Technical SEO: How the devil in the detail influences commercial outcomes

Laura Devonald
Laura Devonald

Digital marketing is a broad church, welcoming creators, wordsmiths, designers, visionaries, musicians, mathematicians, and engineers. It’s a heck of a mix of people, mindsets, and skills. But at the same time, technology is at its core, and this means businesses can’t grow through online channels without maintaining that complex engine under the hood.

A lot of industry awards are won by groundbreaking campaigns and content strategies, but when it comes to improving organic search rankings, much of the work is more “utilitarian” in nature. Put simply, this means fixing up what’s broke and poking around in the back-end of a site to find issues holding it back from optimal performance.

These details are important. Without paying attention to website health, even your greatest content won’t get found by prospects. And as Google places more emphasis on page experience and Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal, it’s increasingly beneficial to tick all the right boxes.

So, in this post, we’re going to explain a bit about what goes into a technical SEO audit. And we’re going to show how technical SEO fixes compound to help power commercial growth.

What kinds of issues does a technical SEO audit look into?

Let’s first make a broad distinction between technical and “non-technical” SEO, but, caveat alert, bear in mind there’s a fair bit of overlap — and many SEO experts will cover both bases.

So, on the non-technical side, we have tasks like keyword research, content strategy and creation, user experience, and design. This is usually defined as “on-page” SEO strategy.

And we also have “off-page” SEO, which covers link-building and everything else you do to influence organic performance away from your site (e.g. generating product reviews).

But when it comes to technical SEO, we’re talking about using tools like Google Pagespeed Insights and Ahrefs (and many more) to identify and fix issues like:

  • Detecting crawl errors, indicating that Google is having trouble crawling and indexing your site’s posts and pages.
  • Finding and fixing broken links, either from page-to-page within your site structure, or external-facing links from your site to another.
  • Improving load speeds, either through boosting server response times or by reducing the burden of heavy image, video, and/or audio files on your site.
  • Ironing out any code irregularities, specifically around JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.
  • Implementing structured data markup, for Google to accurately understand and display content, product or service info, or event details in the SERPs.
  • Monitoring and maintaining your redirects, checking for redirect loops, and reducing the volume of redirects as much as possible.
  • Finding and fixing duplicate data, such as multiple versions of your site in Google’s index, duplicated pages and posts, and duplicate meta titles or tags.
  • Plenty of other technical tasks, such as ensuring HTTPS is installed and working, finding and fixing broken images, caching protocols, optimising URL structure, XML sitemap updates, mobile optimization, AMP setup, and much more.

As you can see, technical SEO involves detailed checks and tricky fixes. And there’s a lot to keep an eye on, even as we just scratch the surface with the list above. These tasks don’t all have an equal impact on performance individually, but cumulatively, they will influence your results.

But how does technical SEO impact your growth, and how can a healthy website contribute to your commercial success? Let’s see some examples of this in action.

Commercial outcomes from technical SEO for 3 real-life businesses

With technical SEO being one of the core services we offer at Zest, we run our fair share of audits. Here we want to shine a light on three occasions where audits and technical fixes underpinned a boost in organic performance. In each of these cases, we combined technical work with research, creativity, and content — the magic combo which drives results in SEO.

1. Maxipos: increasing the performance of a beautifully designed website

Maxipos is a luxury packaging solutions and branded merchandise agency, and their website design reflects their passion for visual quality. With beautiful graphics and product shots across all pages and posts, their site shows stunning examples of what they can create for customers.

But while looking great, the site was missing many technical foundations — meaning opportunities for organic rankings growth was limited. And this was further hindered by a keyword strategy and content structure that simply wasn’t working. So, we set about fixing this.

Our technical audit showed that Maxipos’s imagery was a very heavy load, which was slowing down the site. We identified the problem files, compressed the images without impacting the quality, and re-uploaded them to the right spots. Site speed increased significantly.

Lots of pages were missing H1 tags, meta titles, and meta descriptions. These were updated. And after pivoting keyword focus away from high-competition terms to niche packaging terms, we built new keyword-rich pages and created a deep internal linking structure through the site.

The Maxipos site was originally only ranking for off-beat case study terms, rather than revenue-driving keywords. By improving the health and speed of the site, and building internal links to core landing pages, they began to rank in the top-5 for target keywords — culminating in a 139% increase in organic traffic.

This resulted in a 122.2% increase in form completions (leads).

You can read more about this story in our full case study, over here.

2. The Good Web Guide: turning the tide on falling organic traffic

The Good Web Guide curates the best sites, apps, and people worth following on the web. Unfortunately, their own website began to suffer due to mounting technical issues, causing significant harm to keyword rankings and, as a result, their organic web traffic.

The Good Web Guide’s business model is focused on awards and generating advertising revenue. This means strong site traffic is vital to their growth. So, more readers will equate to higher revenue — and it was really important to turn this trend around quickly.

An audit uncovered a technical health score of 43%, meaning 57% of the website’s 10,000+ pages had critical issues. The site was being dragged down by problems on over half of its pages. These included 404 redirect errors, broken links, duplicate content and metadata, missing H1 tags, and more. So, we went about methodically fixing every issue we discovered.

Following these optimisations, together with a content audit that stripped back many of the site’s redundant pages, the site’s health score went from 43% up to 86%. And the tide has turned with regards to organic traffic, after a 214% jump year-on-year.

You can read more about this story in our full case study, over here.

3. Improve International: technical fixes to boost search and user experience

Improve International provide recognised training for veterinary professionals, helping them develop the skills and knowledge they require in practice. Pre-pandemic, these courses were offered on a face-to-face basis. During the pandemic, however, Improve had to pivot to a remote learning model — and this meant the ability to find and navigate their website became paramount.

At the start of our project, audits showed a significant number of technical issues. We uncovered redirects in the sitemap (resulting in the site not being indexed correctly), large redirect chains (slowing down page loading speeds), and several server timeout issues, where a response from the server wasn’t received when a page or resource was requested.

Taken together, these issues actively harmed the website’s ability to be crawled and indexed by Google and the overall user experience. So, we set out to fix them, one by one.

By January 2021, the problems had been resolved and the technical health score for the site had risen by 32%, to 57/100. The boost in site performance also helped steady a declining trend in monthly traffic, with sessions up 32.55% versus the previous year.

Note: At Zest, our method is all about generating results — and that means we’re held to account for revenue goals. We’re here to help businesses drive more sales and leads through online channels, and everything we do is geared towards this outcome.

Quick summary: seeing technical SEO as a foundation for growth

Whether you’re driving eCommerce sales directly through your site, or generating leads via forms or chatbots on landing pages, having a healthy website is foundational to the success of your organic search strategy. Everything else needs to build from there.

The examples in this post show the magic relationship between technical SEO and “non-technical” strategies. And when it comes to driving qualified traffic — i.e. people who have buying intent and are likely to convert — keyword and content strategy is all-important.

But Google only wants to serve users with fast-loading, mobile-optimised, glitch-free, and well-structured sites in the search results. Ticking these boxes will get you far.

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