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What is Technical SEO? The Ultimate Guide to Improving On-Page SEO

Author profile imageLars Salling·May 23, 2023
A laptop computer in a dark room with vibrant colors coming from the screen.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the method of making a website rank higher on search engines in order to attract organic visitors who are looking for certain resources, services or products on search engines such as Google.

There are many different disciplines to cover when doing SEO to improve a website’s ranking, but one of major subcategories of SEO is technical SEO (also sometimes referred to as on-site SEO or on-page SEO), which focuses on improving a website itself in order to elevate user experience, page speed and crawlability of the site.

This article is a deep-dive into what technical SEO is and how working on your website’s technical SEO can help improve your site or blog’s performance when ranking on search engines. We’ll go through some of the technical SEO basics for optimizing your website as well as some technical SEO tips to improve your site without much effort.

Why is it important to focus on technical SEO?

As previously mentioned, there are many different techniques and areas of search engine optimization, with some of the most common ones being:

  • External SEO which focuses on building backlinks on other websites that point to your own domain in order to improve domain authority and promote organic growth.
  • Content SEO which is writing articles and blog posts that satisfy different search queries that users might have. This includes doing keyword research and writing different types of posts in order to compete on search engine results for different relevant queries.
  • Technical SEO which is working on technical aspects of your website such as page speed, structured data and other user experience (UX) related aspects that might make your website easier to navigate by both users and search engine crawlers.

Keeping a good balance between how much work you put into the different areas will have a huge impact on how your website will rank as certain neglecting parts of your SEO will have a negative effect on your website performance despite putting work into the others.

This is also the case with technical SEO, as having a lot of backlinks and well-written content on your website will not be as beneficial on search engines if your website performance and on-page SEO is poor.

Which areas does technical SEO cover?

Technical and on-page SEO, as the name suggests, covers SEO related to a website’s technical elements. Many aspects of technical SEO have been proven and verified to affect performance on search engines with many first-party resources such as Google’s article on Maintaining your website’s SEO. Though there are also technical SEO techniques that are not specifically verified to have a positive effect on ranking though often recommended and developed by SEO-experts. 

In this chapter we’ll go into some of the most important elements to attend to when improving your website’s technical SEO.

Website page speed

One of the most fundamental characteristics of a website with good UX is that pages load quickly. According to a Google article from 2017, 53% of website visits on mobile devices are abandoned if the site takes longer than three seconds to load. This means that there is a very clear correlation between a website’s load speed and retaining users on your website, and while search engines like Google have not officially stated that page speed has a direct effect on SEO, it is very likely that website performance is included as a factor in Google’s algorithm when ranking websites on search engines. It is recommended to keep your website’s load speed below 2 seconds though good page speeds are often considered to be below the 1 second mark.

Slow shutter photograph of cars driving on a highway.

So how do you optimize your website’s page speed? The performance of a website can be tied to many different things but some of the most important things to look at when improving load speeds are:

  • Reduce the use of third-party scripts and plugins. Platforms like Wordpress and Wix make it easy to customize and extend your website by using plugins, but it is important to only use essential and well built plugins as having too many third-party scripts on your website can dramatically reduce your average load speed.
  • Use a good hosting provider. Websites are essentially files that are sent from a physical server to your own device, so it is important that your website is hosted with a reliable and stable provider that has the bandwidth to serve your website. It is also a good idea to look for servers that are located near your geographical target group in order to reduce latency from server to client.
  • Optimize your images and other assets. One of the most taxing elements of a website, when it comes to load speed, is assets such as images or video. Making sure that you serve images in a correct resolution (for example not a 5000x5000 image when the one displayed is 800x800) can be one of the best ways of reducing your web page’s load speed.

Search engine specific files

One of the main jobs of search engines is to crawl and index the pages of all websites that wish to rank in search engine results. To do this in an efficient manner, search engines have “crawlers” or “spiders” which are bots that visit websites and follow hyperlinks in order to get an overview over the different pages on a website that should be indexed and evaluated.

In order to further help these crawlers, there are a handful of useful files that you can include on your webpage that can be read by the crawlers in order to get a better and deeper overview over the pages on your website, which will increase the chances of your website getting indexed faster.


While crawler bots are capable of following internal links on a website in order to determine which pages exist, it is advised to also include a sitemap file which is a list of absolute urls to all the pages that exist on a webpage. The most commonly used format for sitemaps are XML sitemaps but can also be done as basic text or RSS.

<urlset xmlns="">

In the above sitemap there are three URLs disclosed which will be included in the indexing process of search engines. XML sitemaps can also include other properties than the url such as the <lastmod> field which indicates when a resource was last modified and is often used on pages such as blog posts or other text resources which might change overtime.

The sitemap file is often located in the root of a website (for example, which makes it easier for crawlers and other stakeholders to find your sitemap, though this is only a convention and not a requirement. If your sitemap has another name or location, you can use tools such as Google’s Sitemap report tool located in the Google Search Console or you can specify the location of your sitemap in your robots.txt file, which leads us to our next search engine file.


The robots.txt or “robots file” is another important technical SEO element, and is a file which determines if search engine crawlers are allowed to access a specific page or file on your website. This is convenient if there are certain areas of your website you don’t wish to have indexed on your website, such as an admin panel, though including certain pages in your robots.txt does not guarantee them from being indexed and it is advised to block indexing using noindex. The primary use case of a robots.txt file is to instruct crawlers which pages you would prioritize having indexed, as most search engine crawlers have something called a crawl budget that limits the amount of pages that it can crawl and index at a time - the robots.txt file can help the crawler go through and index important pages such as blog posts rather than pages that are not intended for search engines such as admin sections. You can read more on the use cases of the robots.txt file here.

Structured data

Search engines like Google have made it easier to summarize and display your website content on search engines through a thing called structured data. Also sometimes referred to as rich snippets or schema markup, structured data is a standardized way of providing search engines with information tied to your content such as ingredients and instructions for a recipe or an image to a blog post. Search engines will then use this information to show enhanced search results that include some of this information - for example by showing an image or rating on a recipe.

An example of a rich snippet for a recipe that shows ratings, votes and cooking time.

If you wish to know more about structured data, we have an extensive article on how they can improve your blog or website’s SEO.

Simple site structure

Site structure refers to the way the different pages on your website are connected and interlinked. Having a good site structure makes it easier for both crawlers and users to navigate your website and predict where certain resources can be found on your website.

A close-up photo of a computer screen showing HTML markup

Some of the most important characteristics of having a clean website structure are:

  • Have a hierarchical structure. Having a clear hierarchy and grouping of your website can make it easier and more intuitive to navigate your website. Say for example you have a cooking blog with recipes under different categories. Having a page for each category with links to each recipe under that category will make it easier to predict where certain recipes exist and can also aid users in finding what they are looking for. Many sites also include “breadcrumbs” which shows the hierarchical path to the page that you are currently on, for example Home » Recipes » Asian » Cashew Chicken.
  • Avoid orphan pages. The term orphan page is used for pages that do not have any on-site links that point to that page, thus making it inaccessible for users if they are only navigating through your website. This will also make it harder or even impossible for search engine crawlers to find and index your page. Tools such as Semrush can help identify and fix orphan pages in your website.
  • Put thoughts into your navigation. Different pages and features on your website may have different priorities both to yourself but also your visitors. Being thoughtful of which links you put where can help emphasize important pages in order to make a more intuitive experience on your site. The most common example of this is putting more important navigation links in the header navigation and keeping less used links in the footer (like contact page, privacy policy and other less searched for pages).

How to test your technical SEO

Auditing and testing your technical SEO is good practice and should ideally be done on an occasional basis in order to ensure that your website performs well on search engines. There are many different tools and techniques that you can use to test your website’s technical SEO (both paid and free).

Best free SEO audit tools

Some of the most common and free SEO tools for doing technical audits on different technical SEO factors are:

  • Google Search Console (GSC) is a platform by Google that covers many different aspects of technical SEO. One of the most important features of GSC is to identify problems with search engine indexing of your website as well as other common problems such as malformed structured data or degraded user experience on certain devices.
  • PageSpeed Insights (also by Google) - a tool that lets you measure the overall load speed of your website while also measuring crucial metrics known as “web vitals”. PageSpeed Insights also audits accessibility and best practices (such as having good color contrasts and supporting assistive technologies like screen readers). A good thing with PageSpeed Insights is that it measures the different metrics on a scale of 0-100 and explains the steps which can be taken to increase the score, making it easier to debug and improve your website performance.
  • W3C Markup Validator - while being a big more technical and low-level focused, the W3C Markup Validator is a very helpful tool to make sure that your website uses correct HTML markup which can make it easier for search engines to crawl and understand the content on your site or blog.

The above mentioned tools are incredibly useful for ensuring good technical SEO but if you wish to have more in-depth and advanced SEO audits done, you may consider using paid services such as Semrush or Screaming Frog that offer tools for more extensive SEO analyses and audits.

A person using a laptop which displays different graphs

While using a technical SEO audit tool to ensure that your website is following good technical SEO practices, it is also important that you don’t follow all advice blindly as different cases can vary from site to site.

I hope this article has given good insights to the fundamentals in technical SEO and how you yourself can start auditing and improving your website’s technical SEO in order to perform better in search engine results!

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Frequently asked questions

Why is technical SEO important?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) covers a very broad spectrum of practices and neglecting one of them will end up having a negative effect on your website's search engine results despite you excelling in other areas of SEO. This means that even if you have good quality backlinks and well-performing content, it will not do very well unless you also focus on providing a good platform (website) for your content, which is where technical SEO comes into the picture. Focusing on technical SEO can make your website rank easier and faster while also providing a better experience for your visitors and readers.

Which technical SEO issues are most important?

While there are many different elements to attend to when optimizing technical SEO, some of the most important issues to take care of are:

  • Slow page speed
  • Orphan pages
  • Broken HTML (including page title, meta description and malformed structured data)

There are various SEO audit tools that can help you identify if these issues are present on your website. Doing frequent audits of your website is a good way to ensure that your website upholds a good standard in terms of technical SEO.

What should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?

It can be tempting to add lots of plugins and third-party extensions to your blog or website in order to make it more appealing and customized, but one of the biggest culprits to poor SEO is slow loading speeds on your web pages. This means that you should avoid adding unnecessary plugins to your site and opt for high-quality themes that have low overhead in order to improve page load speeds.