If you’re looking for a collection of no-nonsense SEO tips that can help you rank in Google’s search results, this SEO checklist covers the most important on-page and off-page factors.
Mobile SEO: Is your website ready for the mobile-first index?
The mobile-friendly index will be a major shift to the way Google ranks websites by moving to a mobile-first search index in 2018. This means they will rank websites based on the mobile version of content, even for search results that are shown to desktop users. Responsive design is Google’s preferred mobile configuration. You need to ensure your users have the same browsing experience on mobile that they have when visiting your site on their desktop.
Theme Optimization: Are your web pages optimized for the most relevant theme?
The implication of Google being a semantic search engine means that topical authority is much more important than keyword optimization.
Semantic search engines are looking for authoritative content that is topically optimized rather than keyword-optimized. This means, rather than optimizing for exact match keywords, you should be do keyword research for relevant keywords that match the intent of a searcher.
This will allow you to create authoritative content around that topic and rank for hundreds of related keywords. This will be more effective than writing a set of keywords into the content.
Content Marketing Strategy: Do you have a strategic plan for the creation and distribution of content?
If your ultimate goal is to generate more targeted traffic and qualified leads for your business, you need to develop a content marketing mindset and get into the habit of creating and distributing engaging and high quality content that is informative, useful and targeted to your primary persona.
A content marketing strategy is crucial to the success of any SEO or lead generation campaign. This will play a key role in building brand authority, increasing your online visibility and helping you position yourself as an authority or expert in your field.
Google Panda: Have your web pages been filtered out by Google Panda?
A website’s content is the second most important signal factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Google Panda was based entirely around the concept of quality content and is key to your organic search ranking.
If your site has a certain amount of what Google describes as poor quality content, the entire site will be categorized as a low quality site, and it will be filtered from ranking high in the search results.
It is therefore critically important to identify and weed out pages that might be deemed as “low quality that provides little or no value” in the eyes of Google Panda. And the most efficient way to do this is through a content audit.
Business Blog: Do you have a quality blog?
A blog is probably the most powerful and cost-effective in-bound marketing strategy that you can invest in. It helps to build trust and credibility, authority, increase brand awareness and generate qualified business leads.
If you’re publishing quality content around relevant topics using the right keywords, people in your target audience will discover your content much more easily in the search engines. Having a blog with quality content improves your organic search ranking every time you something new is published – as long as it is original and hasn’t been published elsewhere.
Robots.txt: Do You Have a Valid Robots.txt File or Meta Robots Tag?
A robots.txt file is a text file that contains commands that tell search engine robots what directories and files they are allowed and disallowed from accessing on a particular website. it is the first thing a search crawler looks for when it arrives at your site.
The file is a highly versatile tool for controlling what the spiders are permitted to access. It can be a very flexible way to exclude thousands of pages (or more) from being indexed.
Navigation Menu: Are you using breadcrumbs in your navigation?
A poorly designed navigation system that makes spiderability difficult will affect the ability to get pages listed in the search engines’ indexes. Using breadcrumbs in your navigation lets people know where they are on your site, and tells the search engines how your site is structured. . If you add structured data to your site using Google’s preferred JSON-LD, these breadcrumbs could show up in the search results.
Domain Diversity: How diverse is your backlink profile?
Domain diversity simply refers to the overall number of unique domains (also known as the linking root domains) you have pointing to your website. This concept considers a wide range of link attributes including the linking page types, content types, domain names, IP address, anchor usage, PageRank, degree of relevancy, dofollow/nofollow, and more.
When you have many backlinks from the same domain, Google does not count all of them as valid for the purposes of ranking. A site with 10,000 links from 100 domains is never going to rank as high as a site with 500 links from 300 domains – all things being equal. This is because in the eyes of the search engine spider, the second domain is obviously much more natural.
Branding: Do you have a strong online brand presence?
Your brand resides primarily in the mind of your customers and prospective customers. It is the emotional connection people have with you or your business. It is everything that distinguishes or sets you, your company, products and services apart from others that address the same need within a marketplace. This is also referred to as your Unique Service Proposition (USP).
Your USP is focused on something you do that no one else offers. Even though your competitors may offer a “similar” service, they are not you, and they do not offer the level of service that you do.
Keyword Cannibalization: Are too many pages on your site targeting the same keyword?
Keyword cannibalization is a widespread information architecture problem that typically occurs when multiple pages on a website have been effectively optimized for the same keyword. The crux of the problem is that the search engine spider will not know which webpage to show when people are searching for specific terms. To fix the problem, it is important to make clear to Google which page you think is most relevant to a search query.
Anchor Text Optimization: How natural is your anchor text?
Your backlink profile should look as natural and as authoritative as possible. The most natural anchor texts to use for any link to a page on your site are the page title, random words, naked URLs and brand anchors. Today, Google looks at the keywords in anchor text pointing to your website. If too many inbound links to a page (over 5-10 %) contain an exact match keyword, it is often a sign that the links weren’t acquired naturally.
HTTPS: Are you securing your website with SSL?
HTTPS is the backbone of secure internet transmission and secures your internet conversations to protect sensitive information. SSL is essential for any website that sells goods or services on the web, as it ensures that any communication between a browser and a server is private and secure.
Having SSL on your ecommerce site will not only give you a small ranking boost, but visitors to your site will see and get reassurance from the HTTPS: in the address bar. If using Internet Explorer or Firefox, they will also see a padlock icon that indicates the site is secure.
Linkable Assets. Do you have a linkable asset to encourage established, relevant websites to link to your website?
A linkable asset is any powerful piece of content on your website that you can use to generate links from contextually relevant, established sites in your niche. Without a linkable asset, you won’t have anything special you can use to attract or encourage relevant, editorial backlinks from authoritative sources to your site. Consequently, you won’t be able to craft powerful link prospecting queries because you don’t have anything to use as the basis of your link prospecting email.
The Canonical Tag: Do you have duplicate content issues on your site?
Google puts duplicate content into the same category as low quality content, and lots of of this type of content will affect your ability to rank high. Every URL the search engines see on your site should display substantially different content.
The canonical tag was a solution endorsed by Google, Yahoo and Bing as a solution to the issue of duplicate content for larger, more complex sites. If your website generates multiple URLs with the same (or similar) content, you can add a canonical tag that references the main page in the header of each of the various duplicate pages.
Featured Snippets: Is your content optimized for featured snippets?
A featured snippet is a summarized answer to a user’s query showcased in a box that appears above the organic results on Google’s first page. Google highlights the best answer to the search query in a featured box above the organic search results.
This position is known as “rank zero” and gives all types of businesses an excellent opportunity to rank for informational queries and boost their site visibility. The key to getting a rank zero is to understand which questions people are asking in your niche and how to answer them with your content. What really influences featured snippets to appear is the semantic relevance of the content to the search term.
Google Search Console. Are you registered for the Google Search Console?
The Google Search Console provides data and configuration information for websites in Google’s search index, and provides great traffic data and valuable insights into what is going on with any site. This is where you can discover problems which can adversely affect your organic search rankings, including crawling and indexing issues, broken pages, etc. If any manual action has been taken against your site, the search console is where you’ll receive relevant messages.
Knowledge Graph. Is your website optimized for the Knowledge Graph?
The Google Knowledge Graph is a way of enhancing the search engine results by providing searchers with immediate access to information related to their search term. There are a number of steps that you can take to increase the likelihood of Google recognizing your organization as credible enough to display a Knowledge Panel for your business.
These include a rich and diverse backlink profile, implementing schematic mark-up on your webpages, a Wikipedia page, quality content, a well-optimized Google My Business page, getting an entry in Wikidata and optimizing your website for Local Search.
Sitemap. Do you have a sitemap?
A site map is essentially a map of your site that lists all of the webpages that exist on your site. It is conceptually similar to a table of contents. The sitemap is then submitted to a search engine to tell it about all of these pages so that each page can be indexed you have a much better chance of showing up in the search results for relevant searches.
A well-planned sitemap can ensure your website is well crawled and fully indexed by the search engines. If your site doesn’t have a sitemap, an XML sitemap can be created and submitted to Google through Google Search Console.
Image Optimization: Are your images effectively optimized for organic search?
Using topically relevant keywords to name your images can have a powerful impact on the organic search ranking of your website.
According to a Backlinko study, content with at least one relevant image significantly outperformed content without any images. When you include images on your website, it is critically important to optimize the images for SEO by including descriptive and contextually relevant keywords in the filename, title tag and alt tag. Don’t simply add any random image for the sake of it.
Any image you add needs to be relevant to the page’s topic. For local businessses, geotagging can help search engines understand the association between your business and the specific location you added to the image’s metadata. This can help to further improve your overall level of optimization for local organic search.
Competitor Analysis: how does your site measure up to your competitors’?
Even though it is often overlooked, competitor research should be a key part of your SEO strategy. Analysing the top-ranking websites that the search engines find most relevant for your target keywords is a very important step in an SEO campaign. Your competitors are those websites that offer the same services as you and are ranking organically for the same keywords you want to rank for.
Schematic Mark-up: Have you implemented schematic mark-up?
Structured data mark-up helps you organize the data on your site in a way that allows its content to be easily understood by semantic search engines. The most common use of schema is for local search where the Name, Address and Phone number is often wrapped in schema code. Where schema is enabled, it helps make that content more visible. When done correctly, adding mark-up contributes to building a Knowledge Graph panel in Google search results and helps Google match the right business to local searchers. Using schema mark-up can also help a local business stand out in search through rich results, leading to a 30% higher clickthrough rate, higher organic traffic and more leads and conversions for your business.
Voice Search Optimization: Is your website optimized for voice search?
Voice search has become an integral part of the Google search experience. With over 12 billion voice search queries conducted every single month across Google and Bing, optimizing for voice search and virtual assistants has become essential for local businesses in particular. Voice search allows users to interact naturally with their devices by using a conversational voice to search for the information they are looking for. This means that you should be incorporating the “who, where, what, whyand how” questions that are often used in natural language to answer commonly asked questions from prospective customers.
External Links: Are you linking to highly authoritative and contextually relevant websites?
External links are links from your site to other websites, and they are used as a relevancy signal by Google when determining a particular web page’s topic. Without external links to authoritative sources that are relevant and useful to your website’s topics, your content will not be well regarded by the search engines. Google in particular wants to see that you are delivering a great user experience by citing relevant and helpful editorial references in your content.
404 Error Page: Do you have a customized 404-error page?
Having 404 errors is inevitable, and Google is not going to penalize your site for having them. What is important however, is the way you deal with these type of errors on your site. A generic 404 error page will lead to a poor user experience because the only option users have is to hit the Back button, never to return. This will count as a bounce rate, and can seriously affect your organic search ranking especially if lots of visitors to your site hit the back button as soon as they get there. Using a generic 404 error page will almost certainly cost you potential customers.
Page Title: Is the title tag optimized for every page of your site?
The page title tag defines the headline of the webpage, and is the key to whether a searcher clicks through to your site. Titles give users a quick insight to the content of the page and how it might be relevant to their search query. With CTR from the SERP playing a key role in Google’s RankBrain technology, your headlines needs to engage your target audience and encourage them to click through to read and share your content. It should also be a unique, accurate and concise description of the webpage.
Your title tag should be no more than 55 to 60 characters including spaces even though technically, it can be as long as 70 characters. Moz data shows that including keywords that are relevant to the content of the page at the beginning of the title tag can have significant ranking benefits. For branding purposes, add your company name at the end of the tag. If you’re optimizing for local SEO, be sure to include the name of the city your business is in and/or the neighbourhood your business serves.
Meta Description: Is there a unique Meta Description tag for every web page on your site?
The meta description tag is used to display snippets of information about a specific webpage, and just like the title tag, it can also influence clickthrough-rate from the SERP. Even though it has no direct influence on search engine rankings, optimizing the tag is still important because attractive meta descriptions can help improve your clickthrough rates along with relevant title tags. The description tag should include the target keyword for the webpage. If optimizing for local search, include your full contact details including your street address, phone number and email address. Note that you have 320 characters to craft a compelling meta description tag.
Optimized URL: Do you have your primary keyword in an SEO-friendly URL?
Including the actual keyword you serve in your URL structure is important especially if you are using a branded domain name. According to Google’s John Mueller in an interview in 2016, URLs are still a “very small ranking factor.” Your URL should be short, descriptive and SEO-friendly so that it is clear what the page is about. This means you should minimize or avoid using dynamic URLs which typically include meaningless character strings. Search Engine Journal recommends the URL should flow logically from domain to category to sub-category to product/service and should have no more than 3-5 words in the file path. Furthermore, keyword stuffing or over-optimizing the URL could trigger an algorithmic filter.
RankBrain Algorithm: Is your content optimized for RankBrain?
RankBrain is Google’s third-most important component for ranking webpages. According to Google, the algorithm is involved in processing. One of RankBrain’s main functions is interpreting complex, multi-word queries as well as helping to rank pages for searches that might not have the exact keywords that were searched for.
In addition, the algorithm is used to analyse search results in order to identify commonalities amongst search results that have good user behaviour metrics such as CTR and dwell time. Google is learning exactly what people click on and whether or not they are satisfied with the result when they click through.
You cannot overtly optimize for RankBrain, and a searcher’s results often depends on context and location. However, by optimizing user behaviour metrics such as bounce rate, clickthrough-rate and dwell time and providing in-depth, comprehensive answers to specific questions that your prospective customers are asking about your products or services, you stand a better chance of ranking for relevant queries that are processed by RankBrain.
Domain Name: Are you using an effective and viable domain name?
There’s a lot more to choosing a domain name than finding something that sounds cool or is easy to remember. Domain names have an impact on local search, and you can increase the organic search ranking of your site by including a keyword that concisely describes your service, as well as your neighbourhood or city in the domain name. What you choose will have a significant effect on your Internet traffic and the overall effectiveness of your lead generation campaign. If possible, use a highly-searched keyword in your domain name. E.g., salfordplumbing.com.
Page Speed: Does your site load within 2 – 3 seconds?
Google have officially confirmed that speed is a ranking signal, and expects pages to load in two seconds or less. Slow loading time is a major contributing factor to page abandonment. If your site is slow to load, it may be considered below the threshold for satisfactory website performance, and this will adversely affect your organic search ranking.
HTML Heading Tags. Are you using HTML heading tags on your webpages?
HTML heading tags provide a frame of reference and help Google understand the topic you’re trying to rank for. The <H1> typically contains the title of the page, and is the most important heading tag. Where appropriate, the <H1> tag is the perfect place to input the webpage’s target keyword and whatever local modifier you’re using.
HTML heading tags are used to provide proper context to the content of each web page and can be very effective in helping to shape the search crawler’s perception of each page’s content. Search engines are known to give more weight to text that is inside a heading tag.
Internal Link Building: Are you implementing an optimal internal link building structure?
Optimizing the internal linking structure of a website is important for both SEO and the user experience. In fact, a site that is well-structured using internal links effectively can help increase the search ranking of the home page. Since these inbound links will all be pointing to the home page, the page will receive the most link equity and will be recognized as the most important page on the site.
Google AMP: Consider implementing AMP
To ensure your site will be ready for the mobile-first index, you may want to consider implementing Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). AMP is a relatively new technology that helps webpagesload four times faster than traditional webpages. Although AMP is not a direct ranking factor, it does affect clicks, impressions, engagement and user experience metrics such as bounce rate and dwell time, which in turn affects SEO. If you have a WordPress site, you can easily implement AMP with a plugin by Automattic that enables AMP on your site.
Web Directories: Are you in the right web directories?
High quality web directories are a popular means of generating high quality leads and obtaining one-way links. Links that come from top-notch web directories carry much weight in link popularity, and thus, page ranking. Web directories provide the search engines with contextual information that they can use to discern what your site is about.
LSI Keywords: Are you optimizing for LSI keywords?
It is critically important to optimize your metadata and webpages with LSI (Latent Semantic Index) keywords. LSI keywords are the niche vocabulary that is found naturally in content about a specific topic because they are semantically related to that topic. They are used to better understand intent and establish relevance to specific keywords. Without LSI keywords, semantic search engines like Google and Bing are not likely to find your webpages relevant to a given search term.
Google+: Do you have a well optimized Google+ page?
Google+ and Google Search are directly linked, which makes Google+ the most important social network for SEO. Google+ is also an excellent platform that you can leverage to increase brand recognition, engage your target audience and showcase your expertise. The true value of Google+ however lies in its ability to establish your digital identity and help you become more prominent in the Google search results. It’s really important to claim and optimize your Google+ brand page.
Social Media Marketing: Do you have a social media marketing strategy?
Social media is a critically important business tool because it presents an excellent platform for businesses to increase visibility, build brand authority, increase local brand awareness and stand out from the competition. The most important social media platforms for small and local businesses are Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter. When used properly, these social media platforms can also be used to drive hordes of targeted traffic and qualified leads to any website.
Online Reputation Management: Does your online reputation encourage your prospects to choose you over your competitors?
If you’re doing business on the web, it is critically important to build a solid reputation right from the start so that people have the right impression about you and your brand. You need to be aware of what is being said about your business online so that you can catch anything that could adversely affect your online reputation and potentially hurt your business.
This includes things like negative online reviews that may be casting doubt and fear and preventing people from purchasing your product or service. You should aim to have content that reflects your business’ message dominating the first two pages or more of branded search results. That’s what you want people to see.
Whois Contact Details: Does your contact information match your whois information?
Your whois data is a Google Trust factor, and the contact information in your whois data can have a serious impact on your SEO rankings. The physical address reflected in your whois information needs to correspond to the region in which your website serves.
Quality Content: Is your content comprehensive, practical and in-depth?
Google has confirmed that content is the second most important ranking signal in their organic search algorithm. This is why publishing long form, quality content that is practical, useful and inherently valuable to your target audience should be at the heart of your SEO strategy or campaign. A study by Backlinko found that the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words. To determine the best content to create for your audience, reverse engineer the most popular content of your competitors to find out what content performs best.
Organic Link Building: Do you have contextually relevant backlinks from established websites?
Link building is at the core of organic SEO, and Google has confirmed that links are the most important signal in their search ranking algorithm. Generally speaking, the more natural, inbound links from high ranking sites and blogs that lead to your site, the more authoritative and trustworthy your site will be to the search engines. This in turn equates to better search engine visibility and ultimately, more traffic to your site.
User Behaviour Metrics: Are users engaging positively with your site?
There has been much debate about the role played by user behaviour metrics such as CTR, bounce rate and dwell time in a website’s organic search ranking. But in Google’s own words, “Searching users are often the best judges of relevance, so that if they select a particular search result, it is likely to be relevant, or at least more relevant than the presented alternatives.” A SearchMetrics’ study even found that CTR has the highest correlation with rankings out of all factors examined. In addition, real-life experiments have also shown that a CTR increase almost immediately results in a ranking boost.