Navigating SEO—especially for the first time—can be a daunting experience. There’s a lot you need to know to ensure that your business gets the visibility (and search engine recognition) it deserves.
But when you’re not quite ready to hire an expert (or you just want to know what it’s all about), you have to start somewhere.
To that end, this basic SEO checklist will help you hit the ground running. You’ll find general guidelines and best practices, actionable tips, and links to tools you can use to get started. In no time, you’ll have your brand’s SEO dialed in—and it’s all smooth sailing from there.
How to Use this Basic SEO Checklist
Before we jump in, take note: diving into SEO isn’t a single-day project for any entrepreneur or small business owner. Especially if this is your first foray into search engine optimization, take it slowly. Keep up the momentum—and enthusiasm—by incorporating one checklist item into your brand each day or even week.
Remember that SEO is always evolving—which means nothing stays static for long, even in terms of your SEO ranking. The hard work never really stops—it just changes. So, prepare to enact these SEO steps—and then keep honing them to grow and evolve with your business.
Let’s get started!
Tl;dr? Skip ahead here.
- How to Use this Checklist
- Dial in Your Keywords
- Download a Plugin for Easy SEO
- Confirm Site Security
- Add SEO Descriptions
- Grab All the (Free!) Google Tools
- Try Other Webmaster Tools, Too
- Create a Sitemap
- Get Serious About Blogging
- Follow Internal and External Linking Best Practices
- Always Optimize Images
- Get a Little Social (Media)
- Be Your Own Best Customer
- Final Action Item
First Step? Dial in Your Keywords
What good is search engine optimization if you don’t know what keywords to optimize for? This is the first step toward mastering SEO on your brand website. Before you even write a single word on your blog or post an About Me page on your site, you need to know both yourself and your audience.
You might think this sounds more like content marketing than SEO. And it’s true that SEO and content marketing work together, so of course they overlap. You should also be aware of technical SEO—which is the side of optimization that’s focused on search engine crawlers rather than consumers.
But the first step in getting a handle on your SEO is knowing what you have to offer your audience (that valuable, relevant thing they want so badly) and how they’re going to come looking for it.
Keyword research should be your first step in the SEO process.
You’ll need to know things like your audience’s search intent, so thinking like a consumer can help here. Then, you’ll take to Google and other sites to check out what questions people are asking.
How to Research Keywords
To choose the right keywords for your brand, explore tools like:
- Google Trends (it lets you check out popular searches, complete with graphs) or Google Search Console (it’s like your website’s SEO command center—more on that later).
- AlsoAsked.com, a free tool that can uncover what people are looking for online.
- Keyworddit—your super-simple solution to culling Reddit for keyword ideas.
Even a simple Google search (remember: think like a consumer) can help you narrow down keywords and phrases that are helpful for your cause. Looking at Google’s helpful “also asked” questions is a good move, too.
Once you know how people are searching, you can answer their request with keywords that will deliver them to your digital doorstep. Well, once you sprinkle those keywords all over every element of your digital marketing strategy and website, that is.
Action Item #1: Research about five keywords to target within your webpage/blog. Use a variety of the resources above to test the waters and see how results vary.
Download a Plugin for Easy SEO
Plugins are an excellent way to keep track of your SEO and get a little support when it comes to the minutiae like meta description lengths and keyword counts. These tools are handy whether you’re writing up a webpage or typing a blog post.
All SEO plugins offer up reminders and tips on how to hit all the relevant search engine optimization targets. Plug a blog post keyword into Yoast, for example, and it will tell you how many times to use the word in your copy, plus make suggestions on where to position the keyword in your headline.
Other features with SEO plugins include things like:
- Automatic XML sitemap generation
- SEO redirect management
- Easy title/description additions
Yoast is the most commonly used SEO plugin, especially among WordPress users. It’s user-friendly, simple to navigate, and doesn’t cost a thing.
Alternatives to Yoast and Other SEO Plugins
Of course, if you’re not using WordPress, things get complicated. Your options are limited with other platforms.
There’s no SEO plugin available for Squarespace, for example. Weebly, too, lacks plugin compatibility, instead giving the advice that you should approach SEO the old-fashioned way.
Keep that in mind if you’re preparing to build a business site.
It’s also worth noting that doubling up on SEO plugins isn’t a good idea. To avoid screwing up your settings, only use one plugin for your optimization efforts (and make sure it’s a good one).
Action Item #2: Download the Yoast plugin. Or, find an alternative plugin or extension (like a Chrome extension).
Confirm Site Security
With all the hacking and cybersecurity violations that wind up in the news, site security is an important SEO note. All the search engine optimization techniques in my toolbelt won’t help your website earn consumers’ and search engines’ trust without basic site security coverage.
Fortunately, you don’t need a burly bouncer to ensure your website’s security. You only need an SSL certificate to prove that your site is secure and trustworthy.
What the Heck is an SSL?
As GoDaddy—a web hosting provider—explains, the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is a digital ‘thing’ that authenticates your website’s identity. It also encrypts the information sent to the server. So, your visitors’ information—should they input any—remains secure.
When web surfers see an invalid SSL, they’re less likely to trust your site (and, therefore, you).
Typically, your web host will offer SSL certification when you choose your domain name, register it, and start paying for hosting. But there are also sites that will issue an SSL separate from your web host. Ideally, you should spring for the package deal with your web host. Either way, enabling the SSL certificate is a necessary step for site health and SEO.
Action Item #3: Check whether your web host included an SSL certificate in your signup package. If not, get one ASAP (Google has some good advice on how to get an SSL certificate for your domain).
Add SEO Descriptions
Every page on your website needs a unique SEO title and a meta description. A meta description is like a short preview of the webpage—and it’s what Google (and other search engines) use to categorize your site.
Meta descriptions should be 160 characters or less, and they need to be highly descriptive for the best SEO results. Think short, readable, and relevant. Consider both machine and human audiences, too—what works for one might not be legible for the other. Page optimization takes both sides into account, so you get titles that make sense and get some keyword action, too.
Action Item #4: Go over each webpage on your site and add SEO descriptions.
Grab All the Google Tools
When you’re trying to rank on Google, it makes sense to use the tools they offer to make it happen. And while Google’s not going to make it easy on you when it comes to your on-site SEO efforts, they do have some pretty nifty tools that help illuminate the path.
Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics is one of the top analytics tools for monitoring your website. This invaluable asset will tell you:
- How many site visitors you have
- What pages are most popular
- Which blog posts gain the most traction
- How long your visitors spend on each page
- Whether your traffic is converting
- Stats on mobile versus desktop site performance and traffic
Figuring out Google Analytics should be one of the first things you do (hence its position on this basic SEO checklist) for SEO. You can learn how to install Google Analytics pretty quickly—and start using the features right away.
Use Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another small but mighty tool from Google (it’s almost like they want you to succeed with SEO). It’s a free service with monitoring (plus troubleshooting help) for your Google Search results ranking.
You’ll see search performance stats and where you rank for your chosen keywords.
Check Out Google Trends
As I noted above, Google Trends is a robust tool for tracking down the right keywords for your brand. You can even scope out trends in different languages and across separate regions. Search volume is also reflected in graphs—which sounds complicated but is actually a really helpful way to visualize keyword popularity.
Get Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is another cool tool you can use to support your website. This feature lets you deploy code to your website. It might sound scary, but for a lot of tools and customizations to your site, inserting code will be necessary.
Instead of taking risks with poking around in the code on your own, you can use GTM to add code seamlessly. What’s awesome about GTM is that it works with WordPress and sites on Shopify and Squarespace.
Action Item #5: Explore all the Google tools—you’ll need to create a Google account if you haven’t yet.
Try Other Webmaster Tools, Too
SEO experts often forget that there’s more than one search engine out there. Sure, Google may be the most well-known. But there are others, like:
So while Google may be a priority in terms of your ranking and keyword efforts, consider exploring other search engines, too. Not all offer comprehensive tools like Google—but there are Bing Webmaster tools you can try.
Action Item #6: Check out other search engines besides Google. See where your website ranks (or where you’d like it to).
Create a Sitemap
Some SEO plugins will automatically create a sitemap for you. But what is a sitemap, and why does it matter? Plus, how can you get one if your plugin doesn’t do it automatically (or if you lack a plugin altogether)?
In short, a sitemap is a visual layout of all your website’s pages. While it’s neat to look at a hierarchical chart of your webpages, the purpose of the structured listings-type sitemap is to make it easier for search engines to “get around” your site.
Basically, Google (and other search engines) consult the sitemap to see how your webpages are organized. Then, the search engines can effectively crawl the site for the information consumers are looking for.
You can find your sitemap without a plugin, typically by navigating to yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml. As Google explains, you can build and submit a sitemap yourself, or choose a third-party tool to do it for you.
Action Item #7: DIY your sitemap—or find someone (or some tool) to do it for you (the XML Sitemaps Generator is a free generator tool).
Get Serious About Blogging
You can build a website, optimize it, and get clients to click. But content is a priority these days, and your clients want consumable content that’s valuable to them in some way.
The easiest way to deliver what your customers want is via a blog post. Whatever your area of expertise, niche, or industry, you can share something valuable with your readers—at no cost. And when you start looking at how to cash in on your loyal following, you’ll already have a ton of valuable content to reel them in with.
Of course, you can’t approach blogging as a money maker. Instead, focus on offering up quality content that your readers crave. Here’s how.
Write Good Stuff
Yes, it seems overly simple, but it’s true: you have to give them the good stuff to gain their trust.
- Write blog posts without a piece of actional advice or a takeaway
- Stuff keywords in just to get a post or page to rank
- Add “fluff” to your writing just to reach an SEO-plugin-recommended word count
- Spin unoriginal content
Instead, think about what your consumers want (you already know this bit if you did your keyword research). Then, craft meaningful content around the things they care about.
Scratch what I said earlier about content being crucial: the user experience is more important. So make your site and blog posts user-friendly and packed with quality information.
Action Item #8: Brainstorm some topics you’re an expert in that are relevant to your small business or brand.
Establish Categories and Tags for Posts
Once you write that good stuff, you need to organize it in a way that makes it easy for readers to find their way around. Placing each post in a category and adding relevant tags helps human searchers to navigate. But it also helps search engines crawl the site.
Think about a handful of categories you can create for your brand. Don’t go overboard—three to five might be plenty, as long as they’re relevant and niche-specific. Then, add your tags. Don’t get excessive with tags, either. Consider what tags your readers would find relevant or what topics they may want to read more about and start there.
Meta tags are another noteworthy element, but one that the eye can’t see. Meta tags are embedded in your site’s HTML code, but they help search crawlers navigate your site. Typically, you don’t want to mess with these tags—they automatically generate when you create a page or a post. Of course, with some expert help, you can custom-tailor those, too.
Action Item #9: List four or five categories for your site. Make a list of four or five tags for each of those categories. Aim to apply them to future blog posts.
Optimize Every Blog Post
Hopefully, you already have tons of high-quality content to share with your clients. But for best SEO results, you’ll want to optimize every blog post.
What does optimizing a blog post mean? You need keywords, sure, but each post should also include:
- Actionable, in-depth information
- Relevant keywords, including long tail keywords as applicable
- On-page SEO elements like title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords in your headers
- Images with appropriate file names—not generic ones
- Internal links to other [relevant] posts on your site
- External links to relevant posts on other websites
- A relevant URL (preferably with multiple keywords)
- A call to action at the end—inviting the reader to learn more, book an appointment, or make a purchase
Action Item #10: Outline the types of posts you’ll create, what keywords you’ll use, and relevant links (both internal and external) for each category.
Add New Content (Often)
Don’t invest a ton of time and effort in getting your website to a high ranking—just to let it tumble because you go too long without posting. Avoid duplicate content too—that’s almost worse than no content at all, according to search engines.
Keeping your website and/or blog up to date confirms with search engines that the site is still active. An active site ranks better than an outdated one, and it will take consistent output to sustain your site’s top marks.
And while you’re creating new content, make sure you’re following the on-page SEO best practices and include tags, accurate URLs with keywords, and everything else we’ve covered above.
Action Item #11: Create a content calendar for blog post-production—or delegate to someone who can handle the task. Or, plan three months of blog content in an afternoon.
Follow Internal and External Linking Best Practices
This step applies to both your blog and your website as a whole. Internal and external links—again—help both crawlers and your site’s human visitors.
Internal links connect back to your website—sending readers to other relevant pages, posts, and resources. These are essential for SEO ranking because the connections aid search engines in organizing your site.
External links are also crucial, but for a different reason. Link building—linking to other content creators in your industry—can help establish your website as reputable source of information. Google likes authority, so connecting with authoritative sites can help boost your site’s rank.
The key to external links is to only choose relevant and helpful sources of information. Don’t send your reader off on a wild goose chase just because you wanted to link to a big-name site.
Take the time to learn about link building before you start hyperlinking every other entrepreneur you know.
Collaborate—Don’t Scheme—to Get Links
Reaching out to other content creators can also help improve your ranking. By getting permission from other site owners to link to their content, you might earn a linkback in return. This can be beneficial for both sides—but there are rules against trading links for profit.
For example, private link networks are just one no-no that falls under black hat SEO. Black hat SEO breaks search engine rules to try and boost a site’s ranking—and this isn’t something you want to risk. Typically, once a search engine discovers your bad habit, you get bumped from your ranking and you may even receive a penalty. It can be hard to recover from such a blow—so stay on the up-and-up with your site’s SEO practices.
Action Item #12: List at least ten websites you could link to for quality content—and potential collaboration.
Always Optimize Images
While I skimmed over images with respect to blog posts, discussing image optimization on its own is essential, too. When you’re publishing a blog post, tagging your images with keyword-focused file names and explanatory alt text is a smart move.
Keywords are always great, of course. But the alt text has a dual purpose. First, it helps search engines to further home in on your subject matter and keyword ranking. Second, alt text promotes site accessibility to users who use assistive screen readers and other adaptive technology.
But where will I find these images? You ask.
The good news is that there are tons of websites that offer free images for your site and blog. Here are a few good options:
Download an image from any free website, save the file with your preferred keywords, and you’re set.
Action Item #13: Begin exploring relevant (and free) images for your website. Brainstorm tags and alt text based on your blog content and niche.
Get a Little Social (Media)
Regardless of your industry or business niche, you know how significant social media is for your brand’s trajectory. People flock to social media in droves to share what they love, hate, and can’t get enough of.
But how will those folks share your content on social media if you don’t offer them a simple way to do it?
The answer is, they won’t. So, the solution is to incorporate social sharing buttons on your website—on every blog post you publish. There are tons of helpful plugins to get social sharing up and running on your site.
Choose Your Social Media Platforms Wisely
The trick to social sharing buttons is knowing where your audience likes to share and meeting them there.
For example, if your brand is all about beautiful home interiors, Pinterest might be the perfect place for you. But if makeup tutorials are your jam, Instagram might be a better home for your likes and shares. Of course, some platforms are amiable to just about any industry or niche—like Facebook.
Decide which social sharing options you want on your site—or grab them all—and check to make sure they function properly. You’ll also want social sharing buttons on your website to link to your branded social media pages. Confirm that these links work—or you could be missing out on new followers (and profits).
Action Item #14: Choose the social media platforms where your brand has (or will have) a presence. Link up your site’s social buttons and install any applicable plugins for sharing buttons.
Be Your Own Best Customer
No, I don’t mean fake sales or try to visit your site anonymously to increase your site ranking (it doesn’t work anyway). But you should visit your website often.
Skim through blog posts (check for errors and keyword issues or opportunities). Check whether your meta descriptions are cut off or if they give enough of an overview of your page. Search for your site or brand and see where you rank. Click your social media links—and check for other broken links throughout the site.
Visually inspecting your website can help you find any performance issues—things like slow page speed—and highlight any glaring SEO problems. It can also provide necessary insight into the user experience and whether it’s ideal or not.
Final Action Item
Now that you’ve read through the basic SEO checklist and possibly implemented some of the strategies here, how do you feel?
It’s normal for your mood to range from completely frazzled to confidently optimistic. Of course, if you’re on the less exuberant end of the spectrum, I can help. While you can implement these action tips on your own, hiring an SEO expert can mean faster—and more significant—results.
If you want to put all the work on someone else’s plate, I offer options for everything from keyword research to management of your SEO strategy from start to finish.
Ready to work with me? Let’s chat!