There used to be a time when ranking a web page was as simple as writing a bunch of low-quality articles, stuffing them with a list of keywords and doing some heavy-duty artificial link building. Well, that’s definitely not the case anymore. There’s a lot more on our SEO checklist than that.
Today, we live in a post Panda, post Penguin era, the two of the major algorithm updates that helped Google remove or de-rank millions of pages. It’s no longer easy to game the system and rank bad content above the good.
Ranking a website now means following a set of rules (an SEO checklist), creating great content, and earning high quality links. It’s become difficult, which is a good thing. Because it’s keeping the spammy SEO gamers on the bay, and is helping deserving websites get their position in the SERPs.
In order to help you effectively optimize your website for the major search engines, we’ve not only compiled an extensive SEO checklist, but we’ve also given tips on how to make the most of each item on the list.
Without further ado, here’s the ultimate SEO checklist for your website that you can go through to ensure you’re on the right path.
Install Google Analytics
First on our SEO checklist is keyword ranking. If you’re only focused on your website’s position in the SERPs, you’re missing out on the big picture.
In order to truly measure SEO and understand how the organic traffic is converting for you, you need to install Google Analytics — probably the best free analytics tool on the market.
Google Analytics will help you grasp and understand critical data like:
- How much organic traffic you’re getting vs the traffic you’re receiving from other sources
- How high-quality is the search traffic your website is getting and from which keywords
- How well the organic traffic is performing in terms of dollar value (simply compare the cost of your keywords as per Google AdWords)
- How many pages of your site are loading slow and affecting the overall user experience
Adding the Google Analytics tracking code to your website is fairly simple. In case you’re using a CMS like WordPress, simply install the Google Analytics plugin.
Add Your Website to Google Search Console
Formerly known as the Webmaster Tools, the Google Search Console is an invaluable tool for anyone focused on improving their site’s SEO. By adding and verifying your website to it, you’ll be able to analyze its performance in more than one way.
Using this free tool by Google, you can get more insights into:
- The number of people visiting your website via search
- How your website visitors are finding you and the site’s click-through rate
- What devices are commonly used to access your site
- Which of the website’s pages are performing the best
It takes only a few minute to set up Google Search Console, so not doing it would be a mistake. In case you want to learn more about it, here is a detailed guide by Moz.
Add Your Website to Bing Webmaster Tools
There’s no doubt that Google reigns over Bing in every way, and it is where you will get most of your search traffic from. But that doesn’t mean you should not ignore adding your site to Bing Webmaster Tools.
Given below are a few strong reasons why Bing holds importance in the SEO arena:
- When it comes to targeted search traffic, who doesn’t want more? Even if the organic traffic you receive from Bing forms of a small percentage of your website’s total traffic, it is still highly relevant. Which means it has a good chance of converting into leads or sales.
- Bing has been around for a long time now and continues to grow. In fact, according to recent reports, Bing’s share of the search market is growing faster than the big daddy of search, Google.
- While Google Search Console has most of the features that Bing Webmaster Tools has, some of them are unique to Bing. For instance, Bing Webmaster Tools has access to Yahoo data, while Google doesn’t.
Google is your primary source of organic traffic, while Bing is secondary. So focus on both if you’re serious about increasing search visitors to your site.
Keep a Tab on Page Speed
Next on our SEO checklist is page speed. Page speed is the time a page takes to load and display the full content. And it’s an important SEO factor to consider.
It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that people want web pages to load fast. And Google thinks the same, which is why it uses the overall site speed as a ranking signal.
If the speed is slow, the search engine spiders may end up crawling fewer pages. Better page speed not only improves your rankings, but also fetches better conversions.
You can increase your website’s page speed by enabling compression, reducing redirects, using browsing caching and optimizing images.
A simple way to check page speed is with a free tool called Google PageSpeed Insights. When using it, aim for a score above 80 for best results.
Improve the Quality of Your Pages
If your website pages aren’t accessible to the search engines or aren’t of good quality, then you can’t expect them to rank.
Use an SEO tool such as Screaming Frog or the Google Search Console to scan through your website and ensure:
- There are no misplaced “noindex” tags on pages that you want to rank, or else they won’t get even indexed. The search engine spiders should be able to reach all pages of your website, except the ones that that you want to purposely hide.
- There is no duplicate content on any page. While Google won’t penalize you for having duplicate content, it won’t reward you either. So see to it that all pages have unique content.
- There are zero pages with thin or weak content because Google favors websites with relevant content that offers real value.
Make Your Website Mobile Responsive
As more and more people access the Internet from their smartphones and tablets, your website cannot take a chance by being unresponsive. Regardless of the device someone is visiting our site from, they need to have a great experience. This is one of the absolute musts on our SEO checklist.
Ask any reputed SEO company, and you’ll find each one of them agreeing on the importance of having a mobile-friendly site.
Responsive web design has the following SEO benefits:
1. Google Loves Responsive: With mobile traffic to local sites growing at a breakneck speed, it’s no surprise that Google recommends having a mobile-friendly website.
You definitely shouldn’t forget that Google even announced last year the importance of having mobile friendly content and website. Nowadays, most consumers tend to use these gadgets to look and shop for almost everything. Imagine having the best products in the market but no one can buy it from your online shop because your website buttons are not functioning when used in iPhones or your menu is unresponsive in tablets. That would be frustrating, right?
So it’s safe to say that having a responsive web design gets you in the good books of the big G and helps you achieve better position in the SERPs.
2. One Central Website: Having a separate mobile site, building unique backlinks to it and working on growing its presence doesn’t make sense — especially when mobile sites are hard to rank. It’s double the hard work for little return. However, what does make sense is having a single website for all devices. Everything gets easier when you’re focusing on one URL. Whether it’s growing authority, building backlinks or getting more social shares.
3. Lower Bounce Rate: Picture this – people visiting your not-so-responsive website on their smartphones have a hard time navigating it. Result? They leave. Your bounce rate increases. And your rankings fall. Because Google sees the high bounce rate as a lack of relevant content. Whereas a responsive site keeps the visitors engaged and gives them what they’re looking for. Simple.
4. Better User Experience: A website that is responsive is obviously user-friendly. Which automatically fetches it more brownie points in the eyes of Google. Remember, the higher the user-engagement of a website, the better the chances of it ranking higher.
Have a Well-Maintained XML Site Map
Our SEO checklist would be no good if we did not cover XML site maps. XML sitemaps have been around for a long time now, but their importance has grown after the infamous Google Panda algorithm update.
An XML sitemap helps your content get indexed faster by alerting the search engines of any changes or updates. It also communicates to Google that you are the original publisher of the content, and not the other website that has either syndicated or curated it.
Remember, one of the aspects of Google Panda’s job is to get rid of duplicate content from the SERPs. By not having a proper XML site map, your original content may get removed from the search results if a site curating or syndicating your content gets indexed before you.
There are three things that you need to keep in mind when reviewing your sitemap:
1. Keep It Clean: Have you blocked certain pages on your website from indexing? Do you have non-canonical pages? Do you use redirect URLs on your site? If yes, then you need to exclude them and other useless pages from the site map. If your sitemap isn’t clean, it will not get noticed by Google. You can check if your sitemap has any errors in the Google Search Console.
2. Keep It Updated: Since your sitemap is responsible for letting Google know about updates to your site, it’s only obvious that you need to keep it fresh. Make sure it is updated every single time you add new content to the site.
3. Keep Fewer Number of URLs: Since Google doesn’t crawl sitemaps with more than 50,000 URLs, it’s better to have fewer, higher quality URLs. This way, the important pages will be crawled on a regular basis.
Check the Number of Indexed Pages
Knowing how many of your website’s pages are actually indexed in Google is important.
Because they should match the actual number of pages on your site that you want to show up in the search results. In case there is an uneven gap, you may want to check the number of pages disallowed on your site.
You can check the indexing of your website pages by typing in site:domain.com in Google or Bing.
Regularly Check Internal Links
You not only want your website to have a great user experience, but also better crawlability. Having a focused and well-thought out internal linking structure helps distribute the pagerank throughout the website effectively.
When you’re checking or auditing internal links, here’s are three questions you need to focus on:
- How far are your important pages from your website’s main page? If they are more than three clicks away from the homepage, try and bring them closer. The internal linking structure should not be complicated or too deep.
- Are there any broken links on the site? It’s common sense to fix or remove any broken links because they’re bad for your visitors and search engines, both. Take care of them there and then.
- Do you take your visitors through multiple redirects? If yes, then you need to update the redirect links – especially if they have too many redirects. Doing this will send a positive signal to the the search engine crawlers and will also improve the load time.
Consistently auditing your internal links will yield great SEO results in the long run. So take out a few minutes to do it. It’ll be worth it.
Improve Your Website’s Crawl Budget
No, crawl budget has nothing to do with your SEO budget, but it’s a vital part of our SEO checklist. Crawl budget is basically the number of your website’s pages crawled by the search engine in a day. Log in to Google Search Console to see your site’s crawl budget.
Knowing your crawl budget is only one part of the equation. The other part is actually working on optimizing or increasing it.
Just the way it pays to save on your SEO budget, it pays to save on your crawl budget. Here’s how to do it:
- Eliminate any and every duplicate page on your site, because every time the search engine spiders visit the duplicate pages, you lose your crawl budget.
- Stop pages with zero SEO value, (like terms & conditions and privacy policies) from getting indexed. Simply add them to your robot.txt file under the Disallow rule and you’re good to go.
- Get rid of broken links or fix them so that the search engine crawlers are not wasting your SEO budget on them.
As you move forward, you’ll notice the positive effects of reserving your crawl budget for pages that truly deserve to get crawled, indexed and ranked.
Optimize Title Tags
Title tags aren’t the same as headlines, they have their own role to play on our SEO checklist. Which is why every page on your site should have a well-written title tag that is unique in its own way.
When people go through the search engine result pages, the first thing they see is the title tag. If it grabs their attention, great. If not, your site gets scrolled down.
Title tags not only improve your site’s click through rate in the SERPs but also help you get a higher CTR on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
How long should your title tag be? The sweet spot lies between 70 and 50 characters. Because if it’s too long, it gets cut short by the search engines. If it’s too short, it fails to communicate the message.
Also, including your primary keyword in the title tag (preferably in the beginning) can positively impact your search engine rankings. Try to weave in the keyword in such a way that it looks natural and readable. If possible use your brand name to increase click through rate. But avoid keyword stuffing at all costs.
Write a Clear Meta Description
According to Ahrefs, having your keyword in the meta description doesn’t have much effect on the page’s ranking. At least not as much as the page title. Nevertheless, it’s still important to craft a strong description.
Effective SEO is not just about ranking higher, it’s also about grabbing the attention of the search user. It’s about standing out from the competing websites and drawing more traffic.
When someone searches for a particular keyword that is (naturally) included in the meta description, it automatically gets highlighted. Which can lead to a better click-through rate. Not only in the SERPs but also on social media sites where it the page gets shared.
So make sure you have a meta description for every important page on your site. Keep it below 160 characters as anything more than that gets truncated in the search results.
Say Yes to SEO-friendly URLs
Your URL structure plays an important role in SEO. Here’s what you need to do to properly structure URLs and make them more search engine friendly:
- Make each URL readable to human beings because the more clean and accessible a URL is, the more it helps in SEO.
- Use your target keywords in URLs. Doing this helps indicate what the page is about in case there is no anchor text. But more importantly, users can see the keyword in the URL in the SERPs, which improves the CTR.
- Avoid ugly URL parameters. If a URL is not clear and well-formatted, people and search engines can get confused. Gone are the days when you could have a long string of numbers and characters a.k.a dynamic parameters in your URL and still rank well.
- Keep your URLs short and focused, around 50 to 60 characters. Rewrite them if they are overtly long. While the major search engines have no issues with long URLs, they can be a quite hassle when people copy, paste, embed and share on social media. Having said that, short URLs may also help with rankings.
Besides doing the above, try to match page titles to URLs, remove unsafe punctuation characters, and have fewer folders.
Work on Increasing Dwell Time
Google tracks a lot of stuff, including the time a user spends on a page after clicking through from the SERPs — which is called the dwell time.
Common sense says that your page needs to be sticky enough so that the visitors spend more time browsing your site. And Google doesn’t disagree with that.
Since search engines aim at connecting users to the most relevant content, dwell time helps them filter out pages that are not so relevant to the keyword the user searched for. In other words, the higher your dwell time, the more Google love you receive.
So how do you go about boosting your site’s dwell time? Just make sure you are:
- Creating and publishing high quality, value-packed content on a regular basis so that people visiting your site have a reason to stay, and come back. You may also want to use video content to give more value and increase engagement.
- Have a solid internal linking structure so that your visitors are engaged and don’t click back to the search engine result page. With that said, Wikipedia probably has the highest dwell time!
- Keep the design and navigation of your website simple/clear. Having too much clutter on the pages may push the visitor to go back.
- Finally, know the importance of keyword intent. Try to keep the content on the page relevant to the primary keyword.
Last on our SEO checklist is image optimization. Google Image Search is extremely popular, and a great way to get more traffic. So proper image optimization is not just important for people but also for the search engines.
Here are three things that you can do to optimize images effectively:
- Optimize the images for the web by reducing the file size to a good extent. Do this without affecting the image quality.
- Change the filename to something more descriptive so that the search engines don’t have a hard time finding them.
- Add informative alt text or alternative text to each image so that the search engines can understand and hopefully rank them higher.
- In order to improve your chances with images SEO, go through the Google Webmaster Guideline, where you will find the image publishing guidelines that you should follow for best results.
There you have it — an SEO checklist that will actually help your website rank above other competing sites. It doesn’t matter if your site is new or old, as long as you put the above information into action, you will see real-world results. Period.