The Go-Getter’s Guide to Website Optimization: Our Massive SEO Checklist
Get the Skinny on how strong your website is
Website optimization or search engine optimization can sometimes seem like a never-ending task. It is, but that’s beside the point. You have to start your SEO checklist somewhere. Once you know you’ve taken the foundational steps, outlined here in our website audit SEO checklist, you can be more confident when you spread out your efforts.
Here are over 40 steps you can take for your foundational SEO, both on and off page. If you’re brand new to online marketing, you have a lot cut out for you, but it’s well worth it. Don’t give up!
If you’re on the other spectrum and you’ve done some optimization, good for you! With a list this large, we’re sure you’ll find something you’ve missed. Who knows – it could make all the difference in your future results!
Website Optimization: On Page SEO
On Page SEO specifies only your website, but there’s a lot to your website. Maybe you think it’s just a few pages, but website optimizers see a whole bunch of opportunity to tweak for better user intent, conversions, marketing and ranking. If you don’t know where your site stands according to this list, you need to go check it out!
Technical SEO optimizes parts of a website that a visitor or search crawler might not actually see or notice. However, what they will notice is how fast your site is. They’ll notice how secure it is and how well it caters to their expectations for a good site. A crawler will be able to discover all your awesome content and index it for ranking!
Even if you’re using a website platform such as WordPress.com (hosted by WP), spend the extra cash to get your own, branded domain name. None of that brandname.wordpress.com stuff. Try to keep the domain name short and give a hint of about what your business does. A lawyer could have johnbrown.com, but, lawyerJohnbrown.com identifies what he does and distinguishes him from other John Browns.
An SSL certificate, or a Secure Socket Layer certificate, allows you to give your visitors peace of mind. Your SSL certificate ensures that any information they share with you will be encrypted. On top of that, websites with SSL installed rank better, albeit nominally, because search engines want to provide a more secure experience for their searchers.
Okay, so it’s not absolutely essential for ranking or traffic to have Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC. But why wouldn’t you want something that can give you an idea of how the search engine views your site? Monitoring website health on GSC and tracking conversions and goals in GA are keys to success!
Choose your website version
To www or non-www, that is the question. It’s not just a matter of semantics, the search engines treat these as two different sites. So, you can have www.brandname.com and brandname.com, and be competing against yourself. Obviously, this is going at cross-purposes. Choose one, and set your site so the other version is no longer available.
Submitting an XML sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster helps them crawl your site and index it. In addition, if you have a lot of images or videos, you can create a separate sitemap for these items. Anything you can do to help the search engines find your site is a good action, right? Right.
A while back Google made it so that websites that weren’t mobile friendly were dropped down in the mobile search results. This means a lot of high-ranking sites that ignored the warnings lost out when the update rolled out. Make sure that your site looks good as many devices as possible: desktops, laptops, mobile phones.
Robot.txt is a protocol that tells search crawlers whether a web page should be crawled. Occasionally you’ll end up with pages you don’t want visible. In this case, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by telling the search engines you don’t want them touching that page, or that folder, on your site. Note robots.txt should never be used for security. If crawlers absolutely shouldn’t be allowed then add a secure login to that area of the site
Broken links happen. But what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. Any time you take down a page or find a broken link, make sure you have it point to somewhere. When you redirect a page, redirect to a page with similar content. That way the people who’ve linked to you don’t lose out! It is often a good thing after adding the redirect to contact the site linking to you and let them know they will often link to the page you redirected to.
Have you ever seen something like: Home > What We Do > Let Us Do It For You? Breadcrumbs not only make it easier for people to navigate your site, but they also show up in search snippets. Finally, they help search engines figure out your site structure. Well worth the trouble of figuring out how to set them up.
Use Rel Canonical tags
“Rel canonical” or “relation canonical” tags help search engines decide which page is the important one in the case of duplicate content. For example, if you have an About Us and a Company/About Us, your rel canonical should point to whichever one you want indexed. That link will be on both pages. You can read more about this in Google’s canonical guide.
Optimize your website’s speed and Core web Vitals
You can find out a lot about your website with GTMetrix. CWV is a new test Google uses to determine the quality of your website user experience. GTMetrix will pinpoint CWV issues, bottlenecks and speed your site up, which, in turn, gives a better user experience and ranking.
Use a content delivery network (CDN)
Content Delivery Networks help websites speed up the delivery of their content. If your website deals with more than just local traffic, chances are that you could use a CDN. For a deeper understanding, read Imperva Incapsula’s The Essential Guide to CDN.
Implement Semantic SEO
Hummingbird was the first of many updates that changed Google search from phrase based matching to entity search. The BERT update has taken Google entity search to a new level where Google can identify all entities in a page and is able to better understand the intent of queries! The re-ranking BERT does is based on co-occurence of words and relationships between entities in the query corpus.
Use schema markup
Schema markup helps search engines provide more informative results for searchers. For example, you might search for an event online and see dates in the search results. These are rich snippets, created by schema markup. Schema also provides search engines with machine readable data that helps Google understand what a page is about. Checkout this link for info on what schema Google supports.
Install Open Graph and Twitter cards
Open Graph and Twitter card markup is code that allows you to better control how your content is shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. For example, if you were to share this article on Facebook, you’d be provided an image as well as a line or two of introduction.
Put your content above the fold
The “fold” on a page is the point where people start to scroll down. A lot of businesses believe (or used to) that this prime piece of real estate was best served with ads. Not so. Put your best content at the top and your ads in a less prominent position (or smaller).
Remove Interstitials and popups
Interstitials are the ads that take over the screen as soon as the page comes up, so users can’t see the content until they click the “x” or fill out the form. Make sure your popups aren’t intrusive and can easily be shut down.
Watch for duplicate content
Always keep an eye out for content that is similar to other content. This is easy to have crop up the longer you’re online. Every six months or so, perform a content audit to pinpoint areas that are similar.
Content optimization, as you can imagine, is the part the users do see. It’s also what makes your content easier for search engines to rank correctly. What you may not know is that content isn’t just text. It includes images, videos, white papers and pretty much anything else you put online.
Use heading tags
Heading tags are little bits of HTML code that help search engines understand the structure of a page. If you use a content management system, implementation is extremely easy. All you have to do is tell it that you want a heading one, two or three.
Use bullets and numbers
Bullets and numbered lists put the content into an easy-to-read format for easy consumption. Don’t just use them for the sake of using them, but consider your content before you call it done. Can it be easier to read?
Use alternative text tags
Alternative text, or alt tags, serve several purposes. One, if an image happens to be broken for some reason, the alternative text will be shown to give people an idea of what should be there. Another purpose is for screen readers, when an individual is blind. The alt text is read to give the visitor more information. As well, alt tags help search engines understand how to index your image.
Carefully craft titles and meta descriptions
When creating content, put as much thought into the title and description of the page as you do the content itself. The title and meta description are what shows up in the search results, so writing for marketing as well as ranking is very important. When all else fails, aim for humans instead of machines.
Use keywords for humans and search
Keywords may seem like just a search engine thing, but people use them, too. By adding keywords (or key words) into your headings, for example, you help people know what each section is about.
Use alternative keywords
Using alternate keywords like a secondary or tertiary is a must in SEO. You have to use terms that are related to your target term to help clarify what you mean. An often-used example is the term “jaguar”. Only once you use other terms (cat or car, for example), have you clarified what you mean.
Optimize your images
Rather than have large images and shrink them down, try to have your images at the size you need them. For example, if you need a small image 100×100 pixels, don’t use a larger image and then code to shrink it. By delivering up images the exact size you need them, you help your website load faster.
Use short, descriptive URLs
When you create new pages, short, descriptive URLs are easier to remember and easier to share.
Use hyphens in your URLs
Insteadofjustmushingyoururlstogether, use hyphens to make them easier to read: this-is-just-easier-to-remember. In the early days of the web _ was often used for spaces in URLs, however, these were hidden by the underline below the link.
Use headlines that grab them by the eyeballs
A strong headline is worth a good penny. It pulls visitors in and their eyes down to read the rest of the content. If you’re lacking stickiness in your posts, make sure you read How To Write Headlines That Grab Their Attention By The Eyeballs.
Create DATA-driven content
If you have analytics, you have a treasure trove of information. Most importantly, you can see what kind of content your visitors want to see. Based on those statistics, create more of what they like to drive traffic.
Proofread before publishing
Always double and triple-check your content before you push the “go live” button. Don’t just check for misspellings and grammatical errors. Sometimes the content can render funky, leaving strange icons.
Use social proof
Social proof helps your visitors know that your brand is what you say it is. Learn more about social proof with our three-part series: What is Social Proof?, Positive vs Negative Social Proof: How to Get it Right, and 5 Types of Social Proof for Gentler Persuasive Marketing.
Connect the social dots
Along with social proof and social accounts, make sure you provide ways for people to share your content and follow you. Your website should have links to social profiles
Use videos and images
Content is content, and the written word is beautiful, but sometimes you need to break it up with something more visual. However, don’t just use images and videos to use them; make sure they’re relevant to the written content on the page.
Focus your content on the reader
What do they need? What benefits do your readers get from reading your content? Too many get wrapped around the idea of ranking and forget that there are very real people reading your content. Always write for the reader first.
Use infographics for high-powered visuals
Infographics, when done right, can bring a ton of extra traffic. The biggest benefit, however, is backlinks. People link to awesome infographics, bringing you more authority through your links.
Create topic hubs, on your site
Topic HUBS are groupings of pages organized by relevance, usually connected by a central page (think of a folder). For example, our blog has a category for SEO, and also one for social media, and we put related articles in each category. Not only does this make it easier for people looking for similar content, but it also makes your site that much easier to index.
Link optimization is not link building. Instead of trying to get people to link to your site, it’s learning how previous sites have linked to you in the past. It’s also about how you link to other sites – or even your own.
Link to other pages on your site
Although you have links in your navigation, having links in your content that point to related pages helps improve your site’s ability to be crawled by search engines. As well – and most importantly – it helps visitors to find more information on your site.
Link to relevant sites
An article about fishing can’t go wrong linking to a web page or site about different kinds of fish. However, linking to a website about cars just because your friend asked you to (or someone pays you to) will only hurt your site. When you do link, make sure it matches the content on your page.
Link out to diverse sources
The fact is, you get used to getting your supporting information from a few, select websites. For us, we might link to Marketing Land, MOZ or SEO By the Sea. However, not only should your inbound link profile be diverse, but your outbound should be also.
Make sure image links lead back to the article
Some content management systems (we’re looking at you, WordPress) automatically link your post images to an attachment page. Instead, make sure that the link surrounding the image links back to the post itself.
Only link to quality sites
Relevance is only part of it. You’ve heard “birds of a feather flock together,” or “you are who you hang with.” The same is true for the sites you link to. The lower quality the sites are, the lower quality your site is perceived to be by visitors and search engines alike.
Fix your broken Links
Broken links to pages on your site provides a pretty bad user experience, but don’t forget that other sites lose pages, too. Watch your outbound links and replace them when they break.
Outbound Properties: Off Page Optimization
Off page optimization goes far beyond link building, but link building is a large part of it. For example, off page SEO includes citations, but it also includes making sure social accounts are up to par.
Make sure social profiles are filled out
Don’t just get a social account, make use of the additional real estate for your brand. Carefully fill out the profiles. Add information where you can. Add pictures on the profiles that allow it. Add links when allowed. Make each social profile reads like a strong resume for your business.
Create local listings and citations
Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, Merchant Circle, Local Pages–wherever you can put your brand, make yourself known. You can use LocalSEO’s Business Listings Scan to see what your business listings look like around the web.
Build a strong outreach strategy
Outreach programs help build connections with other businesses, people and bloggers. Overall, a good outreach program brings relevant links and positive social proof (not to mention those connections.)
Provide guest posting opportunities (and offer a few posts of your own)
Guest blogging is a great way to build additional authority and exposure, as well as an opportunity for link building.
Make sure all outgoing content reflects your brand image and message
Remember, it’s not all links. You ultimately want to create a strong brand. One that pulls people in and gets them to buy (or whatever your aim is). With this in mind, make sure your articles, white papers, videos – anything you send out some place else – is top notch before they go out. Once out of your hands, the chances are small you can fix anything.
Don’t forget your competitors
A competitor analysis every now and again can provide you with in depth, helpful information. In turn, that information can be used to strengthen your own website, either by doing something they do, or not doing something they’ve done because it tanked. Don’t forget this rich treasure trove of information.
There’s a lot that goes into optimization, starting in the very foundational code of the website. However, never forget that the most important thing for your site is what’s best for the people reading it. Don’t ever compromise the quality of your site or content for the sake of ranking. High rank doesn’t mean anything if no one clicks on the search result – and somebody clicking doesn’t mean anything if they don’t buy.