I’ll be honest, I don’t like these kinds of posts.
When I Google “SEO checklist” I see listicles with things like ‘do keyword research’ or ‘write skyscraper content’ alongside the promise that if you do what the post tells you, you’ll make it to the top of search results in minutes.
Or something to that effect.
That’s not SEO.
I will take a lot more than a simple to do list to actually make a difference in your rank.
I know, I’m shocked too.
Who knew that improving your site against 200+ ranking factors and billions of web pages would take more than updating your meta descriptions.
But there are things you can do to set your SEO strategy up for success. That is the way I view our SEO checklist.
It’s not a list of generic tasks or “growth hacks”. It’s a set of practical to-dos I follow with every singe website I’ve worked on in the past, and continue to teach in our coaching programs.
I’ve broken this into a series of sections:
The following is just a sample of the full checklist you can access for free here. It includes 60+ impactful and actionable steps you can take to put your website in the best position possible to rank.
Bookmark it by the way, I’m adding new items to this every month.
Anyway, let’s get to the top items.
These are the table-stakes elements I start every SEO campaign with.
I’d go so far as to say that if you were to pick one section of this checklist to actually do, make it this one.
Skipping over these leads to an unfocused SEO strategy that has you spin your wheels with little to show for it. Adhering to these though - you’re going to be a big step ahead of your competitors.
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time bound.
SEO is a long game, and not knowing where you want to go makes it longer.
Goal-setting is critical in SEO because if you do not know where you are going, it's going to be hard to demonstrate the ROI of your efforts or justify your work.
We’ve published a complete guide to setting SMART SEO goalsthat I would highly recommend reading if you are new to the concept.
Marketing to everyone is marketing to no one.
Buyer personas are essential to any effective SEO strategy. A clear understanding of who you are trying to sell to leads to a focused and effective SEO strategy that converts at a higher rate.
In a world where we focus so much on keywords, it is easy to forget there are actual people behind those keywords doing the searching. By understanding your target customers better, you will create content that is more valuable to them and they will be more likely to buy from you.
At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
We’ve created a guide to building highly effective buyer personas for SEO. Check it out here if your persona skills are rusty.
Whenever I go to a website and see they do not have an about page, a team page, or any info on the company I assume it’s either a scam or someone running the company out of their basement.
I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I imagine I am not alone.
It adds a level of legitimacy and professionalism that will help visitors trust your site more.
Here are my favorite SEO tools — in fact, these are the ones I would go as far to say you cannot be successful in SEO without them.
You won’t find any fancy, expensive tools here. These are all free and ones I actually use all the time with our clients.
Are there others? Sure, you can download the full checklist to review them.
Google Search Console is the ultimate SEO cheat code. It is the one SEO too I cannot live without.
Use Google Search Console to track how your website performs in search results, how often it is clicked, and the keywords your website appears for. You can even see the devices your customers are using when you appear in search, how many pages Google has seen on your website, and backlinks from other websites to your own.
Google Search Console is a treasure trove of SEO data, if you have not set it up please do yourself a favor and do it now. Like right now, you can leave the post and come back.
Check out our Google Search Console beginner’s guide.
Google Analytics is the ultimate free analytics tool.
Track visitors to your site, where they come from and how they behave once they are there. It's an absolute must to help you make any data-driven SEO decisions.
Even better, with Google Tag Manager you can record events, purchases, and more to report the ROI of all your SEO efforts.
Not using Google Analytics yet? Learn more about it and how to set it up.
Ever wanted to demonstrate how much money SEO has actually generated for you?
Google Tag Manager allows you to track things like form submissions, purchases — you name it. Doing so makes it incredibly easy to calculate the ROI of your SEO efforts, and ensure your hard work is paying off.
Here’s one of my favorite guides on Google Tag Manager that shows you how to set it up for form submissions. The entire website is full of content for the many other use cases for Google Tag Manager as well.
If you use WordPress, Yoast is a must.
Wordpress is a fantastic content management system (CMS), but out of the box there’s not much to optimize your website for SEO.
Well, there’s nothing. Until you install Yoast, of course.
Yoast will help you to make technical changes like editing your sitemap or on page changes like setting the SEO title, meta description, and more.
This is critical if you want any sort of control over how Google sees your site, and what shows in search results.
On-page SEO refers to everything you can do to optimize your website according to common best practices.
This includes things like your titles, meta descriptions, page copy, and URL structure.
Below I’ve listed what I believe to be the most important on-page SEO elements to optimize around.
Are there others? Sure, you can download the full checklist to find them.
They matter to your readers and they matter to Google. But often they are overlooked.
Don’t make that mistake. Instead, learn and apply the best practices. Things like:
Following these simple practices will go a long way to ensuring your URLs are human readable, easy to remember, and optimized for SEO.
To demonstrate, here’s an example of a bad url:
And here’s a better URL
Know the difference and implement these changes on your own website.
Titles and meta descriptions have become second nature when it comes to SEO, but they are still worth a callout.
Every page needs a unique title and meta description.
The title is one of the most important elements of the page and ranking factor. Combined with the meta description this is your elevator pitch for why someone should click from Google’s search results through to your page.
It’s important to use a key phrase in the meta description as well because Google will often bold the search terms in the meta description if they are there.
Keyword usage matters.
But not for the reason every marketing/SEO blog has said it does for the last 10 years.
Does using a target keyword in the title, url, and first 100 words magically improve your content and give it a free ticket to the first page of Google?
Nope. Not since 2004.
Understanding what your prospective reader is looking for and making it crystal clear they can find it in your content though, that’s another story.
Keyword usage matters because of psychology — if someone is scanning search results for something that is interesting/solves their query they will naturally be inclined to click on it.
Use your keyword in the first half of your title if you can, and in your meta description as well. Google tends to bold the keyword in the meta description, which can help your search result stand out.
You want to create a big callout from search results that you can provide the reader what they are looking for, and make them feel at ease once they land on your website that they have found it.
Images are awesome.
Seriously. People love visuals and nothing can drive home a point or break up a large post like an image.
But what is the cost?
Page load times are the cost, but they do not have to be.
By compressing and optimizing images, you can get some major load time savings. I love to use tinyPNG to compress large images down to a manageable size.
I generally do this for large images, such as blog featured images and the larger images on pages. It’s a great practice to make a habit of and it will keep your website lightning fast.
Remember when you were back in school and your teacher required you to cite sources apart from your own?
What’s a research paper without research, right?
Despite my protests, I caved to the pressures of my GPA and I’m glad I did because this matters with SEO too.
It’s not all about you — it’s about your reader. If you want to rank on Google you need to create the best content to answer the questions your customers are asking. That means doing your research and showing it.
Just look at this post — I’ve linked to loads of external resources because I want you to have all the information you need to optimize your website and rank better.
I know, I’m a saint. We can talk about that later, let’s get on to technical SEO.
Technical SEO, like on-page SEO, covers things you can control on your website. Unlike on-page SEO, which is more about content quality and optimization, technical SEO gets a bit more complicated.
Technical SEO covers things like site load times, CDN caching, Google indexing — all that fun stuff. And by fun stuff I mean you may need the help of a web developer, or buy a techie friend a coffee/beer in exchange for some help.
Are there technical SEO factors to keep track of? You bet, you can download the full checklist to review them.
Google doesn’t show pages on the web by magic — it has a network of bots (called spiders) which are constantly crawling the web to analyze and display content in search results.
This process of analyzing and displaying web pages is called indexed. If Google crawls a page but does not display it in search results, it is commonly called “crawled but not indexed” and it is a major pain.
If your pages are crawled but not indexed then they will not appear in search results. Learn more about this error and what you can do to fix it.
Over half of Google searches are on mobile.
Depending on your industry, a vast majority of your audience could be searching and engaging with content on a mobile device.
It's imperative that you make your site mobile-friendly. Especially as mobile devices become more advanced and gain a larger share of traffic on the web. A website that is not functional on mobile is a website that will lose out on business.
Fortunately, Google has a pretty great free tool to check if your website is mobile-friendly so you can ensure your site works across any device.
Ever seen one of these?
It’s called a 404 error page. It means there is no page at that URL.
Imagine the web is like a town. Each address corresponds to a home with people living there (in the olden days, there were phonebooks which listed the addresses and residents).
Suppose you went to an address and there was no home there, just an empty plot of land. That’d be pretty annoying, likely the record of addresses was outdated.
The same thing happens with a website.
Each URL corresponds to a page, however if you type in a URL that does not correspond to any page it will return a 404 error: the error code for “not found”.
These are commonly called broken links and they create a poor experience for people visiting your website, and search engines trying to crawl your content.
It's imperative find these and replace them with a working link.
Ever noticed these fun little lock icons in Chrome?
They’re not there for decoration — they tell visitors to your website that the website is secure. They appear when the website has HTTPS enabled.
HTTPS signifies that your site is secure. To enable HTTPS you need an SSL certificate.
SSL stands for 'secure socket layer' and it is a certificate for your domain which tells the rest of the internet your website is safe. As of 2014 Google started favoring websites with SSL, making it well worth the investment.
When I was young, the internet was just starting to take off and websites took forever to load.
Not knowing any better, I was patient.
Standards have changed for the web. In Google’s never-ending quest to return the best content for every query, they are starting to increase the priority of quick load times and positive experiences on your website.
As a result, how quickly your page loads is integral to the success of your SEO strategy. I recommend using PageSpeed Insights to measure the speed of your pages, and to review recommendations on how to speed things up.
One suggestion you may see from PageSpeed Insights is to use a CDN.
CDN is an acronym for 'Content Delivery Network' and it is an extremely handy way to improve your website's speed. CDNs do this by caching content and files on your site so they can load near instantaneously as opposed to having to reload every time someone visits a page.
Some website platforms have a CDN built in, others (like Wordpress) require a bit of extra setup. Learn more about CDNs and how to set them up.
A sitemap is a file that lists all the pages on your website. It makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site and index your content.
The Yoast plugin for Wordpress makes it easy to set this up, most other CMS platforms set up a sitemap out of the box. Make sure to submit your sitemap to Google Search Console so all your pages are indexed and can appear in search results!
Curious about what your sitemap looks like? Add '/sitemap.xml' to the end of your homepage URL and that will bring you to it. Learn more about sitemaps and how to optimize them.
A robots.txt file is the inverse of a sitemap: it tells search engines the pages you do not want to be crawled.
Pages you don’t want to be crawled -what?
You read that right. Suppose you have seasonal content, or admin pages on your website, or category/tag pages — essentially, either useless or private content that should not show in search results. These are all good candidates for your robots.txt file.
For most sites, I ignore the robots.txt — it's more useful for complex/large websites than smaller sites.
No-indexing a page hides it from view from search engines. It’s a more granular than robots.txt because you need to add the noindex tag to a page you want hidden. I like to use noindex to hide unimportant content, thank you pages, etc from Google so they do not appear in search results.
JS and CSS are what make websites beautiful and interactive.
They’ve taken websites from ‘blah’ to ‘BAM!’ over the past 20 years and they are continuing to evolve from here.
But they are ‘heavy’. By heavy, I mean they slow sites down. A pure HTML website (HTML is the building block of a web page) can load in a flash. A bit of CSS and JS slows it down, but not by much.
If you have tons of fancy animations and moving parts, fuggetaboutit.
JS and CSS files are written line by line. This can result in files hundreds or even thousands of lines long. A bit of JS or CSS won’t be too bad, but files that are thousands of lines long slow your website down like an anchor.
You can improve your website's performance by minifying these files so they load quickly and do not slow your website down. For Wordpress websites, WP Rocket is an excellent solution.
Running a local business? This is the spot for you.
Local SEO is a whole other ballgame from companies that operate on a national, or international, level. There are different tools and tactics you can use to stand out from the crowd and leap ahead of your competitors.
We’ll cover the primary ones here, though download the full checklist to see the rest.
If you want to rank for any local query, you need to tell the world (and Google) you are in business near the location you are targeting.
If Google does not know you are located near Worcester Massachusetts, how are you ever going to rank for “<business> in Worcester” or “<business> near me” (for people in Worcester)?
Answer: you won’t.
The easiest way to tell people where you work is to have it clearly visible on your website. Put the address of your business in the footer of every page on your website to help you rank for localized and “near me” searches.
Google My Business is a non-negotiable when it comes to local SEO.
If you run a localized business, you absolutely need to set up and optimize your Google My Business profile. It’s free, and can be done fairly quickly. Plus there are all kinds of awesome optimizations you can do. Things like:
Learn more about how to set up a Google My Business profile.
Whether it is a contractor, a restaurant, or a dentist — when I am in the market for a local business I check the reviews before making a decision.
When people shop locally they make a decision based on reviews before anything else. It doesn’t matter how slick your website it, how pretty it is, or all the services you offer — no reviews means no one is vouching for you, and that makes it a harder sell.
We’ve written a deep dive guide on how to ask for reviews and use them to increase sales and boost your SEO efforts.
We’ve published a full SEO checklist of 60+ items (and more added each month) in a Notion template for you to copy and implement on your website.
SEO has the potential to be the single greatest revenue driver for your business, so set yourself up for success with the full checklist here.
September 27, 2021
We’re always sharing insights, findings, and case studies with our subscribers. Sign up to get our best SEO tips and advice in your inbox.