Why is classified submission important in SEO
The big SEO checklist for the SEO audit 2021 with 41 best practices
How to use this SEO checklist
The checklist is divided into sections that correspond to the main focuses of search engine optimization. Basics, keyword research, technical SEO, onpage SEO and content as well as offpage factors.
Your website probably already covers many of these points. If so: great!
But we also know that all websites have room for improvement. Hence, we assume that you can find at least some best practices to emulate on the list that you have so far overlooked.
Some other points may be irrelevant to you and that's fine.
You can use all points and create an SEO report.
Work through the list, measure your website against it, solve problems, and maximize your chances where you can. In order to outperform your competitors in the ranking, you need to cover at least the majority of these points.
SEO Basics Checklist
If you don't have a solid foundation, your website will have a hard time getting visible to competitive search terms.
The points in this section cover basic tasks that should be considered as part of a successful SEO strategy.
1. Set up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
The Google Search Console is an essential tool that gives you valuable insights into your website's performance as well as a wealth of data to help you increase your website's organic visibility and traffic.
Bing Webmaster Tools provides corresponding data for Microsoft's search engine Bing.
These important tools tell you the keywords that users use to find your website in search results, allow you to upload sitemaps, identify crawling errors and much more.
If you haven't already set it up, do it now and thank us later.
2. Set up Google Analytics
Without the right data, you can't make the right decisions.
Google Analytics is a free analytics tool that shows you facts and figures about how many people visit your website, who they are, and how they interact with your content.
Our ultimate guide to Google Analytics covers everything you need to know about the tool as a beginner, including how to set it up and the most useful reports. You cannot pursue a successful SEO strategy without this tool.
Connect Google Analytics and Google Search Console to import data from the latter.
3. Install and configure an SEO plugin (if you use WordPress)
If WordPress is the CMS of your choice (which is relatively likely since 35% of the web is currently running on the platform), you should install and configure an SEO plugin to provide the functions and features that you need to properly optimize your website need.
The final plugin you choose will depend on your personal preference, but these are three excellent options. Read this in-depth guide on how to proceed with Wordpress SEO.
If you are using a different CMS than WordPress, ask your developer if you need to install a special SEO plugin or module or if the necessary functions are included as standard.
For example, Plug in SEO is one of the most popular SEO apps for Shopify SEO.
4. Create and upload a sitemap
A sitemap tells search engines which pages to crawl and which is the canonical version of each page.
It's just a list of URLs that indicate the main content of your website to make sure it's crawled and indexed.
In Google's words:
A sitemap is a file that you use to provide information about pages, videos, and other files on your website and the relationships between these files. Search engines like Google read this file to help crawl your website more intelligently. This lets Google know which pages and files on your website you think are important. The sitemap also provides valuable information about these files: For pages, for example, information is provided about alternative language versions of the page, as well as when the page was last updated and how often this happens.
Google supports a number of different sitemap formats, with XML being the most widely used. You can usually find your site's sitemap at https://www.domain.de/sitemap.xml.
If you use WordPress with one of the plugins mentioned above, creating a sitemap is one of the standard functions that you can fall back on.
Otherwise there are some sitemap generator tools available on the Internet to create an XML sitemap. We recently updated our Ultimate Guide to Creating Sitemaps XML Sitemaps with the XML Sitemap Generators, which includes our top recommendations.
Once you've generated your sitemap, upload it to the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for the search engines.
Also include a reference to the sitemap in your robots.txt file.
5. Create a robots.txt file
Your website's robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which pages and files they can and cannot request from your website.
In most cases it is used to exclude certain parts of a website from crawling. It is not intended to remove a website from the Google index.
You can find your site's robots.txt file at https://www.domain.de/robots.txt.
Check if the file exists.
If not, create one - even if you don't currently want to exclude directories or pages from crawling.
Several SEO plugins for WordPress allow the creation and editing of a robots.txt file. If you are using a different CMS, you may need to manually create the file with a text editor and upload it to the root directory of your domain.
For more information, see this beginner's guide on using robots.txt files.
6. Check Search Console for manual measures (Google Penalty)
In rare cases, webmasters find that manual action is negatively affecting their website's performance.
Manual action (Google Penalty) is usually caused by explicit attempts to violate or manipulate Google's webmaster guidelines. These include, for example, user-generated spam, structured data problems, unnatural links (to and from your website), weak content, hidden text, and "pure" spam.
Most websites are not and never will be affected by manual action.
You can check this on the Manual Actions tab in Google Search Console.
You will be notified when your website has received manual action. However, whenever you're working on a new project or taking on a page, this should always be one of the first things you check out.
7. Make sure that Google can index your website
It's not as uncommon as you'd think that Google can't index a website.
For example, you'd be surprised how often a website is suddenly de-indexed by developers who inadvertently leave noindex tags on when moving code from a staging environment to a live one.
With the SEMrush Site Audit you can ensure that your website can actually be crawled and indexed.
Just start a crawl. If access is blocked, search engines cannot crawl or index your website either.
Keyword research checklist
Without a solid keyword research process, you cannot ensure that the right terms will find you. As a result, your traffic may not convert at the best rate that your website would be able to convert, either.
Our checklist for the most important tasks in keyword research and keyword analysis will help you ensure that your SEO measures meet the right demand for your offer.
8. Identify competitors
One of the quickest ways to get into keyword research is to find out what your competition's keywords are.
In our opinion, time is always well spent on competitive research and competitor analysis.
Enter your own domain (and that of your main competitors) in the SEMrush domain overview. This allows you to quickly identify the competitors who are competing in the same field as you and compare your visibility.
9. Identify your most important "money keywords"
You need to know what your top money keywords are. As the name suggests, these are the search terms that drive leads, sales, and conversions.
They are also known as head keywords or column side keywords and are very important when creating a topic cluster.
In general, these are high search volume, highly competitive keywords that really get to the heart of what you're offering, be it at the topic or category level. Take the term "NFL Jerseys" as an example.
Use the keyword overview to conduct keyword research on your products and services and identify your money keywords.
10. Identify long-tail keyword variations
A keyword strategy without long-tail keywords is incomplete.
While long-tail keywords have a lower search volume, they usually enable higher conversion rates.
Make sure that your SEO strategy targets both long-tail keywords and generic terms. To do this, optimize your pages so that they can be found for a large number of related terms. Whenever possible, include closely related longtail terms in your content and create additional content around your core content.
You can use the Keyword Magic Tool to find long-tail keywords.
Just enter your main keywords and select your country. The tool returns a list of keywords, the composition of which you can change using different match types. Choose between "Largely matching", "Matching phrase", "Exactly matching" and "Similar".
If you need more longtail ideas, our Topic Research tool can help you find keyword variations for your content.
11. Create a keyword mapping
Once you've identified your target keywords, you need to map them to your pages and identify any content gaps.
Our keyword mapping guide defines the process as follows:
In its simplest form, keyword mapping provides a framework for the keywords you are targeting that maps the structure of your website. This research-based method reveals potential for optimization, helps with content decisions and shows you where you can add new pages in order to gain more traffic.
- Andrea Lehr
Make sure you take the time to assign the most appropriate keywords to your pages. The process outlined in the guide will help you get this right the first time.
12. Analyze the intentions that the pages are targeting in the search result
It is important to ensure that the content on your pages matches the intent of the searcher.
So take the time to analyze the pages that appear in the search results for your target terms and tailor your content accordingly.
Suppose you are targeting a term at the national level. You have noticed a high search volume and realistic keyword difficulty. However, if the search results contain mostly local results, your content will not hold a prominent position.
If you don't know what search intent the content that Google places prominently is serving, you can't be sure that your content is targeted to users in the best possible way.
Check out our guide to learn more about how to identify search intentions. Use the following handy infographic as a starting point to classify SERP functions according to intention types:
13. Identify questions that users are asking
If you know the questions that your target group is asking, you can better meet their information needs with your website. All the more so since many users now use search engines as answer engines.
In the Keyword Overview tool, you will find a list of questions relating to an entered keyword so that you can check the monthly search volume of these question keywords.
This is a good starting point and can provide valuable inspiration, especially as you enter more specific keywords.
In addition, you can use a tool like AlsoAsked.com. This reads the results under "Users also ask" to find further questions that you can answer with your content.
14. Determine the difficulty of your target keywords
A brand new website will have a hard time getting found for contested keywords until it has built authority. Many do not like to hear that, but it is true.
Therefore, you need to understand how difficult it will be to rank your target keywords, if only to manage your expectations (or those of your customers or bosses) when you can expect results.
Start the keyword overview again, enter your target keywords and read off the keyword difficulty. This value shows how difficult it will be for a new website to be on the first page of search results.
Technical SEO checklist
Technical SEO will help you lay solid foundations and make sure your website can be crawled and indexed.
The following are the top best practices to look out for.
15. Make sure you are using HTTPS
The year is 2020, and HTTPS has been known as a ranking factor since 2014.
So there is no excuse for not using HTTPS encryption on your website. If it is still running on HTTP, it is high time for a migration.
You can easily make sure that your website is running on HTTPS by looking at your browser's URL bar.
If you see a padlock there, use HTTPS, not otherwise.
16. Search for duplicates on your website in the Google index
It's important to let Google only index one version of your website.
These are all different versions of your website that should reference a single one.
Whether you choose the version with or without WWW is up to you. The most common variant, however, is https://www.domain.de.
All other versions should have a 301 redirect to the primary version. You can check this by entering each variant in your browser bar.
If you get redirected there are no problems. However, if you find that you have access to different versions, implement the necessary redirects as soon as possible.
17. Find and fix errors
You can quickly identify crawling errors using the Google Search Console.
Open the report Cover. There you will see Errors, Excluded Pages, Warning Pages, and Valid Pages.
Take the time to correct any errors found and investigate the cause of excluded URLs in more detail. In many cases, there is an underlying problem that you need to fix; from 404 errors to incorrectly canonicalized pages.
18. Improve loading time
Slow websites mean poor user experience.
In fact, Google recently confirmed that an update for 2021 should focus even more on user experience as a ranking factor.
So make sure your website loads quickly.
Nobody is waiting for a slow side. It's 2020.
The Site Audit also alerts you to slow loading pages. You can also use Google's PageSpeed Insights to gain deeper insights into this topic. You can also find useful tips in our latest guide to improving your PageSpeed Insights score.
19. Fix broken internal and outbound links
Broken links are another warning sign of a poor user experience. Nobody wants to click on a link and be disappointed to find that the landing page is down.
A list of broken internal and outbound links can be found in your site audit. Fix the issues found by either updating the destination URL or removing the link.
20. Update links pointing from HTTPS to HTTP
Most websites have already migrated from HTTP to HTTPS. However, it is still common for internal links to point to HTTP pages instead of the current version.
Redirecting to the new page is also not the optimal solution. Instead, if possible, you should immediately update the outdated link yourself.
If there are only a few wrong links, update them manually in your CMS.If the problem is cross-page (which it often does), you need to update page templates or do a search and replace on the database.
Talk to your developer if you are unsure of how to proceed.
21. Make sure your website is mobile friendly
Mobile friendliness or mobile SEO is a key factor for the upcoming Google update for the user experience. But as early as mid-2019, Google switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites.
If you don't deliver a mobile-friendly experience, you'll find your organic visibility suffers.
You can check the mobile-friendliness of your website with Google's test for mobile device optimization.
22. Use an SEO friendly URL structure
An SEO-friendly URL structure makes it easier for search engines to crawl your pages and understand their content. Your page URLs should be simple and descriptive.
This is what an SEO-friendly URL looks like:
In contrast to a sequence of variables that say nothing:
- Use Hyphens in your urls to separate words; no underscores.
- Keep urls like this short as possible (according to a study by Backlinko, shorter URLs tend to achieve higher rankings).
23. Add structured data
As Google continues to build on the semantic web, markup for structured data is becoming increasingly valuable.
If you are new to structured data, this is the place to start.
Schema.org's vocabulary provides formats for structuring data for people, places, organizations, local businesses, reviews, and more.
Structured data helps your organic rankings stand out from the rest of the search results. In the following example you can see how rating stars and the price information add value to the result.
Read the SEMrush Beginner's Guide to Structured Data to learn how you can use it to help you succeed. Use Google's structured data testing tool to find out if your website is already using this technology.
24. Check the page depth of your website
Ideally, your pages should be no more than three clicks below the home page level.
If this is the case, it is worth investing a small amount of time to revise your page structure and reduce the depth of navigation. The deeper a page is, the less likely it will be found by users and search engines.
In the Problems section of your Site Audit, you will find pages that require more than three clicks to be viewed.
25. Check temporary 302 redirects
302 redirects indicate that the page shift is only temporary, while status code 301 signals a permanent address change.
Often times, webmasters use 302s instead of 301s, and although Google has confirmed that 302s pass PageRank, any 302 redirects that are meant to persist should be converted to 301 redirects.
In the Site Audit, 302 redirects are clearly highlighted as pages with temporary redirects.
26. Find and fix forwarding chains and loops
Your website shouldn't send users and search engines through multiple redirects. All the less, forwardings are allowed to form a loop.
Redirects should simply go from side A to side B.
The site audit highlights any problems associated with forwarding chains and loops. Fix these by updating all the redirects in a chain to point to the end destination, or by removing and updating the one that is causing the loop.
Checklist for on-page SEO and content
Without great content and a good on-page experience, you will struggle to get your website ranked in search results and increase your organic traffic. This applies to websites as well as blog articles. With the Internet's fierce competition, bloggers must do everything in their power to outperform other blogs on key search terms.
Make sure your website meets the following requirements and focus on creating strong content for users, not search engines.
27. Find and fix duplicate, missing, and truncated page titles
Optimized page titles are part of the SEO basics. In fact, they are often the first thing an optimizer does to get higher rankings.
A title tells search engines what a page is about. It should therefore be individual and meaningful.
There should be no duplicate title tags. Titles that are too long are cut off on the search results pages, with the missing part being replaced by three dots.
Also, make sure that all pages have title tags filled with them.
Any potential problems with title tags are identified in your site audit and should be corrected by manual patching.
28. Find and fix duplicate and missing meta descriptions
Meta descriptions have not been a direct ranking factor for many years. However, they usually appear under the title of your website on search results pages.
Together with the title, it is your meta description that motivates a user to click on your entry rather than a competitor's. This means that it has a significant influence on your organic click rate.
If you don't create a meta description, Google will instead display some of the textual content of your page. However, this snippet may contain navigation text and other elements that are unappealing. If you use identical meta descriptions several times, it is likely that these are not individual texts that will stimulate clicks.
29. Find and remove duplicate H1 tags
The H1 tag of a page contains the main heading of its content. There should only be one per page.
The site audit indicates when pages contain more than one H1 tag. Take the time to make sure there is only one H1 heading on each page.
The most common reason for multiple H1 tags to appear is because the logo of a website and the main heading on the page are included in one.
An H1 tag should contain the main keyword of the page.
30. Optimize title tags, meta tags and page content
If you don't optimize your title tag or meta title and meta tags correctly, you are missing out on opportunities of being found for your main keywords and variations.
Go to the performance report in Google Search Console and identify keywords for each page that are getting a significant number of impressions, but only a few clicks and a low average position.
This usually means that your page is classified as relevant to the search queries in question and appears at least somewhere in the search results, but is not sufficiently optimized. Often part of the problem is that there are no keyword variations in the content and in important tags.
Revise and optimize your page with these aspects in mind, and you will almost certainly see an increase in clicks and rankings.
31. Perform a content audit and trim content
For some time now, SEOs have been making huge gains from trimming website content. Essentially, this means removing content that doesn't rank, doesn't add value, and shouldn't even be on the website.
We can hardly emphasize enough that the amount of a content audit and the removal of thin, duplicate or inferior content is massively underestimated.
Content that doesn't add value to your website has no place there - it's that simple. Learn from this example how to conduct a content audit to effectively carry out this process.
32. Make sure images have ALT tags (images SEO)
Also pay close attention to the images. From correctly naming your image files with descriptive file names to optimizing their size and quality, this aspect of search engine optimization is often neglected.
At the very least, make sure that the content-relevant images on every page of your website use ALT tags that aptly describe the content.
33. Improve internal linking
Internal links are one of the most neglected link building techniques in SEO marketing. If you invest some time in the internal linking of your website, you can almost always count on noticeable profits quickly.
Some marketers have a measurable impact elsewhere on their site with just one or two internal links from high authority pages.
Read this Internal Linking Optimization guide to identify pages that need inbound internal links or have authority that they can relay to other pages on your site.
The site audit creates a list of pages that have only one internal link so that you can add additional links to these pages.
34. Find and fix keyword cannibalism
Keyword cannibalism is one of the most misunderstood SEO concepts. Contrary to what many believe, the problem lies with the intentions that websites serve, not the keywords that appear in content and title tags.
When your website suffers from keyword cannibalism, it becomes difficult to be visible with contested terms, as it makes it difficult for search engines to pick the most relevant page.
Our keyword cannibalism guide explains the top methods to find and fix these problems.
35. Find and relink linked pages
Every page on your website should be linked from at least one other page.
If Google can't crawl a page through links on your site, it's likely not giving it the authority it could have. As a result, it also falls short of its potential when it comes to ranking.
If you provide pages in your sitemap that are not referred to by at least one link from another page, they will be flagged as "orphaned pages in sitemap" in the Site Audit.
Follow this information and link the listed pages on at least one other relevant page of your website.
36. Is your content up to date?
Contents age over time and lose their relevance. Refreshing them is one of the easiest tasks that you can implement to make big profits.
As Danny Goodwin of the Search Engine Journal comments: Updating your content can lead to better rankings, more links, more traffic, social shares and new customers for you to discover. Just don't forget "Marketing" in "Content Marketing"!
If the content on your page contains out of date information or could simply be brought up to date with a new perspective, time is well spent.
After all, outdated content typically doesn't provide the best user experience. So why should Google keep showing them in search results if they are not up to date?
Offpage SEO checklist
If you want to drive your SEO success in 2020, you can't ignore off-page SEO (partial link building). Many understand this to be just link building, but there is more to it than that - as you can see below.
37. Analyze the link profiles of your competitors
If you don't have insight into a competitor's link profile, you can't plan a link building strategy to outperform them.
As important as it is to analyze the content of your competitors, you should also invest resources to take a close look at their link profiles.
You can enter any URL into backlink analytics to analyze a competitor's link profile and assess the overall quality and authority of the links pointing to their website.
38. Perform a backlink comparison
Are you missing attractive link sources that your competitors can benefit from?
A comparative backlink analysis often results in attractive opportunities from your competitors' backlinks.
Enter up to five domains in backlink analytics to find out which domains refer to the pages of your competitors.
For example, if there is a resource that links all the vendors in your space except you, this is a good opportunity to ask for a link as well.
39. Turn mentions into links
Do you have a PR team that sends information to the press? Then there's a good chance you can find articles mentioning your business online without linking to it.
Our brand monitoring helps you to quickly identify such unlinked mentions of your brand.
40. Find new link building opportunities
There are always new backlink building opportunities that you can explore and capitalize on, but finding them takes time. With the right tools, you can save a big chunk of that and make the task a lot easier for yourself.
We recommend the Link Building Tool as a simple and uncomplicated way to keep discovering new opportunities and to find websites whose operators you can contact.
In just a few minutes, you'll have a slew of new backlink candidates and you can develop a solid strategy to compete.
41. Set up and optimize Google My Business
Offpage factors encompass far more than pure links, although these are quite important for ranking.
If you run a local business, make sure you are listed (and ranked) on Google My Business. Otherwise, you are giving away visits to your competitors.
It will undoubtedly take some time to optimize your GMB entry to a good standard and to maintain it continuously. But if you visit or receive customers at your location, there is no reason why you should not benefit greatly from it.
With that you're complete - our 41 Search Engine Optimization Best Practices that beginners as well as advanced SEO users can follow. We hope you, too, have found at least a few ways to improve the optimization of your website.
Additionally, if you can think of any key SEO checklist items that are part of your own workflow, we'd love to hear more about them in the comments.
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