Search engine optimization can be an overwhelming part of running a website, maybe even more overwhelming than picking your website’s color scheme. But an SEO checklist can help clear it up.
It doesn’t matter how much your color scheme pops or how much unique content you have if people never get to see it. Without a complete SEO checklist, your website will probably remain buried beneath piles of links. And those links probably have ugly color schemes and unoriginal content.
Don’t stand to the side and judge the websites beating you in the rankings. Improve that SEO and get to the top.
Here’s a beginner’s SEO checklist to get your website the recognition it deserves.
1. Build Great Content that Satisfies a Searcher’s Query
Who is this for? Why do people want this? In order to optimize your content in any meaningful way, you have to have great content that can be optimized.
Sometimes, content can go from good to great with just a few tweaks. You aren’t Picasso constructing a painting with random colors until it becomes a masterpiece, you’re Frank Lloyd Wright constructing a building where everything serves the structure of the piece.
You can only optimize what you already have, and you’ll never rank better than your content in the long run. You might be able to artificially inflate your rankings in the short term through some SEO checklist smoke and mirrors, but you won’t generate long term success without content made for searchers.
2. Get Right to the Point
Unless your blog post is a mystery novel, you shouldn’t keep your audience waiting for the content. Make sure to open strong and then expand that tone or main point out through the rest of your post.
Every page should answer a question, give some advice, and target your audience. To do that, you need to make content that satisfies search queries. By thinking of how to produce content to answer a search query you’ll get more staying power out of your pages.
When you get more staying power from your content, it equals lower bounce rates (the percentage of visitors to your website who leave after viewing only one page) and results in higher search rankings.
3. Structure Your Post with Header Tags
Next on the SEO checklist is header tags. Your content should utilize H1, H2, and H3 tags to help Google make sense of your content. Not only is it easier to read content that properly uses those tags, but Google will use those tags to see whether or not your content has some overall structure to it.
Headers are for users and for Google. For Google, make concise headers that relate to your keyword terms. For users, make sure the headers aren’t overly repetitive and make sure that the post flows well with the headers.
4. Include Long-tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are keywords that are generally longer than the main keywords but are also less competitive and easier to rank for.
Put a few long-tail keywords into a post with the main keyword, and satisfy the query for the long-tail keywords, and you’ll boost traffic a little bit.
Header tags are a great place to put additional, related keywords for your content. Your content should use a number of related keywords, and long-tail keywords to drive a higher amount of traffic.
5. Faster Page Speeds
Speed problems are only compounded when someone has 2-bars of service and are trying to look up the answer to a question while their friends are talking to them. If the page doesn’t load instantly, most of us will never stick around to see the bottom two-thirds of that slowly appearing image file. Phones have smashed search engine optimization into the real world.
To make things faster, make sure that the HTML and CSS are minimized and optimized for load times. Clean them up, get rid of any unnecessary text (comments) that the system has to read. Reduce file sizes for images and videos.
Bounce rates will lower the rankings on your sites, as well as people who click your site and never wait for it to finish loading before dashing backward to find another link. Speed is critical to winning SEO in a digital landscape where we never expect to wait for pages to load.
6. Mobile SEO
Mobile SEO designs pages that are compressed, smaller, and optimized specifically to load on the phone.
Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Google’s AMP project to optimize mobile pages. PageSpeed Insights can show you how fast your page is running, and how to optimize it. AMP is a structure for building websites that optimize them for speed and mobile experience.
AMP itself is an HTML tag that can let Google know that a page can load quickly.
7. Keyword Usage
You’ve heard that the days of “keyword stuffing” are long gone. “Keyword stuffing” is when you load a webpage with keywords (often unnaturally) to affect the ranking in search results.
Google’s algorithm penalizes pages that do this, and no user wants to read a post that includes the term “how to make good waffles” in every single sentence. So where have keyword best practices gone, now that we’re out of the medieval era of keyword stuffing?
Use your main keyword a handful of times in the post. Use it in the title, in the meta description, in the opening paragraph, and scatter it around a few more times in the body. Use it enough to give Google and the searcher some idea that this is what the post is seeking to address.
8. Use Inbound Links to Get People to Stay
Inbound links are hyperlinks on a page that links to other pages of the same website. When you’re looking at a brownie recipe on a cooking website and click a link to a cookie recipe on the same website, you’ve clicked an inbound link.
You can use inbound links to create a site that connects to itself, which can decrease your bounce rate and get searchers to stay awhile and check out your other content. Google uses your bounce rate and the amount of time someone stayed on your webpage to determine whether or not the search was really helpful. Useful, creative, relevant inbound links can increase those times.
9. Use Outbound Links to Build Credibility
Outbound links are hyperlinks on your page that link to completely different websites. If you’re reading a blog article about coffee and then click a link that takes you to a government page about coffee importing, you’ve clicked an outbound link.
Google uses the authority of outbound links on your site to determine the relevance and authority of your post. If every single link takes users straight to the product page of some random external website with low domain authority, this will not help your rankings.
Link to news sources, academic sites, government sites, Google itself, Wikipedia, and trusted name brand sites. If you need to get affiliate links into the post to keep the lights on, do it sparingly and always use more authoritative links.
10. Meta Tags
There are a few different meta tags–description, title, keywords, and copyright information–that can be put at the top of the HTML for the web page.
Use your main keyword in the title tag, and use it as close to the front as you can. Don’t force it if it seems unnatural, but the closer you can get it to the front of your title, the better.
Also, use your main keyword naturally in the meta description. You want your meta description to run about 160 characters, which is about 2 or 3 sentences, depending on the length.
The title tags and meta descriptions will tell Google what your page thinks it is. Google will then crawl through the rest of the text and determine if the content seems to line up and be authoritative. It all starts with those title tags and metas.
Make the meta description a short account of what will be going on with your page. If you don’t provide a meta, Google will try to pull relevant text from the screen to let the user know why this page was selected in their search.
Your meta needs to read not just for Google, but also for the user because the user often glances at meta descriptions (listed under the hyperlinks on a Google search page) before clicking the links.
Google reminds us to write content for humans, not for search consoles. If we were to rephrase that, we’d say that you should write content for humans and optimize it for search consoles.
Use this SEO checklist to optimize good content so that it gets picked up by search engines and delivered to users who are looking for it.