An Easy-To-Follow SEO Checklist: For New & Existing Sites
Even in 2017, I'm still meeting with people who do not understand what SEO is and how it should be implemented. It's the unicorn of online marketing, and I just wanted to continue to clear up what exactly it is. Further, I'll talk about the checklist that is required to make it on big search.
Ask Google or Bing what is required to get traffic and rank on their search engines, they'll mention links, quality content, and credibility. A bit vague, right?
So, let's talk specifics.
Keyword Research & Competitive Analysis
Keywords aren’t all created equal. Depending on your market you could be targeting phrases that have 30 searches per month but are worth $30 per click (if you were to pay for traffic through Adwords). Be mindful of the competition as well as the commercial value. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, io, WordStream, or SERPs Keyword Tool to come up with a large list of phrases to begin your process.
- Focus on valuable keywords that have a “buyers” mindset.
- Choose keywords that have lower difficulty to start.
- Start with 1 keyword per page.
- The next step will help in your keyword decision-making process.
Ethically Steal Data To Understand What Needs To Be Done To Compete:
You have a fantastic opportunity to ethically steal your competitor’s organic search strategies. It’s simply a matter of using spy tools like SpyFu, Cognitive SEO, or SEMRush, Ahrefs, to see the top performing pages of your competitors.
- You can use this data to start reverse engineering what makes those pages rank well. What keywords are they using? How are they linking between their own pages? What links are pointing to their pages? How many links are they building? How quickly are they building them? All of this info will give you a roadmap of what needs to be done to compete with confidence.
- Setup Your Site For Growth – By using a “silo architecture” you’ll be able to add content to your site slowly over time while maintaining fantastic SEO value. By doing this all of your content rests in a relevant, easy to understand format. Both your visitors and Google’s search engine spiders will appreciate this. This architecture can be accomplished with any CMS or custom platform.
Initial Setup Steps – You’ve got to get these done with any site, new or old.
- Setup Google Analytics – you may need to create a new Gmail address to associate with a new GA account. If you already have a GA account add your new site.
- Add Your Site to Google Search Console – This is going to be essential in the long run and it will take time for Google to collect data. The sooner you do this the sooner you’ll have usable data.
- Add Your Site to Bing Webmaster Tools – It never hurts to have more data. Bing’s webmaster tools can offer some interesting insight at times. This may also be beneficial if you’re specifically targeting the U.S.
- Are You Using WordPress? If so, install Yoast SEO and Google Analytics by Yoast. These 2 plugins are going to allow you to finely tune your on-page SEO making everything else you do to promote more effective.
- Use Keywords Near The Beginning of Your Page Titles – The closer the keyword is to the start of the title the more weight it carries in Google’s eyes. Keep titles 70-71 characters long. If the title is longer Google may cut off the end with ellipses. Use this title to entice people to click on your listing. It’s essentially an organic advertisement! Check your click through rates in Google Search Console and improve your titles over time.
- Add Unique Meta Descriptions To Every Page You Create – This can be challenging for enterprise sites with 100K pages. However most sites should be able to handle this. By using your keyword near the beginning and a bit of copywriting you’ll end up with a search listing people want to click on. That’s incredibly valuable. This is the second part of your organic ad. 160 characters has been the standard length without an ellipsis cutoff. However, Google is currently testing longer descriptions.
- Aim to Produce Content of 1-2k Words Per Page – Do this for any page you want ranked in Google. A study done by com found that pages with word counts in the 1300 range ranked well vs less.
- Use H1 Tags For Page Titles – This signifies to Google that the words in this tag are important. Make sure you optimize this with your most significant keywords for that page.
- Use H2 and H3 Tags Within The Body Content – This not only helps to break up the content in a pleasing way to the eye it’s also a chance to optimize for secondary keywords. Again, these tags signify important words on the page to Google.
- Add Images & Alt Tags To Every Page – Make sure your alt tag uses a keyword you want that page optimized for.
- Add Internal Links – You should link 1-3 times to other pages on your site where it makes sense. If you only have 100 words on the page 3 internal links would be overkill. Doing this will increase the “crawl-ability” of your site for the search engine spiders (meaning you’ll have more pages indexed faster).
- Add External Authority Links – Adding a link out from your page to an authority on the topic of that page’s content sounds counterintuitive. There’s no need to put them front and center to drive traffic away from your site. Have these links open in a new window. This is a quality signal to Google that works incredibly well. It should be done on every page.
- Check Your Site Speed – There are several free site speed checking tools out there. Tools like Google’s own Test My Site will analyze both your mobile, and desktop site load times. You’ll also find a very handy technical analysis of what to fix to increase your speed. You should aim for less than a 2 second load time.
- Create an XML Sitemap – This can be done with a plugin like Yoast or others on WordPress. There are also free online resources for sites not based on WordPress. When this is complete be sure to link to it in the footer of your site and submit it to Google in Search Console.
- Create a Robots.txt File – This is a great opportunity to either allow or disallow search engine spiders from seeing specific sections of your site. Don’t want Google to index a PDF you give away for an email opt-in? You can do that here. Don’t want Google to index pages that may cause duplicate content issues for you? Yep, that’s an option here too.
Fixing Technical Errors (if it’s necessary)
- Clean Up Your Meta Data – This is where Google Search Console will have come in handy. They will pull in data from your site and show you exactly which pages don’t have meta titles or descriptions. If they are too long or short you’ll know. It’s incredibly helpful as it shows you the exact URL where the meta needs adjusting. When you have any errors in this area you must go through and fix them all. It’s your job to bring each column with a number of errors down to absolute 0.
- Fix 404 / 500 Errors – You’ll be able to find this info in Search Console as well. It’s just another bit of housekeeping that will help you stay ahead of the competition in the long run.
- Find Broken Links – There’s a fantastic tool called ScreamingFrog it will crawl all of the pages on your site seeking out broken links, errors and more. It’s essential for uncovering aspects of your site you may have never realized were there.
- Use Your Competitors As a Link Building Roadmap – Remember when we talked about ethically stealing keywords? Well you can absolutely ethically find out where all of your competitors are getting their links from. Use tools like com, CognitiveSEO, and Majestic.
- Use Selective Outreach – By creating compelling content you’ll have much better success “shoulder tapping” other site owners into linking back to you.
- Build Links – Guest posting is one of the most powerful forms of link building you can do to increase your website rankings today. We do the outreach for you and get your brand’s content posted on high-quality sites.Another great way to build links is to create highly compelling content. Huge lists, Infographics, Unique videos, well thought-out curated content can all be content that others will link to. Sometimes your content will build links for you!
- Claim Your Brand – There are so many different services out there that allow you to claim your brand name for your account. Make sure you do this before someone else does. The big sites are obviously the social media platforms. Make sure you’ve claimed these as soon as possible.
- Create a Content Posting Schedule – Whether you’re adding content to a blog or just articles to your silo’d website you absolutely must add new content. It doesn’t have to be every day. But in today’s hyper-competitive environment it doesn’t make sense to post once a month anymore. Besides you now have all of these new outlets to post your content on social media.
- Engage With Your Followers – Whether that’s commenting on blog posts relevant to your site or your own posts for that matter – comment. Engage with the people in your market wherever they are.
Remember, SEO is a gradual and ongoing process. Results will not come overnight. That's a condition of getting into SEO that you must understand. Depending on your industry and how active your competition is in the realm of SEO you might see active effects in a couple of months, or much longer. It's key that whomever you get to manage your SEO (or if you're doing it yourself) gives you realistic goals.