Technical SEO Education

In these episodes of Voices of Search, Tyson Stockton and Jordan Koene of Previsible will be talking about one of the most underserved segments of search engine optimization: technical SEO. While there are now degrees and curricula centered on other technical skillsets like code writing, programming, and computer sciences, there is no formal education pathway for technical SEO. Even amongst the limited educational resources addressing the subject, the focus tends to be on SEO tactics rather than how to operationalize and bring initiatives to life within an organization.

Why is Technical SEO Important?

At its core, technical SEO is the foundation of any meaningful SEO strategy. To achieve success in SEO, no matter the size of the organization, you need to have the technical skills to be able to assess problems and risks, as well as the foresight to define and pursue future opportunities. It is also within these skillsets that the most significant potential to impact optimization exists. Many of the initiatives that fall under technical SEO are scalable solutions that can make significant improvements in organic search to a wide scope of pages all at once. Strategic assessments of how a website is structured, how it is internally linked, an understanding of HTML and JavaScript, analysis of core web vital metrics, and other hard and soft skills and tactics make up the backbone of technical SEO. To have genuine success, it is critical that those in the technical SEO field possess these “hard skill” capabilities, as well as an understanding of the “soft skill” contexts in which they should be communicated and applied.

Technical SEO Skills

When talking about technical SEO, it’s important to start with the basic core “hard skills” that every SEO needs to know to succeed. These are the meat and potatoes of technical SEO that are applicable across the entire spectrum of SEO projects, from small websites built on Shopify or WordPress to large enterprise websites on more developed platforms. These are the facets within SEO that are typically going to be working more on the engineering side of an organization, such as page speed elements, core web vitals, crawl budget and efficiency, and internal linking. These are also initiatives that tend to be addressed at scale, meaning you’re looking at page templates and other broad stroke changes that can impact large portions of a website and significantly affect overall performance.

So, where is the starting point when tackling these building blocks of technical SEO? The first concept to grasp, upon which the rest of technical SEO knowledge can be built, is an understanding of your codebase. This is the DNA from which your website is developed, whether it be HTML, JavaScript, PHP, Next.js, or any other framework being used. By familiarizing yourself with the most common codebases, you can create a foundation that will help give you a more profound grasp and understanding of where the parameters are and what can be accomplished with technical SEO initiatives.

When it comes to tools and tactics, the best approach is to work inside out. In other words, work with the tools and data that are readily available within your organization before looking outside of it. This will allow SEOs to educate themselves more effectively on how their organization looks at data and become more productive collaborators with other teams and individuals who have access to those tools and data. Whether it be analytics, GSE, or crawlers, using what’s already available first before looking outside the organization for more tools can help get teams on the same page.

Data Analysis

The hard skills that come from using tools and interpreting information to determine your website’s performance are all part of the groundwork of data analysis that every SEO should have in their technical toolbelt. When it comes to working with this data, no matter what programs or tools you are using, there are three main components that will help you process and utilize the information effectively. Becoming proficient in these three skillsets is the best way to round out your knowledge base and unlock broader opportunities working within technical SEO:

  • Starting point data analysis
  • Data transformation or data cleansing
  • Data into visualizations

The last fundamental “hard skill” concept that every SEO must be able to grasp is an understanding of core web vitals. Core web vital metrics are numerous and varied, and it isn’t necessary to have every one of them memorized, but having a foundational grasp of the way they are used and the ability to communicate that information to other teams in your organization is critical. Core web vitals represent the most objective and mathematical way for Google to analyze websites, which removes some of the subjective guesswork that can be associated with other evaluations. These standardized metrics and KPIs are incredibly useful for identifying problems and opportunities that need to be addressed, prioritizing initiatives for maximum impact, and communicating with other SEOs, developers, and marketers in a productive way.

Executing Technical SEO

Once you’ve gained the core analysis capabilities and “hard skills” of SEO necessary to identify opportunities and problems, the first step toward technical SEO execution is coming up with a strategic plan. When crafting a course of action for technical SEO initiatives, it’s important to align what you want to achieve with the existing framework and the organization’s larger goals. Doing this will provide the path of least resistance toward getting your initiatives picked up and gaining the support of the other stakeholders in the company.  

Creating a viable technical SEO plan may start with large general ideations and company goals, but the challenging part is connecting those big picture ideas with specific tasks, efforts, and investments required to work toward a larger initiative. On the other hand, an excel file with 100+ rows of to-do SEO tasks does not provide a cohesive strategy that can be sold to the organization as a worthwhile endeavor. A workable strategy needs to have all its elements fleshed out. The growth opportunities and potential problems need to be identified, the tasks and steps that address those opportunities need to be laid out, and the plan needs to fit within the broader goals and strategies of the organization. Having these elements firmly established in your plan will allow for an easier sell to managers and executives and more effective communication across other stakeholders, such as content, product, engineering, and marketing teams.

Once you’ve constructed your strategy and its core elements and set expectations, the next step is creating a roadmap for the successful implementation of the SEO initiative. A great roadmap should communicate the body of work and the timeline in which it will be accomplished and establish transparency and accountability for the different teams working together toward the goals that have been set. This applies to the teams performing the various tasks that make up the strategy itself and gives executives and project managers a broader picture and justification for the resource allocation required to make the plan a success. By establishing and adhering to this system of planning and creating transparency across the organization, SEOs are able to clearly show the execution, credibility, and impact of the body of work and gain momentum for future initiatives.

Organizational Knowledge for Technical SEO

General SEO Knowledge

One of the biggest challenges for SEOs is establishing organizational knowledge that can support technical SEO. While you need to be able to connect technical SEO initiatives with the broader goals of your organization in order to foster support for initiatives, you also need to provide the expertise and training required to implement them effectively. SEO, even at a basic level, is not common knowledge. Without a solid base proficiency in general SEO concepts across an organization, getting everybody on the same page and gaining traction on SEO projects can be very difficult.

Broad concepts such as how a search engine works, what an algorithm is, and the difference between crawling, indexing, and ranking may seem overly introductory to SEOs that have been working in the industry for some time but may require exposition for the other stakeholders in the organization. By providing resources, materials, and education regarding the SEO work you are doing, both in general and as it pertains to someone else’s work, you can avoid the time-suck of answering the same questions ad nauseam. You are also more likely to engage with other teams in the organization and get them to understand, embrace, and facilitate the SEO work you are doing.

An excellent example of this is a sitemap. Unless the various teams in an organization understand how Google crawls content, it’s unlikely that their website will have an effective sitemap. If there isn’t a clear understanding of how Google accesses pages through internal linking and sitemaps, then the engineers, content writers, editors, web managers, and anyone else connected to what goes on the site won’t be following the rules necessary to ensure the sitemap is effective. Imparting that SEO knowledge across these teams provides awareness and context and allows SEO to become a component of everything else they may contribute to the website. In short, it gets everyone speaking the same language and aligns them to key SEO objectives.

Technical SEO Knowledge

When it comes to the more technical and nuanced aspects of SEO knowledge, the approach toward education may narrow in scope. Rather than overloading teams with information that is difficult to understand out of context, introduce knowledge that is specific to a project within the context of that work. In these scenarios, the technical SEO education you provide serves as a preface for the initiative itself and will help other teams understand its necessity. This is an effective way of showing why something is important, the process through which it can be addressed, and how success can be measured. By building up a library of these action-specific educational materials, you will also find that they can be used repeatedly. Tickets and action items will come up again and again that fit the materials you’ve already used. You will be able to reference the same documentation for different projects, which saves you time as an SEO and speeds up the process of getting everyone on board for an initiative.

Stakeholder Management for Technical SEO

Setting Expectations

The biggest key to stakeholder management in technical SEO is setting proper expectations. A well-crafted roadmap is only successful when timelines are set, understood, and met, and managing time well takes practice and repetition to form good habits. Roadmaps and timelines need to be realistically set, workloads and workflows need to be organized efficiently, and stakeholders need to be working in concert to achieve high-level technical SEO results. As you repeat this process with a variety of initiatives, you need to learn where the sweet spot is between mitigating unrealistic expectations and prioritizing tasks correctly to meet challenging goals. Being too aggressive can lead to an initiative falling apart, while being too conservative may not secure the executive support and resources needed to effectuate real results.

One of the ways to help yourself find the right mix of time and resources needed for a project is to set expectations in a range: optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic. By articulating a range of outcomes, you can highlight the potential of an initiative without overselling it, which can help manage stakeholder expectations, keep them on board with a project, and take unforeseen issues in stride. Because technical SEO relies on so many factors and fluctuations within the ever-changing search landscape, it is necessary to utilize expectation ranges to accommodate them.

Resource Allocation

Another important part of stakeholder management is planning for and securing the right resources for technical SEO initiatives. Once you have identified opportunities, formulated a plan of action, educated stakeholders, and created a timeline, the final piece of the SEO puzzle is allocating the resources necessary to complete the project. These resources can run the gamut depending on the circumstance. They may involve time, access, in-house personnel configurations, data resources, outside contractors, or a host of other needs that must be compiled for an initiative to succeed.

When planning around resources, there are a couple of useful procedures to use that can help make the process more efficient. Technical SEOs need to be able to work with their partners to define how work will get done and how progress will be measured, which will help break down where resources will be needed. SEOs must also be able to gauge the amount of data that’s required in order to make informed decisions about budgeting and planning. Repetition and experience will go a long way toward honing these processes, but it is important to keep them in mind when allocating resources to ensure you have what you need to be successful.

Good Communication

The final piece of the stakeholder management puzzle is communication. Learning how, what, and when to communicate road markers, progress, problems, and successes can significantly affect your relationship with the broader organization and how your initiatives are viewed. Though it is often overlooked, knowing how to report accurate, concise, and effective information to other stakeholders in a way that will increase transparency and benefit your initiatives is a critical part of technical SEO. The way you communicate should also reflect who you are communicating with. If you are addressing an executive group, you may want to focus on broader strokes and highlight the alignment of your progress with the larger goals of the organization. On the other hand, if you address the individual contributors who are executing tasks on the ground level, you will want to talk about more granular specifics related to their progress. Considering who you are speaking to, what tools they are familiar with, and how to tie the information into their position within the organization will yield the most effective and constructive results when it comes to technical SEO communication.

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