Getting your website optimized for search engines can be an overwhelming task, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. However, following a step-by-step SEO checklist can make this task easier and more impactful.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the crucial steps you must take to get your website ranked on the 1st page of Google’s search results.
1. Create a sitemap
This is a foundational step in your SEO journey. The sitemap you make using some Wordpress plugin like Yoast, or any other sitemap generator, should be available at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml and it helps search engines to find content on your website.
Here's an example of what a sitemap for consoleplus.co might look like to start out:
Make sure that every page you want search engines to know about is listed in your sitemap. Also, make sure that ones that you don't want showing up in search are not in the sitemap.
2. Install Google Analytics
If you want to create a successful SEO strategy, you’ll need some data to inform your decisions. The best free tool that gets you data about the website’s visitors is Google Analytics. It will tell you not only how many people have visited your website, but also how they’ve interacted with it: what pages did they visit and for how long, where did they come from, etc.
You only need to sign up for Google Analytics here and then paste the GA tracking code on your website.
3. Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a must-have addition to Google Analytics. It’s there to help you understand how your website ranks in Google’s search. For example, it can show you a simple linear graph where time is on the x-axis and the number of clicks/impressions your website gets is on the y-axis. It can also warn you about different on-page issues that hold you back, such as loading speed.
BONUS TIP: You can use Console Plus which is a great tool to help you visualize, filter, and share GSC data with your team.
4. Find primary keywords and long-tail variants
Here’s where the fun starts with SEO. In order to rank high, every page needs to target some primary keyword such as “affiliate marketing.” It’s also good to add some long-tail variants as sub-headings, for example, “how to pick a niche for affiliate marketing.”
When searching for the primary keyword, you can use a free tool called Google Keyword Planner which gives you an estimate of monthly search volume for all the keywords. After finding the primary keyword, type it into Google search and look for long-tail suggestions.
5. Write a compelling title tag and description
You can put your primary or long-tail keyword in the title tag and description, but you don't have to.
It’s more important that the title tag and description persuade the user to click through to your site. After all, the title will be the main thing a user reads in the search engine results page (SERP).
Here's an example of Google search results for "how to set up a sitemap". Notice how the titles for each page are effective at summarizing what is on the page.
6. Optimize images with alt tags
Alt tags are descriptions for images. Google and other search engines use them to figure out what those images are all about. Adding an alt tag can help your website rank in Google Images and also provide better user experience when an image fails to load offering some context around it.
7. Link to relevant resources
In this case, relevant sources can be internal or external.
In case of external resources, you can link to general authority websites such as Wikipedia, or niche authority websites relevant to your topic. Internal linking to your other pages is also recommended. Just be careful here and stick only to relevant sources, both internally and externally.
8. Write short sentences and paragraphs
Reading on-screen is already difficult, so you don’t want to make it harder by writing walls of text and long, incomprehensible sentences. Make your text easy to scan and understand. Use sub-headings and bolded text. Your readers will appreciate that.
9. Use long-tail keywords throughout the content
Long-tail keywords are those that have lower monthly search volume. They are usually made of three or more words, but that’s not the rule. What is important with long-tail keywords is that they can generate a lot of traffic.
For example, when optimizing your page for “affiliate marketing”, you should include long-tail variants such as “affiliate marketers” or “affiliate marketing website”. You never know how people will search for your content. Maybe they’ll use some long-tail keyword variant you didn’t even know about.
10. Fix any crawl errors
Search engines use crawling in order to understand your website and decide if they should include it in their search results. That’s why every crawl error can make fatal damage to your SEO success. If search engines can’t crawl your website, they won’t include it in their results and users won’t visit it.
Luckily, Google Search Console has your back. It will warn you about any crawl error that appears on your site.
11. Make sure the site is fast and mobile-friendly
As Google stated on its website, “The web is being accessed more and more on mobile devices.” That’s why making your website mobile-friendly is a non-negotiable part of SEO strategy.
You can use this free Mobile-Friendly testing tool to check if your website works well on mobile devices.
Here's what the results for the Console Plus landing page looks like:
The other very important thing is page speed. It’s not the most important thing for SEO, however, it makes the whole website better from the UI standpoint. And good UI is something every website should strive for.
You can check your page speed with many different tools, but we recommend Google Lighthouse.
12. Replicate your competitor's links
Now that you’ve got on-page SEO in order, it’s time to build backlinks that will pass some authority from older domains to your new one. There are several methods for doing this, but one that can give you a few quick wins is to replicate your competitor’s links.
You can do that by using a free backlink checker like this one, or by upgrading to its paid version which makes the process of finding links much easier.
In any case, you should look for the domains that are pointing to your competitors and then reach out to those bloggers/website owners. You should ask them to do the same for you. Not an easy task, but definitely a very valuable one.
Starting with, and especially winning the SEO game is not easy, as I already mentioned. Search engines are constantly evolving and only the best SEO practitioners are able to stay on top of everything.
But I believe this checklist will help even the absolute beginner start somewhere. Later, it’s mostly a matter of learning by trial and error.
That's all for now! Thanks for reading, and good luck on your SEO journey!