Use this checklist to ensure your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is performing effectively as part of your marketing strategy.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is critical to businesses of all sizes, with an estimated 5.8 billion searches made by users on Google every day.
Searching online has become second nature for many, meaning businesses need to ensure that SEO is a key part of their marketing strategy.
Since SEO is such an important aspect in the modern marketing landscape, we decided to put together a checklist to successfully manage your website rankings in search engine results.
One-off optimisation tasks
These tasks are focused on getting the right tools and pieces in place to begin your search optimisation journey. These tasks will only need to be performed once.
- Install Google Analytics on your website. This will allow you to gain insights into the sort of people who visit your website, monitor their on-site behaviour and track conversions. Here’s a guide by Google on how to set up your analytics account.
- Add your website to Google Search Console. This will allow you to monitor the ‘health’ of your website. The Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster Tools) tells you if your site pages are generating search errors, such as a 404 error or an uncrawlable page. It shows basic data including the keywords your website appears for and it allows you to submit an XML sitemap (see below). If you need to know how to set up a Google Search Console account, you can read this article.
- Use a tool like Google Search Console, Moz Tools, or Screaming Frog to check your website for any crawl errors. These can be old pages you’ve retired that search engines are seeing as errors (use 301 redirects to point these dead links elsewhere) and can also help you identify broken links and bad code throughout your site.
- Create and submit an XML sitemap to Google. An XML sitemap is a file that lists all of your website’s pages in hierarchical order. When you submit it to Google and other search engines, it allows them to understand the layout and organisation of your site, making it easier to crawl and rank. Here’s a guide on how to submit your XML sitemap to Google.
- Set up tracking codes to all important events on your website that you would like to monitor and report on, such as submitted forms, newsletter sign-ups or watched videos. You can use Google Analytics event tracking for simple behaviour, or more advanced tools like Mixpanel for more detailed tracking.
- Create a Google Places listing for your business so that your business appears as a knowledge graph for branded search results. Set one up here.
- Test your website’s loading speed using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool, as the loading time of your website impacts user experience and website ranking. This is where you can identify opportunities to improve the speed of your site where possible.
- Optimise your website so that it is mobile friendly. Since April 2015, Google has been providing ranking preference to websites that are mobile responsive with its ‘Mobilegeddon’ update. Be sure to do a Google search on your phone to see if your website receives a ‘mobile friendly’ tag in search results.
- Link your social media accounts to your website using these must-have meta tags.
- Set up Open Graph to ensure posts shared over social media are formatted correctly.
- Conduct keyword research and create a keyword list for your website using tools such as Google Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest. Keyword research tools provide data on search terms such as volume of search each month for the term and the competition of the term (the quality and quantity of sites you’re competing with for ranking). Tools may also provide suggestions for other related keywords to target. Generally speaking, it’s more effective to aim to target a wide range of less competitive terms as you’ll see a faster return on your time investment here. The keyword list you create should then be used to help guide your on-page optimisation.
- Allocate keyword categories (containing a broad set of terms based on your research) to each page on your website. This will allow you to better target keywords on each page and highlight which pages should be optimised for particular search queries.
- Ensure your website is using tags correctly throughout. A common misused tag in sites is the header tag (<h1>, <h2>, etc). As a rule, there should only be one H1 tag per page as this dictates the header of your page. Any subsequent header tags should be used to dictate hierarchy. For example, do not just jump to an H3 tag from an H1 tag, make sure you follow the numerical order and place an H2 tag before any H3 tags. This is important as Google uses header tags as one of its many ranking factors for both keywords and code quality.
- Make sure your primary keywords are used in your header tags (primarily H1 tags as Google places more weight on H1 titles).
- Keep your meta titles and meta descriptions within the recommended character counts. Meta titles should be under 55 characters and meta descriptions under 160 characters. This will prevent your meta from being truncated in Google search results. Additionally, ensure your meta is compelling with ‘calls to action’ to encourage click-throughs to your website from the search engine results page.
- All images on your site should include descriptive ALT tags with relevant keywords where appropriate. Search engines use ALT tags to interpret what an image is on a web page and use it as a ranking factor, associating the ALT tag with the content on the page. Ensure you don’t just stuff ALT tags with irrelevant messages, these are also used by screen readers that may be used by your visually impaired users.
- The URL path of your pages has also been identified by Google as an important ranking factor. Make sure your pages have human-readable URLs that include keywords (ideally matching your title and H1 tag). Remember that if you change any URLs, you will need to conduct a 301 redirect from the old path to the new, to prevent any 404 errors on your website.
- To increase conversions and make it easier for customers to contact you, add relevant enquiry forms on pages where it makes sense to do so. Ensure the forms don’t have too many fields and they have tracking code attached so you can monitor conversions within your analytics. Try to pair the message on the form with the page, as this will increase the relevance of the form and encourage users to enter their details.
- Add social media sharing buttons to your articles. This provides users with the opportunity to promote your content through their social media.
- Add a ‘related articles’ section to your blog. This will help drive visitors through your website, allowing them to engage with more of your content, encouraging them through the buying decision process and ultimately converting.
- Avoid misleading, confusing or vague navigation models or functionality in your site. Things like ‘mystery meat’ buttons (that require roll-overs to see what they do) or non-standard menus can confuse or frustrate your users.
- Make sure you are acquiring localised search results and rankings, as national search results will become less reliable.
- Consider trimming or enhancing low-quality website pages to improve the overall quality of your site. For example, you can test and meta no-index underperforming pages.
On-going SEO tasks
These are the SEO tasks that never end and are important to the growth of your website’s long-term rankings and site maintenance.
- Invest in creating regular, high-quality content for your site. This is one of the single most effective things you can do. For most sites this will be through a blog or news section. Regular article creation shows Google that your website is fresh and that it is constantly being maintained. Creating high-quality content will help engage your customers, give users a reason to link back to your website and help you cut through the noise in search engine results. At Assemblo, for example, we use experienced journalists and niche writers to create newsworthy content for our clients, ensuring success in search and social media, while providing great content for monthly email newsletters and resources for businesses to share with their customers and prospects.
- Conduct Google searches for long-tail keywords with good search opportunity. This might include questions customers may have asked (or you think they could ask) or a specific way they may search for a product or service. Look for opportunities where the quality of the top-ranking results is low, and then create content that answers those questions. Tools like Quora are great to see the kinds of questions people might be asking about your industry (and also provide an opportunity to share a link back to your site with the answer once you’ve written the article).
- Develop a content schedule to ensure your content is regular and supports all aspects of your business. Aim to create content that targets different stages of the customer buying process: awareness, interest, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post purchase. Look for ways to engage your customers, educate them and give back. Give relevant news and opinions, share your story and personality. Give people a reason to talk about your brand.
- For your articles, create meta titles and descriptions that are compelling and encourage click-throughs. Be sure to keep meta titles under 55 characters and meta descriptions under 160 characters.
- As well as linking to your social media accounts on your site, you should also set up an email marketing tool and offer users the ability to join your email mailing list.
- Try to understand searcher intent and structure your copy to respond to what people are looking for online. You should try to tailor your content to provide the best value to your readers, considering your copy, images and other elements.
- Look at ways to repurpose your content. If you write an article or blog post, then consider turning it into slides or creating a video or podcast with it.
- Conduct and publish unique research that is valuable to readers.
- Refine copy on your web pages to better reflect and utilise keywords. The quality of your content is the most important factor here, so ensure your pages are well written and easy to read (aim for a high Flesch Reading Ease score with a free tool like this). People are more likely to search with simple language, and it will also help people read your content, meaning they’re more likely to do so.
- Always experiment. Try different text, images, positioning of elements and order of your messages. Set benchmarks before making changes, then monitor and report each change to learn what works best.
- Use monitoring tools like Google Analytics and Heatmapping tools to see what users are doing on your site, how they move through it, what they are clicking on and what they pay the most attention to.
- Add schema markup to your website to help search engines find more informative results for users. Schema is a type of microdata or code that improves your site’s rich snippets, which helps your website to appear higher up in search rankings.
- Work on attracting featured snippets, which are selected search results that feature at the top of Google’s results. Your best chance at grabbing the featured snippet spot is to create a concise, informative and simple summary on the topic.
- Foster engagement and encourage comments on your site with a tool like Disqus. A rich discussion thread is definitely a quality indicator for search engines, but make sure the comments are legitimate and relevant – it’s vital to moderate spam. Use Google Search Console to find keyword opportunities. You can find opportunities by analysing your queries, click-through rates, impressions, and position.
On-site and off-site link building
- Conduct link building activities to acquire quality backlinks to your website and its content. Backlinks are seen as an extremely important ranking factor by Google, so it’s important to acquire as many relevant and high-quality back links to your website as possible. It’s VERY important to make sure the links you acquire are both credible and relevant otherwise your site will be penalised thanks to Google’s Penguin algorithm. Avoid nasty link farms and unrelated sites, instead aiming for links from industry bodies, government sites, credible blogs and news sources.
- Look for opportunities to contribute to forums and blogs. Where possible, you can share useful content to your site, but you have to contribute – don’t be irrelevant or sell too aggressively. There’s some great reading here from Rand Fishkin of Moz about how to best leverage this platform.
- Make sure your page doesn’t contain any dead ends. Where appropriate, insert cross-links to other pages and pieces of content on your own website to improve the user experience and drive visitors deeper into your site. Consider your site as a funnel and look for opportunities to drive people towards a sale. If you have a blog, ensure you include links to related articles.
- When writing content, make sure you link to other websites you’re talking about. Google not only sees this as a positive ranking signal, it may also result in you getting a backlink from the site you linked to.
- Conduct a competitor backlink analysis. Use a tool such as Linkio or the Open Site Explorer by Moz to analyse the backlink profile of your competitors to see if there are any opportunities for you to get additional backlinks to your site. This tool can also be used on your site to monitor your own backlinks.
- Further amplify your content to broader audiences. As well as your social media channels, places like LinkedIn and Medium are great places to share your content and push out your message further and reach new audiences.
- Where possible, look for opportunities to write guest content on third-party blogs, newsletters and publications. Industry bodies, blogs and even community groups are often looking for high-quality content and may even be willing to offer a link back to your site.
Things to avoid
There are some SEO/optimisation activities that used to be important but now are either ignored by Google or, even worse, may affect your rankings negatively. As a rule of thumb, if what you’re doing isn’t benefitting the user, it’s probably not a good idea.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Avoid keyword stuffing. You shouldn’t overuse keywords in your content. Google can see through this tactic and the lower overall quality of your writing will discourage users from reading your content.
- Focus on converting over keywords. Building on from the previous point, ensure your title tags are compelling and interesting and not just stuffed full of the keywords you want to rank on. You want to actually encourage people to click on and read your article more than just ranking in the top position.
- Since the Hummingbird update, Google punishes sites with multiple pages that only have a slightly different keyword topic. Each product or service you offer should have just a single page optimised to include the different keywords you’re aiming to rank on. A better way to broaden your search appeal is by creating a mix of unique articles interchanging the keywords you want to target and linking back to your product/service page from these.
- Try to avoid low quality links in your content. While it’s good to help users move through your site with relevant cross-links throughout your content, avoid over doing it. Google is good at picking up on bad, spammy links in your content.
- Avoid low-quality directories, paid links, link networks, etc. While this used to be a key tactic for SEO, Google has been introducing updates to punish sites hard for bad quality backlinks. As a rule of thumb, if the site wouldn’t provide any value or interest to a user, it’s probably one to stay well away from.
Chat to the SEO experts at Assemblo
Ongoing site maintenance and optimisation should be an integral part of any marketing strategy. As more people begin their buying process online through search engines and social media, ensuring the visibility of your brand online is a huge priority. SEO is complex, it takes time, strategy and experimentation to get things right.
It’s also important to research and carry out SEO activities that matter to your business and your industry. There are so many different SEO tactics and activities out there, however some of these may not apply to your specific industry.
As an ever-changing art, best-practice changes frequently, so be sure to partner with a specialist that works in this space and understands how to adapt your strategy to best meet these changes.
As a full-service marketing agency based in Melbourne, Assemblo offers extensive SEO and digital marketing expertise that can help your website perform at its best.
To learn more about our SEO and digital marketing services, give us a call on (03) 9079 2555 or drop us a note via the contact form below.