The Complete SEO Checklist For High Search Engine Rankings

A Complete SEO Checklist A-Z

Not sure exactly what you need to check for your SEO? That’s exactly why I created this SEO Checklist, so you now have a SEO audit process you can follow step-by-step.

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What Is SEO

What’s Working In SEO Right Now

There’s a lot of search engine optimization checklist online and while many of them are great, I want a checklist focused on what’s working in SEO right now, 2019.

If you want to rank higher in 2019, follow this checklist. Bookmark it, print it, save the URL, but most importantly, make sure this is at the core of your SEO efforts.

SEO Basics Checklist

Before you dive deep, let’s cover all the basics of SEO first. Each section below is highlighted, so if you need to skip the basics, go for it. Either way, this is what’s working in SEO right now.

(1) Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a great way to learn how users find and use your website. While it’s a great tool to have for SEO, you can do a LOT with it. 

Google Analytics has a ton of awesome features;

  • Learn how users are navigating and using your website.
  • See how much traffic you’re getting daily from Google.
  • Analyze which sites and platforms are sending traffic to your site.
  • Check out which pages on your site are the most visited.
  • Review pages per session, page views, bounce rates and much more. 

Advanced Google Analytics

You can connect your Google Adwords account to Google Analytics to get more data for your paid ad campaigns. You can also connect Google Search Console to get key data on your SEO. 

(2) Google Search Console

Google Search Console is another great SEO tool you want to be using as it gives you a lot of different insights to your search engine optimization. Analytics is a great way to learn how users find and use your website. While it’s a great tool to have for SEO, you can do a LOT with it. 

Google Search Console also has some useful features;

 

  • See the exact search queries (keywords) bringing traffic to your site.
  • Review backlinks that Google has found linking to you.
  • Check to see if your website is mobile friendly.
  • Find out which pages, post and images are indexed in Google.
  • Allows you to submit sitemaps to Google.
  • Gives you the ability to receive messages from Google’s team.

(3) Bing Webmaster Tools

While Google does control the majority of all search engine traffic, you can still gain a lot of traffic using Bing.

Bing Webmaster Tools also has cool features too, like a built-in keyword research tool (which is pretty cool). 

(4) Yoast SEO Plugin (WordPress Only)

If you’re fortunate enough to have a WordPress website, you want to get the Yoast SEO Plugin installed right away. 

Yoast has the best SEO plugin and what I love about them the most is the fact that they keep making the plugin better. It’s regularly updated, they have several ad ons to enhance your SEO too. 

Yoast has a free version of their plugin and a paid version.

Keyword Research Checklist

Keyword research is at the core of SEO. Before you start creating new content, you need to know which keywords you need to target.

How to you begin researching keywords?

If you’re serious about SEO, I recommend investing in SEO software. I use and recommend Ahrefs, which has a built-in keyword research tool. With Ahrefs, I can review any keyword at any time.

(1) Find Appropriate Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are generally less competitive, which means they’re generally easier to rank for. If you’re just getting started with your SEO or you’re not ranking yet, going after long-tail keywords is a great strategy to start getting some momentum.

I’ll use Ahrefs to find keywords and I’ll export them to Google Sheets or Excel as needed.

Keyword Research: Long-tail Keywords

The reason I recommend targeting long-tail keywords first is because they usually have less competition, meaning they’re easier keywords to rank for. Long-tail keywords are also beneficial in your content, giving you the opportunity to include a wide range of relative keywords in content.

Try Using Google Suggest

If you don’t have a keyword research tool to use, you can find popular keywords simply by using Google Suggest. 

If you go to Google right now and start typing in a keyword, you’ll notice Google begins to populate keyword terms. These keywords are organized by popularity, so the keywords that are appearing get searched the most.

You can see how this works below. (Make sure you don’t hit “enter” and just let Google display keywords as you type.)

(2) Finding The Best Keywords

Once you’ve identified the best long-tail keywords, you can also start looking for your core keywords too. 

Some SEOs will tell you to only focus on long-tail keywords but I don’t recommend that. You need to map out your all of your keywords, core keywords and long-tail. If you want to rank for it, go ahead and start building content for those core keywords.

What You Need To Know About Keywords

There’s a few key metrics you want to be aware of as it pertains to your keyword research. These are;

  • Keyword Monthly Search Volume
  • Keyword Difficulty Level

Every keyword known to man has a search volume and difficulty rating. This is another reason why having SEO software/tools is important. With Ahrefs, I can see how many searches any keyword has and how difficult that keyword will be to rank.  

With Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer Tool, you can research keywords for Google, Bing, Yahoo and YouTube.

(3) How To Find Low Competition Keywords

Most SEO software or keyword research tools have the ability to find low competition keywords. With Ahrefs, this metric is called Keyword Difficulty. It scores keyword difficulty 1-100 with 1 being the least competitive and 100 being the highest competitive.

It’s essential for new websites and websites with little SEO to find low competition keywords as these keywords are easier to rank for.

As you can see above, there’s a lot that I can find other than just keyword difficulty. I can also determine;

  • Relative keyword ideas
  • Keyword volume monthly
  • Estimated clicks per keyword
  • CPC – Cost-Per-Click
  • CPS – Click-Per-Search
  • RR – Return Rate
  • SF – Serp Features

This is a great spotlight on Ahrefs and how it differs from other SEO tools.

You can see (KD) that represents keyword difficulty. In the image above, I can see the keyword “Searchterms” has only a 14, which means it’s a low competition keyword I could target. 

Targeting lower competitive keywords gives you a higher chance of success, so you always want to identify these as you’re building your global keyword panel to target.

(4) Find Question Keywords

In our What Is SEO guide, I discussed how Google wants your content to be useful, helpful, informative and valuable to your users.

This is exactly why they make for great keywords to target.

Think about the types of questions your content will answer, write them down or put them in a file to target when you start creating content.

(5) Find Buyer Keywords

Most people look for high search volume and lower competition keywords when they do their keyword research. While there’s nothing wrong with this, you also want to identify your buyer keywords.

Buyer keywords refer to the type of keywords that lead to conversions.

For ecommerce websites, buyer keywords are going to refer to your products. For a business that provides services, this is going to be keywords that result in a conversion (sale, lead, phone call).

In the image above, I use “buy coins” as an example. If someone searches for this keyword, it’s likely they want to buy coins, so this person is in a buyer mode. It shows the importance of having different keywords based on customer intent. 

Technical SEO Checklist 

Before we get begin the on-site and off-site SEO, you need to do a technical SEO audit on your website (unless it’s brand spanking new). If your website is a few years old, you likely have technical issues that need addressed.

(1) 404 Error Pages 

404 errors refer to broken links, which can be internal links or external links. None the less, it means you have broken links that need fixed. While they may seem harmless, enough errors can certainly have a negative effect on your rankings and user experience.

There’s a few free tools out there for you to use. 

(2) Don’t Create Duplicate Content 

One single page can rank for tens of thousands of keywords. If you’re trying to rank the keyword “social media marketing,” you don’t have to create 20 pages about that topic. It’s a common mistake I see a lot, it’s bad for your SEO because essentially, those 20 pages may fight one another for the ranking. Even worse, you may be creating a lot of duplicate content.

Follow the directions I gave you above. Build out your keyword panel and create all the different topics you’ll cover to rank for your keywords. Make sure you never target the same keyword in different pages, rule of thumb is one keyword per page.

(3) Make Sure Your Website Is Fast 

Having a fast loading site is vital to your conversions. Today, site speed is also a SEO ranking factor and a slow site can hurt your search engine optimization.

There’s many ways to make your website faster. Unfortunately, unless you’re a web developer, some of the changes are going to be tough to do yourself.

Personally, I use GT Metrix. It’s simple to use, free to use and it will tell you exactly what you need to fix to make your website faster.

(4) Submit An XML Sitemap To Google 

While Google can find your website without a sitemap these days, it’s your job to help Google understand everything it can about your content and the keywords you want to rank for. One way to do that is with a sitemap.

If you have a WordPress site and add the Yoast SEO plugin, it will automatically create your sitemaps for you. If you don’t have WordPress, you’ll need to create one to submit it to Google.

On-Page SEO Checklist 

Now that you’ve identified all the different keywords you’re going to target, it’s time to move to your on-site SEO. 

(1) Always Use Your Keyword In Your URL

The best SEO practice is to target one keyword per page, although you can rank multiple keywords within that page. You want to make sure Google and other search engines clearly know what you’re trying to rank for.

Make sure your URL has the keyword in the URL. Just like this page. My main keyword is SEO Checklist, that’s why my URL is: http://www.rickyhale.com/seo-checklist 

(2) Always Use Your Keyword In The Page Title

You also want to make sure you use your target keyword in the main title of the page you’re building.

Again, just like I did with this article, the page title includes my target keyword: SEO Checklist. 

(3) Make Sure You’re Using Clear, Short URLs 

Several studies and testing have proven that Google prefers clear, short URLs. I’ll again reference this article, the end of the permalink is my keyword. 

It’s up to you to help Google understand what your website is. Short URLs are easier to read versus a big, long URL. 

(4) Use Your Target Keyword At The Top 

Google values your content from top to bottom. Your most important content is at the main top, the “above the fold” area. Since Google places a higher significance on the top of your content, you need to make sure you’re using your target keyword in this area.

Make sure you use your keyword in a heading tag and within a paragraph.

(5) Use Your Keyword In Heading Tags 

You also want to make sure you’re using your target keyword in your <h> tags throughout your content.

Make sure you don’t over-optimize, a few Heading Tags is plenty, don’t put your keyword in every <h> tag you do.

While there’s 6 <h> tags in total, I generally use <h1>, <h2> and <h3>.

(6) Using LSI Keywords And Synonyms 

Gone are the days when you want to stuff your pages with keywords, that doesn’t work anymore. Keyword stuffing will get you penalized and you’ll never see the first page of Google. 

Instead, you want to make sure you’re using LSI keywords. LSI keywords are closely related to the type of keyword you want to rank for.

For example, let’s say we want to rank for the keyword ” 

(7) SEO Optimize Your Images 

While search engines can read your HTML and CSS, they don’t have the ability to see what your image is about.

Due to this, it’s up to you to tell them what your images are about.

You want to make sure you’re using your image alt tag correctly. If you don’t, search engines won’t know what your images are about.

Also, when you’re saving your images, make sure you give them an accurate file name. Keep these short too, again, we want the search engines to clearly understand what the image is about.

(8) Linking To Other Sites (External Links) 

When you’re creating content, make sure you’re linking to trustworthy websites. This is a on-site SEO strategy that shows Google you’re linking out to websites Google trust. 

If you have a brand new website or a site that doesn’t rank well, this is a great easy strategy to start building trust so Google trust you.

Due to this, it’s up to you to tell them what your images are about.

You want to make sure you’re using your image alt tag correctly. If you don’t, search engines won’t know what your images are about.

Also, when you’re saving your images, make sure you give them an accurate file name. Keep these short too, again, we want the search engines to clearly understand what the image is about.

(9) Using On-Site Links (Internal Links)

When you publish content on your website, make sure you’re building internal links to your other content.

Your internal links should include keyword rich anchor text. At minimal, you need to add 3-5 internal links to your content.

Building internal links passes SEO value from one page to another. Plus, search engine spiders can follow these links to discover new content you may have. 

Off-Site SEO Checklist (Link Building)

Google has already claimed that backlinks are 1 of the top 3 SEO ranking factors. Due to this, you best believe backlinks are going to play a big role in your search engine optimization rankings.

Building authority links isn’t easy, it takes some work and effort. Here’s the types of backlinks you can focus on. 

(1) Guest Posting 

There’s no question about it, when it comes to building powerful authority backlinks, guest post are one of the best strategies to use.

Guest posting gets a bad wrap in the SEO world, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do guest post.

Right Way: Publish content on authority websites in your niche.

Wrong Way: Publish content on sites that let anyone sign up to write.

Don’t forget, relevancy, authority and backlinks that send referral traffic are important to ranking high in search engines.

When you’re deciding where to guest post, make sure you keep all 3 of those factors in mind.

(2) Get Backlinks That Link To Competitors

Deciding where to try and get your backlinks can take up a lot of time. To cut to the chase, the easy method is amazing your competitor’s backlinks. The right SEO software can have you a list of websites to target within a few seconds.

If your competitor ranks very high on Google, they have backlinks that you need to rank just as high.

As usual, I use Ahrefs to get a full list of my competitor’s backlink profile. If you don’t have a backlink tool, it’s near impossible to find the links, so the right tools are essential to building a competitor backlink list.

(3) 404 Link Building

Another great way to build links is by evaluating websites to see if they have 404 pages.

404 errors mean that the page links are pointing to is no longer displaying. The strategy is simple.

  •  Evaluate a website that you’d like to get a backlink from
  • Look up all the 404 errors the site has
  • Analyze all the 404 pages to see if you have a relevant page to use 
  • Reach out to the webmaster, let them know about the 404 error and ask them if they’d like to replace the link with your page

Webmasters usually appreciate this as site errors can lower the user’s experience, so it’s a good way to build easy links. As long as you have a high quality piece of content to replace it, you should see some success using this strategy.

(4) Start A Podcast And Leverage Others

Podcast are great ways to get authority backlinks in itself. There’s a number of different platform that shares popular podcast and getting on these sites is not difficult.

You can also do guest podcast on podcast that are relative to your industry. This is a great strategy to build links and gain exposure for your brand. 

If you’re a SEO or plan on using SEO for the long-term, start building relationships with others. You can never have enough friends. Plus, it can lead to a lot of opportunities for your SEO and business.

(5) Industry Round Up

This link building technique involves two pillars of industry round ups, which refers to content that pools multiple experts into one piece of content.

With Expert Round Ups, we can be a voice for our industry and if relative websites are publishing this type of content, one backlink can make a big difference. While this helps with SEO, this can also increase your referral traffic, which is a win-win in my book.

You can also write round ups yourself to begin building relationships with other industry experts. I’ve did this myself and have made life-long friends and partners, as well as gaining some authority backlinks in the process.

Content Checklist: The “Right” Content

Content is another foundational pillar of your SEO and if that content is not great, don’t expect it to rank.

This link building technique involves two pillars of industry round ups, which refers to content that pools multiple experts into one piece of content.

With Expert Round Ups, we can be a voice for our industry and if relative websites are publishing this type of content, one backlink can make a big difference. While this helps with SEO, this can also increase your referral traffic, which is a win-win in my book.

You can also write round ups yourself to begin building relationships with other industry experts. I’ve did this myself and have made life-long friends and partners, as well as gaining some authority backlinks in the process.

(1) Create Amazing Content 

If you’re serious about SEO, you have to create awesome content. It doesn’t matter what type of business you have, you need great content. The easiest way I know to do this is the First Page Ranker Method.

The process is simple and easy.

  1.  Identify the keyword you want to rank for
  2. Go to Google and search for that keyword
  3. Analyze the top 3 SEO results for the keyword
  4. Understand why these pages rank on top
  5. Learn what content formats are ranking the best
  6. Create a piece of content better then all of them

Yes, it’s easier said than done but this method has never failed me. 

(2) Master Your Content In Great Detail/Depth

Remember, Google wants to rank content users find useful and helpful. This is why you want to make sure you cover your topic in great detail and depth.

My website covers SEO in-depth because I want Google to recognize me as an industry leader in SEO. Since SEO is one of the most competitive niches online, that’s a huge challenge even for the best SEOs.

This is why I always ask this question: how serious are you about SEO? 

If you’re committed to making SEO work, cover your topic like no other person can. Great content is not just long content, but rather content that is helpful, engaging, valuable, useful and provides solutions.

(3) Focus On Content Types That Work Now 

If you go back to step 1 in this section, you’ll see I told you to evaluate the type of content that’s ranking for the keyword you want to rank. This is super important because you want to know what types of content format Google is favoring.

Remember, Google wants to rank content users find useful and helpful. This is why you want to make sure you cover your topic in great detail and depth. (You want it to be the best piece of content for your targeted keyword, that’s the goal.)

The content format you need to choose depends on what’s ranking for the keyword you want to target. 

Every day that passes, more content is being published. With every passing minute, the competition increases as content quickly gets saturated. You can no longer afford to not have quality, original content.

If you can produce high quality, authoritative, original content, you will gain Google’s trust. 

What content works best?

  • Content published by industry experts
  • Case studies, white papers, research
  • In-Depth industry specific content
  • Provides a new, fresh view on an old topic
  • Original, unique content

 

(4) Use Multiple Types Of Content 

Some of your users may prefer to read your content, others may prefer to watch a video instead. Most importantly to your SEO, content that ranks high in search engines usually have multiple content types within a specific page.

There’s a lot of different types of multimedia elements you can use.

  • Videos
  • Images
  • Infographics
  • Audio
  • Interactive (Quiz, Survey, Tools)
  • Charts or diagrams

(5) Leverage Social Media Signals

We know Google is focusing more on engagement and user signals, this also includes social media signals.

The good news, if you have “great content,” users are going to share it on social media.

Make sure your website has social media sharing buttons so you users can easily share your content at will.

Make sure you website is associated to all of your own social media profiles.

While social media links don’t carry a lot of SEO value, it does show Google how popular a web page or brand is becoming.

 

Advanced SEO Tips And Tactics

Now that we’ve covered all the SEO basics, I want to give you a few more SEO tips and tactics you can begin using right away.

 

(1) Leverage YouTube For Your SEO

You may not know this, but Google owns YouTube. Since Google loves video content too, it makes a lot of sense to add YouTube videos to your SEO strategy.

There’s a lot of benefits to starting a YouTube channel, the obvious ones like being able to host videos, build a following, add a new referral channel of traffic and so on.

YouTube can also help enhance your SEO.

  • Use a video to target the same keyword you’re trying to rank with your content.
  • Make sure you use this keyword in the main title and description of your YouTube video.
  • Make sure you add 10-15 tags to your video, including the keyword you want to rank for.
  • Add your website URL to the description, make sure it points to the page you want to rank for that specific keyword.
  • Be sure to embed this video into that page.

 If you have multiple videos to add to a page, that’s fine. As long as the video is relevant to the topic you’re discussing, Google will like this.

(2) Site Structure: Think “User” First

I already talked about how important a useful website is. The structure of your website should be simple, easy and users should not question what to do next.

When I’m doing SEO audits, I often see a site that’s complicated and not user friendly.

The longer you can keep users on your website, the better. Guess what happens when Google learns users are staying for long durations on your website? They reward you with higher search rankings.

Think about how you can make your website and content user friendly.

(3) Eliminate Content That Has No Value

For those of you that have a WordPress website, you may be surprised just how many pages your website has.

WordPress automatically creates a lot of different pages, in most cases, it can hurt your SEO rankings. 

On the other hand, you likely have published content that has no purpose or content that’s never ranked in search engines. Cleaning up your content can have a big impact on your rankings.

With Ahrefs, I can quickly evaluate my site and find content that has no SEO value. 

If you have duplicate content, get rid of it. The last thing you want is to be your own competitor and have your webpages fighting with one another to rank.

Don’t forget, content can be republished or reused. If you have older content that is still relevant today, you may be able to make it better and get it to rank or achieve higher rankings.

 

(4) Diversify Your Anchor Text

Anchor text refers to the text that’s used in a link, which can be an internal link or external link.

Here’s my recommendation for both link types.

External Links: Your external links, which are websites that link back to your website, should look natural versus using exact match anchor text. Your exact match anchor text should only account for 1-2 percent of your total backlink profile.

Internal Links: These links refer to links you build on your website and between the pages of your content. With your internal links, you want the majority of them to be keyword rich anchors, meaning you want to use exact match anchors.

(5) Release A Press Release

While I don’t recommend using PRs a lot, it’s worth releasing at least one, especially if you have a new website. Major brands and companies release press releases all the time, it’s a natural part of their media plan. 

 The right PR service can get your PR on some authority websites, such as ABC, NBC, Fox, Digital Journal and many others. 

Now, when you add your links, make sure they’re branded or just URL. Do not stuff them with exact match keywords, that’s a big mistake. 

 While I’ve used a number of different PR services over the years, I recommend using Marketers Media and PR Web. Both of these companies deliver on high quality, high quantity and a good mix of authority websites that will pick up your press release.

(6) Genuinely Give Value In Your Content

Lastly but one of the most important SEO strategies you can start putting into place right away, “give value.”

I want you to become the go-to “expert” in what ever field you’ll be covering. Don’t just create content to create it, create content to give value. Become an expert, an authority and your SEO life will become easier.

Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do as a SEO. It will lead you to opportunities you never thought possible.