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This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully there is enough to help you win over some of the most tedious search engine optimization issues.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential part of a website’s design, and one all too often overlooked. The most beautiful, spectacular site in the world won’t do anyone much good if people can’t find it on Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo).
Implementing SEO best practice doesn’t just give you the best chance possible of ranking well in search engines; it makes your websites better by scrutinizing quality, design, accessibility, and speed, among other things. It’s a daunting world for those who aren’t familiar with it (and even those who are at times), so this checklist breaks down key factors to consider when undertaking an audit.
For an overview of the SEO community — publications, thought leaders, podcasts, documentation, forums, things like that — I humbly point you towards the Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
Eat your sprouts, cross your i’s and dot your t’s, and use descriptive meta titles. Every web page should have a meta title and meta description. The title should tell people and web crawlers alike what the page is about. Meta descriptions are purely for browsers’ benefit — crawlers don’t look at them. Think of them as little blurbs for when that page pops up in search results. Entice the reader.
A depressing number of websites don’t do this properly. It’s so easy, and so helpful. Every image on your website should have alt text describing what the image shows. This helps crawlers understand your visual content, and allows screen readers to describe what visually impaired web browsers cannot see. Alt text also improves your chances of appearing in image search results.
A few years back scientists discovered that ancient Roman concrete gets stronger over time. Internal links are a prime example of a similar phenomenon in SEO. When you create a new website, linking to other, relevant parts of your site makes for a solid foundation. Continuing to do it over time makes it even stronger. Not only do internal links make websites easier to browse, but they also provide crucial context for search engine crawlers. Each one makes a site’s SEO that little bit stronger.
Some SEO types get a bit precious about ‘link juice’, loath to directing people away from their own site. While this is great for shoving people down funnels, it’s pretty slimy behavior. It’s bad for readers and it’s bad for SEO. If you cite something, link to it. If you quote someone, link to the source. Citing one’s sources is writing 101, and again, it provides context to your own content. It helps search engines to understand the type of website you are, and what sort of company you keep. Scour through your copy and make sure the appropriate external links are there.
This is so simple and so, so important. Just like meta titles and descriptions show what a page is about, following best practice for HTML makes page structure clear and easy to understand. Use the right tags in the right places, make sure headings are arranged logically. A great way to do this is to strip away CSS and look at pages in pure HTML. If the structure isn’t obvious there then there’s work still to do. Google’s free Lighthouse assessment is good at spotting problems of this kind.
Semantic markup is becoming increasingly important to SEO, and web design in general. It makes your website’s content machine readable, which in turn makes it easier to crawl, understand, index, and return as sophisticated search results. There are plenty of plugins to help with this, or if you’re feeling daring the markup is simpler than you might think to add yourself. Schema has emerged as the language of choice for search engines, with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others all collaborating on its development. Our guide on structured data is a good place to start.
Every website should have a site map. It’s the ultimate reference point for web crawlers on how pages are organized and where to find all the content you want to be found. What would a metro system be without a map? Or a library without clearly marked sections? Take the time to do this properly as doing so will save you a lot of time in the long run. A badly organized, unmapped website is typically unpleasant for both people and crawlers to browse.
This is a little one, but well worth standardising early. Use clear, succinct URL structures. This denotes both site structure and page content.
www.mywebsite.com/book-reviews/catch-22-joseph-heller/is infinitely clearer than
www.mywebsite.com/js7gw788. One is clear to people and algorithms alike; the other is a random jumble of letters. Take the time to establish formats for different post types then stick to them.
Search engines like to see variety on pages — provided it loads quickly. A blog post with relevant images, audio clips, and an embedded video is likely to be more engaging than a plain text blog post. Never add these things just for the sake of adding them, but don’t be shy about getting creative. This is the internet; you can do just about anything.
Whatever media assets you have on-site, for goodness sake optimize them. Compressing image files is the most obvious example here, and often overlooked. That 2GB photograph from your family vacation might look sharp as the banner image on your photography portfolio — too bad nobody will stick around long enough for it to load. In a mobile-first world, super-high-resolution images are seldom necessary. Compress your images. Stagger CSS rollout. Your website has to be quick.
HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) improves the connection security between users and a website. Google and other search engines punish websites that don’t have it. Have HTTPS. Most web hosting providers throw it in for free. If they don’t, get it, or change providers.
Credibility plays a huge part in SEO, and backlinks are a major indicator of trust. If reputable, relevant sites are linking to your site, that makes you more credible in your field. Doing this properly takes time and dedication. Nobody owes you backlinks — you have to earn them. Earn. Not buy. Black hat approaches to backlinks (spamming comment sections, paying for them, etc.) will get you nowhere. If anything search engines will catch on and punish the offending site.
Testing And Monitoring
- Site Speed
You can’t really be sure of site speed until it’s live. Run your site through speed testing tools like PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix. Search engines like fast websites and dislike slow ones. So do people. Keep an eye on this over time. Just because a site was fast six months ago doesn’t mean it’s fast now, since you’ve been unloading uncompressed images again. Tut tut.
In the long term SEO is as much about monitoring as it is about on-site changes. There are numerous free tools available for tracking search analytics. Google has Search Console (GDPR friendly) and Analytics (not always so GDPR friendly). Microsoft has the Bing panel. Then there are third party outfits like Moz, SEMRush, and Screaming Frog. As mentioned at the start of this checklist, don’t drown in numbers. Ease yourself in with essential tools and explore from there as your priorities become clearer.
Boiling down your SEO performance into regular reports makes progress more manageable. Be it weekly, monthly, or quarterly, these are vital for staying focused on your goals… and achieving them! Keeping tabs on your performance over time means you can nip problems in the bud, and make proactive adjustments to your approach.
Not everyone has the time or resources to go through a full audit of their website’s SEO. That’s ok, and it doesn’t mean you have to fall behind. The following tips are particularly easy to implement, can return quick results, and allow you to keep an eye on your search performance long term.
- Basic Analytics
If you’re completely new to SEO there are few better ways to get started than getting basic analytics up and running. By this, we mean Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Both are free and easy to add to a site. Having these up and running will immediately give you a better sense of your SEO situation.
- Purge Low Quality Content
Producing great content takes time and a lot of work. Deleting rubbish content takes seconds. Your website is the sum total of its pages. If a site has a lot of ‘thin’ content, that’s going to weigh down the good stuff. Go through your existing content and honestly assess whether it’s worthy of the standard you want to live up to. If the answer’s no, maybe you should delete it. Doing this can give your SEO an immediate bounce. Depending on the site, purging low quality content can be like removing a ball and chain.
- Optimize Images
A great way to speed up your website is to properly compress your images. If this isn’t something you’ve thought about before you may be slightly mortified by how big some of the files are. It can be tedious, but it has to be done and is an immediate way to speed up your site speed. And make sure they’ve all got alt text, while you’re at it.
Please note that this cheat sheet will be updated occasionally, so if you think anything is missing and should be added, feel free to let us know! We’ll consider it for inclusion the next time we update the list.