Search Bots & Technical SEO in 2018

April 12, 2018
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Although SEO has a lot to do with appealing to your human customers, machine-learning algorithms, website-crawling robots (“bots”), and other artificial intelligence-powered actors play an influential role in your site’s ranking as well.

Certain aspects of optimizing a website don’t have anything to do with impressing people. To truly be successful, you need to appeal to both site crawlers and humans.

You can’t replace one set of tactics with the other. You also shouldn’t prioritize technical SEO and then neglect your other efforts. This competitive landscape calls for a no holds barred approach to optimization across all fronts.

Search Bots: Defined

Especially for individuals who are new to the field, the term “search bot” could be unfamiliar or ambiguous. A bot, also referred to as a spider or crawler, is a type of software search engines like Google employ to examine the World Wide Web for relevant information or to complete certain tasks automatically.

These bots aren’t always as smart as you would think. Their job entails following instructions, and their analysis capabilities are limited to these directions.

Contrary to popular belief, these bots do not have minds of their own, and they can’t gauge the quality of a piece of content without explicit instructions on how to do so. They can only follow links and deliver content and code to other algorithms for indexing purposes.

Technical SEO: An Overview

Regularly checking your website’s SEO for technical issues is extremely important. No matter if you’re doing it with the help of an outside tool or not, figuring out if you have problems such as broken links, invalid canonical tags,and 404 errors and swiftly correcting them is key to the health of your site’s online presence.

Making sure your website is always easy to scan and up-to-date according to search engine crawlers’ standards requires a methodical approach and frequent review. This is why an increasing number of companies default to paying to use tools that help them with this analysis in a systemized way.

One popular company is Screaming Frog, which has an SEO Spider (website crawling tool) that allows users to crawl a website’s URL and analyze key onsite elements to determine the status if its onsite SEO.

When you use tools like these, you’re essentially outsourcing your technical performance analysis to a bot. It’s a great time saver because of the sheer amount of technical analysis and insights you can gain so quickly. However, when humans rely too much on these tools, they might miss some valuable optimization opportunities.

When you interact with and look at a website’s desktop and mobile version on their own, they will surely discover issues that the bots missed. Even the most foolproof tools and technology have their flaws and limitations. What you need to realize is that what a bot finds won’t always be the same issues your consumers find. This is why working with bots is better than leaning on them too much.

Indexing 101

Indexing is the process of algorithms storing the data a crawler has collected in a huge database called the “index”. Every time you type something into Google’s search box, you’re searching this enormous database, or index.

In order to accurately evaluate the content in a database, algorithms need to decide where a URL (universal resource locator) should be ranked for any given search term. This is where the analysis of all the familiar SEO factors you’re thinking of come into play: relevant/related keywords, quantity/quality of backlinks, and the value and quality of content.

So even though bots clearly don’t have opinions or subjective reasoning skills for deciding where your website appears in search results, they are still super important because they are responsible for gathering the info you need to appear in search results.

If bots can’t collect the right information, you won’t be able to rank where you deserve to rank. It’s best to give the bots exactly what they’re searching for (and the only way to do that is to know exactly what they’re looking for).

Crawl Vocabulary

The idea that search engines’ bot(s), like the Googlebot “crawl” the web is a key part of understanding technical SEO. Here are some terms you should know:

1) Crawl Budget- SEO experts came up with this term to express the resources Google’s Googlebot uses to crawl any particular website. The more clout your website has, the more resources Google will use to crawl it (therefore the higher your crawl budget). At this time, there isn’t a clear formula or way to figure out your (or your main competitor’s) crawl budget.

2) Crawl Rate Limit- The speed and frequency that Google’s bot can crawl your site without overwhelming your servers and hurting your users’ experience.

3) Crawl Demand- The urgency Google’s bot has to crawl your site. The more popular your URL is and the higher the demand, the more often Google decides that it’s a priority to crawl it. If your website is also constantly being updated, this is an added layer of urgency to make sure Googlebot is reevaluating and crawling on a regular basis.

Based on these factors, you can probably already gather that considerations such as a website’s traffic volume, web page loading speed, and how often you’re updating your website influence crawl budget.

It would be difficult to know exactly which factors are influencing your crawl budget (and measuring these factors would prove to be difficult as well because crawl budgets do not necessarily have a quantifiable value.)

Thankfully, Google Search Console enables you to get a general sense of bot activity on your website when you look at the Crawl Stats section. However, you definitely cannot rely solely on this for analysis.

4 Key Considerations for Technical SEO Health

Too often, marketers think that Google Search Console is all they need for technical SEO analysis. However, relying on a free tool like this will not give you an accurate picture of the state of your website’s SEO health.

We started to touch upon all of this earlier, but now let’s delve into 4 considerations that are of special priority:

1) Frequency of Website Updates

If you want your website to be crawled frequently (and believe us, you do), your best bet is to update and add to your website’s content extremely regularly. For example, if your blog has stale content, or you don’t publish new articles every week, Googlebot won’t prioritize crawling your website.

You need to provide a reason for Google’s bot to crawl your site. So, if you have a high authority URL, you are an industry leader, and you add and improve content daily, you’ll be crawled many times a day.

Googlebot thrives on content, so if you provide that content regularly, there’s no reason for it to ignore you (even if you’re a relatively smaller or younger business than your competitors).

2) Hosting Load

Google’s bots technically have the ability to crawl your site every few minutes if they deemed it necessary. However, they would never crawl a website that frequently because it would overwhelm almost any website’s servers.

Extremely frequent site crawls place a lot of pressure on servers, which in turn affects a user’s browsing experience. In fact, it would completely disrupt your users’ experience because it would slow down your site considerably.

Therefore, Google is cognizant of your website’s hosting load/capacity when it comes to how often they crawl your site. For example, if your website utilizes shared hosting (which the majority of websites do, because it’s the more affordable option) then chances are that your website will be crawled less often.

3) Page Speed

If your website takes a long time to load, it can be detrimental for technical SEO in multiple ways. Of course a slow load time discourages users, but it also prevents the Googlebot from collecting the information it needs from crawling your site quickly.

Site load time is relative. Even if you think your website is loading at an acceptable rate, it’s in your best interest to look into your speed compared to your competitors and other sites of your size.

If you have a slow-loading website, search bots like the Googlebot can easily reach their crawl rate limit move on without spending adequate time crawling your site.

4) Crawl Errors

Taking care of problems that hinder the Googlebot from crawling your site is just as important as guaranteeing you have a fast loading speed.

For example, server availability issues and server timeouts can slow bots down. Eradicating these issues is one of the keys to encouraging the Googlebot to spend time crawling your site thoroughly and often. You can identify and end these errors by using Google Search Console in conjunction with some of the paid tool like Screaming Frog (which we mentioned earlier.)

Most experts would affirm that it’s always best to cross-reference your analysis as to not overlook key pieces of information.

To Wrap It Up…

At the end of the day, these bots were designed with one goal in mind: to better identify and reward the websites that are the most relevant and valuable to searchers.

These bots exist to improve searchers’ experience and make everyone’s lives easier. However, following the ever-changing formula to getting on search engine bots’ good side is exhausting for digital marketers.