Technical SEO vs Content SEO: The Differences Explained

At its core, search engine optimization is a combination of several primary services: technical SEO, content strategy, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO. Each of these helps search engines find a website and ultimately rank it for organic keywords.

When it comes to which services to use to optimize your website, technical SEO and content SEO play important but very different purposes. We’ll examine what each of these services is and cover the key difference you ought to know.

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A Note On The Differences

Before we dive into what each of these SEO services is, one quick note on a key difference. Technical SEO is about helping search engines find and index your content. Most people never see technical SEO work as it’s meant primarily for search engines and computers.

It does not deal with building links, optimizing content, or creating new pages. That is the focus of content SEO, which is about writing and optimizing content so a search engine ranks it higher for specific keywords.

Now, let’s dive into a comprehensive review of these services and their differences.

What Is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is a set of practices aimed at helping search engine crawlers locate, explore, and understand the content on your website. Some common fixes include broken links, 301 redirects, 404s, robots.txt file analysis, and SSL checks. However, these just scratch the surface of what technical SEO entails.

Here are some of the technical SEO strategies that make the biggest difference to websites.

Improving Page Speed/Performance

Technical SEO aims to improve your website’s performance. This includes making your site speed faster, fixing mobile layout issues, and optimizing it for Google’s Core Web Vitals. Technical SEO experts examine a website’s structure and elements like CSS, JavaScript, HTML, and images to apply best practices that enhance its performance. But why does this matter for SEO?

In 2021 Google announced that page load time and other performance measurements, called Core Web Vitals, were being considered as ranking factors. This meant websites with superior technical performance could get more attention from Google while providing website visitors and improved user experience. Google has recently clarified that this type of SEO doesn’t directly impact search rankings or guarantee website traffic growth, but it’s still critical to get right.

Meta Descriptions/Meta Titles

Both meta descriptions and meta titles are used to describe the overall content of a webpage. The meta title is the “title” of the webpage. The meta description is a short description of the page’s content.

Meta titles and descriptions are primarily meant for search engines to scan and are only visible on search engine results pages. However, internet users do read them when your page shows up in a search result.

A meta title and meta description displayed in a search result
A meta title and meta description displayed in a search result

Optimizing your meta data for accuracy and engagement can help boost click-through rate to drive traffic.

Schema Markup

Search engines use a language called schema, also referred to as structured data markup, to understand and rank certain website content. Even though users can’t see this code, it’s important for getting better rankings.

You might have seen different types of content in search results, like “people also asked” dropdowns, popular products, videos, maps, or other sections. Google shows content in different ways, and to get content to show in these sections, webmasters use schema markup.

Schema markup helps search engines display information like product prices, review stars, and answers to questions. Using it doesn’t guarantee your website will appear in these sections, but it helps.

You can find many examples of schema markup at schema.org. If you use WordPress, plugins like Yoast SEO and Rank Math can easily add structured data.

Sitemap Structure

Virtually every website has (or should have) an XML sitemap file. This file gives search engines a list of URLs you want them to crawl and index. On most website platforms, these files are automatically created and updated whenever you create a new page or blog.

URL Structure

If your website is rather large (>10,000+ URLs), technical SEO can help optimize the URL structure so search engines crawl the pages you want them to index. An improper URL structure can lead to stray pages, poor internal linking, duplicate content, and a disorganized user experience.

When Do I Need Technical SEO?

Most websites will need technical SEO at some point. However, there are some times when technical SEO may be the most important SEO service you can have. Here are some examples:

  • If you’re experiencing a significant drop in organic traffic and clicks or are having performance issues with your website, technical SEO is going to help unlock the mystery behind your crash
  • If you’re launching a new website, a technical SEO expert can give you a game plan for how to avoid losing organic traffic. It’s best to hire them before the design is finished so they can check over its impact on SEO.
  • If your website is slow, a technical SEO specialist can work with a developer to make the necessary changes
  • If you have a web development team on staff, that’s a huge boost. Implementing technical SEO fixes is best done by a developer or webmaster

Technical SEO for eCommerce Sites ​

One of the most important aspects of SEO for eCommerce sites is technical SEO. For most medium to large eCommerce stores, it is often an ongoing requirement to rank higher in Google.

Online stores have an increased potential to lose organic visibility from technical issues arising from filters, sorting, canonical URLs, and poor product page optimizations. One stray piece of code or categorization oversight could make a huge difference in revenue from organic search.

If your products and categories aren’t showing correctly or at all in the SERPs, chances are you need to analyze the technical side of your site and implement the necessary changes.

What Is Content SEO?

Content SEO is a broad term that encompasses content strategy, content creation, and on-page SEO updates. Content SEO is often associated with writing articles, blogs, and landing pages and while that’s a large part of it, it doesn’t cover everything.

Content Marketing

Content SEO work takes its cues from the content marketing strategy and keyword research you put in place. If technical SEO is focused on fixing things users don’t see, content marketing and content SEO are about getting relevant visitors to a webpage through optimized, expert content.

Content SEO is slightly different than traditional content marketing or content creation because its primary focus is writing content that search engines will rank. It’s still meant to reach your target audience and increase conversions, but content SEO specialists use a process, tools, and expertise to get a search engine to index and rank your content that traditional content marketers don’t have.

Content Quality

Many people who are unfamiliar with SEO see content as no more than keyword-stuffed articles and descriptions that are meant for search engines to read.

While that may have been the case in years past, Google’s priorities over the past several years have been around ranking only high-quality content written by experts. From 2020 on, they’ve released several major algorithm updates prioritizing content that is user-focused and well-written. While SEO content standards may once have been ambiguous, today we have a firm definition of what “high-quality content” means to Google. They call these their EEAT standards:

  • Experience – If you’re writing content about a topic, what first-hand experience does the published author and brand have on the subject?
  • Expertise – Along with experience, how much expertise is provided in the content? Is it regurgitated ideas written by an amateur on the subject or does the content display originality of thought that comes from expertise?
  • Authority – Is the author or brand a known authority in their industry? On what basis should a search engine or reader believe the information they’re reading?
  • Trustworthiness – Is the content meant to help users, or is it spammy, malicious, or simply factually incorrect?

Good SEO strategists and marketers understand that for content to rank and perform well, it’s essential it meets the basic standards above.

Content + Strategy

A big part of content SEO is not only writing high-quality content but understanding how to structure that content so a search engine can easily rank it. Knowing which headings to use, the ideal length of a piece of content, specific keywords to insert, and the specific angle and intent a piece of content should have is a huge part of this service.

What About Backlinks?

Backlinks fall into a separate SEO bucket called off-page SEO. It’s neither technical nor content. Backlinks increase domain authority, and their primary purpose is to improve the SEO rankings of specific pieces of content. To get backlinks, a link building campaign is performed. More information on what is linkbuilding can be found on our website.

Knowing the differences between technical SEO and content SEO is important for anyone wanting to get more organic traffic. Technical SEO helps your website work well, while content SEO is about making useful, optimized content for users and search engines. When you use both types of SEO, your website can be seen more easily, get more visitors, and have better results.

Picture of Austin Cline

Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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