Looking for a comprehensive guide to SEO? You’re in the perfect place to begin your journey into the world of Search Engine Optimisation.
SEO is the process of optimising your website to rank higher in search engines. But, when this is your focus, many SEOs forget about the users who access their site. Therefore, it’s very important to find a happy balance when optimising for the two.
With over 500+ ranking factors, reverse engineering the algorithms is key to improving your rankings on search engines.
Whether you are a beginner or an SEO whizz, an SEO checklist will provide you with clear, concise and consistent guidelines that the whole team can get behind, including your staff and stakeholders.
Need a comprehensive checklist to allow your website to rank better than ever and thus increase the flow of organic traffic to your business?
We’ve got your back.
Use the ultimate SEO checklist as your reference point for your website, and you should be crushing the rankings in no time.
SEO Basics Checklist
In order to rank well, you need to have a strong grip of the SEO basics. If not, your site will not perform at the level you require.
Below, we discuss some of the more basic principles of our SEO checklist. Knowing what they are and how to implement them should form a strong basis of your SEO strategy.
Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools are vital assets that allow you to view the performance of your website on top of a whole host of invaluable data, which can be used to grow your site’s traffic and visibility organically.
Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster allow website owners to view the keywords and search terms users are using as well as identify crawl errors, submit site maps and a lot more.
If you haven’t yet got Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools, we’ll not beat around the bush; you need ’em in order to successfully implement an SEO plan that will allow your business to grow in terms of visibility and traffic.
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager is a great resource for managing and storing all tags in one convenient place. It works brilliantly for event tracking, QA, and troubleshooting, as well as integration between PPC and organic traffic campaigns.
Taking a data-driven approach is the secret of expert SEOs and successfully setting up Google Tag Manager and event tracking is the start of this process.
Talking about taking a data-driven approach to SEO, another essential tool is Google Analytics. This is a must-have and should be set up from day one as it will give you the ability to track anything and everything that happens on your website. You’ll have all of your data from the get-go.
Google Analytics is a 100% free-to-use marketing tool that allows users insights into who visits their website, how many people are coming to their site and how they engage with it.
If you aren’t familiar with Google Analytics, now is a good time to get learning.
Without it, your SEO strategy will not be as successful as it otherwise could be.
As nearly 40% of all websites out there are created from WordPress, there’s quite the chance that your website is built off this content management system (CMS) platform too.
If this is the case, SEO plugins like Rank Math should be installed and configured. These plugins will help you with some of the more basic optimisations.
There is a range of freely available plugins, so the choice of which one you decide on is largely down to personal preference.
An XML sitemap provides search engine crawlers with a map to your website. This helps the crawlers discover all the pages you chose to include in your sitemap. Over time, assuming the content on your website is indexable, Google will uncover it and rank it.
It takes time. Plenty of time, in a lot of cases.
And, you, as the owner of the website, will have no control over what parts of your content get crawled by Google and, just as importantly, when it gets crawled.
It’s not a good idea to let Google find your site before you have a sitemap in place. Instead, build your own map and submit it via Google Search Console, making sure it is always up-to-date, all broken pages are fixed or removed, and any outdated URLs are mended.
Another basic point on our SEO checklist is being able to check and identify that Google has not awarded your website a penalty.
Google has a range of different penalties that aim to act as a form of deterrent for a range of what they see as violations. These violations can come from a range of issues, either manual or algorithmic, and if your website is hit with a penalty, there is a deviation from the SEO checklist that must be taken in order to get your website running soundly again.
Although, in rare cases, this is not always possible.
To check for penalties, you should have Google Search Console set up.
A website’s robots.txt file will inform crawlers (programmes designed to browse, find, and index publicly available information) what they can and cannot request from a site. It’s often used as an effective strategy to prevent certain areas of a website from being crawled, and it’s important to check if you have one in place.
If you haven’t got a robots.txt file, you’ll need to create one for your website, regardless of whether or not you currently want to stop certain sections or pages on your website from being crawled.
Handily enough, there are a few plugins for WordPress that will allow users to generate, edit and keep on top of it with ease. Still, if you are using another type of Content Management System, you will usually have to use a text editor and, once completed, upload it to the root of your website.
Indexing your website
You would be forgiven for thinking that Google will automatically index your website, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s simply not possible – and it’s certainly not uncommon.
In fact, you’d be surprised to learn just how easy it is to accidentally de-index a website just by simply changing a small bit of code.
Using an auditing tool will allow you to check what pages can be effectively crawled and indexed by Google. Check the crawlability report on tools like Semrush, Google Search Console or Screaming Frog.
It’s always best to double, even triple check all the main pages of your website can be indexed, which will save a lot of undue stress later on down the line.
Keyword Research Checklist
If you don’t have a good, solid keyword roadmap, it’s going to make ranking for the correct keywords unnecessarily difficult. If you produce content for the wrong keywords, it can be exceptionally confusing for both Google and your target audience. A keyword research tool like Semrush or Ahrefs is essential for anyone implementing an SEO checklist.
Below we continue with our comprehensive SEO checklist, this time focusing on the essential keyword research to make your website stand out from the pack.
The first step of keyword research is to identify topics – or seed keywords. These should be sought from relevant topics and query ideas. Google Keyword Planner is an excellent resource for doing just that.
An important point to note: when considering new keywords to target, ensure you consider metrics such as keyword difficulty and search volume, which will be a great starting point.
The next part of the keyword research process should be finding the core keywords that you want your website to rank for.
Primary keywords need to closely portray whatever product or service your website is selling, so they will be the most profitable for your business. It’s all about turning potential leads into customers, after all.
Let’s say for example you run a business selling hats. Well, good primary keywords to use might be ‘buy hats online’, ‘buy hats online UK’, ‘hats for sale’ and so on.
Query volume alone is not enough; your website’s landing page must also match the keyword’s search intent. If it doesn’t, there’s a very good chance that you won’t rank for it.
But, say your page does manage to rank, given your landing page and keyword search intent doesn’t match. The page isn’t going to match the intent of your online visitors, leading them to bounce as your page is not what they are looking for. Therefore, it provides little value.
Ensure you check the SERPs for each of your target keywords and, just as importantly, check that the very first page of your website is similar in intent to the target page.
The easiest way to do this is to search for the term and click on the results. What do you see? Ecommerce pages, like a shop? Informational pages or how-to guides? Use the same format, as that’s what people are looking for.
Map keywords to buyer’s journey
Ever heard of ToFu, MoFu and BoFu?
If you run a business, which is presumably why you’re here, chances are you have heard of this shorthand for the buyer’s journey, which can be divided into 3 key stages:
- Awareness (Top of Funnel, or ToFu)
- Consideration (Middle of Funnel, or MoFu)
- Decision (Bottom of Funnel, of BoFu)
As a user moves down this funnel, their wants and needs change and develop, which means that what they are searching for will also evolve. By mapping your keywords to each phase, over time, your website will be there at the forefront of the user’s online journey.
For instance, online queries that relate to pain points, questions and broader interests are part of the Awareness phase, while at the bottom of the funnel, keywords should become product specific as the potential customer nears purchasing.
Competitor research is a vital component, and knowing what works for your competitors will help you know where you need to start, too. Competitor analysis is one of those SEO processes that can take time, a lot of time, in fact.
But, don’t think of it as time wasted; knowing exactly what works will help you become more visible and rank better overall.
One of the best ways to do this is to run your business domain, alongside your main competitor, through a software package designed to identify who is competing in the same area as you and how visible you are in comparison.
How do you know what questions your potential customers are asking? With software such as SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, you can know precisely what they want to know and cater your website content around it.
All that’s required is a keyword, then filter the results to show ‘questions’ and, voilà, you have your answer.
Tools such as these are also a great starting block when first creating a website, providing inspiration and direction, particularly if you add more specific keywords as a beginning point.
Long-tail keyword variations
Long-tail keywords are those highly-specific keywords that aren’t searched often and don’t have much competition.
For example, a query of this type may only be searched for a couple of times each month due to the keywords being so specific or because those who are using the search engines for queries phrase their searches in lots of different ways.
To put long-tail keywords into perspective: over 99% of all keyword variations used on search engines are long-tail.
Content that is of high quality and targets these long-tail keywords is a useful SEO practice that will only build the strength of your website over time with each piece of content that your website publishes.
One thing about compiling an SEO checklist that is important to keep in mind is that a new brand could inevitably struggle to rank well for highly competitive keywords until the site begins to build authority.
Therefore, some preplanning and, yes, that term again, keyword research, is needed when it comes to factoring in the difficulty of certain keywords you wish to use.
Perfect for managing your business’s expectations when you start on your journey into the world of SEO, it’s important to know from the offset that ranking well will not happen overnight.
Say, for example, a brand-new toy company opens their doors; there’s a strong chance they aren’t going to rank particularly well for ‘kid’s toys’. Instead, it’s a much stronger idea to target those local, long-tail keywords, such as ‘kids toys for sale in north London’.
There are plenty of tools widely available to help your website with this, like SEMrush’s Keyword Overview Tool. The steps are easy; simply punch in your target keywords, and you’ll be able to see the difficulty of the keyword.
Once you are fully aware of your keywords, a keyword map should be created in order to ‘map’ these keywords to your web pages and also identify if there are any gaps which can be resolved.
Searches for target keyword/s can change over time, and understanding the change in these trends should always be part of your keyword research.
Using a tool like Google Trends is effective in allowing you to see trends, but it’s important that you recognise how this technology displays its data.
For example, are you viewing a full 365 days worth of data that has been averaged our for each of the 12 months? Or are you looking at data for the past 30 days only?
What time of year it is can have a massive impact on search volume. You aren’t going to get a fraction as many searches for ‘Christmas cake recipes’ in March as you would in September. This needs to be kept in mind when analysing trends from search engines.
Technical SEO Checklist
Technical SEO is synonymous with the ease with which a search engine crawler can find, queue, crawl, render and index content on a site.
The golden principle to remember is resource allocation. Hundreds of thousands of web pages are crawled every day, which can be resource intensive, yes, even for Google. So, it is imperative to deliver a web experience which is light, fast, responsive and effective that parallels that of user experience.
Having a secure site (HTTPS) has been known to be a ranking factor for almost a decade. So if you are still using HTTP, it’s most definitely time for a change. Most websites changed over some time ago, so you are definitely due an upgrade.
It’s easy to spot which you are using by checking out your URL bar. If there’s a padlock, you are currently using HTTPS; in the absence of a padlock, you are still using HTTP. It’s still common to find internal links that will direct to HTTP, so these should also be amended as soon as you can.
Most internet users will not trust a website that isn’t secure, so it’s an important implementation to make.
If there are only a few links that are HTTP, you can use your Content Management System to update these manually. However, if these incorrect links are scattered throughout your website, you’ll need to run a search and replace programme.
Duplicates on Google
Google should only have one indexable version of your website.
These will look a little something like this:
Choose whichever one you want, the choice is ultimately yours, but the most popular generally is https://www.example.com
Every other version should 301 redirect back to your chosen one; simply check this by typing each URL into your online browser.
Using Google Search Console, it’s easy to quickly identify whether your website has any crawler issues in the Coverage report section of the Console; it will highlight both excluded pages as well as errors.
If you find there are errors, they need to be rectified, and you should also find the cause behind them. 404 errors will often highlight here, and these can have a negative effect on the performance of your website.
No one appreciates a slow-running website, and no one less so than the powers that be at Google. After all, it doesn’t make for a great user experience, and it can often lead to an increase in bounce rates which are going to negatively impact your business website.
And, just a head’s up that Google stated in 2021 that user experience will become even more vital when it comes to ranking in the future.
With many of us now busier than ever, it’s unsurprising that Google recognises that internet users will come to expect better, faster results.
So, if you have a slow-running website, there’s no time like the present to address it.
A useful tool for this is Google Lighthouse which will allow you to see your overall performance score alongside a list of suggestions to make your website run smoother.
Broken links are another sign that the user experience of your website is not at an optimal level.
And, you don’t need us to tell you, there’s nothing quite as tiresome as clicking on a link you want to head to, only to be confronted with a page that isn’t found.
Check your internal links by checking your Semrush Site Audit report, and then you can fix these by updating the target URL or removing the link altogether.
Yes, it’s important that your usability does not diminish in terms of quality if a potential customer is viewing your website from a mobile device.
While it’s critical your site runs at a good speed and is fully optimised for ease of use on a mobile device, it’s not all you should be concerned about.
Google thinks in terms of mobile-first, and this is where your website should be too. Mobile-first indexing involves all the content you want to be included on the mobile version of your site to be included.
If you have content that will appear on a desktop view but not a mobile, you will not be indexed by search engines for either.
The URL of a webpage is known as a permalink; the emphasis is on ‘perma’, meaning it’s not likely to change over the lifespan of the site.
When it comes to SEO, it’s important to ensure that each and every single web page on your site has an SEO-friendly URL.
There are three key characteristics that an SEO-friendly URL will have:
- Not only are they descriptive, they are to the point, i.e. short
- They have keywords included
- Hyphens are used to separate each word e.g. www.example.com/example-example
Users shouldn’t have to search tirelessly for the page they want to find. Therefore, you should make sure that your business website pages don’t run into your website more than three clicks deep.
And, it’s not just your customers; Google won’t have much luck finding the desired page, either.
If you find that you have to do a bit more digging to find a page than making three clicks, you’ll need to take the opportunity to restructure your site.
Again, the Site Audit Tool is great for helping with this. It will find the crawl depth for you, so it can be fixed with relative ease.
On-Page SEO and Content Checklist
In order to get as much organic traffic as possible, your website needs to be packed with content that provides value and an on-page experience that is streamlined and effortless to both navigate and use.
Not only does this apply to web pages, but it’s also important for blog posts, as well. Blog posts can be extremely useful to websites, and there’s a lot of competition, which is why it is so important to try and outrank your competition regarding keywords.
The want to try and appease search engines can often take precedence over focusing on quality content, but there’s an important balance to be had, which is why on-page SEO is so vital to building an authoritative website.
To ensure your site outdoes your competitors when it comes to search engine ranking, authority, and also providing a positive user experience, make sure you check off all the boxes on our content and on-page SEO checklist below.
All URLs throughout your website should be easy to read, consisting of simple, yet descriptive key terms, as well as being as short as possible. They should always aim to give your users (and Google) a good idea of what the individual page consists of, just by glancing at the URL.
Below are some examples of both good and bad on-page SEO practices when it comes to URLs:
- Good: www.example.com/category/your-product-or-service
- Bad: www.example.com/yourproductorservice.ghdie&10385
Because the use of a meta description is not a consideration when it comes to ranking, the meta descriptions are important when it comes to directing potential customers and informing them about your page.
The meta description is the short piece of information, or snippet, that displays on a SERP, which gives the online user a good idea of what to expect from the page if they decide to click on it.
Usually consisting of 155 characters (that’s spaces included), the snippet plays a big part in whether or not someone will click into your site. So in terms of your organic click-through rate (CTR), they’re pretty essential.
In the absence of a meta description, a search engine will display a small section of the page’s content in its place, but it’s pot luck with what they will offer up. It could be, for example, that your website is given navigation text by Google or Bing.
In which case, it’s not going to overly excite online users.
Then there’s the problem of duplicates. Although you should have ideally rectified the problem of Google indexing more than 1 version of your site, if you haven’t, you won’t be displaying a unique meta description that encourages traffic to head your way.
H1 tags are the first thing you will generally see, and, as an SEO rule, there should only be one of them on each page. Using an audit tool will allow you to easily see if there are any pages which have multiple Heading 1s.
Although sometimes it will be quite easy to spot yourself, there can be instances where the site’s logo is a H1, while there’s also a H1 as your title. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you allow your audit tool to find these multiple headings for you.
Additionally, a H1 should always contain the page’s target keyword.
If you have pages on your website with 150 words of content or less, it’s time to get rid of them, using a tool like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb to crawl your site and highlight these.
You can always add more words but, as we’ve mentioned, your content needs to be valuable to the reader with no unnecessary fluff. It’s all about improving the user experience, after all.
A good way to make your content stand out from the rest and rank is by using keywords throughout it.
However, ensure you do not stuff these keywords into your content, and make sure your content fares well when it comes to readability. It can be easy to add an extra target keyword or two, only to discover it has completely changed the syntax and meaning of your sentences and their structure, etc.
Image optimisation is more important than many people think and, therefore, is often overlooked.
Just about everything about the image matters, from the size and quality to describing exactly what the photo visually consists of. This is where the use of alt tags comes in; not only are they a great descriptor for search engines, they also are a useful tool for those who are visually impaired.
While images are often neglected, internal links are one of the most underestimated SEO tactics. If you spend the time improving your website’s internal linking, you are likely to see some noticeable quick wins. Even adding just several links to authoritative pages that are part of your site can prove to make a big difference.
Keyword cannibalisation occurs when a number of pages on the same website rank for the same keywords. This could be the result of duplicate content (i.e. copy and pasted between two or more pages), or just pages that are very similar to one another.
These pages then unintentionally go into battle together, competing with each other for the coveted higher ranking.
It’s still a relatively vague idea that leads to misunderstanding; after all, it’s inevitable that pages will, at least in some part, rank for lots of keywords.
For example, say two separate pages on your site are ranking for the term ‘keyword research checklist’. One page is old and the content is no longer useful, nor is the information up to date. The second page, however, is packed with current details and is an all-round more quality-focused page.
A useful way to discover if your website is free from keyword cannibalisation is to make use of a Position Tracking tool, where there will be a tab that will direct you to any specific errors.
Over time, content will become outdated as it ages. And, Google will not continue to rank anything that it thinks does not create a good user experience.
Thankfully, ironing out these issues is one of the most straightforward things you can do to see big wins.
We repeat: BIG wins.
It’s now seen as one of the most effective strategies of on-page SEO or of any SEO checklist, for that matter.
So, fixing up your old blog posts or adding some extra detail for today’s – not yesterday’s – audience is time well spent.
Orphaned site pages
Orphaned site pages refer to pages that are not linked to or from at least one other. Google needs to be able to crawl through every page, so a page that isn’t linked to will not rank or be seen as authoritative.
These pages will be flagged using an audit tool as ‘orphaned pages in sitemaps’ and are an easy and, thankfully, quick but important fix.
Off-Page SEO Checklist
In order to reap the benefits of having a well-organised website, you need to look at off-page SEO factors, too.
It’s so much more than backlinks; our off-page SEO checklist will show you just how much there is to this important SEO component.
While link building isn’t everything when it comes to off-page SEO, it does have a very important place within it.
As we have already established, the big search engines want to rank the most relevant, trustworthy and authoritative content.
But how do they determine what content covers all these bases?
In one word: backlinks.
These backlinks should ideally always be from reliable and high-quality websites, which tells Google that people not only like but trust your website, meaning that Google will believe it worthy of being higher in its rankings.
Broken inbound links can often occur over time as pages are redirected or deleted. Using a tool like Majestic is a great quick fix for this.
A redirect link has less value than a direct link, so when you do find a broken link, it’s a good idea to inform the linking website of the error and ask if they can fix it; usually, they are happy to do it.
But, if you can’t connect with anyone from the linking website, redirect the link to the correct page.
To build thought leadership, post guest posts and articles on relevant blogs and industry resources. These links to your website will strengthen your backlink profile and boost your website’s authority.
While social media links may not pack as much punch as other inbound links, they do create a clear trust signal and therefore are important when it comes to off-page strategies.
Having social sharing options throughout your content is a great way to increase engagement as well as interact with your audience to build up conversation.
Influencers create a feeling of unity around a website or brand and often allow a build up of trust with potential customers.
Before you sign an influencer up, consider the level of engagement and the reach of their posts. Often their metrics can be manipulated using paid bots, so they don’t always have the volume of engagement that you might first think.
Know your KPIs before you sign on the dotted line and be aware of whether you are targeting awareness, conversion, or both beforehand.
Use your existing strategic partnerships to build links. This could be in the form of a cross-promotion or a Q&A on your partner’s business blog. Get your business development team on the job while educating them on SEO best practices so they can highlight these opportunities themselves.
Allow Gorilla Marketing To Up Your Business’s SEO Game
At Gorilla Marketing, our aim is to provide all our customers with a website that excels when it comes to ranking, conversions, and showing authority. We help businesses of all sizes with our comprehensive digital marketing knowledge and expertise, allowing them to grow their business – all thanks to a solid SEO strategy.
Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you. But, that’s not all; why not claim a completely FREE SEO audit performed by one of our strategists?
Your business really will thank you for it.