This SEO checklist helped us grow our blog traffic to over 6,000 monthly search visits in a super competitive niche.
It works for eCommerce stores, local businesses, affiliate sites—anything.
Table of Contents
- How to use this SEO checklist
- SEO basics checklist
- Technical SEO checklist
- 1. Plan your website structure (new sites only)
- 2. Make sure your site is crawlable
- 3. Make sure your site is indexable
- 4. Make sure you’re using HTTPS
- 5. Make sure your website is accessible at one domain
- 6. Make sure your site loads fast
- 7. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
- 8. Install an image compression plugin
- 9. Fix broken pages
- 10. Fix duplicate content issues
- Keyword research checklist
- Content checklist
- On-page SEO checklist
- Link building checklist
- Final thoughts
How to use this SEO checklist
Most SEO checklists fail to communicate how SEO is an ongoing process. Instead, they list random tasks and make it sound like SEO is done and dusted once you check them off.
That’s not the case, so we’ve given each item on our checklist one of these tags:
- Do it once
- Do it periodically
- Do it each time you publish a new page
This structure means you don’t need to complete everything on this checklist today. Do the one-time tasks first, then the periodic tasks, then complete the ongoing tasks each time you publish a new page.
Let’s get to it.
SEO basics checklist
Let’s start with a few SEO best practices everyone should have in the bag. These won’t directly improve rankings, but they’re essential in setting yourself up to rank higher in Google.
1. Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool for tracking your site’s organic search performance.
Here are a few things you can do with it:
- See the keywords you rank for
- Check ranking positions
- Find website errors
- Submit sitemaps
2. Set up Bing Webmaster Tools
Bing Webmaster Tools is essentially Bing’s equivalent of Google Search Console.
3. Set up Ahrefs Webmaster Tools
Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) is a free tool that helps you improve your website’s SEO performance and get more organic search traffic.
Here are a few key features:
- Scan your site for 100+ SEO issues
- See all your backlinks
- See all the keywords you rank for
4. Set up Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool that lets you see how many people visit your site, where they’re coming from, and how they interact with it.
It’s essential to link Google Search Console with Google Analytics to see Search Console data in Analytics.
5. Install an SEO plugin
If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need an SEO plugin to help you optimize sitemaps and meta tags.
Here are a few good options (you only need one):
6. Create and submit a sitemap
Sitemaps tell search engines where to find important content on your site so they can easily crawl and index your pages.
Here’s what the sitemap looks like for our blog:
You can usually find your sitemap at one of these URLs:
7. Create a robots.txt file
Robots.txt is a plain text file that tells search engines where they can and can’t go on your site.
It’s always good practice to have a robots.txt file, but it’s a must if you need to prevent search engines from crawling pages or sections on your site. For example, if you run an eCommerce store, you might not want them to crawl and index your cart page.
You can check if you already have a robots.txt file by going to example.com/robots.txt. If you see a plain text file, you’re good to go. If you see anything else, search Google for “robots.txt generator” and create one.
Technical SEO checklist
Technical SEO issues often prevent a website from ranking as high as it deserves. Here are the primary technical best practices everyone should follow.
1. Plan your website structure (new sites only)
It’s crucial that visitors and search engines can easily navigate your website. That’s why you need to create a logical site structure.
To do this, sketch out a simple mind map:
Each branch on the map should be an internal link to allow search engines and visitors to navigate between pages.
2. Make sure your site is crawlable
Google can’t properly index content that isn’t crawlable, so it’s worth checking the Coverage report in Google Search Console for any warnings or exclusions.
You want to review the coverage report and find any pages that should be indexed.
3. Make sure your site is indexable
Indexing and crawling are two different things. Just because search engines can crawl a page doesn’t mean they can index it. If there is a ‘noindex’ robots meta tag or x-robots-tag on the page, indexing isn’t possible.
Google tells you about no-indexed URLs in the Coverage report.
If you have ‘no-indexed’ pages that should be indexed, remove the ‘noindex’ tag.
4. Make sure you’re using HTTPS
HTTPS is a confirmed lightweight ranking factor.
If you’re not using HTTPS today, it’s time to switch.
Potential ranking boosts aside, HTTPS will protect your visitors’ data. This is especially important if you have any contact forms on your site. If you’re asking for passwords or payment information, it’s not just important; it’s an absolute must.
How do you know if your site uses HTTPS?
Look for a padlock in your browser’s search bar:
You can get a free SSL certification from Let’s Encrypt.
5. Make sure your website is accessible at one domain
Visitors shouldn’t be able to access your website at multiple locations. It can lead to crawling, indexing, and security issues.
To check that everything’s in order, plug these four URLs into httpstatus.io:
If everything’s good, three of them should redirect to the fourth.
You need to set up a permanent 301 redirect if that doesn’t happen.
If you’re using HTTPS (you should be), it’s also essential to secure the accessible version of your website. That’s either https://example.com or https://www.example.com.
6. Make sure your site loads fast
It’s easy to see why. It’s frustrating to click on a search result and have to wait for it to load. That’s why the probability of a bounce increases as page speed decreases.
7. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
Most searches happen on mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly website is more important than ever.
Check whether your site needs work with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
8. Install an image compression plugin
Compressing images makes image files smaller and improves page speed. That’s important because page speed is a Google ranking factor.
If you’re using WordPress, there are plenty of plugins for this. We like Imagify. It lets you compress up to 100 images per month for free.
9. Fix broken pages
Broken links can negatively impact user experience and break the flow of ‘authority’ into and around your website.
To find broken links on your site, use Screaming Frog.
- Crawl your website with Screaming Frog
- Go to the Response Code Report
- Look for “404-page” errors.
10. Fix duplicate content issues
Duplicate content is exact or near-duplicate content that appears on the web in more than one place. It’s a common eCommerce SEO issue thanks to faceted navigation. That alone can cause hundreds of duplicate content issues.
You can find duplicate content issues for free with Screaming Frog.
- Crawl your website with Screaming Frog
- Go to the Content report
- Investigate Near or Exact Duplicate pages
Keyword research checklist
Keyword research is the most crucial piece of the SEO puzzle. How can you optimize your content for search engines if you don’t know what keywords people are searching for?
Follow these checklist items to get off on the right foot.
1. Find a primary keyword to target
Each page on your website should target one main primary keyword. You should do keyword research periodically to find keywords to target, but you should also ensure you’re targeting the best keyword each time you publish a new page.
How do you know which is the best keyword?
It’s the one that represents the most popular way of searching for the topic.
For example, let’s say you were writing a post about SEO Checklists. There are lots of ways people could search for this, such as:
- seo checklist
- seo checklist for beginners
- seo checklist for blog posts
- seo checklist pdf
- seo checklist reddit
So which one of these keywords do you target, if any?
Luckily, there’s an easy way to figure this out. Search for your topic in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and find the highest volume with the lowest difficulty.
2. Assess search intent
Search intent is the reason behind a searcher’s query. If your page doesn’t align with this, your chances of ranking are slim to none.
How do you assess search intent? The easiest way is to use the SEMrush Magic keyword tool.
The 4 types of search intent are:
- Informational intent
- Navigational intent
- Transactional intent
- Commercial investigation
3. Assess your chances of ranking in Google
Understanding the ease or difficulty of ranking for a keyword helps you to prioritize the opportunity and set realistic expectations.
Use the Keyword Difficulty score in Keywords Explorer for an initial rough estimate.
Don’t rely on this entirely. Check the results yourself for things that may indicate a hard keyword to crack, like:
- High-quality backlinks to the top-ranking pages
- Predominantly big brands in the top 10
- High topical relevance of the top-ranking sites
4. Research what people want to know
Say that someone searches for “SEO keywords.” You can see from analyzing search intent that people are looking for a definition of the term, but what other questions do they have? And what other information should you include in your content?
Google’s “People Also Ask” box gives some insight into this:
Picking the right keyword is essential, but all your efforts will be in vain if your content isn’t up to scratch. Follow these tips to level up your content.
1. Solve the reader’s problem
Understanding search intent is the first step in solving the reader’s problem because it tells you what kind of content they’re looking for.
Research is another vital step.
But to create truly great content, you need to go further and consider the visitor’s problem.
For example, take a query like “productivity tips.” From assessing search intent, searchers clearly want a listicle-style blog post. And if we research the top-ranking posts, we see standard advice like “take breaks” and “put things down on paper.”
Although there’s nothing wrong with these tips, people searching for “productivity tips” probably want more practical ideas they can implement immediately.
So you’d probably want to go beyond simple advice like “take breaks.”
2. Write a winning intro
If you can’t convince readers that your page offers what they want within a few seconds, they’ll hit that back button faster than you say, “dwell time.”
Your best defense against this is a compelling intro.
Good introductions should do three things:
- Connect with the reader
- Build trust
- Promise a solution to the user’s problem
Remember, if visitors never get past your introduction, they never read your content. And if they never read your content, they won’t convert, share, or link to it.
3. Use headings to create a hierarchy
Headings like H1 and H2 help to create a hierarchy and break your content into logical sections. This makes your content easier to skim and digest.
For example, the list you’re reading is broken into five distinct sections.
- SEO basics checklist
- Technical SEO checklist
- Content checklist
- On-page SEO checklist
- Link building checklist
Under each of these, we have sub-sub headings for each checklist item.
Think about how much harder it would be to read this page without subheadings.
4. Break things up with images
Nobody wants to read a giant wall of text. It’s overwhelming and can lead people to bounce.
Images help solve this by breaking up your copy and aiding visual comprehension.
But don’t just throw images in for the sake of it. Make an effort to find or create images that improve the reader’s experience.
For example, we often use graphs, charts, and screenshots to help illustrate our points.
5. Use short sentences and paragraphs
50% of the US population read below an 8th-grade reading level.
So unless you want to alienate half of the population, don’t overcomplicate things. Stick to short sentences and paragraphs.
You should also:
- Use simple words and phrases
- Avoid jargon
- Write in an active voice
Hemingway is a free, browser-based tool that can help with this. It tells you the current grade level of your copy and suggests improvements.
6. Add a table of contents
A table of contents provides jump links to different sections on the page.
We use them in most of our posts:
Although you can add a table of contents to any page, they’re best suited to lengthy content that might otherwise be difficult to navigate. Most of our posts are 2,000+ words, so they make a lot of sense for our visitors.
A table of contents can also help you win sitelinks in the SERPs.
On-page SEO checklist
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing the actual content on your page. It includes optimizations made to visible content and content in the source code.
Let’s look at how to do it.
1. Use a short, descriptive URL
Short, descriptive URLs help searchers to understand what the page is about in the SERPs.
For example, these two pages are about losing weight…
… but you wouldn’t know it from that first URL.
Most of the time, the simplest way to create short, descriptive URLs is to set your primary keyword as the URL slug. We do this with most of our blog posts.
Keeping URLs short is useful because long URLs tend to truncate in the SERPs.
2. Write a compelling title tag
Like URLs, title tags show up in Google’s search results and help searchers understand what the page is about.
The standard advice for title tags is to include your target keyword.
Although that’s good practice, don’t sweat it if it doesn’t make sense. Writing something compelling to make people want to click is much more critical.
Most of the time, your post or page title will work well. You can test Title Tags and Meta Descriptions with our SERP Simulator Tool.
3. Write a compelling meta description
Google shows meta descriptions in the SERPs roughly ⅓ of the time.
Here are our best tips for creating a compelling meta description:
- Expand on the title
- Double down on search intent
- Use an active voice
- Keep it under 120 characters
- Include your primary keyword (where it makes sense)
4. Link to relevant resources
Linking to other internal resources helps visitors to navigate your website.
But what about external resources?
Here’s what Google’s John Mueller says:
Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Oftentimes, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.
John Mueller, Search Advocate Google
Does this mean you have to force internal and external links into your content?
Nope. Just add links if and when it makes sense.
5. Optimize your images
If you’re following the checklist, you should have already installed an image compression plugin. But there are a couple of other image optimizations you should do on a page-by-page basis:
- Name images descriptively. Don’t use generic image filenames like IMG_875939.png or Screenshot-2021-06-01. Use descriptive filenames like black-puppy.png or eiffel-tower.jpg.
- Add descriptive alt text. Alt text replaces an image on the page when it fails to load. It’s also helpful for those using screen readers.
6. Add schema markup for rich snippets
Schema markup helps search engines to understand your content better. But it can also dramatically affect how your page shows up in the SERPs.
Schema markup can increase click-through rates and bring more traffic to your website.
Internal links help Google understand what your page is about. They also help search engines and users to navigate your website.
We already covered the importance of linking to your content’s relevant internal and external resources. But it’s also worth adding internal links from other relevant pages whenever you publish new content.
Here’s how to find relevant internal link opportunities:
- Download Link Whisper for WordPress
- Install and Run a Link Scan
- Go to the Link Opportunities report
- Add a “Target page” filter and set it to your new page.
Add internal links to those pages wherever it makes sense.
Link building checklist
Link building is a crucial SEO task, especially if you want to rank for anything remotely competitive. This section will cover a few tried and tested link-building tactics.
If a page mentions and links to multiple competitors but not you, it might be a link worth pursuing.
Here’s how to find these websites:
- Go to Content Explorer
- Search for (“competitor 1” AND “competitor 2”) -“your brand”
- Hit search
- Toggle “One page per domain”
This will search Ahrefs database of over seven billion pages for those mentioning both your competitors not you.
Then it’s just a case of looking for opportunities where you might be able to get a link.
For example, if you were doing this for ConvertKit, this list of 79 marketing tools would probably be a good opportunity:
Backlinks don’t last forever.
For example, if we check the Lost Links report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we see which links we lost in the last 7 days.
This happens for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they’re gone for good. Other times it’s possible to reclaim them.
People will sometimes mention your brand without linking to you. These are known as unlinked mentions.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could convert unlinked mentions for your brand to linked ones?
It would, and you can. Just reach out to the authors and request that they “make the text clickable.” Because they’re already familiar with your brand, there’s a high chance that they’ll happily make that change for you.
4. Publish guest posts
Guest blogging is where you write and publish an article on another site in your industry.
Most people let guest authors link to their website from their author bio.
There are many ways to find guest blogging opportunities, but a simple method is to search for sites that have already written about relevant topics. Why? Because those sites are likely to be interested in a guest post about a similar topic.
Here’s how to find these sites:
- Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
- Enter a relevant topic (e.g., “keyword research”)
- Choose “In title” from the drop-down
- Hit “Search”
- Go to the “Websites” tab
Here you should see the top 100 websites with the most organic traffic from pages about your topic.
Look through the list and reach out to any relevant sites.
5. Pitch resource pages
Resource pages are pages that curate and link to resources about a topic.
You can find relevant resource pages using Google search operators like:
- [topic] intitle:resources inurl:resources.html
- [topic] intitle:links inurl: resources.html
- [topic] inurl:.com/resources
- [topic] inurl:resources intitle:resources
For example, you can find a resource page listing. It would make sense to pitch an SEO resource for that list.
If you’ve put some effort into creating the best piece of content about a topic, there should be countless posts that aren’t as good as yours.
So we could easily reach out to those people, explain the issue, and suggest they link to our post about long-tail keywords with an accurate definition instead.
How do you find similar posts with lots of backlinks?
Follow these steps:
- Go to Content Explorer
- Search for your topic (e.g., long tail keywords)
- Choose “In title” from the drop down
- Filter for pages with lots of referring domains (linking websites)
Then it’s just a case of finding a compelling reason why someone should link to your page over theirs.
7. Tell more people about your content
People can’t link to content if they don’t know it exists. That’s why you should make a conscious effort to tell the right people about your content.
But who are the “right” people?
They have two attributes:
- They are interested in your content.
- They have the power to link to you.
SEO is an ongoing process, and it would be impossible to include everything necessary in one checklist. If you tackle the checklist items above, you’ll be on your way to higher rankings. You’ll also probably be well ahead of your competition. That’s all that matters.
What is the most advanced SEO checklist?
Published on: 2022-11-11
Updated on: 2024-01-10