SEO Checklist 2019
This Checklist is a step by step guide for you to check if there are any major issues with your website that might prevent it from ranking on Page ONE.
Keep in mind that to get good rankings you must have excellent Content and you must provide value to your visitors.
Also, be aware that you cannot brute force your pages to rank on page one with SEO. The road to page one is paved with great content.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
SEO is done by taking action on factors that affect INDEXING and RANKING of individual pages (phases 3, 4, 5 of the list below). Advanced SEO is done by broadening the scope of your Content to handle cross-topic and broad searches that Google MIGHT consider relevant to your Target Audience.
KEEP IN MIND
HOW SEARCH ENGINES WORK
1. SEARCH QUERY
Every search starts with a query. Since the moment the user begins typing, Google worries about delivering the best possible answer to the query... even before the query has been written!!!
Google's mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
The primary goal of the SERP is to satisfy searcher’s intent. Keep this always in mind.
In order to return relevant SERPs, the Search Engine needs to understand the semantic scope of the query. To achieve this goal a variety of information is used. Personal information and search history play a big role here. Use incognito windows for unbiased searches.
Google is now able to understand how queries relate to different topics and this highly influences the results selected from its index and returned to SERPs.
Deep understanding of these “on-topic” and “cross-topic” mechanism is vital for planning modern and advanced SEO Content Strategies.
URLs can show up in SERPs only if they are correctly indexed. Take time to understand how indexing works and make sure all pages of your website are indexed properly. Also, make sure there are no duplicates and URLs are indexed in their canonical form.
4. FILTERING & CLUSTERING
Among the indexed pages, a few are selected. Those pages represent a possible answer to the specific query being processed. Several algorithms are running in this part of the process. Content and keywords play a big role in the selection of the URLs to display in SERPs.
Here is where the “technical” SEO makes the difference. Assuming your pages made it to this stage, the degree of optimization of your website will now be put to the test.
The SEO Checklist
The first step on the long road to Page One is: get on the Index. If your pages are not indexed correctly they will never be found. Do NOT expect Google to figure out things by itself. In order to be indexed correctly and FAST, you have some homework to do. In this section we go through the checklist of indexing must-dos.
Check what is already indexed.
(Audit only. No sense to do this if you know already the website is not indexed).
Search for: site:mydomain.com
From this search you'll see how Google indexed the website you searched for. You'll see how many URLs are currently in the Index and you can read them in the SERPs. You can visually check for duplicates and other potential issues. You can also check how meta descriptions are rendered.
Try a branded search.
(Audit only. No sense to do this if you know already the website is not indexed).
Search for: myBrand
Does Google list it in SERPs?
Does it appear on Page One?
Does it cluster?
Does it show sitelinks?
Branded searches are extremely important. When searched by name, your Brand MUST be found on Page One. Failing a branded search will cause serious trust issues.
Does the Website have a Search Console account?
Ask to the Owner. If the website does not have a Search Console account you MUST make it.
Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) is a tool of crucial importance to get an overview on a few key indicators. Among other things, from Search Console you can see crawling statistics, search terms that are generating impressions and clicks for the website, backlinks, internal links and various types of errors.
Does the Website have a Sitemap?
Check at: mydomain.com/sitemap.xml
Sitemaps help crawlers to understand which pages to crawl, rather than having to follow every link they find. Googlebot uses sitemaps and having an updated sitemap on your website might help to avoid indexing problems. It also might help to get some useful sitelinks listed on SERP.
Is the Sitemap submitted to the Search Console account?
On Search Console account you have the opportunity to submit the sitemap to Google to crawl. Use it!!!
Does the Website use “robots.txt”
Check at: mydomain.com/robots.txt
When search engine robots crawl a website, they typically first access a site's robots.txt file. Robots.txt tells Googlebot and other crawlers what is and is not allowed to be crawled on your site. Make sure no pages (or files necessary to render the pages) are blocked by the robots.txt.
Does the Website use Canonicalization?
You do not want Search Engines to index duplicates. You must have one version of each page or canonicalize them.
Check from results of point (1) or from Search Console: does SERPs show duplicates for www and non-www versions?
More accurate analysis is necessary to check the usage of canonicalization at page level. All duplicated pages must be canonicalized or 301 redirected.
Be careful when using redirects… you could break the website!
Are the URLs user-friendly?
Avoid “machine-made” URLs and use descriptive URLs. Make sure only user-friendly URLs are indexed and use canonical versions to get rid of machine-made versions.
It is preferrable to include keywords in the URLs... but never force it.
Keywords in the URLs are usefuls to increase CTR when they are displayed in SERP. They have little contribution to the ranking of the page.
Is the Website architecture good enough?
Are you sure you can reach EVERY page starting from the Main Menu? (crawlability).
Are you sure you are using a “good” architecture? (users should NOT get lost in it, menu structures should not be too deep).
Content is the King… and the core of SEO. There is no quick recipe for fixing Content.
Developing good, Search Engine Optimized Content takes skills, knowledge and time. It is - by far - the most complex task on the SEO to do list… and one of the most important.
Here is a list of things to look for to spot potential SERIOUS problems:
Does the Website contain useful Content?
"Useful" is that Content that can answer searcher’s queries. The question whether your Content is useful or not, is a very important one. Unfortunately, it cannot be answered directly with a YES or NO.
Many different analysis are necessary in order to establish whether the Content is appropriate, relevant, interesting, engaging, unique.
Is the Content keyword optimized?
The Mother-of-Questions: are you sure you are targeting the right keywords?
This is an issue for real SEO professionals. There is no quick answer to that…
You can learn more on YouTube about keyword selection and keyword optimization. Be prepared to invest several hours (days) in learning how to select the proper keywords for your business.
Are pages targeting keywords properly?
In order to maximize ranking capabilities, try to build Content in a way where each page targets a small number of keywords. If you want to target more keywords, add more pages.
Is the Content long enough?
There is a correlation between Content length and ranking. Longer posts tend to rank higher. However, do not make the mistake to think that having a long piece of empty Content will increase your chances of getting on Page One.
It is more like this: it is very difficult to convey useful information in just 200 words. In general, longer pieces convey more useful information. This is why they rank better.
As a rule of thumb, avoid posts content shorter than 400-500 words, unless its utiliy is in the timing rather than in the content (i.e. news or similar).
Is the Content unique, shareable, remarkable?
Feel free to be inspired by the Content of others but avoid copying!
Plagiarism (copying Content) is a violation for which Google can remove your website form the index!
Also, unique and remarkable Content tends to be highly informative. Remarkable gets shared. Shares bring traffic, which leads to higher ranking.
Make sure everything you publish brings some kind of value to the visitor. Avoid publishing empty Content. If you have empty Content consider refurbishing it with longer, more insightful versions OR removing it.
User Experience just got more important. While most small mistakes in the HTML code can now be forgiven, a poor User Experience will send you back to page N.
Most important questions are:
Is it Mobile-Friendly?
Test it at: Google Mobile-Friendly Test
WARNING: this is of major importance! Google is migrating the indexing system to “mobile first”. As consequence, all the websites which are NOT mobile friendly will soon be penalized in ranking.
Do pages load fast enough?
Test it at: Google PageSpeed Tools
NOTE: if you have access to Google Analytics account you can see speed results from the menu.
How fast is fast?
In average, 25% of visitors are lost is the page takes more than 4 seconds to load. Speed is of paramount importance for retaining visitors and, since bounce causes lower ranking, speed is of paramount importance for ranking.
Speed issues can be solved following instructions on the PageSpeed test. In general you are advised to:
- minimize HTTP requests;
- use Gzip compression;
- use HTTP caching;
- move all CSS style rules into a single, external and minified CSS file;
- minify all JS files and, if possible, try combining them into a single external JS file;
- include external CSS files before external JS files;
- place your JS scripts at the bottom of your page;
- optimize images;
- reduce redirects;
- reduce the number of plug-ins.
Is the navigation easy enough?
Stick to standards. Do not re-invent the wheel. People expect to find certain types of layout.
Messing with the layout might make navigation harder and lead to high bounce-rates.
Make sure that users can reach any page on your website with a reasonable number of clicks (three???).
This used to be the core of SEO. That is no longer the case. Still, it is a very good practice to get everything right in order to maximize your chances to end up on Page One.
As in the case of Content, these SEO tricks have to be verified on EACH page! ...you’d better off using a serious CMS platform (Wordpress, Joomla, …). CMS platforms massively reduce the changes you can mess up things with the SEO at HTML level. Here are the most important things to look for:
Does the page have a proper title?
Be descriptive. Keywords are important but do not stress with it. Titles are for users to read and to CLICK! To rank you need traffic and for traffic you need clicks. Write your titles with the user in mind: would you click on it??!?!
Keep the title length in the range 50-60 characters. Only 600px are visualized in SERP, the rest is clipped with "...".
Is the Brand/Product name included in the title?
i.e. “SEO Checklist | AndreaBronzini.com”.
Maximize your chances to create Brand Authority. You have a Brand name: use it!
A good format for your title is: Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
Make sure you use this format on EVERY page of your website.
Does the page have a user-friendly URL?
Same as point (8)... just make sure it checks out on EVERY page of your indexed Content.
Does the page URL contain relevant keywords?
Same as point (8)... just make sure it checks out on EVERY page of your indexed Content.
Does the page have ONE (only) H1 tag?
Seriously, why would anyone in his sane mind put more than one H1 tag on a page? ...what do you want to communicate with that?!??!
Real super-short story: I have seen even THREE page titles on a page!!! Looking at the amusement and surprise on my face (I didn't know whether to laugh or cry) my Client said this “practice” was suggested by “a guy who knows stuff”.
My two cents: stick with some kind of professional and avoid guys who know stuff. Kids hurt your business.
Ou… if you don't have any H1 tag: what are you waiting for?!?! Put it already! ...it’s FREE!
Does the page have H2 tags?
See H2 tags as sections in a book. You can have one or many. The more you segment your Content with headers, the more important it is you make good use of keyword. The logic here is that you are going from a broad "topic perspective" to a more focuses "paragraph perspective", which focus on a very narrow part of the topic... hence it can be represented very well by one (or more) keywords.
Look at this document to get a practical example of what I mean in terms of heading structure, depth and keyword use.
What about H3 tags?
See H3 tags as chapters in a book. You can have one or many.
Same above, the specificity of tags should increase towards the "core" of the content.
There is no big rule on H3 tags but and in the past all attention was focused on H1 tags. In my humble opinion H3 tags represent a big opportunity to catch user's attention and stress on the topics of your Content. H3 tags should then be used to make the page “skimmable”... in other words: use it to improve User Experience.
Remember that the goal is always to improve User Experience and provide useful info… so, make it descriptive and short!
Any H4 tags?
I think you get it... you can use more sub-headers if you need to fragment your Content even further.
This is a very good practice and it works wonders in long Content. It helps to keep the whole document more readable and engaging, hence longer time on page, returning visitors and so on.
Does the page have a Meta Description?
This is by no means a must but it is your one-chance to write a message to the searcher. Why would you waste this opportunity?
Meta Description is shown as a snippet of text in the SERP under your URL. Make sure you make it descriptive and keep it between 150 and 160 char.
NOTE 1: Google might decide to replace the description with an excerpt from your page, if that suits better the search intent.
NOTE 2: Google will make up a description if you do not provide one.
Are images named properly?
This is an overlooked and potentially big source of SEO power!!!
Make sure you always brand your image name and try to describe in the name what’s in the image. Get this right and you’ll soon will find yourself ranking high in vertical searches. What a great way to step ahead your competitors!
Is ALT text provided for images?
Less important than the image name but it surely pays off to have it right.
Does the page use Schema Markup?
Answer boxes and other snippets are stealing Real-Estate on Page One. Using Schema might be soon mandatory if you want to have a chance to stand out. Think about that...
More info on http://schema.org
Search engines do not know you, therefore they must rely on external validation to verify if your website and Content is worthy of a spot on Page One. Tapping into your connections is the easy way to make a quick background check on you and your network.
Here is what you should get right:
Does the page have backlinks?
HUGE WARNING: following the structure I gave to this checklist, this ended up to be point 31 in a logical sequence of points (and Sections). In order of importance, backlinks are definitely in the TOP FIVE.
*** Ignore this at your own risk ***
You need other sites to link to your page in order for the page to rank well. It is very uncommon to see URLs on Page One with zero backlinks. Backlink-building is a very time consuming practice (and that’s probably why it is still a big deal for ranking high). TIPS: Make sure your backlinks are editorial (freely and willingly given in the organic context of another piece of Content). NEVER PAY for links, with money or exchange of any kind (penalties ahead). Avoid getting links from spammy websites. One backlink from a very authoritative site can outnumber hundreds of average backlinks.
Is the FAVICON set up correctly?
That little favicon logo can be the big flag of your Brand's Glory, if used consistently and correctly.
Consistency in details is one of the elements of succesfull Branding. In fact, Branding is all about creating associations with memories and emotions. Make sure your little logo shines proud on every open tab.
Do URLs cluster in SERPs?
Clustering occurs when one SERP returns multiple results for the same domain. In this scenario that domain ends up "owning" a lot of Real-Estate on that SERP, hence increasing at the same time the likelihood of a click and the Brand Authority (for both the Search Engine and Searcher).
Google tries to avoid Clustering as much as possible since it reduces the variety of search results, potentially rendereing a worse service to the Searcher. There has been efforts to remove clustering from Page One and Two, while still allowing it on other pages.
So, while you cannot control Clustering, if you find your URLs clustering on Page One it is sign you are doing things VERY right!
Does any “featured snippet” come up in SERPs?
Finding any of your pages featured in a "featured snippet result" in SERP, is a clear sign you are doing things VERY right.
Your pages featured in an answer box or other SERP special feature can dramatically increase your visibility and bring along a massive increase in trust, Brand awareness and Authority.
It is a good practice to keep an eye on these features and develop Content especially to leverage this (by implementing Schema Markups, see point 30).
Last but not least, you must be able to track results from any change you make on the website.
Here are the MINIMUM requirements:
Does it have Google Analytics?
Can you believe there are still people running an entire website with no Analytics?!?!
MEASURE… is the first thing you can do to start improving.
Does it have Facebook Pixel?
Finally, borderline off-topic… it is a very good practice to put your traffic to a good use with paid remarketing.
Facebook offers a brilliant way to do that with its tracking Pixel. Take advantage of it… just install it, even if you do not plan to use it any time soon.
YOU REACHED THE BOTTOM !
WOW, congratulations :)
This is a very looooong page...
and you made it all the way down to the very end.
So, what is it gonna be...
...will you take some action on it?