You asked for it, and I’ve delivered. When it comes to SEO checklists, this is the only one you’ll ever need.

By improving my website’s SEO drastically in the last couple of months, I’ve increased my website’s organic traffic by 55%!

Disclosure: This content may contain a few affiliate links, which means if you click on them, I will get a commission (without any extra cost to you).
semrush website organic traffic dashboard

Not just that, but I’ve gotten many of my articles in the top spot of the Google search engine results pages (SERPs), as well as winning featured snippets.

google search featured snippet example

If you’d like to do the same, follow this SEO checklist and get results ASAP!

How To Use This SEO Checklist

When it comes to SEO, there are a lot of moving parts. And search engines like Google are constantly updating their algorithms, which means what might work SEO-wise today, might not work in the future.

The best way to start is to go through the SEO checklist all at once and make note of some of the easier, more immediate things you can fix right now. From there, start from the beginning and work your way through the rest of the list.

SEO Basics Checklist

Here’s a detailed checklist that you can use to improve your website’s SEO in 2024.

The Basics

Before we can jump into the SEO checklist, you’ll need to make sure you understand some basic SEO concepts.

1. Know Basic SEO Concepts and Terms

what is seo graph

Before you can start an SEO checklist, you’ll need some understanding of the basics of SEO. This includes basic terminology as well as understanding the process of SEO.

SEO, short for search engine optimization, is the process in which a website or webpage is optimized to rank better on search engines like Google or Bing, in order to get more organic traffic.

Some important terms to know for SEO are:

  • Title Tag – This is the specific name of the page. Not the title you read with the article, but the .html name you’ll find in your search browser. It’s also the name web crawlers will look at.
  • Meta Description – This goes hand-in-hand with the title tag. This is the .html that tells web crawlers the purpose of the webpage.
  • SERP – The search engine results page (SERP) is the page that pops up after you type in something to search on a search engine. There, you’ll find webpages related to whatever word or phrase you entered.
  • Keyword – One of the most important terms in SEO, a keyword is a word or phrase that someone might type into a search engine.
  • Indexing – The collection, organization, and processing of data on the internet by a search engine.
  • Anchor text – A word or phrase that has a hyperlink to another URL.
  • Backlinks – A link to your website or webpage from another website.
  • Outbound link – Links on your website that go to other websites and webpages that aren’t yours.
  • Interlink – A link on your webpage, to another webpage on your website.
  • Organic traffic – Traffic that comes to your website through unpaid channels, usually through searches on search engines.
  • Paid traffic –  Traffic that comes to your website through paid means like Google Ads and sponsored posts.

The three prominent parts of SEO that make up all SEO checklists are on-page SEO, technical SEO, and off-page SEO. These will be discussed in further detail throughout the guide.

Technical SEO Checklist

The technical aspects of a website are the things you can’t actually see. They are the things that make a website tick. If your technical SEO is not correct, the rest of this checklist means nothing. 

Technical SEO aspects like your website’s security, verification, site structure, URLs, and schemas are the foundation of your website and its SEO rankings.

Following these technical SEO guidelines should get your website up and running with proper security and certification.

Get Your Website Verified On GSC

Verification of your website is important. It’s a way of proving that you own the website in the Google Search Console.

It’s a bit complicated but it is important because Google Search Console has access to sensitive data about websites, including yours. Thus, it’s important that only the owners of a website be allowed access to that information.

How to verify site ownership on GSC

There are various ways of verification. Here are the basics:

1. First, go to Google Search Console’s website.

2. From the property selector, you’re able to choose an unverified website you’ve already added, or select to add a new property.

google search console dashboard

3. You’ll be given a list of the different verification methods, which I’ll discuss after this list. If you’re not sure which verification method is easiest, the site will list recommended verification methods for your site.

verifying ownership on google search console

4. Follow the on-screen instructions

5. If you don’t have access or are unable to verify ownership, it’s possible that someone else already owns it. If you’re working for an organization, you’ll need to ask the owner of the site for access.

Google Search Console Verification Methods

Google Search Console has plenty of different verification methods for you to choose from.

Let’s take a look at each verification method:

  • HTML Tag – There are two HTML options. For this, you’ll require the ability to edit your site’s homepage’s HTML source code. Google will provide you with a tag, that is added to your homepage’s HTML code in the <head> section.
  • HTML file upload – For this option, you’ll need to download an HTML file, which you’ll then upload to a specific URL provided by Search Console.
  • Google Analytics Tracking Code – If you’ve already registered the site on Google Analytics, you will have been given a tracking code to add to your site’s HTML source code. Simply add the tracking code and verify the site.
  • Google Tag Manager – If you’ve already set up a Google Tag Manager account with a Tag Manager snippet, then you can simply log in to your account to verify the website.

How To Use Multiple GSC Verification Methods

It is good practice to add multiple verification methods to your property. There are times when a specific verification method, like using Google Analytics tracking might fail due to user error, In this case, omitting the tag from a page on your website.

To do this, you simply need to go to the settings page for your property and click “ownership verification.” From there, you can choose other verification methods to complete.

How Long Does Verification on GSC Last?

As long as Google Search Console is able to confirm your property’s verification token, your website will be verified.

There isn’t really a specific timeline in which Google Search Console checks a website’s validity, so as long as you do housekeeping on your side, your website will stay verified.

There is a grace period allowed if a website that was formerly verified cannot be verified, but it’s best to fix it as soon as possible. Once Search Console cannot verify your website, and the grace period expires, you’ll lose all owner privileges and be unable to access the site on Search Console.

Verify Your Website on Bing

Next, it’s time to set up your website to be verified on Bing as well. That is done through Bing Webmaster Tools. 

You might consider leaving out Bing, but Bing has nearly 900 million searches a day. 

It might pale in comparison to Google’s approximately 8 billion searches a day, but considering some websites might be verified on Bing, as well as losing a possible billion searches, it’s better to do it.

bing webmaster tools dashboard

The verification process is similar to Search Console’s. Simply go to Webmaster Tools, add your site’s homepage URL, and select one of the verification options.

linking google account with webmaster

If your site has already been verified by Google Search Console, then you simply import your site without having to go through any other verification processes.

If not, then you have three other options to choose from.

webmaster verification methods

Set Up a Google Analytics Account

After your website is verified on Google and Bing, it’s time to set up your Google Analytics account. Google Analytics will offer you valuable insights into the traffic to your website, as well as other information about your site.

How To Set Up Google Analytics

1. Go to the Google Analytics website.

google analytics create account

Add your account name, then proceed to add property details like the website’s name, URL, timezone, and category.

google analytics property details

Once done, you’ll be provided with a tracking ID. You’ll also get a global site tag, which should be added to every web page you’d like to track.

google analytics tracking id

Google Analytics offers plenty of insights, but it can also be integrated with different tools and plugins like Monster Insights and Semrush.

monster insights link to google analytics

Instead of having to constantly switch between different tools and dashboards, integration with Google Analytics allows you to view data from Google Analytics on another tool’s dashboard.

google analytics vs. semrush

Here’s a comparison of the analytics dashboards on both Google Analytics and Semrush.

If you’re worried about setting up all of these things, or feel like you might have made a mistake and need help, I’ve got you covered. 

Check out this interactive, complete SEO checklist that you can download and print to help you through the process. Use the code SHANEBARKER and get a 25% discount today!

Set Up a Google Business Profile

Setting up a Google Business Profile is fairly simple, although it’s important that you already have a valid business before doing this. 

  • To create the business profile, simply create an account on Google using your business’ email domain. 
  • Enter your business name as well as the category it falls under.
  • From there, you’ll be prompted to add information about your business. Add your business location, website, phone number, working hours, and other relevant information.
  • Once all the relevant information is entered, click “finish.” Google will verify the information and check for businesses with the same name within your metropolitan area. If a duplicate is found, your business will not be verified.

Install a CMS Like WordPress On Your Website

A content managing system, or “CMS” for short, is a tool used to add and manage content like webpages, videos, and images, without having to create your own system from scratch.

This means that, instead of starting off with a static HTML file uploaded to your server, you can start off on a more familiar looking dashboard to put content in. There are even WordPress themes to choose from if you’re in a hurry, or need somewhere to start.

wordpress themes example

Check Your Site Regularly for Penalties

A penalized website will lose rankings on the search engine. This can be due to many reasons, like a new Google update. If your site is penalized, you’ll most likely lose organic traffic.

There are only two ways to check wether Google has penalized your website:

Using the manual actions button on the left-hand side of GSC. When you click this, it will scan your website for manual and algorithmic penalties. Manual penalties are given by humans from Google’s quality control team. It should have recommended actions to fix the issues on your site.

google search console manual actions

Review your website's traffic before and after a Google update. If you see a large drop in your organic traffic, specifically after a Google update, chances are that you’ve been penalized.

Create SEO-Friendly URLs

It might sound trivial, but SEO-friendly URLs have an affect on your site’s SEO. URLs to your web pages should be easily read by web crawlers. This means that a web crawler should be able to detect what the page is about, through its URL.

To simplify things, the best way to make sure your URLs are SEO friendly, is to check if they’re user friendly. 

If someone can easily share and read the URL, as well as have some understanding of what the webpage is about, it’s most likely good to go. 

One of the best tools to shorten your URLs, as well as track where clicks are coming from is Bitly.

Here’s a simple example of shortening a URL using Bitly:

I’ve gone to my YouTube channel and selected a video. From there I copied the URL above in the search bar.

youtube page example

From there, I headed over the Bitly. I pasted the original URL, which is quite the mouthful. 

I then wrote a new title, similar to the YouTube video’s content. I then added the custom back half, which is again similar to the YouTube video’s content. In this case, “influencer marketing mistakes.”

how to use bitly

Once done, I got a new, shortened URL.

Original URL – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwi6SEirIR0

New URL – https://bit.ly/Influencer-Marketing-Mistakes 

The shortened URL will look great when sharing content on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

For a more in-depth guide on how to structure URLs for SEO, check out How to Create the Perfect SEO URL Structure.

Check That Your Website Has a Secured Socket Layer (HTTPS)

Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL for short, is a technology created to keep the internet connection between a user and the website safe, securing any data sent between the two. 

This is important since information without an SSL, like personal info and credit card details, could be intercepted and stolen by a hacker.

Websites without an SSL certificate installed will rank poorly on Google, which makes it a top priority.

Here’s how you can get an SSL certificate:

  • First, make sure that your ICANN information is correct. Simply enter your domain name on the ICANN website.
  • Now you’ll need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). This can be done through your own server (advanced users), cPanel, or Bluehost.
  • If you’re worried you might do it wrong, you could send your CSR to a certificate authority to get it for you.
  • From there, simply add it to your website. Most companies who get the certificate for you will add it to your website for you as well. 

There are plenty of tools that provide an SSL certificate for your website for free like Hubspot’s CMS SSL. Website building platforms like GoDaddy also provide an SSL certificate for the website you create on their builder automatically.

Use the Coverage Report in GSC to Find Any Errors

The Coverage Report in Google Search Console provides a quick scan of your website for any errors.

coverage report on gsc

When web crawlers struggle to index information about the web pages on your site, you won’t rank high on the search engine. 

coverage report example

That’s why using the Coverage Report in GSC to find any errors that could cause issues with crawling the website is important.

Optimize Your Robots.txt File

A robots.txt is a text file that can be found in the root folder of your website. Its purpose is to tell search engines what they’re allowed to do on your website. 

For the most part, it’s used to tell web crawlers which pages they are allowed to crawl, and which they should avoid. In certain cases, you may also prevent them from indexing private PDFs, videos, and images.

robot.txt example

Optimize Your Site Structure To Be SEO Friendly

You might think that creating great quality content is all you need to do. But the layout of your site and its content are just as important as any other technical SEO aspects.

A great way to do this, is by performing an SEO audit of your website. To do this, you can use any tool or platform that has this functionality, like Semrush.

semrush site audit dashboard

A site audit will show you the errors on your website, as well as provide you with insights into how you can fix those issues. 

If you’re still unsure which site auditing tools you need, check out The 52 Best SEO Auditing Tools to find the right tool for you.

Optimize Your Website’s XML Sitemap

An XML Sitemap is a text file, which is used to help search engines crawl and index a website easily. 

Extensible Markup Language Sitemaps, or XML Sitemaps, contain details about your URLs on your website. This metadata details when these URLs were last updated, if there are alternative versions of the URL (different languages), and which pages are the most important.

Here’s an example of what a sitemap should look like.

sitemap example

Keeping your XML Sitemap up to date and optimized for web crawlers is an important part of your website’s SEO.

Any sitemap errors could result in your pages losing rankings due to web crawlers incorrectly indexing your pages.

Create a Dedicated Image Sitemap and Submit It to Google

While we’re on the subject of submitting your XML sitemap for your webpages, it’s also key to submit any images you use to Google. 

This can be done by adding them to your XML sitemap, or simply creating an XML sitemap just for images.

xml sitemap images example
Image via Google

Keep Your 404 Pages User Optimized

A 404 page means that a webpage on your website cannot be found or doesn’t exist at all. This can be due to many reasons like a deleted page, or misspelled URL.

It’s best to avoid having any 404 errors on your website, but chances are that at some point you might have one. That’s why it’s important to keep your 404 pages optimized.

Instead of simply displaying a 404 page error like below, try to add some value to your 404 page. Chances are once a 404 page pops up, users will go looking for content somewhere else.

amazon 404 error page

Image via Amazon

You can easily avoid this by adding content related to whatever page they initially came looking for.

shane barker 404 error page

Here’s my 404 error page from ShaneBarker.com. It offers a search box, as well as the latest articles posted on the website. This offers users an option to click-through, instead of going back to the previous page, which is most likely back to the search engine results page.

Check and Improve the Loading Speed of Your Website

Another important part of the technical SEO checklist is the loading speed of your website. This not only includes how fast text loads, but also how fast pictures, videos, and any other content loads.

shane barker infographic

Loading speeds don’t just affect the user experience, but also your SEO. It’s well known amongst SEO specialists that loading speed is a ranking factor for Google Search. 

If your pages load very slowly, you’ll likely lose rankings, and/or your new pages won’t rank well to begin with.

Use Lazy Loading for Images and Videos

A great way to speed up slow loading pages, especially if it’s due to pictures, is to use lazy loading.

This rings especially true if you’re optimizing your site for mobile use. 

Lazy loading allows your website to load faster by prioritizing on-screen content. That means that, as a user scrolls down a page on your website, the content is loaded as they’re scrolling, rather than all at once.

This makes it seem like the website loads quickly, since the content currently on the screen is already loaded, whilst the content further down the page loads up after.

There are plenty of lazy loading tools you can integrate with CMS platforms like WordPress. These include a3 Lazy Load and Smush.

page speed insights dashboard

Google also offers speed insights on their very own Google PageSpeed Insights.

Use Schema Markups for SEO

A schema markup added to your webpage’s HTML code will help web crawlers better understand the intent of a webpage. This makes it easier for a web crawler to index your webpage.

Having the correct schema markup, also known as structured data, will help search engines find the right information about your webpage. This could include things like lists, location, review stars, phone numbers, etc.

google search reviews and location example

It also automatically increases your chances of getting a featured snippet on the search engine results pages. 

Here’s a featured snippet I got on my top 40 Instagram influencers blog post.

google search list featured snippet

Schemas are extremely important for SEO, yet only a third of websites have them. 

There are plenty of Schema generators. This Schema Markup Generator from Merkle even offers you the choice of where the Schema will be placed.

merkle schema markup generator

Image via Merkle

If you’d like to check whether your data and Schemas are structured correctly, you can use this Schema Markup Validator, as well as Google’s Rich Results Test.

Use Hreflang Attributes for Pages With Multiple Language Versions

If you want your website to perform well outside of your home country, it’s important to add hreflang attributes to your webpages.

If you’re creating multiple webpages of the same content, just in a different language, search engines won’t know that the articles are related.

An hreflang is an HTML meta element, which you then add to a webpage. This helps web crawlers find localized versions of a page. It can also help the search engine identify geographical restrictions.

The reason you should be doing this, is that search engines might mistake the two webpages as being the same.

This could result in cannibalization of the two pages, since a search engine might just recommend one of the pages, or even worse, penalize your site for having two of the same webpage.

Failing to do so can create issues for your indexing because Google might get confused if the same page is available in more than one language.If you’d like an in-depth guide about technical SEO, click here.

On-Page SEO Checklist

On-page SEO is all about optimizing your content on screen for SEO. This includes the structure of your content, titles, meta data, images, and videos.

The main goal of your on-page SEO is to create content that serves the user and their problems. If your content is written with intent and structure, you’re already half way there.

If you’re looking for a quick way to check your on-page SEO, platforms like Semrush and Moz offer on-page SEO checkers.

semrush off-page seo dashboard

With that in mind, I’ve also created this short 2 minute explainer on the 24 key elements to creating a webpage that converts.

Now that we’ve gotten our mindset right for on-page SEO, let’s take a deeper look at the world of on-page SEO

Optimize Titles for SEO

Your page title will be one of the first things web crawlers look at apart from the URL. That’s why it’s important to help web crawlers quickly understand what the article is about within the title.

The best way to optimize your title is to include your target keywords within the title. As you’re writing, your intent will be focused on the keywords, which in turn will help a search engine easily index your page.

Here are some tips to optimize your page titles:

  • Each webpage should have its own title tag.
  • Avoid overly long titles, keeping the character count under 80.
  • Titles should fit the intent of the content

Optimize Metadata Descriptions for SEO

A meta description is the brief overview of the webpage displayed underneath the title on a search results page.

Here’s an example of a meta description.

google meta description example

Writing the perfect meta description is tricky, and data has shown the chances of Google assigning its own meta description is 68% on desktop, and 71% on mobile devices.

Even considering that, meta descriptions are your chance to entice users to click on your webpage, instead of the 10-20 other pages currently displayed.

Optimize Your Webpages to Win Featured Snippets

Featured snippets were added in January 2014. Featured snippets are short, concise answers that are usually featured at the top of the search page. These snippets could also include lists.

Winning a featured snippet on Google can quickly increase the click-through rate of that page. When Google initially launched snippets, websites were concerned that a short, definitive answer displayed on the search page will lead to a decline in clicks.

Recent studies on featured snippets have shown that featured snippets have a click-through rate of 35%.

Here’s an example of a featured snippet.

featured snippet example

When searching for “featured snippet,” Google offers a direct answer to what a featured snippet is, which is displayed on the search results page.

Remember E.A.T.

EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

Google is constantly updating their search algorithms, and recently they have been focusing on authority and quality content.

Authority, in SEO terms, means how good of a reputation your website has with Google. This can be done by showing authority, expertise, and unique, in-depth knowledge about the topics covered on your website.

This is to help Google avoid listing similar content, with similar opinions ending up on the first page of search results. 

It’s easy to write vaguely about a subject, but a more in-depth article will show Google that the website offers value to the reader.

Here are some tips to write better content:

  • Write for the readers, not the search engine. Yes, this is an SEO checklist, yet here I’m telling you to write for the readers. Once you’ve gotten a grasp of SEO, you most likely won’t have to focus too much on SEO while writing your content. Instead, create user-focused content. This will help you create content that stands above the rest which, in turn, will increase your authority.
  • Don’t over use the primary keyword. You can include the primary keyword once in every 1000 words but don’t stuff it in or use the exact keyword too often. Instead, add more secondary keywords throughout the text to increase your page depth.
  • Don’t be vague, especially when writing informative/educational content. If you’re going to be better than the rest, your content needs unique, valuable insights from your perspective, knowledge, and testing.

Create a Content Plan and Publishing Calendar

Creating a content plan is important, not just for your followers, but also your website’s SEO.A great way to create an excellent content plan, is to use Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

semrush keyword magic tool dashboard

Image via Semrush

With this tool, you’ll not only be able to find more keywords related to your primary keyword, but also find out the search volume of each.

With this, you can identify higher searched keywords to identify problems users might be having. Writing new content, which answers those problems can help you attract more organic traffic.

You can also find keywords from other sites similar to yours, but with higher authority, and try to use them. To find the top keywords from a competitor site, you can simply do an organic search of their domain on Semrush. 

Here’s an example:

semrush organic search results

As you can see above, after I entered the domain into the Organic Search Tool in Semrush, I was given an overview of their top performing organic keywords.

Creating your content plan using these keywords will help you create an effective plan that can help you beat your competitors.

Once you’ve got your list of keywords and article ideas, it’s time to sort them and map them out in a content calendar. 

It’s important to be consistent when uploading content.  

According to Marketing Insider Group, small companies with 11 to 25 employees, who posted 11 blog posts a month, had 3 times more traffic than similar companies that posted only once a month.

As you can see, search engines tend to favor websites that post and update content regularly.

Optimize Your Images, Including ALT Text

As search engines become better at interpreting images online, it has become even more critical that you optimize your images for the search engines.

Here are the important things you need to do when adding images to your webpages:

  • Add ALT text to your images. The ALT text is what is displayed when a picture doesn’t load. Search engines do read this text, so it’s important to have it there, not just to improve the user experience, but also for SEO. You can add the keyword to your ALT text too, but don’t over do it.
  • Keep image filenames short, but informative. Your image filename should be a description of whatever the picture is.
  • To keep your loading times fast, images should not be too large. To optimize your images, try to keep them below 200KB. There are plenty of image converters and optimizers online for you to use.

Create an Internal Linking Strategy

Internal linking is when you hyperlink pages on your website within each other. This can be used to create an interconnected web of content, as well as to create a sales funnel.

When you’re creating content with the sole purpose of affiliate linking, creating a sales funnel is important. Your internal linking strategy will be all about getting users from the first page they land on, all the way through to the call-to-action that links back to an affiliate partner.

shane barker anchor text

That doesn’t mean it’s not important for SEO though.

Search engines like Google will usually rank pages with more interlinks higher than those without. Other than that, keep your anchor text in mind as well. It should be short and refer to the content that it leads to.

Add Backlinks to Reputable Websites

The recent Google updates have been taking into account backlinks to other sites. It might sound counterintuitive to be linking to other sites, since you want readers to stay on yours, but Google prefers that you have them.

There’s a simple reason behind this. Google’s search engine wants to rank the best sites on top, and an excellent way to gauge which sites have the most authority is by seeing which other websites link back to that website.

When a website’s being backlinked to from other websites, it means that the content on that page is worthy of being shared, which gives it higher authority.

It seems strange that backlinking to a website might undermine yours, especially when you think about authority. 

The thing is, backlinking to a website with higher authority than yours, will also alert Google that the content on your site is related to the higher authority’s page which, in turn, earns you some ranking points.

Use Your Target Keyword in the Opening Paragraph

A general rule of thumb when creating a webpage is that the keyword or phrase should appear within the first 150 words.

keyword in title example

Your keyword should also be used in the title. This helps search engines identify the intent of the content quickly, and link it with the intent of the title. 

It’s not only for SEO though.

Writing a clear, concise intro paragraph that includes your keyword will help users quickly identify what the content on the page will be about, and whether or not they’ll find whatever they’re looking for.

Don’t use the keywords more than once in your introduction.

Instead, you can use secondary keywords to flesh out your content, but still focus on optimizing the page for search engines.

Keyword Research Checklist

Keywords are short phrases that users are searching for on search engines. To create a content strategy and schedule, you’ll need to use the correct keywords, otherwise you won’t rank well on the search engines.

Here’s my keyword research checklist:

How to Find Keywords For SEO

Finding keywords to start creating content isn’t difficult. As discussed within the on-page SEO section, you can do competitor research to find keywords that may work well for your site. But there’s more than one way to do keyword research.

Here are more examples of keyword research:

Use Google Search suggested and related terms. Simply type in something related to your niche in Google Search. For example, I’ve searched for SEO marketing in Google. Scrolling down to the bottom of the first page, you’ll see this:

google related searches

These are terms related to whatever you searched for, and can be used as primary or secondary keywords.

Use Google Search Console’s Queries. These are keywords that are already on your website, and where they’re ranking. Focusing on keywords that rank high, as well as keywords related to them, will help you gain rankings.

gsc search queries example

Use Keyword Tools. There are many different keyword tools you can use to find keywords. This includes Semrush, Google’s Keyword Planner, and AlsoAsked.

google keyword planner

Identify Any Long-Tail Keywords You Want to Target

Long-tail keywords are keywords that are more specific or “niche.” It’s important to use long-tail keywords to create page depth, and to improve the chances of your page ranking well.

If someone searches for “influencers,” it’s quite vague and the search volume for this keyword will be very high. It also means competition will be high.

semrush long-tail keyword finder

Here’s an example: 

I searched on Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, looking for “influencer.” As you can see, “influencer” itself has a search volume of 40.500. It also has an extremely high difficulty margin at 93.

long-tail keyword examples

Instead, being more specific with a long-tail keyword will offer you an easier way of ranking higher and getting more traffic.

As you can see, something like “Asian American fashion blogger” or “TikTok influencer” will have less competition, but still has a decent volume.

Create a List of Competitors

Finding competitors within your field is important. These will most likely be the websites you’ll be competing against when it comes to search rankings. 

Here’s how you can find competitors within your niche:

  • Do a Google search. This is probably the easiest thing to do. Simply type in your niche in Google Search and see which websites pop-up.

    In this example, I searched “Instagram marketing tools,” which showed me results from a few of our competitors’ websites.
google search competitor research
  • Semrush’s Organic Research Tool. This tool is an excellent way to not only find direct competitors, but also see which keywords you have in common and where you rank amongst them.
semrush organic research tab

Simply click on the Organic Research Tool on the left-hand side.

semrush main organic competitors

There you’ll find all of the different domains that are your main organic competitors, as well as the number of keywords you have in common. If you click on any of those domains, you’ll get a detailed account of the website’s traffic and top-ranking keywords.

Use Keyword Gap Analysis

Keyword gap analysis is measuring keywords from your domain as well as other competitors and analyzing where their top keywords rank compared to yours. 

Through this, you’re able to find keywords that you might not be ranking for at all, which helps you create content that can compete against that of your competitors. 

One of the best tools for keyword gap analysis is Semrush’s Keyword Gap Tool.

semrush keyword gap tool

You’ll get valuable information about your competitor’s keywords. Their search volume, CPC, KD, and how many times they’re used on the site.

Apart from competing against keywords that competitors are using, you can also identify keywords for which your competitors have lost rankings.

Prioritizing these keywords could help you secure a higher position before your competitor gets a chance to update their page.

Off-Page SEO Checklist

Many people would like to believe that off-page SEO only consists of link building, but there are other factors that contribute to off-page SEO as well.

Apart from interlinking and backlinking, you also need to spend time building your reputation and website’s authority. There’s also your social media presence, brand building, and content marketing.

With all of that in mind, here’s my off-page SEO checklist.

Understand Basic Link-Building Concepts and Why They’re Important

Backlinks are easily one of the most important search ranking factors. It’s how search engines distinguish between high and low-authority websites. Leveling up your link-building game is a crucial step in optimizing your website for search engines.

backlink example

The recommended number of backlinks on a webpage is 40 to 50 backlinks. The amount will vary depending on the length of the article.

That means there are opportunities on every website that fits your niche for a potential backlink to your website. 

What makes backlinking so difficult?

To get other websites to link to your website is no small feat. The best way to get backlinks to your website is to create high-quality and unique content.

Why?

Other content creators and publishers won’t link back to your site if it offers no unique or valuable insights. You’ll often see websites linking back to other websites that have a lot of data present.

It’s time consuming collecting data, but a page that offers some real-world insights and examples is more likely to be linked to as a resource.

Research Your Competitors’ Backlink Profiles

Researching your competitors’ backlinks should be one of the first things you do before you start creating your own backlinking strategy.

At this point, you’ve most likely done your keyword research, which means you’ve also listed all of your high-ranking competitors.

The best competitors to focus on are the sites that have shown a lot of growth over the last year or two. This is due to search engines constantly updating, which tends to lead to a lot of websites either gaining or losing rankings. 

Websites that have recently gained a lot of traffic are most likely doing things the right way, and you need to try to learn from them, as well as outperform them.

Once you’ve identified your competitors, and selected some well-performing pages from their websites, it’s time to see what backlinks they have, and how they’re integrating them within their content.

Here are some important things to make note of when researching your competitor’s backlinks:

  • The content of the backlink. Make note if the backlinks refer to topical content, in-depth content, or simply offer statistics and data.
  • What websites they are linking to. Are those websites related to their niche, educator websites, or simply news outlets?
  • Use of influencers and celebrities in related field. Are your competitors using influencers and their channels to link back to their websites?

You can also use a backlink gap analyzer like Semrush’s Backlink Gap Tool.

semrush backlink gap tool

Using this tool, you’ll be able to compare backlinks that you might be missing on. Backlinks that your competitors have to their websites.

Analyze and Remove Toxic Backlinks 

Not all links are created equally. With backlinks still one of the most important ranking factors, especially for Google’s Search Engine, getting them right is crucial for your website’s SEO.

Backlinks are links from other websites, that link to your content. This could be due to an affiliate partnership, a link to related content, or to simply show users important information or data related to their content.

Analyzing your backlinks, as well as your competitors’ backlinks, should be done regularly to remove any toxic backlinks, and spot gaps in your competitors’ backlinking strategies.

A quality backlink is a link that not only comes from a trusted source, but isn’t necessarily added for the purpose of simply manipulating search rankings.

For more on what a quality backlink is, you can refer to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Linking back to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is in fact an excellent example of quality backlinking. Its only purpose is to add value for the reader, instead of using it as a way to manipulate search engine rankings.

Toxic backlinks are the complete opposite. A toxic backlink can be many things, but tend to be links that:

  • Aren’t relevant to the website they’re linking back to
  • Are sponsored 
  • Come from non-indexed websites
  • Are spammed on every page of a website

If you’re not sure if your website has any toxic backlinks, you can always use a site audit.

There are plenty of tools that offer a site audit, which should provide you with a toxicity score.

semrush backlink audit

One example is Semrush’s Backlink Audit Tool. This tool will provide you with a toxicity score and show you which of your backlinks are toxic.

If you’d like to try more great tools like this one, check out my blog post on backlink analysis tools.

Find No-follow Links and Ask Publishers for Dofollow Links

As mentioned in the on-page SEO section, having backlinks pointing to your website, from other websites is an excellent way to boost your SEO. Unfortunately, as I’ve already discussed, toxic backlinks pose a big problem for your website’s SEO.

This is why many websites tend to add backlinks as no-follow links. A no-follow link is essentially a link that’s added to a page with a no-follow HTML tag. This tag tells search engines to ignore the link. 

A no-follow link looks like this:

nofollow link example

There are situations where a no-follow link is useful. If it’s a paid sponsorship, adding a no-follow tag is a great idea, since it could lead to your page getting penalized. They can also help with organic traffic still, even if it won’t affect your actual page rankings. 

Do follow links are links that can be identified by search engines. These do follow links could help show a search engine that your webpage has valuable information to readers, helping it gain authority, and therefore rank better.

Not all websites that link back to you will make for valuable do follow links. Instead, try to find websites of a similar subject/niche to yours, that is using your website as an extra, valuable source for their content.

To check whether the backlinks on a site are no-follow or do follow, simply go to the developer source view. To do this, just right-click and click “view page source.” Alternatively, you could just press ctrl + U.

how to view page resource

Once you see the page source code, simply press “ctrl + F” to search the page. Type in “nofollow” and you’ll find all the links that are nofollow.

how to find no follow link on a page

Find Broken Backlinks to Your Website and Contact Websites to Replace Them

Having backlinks to your website is great, but they won’t mean much if readers end up on an error page. 

Keeping up to date with your backlinks is important, and there are plenty of tools available to make sure backlinks don’t end up in the void.

The best way to avoid broken backlinks, is firstly to make sure that all your webpages are up and error free. To do this, you can use a site auditor.

You can also monitor your backlinks and the authority scores of those referring domains using a backlink analysis tool.

backlink analytics and auditing

Above is what an overview of backlinks looks like on Semrush’s Backlink Analytics Tool.

Another excellent tool to find broken backlinks is Ahrefs’ broken link checker. This tool will scan all URLs on a website, and show you all of the URLs that return a 404 error, as well as how many referring domains it has.

ahrefs broken link checker dashboard
Image via Ahrefs

Look for Guest Posting Opportunities

Guest posts have long been a top choice for creating backlinks to websites. Although Google has been quite strict about guest posts since 2014, that has been mostly focused on low-quality content written for the sole purpose of backlinking.

Instead, work with high-authority websites and create meaningful content as an authoritative presence in a specific field or niche. This way, you’re not only building authority amongst readers, but search engines will also be more lenient towards the content.

A great way to do this is to write monthly blog posts for large publications as an expert in a field. 

One way I’ve been able to create meaningful backlinks is writing guest posts for Forbes.

forbes shanebarker card
Image via Forbes

I’ve been writing articles for Forbes since 2017, and it’s been a great way of not only creating some high-quality backlinks, but also boosting organic traffic through their 150 million monthly readers. 

This kind of content doesn’t come across as spam, since you will most likely only be allowed 1-3 backlink to your website, as well as the fact that the content isn’t published too frequently.

Build Relationships With Other Industry Leaders

When starting a business, it can be difficult to get rid of the lone wolf persona. We’re constantly told stories of great leaders who somehow managed to create something from nothing, all by themselves.

The reality is that the success of a business doesn’t solely rely on a single person. Instead, successful entrepreneurs know that building meaningful relationships with industry leaders and other likeminded entrepreneurs is a way of opening doors that might have once been shut.

To build meaningful relationships with industry leaders you must:

  • Be true to yourself. This means you need to be authentic and stand by your beliefs and ideas.
  • Keep your standards high.
  • Always be on the lookout for any new trends and emerging markets.
  • Provide authentic, useful content in your niche.
  • Don’t be scared to help others in need. This is an excellent way to show that you care, are willing to give back, and assert your position as an authoritative figure in your niche.

Building these relationships is important for a few reasons. Firstly, gaining recognition among brand leaders will help your business get more brand awareness.

Another excellent way is through affiliate partnerships. You could also get authoritative sites to link back to your website.

Get Links From High-Authority Websites

As mentioned above, it’s imperative that you gain the trust of industry leaders who already have websites with high authority. 

Linking to and from high authority websites will do wonders for your SEO.

Your website will gain authority, therefore helping it to rank higher in search engine results.

Local SEO Checklist

Local SEO involves optimizing your website to be more visible in the search engine results for local and “near me” searches. Essentially, you’re trying to rank better on a search engine when users near you search for a topic related to your website, products, or services.

Local SEO is especially important if you’re running a brick-and-mortar shop. Having more visibility online from users near you, will not only help your website get more clicks, but quite possibly help your store get more traffic as well.

Here’s my local SEO checklist.

Make Sure Your Website Logo Is Optimized

I’ve already mentioned adding ALT text to all of your pictures, but it’s easy to forget that your logo is also a picture.

Your logo’s ALT text can be used to add details about your business for search engines to index.

It’s a small tip, that will make a small difference, but when the rankings game comes down to the smallest of differences between websites, this might be just the thing that takes you from page 2 in Google search results, to page 1.

Add NAP Information on All Pages

NAP stands for Name, address, and phone number. Of course, these days, there are more than just these three. 

There are social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You might also add your website link, online store, or blog if you have any of these.

For SEO purposes, you need only the basics. Make sure that you add your NAP information on all of you webpages.

Check That Your NAP Information Is the Same on All Platforms

It’s not only important that you have your NAP information displayed on every page of your website, but that it stays consistent. That includes the text formatting, as well as the content itself.

It should also correspond with your NAP info on other websites and social media platforms like Facebook, Yelp, and your Google My Business account.

Encourage Reviews and Respond to Them

It’s important to get reviews for your website, products, and services. Especially reviews that come from real customers.

Authentic reviews will factor in your SEO rankings. One of the most commonly searched platforms for reviews comes from Google itself. Your Google My Business account is accessible online, and customers can leave reviews there.

Here’s an example. A quick search for a “Target near me” provided these reviews on the Google Search Page.

google search reviews example

Encouraging customers to leave reviews on all platforms, including social media, isn’t just good business, but it can also boost your local search rankings.

Mobile SEO Checklist

According to Statcounter, 50.22% of US web visits come from mobile devices. That’s just slightly more than half. 

That means, if your website isn’t optimized for mobile use, you’ll be losing half of the world’s online users.

Not just that, but if your website isn’t well-optimized for mobile, your search ranking will take a big hit. Search engines prefer to list websites that are well-optimized for mobile devices.

Here’s my mobile SEO checklist.

Don’t Over Use Pop-Ups on Mobile

Because mobile screens are much smaller, it's easy to quickly fill up a screen with pop-ups, as well as make them more difficult to tap out of.

These pop-ups and banner ads have been heavily penalized by Google on mobile websites. And they could be holding your mobile site back from ranking well.

That, in turn, will also lower your local search rankings, since mobile SEO rankings tend to focus on local SEO, whereas desktop searches focus on general public use.

Optimize Your CTAs to Work on Mobile Devices

Your calls-to-action aren’t something that’s super important when it comes to SEO, but they do have a large impact on your click-through rate as well as conversion rates.

That’s still true for mobile devices, but the issue is that a lot of times, calls-to-action are added to creative buttons to stand out. Sometimes these might not fit properly on a mobile device.

These CTA buttons need to be tested on desktops as well as mobile devices to make sure they look great on both formats.

Put Your Site Through the Google Mobile-Friendly Test

So, how do you check whether your CTA buttons, as well as the rest of your website is mobile friendly?

Run it through Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. To do this, you don’t even need to have a Google Search Console account.

google mobile friendly test example

It will take a minute or two to check your site. If it is mobile-friendly, you’ll be greeted with this:

google mobile friendly test results

This test does factor in any redirects a URL might have to mobile versions of a site, so you don’t have to worry about the test possibly showing a negative result due to testing the wrong site.

If you do get a page that is unusable on mobile, there could be a variety of different reasons. Here’s a list of errors you might get provided by Google.

Check Your Mobile Speed Using Different Tools

I’ve already discussed site loading speeds, but as I’ve mentioned already, your site will most likely be redirecting users to a mobile-friendly URL.

In this case, it’s important that your mobile website loads fast.

One way is to optimize your images and use a lazy loader. If you’d like to test your mobile website loading speed, you can check out Google Page Speed Insights.

Test Your Mobile Website at Different Resolutions

When you’re optimizing your website for mobile devices, you’ll most likely be using smaller text, which could result in resolution issues when the text becomes too small and unreadable.

A rule of thumb is to keep your text size at 16 pixels when optimizing for mobile websites. If it’s too big, readers won’t be able to comfortably read text on their mobile screens without constantly scrolling.

When text is too big, it might cause the website to have horizontal scroll bars, which is a big no-no for mobile websites.

Conversely, if it’s too small, they won’t be able to read anything!

Get Your SEO Right Today

Having a handy SEO checklist by your side to guide you through the optimization process is great!

SEO is one of the most important parts of any website that’s looking to grow its organic traffic. It can be difficult, and it is a long SEO checklist. The key to successfully implementing this SEO checklist is to set smaller, achievable goals.

Take your SEO journey a day at a time, with the larger goal in mind. Use this nifty checklist to guide you all the way and you’ll be all set for your optimization journey.

2 Comments

  1. James Kendall says:

    Best blog I found today.

    1. Shane Barker says:

      Hi James, thank you so much for your kind words.

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