, utilizing this single file can help you:
- Improve crawl budget by blocking search engines from crawling irrelevant files and pages
- Stop unimportant files, folders and pages from being indexed
For example, you may not want Google to crawl the “/feed/” folder of every post that you have on your site, and you can leverage robots.txt to stop this crawling.
While robots.txt doesn’t guarantee that a page will not be indexed at all, it makes it less likely. In the ideal situation, the URL will not even be crawled, but if it is and you use noindex on the URL, it will not be indexed by search engines.
For example, let’s assume the following:
- Don’t-index.me.html has a NOINDEX tag but is linked on the homepage
- Google will follow this link, crawl the page and realize that it has the NOINDEX tag
If you have this file in your robots.txt, Google should not crawl that page, allowing it to spend more time crawling pages that have value on your site.
Examples of Robots.txt
If you have this text in your file, it will tell Googlebot not to crawl any file within the “/nogooglebot/” folder.
Using this directive, you would tell Googlebot not to access “page1.html,” but it can still access any other files within the “/nogooglebot/” folder.
Additionally, you can use robot.txt to tell search crawlers which files to follow and even where your sitemap is located. Below is an example of telling the crawler the location of your sitemap:
XML sitemaps go well with robots.txt files because, as you can see from the last example above, you can link to your sitemap right inside of the robots.txt file.
What is an XML Sitemap?
A sitemap is a file that lists all of your website’s essential pages.
Why an XML Sitemap is Important
XML sitemaps are a key part of technical SEO because they help search engines find pages on your site to crawl. In essence, a sitemap is a link to each separate, important page on your site.
You can have sitemap entries for:
- News content
- Blog posts
- Service pages
Search engines will find most pages on your site naturally if you have a good interlinking structure. However, sitemaps ensure that all of your important pages can be found even if they’re not interlinked on your site.
Examples of an XML Sitemap
HTTPS is one of the most important trust factors in technical SEO because users and search engines want any data you transmit to be secure.
What is HTTPS?
Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) is a secure version of HTTP. HTTP is the protocol that your web browser or mobile browser uses when transferring data to a web server.
Why HTTPS is Important
HTTPS is crucial to keeping user data safe from multiple angles of attack, such as:
- Man-in-the-middle attacks
If the data is not encrypted, it can lead to data being intercepted and stolen. For example, when making a purchase on an e-commerce store, HTTPS ensures that all payment data is safe and secure.
Setting up HTTPS requires you to purchase and install an SSL certificate.
URL structure is important, and something you should address early on in a site’s existence.
What is URL Structure?
URL structure consists of five main parts:
- Protocol: HTTP or HTTPS
- Subdomain: optional
- Root Domain: main site/brand name
- Top-level domain (TLD or cTLD): .com, .net, .org, etc
- Directory or slug: folder(s)
- Page: individual page/filename
- URL Parameters: variables for filtering, pagination, etc.
Each element in a URL is important and will have an impact on a site’s usability and maybe even search rankings.
Why URL Structure is Important
URL structure is important for both user experience and SEO. Creating a concise structure makes it easy for search engines to link concepts and better understand a site. For example, if you own Reptiles.com, your site may have the following URL structure:
- Reptiles.com/iguana/ which search engines will know is about iguanas
- Reptiles.com/iguana/green/ which is all about green iguanas
Creating a concise and smart URL structure will make it easier to navigate your site and look at the URL to easily understand the content on the page.
Examples of URL Structure
An example of URL structure is: https://store.example.com/category/product?id=1#top
In this case, the URL is broken into:
- Protocol: https://
- Subdomain: store
- Root Domain: example
- Top-level domain (TLD or cTLD): .com
- Directory or slug: category
- Page: product
- URL Parameters: ?id=1
- Anchor: top
You don’t need to have a subdomain, but you can if you wish. Subdirectories may be treated as separate sites by search engines. So for instance, blog.example.com and example.com can be two unique domains in the eyes of search engines, despite both being parts of the example.com website.
Header Response Codes
Header response codes can be manipulated to tell crawlers specific instructions about your website or a file on the site.
What are Header Response Codes?
Search engines, specifically Google, added support for certain header response codes to allow you greater control over how your site is accessed. Response codes are sent by the server to the recipient (in this case, a crawl bot).
You can control header response codes programmatically.
Why Header Response Codes are Important
Response codes are important, especially if you use the “X-Robots-Tag.” Using these headers programmatically, you can control specific file types in ways that are not possible with robots.txt.
It’s best to see these responses in action to understand them:
Examples of Header Response Codes
If you pass this header along with a .pdf or image file, it will tell search engines not to index the file. You can pass this header through PHP or another coding language, but it’s often more practical to use your .htaccess file to do this:
If you add the above to your .htaccess file, it will tell Google not to index your .pdf files. You can also use similar coding for other servers aside from Apache if you like.
Additionally, you can add more directions, such as noindex, noarchive, nosnippet and more, to your header.
Using these header responses allows far more control than robots.txt, but be careful not to block portions of your site that you do want search engines to crawl and index.
Mastering these parameters will allow you to have better overall control of how crawlers access your site, maximize your crawl budget, and even improve user experience.