Do you want higher rankings in the search engines?
If you’re managing your own search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you need a checklist to make sure you don’t skip any components.
SEO is a highly complex art that takes a long time and involves strategizing, tracking, in-depth research, testing, and more testing.
The checklist items outlined in this article will help you establish a strong foundation for SEO with the right applications, the necessary foundations, and the essential on-site SEO tasks you need to perform.
Table of Contents
1. Optimize your existing content with your ‘money’ keywords
No matter how much content you already have on your website, you’ll need to spend time optimizing that content using your ‘money’ keywords. These are the keywords with a high search volume and low competition. Usually, they’re long tail keywords.
Create a strategy for optimizing your existing content. Make a list of all URLs you can optimize and check them off your list as you complete each one. Use your money keywords wherever you can naturally fit them into your content. If you can’t do it naturally, create a new paragraph or edit your content to allow for using those keywords.
2. Create new, optimized content for your website
Sometimes it’s hard to retrofit keywords into existing content. You won’t have that issue when creating new content. You can optimize new content from the start. You can even create articles and informative pages that center on your best keywords.
3. Identify search intent for your pages that rank
Search intent matters more than ranking because a user’s intent will determine their action once they arrive on your page. When the content delivered matches a user’s intent, you’re more likely to get a conversion. When the content delivered doesn’t match a user’s intent, that visitor is more likely to bounce.
You can get a web page to rank for a keyword, and generate clicks, but your content might not serve those users. In that case, you’ll get traffic, but no conversions.
For example, say you run a website that talks about atmospheric water generators and you rank high in the SERPs for related keywords. Now, say a user intends to buy an atmospheric water generator and clicks on your site. If you don’t sell AWG units, you’ve lost a conversion.
If something like this happens to you, the question to ask yourself is why would someone believe my site sells AWGs? It could be a misleading web page title or meta description, or it could just be the user’s inference. You can’t always pinpoint every user’s intention, but with product pages it’s much easier.
Ensuring that your content aligns with user intent is imperative to generating conversions from your SEO efforts.
4. Enable sitewide HTTPS
There are two reasons to switch to HTTPS: better rankings and more security. HTTPS adds a layer of security to a website that encrypts information being submitted through forms, including email signup forms.
Since security is a top priority for Google, they added HTTPS as a favored ranking factor back in 2014. Today, it’s a pretty important ranking factor and is officially the standard in website security.
Multiple website owners have reported significant increases in rankings and lead generation just by switching to HTTPS.
5. Reduce page depth
Page depth refers to the number of clicks required to reach a given piece of content when that content isn’t directly linked in the main menu.
The deeper a search engine spider has to go to find your content, the more of its allocated “energy” it uses up. If visitors need to click through 3 or 4 pages just to get to a piece of content, that’s probably too deep for search spiders to reach without exhausting your site’s crawl budget.
This doesn’t mean you can’t create breadcrumb navigation that goes 10 links deep. Just don’t make a long chain of links the only way for visitors, including search spiders, to access your content.
6. Find internal and external 404 errors and fix them
Missing pages, designated in browsers as 404 errors, can kill your rankings. It’s critical to identify and fix all 404 errors so that search engines don’t start to view your website as unreliable.
The easiest way to discover 404 errors is to use Google Webmaster Tools to check for crawl errors. You’ll get a report that details pages that have been requested that don’t exist. The listed URLs are links people clicked on or typed into their browser that don’t exist on the server.
Moving to a new CMS is the biggest culprit for creating 404 errors
If you’ve ever transferred your website to a new platform or moved or deleted content, you probably have some 404 errors. Moving to a new CMS is often the primary cause for 404 errors.
Let’s say you built your website using HTML and CSS and all of your pages are formatted as pagename.html. Say you spend a lot of time getting several pages to rank high in the SERPs.
Now say a few years later you hire someone to transfer your website over to WordPress. You can use the same names for your URLs, but on WordPress, URLs don’t end in .html. If you don’t create 301 permanent redirects for every single web page on your entire domain name, all of your links in the SERPs will be 404 errors.
Don’t let this happen to you! Find all 404 errors on your website and then fix the errors with 301 permanent redirects. Once your site is set up with redirects, create a system for documenting every page that gets deleted, renamed, or moved so that you can create a redirect immediately. Ideally, you should avoid renaming, deleting, or moving content to use as few redirects as possible. However, it’s okay when you don’t have any other options.
7. Set search engine friendly URLs
Does your website generate URLs full of numbers, letters, hashtags, and punctuation? If so, your URLs aren’t search engine friendly. Here’s the difference:
Search engine friendly URL:
Search engine friendly URLs make URLs readable for everyone. URL readability is important to both users and search engines. For users, a URL tells them what to expect when they arrive on the page. For search engines, a URL can provide clues about the page content and context.
Friendly URLs will get you more clicks in the search engines. Normally, your page URL is displayed right underneath the linked page title. If your URL contains random character strings, users will be less likely to click.
Google now hides the full URL from users. However, other search engines, including Bing, still show the full URL in the SERPs.
Unfriendly URLs can also affect your ability to get clicks from your content marketing efforts. If you published unfriendly URLs as backlinks, you’ll get some link juice, but you may not get much traffic from users who preview the URL before clicking.
Here’s a helpful guide that will teach you how to create search engine friendly URLs.
8. Implement structured data
When search engines have this additional information, it makes your page appear in the SERPs for more relevant searches.
Using structured data also helps your page benefit from rich snippets, carousels, and knowledge boxes displayed in search results.
To learn more about what types of structured data you can use on your pages, head over to schema.org.
9. Optimize titles and meta descriptions
Did you optimize your titles and meta descriptions when you published your content? Even if you started off with amazing titles and meta descriptions, it’s useful to revisit each page to see if you can strengthen your copy.
If you’ve found better money-making keywords since you first published your pages, you may want to include some of those keywords.
10. Add Alt text tags to all images
Alt text (alternative text) tags are attached to images for the purpose of informing users and search engines what the image is about. Alt text is also displayed on a page when your actual image can’t be displayed.
Alt text helps visually impaired users understand your content, so your alt descriptions should be as descriptive as possible without being too long.
If you’re creating your website using HTML and CSS, you’ll need to define your alt tags in the image markup. For example:
<img src=“/images/horse.jpg” alt=“black horse eating grass” />
In WordPress, make it a habit to set your alt text the moment you upload an image. If you haven’t been adding alt tags, go back through your media library and add alt tags to all of your images. If it seems like too much work, outsource the task to a freelance developer.
11. Add relevant internal links
Adding internal link building helps to pass “link juice” or “link power” throughout your website. It’s not an exact science, since search engines don’t divulge exactly how much power you get from internal links. However, internal links are important.
Go through each of your pages and blog posts to identify places you can put internal links. Here are some basic rules for internal links:
- Don’t link the same internal URL more than once per page (unless it’s a sales page and your links are buy buttons).
- Avoid randomly linking your internal pages. Only link internal pages that will help the user.
- If you can’t fit a link into your existing copy, alter the copy to make it work.
In addition to helping pass on link equity, internal links help search engines crawl and index more of your site.
12. Optimize the use of heading tags
In the early days, Google rankings were heavily influenced by keywords contained within H1 header tags. Today, putting keywords in your headings is not a ranking factor. However, headings tell the search engines what your content is about, so it’s still critical to optimize your headings.
Your site should already have a set of heading tags defined with CSS for H1 H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6. Use heading tags for your content headings rather than just styling headings with larger font sizes and bold text.
13. Optimize your Google My Business listing
Creating and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing is one of the most important technical SEO tasks you could perform. If you run a local business, whether you have an online presence or a brick-and-mortar store, you need a GMB listing.
In Google, GMB listing results are displayed prior to organic results. When your listing comes up in search results, you can catch people’s attention before they choose a competitor’s listing or keep scrolling down the page.
GMB can help you rank for competitive keywords
Many businesses have found it’s easier to rank their GMB listing for local search than it is to rank in the organic results for their industry. You might have major national competitors who dominate the keywords in the SERPs, but locally, you could dominate for those same keywords with your GMB listing.
14. Cut the content fat
If you have content that doesn’t rank and doesn’t provide value to your visitors, delete that content. Content that doesn’t rank or provide value isn’t worth keeping. You don’t want search engine spiders wasting their crawl budget on web pages that aren’t supporting your business. Start your content diet with a content-specific audit, finding out which pieces need trimmed, updated or completed redirected.
15. Optimize for mobile-first indexing
Not that long ago, Google searches from mobile and desktop devices returned different results. Today, Google returns results for every device from the mobile search results index. This is called “mobile-first indexing.”
It’s a pretty simple system. When Google has two versions of a website in the index, it will favor displaying the mobile-friendly result.
Rumor has it, Google might start to de-rank websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, although this has yet to be defined or even confirmed. However, it’s not hard to see where the future of SEO is going. There will come a time when sites will lose power if they aren’t easily accessed on a mobile device.
16. Set up Google Search Console
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is a free tool that helps webmasters monitor Google search rankings and troubleshoot certain technical problems. For example, you can see your web pages that rank high, but aren’t getting clicks. From there, you can use strategies to identify why you’re not getting clicks.
If you’re not familiar with the tricks used to identify and troubleshoot ranking issues, Ahrefs published a phenomenal, detailed explanation of how to use Google Search Console to identify and fix ranking issues.
17. Set up Google Analytics
Google Analytics will give you a plethora of marketing insights you can use in your SEO campaign. In general, Google Analytics can tell you which marketing channels will serve you best and which to avoid. You can also use this tool to narrow down further details about your target market.
The SEO-specific insights you’ll get from Google Analytics include:
- Your monthly search traffic
- Which web pages get the most traffic
- What keyword search phrases are bringing people to your site
- How many of your visitors are bouncing
Google Analytics is a free tool and you can sign up to get it here.
18. Set up Bing Webmaster Tools
Although Google dominates the industry, Bing is a popular search engine. Bing owns 36% of the desktop search market in the United States. Also, Bing powers the voice search features in devices like Alexa and Cortana.
You need to make sure your websites are optimized for Bing. Like Google, Bing has its own free toolset for webmasters called Bing Webmaster Tools.
There are several key features provided by Bing Webmaster Tools, including the ability to submit URLs to be indexed in Bing and to request that Bing ignore certain URL parameters.
You can adjust your site’s crawl rate, which is great if you have heavy traffic during certain hours and want to schedule Bing’s crawl bot to crawl your site during off-peak hours.
There are a ton of other features pertinent to your SEO efforts, including:
- The ability to disavow links
- Page previews
- App linking
- Extensive traffic reports
- A phenomenal search keywords report that provides more keyword data than Google
- And more
For a full overview of what you can do with Bing Webmaster Tools, read this thorough guide published by Search Engine Land.
19. Optimize site speed
Last, but not least, optimize your site for mobile speed. You can run a quick speed test on Think With Google, which will give you specific feedback regarding how fast your site loads specifically on mobile devices.
- Reduce redirects
- Minimize HTTP Requests
- Reduce server response time
- Defer JS
- Enable compression
- Enable browser caching, including edge caching
- Minify Resources
- Optimize images
- Optimize CSS Delivery
- Optimize Fonts
- Eliminate render blocking resources
- Minify JS & CSS
- Prioritize above the fold content
- Keep your scripts below the Fold
- Lazy loading external scripts
We guarantee the following for all sites when it comes to site speed:
1. Guaranteed 90+ score on Google PageSpeed Insights for desktop (we typically get higher)
2. Guaranteed 75+ score on Google PageSpeed Insights for mobile (we typically get higher)
3. Less than 3sec load time on GTMetrix
4. No break in website functionality or design
20. Sitemap optimization
An XML sitemap tells search engine crawlers what pages you think are most important and offers information about each page. For example, when the page was updated last, how frequently the content changes, and if there are other versions of the page in different languages.
After search bots crawl hyperlinks and previously discovered pages, the bots start crawling XML sitemaps. Having a sitemap increases the chances of getting more of your web pages indexed in the search engines. Any companies have experienced a sharp increase in traffic just by adding a sitemap.
Create an XML sitemap for search engines and submit that sitemap to each search engine through your webmaster tools/search consoles. If you already have a sitemap, use our free sitemap validation tool to make sure it’s optimized for search engines.
Set up your visitor sitemap
A detailed, organized sitemap made for visitors will help them find more of your content. A visitor sitemap can also help the search engines determine what your website is about in a broader context.
While there’s no direct correlation between creating a visitor sitemap and ranking higher in the SERPs, it will contribute to the overall success of your site.
21. Robots.txt file
If you want all of your web pages and files to get indexed in the search engines, you probably don’t need a robots.txt file. However, if you have content you’d prefer to stay out of the search engines, you can use a robots.txt file to instruct search engine spiders to ignore certain content.
Blocking content comes in handy when you have hundreds or thousands of files that don’t provide value on their own and would clutter up the SERPs if indexed.
If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, you already have a robots.txt file. If you don’t already have a robots.txt file, it’s easy to create one.
Don’t have time to perform technical SEO tasks? We’ll do it for you
While there are seemingly countless technical and non-technical SEO tasks to perform, SEO boils down to three things: context, speed, and usability. When search engines understand the context of your site, you’re more likely to appear in the SERPs for relevant searches.
When your site loads quickly, you’re less likely to be deranked for sluggish page elements. Finally, when your site is usable, you’ll get more traffic, people will link to your site, and you’ll benefit from organically-acquired backlinks.
If you need to step up your SEO game, contact SEO.co and tell us about your goals. We’ll work with you to create an effective SEO strategy to help you get better rankings and retain your visitors long-term.
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