There used to be a time when ranking a web page was as simple as writing a bunch of low-quality articles, stuffing them with a list of keywords and doing some heavy-duty artificial link building. Well, that’s definitely not the case anymore. There’s a lot more on our SEO checklist than that.
Today, we live in a post Panda, post Penguin era, two of the major algorithm updates that helped Google remove or de-rank millions of pages. As a business owner or a blogger, it’s no longer easy to game the system and rank bad content above the good.
Ranking a website now means following a set of rules (an SEO checklist), creating quality content, and earning high quality links. Ranking has become more difficult, which is a good thing, because it’s keeping the spammy SEO gamers at bay and is helping deserving websites get their position in the SERPs.
In order to help you effectively optimize your new site for the major search engines, we’ve not only compiled an extensive page SEO checklist, but we’ve also given tips on how to make the most of each item on the list.
Without further ado, here’s a step-by-step ultimate SEO checklist for your website that you can go through to ensure you’re on the right path.
First on our SEO checklist are some SEO prerequisites. If you’re only focused on your website’s position in the SERPs, you’re missing out on the big picture.
Install Google Analytics
In order to truly measure SEO and understand how the organic traffic is converting for you, you need to install Google Analytics — probably the best free analytics tool on the market.
Google Analytics will help you grasp and understand critical data like:
- How much organic traffic you’re getting vs the traffic you’re receiving from other digital marketing sources
- How high-quality is the search traffic your website is getting and from which keywords
- How well the organic traffic is performing in terms of dollar value (simply compare the cost of your keywords as per Google AdWords)
- How many pages of your site are loading slow and affecting the overall user experience
Adding the Google Analytics tracking code to your website is fairly simple. In case you’re using a CMS like WordPress, simply install the Google Analytics plugin.
Add Your Website to Google Search Console
Formerly known as the Webmaster Tools, the Google Search Console is an invaluable tool for anyone focused on improving their site’s SEO. By adding and verifying your website to it, you’ll be able to analyze its performance in more than one way.
Using this free tool by Google, you can get deeper insight into:
- The number of people visiting your website via search
- How your website visitors are finding you and the site’s click-through rate
- What devices (desktop, mobile devices etc.) are commonly used to access your site
- Which of your website’s pages are performing the best
Although this is part of technical SEO (which we’ll talk more about shortly), it takes only a few minutes to set up Google Search Console, so not doing so would be a mistake.
Setup & Verify Google My Business
Google My Business is another free tool from Google that allows you to create a Business Profile on Google so your business information is visible when someone Googles your brand name.
Business information such as your business address, phone number, hours of operation, and reviews are entered and verified by Google within your Google My Business business profile.
Google My Business also plays an important role in helping you show up for local searches, helping you to show up within the map for local searches.
Add Your Website to Bing Webmaster Tools
There’s no doubt that Google reigns over Bing in every way, and it is where you will get most of your traffic from searchers. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore adding your site to Bing Webmaster Tools. It is still a part of our technical SEO checklist.
Given below are a few strong reasons why Bing holds importance in the SEO arena:
- When it comes to targeted search traffic, who doesn’t want more? Even if the organic traffic you receive from Bing forms of a small percentage of your website’s total traffic, it is still highly relevant. Which means it has a good chance of converting into leads or sales.
- Bing has been around for a long time now and continues to grow. In fact, according to recent reports, Bing’s share of the search volume and market is growing faster than the big daddy of search, Google.
- While Google Search Console has most of the features that Bing Webmaster Tools has, some of them are unique to Bing. For instance, Bing Webmaster Tools has access to Yahoo data, while Google doesn’t.
Google is your primary source of organic traffic, while Bing is secondary. So focus on both if you’re serious about increasing search visitors to your site.
Install Yoast SEO (WordPress) or Plug In SEO (Shopify)
Yoast SEO and Plug In SEO are tools for WordPress and Shopify sites that make optimizing your site for SEO easier by walking you through SEO best practices without needing to know code or become an SEO expert.
If the thought of implementing canonicals, avoiding duplicate content, or making sure you have the proper character length for your meta titles and descriptions seems overwehlming, Yoast SEO or a similar tool for your site is a must.
The next section of our checklist is Keyword Research. Keyword research is the process of identifying the words and phrases you’d like to rank for.
Keyword research is the cornerstone of your entire SEO strategy as poor keyword research can lead to you not ranking at all or you ranking for keywords that provide traffic to your site but minimal leads and sales.
Proper keyword research has two steps. The first is to find keywords and the second is to choose the right keywords to rank for. Let’s discuss each.
Here are ways to find keywords to rank for:
- Use Google’s Keyword Planner To Brainstorm Keyword Ideas
Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword research tool that helps you to discover keywords related to your business and the associated monthly search volumes for those keywords.
In our experience, Google’s Keyword Planner is the best at suggesting keywords over other platforms out there.
- Perform Competitive Research
Did you know that you can type in the URL of your competition and see every single keyword they rank for and the exact page that is ranking?
This is an often overlooked but powerful strategy that can help you discover the keywords that drive traffic to your competition.
One of our favorite tools to do this with is SEMRush.
You simply type in the URL and SEMRush provides a list of keywords that the site ranks for.
If you weren’t already aware, this is literally a goldmine of information that can take your SEO to greater heights.
- Check Google’s List of Related Searches
Ever noticed that little box at the bottom of search results? It’s the one that says “Searches Related To….”
Google’s related search results shows keyword phrases that users are actually searching for that are related to the original phrase searched.
In other words, in addition to what you searched for, others also search for these phrases.
Our advice is to use it as your secondary keyword research tool. You will want to break your keyword research and secondary research in two.
Now, let’s discuss part two of proper keyword research: Choosing the right keywords
You want to break your keyword choices into two categories with certain characteristics for each:
Category 1 is Service Related Pages
Service related pages include your home page and service pages and are typically geared toward visitors in the buying phase of the purchasing journey. Therefore, when choosing keywords for service related pages, the keywords should have the following characteristics:
- Relevance – meaning relevance to the business.
- Purchase Intent – meaning if someone searches for this keyword they are ready to buy. Common words that show purchase intent may include buy, service, company, or product.
- Relatively High Volume – monthly search volume that is high compared to similar keywords.
Category 2 is Blog Pages
Blogs are typically geared toward visitors in the educational phase of the buying journey. Therefore, when choosing keywords for blog pages, the keywords should have the following characteristics
- Relevance – meaning relevance to the business.
- Educational Intent – meaning if someone searched for this keyword, they are in the learning phase. Common words that show educational intent are typically phrased as definitions, questions or comparisons.
- Relatively High Volume – monthly search volume that is high compared to similar keywords.
Use the categories to map keywords with the correct intent to the correct pages on your site.
In most cases, you will want to stay away from single word keywords as they are typically too broad to be relevant and generally have nearly unbeatable competition.
Also, in general, the more words in the phrase, the more relevant the keyword tends to be. Though you can expect lower search volumes on longer phrased keywords, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that keyword has high purchase intent.
Technical SEO includes the activities you perform that improve the crawlability and indexing of your site. The easier it is for search engines to read your site, the easier it is for them to understand the content of your site, and the better chances you have to rank.
Keep A Pulse On Page Speed
Page speed is the time a page takes to load and display the full content on the page, and it’s an important SEO factor to consider.
It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that people want web pages to load fast. And Google thinks the same, which is why it uses the overall site speed as a ranking signal.
If the speed is slow, the search engine spiders may end up crawling fewer pages. Better page speed not only improves your rankings, but also fetches better conversions.
The fastest way to improve your site speed is to use a CDN such as Cloudflare to cache your site so it shows up faster for users.
Some of the other SEO best practices that can help you increase your website’s page speed are enabling compression, reducing redirects, using browsing caching, and optimizing images.
A simple way to check page speed is with a free tool called Google PageSpeed Insights. When using it, aim for a score above 80 for best results.
Improve the Quality of Your Pages
If your website pages aren’t accessible to the search engines or aren’t of good quality, then you can’t expect them to rank.
Use an SEO tool such as Screaming Frog or the Google Search Console to scan through your website and ensure:
- Ensure that there will be no crawl errors on your robots.txt file. Additionally, there are no misplaced “noindex” tags on pages that you want to rank, or else they won’t even get indexed. The search engine spiders should be able to reach all pages of your website, except the ones that you want to purposely hide.
- There is no duplicate content on any page. While Google may miss your duplicate content and fail to penalize you for it, it definitely won’t reward you either. So see to it that all pages have unique content.
- There are zero pages with thin or weak content because Google favors websites with relevant content that offers real value.
Fix Broken Links
Broken links refer to links to pages that can not load on your site and show as a negative alert to search engines and a 404 error to your website visitors.
Because of this, it is best to fix broken links as soon as possible.
Broken links can occur for a number of reasons such as a deleted page or a URL change.
There are also a number of ways you can decide to fix broken links. They include:
– Redirecting the link to a relevant page
– Publishing content with the URL in question
– Fixing the issue that caused the error
You can check to see if your site has any broken links by using AHREFS free broken link checker.
Make Your Website Mobile Responsive
As more and more people access the Internet from their smartphones and tablets, your website cannot take a chance by being unresponsive. Regardless of the device someone is visiting our site from, they need to have a great experience. This is one of the absolute musts on our SEO checklist.
Ask any reputed SEO company, and you’ll find each one of them agreeing on the importance of having a mobile-friendly site on your SEO strategy.
Responsive web design has the following SEO benefits:
1. Google Loves Responsive: With mobile traffic to local sites growing at a breakneck speed, it’s no surprise that Google recommends having a mobile-friendly website.
You definitely shouldn’t forget that Google even announced last year the importance of having mobile friendly content and websites. Nowadays, most consumers tend to use these gadgets to look and shop for almost everything. Imagine having the best products on the market but no one can buy it from your online shop because your website buttons are not functioning when used on iPhones or your menu is unresponsive on tablets. That would cause a frustrating user exerperience and lead people to exit your site without purchasing.
So it’s safe to say that having a responsive web design puts you in favor with Google and helps you achieve a better position in the SERPs.
2. One Central Website: Having a separate mobile site, building unique backlinks to it and working on growing its presence doesn’t make sense — especially when mobile sites are hard to rank. It’s double the hard work for little return. However, what does make sense is having a single website for all devices. Everything gets easier when you’re focusing on one URL. Whether it’s growing authority, building backlinks or getting more social shares.
3. Lower Bounce Rate: Picture this – people visiting your not-so-responsive website on their smartphones have a hard time navigating it. Result? They leave. Your bounce rate increases. And your rankings fall. Because Google sees the high bounce rate as a lack of relevant content. Whereas a responsive site keeps the visitors engaged and gives them what they’re looking for. Simple.
4. Better User Experience: A website that is responsive is obviously user-friendly. Which automatically fetches it more brownie points in the eyes of Google. Remember, the higher the user-engagement of a website, the better the chances of it ranking higher.
Have a Well-Maintained XML Site Map
Our SEO checklist would be no good if we did not cover XML sitemaps. XML sitemaps have been around for a long time now, but their importance has grown after the infamous Google Panda algorithm update.
An XML sitemap helps your content get indexed faster by alerting the search engines of any changes or updates. It also communicates to Google that you are the original publisher of the content, and not the other website that has either syndicated or curated it.
Remember, one of the aspects of Google Panda’s job is to get rid of duplicate content from the SERPs. By not having a proper XML site map, your original content may get removed from the search results if a site curating or syndicating your content gets indexed before you.
There are three things that you need to keep in mind when reviewing your sitemap:
1. Keep It Clean: Have you blocked certain pages on your website from indexing? Do you have non-canonical pages? Do you use redirect URLs on your site? If yes, then you need to exclude them and other useless pages from the site map. If your sitemap isn’t clean, it will not get noticed by Google. You can check if your sitemap has any errors in the Google Search Console.
2. Keep It Updated: Since your sitemap is responsible for letting Google know about updates to your site, it’s only obvious that you need to keep it fresh. Make sure it is updated every single time you add new content to the site.
3. Keep Fewer Number of URLs: Since Google doesn’t crawl sitemaps with more than 50,000 URLs, it’s better to have fewer, higher quality URLs. This way, the important pages will be crawled on a regular basis.
Make Sure Your Site Is Secure Via HTTPS
In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS will be a ranking factor and for good reason.
Google is all about the user experience and security is included in that experience.
HTTPS is an encrypted version of HTTP which secures the connection to the website you are visiting – making it harder to hack and steal your data.
If your website shows a lock icon in the address bar of the browser, it is secure.
Check The Number Of Indexed Pages
Knowing how many of your website’s pages are actually indexed in Google is important.
Because they should match the actual number of pages on your site that you want to show up in the search results. In case there is an uneven gap, you may want to check the number of pages disallowed on your site.
You can check the indexing of your website pages by typing in site:domain.com in Google or Bing.
Add Internal Links To Your Page
An internal link occurs when you hyperlink out to another page within your site.
Internal links have two main benefits for your page:
– For your visitors, internal links help them find related information to the content they are currently reading.
– For search engines, internal links help improve the indexing of your site, the number of pages viewed per session, and helps decrease your bounce rate – all factors that impact your ranking.
Do not go overboard when internal linking as it can appear unnatural to search engines but use your best judgement and link out when relevant and necessary.
Regularly Check Internal Links
High-quality outbound links are not the only important links you should check on your website.
You not only want your website to have a great user experience, but also better crawlability. Having a focused and well-thought out internal linking structure helps distribute the pagerank throughout the website effectively. That’s where an SEO audit would be helpful.
When you’re checking or auditing internal links, here’s are three questions you need to focus on:
- How far are your important pages from your website’s main page? If they are more than three clicks away from the homepage, try and bring them closer. The internal linking structure should not be complicated or too deep.
- Are there any broken links on the site? It’s common sense to fix or remove any broken links because they’re bad for your visitors and search engines, both. Take care of them there and then.
- Do you take your visitors through multiple redirects? If yes, then you need to update the redirect links – especially if they have too many redirects. Doing this will send a positive signal to the search engine crawlers and will also improve the load time.
- Consistently auditing your internal links will yield great SEO results in the long run. So take out a few minutes to do it. It’ll be worth it.
Improve Your Website’s Crawl Budget
No, crawl budget has nothing to do with your SEO budget, but it’s a vital part of our SEO checklist. Crawl budget is basically the number of your website’s pages crawled by the search engine in a day. Log in to Google Search Console to see your site’s crawl budget.
Knowing your crawl budget is only one part of the equation. The other part is actually working on optimizing or increasing it.
Just the way it pays to save on your SEO budget, it pays to save on your crawl budget. Here’s how to do it:
- Eliminate any and every duplicate page on your site, because every time the search engine spiders visit the duplicate pages, you lose your crawl budget.
- Stop pages with zero SEO value, (like terms & conditions and privacy policies) from getting indexed. Simply add them to your robot.txt file under the Disallow rule and you’re good to go.
- Get rid of broken links or fix them so that the search engine crawlers are not wasting your SEO budget on them.
As you move forward, you’ll notice the positive effects of reserving your crawl budget for pages that truly deserve to get crawled, indexed and ranked.
Off-Page SEO – Goal: Build Authority
Off-page SEO includes all activities you perform to improve your rankings outside of your website.
Off-page SEO is important to your SEO strategy as it helps to build influence and with influence comes traffic.
Here’s an overview of the top 2 Off-page SEO activities you can perform:
- Build Backlinks To Your Website
Backlinks are links to your site from another site. Backlinks are a very important SEO ranking factor as backlinks can be viewed as a digital cosign to Google that your page must be of importance if others are linking to it as a resource.
Here are few things to consider when thinking about backlinks:
– Backlinks from sites with higher authority than yours are always preferred
– It is better to have backlinks from many different sites than links from a few sites
– Backlinks hold more weight when they come from pages relevant to yours
– Contextual backlinks, links in the body of a page’s content, hold much more weight than links from a site’s footer or sidebar
The best way to get backlinks is to create content, typically blog posts, worth sharing. Backlinks are commonly provided to pages that are seen as a source of credible information. So, create great content if you want backlinks.
Increase Your Number of Positive Reviews
Positive reviews, similar to backlinks, send signals to Google that your business has authority.
Here are three ways positive reviews help improve your SEO:
– Reviews provide more keywords for Google to crawl and associate with your business
– Reviews can show up in search results, called Review snippets, which can have a positive impact on your click-through-rate (which is another SEO ranking factor).
– Reviews are the second most important ranking factor for local pack rankings
While there are a ton of review platforms, when it comes to improving your SEO, it is encouraged to get reviews on your Google My Business page.
Now let’s move into the next section of our checklist, On-page SEO. On-page SEO includes all-steps taken on a per page basis that helps search engines understand what the page is about and what keyword or keywords are relevant, if at all.
Optimize Title Tags
Title tags aren’t the same as headlines or H1 tags; they have their own role to play on our SEO checklist. Which is why every page on your site should have a well-written title tag that is unique in its own way.
When people go through the search engine result pages, the first thing they see is the title tag. If it grabs their attention, great. If not, your site gets scrolled past.
Title tags, as well as meta tags, not only improve your site’s click through rate in the SERPs but also help you get a higher CTR on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
How long should your title tag be? The sweet spot lies between 70 and 50 characters. If it’s too long, it gets cut short by the search engines. If it’s too short, it fails to communicate the message.
Also, including your primary keyword in the title tag (preferably in the beginning) can positively impact your search engine rankings. Try to weave in the keyword in such a way that it looks natural and readable. If possible, use your brand name to increase click through rate, but avoid keyword stuffing at all costs.
Include Your Focus Keyword In Your H1: Only Have One On The Page
Outside of SEO, header tags such as the H1 tag are used in website design to size headings.
Because of this, sites that have not been optimized for SEO tend to have multiple H1 tags which is a mistake as you should only have one H1 header per page.
Be sure that your H1 tag includes your focus keyword, as close to the beginning as possible and that the H1 tag appears before any other heading tags.
Include Your Focus Keyword Throughout The Page
When writing the copy for your page, be sure to sprinkle in your focus keyword throughout.
It is best practice to maintain a keyword density between 1-2%. This means that for every 100 words you have on the page, you’d want to include your focus keyword for that page 1-2 times
Write A Clear Meta Description
According to Ahrefs, having your main keyword and long-tail keywords in the meta description doesn’t have much effect on the page’s ranking. At least not as much as the page title. Nevertheless, it’s still important to craft a strong description and help your page optimization altogether.
Effective SEO is not just about ranking higher, it’s also about grabbing the attention of the search user. It’s about standing out from the competing websites and drawing more traffic.
When someone searches for a particular search term that is (naturally) included in the meta description, it automatically gets highlighted. Which can lead to a better click-through rate- not only in the SERPs but also on social media sites where the page gets shared.
So make sure you have a meta description or rich snippet for every important page on your site. Keep it below 160 characters as anything more than that gets truncated in the search results. You can use some SEO plugins for this like the Yoast SEO plugin.
Say Yes To SEO-friendly URLs
Your URL structure plays an important role in SEO. Here’s what you need to do to properly structure URLs and make them more search engine friendly:
- Make each URL readable to human beings because the more clean and accessible a URL is, the more it helps in SEO.
- Use your target keywords in URLs. Doing this helps indicate what the page is about in case there is no anchor text. But more importantly, users can see the keyword in the URL in the SERPs, which improves the CTR.
- Avoid ugly URL parameters. If a URL is not clear and well-formatted, people and search engines alike can get confused. Gone are the days when you could have a long string of numbers and characters a.k.a dynamic parameters in your URL and still rank well.
- Keep your URLs short and focused, around 50 to 60 characters. Rewrite them if they are overtly long. While the major search engines have no issues with long URLs, they can be a quite hassle when people copy, paste, embed and share on social media. Having said that, short URLs may also help with rankings.
Besides doing the above, try to match page titles to URLs, remove unsafe punctuation characters, and have fewer folders.
Work on Increasing Dwell Time
Google tracks a lot of stuff, including the time a user spends on a page after clicking through from the SERPs — which is called the dwell time.
Common sense says that your page needs to be sticky enough so that the visitors spend more time browsing your site. And Google doesn’t disagree with that.
Since search engines aim at connecting users to the most relevant content, dwell time helps them filter out pages that are not so relevant to the keyword the user searched for. In other words, the higher your dwell time, the more Google love you receive. The more effective your SEO efforts will be.
So how do you go about boosting your site’s dwell time? Just make sure you are:
- Creating and publishing high quality, value-packed content on a regular basis so that people visiting your site have a reason to stay, and come back. You may also want to use video content to give more value and increase engagement.
- Have a solid internal linking structure so that your visitors are engaged and don’t click back to the search engine result page. With that said, Wikipedia probably has the highest dwell time for example!
- Keep the design and navigation of your website simple and clear. Having too much clutter on the pages may push the visitor to go back.
- Finally, know the importance of keyword intent. Try to keep the content on the page relevant to the primary keyword.
Next on our SEO checklist is image optimization. Google Image Search is extremely popular, and a great way to get more traffic. So proper image optimization is not just important for people but also for the search engines.
Here are three things that you can do to optimize images effectively:
- Optimize the images for SEO by reducing the file size to a good extent. Do this without affecting the image quality.
- Change the filename to something more descriptive so that the search engines don’t have a hard time finding them.
- Add informative alt text (alternative text) or alt tags to each image so that the search engines can understand and hopefully, rank them higher. You can use the main keyword or related keywords for this.
- In order to improve your chances with images for SEO, go through the Google Webmaster Guideline, where you will find the image publishing guidelines that you should follow for best results.
Now, let’s discuss the last section in our checklist, tracking results.
This might be last on the checklist but it is actually one of the first things you should do when you optimize a page for a new keyword.
This simple step will allow you to accurately monitor the performance of your SEO strategy on a per keyword basis from the start.
Our favorite tool for keyword tracking is SEMRush but there are many other tools such as AHREFs that can help you.
Even Google’s Search Engine Console has a keyword tracker built-in, though it tracks average position over time instead of exact/real-time positions which is not ideal as rankings can literally change daily.
There you have it — an SEO checklist that will actually help your website rank above other competing sites. It doesn’t matter if your site is new or old, as long as you put the above information into action, you will see real-world results. Period.