I shared this sentiment on Twitter and received a flurry of responses as to how wrong I am. To be clear, I think there is tremendous value in having a well optimized site from a technical standpoint; however, I think technical SEO can only help a site improve on the visibility it should have. Scoring a perfect score on technical SEO will not drive any additional traffic if there isn’t already a great website that provides value to a users. The technical SEO enhances and reveals the value that had been blocked by not following SEO best practices.
Sometimes, there is an expectation that technical SEO fixes will do more for the growth of a site’s traffic than it can actually do. In this paradigm, the company may specifically look to make a technical SEO when most smaller companies would find that a creative content focuses SEO manager would be a far better fit for their needs.
In this vein, organizations may spend vast sums to improve technical aspects of a site to bring them up to SEO best practices, but in my opinion, it is important to determine if there will be ROI from these efforts before making an investment. Remapping every redirect, removing error pages and even improving site speed may not actually add enough additional users to justify the effort that might have to be invested to make these changes.
The purpose of technical SEO is really to unlock opportunity and value that has been hidden away by inefficient technical SEO infrastructure; however, if there is no value to unlock, SEO improvements will not add user acquisition.
The best way of explaining this is to think of this in a home purchase analogy. Technical SEO is the structure of the home that lives underneath the sheetrock. When a prospective buyer decides how much they are willing to pay for this home, the technical infrastructure may weigh into their calculation, but it will be a very small amount. Yes, it is nice to know that if an earthquake or fire hits the home it can withstand the onslaught, but what the buyers are really paying for is the location, the design and the square footage.
Translating this back into SEO, users of the website only care about satisfying whatever their immediate need might be. It is ideal that when they click on links they don’t get redirected many times, but they will never notice if those redirects are 301 or 302’s. The same goes for internal linking. It’s a nice to have from a user perspective that they can find additional pages/products within the site, but even if they can’t they can always use the search box.
Technical SEO will of course add users to a website, but those users should be weighed against other investments that might bring in even more users. The vast sums that might be required to improve a website’s speed might be better user to hire engineers that build additional features that might generate more search or other traffic. As an aside, I believe that site speed does not necessarily improve a website’s visibility in search rather it is a tool to increase on-page conversions. Therefore, in making an investment case for site speed, I would only use that conversion improvement as a part of the ROI calculation and not make any assumptions on additional traffic.
Similarly, there are a number of other areas of technical SEO which might serve a dual purpose of being both technical and content/product improvements. The addition of schema or FAQ’s while some might consider to be technical, I think those are value adds to a page that are actually content efforts implemented technically. (Kind of like posting a blog post via a shell command. Yes, you need to be somewhat technical to do that, but the lift comes from the content – not the posting. )
I am sure that some of you reading this will disagree with my sentiments around technical SEO, and I would love to hear from you on how I might be approaching this the wrong way. Please contact me!