SEO Checklist for 2020
With over 200 ranking factors that go into deciding where your website ranks in search engines, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to SEO. This SEO checklist will help you focus on the SEO tasks that really make a difference to your search rankings so that you can make sure that your website appears ahead of your competitors.
Although there is no definitive list of ranking factors that the SEO experts can agree on, there is general agreement that there are four key pillars of SEO success:
A few small changes in each of these areas can have a big impact on your website’s performance. Let’s start with getting the foundations in place.
1. Check that your site is indexed
Search for your business by your company name. Can you find it? Can you find all of the pages that you think should be there? If not it may not be in the search engine’s directory.
Another way to check whether your site has been indexed is to type the following into the search bar:
site:nextcustomerplease.com (type in your site address not mine, obvs)
This will give you all of the pages of your website that Google has in its index.
If your website or certain pages don’t appear, it is either because Google hasn’t been able to find your site or it has found it but can’t index it for some reason.
Search engines take a little while to discover new websites so give it a few days after launch and try again. If your site has been live for a while and it’s still not being returned, it could be down to one of these reasons.
- your site is being blocked by the robots.txt file
- you haven’t submitted a sitemap.xml
- you have crawl errors
Which might sound like pretty technical stuff for point one of our checklist. Take a deep breath and read on, hopefully, the explanation below makes more sense.
The robots.txt is a simple text file that is used to tell search engines which web pages on your site to crawl and index. It is possible to add rules to the file to say ignore certain pages. There are various reasons why you might not want pages to be indexed which we won’t go into right now. However, if done wrong you can end up blocking important pages that you do actually want to be found or block the whole website entirely.
An XML sitemap is another important file that lists out each of the pages on your website. It tells search engines how the content on your website is organised. It essentially gives the search engine a helping hand which it will thank you for by returning your web pages in the search results.
If you have ever tried going to a web page and seen “404 this page cannot be found” you have come across a crawl error. There are various types of crawl errors, all are a bit annoying to users and search engines alike. So they need to be fixed.
2. Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Don’t let the fact that it’s a free tool allow you to underestimate it. It enables you to measure search traffic and performance, see which keywords are bringing visitors to your website as well as fix issues such as the missing sitemap mentioned in the last section.
A useful tip to grow your site’s organic visibility and traffic is to look for keywords that your site is being returned for in the performance report. Filter by page URL, look at the queries tab and find keywords your site is ranking beyond position 10. Make sure that you include these keywords in the content on the relevant pages
3. Set up Google Analytics
Google Analytics is another free tool from Google. It’s extremely powerful, it will tell you how many people are visiting your site and how they interact with it including how long they spend there, which pages they click on as well as how they arrived at your site in the first place. It’s key to knowing how well your SEO strategy is performing.
4. Install Yoast SEO (WordPress users only)
Over a third of websites are built using WordPress and a lot of the reason for that is because of its performance with regards to SEO. Using the Yoast SEO plugin allows you to add a significant number of SEO features and tools to help boost the performance of your site even more.
Yoast makes the technical side of SEO much less daunting. It lets you create and edit page titles, meta descriptions and create user- friendly URLs and much more. We’ll be talking about the importance of these later on.
5. Set up Google My Business (GMB)
Yet another free tool from Google which is key to local visibility for your business. Whether you’re a barber in Bristol or tax adviser in Totterdown and you want customers from your local area to find you, then GMB is really important to your success.
To do justice on how to fill out your Google My Business page would require a whole new blog post. However, the most important advice we can offer is first to claim your listing and then fill out as much of it as possible. To be really effective you need to be actively engaged with GMB, this includes encouraging customers to leave reviews and regularly posting updates about product promotions, service updates, due to Coronavirus say, or simply posting interesting developments that would be helpful to your customers.
We use keyword research to work out which words and phrases people use to find solutions to their problems, problems that your business can solve. Then we put a plan in place so that your website ranks for those keywords.
1. Find Your Primary Keywords
Your primary keyword is the first keyword that comes to mind when thinking about your business. If you are a Bristol-based lawyer, this might be “lawyer Bristol” or if you specialise in employment law it might be “employment lawyer Bristol”. Primary keywords tend to have lots of people searching for them which means there is a lot of competition to rank well for them aka high volume, high competition keywords.
2. Research long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords add more context to search terms, they are more specific because they use more words to describe what the searcher is looking for. For example “mountain bike” is a primary keyword, “buy second-hand mountain bike near me” is a long-tail search term, it tells you a lot more about the searcher wants (also known as search intent).
3. Find out what ‘people also asked’
Try searching on Google for “mountain bike”. Below the search results, you also get a list of drop-down results based on what other people searching for mountain bike also asked. These include “what is the best brand of mountain bike?” “are Halfords mountain bikes any good?”
This is an excellent tool for generating content ideas based on your primary and secondary keywords.
4. Identify competitors for your keywords
Continuing with the mountain bike example. Go back to the search results and you’ll see that the top results are dominated by big bike brands, Evans Cycles, Halfords, Tredz, etc. While our long-tail search “buy second-hand mountain bike near me” returns results for local second-hand bike retailers which for me being based in Bristol includes Bristol Bike Project, Nine Lives Cycles and Bristol Cycle Shack.
Competition in SEO is relative, your chances of competing against big bicycle brands are slim unless you specialise in some way whether that’s being local to your buyers or offer a specialist service that others don’t do as well as you.
5. Map keywords to individual web pages
Unless you sell just one product or service, you will have a number of pages on your website, each of which will have its own set of primary, secondary and long-tail keywords. This means repeating the process described in points 1-4 for each page. This will produce a set of keywords for each page on your website. We use a keyword map to prioritise which keywords will appear in important places such as the page titles, URLs and headings.
Technical SEO is a wide-ranging topic and interlinks with all of the other essential SEO elements on our checklist. It helps make sure that search engines can crawl and index your website properly. Optimising the technical elements of your website will help Google and other search engines find your web pages and return them for the most relevant search terms.
1. Fix crawl errors and broken links
We introduced crawl errors in the SEO essentials section above. They occur when a search engine attempts to reach a page on your website but can’t find it. One of the first things to do when analysing a new website is to run a technical audit using software such as SEMrush. This will show you the pages that cannot be found and need fixing. 404 errors and broken links can be fixed by redirecting users to a page that does exist using a 301 redirect.
2. Check site speed and mobile-friendliness
SEO moves with the times, as more people have moved towards using mobile devices to for search in recent years, the more emphasis Google, Bing, etc place on good user experience for mobile users. Google has its own set of tools called PageSpeed Insights to test how well your web pages are performing on mobile and desktop. Google recently introduced a set of measures called Core Web Vitals which focus on page speed and how users interact with web pages. The faster and easier it is to accomplish things on your mobile website the better.
3. Use an SEO friendly URL structure
Use keywords in your URLs so that they can be discovered by the right people and search bots. It helps if you build a URL structure that is future-friendly too. They should match the domain structure of your website which logically leads searchers through your web pages.
Most CMSs allow you to set the URL structure, keeping in mind that URLs are case sensitive, use hyphens between words and they aren’t too long (2-3 words including your keywords is best).
4. Make sure you are using HTTPS
HTTPS is designed to protect a visitor’s personal data if, for example, you have a contact form on your website. If you collect payment details or ask for passwords it’s doubly important. What’s good for users is good for search engines, Google uses HTTPS as a ranking factor.
5. Fix redirect loops
No one likes going round and round in circles without getting anywhere. That’s what happens with a redirect loop, your browser is told to redirect to one page and then another, and another until your browser gives up and says, I’m giving up, you’re sending me round and round in circles and I don’t like it.
6. Remove or fix issues to do with duplicate content
One of the most common causes of duplicate content is due to pagination. It can happen if you have a large website with a blog that runs to 20 pages of blog posts, product category pages or archive pages.
Now we get to optimising the actual content on your web pages.
1. Fix missing and duplicate page titles and meta descriptions
If you run a WordPress website and followed our advice in SEO essentials by installing Yoast SEO you’ll be able to quickly fix page titles and meta descriptions. In fact, most modern CMSs allow you to easily get to the right place to make changes.
2. Add short, descriptive URLs. Add alt text to images
We slipped two actions into this checkpoint. It’s worth reiterating that if you focus on being user-friendly you are halfway there with SEO. Optimised alt text helps users and search engines understand your images. The same goes for URLs.
3. Write compelling page titles and meta descriptions
Well optimised page titles help Google, Bing and other search engines understand what individual pages are about. This means they should contain the primary keyword for that page. If you had a page selling men’s cycling jerseys, guess what you should have in your page title, that’s it “mens cycling jerseys”. Use a tool like Serpsim to make sure you use the correct amount of characters.
A meta description is an HTML tag. They are shown in search results below the link to your website. You have more space (approx 155 characters) to encourage users to click on individual pages. This is what cycling brand Rapha have to say about their cycling jerseys “The best cycling jerseys in the world, made with Rapha’s iconic designs and fabrics” which is fine but they’ve got room to say more, adding “Next day delivery”, “Free returns”, “100% guarantee” might make the page more enticing.
4. Remove multiple H1 headings
If you have good reason to include multiple H1 headings, it won’t actually hurt your rankings. However, web pages generally look nicer and easier to read with a hierarchy of headings that signpost readers through your content. You decide.
5. Improve internal & external linking
Linking is important to give your pages context and build authority around your subject matter. Search engines follow links to discover what your website is about. The better your use of links, the easier it is to discover what your business does or sells, the better it ranks.
6. Prune outdated content
A good way of telling whether to prune your content is to ask yourself whether it has HEART.
Is it helpful, entertaining, authentic, relevant, timely? In other words, makes sure your content is valuable to your clients. Not every piece of content has to be all five of these things. Just make sure it ticks a few and make your own mind up whether to remove, update or merge it into something better.
Off-page SEO (Link Building)
1. Claim lost links
Over time backlinks break, it’s a fact of SEO life. The important thing is not to waist the hard effort that went into earning the link in the first place. In order to reclaim lost links you first have to find them. Paid tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush and Majestic offer the easiest way to find broken backlinks.
Once you have a list of backlinks to reclaim, reach out to the site owners to ask them to update their site with the correct links to your website.
2. Replicate relevant competitor backlinks
When Leeds United were promoted to the premier league for the 2020 season their manager Marcelo Bielsa admitted that he had spied on every opponent they played in the previous season. He insisted that he had no intentions of cheating, he didn’t want to copy the opposition, his plan was to adapt the way Leeds play to take advantage of his competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.
We recommend that you do the same, all of the tools mentioned previously will allow you to spy on your competitor’s backlinks. Not all of their backlinks will be relevant or attainable but you’ll get some good ideas at the very least.
3. Ask membership organisations and suppliers for backlinks
A lot of professional membership organisations list their members on their website. If your business is not already listed or doesn’t have link to your website, get in touch and ask them to update your listing. The nature of membership organisations means that links are highly relevant to your business. Suppliers are also a good source of links especially is they are a sector specialist. If they are proud to have you as a customer, they may be willing to provide a link. It never hurts to ask.
4. Create link-worthy content
We mentioned earlier about the need to create valuable content with HEART. Begin by researching content that other similar organisations produce. Use tools like Answer The Public to discover the questions people ask based on your seed topic. The People Also Ask feature on Google offers yet more ideas.
Content needs to display various characteristics in order to make it link-worthy. To gain links your content needs to be insightful, accurate and trustworthy. A key measure used by Google’s algorithm is how much E.A.T (expertise, authority and trust) does your content display.
5. Reach out to publications and bloggers
Link worthy content is useless if nobody knows about it. Outreach means reaching out (no shit) to bloggers, journalists and other publishers with large audiences to convince them that your content is worth writing about and earning a link.