Are you looking for a well-rounded and complete SEO checklist? If so, you’re in the right place. This SEO checklist will help you drive organic traffic to your site and rank higher on Google.
This checklist will help you improve your overall SEO game by covering 41 best practice points and tasks that you need to know about. Best of all, it will help both rookies and experts alike.
How to Use This SEO Checklist
I’ve broken down this SEO checklist into six main focus areas that are essential to a well-rounded understanding of SEO:
- SEO Basics
- Keyword Research
- Technical SEO
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
You will need to focus on the above topics in order to produce and implement a holistic SEO strategy. As you make your way through this checklist, you will ensure that you follow the gold standard for SEO best practices in each area.
SEO Checklist: The Basics
Are you still figuring out what SEO is exactly? If so, your site will likely struggle to rank for competitive terms.
The following points are essentially housekeeping tasks. However, they’re essential to implementing an effective SEO strategy.
1.) Set Up Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
Google Search Console is an essential tool that provides you with high-quality insights. It delivers insights into your site’s performance as well as a wealth of data that you can use to grow your site’s organic visibility and traffic.
Semrush provides a great guide on how to set up your Google Search Console and how to put it to work. You can view this guide here.
Bing Webmaster Tools is a similar platform and provides data and insights for the Bing search engine.
These vital tools allow you to view the search terms and keywords that users are using to find your site on the SERPs. Both platforms also help you submit sitemaps, identify (and fix) crawl errors, and much more!
If you have yet to set these up, do so now…you’ll be thankful in no time flat.
2.) Set Up Google Analytics
There’s no getting around it – without the right date, you simply cannot make the right decisions.
Google Analytics is a free marketing analytics tool. It allows you to view data and insights about how many people are viewing your site, who they are, and how they engage with your site.
You will also want to connect your Google Analytics with your Google Search Console so that you can import data from the latter.
3.) Install and Configure an SEO Plugin (WordPress Only!)
If you’re using WordPress as your CMS (odds are you are since it powers 39.5% of the web), you should install and configure an SEO plugin of some sort. Doing so provides the functionality and features you need to optimize your site properly. I’m a big fan of Yoast, which will run you $99 per year. Yoast is my preferred WordPress SEO plugin, but that’s just me. If you don’t have an SEO plugin installed already, here are 14 of the top WordPress SEO plugins according to WPBeginner. Please note that Yoast is number four on their list, which isn’t all too shabby in my book!
If you’re using a CMS other than WordPress, you should speak with your developer to see whether you need to install a dedicated SEO plugin or module. Sometimes the features you need are included out of the box depending on the CMS of your choosing.
4.) Generate and Submit a Sitemap
A sitemap aims to help search engines determine which pages they need to crawl and the canonical version of each page. A sitemap is simply a list of URLs that specify your site’s main content and helps ensure that it gets crawled and indexed.
According to Google,
A sitemap is a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them. Search engines like Google read this file to crawl your site more efficiently. A sitemap tells Google which pages and files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files. For example, when the page was last updated and any alternate language versions of the page.
XML is the most common site map format, but Google supports a number of different formats. You will usually find your site’s sitemap at https://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml.
If you’re using WordPress and an SEO plugin, you’ll find that generating a sitemap is wicked easy.
If you’re not using an SEO plugin, there are countless sitemap generator tools at your disposal. Here are a handful of sitemap generator tools from which you can choose one that fits your needs.
Once you’ve generated your sitemap, make sure that you submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools.
You’ll also want to reference your sitemap in your robots.txt file…
5.) Create a Robots.txt File
In the simplest sense, your site’s robots.txt file informs search engine crawlers of the pages and files that web crawlers can and cannot request from your site.
In most cases, it is used to prevent certain portions of your site from being crawled. Your robots.txt file is not designed to de-index a webpage and prevent it from showing on Google.
You can find your site’s robots.txt file at https://www.domain.com/robots.txt. You should definitely take the time to check to see whether you already have said file in place.
If you don’t have a robots.txt file, you need to create one. This applies even if you don’t need to prevent any web pages from being crawled.
There are several WordPress SEO plugins that allow users to create and edit their robots.txt file. However, if you’re using a different CMS, you may need to manually create the file using a text editor and upload it to the root of your domain.
You can learn more about how to use robots.txt files here.
6.) Check Google Search Console for Manual Actions
Every now and then, you may find that a manual action has negatively impacted your site.
Manual actions are typically caused by a clear attempt to violate or manipulate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Such violations include things like user-generated spam, structured data problems, unnatural links (both inbound and outbound), thin content, hidden text, and even something known as pure spam.
On the upside, manual actions wi never impact most sites.
That said, you can check for these on the manual actions tab in Google Search Console.
You will receive a notification if your site receives a manual action. If you’re working on a new project or taking over a site, checking for manual actions should be one of the first things that you do.
7.) Ensure That Google Can Actually Index Your Site
An essential component to establishing a sturdy foundation of the basics of SEO is to make sure that Google can index your site. Believe it, or not but there are a ton of websites out there that Google cannot index. Furthermore, you’d be amazed at how often a sudden de-indexing of a site is triggered when a developer accidentally leaves noindex tags in place when moving code from a staging environment to a live one. You can use Semrush’s Site Audit Tool to ensure that Google can both crawl and index your site.
Are you’re still unsure if your site is properly indexed by Google? Well, fear not. Jason Barnard of Semrush will walk you through the process of ensuring that your site is properly indexed in the video below:
SEO Checklist: Keyword Research
If you fail to conduct proper keyword research, then it will be a real challenge to rank for the right terms. IF you’re not ranking for the right terms, then your traffic isn’t going to convert at its best possible rate.
Here is a helpful checklist of the core keyword research tasks you need to complete in order to see success from your SEO efforts.
8.) Identify Your Competition
One of the easiest ways to kick off your keyword research is to find the terms that are working for your competitors. This is known as a Competitor Analysis in the industry.
You’ll want to run your domain and those of your key competitors through a domain overview tool such as Neil Patel’s UberSuggest. Doing so will allow you to quickly identify those competitors who are competing in the same space as you. A domain overview tool also shows you how your overall visibility compares to that of your competition.
9.) Find Your “Money” Keywords
It’s essential that you know what your main “money” keywords are. Your “money” keywords are the keywords that will drive visitors to your site in massive flocks. You will also find these keywords referred to as “head terms” and “pillar pages.”
In general, these are the high volume and highly competitive keywords that really convey what you have to offer, either at a topic or a category level.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide on how to put together a content strategy focused on priority terms, then you should check out this post from Hubspot.
10.) Find Long-Tail Keywords
A keyword strategy that ignores long-tail keywords isn’t really a true keyword strategy. In fact, long-tail keywords, deliver a higher conversion rate even though they typically yield less traffic than head terms.
You need to ensure that your SEO strategy focuses on long-tail keyword varients in addition to higher volume head terms.
It is helpful if you start by identifying the head term you plan to target and then focus on the more pointed long-tail keywords, which are more likely to yield conversions.
11.) Create a Keyword Map
Once you have successfully identified your target keywords, you need to map out these terms to pages across your site. Conducting an effective keyword mapping effort also helps identify any gaps in your keyword strategy.
It is critical that you put in the time to ensure that you’re targeting the right pages with the right keywords.
12.) Analyze the Intent of Pages that Rank Well
It is vital that you make sure that your content aligns with your visitor’s search intent.
This means analyzing the pages that rank for your target terms and ensuring that that content aligns properly.
Let’s say you’re looking to target a term at a national level. You might have identified a keyword with high search volume and reasonable difficulty, which is great. However, if the SERPs return local results, you are not going to see your content ranking in the top spots.
If you don’t understand the intent of the content that Google ranks, you will not be able to ensure that your content aligns.
13.) Identify Questions That Users Are Asking
Knowing what your audience is asking can help you better answer their questions via the content on your site.
Tools such as AlsoAsked.com, scrape and returns “People Also Asked” results. This information will help you find additional ideas and questions to answer with your content.
14. Understand How Difficult It Is to Rank for Your Target Keywords
A fresh new website will likely struggle to rank for competitive keywords. However, this will not be the case once the site builds up its authority.
For this reason, you need to gauge the difficulty of the keywords you plan to target. Doing so can help manage your (or your client’s) expectations when you first launch your keyword strategy.
For example, a new website for a local car dealership will likely struggle to rank for the term “Toyota Camry” right away. Instead, the dealership should target long-tail, localized keywords like “Toyota Camry for sale in Detroit.”
Technical SEO Checklist
Technical SEO is all about creating sturdy foundations and ensuring that search engines can crawl and index your site.
Here are a few of the most common technical SEO best practices that you need to keep in mind.
15. Make Sure Your Site is Using HTTPS
HTTPS has been a known ranking factor since 2014.
There are literally no excuses to not use HTTPS encryption on your site. If you’re still running HTTP, it’s definitely time to migrate.
You can quickly check to see if your site is protected by HTTPS encryption. All you need to do is look at your browser’s URL bar. If you see a padlock to the left of the URL, then you’re using HTTPS. If you don’t, you’re not using HTTPS.
16. Check for Duplicate Versions of Your Site in Google’s Index
It’s critical that you are only allowing Google to index one version of your site. There are different versions of your site and all should point to a single one.
It doesn’t matter if you choose the non-www or the www version. However, the most common format is https://www.yourdomain.com.
All other versions should be 301 redirects to the primary one. You can check this by entering each variant into your browser.
If you’ve set up redirects without any issues, but still find that you can access different versions, you need to implement redirects ASAP.
17.) Find & Fix Crawl Errors
You can quickly and easily identify any crawl errors that on your site via Google Search Console. Click through to the Coverage report and you’ll find both errors and excluded pages. You’ll also find pages with warnings and those which are not valid.
You definitely want to take the time to resolve any reported errors. You’ll also want to explore the cause of excluded URLs in greater detail. Issues including 404 errors and incorrectly canonicalized pages may show. Issues such as these can negatively impact your site’s performance and SEO ranking.
18.) Improve Your Site Speed
Let’s be real, nobody enjoys sitting around waiting for a website to load. That being said, speed dominates.
In fact, Google confirmed in 2021 that page experience would become a prime ranking factor.
This means that you need to make sure that your site loads wicked fast and recognize that users will continue to expect more.
As I mentioned already, nobody is going to sit around and wait for a website to load these days.
19.) Fix Broke Internal & Outbound Links
Broken links are another telltale sign of poor user experience. Nobody enjoys clicking a link only to find that it doesn’t take them to the page they’re expecting to find. You can find all broken internal and external links with a tool such as ScreamingFrog.
20.) Find and Fix HTTP Links on HTTPS Pages
Most sites made the shift from HTTP to HTTPS a while back, yet it is still common to find internal links that point to HTTP pages instead of the more current HTTPS pages.
Even when there is a redirect in place to point users to the new page, these are totally unnecessary and you should strive to update these asap.
If there are only a small number of broken links, you can update them manually. However, if the broken links are site-wide (which is quite common), you need to update page templates or run a search and replace them via the database.
If you’re not 100% certain, check with your developer.
21.) Make Sure That Your Website is Mobile Friendly
Mobile responsiveness is a key factor in Google rankings. Since around mid-2019, Google officially made the shift over to mobile-first indexing for all sites.
If your site doesn’t serve a mobile-friendly experience, you will find that your organic visibility will suffer.
You can easily test your site’s mobile-friendliness with Google’s Mobile-friendly Test tool.
22.) Use an SEO-Friendly URL Structure
An SEO-friendly URL structure makes it easier for search engines to crawl your website and understand the nature of your content. Your page URLs should be simple, yet descriptive for users as well.
Sample SEO-Friendly URL = https://www.domain.com/seo-tips/
The above is a far better option than a query string that isn’t descriptive, such as https://www.domain.com/category.php?id=32
- Do use hyphens in your URLs to separate words
- Don’t use underscores
- Do keep URLs as short as possible (Backlinko did some research that shows how shorter URLs tend to rank higher than their longer counterparts)
23.) Add Structured Data
Google is on a crusade to build a more semantic web, which means that structured data markup is ever increasing in value.
If you are not already using structured data, you should definitely look into doing so.
In fact, the Schema.org vocabulary includes formats for structuring data for people, places, organizations, local businesses, reviews, and much, much more.
Structured data helps your organic content stand out on the SERPs. In the example below, you will see both the review stars and the price that enhances the overall result.
24.) Check the Page Depth of Your Site
In an ideal world, pages should go any further than three clicks into your site.
If users need to go deeper than three clicks, you should consider reworking your site structure and try to flatten it. The deeper a page is in your website structure, the less likely users or search engines are going to find it.
25.) Check Temporary 302 Redirects
302 redirects indicate that a redirect is temporary, whereas 301 redirects signal that the move is permanent.
It’s commonplace to find 302s used in place of 301s. Google has confirmed that 302s pass PageRank, the fact remains that if a 302 redirect isn’t expected to be removed at any time in the future, it needs updating to a 301.
26.) Find and Fix Redirect Chains and Loops
This should be common sense, but I’m going to lay it out there anyway. Your site shouldn’t send users or search engines through multiple redirects. This is also known as a redirect chain. The redirects on your site should create a loop either. In short, redirects should go from one page to another page – Page A to Page B.
On-Page SEO and Content Checklist
Your site will struggle to rank and reel in organic traffic if you fail to produce useful content and a phenomenal on-page experience. This applies to both your pages and your blog posts. There’s a lot of competition for blog posts today, so it’s critical to take every possible step to outrank the competition for crucial keywords.
That being said, you want to make sure that your site checks off all of the following boxes. You also need to focus on generating great content for your audience and not focus solely on pleasing the search engines.
27.) Find & Fix Duplicate, Missing, and Truncated Title Tags
Optimizing your title tags is an essential part of SEO basics. In all honesty, they should be the first thing any SEO pro will look at to help a page rank.
Title tags inform search engines what a page is about and influence whether, or not, a user will click on your page.
You should avoid duplicate title tags. Actually, you should avoid any sort of duplicate content on your site whatsoever. Furthermore, your title tags should be specific enough that users can tell the type of page they’re going to land on.
You also need to avoid long title tags since they may be cut off on the SERP. In general, title tags with more than 70 characters will get cut off.
Lastly, you should also ensure that your title tags aren’t missing – this is a major no-no.
28.) Find and Fix Duplicate and Missing Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. However, they appear beneath the title tag in the SERPs and help users figure out what your page is about.
In short, your meta description encourages users to click on your content instead of another listing. This can either positively or negatively impact your organic click-through rate (CTR).
If you don’t provide a meta description, Google will display part of the content on your page or post. This may sound okay, but it’s not okay whatsoever. The automatic text could include navigation text and other elements that are anything but enticing. If you have duplicates, odds are that you’re not presenting a unique description that encourages clicks.
It’s also important to remember that Google rewrites meta descriptions roughly 70% of the time in order to best match search intent. However, you should always write your own meta descriptions and ensure that they encourage users to click through to your content.
29.) Find & Fix Multiple H1 Tags
A page’s H1 tag is typically your content’s main heading. There should only be one H1 heading per page or post.
The most common reason why multiple H1 tags exist is that your site’s logo is wrapped in one.
In most cases, H1 tags should include a page’s primary target keyword, so make sure that you are tagging the right content.
30.) Improve Title Tags, Meta Tags, and Page Content
If you fail to properly optimize your page titles and meta tags, you’re flat out missing an opportunity to rank for keywords and keyword variations.
You need to head over to the performance report in Google Search Console and identify keywords on each page that have an impressive number of impressions, but low clicks and a low average position.
Remember, that simply adding keyword mentions doesn’t do much. Think of these additional keywords as topics or main points for additional H2s or subsections.
Rework and re-optimize your page with this in mind, and you will likely see an uplift in clicks and overall ranking position.
31.) Run a Content Audit and Prune Content
Running a content audit is a helpful way to identify content that is doing well and what content isn’t adding value.
In short, this means getting rid of content that doesn’t rank, doesn’t add value, and shouldn’t really be on your site.
I can’t stress enough that the time spent running a content audit and pruning thin, duplicate, or low-quality content is extremely underrated.
If any content isn’t adding value to your site, it needs to go. It’s really that simple.
32.) Ensure Images Use Alt Tags
Make sure you always pay attention to image optimization. This includes properly naming images with a descriptive file naming convention and optimizing the size and quality of your images. This is an area of SEO that is frequently neglected.
At the very least, you should ensure that the main images on each page of your site use alt tags to properly describe the content they portray.
Alt tags are not only useful for search engines, but they’re also useful for those who are visually impaired. In fact, the ADA requires that all images include proper alt tags to accommodate those who are visually impaired.
33.) Improve Internal Linking
Internal links are quite possibly one of the most neglected link-building tactics in the SEO world. Spending time to improve your site’s internal linking strategy can drive respectable gains in a relatively short period of time.
Here is an awesome guide on internal links and why they’re important.
34.) Find & Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues
Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages on the same site rank for the same keywords. In short, your website is competing against itself…this isn’t a good thing.
Keyword cannibalization is among the most misunderstood SEO concepts. Pages often rank for many keywords, so it isn’t always a major issue.
Let’s say you have two pages ranking for the term “SEO checklist” – one forgotten, out-of-date page and one new page with meaningful content. If Google prefers the older page, it may decide to not rank the newer, more useful page. In this instance, it would be a wise move to combine the two pages so you aren’t dividing inbound traffic to your site.
If your site suffers from cannibalization, you’ll likely struggle to rank for competitive terms since search engines will have a difficult time deciding which page to show in the SERPs.
35.) Find & Fix Orphaned Site Pages
Pages on your site should always link to at least one other page. Why? Well, if Google isn’t able to crawl a page through other links on your site, it is likely that it is not inserting the authority that it otherwise could and not ranking as well as it could in theory.
36.) Ensure that Your Site’s Content is Current
Let’s face it, content naturally ages and eventually become outdated.
However, updating old content is one of the easiest tasks that you can implement to see big gains.
If the content on your site contains outdated information or could simply do with a quick refreshing, it is time well spent.
After all, content that is outdated usually doesn’t offer the best user experience, so why would Google continue to rank it unless it’s made current?
Off-Page SEO Checklist
If you want to achieve SEO success, you can’t ignore off-page SEO factors. While these are often thought of as link-building, there is more to it than that in most cases. Ready? Let’s go!
37.) Analyze Your Competitor’s Link Profile
If you don’t have insight into your competitor’s link profile, how can you possibly plan a strategy to outrank them?
Just as it is important to spend time diving into your competitor’s content, you should also invest the time into digging deep into their link profile.
All you need to do is run a URL through a backlink analytics tool. Doing so allows you to analyze any competitor’s link profile and start to understand the overall quality and authority of the links that point towards their site.
38.) Conduct a Link Intersect Analysis
Are you currently missing out on links that are helping your competitors rank? Conducting a link intersect analysis can help you find quick-win opportunities.
If there is a resource page that links to all other websites in your space except you, a great starting point would be to reach out and ask to be added.
39.) Turn Unlinked Mentions into Links
If you have a PR team that lands press coverage, there is a good chance that you’ll find articles that mention your business. Odds are that these mentions don’t link to your site. These are known as unlinked brand mentions. A brand monitoring tool can help you quickly identify mentions of your brand that don’t link.
40.) Find New Link Building Opportunities
There are always new link-building opportunities that you can explore and act upon.
It’s critical that you build a high-quality backlink profile. Using the right SEO tools can make the task of finding these opportunities a little easier.
Improve Your SEO Presence Today
There you go! We just cruised through a 40-step SEO checklist that both rookie and veteran digital marketers can follow and hopefully find at least a few ways to improve their site’s optimization. SEO success doesn’t happen overnight. Nor does it magically happen by simply following a well-developed checklist. In order to outrank your competition, you need to make sure you are working on these steps to improve your SEO on a consistent basis.