Many of Google’s recommendations for SEO “best practices” are aspirational—what Google wants you to do and hopes it can reward, not what’s best for your site right now.
But it can be hard to ignore a fresh perspective on technical SEO and SMBs, especially when it comes from someone like Google’s own John Mueller, who recently tweeted:
So how much does SEO—particularly technical SEO—matter if search engine crawlers and the average CMS keep getting smarter?
Technical SEO is a starting point, but it will take a small site only so far.
Over the past 10 years, the ROI of technical SEO for SMBs has plateaued. Technical SEO is still table stakes for winning organic traffic—the plane can’t take off if the runway isn’t clear.
But chasing a “perfect” technical SEO audit score has always been a fool’s errand. And, increasingly, ticking off a checklist of minor technical issues has had less of an impact on search performance.
As Mueller alluded to in his tweet, every widely used CMS now gets most important aspects of technical SEO correct, even out of the box. Google has gotten better, too. Where Google used to penalize, it now ignores; where Google used to get confused, it can navigate and prioritize with ease.
A clunky URL structure is less likely to hold your site back than “thin” service pages with a generic paragraph or two—and nothing else. That’s good news for SMBs with SEO budgets spread across too many initiatives.
If a CMS gets enough right on the technical SEO front, that just means more investment can be diverted to ROI-positive, content-focused initiatives:
Refreshing or expanding content on service and product pages;
Building out hubs of educational content to showcase your expertise;
Exploring new content types, like video, to develop a new acquisition channel (i.e. YouTube).
Odds are, the CMS will get the technical components “right enough” to reward those content investments.
When does technical SEO still deserve the lion’s share of budget?
Technical SEO, as Google trends will tell you, is far from dead:
So where is it continuing to deliver tons of value? For an enterprise with a custom CMS. Many of these custom systems were built to solve business challenges that have nothing to do with SEO (e.g., ease data integration challenges or workflow approval processes).
Additionally, custom enterprise sites are often built under duress: a rushed deadline where feature requests get pushed to a future release. Even Fortune 500 companies with billions at their disposal might have only two internal stakeholders devoted to SEO (who are often nested in a department where their work is an afterthought for CMS development).
It’s fairly common to come across a custom CMS for which key technical SEO components, like page titles or sitemaps, aren’t editable. Technical SEOs, as a result, operate as pseudo-developers to diagnose issues within a customized CMS and assess what’s possible within the constraints of the organization.
That could mean understanding the tech stack intimately—especially if you’re an outside consultant—or just being really great at navigating internal politics, which applies to in-house and agency SEOs.
And if you’re that SMB with a tidy little site?
It will always be easy to run a technical SEO site audit that shows heaps of issues, whether you're a local dentist on WordPress, a boutique on Shopify, or even one of the big guys, like Walmart or Wikipedia.
Aligning your site with every best practice won’t guarantee success. It almost certainly will have less impact than it might have had five or 10 years ago.
We absolutely still encounter technical SEO issues that hurt the performance of SMB websites. But the best SEOs are great at prioritizing those technical issues within the greater context of the business—assessing impact and ROI, and communicating the potential options and expected value to stakeholders.
No improvement to a CMS or search algorithm is changing that anytime soon.