Search engine optimization (SEO) has become a must-have for any website. It’s no longer a choice.
Thinking about SEO, or “organic search,” is a given for a new site and is crucial inside most digital marketing strategies, in addition to all of the other components that make up a solid website.
In terms of website thinking, we’ve moved on from the “if you build it, they will come” age.
At the same time, I’m aware that many website owners, ranging from startups to small businesses to nonprofits and even huge corporations, are having difficulty self-implementing SEO or are already overstretched in their website finances, leaving little room for SEO.
Because of the competing sounds and focuses, I’d like to provide you with a single checklist that you can use as a website owner to work through the critical areas of SEO that you can handle right now and continue to improve on in the future.
I’ve divided the parts of SEO into those that I usually undertake in my approach, such as:
- Technical SEO
- On-Page SEO
- External SEO
The indexing and on-page elements are within the website’s control, but external aspects should not be overlooked and should be considered as part of a bigger SEO plan in the future.
Cheat Sheet for Technical SEO
You must first ensure that your site can be indexed and crawled before focusing on the exact content that you want to rank in the search engines.
All of this is classified as technical SEO.
Tools for Free Reporting
To begin, make sure your site is linked to Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager.
These tools will all provide you with valuable diagnostic and analytic data and will assist you along the way.
If you own more than one domain name, be sure you understand what each of your other domain names is doing. It’s fine if they’re parked and not in use.
Check that they 301 redirect to your website if they redirect to it (versus mirroring the site or doing a 302 redirect). This may seem like a simple place to check and move on from, but it’s important to keep in mind because it might lead to duplicate material and misunderstanding about which domain name is the actual one.
This is your website’s table of contents. The sitemap file is today’s method of “submitting” your pages to search engines.
Most website platforms have this built-in or have plugins/add-ons that will produce a dynamic sitemap that is updated in real-time with your site’s pages. At the very least, you should have a static one, which you can create using a variety of free tools.
This file instructs search engines which pages or parts of the site should not be indexed. Search engines will, by default, look at all of the content they can discover.
Even if you don’t want the search engines to index any of your pages, make sure this file exists:
- Is correct.
- Validates in Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console.
- Doesn’t prevent crucial stuff from being indexed by mistake (or your whole site).
Statistics continue to demonstrate that people are spending less and less time before bouncing.
There are some excellent developer tools available to assist you in identifying the portions of your website that need to be optimized in order to achieve competitive page load times.
The more hierarchy and structure you can incorporate into your website’s navigation and sections, the better. This will benefit both users and search engines by presenting themes and content in a more ordered manner (more on that later). It’s a fantastic goal to have your directory structure and URLs match the literal page and file structure of your site’s content.
A good place to start is to take a step back and map out your site’s structure or sitemap. It makes you think about your content, how you prioritize different areas of your site, and how you want to direct your users (and search engines) through it.
It is self-evident that we must be mobile-friendly. However, just because your site was designed using a mobile framework, such as responsive design, doesn’t mean it validates.
Make sure it passes Google’s mobile-friendly test. Also, conduct as much user experience (UX) and quality assurance (QA) testing as possible to ensure that it works for your users on all devices.
Don’t forget to make a custom 404 page and fill it with useful content. You don’t want a visitor to your site to leave because of a default browser mistake.
Create a 404 page with helpful links, navigation, site search functionality, and contact information.
Having a safe site is just as vital as having a mobile-friendly and fast-loading site. When users notice a security warning in Chrome or other browsers, they may leave before ever getting to your site if it isn’t secured.
Implementing an SSL certificate on your website is a relatively straightforward way to instil trust in your business.
Do you have any leftovers from a prior site or obsolete SEO strategies? Perhaps you have a good cause for having duplicate content all over your website and the internet.
Before you start on-page SEO, you need to know what you’re up against. You’ll want to think about a canonical strategy or how you want to employ robots instructions for indexing if you have several duplicate pages for a good cause.
This is something you should be aware of and address before devoting time and effort to page-level optimization. Copyscape, along with Screaming Frog, is one of my favorite tools for detecting duplication and assessing text before diving into on-page stuff.
Cheat Sheet for On-Page SEO
When it comes to SEO, most people think of on-page variables like keywords, content, and title tags. However, the days of optimizing only a few sections of a page or a website are long gone.
Don’t be tempted to simply alter meta tags or body material and move on because search engines value context far more than keywords.
We create context by considering all of the on-page items on a page, as well as how pages relate to one another within sections and the site’s navigation.
Keyword & Topics
You need to identify what you want to build context for before you can really focus on it. If you haven’t done keyword research or more in-depth study on your target audiences, you’ll need to take a break and learn what themes and phrases they’ll use to reach your website.
It’s important to remember that the days of jamming phrases into pages or tags are over.
We need to employ SEO tools to find the correct terms, phrases, and themes that are relevant to our work. We can then dive down into specific terms to use inside the site architecture.
Simply put, you need to understand the terms that matter, map them to your content, and then move on to the rest of the on-page characteristics list.
To establish relevance, content is required.
It’s difficult to compete with sites that are substantial and full of information if your website has few words and elements. More isn’t necessarily better, because great quality always wins out over quantity. However, if you can accomplish both, you’ll be in a much better position.
Where you win is with rich content generated for people that resonate with them and is visible to search engines. Don’t be tempted to adopt antiquated approaches that will degrade the customer experience and put you in jeopardy with search engines.
This is the most important part of a page, and it’s often missed. Search engines are perfectly capable of indexing unsightly, faceted URLs.
The URL, on the other hand, is an opportunity to offer a tidy directory structure with keywords and context about the page’s content. If your site allows you to alter the URL routes, make use of it.
Again, the title tag by itself isn’t going to help you much. You must, however, have an appropriate and distinct tag for each page.
Write and apply static tags or make sure you have dynamic formulas in place to populate the title, keeping in mind best practices for length and the most relevant keywords to the page content.
For each page, we need a unique and thematically relevant meta description, just like the title tag. Whether static or dynamic, ensure sure it is user-friendly, contains keywords that are relevant to the content, and uses the title tag to assist construct the context.
The relevance of heading tags, sometimes known as “H” tags, for SEO is debatable. Again, I’m not interested in a single element, but rather how they all function together to create context.
If you can, utilize heading tags in an ordered manner and make sure they contain important keywords. Only use one H1 tag, and make it the first one.
Website platforms or developers frequently employ these for CSS purposes, so a page may have no H1 tag but a slew of H6 tags. Pay attention to how these are weaved into your code and content.
While much of the old school focus on latent semantic indexing, keyword density, and formulas for how many times words need to appear on a page is no longer relevant, you can’t ignore the reality that the page’s body copy is often the largest block of indexable content.
Don’t forget to include your focus keywords in the body content because they need to fit into the context you’ve established in the other areas.
However, don’t get too worked up about employing a keyword 37 times. You’ll be OK if you do what comes naturally and concentrate on the broader picture.
Image Alt Attributes
Missing alt text is one of the greatest red flags I get in findings from accessibility and on-page auditing reporting tools. Search engines rely on alt text to figure out what an image is about.
This is yet another way to incorporate keywords into a page. You should also think about people in your audience who might use a screen-reader and make sure your site is fully accessible.
Cheat Sheet for External SEO
This is where you’ll find the extras.
External elements on your website are items you can’t control and don’t necessarily fall into a checklist. However, I’d be remiss if I suggested that all you have to do is focus on indexing and on-page optimization and you’ll rise to the top of the search engines.
On-page characteristics have an impact on the relevancy and trustworthiness of your content in the eyes of search engines. External elements have an impact on your “authority” position and confirm your site’s standing as a subject matter expert.
Inbound links (also known as backlinks) to your website from trustworthy and authoritative websites are extremely important for SEO. Unlinked brand mentions (also known as citations) and how much your website is discussed on the internet are also crucial.
There’s a lot to be said for producing high-quality material that people want to link to. It doesn’t hurt to hunt for amazing sources of quality links through natural partnerships, accreditation, and other traffic sources in your business to augment your awesome content.
You should concentrate your efforts on high-quality sources that are relevant to your topic – and never pay for a link in a way that goes beyond the search engines’ rules.
Local directory and search site citations are critical if you have a physical business.
While claiming and correctly owning your listing helps safeguard your brand on a fundamental level, you should double-check that your name, address, and phone number (NAP data) are correct and consistent across all relevant local and social directory listing sites.
There’s a whole local directory ecosystem, and if you can only deal with NAP data, you’ll be well on your way.
Even if it has no direct impact on your results, social media can help you improve your SEO (and other digital marketing) efforts.
The first step is to ensure that your website links to your owned and active social media accounts and vice versa.
Beyond that, you must ensure that your level of engagement is comparable to that of your senior colleagues. Although this is a relative scale, knowing what your competitors are doing will help you guarantee that the SEO component of social media is handled.
It is not a simple, quick, or one-time task to optimize your website. However, you must begin somewhere.
You’ll put your website up for success if you can master technical SEO and on-page optimization, as well as influence the proper external elements.