The 2020 Complete SEO Checklist
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Are you looking for a complete SEO checklist 2020 for more brand visibility and increasing website traffic? Do you spend a lot of time trying different SEO approaches but none work? We have put together a comprehensive SEO checklist guide that we follow for our clients, which done right can skyrocket your website traffic.
The guide includes:
Pre-requisites Before You Start
Before we delve into the checklist section, it is important for you to prepare for it. The checklist before starting SEO is mentioned below will help you make the most of the steps.
1. Create a Sitemap
Sitemaps instruct the search engines where to find crucial content on your website, which they can crawl and index. This is how it looks:
Generally, you can find yours at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.
If you use WordPress, you can use Yoast, otherwise there are lots of sitemap generators on Google.
2. Create and add Robots.txt file to your website
This is a plain text file that tells the search engines where they can and cannot go on your website. It looks like this:
As you can see above, the robots.txt file includes a link to the sitemap which instructs the search engines where to look for, followed by some directions leading search engines not to crawl and index any pages which have ‘billing’ in the URL.
If you are a WordPress user, use Yoast (the next point will explain how to install it) to create and optimize this text file. If not, this generator can work well.
3. Install Yoast SEO (if using WordPress)
It is a free plugin for WordPress. It helps you create sitemaps, optimizes metatags, applies ‘noindex’ attributes at required spaces and lots more. So, we can positively say it makes tedious technical things less tedious.
4. Set up Google Analytics
5. Set up Google Search Console
It is the most popular and powerful tool for all webmasters. It allows you to track the performance in search and find out the keywords you rank for and also help you know the site improvements you can make.
How to use this SEO Checklist?
Before we move ahead with the main section of the SEO checklist, it is important to know how to use it. This checklist is like a shopping list of all the ingredients you require for a delicious chocolate cake. Using all the ingredients make you a perfect cake but some are more essential than others.
What we mean is, you do not need to implement everything that’s on the checklist. Following the key advice from every section and doing your best will help you achieve the numbers. Let’s delve into it:
Keyword Research Checklist
Keyword research is the essential ingredient of SEO. Think of it in this way, if you do not know what people are searching for, how will you be able to optimize your content for the search engines?
Follow these actionable elements:
1. Find the Target Keyword (Primary Keyword)
Each page on your website should be dedicated and targeted to one primary keyword. For example:
Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and Google Keyword Planner can help you find the right primary keyword.
2. Find Long-tail Keywords
Not every person searches for one thing in the same way. Basically, people look for the same thing in different ways. Google reaffirms that 15% of the searches are new and never searched before. This is where long tail keywords help.
Use Google autocomplete to find these keywords as you can see below. Put your primary keyword and you will find plenty of long-tail keyword variations.
You can even use Ahrefs’ search suggestions for finding long tail keywords.
3. Understand User’s Search Intent
There is hardly any time when you Google something and do not find what you are looking for in the first results. This is because Google understands what the user is searching for when they type a couple of words.
To rank for a particular keyword, you need to understand the search intent of the user. Let’s check out the current ranking results in SERPs for ‘SEO Checklist’ to help you understand better.
The results shown in the above image are all blog posts. There are no E-Commerce results for product pages because Google understands that is not what the user is looking for.
4. Questions People Are Asking
From analyzing the search intent, you can understand that the phrase ‘SEO checklist’ is an informational query where users are looking for guides. But do you know what questions do they have? What information should you include in your guide?
The ‘people also ask’ section’ in the search results can help you get ideas.
Also, the search results at the end of the page can help.
5. Ensure Ranking is Achievable
You would of course not want to put efforts into ranking a keyword which is unachievable. Well, it is not possible to not rank on any keyword. However, it can be too tough to crack in case your competition are some strong pages like:
The Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty will help you give a sense of it.
What if you find a difficult keyword? We would suggest you look for another easier to rank keyword.
On Page SEO Checklist
1. Use Short and Descriptive URLs
Google loves shorter URLs and they rank better as per the 2016 study of 2 million keywords.
Note – this is a correlation study.
Make sure your URL is short and descriptive giving an insight to the user on what they should expect when they click on it.
For instance, https://ahrefs.com/blog/free-seo-tools/, which tells users they would find free seo tools on the page. This URL also has one more factor to rank high- keyword – ‘free seo tools’.
2. Add the Keyword to Title Tag and Meta Descriptions
Including the keyboard in the title tag is important. Google now weighs click through rates on the search results to determine the ranking. Thus, make your title attractive so that most people click on it.
Including the keyword in the meta description does not determine the search engine ranking but can help you get more clicks, which matters.
Make sure to not stuff keywords only because you have to. This wouldn’t work for you positively. Instead, place it in a way that looks effortlessly natural.
3. Use Only One H1 on Page and Include a Keyword
Google stated that you could use as many H1 tags as you want on your page. But we think it is wise to not stuff the content with H1 tags because it is often used for title or most important heading and we assume there wouldn’t be many.
Including keywords in the tag can work positively for your website because:
Scanning – Placing the keyword in H1 tag helps you confirm that the visitor is in the right place and talks about the topic they Googled before arriving at your page.
Link Framing – Including the keyword in the H1 tag will increase your chances of receiving links that people link to your page with the target keyword. Ahrefs’ site audit can help you check the number of H1 tags you have on the page.
This video will help you to know more.
4. Link to High Authoritative Websites
Note – This is a correlation study.
Do not forget to link out to other pages, just ensure they are not your competitors, of course, relevant and have a good domain authority.
5. Link to Pages with Search Engine Optimized Anchor Text
Apart from including relevant links to authoritative websites in your content, Google even considers the language used in the hyperlink. By internal linking with anchor text to a relevant page, you are indicating Google what the content is about.
Make sure you stick to in content links because including keywords in global navigation can look like over optimization which Google doesn’t like a lot.
6. Optimize Your Images with Alt Tags
One of the most common mistakes that marketers make is not including the target keywords in their image alt tags.
70% marketers do not use an alt tag in images and 50% don’t even fill it but tags are important. The purpose of the tag is to tell the reader what the image is about if the image fails to load. Thus, making descriptive alt tags is better and should include a keyword.
Not just this, the alt tag can help your image rank in Google images.
7. Use Long Tail Keywords ‘Naturally’ in the Content
To your surprise, most top ranking page on Google also ranks for almost 1000 other keywords, which means that most of the traffic will not come from the target keyword.
A post of Ahrefs’ gets 6.5k monthly visitors from the United States as you can see from the image below.
But the primary keyword has a search volume of 1.2k and send 376 visitors a month to the website. This means that most of the traffic comes from the long tail keywords to that website.
Make sure you do not stuff the article with long tail keywords but sprinkle it throughout the content in a way that it looks natural and makes sense. Remember not to overdo because readability is the priority.
8. Add Schema Markup
Schema markup allows the search engines to understand the content. Also, it can affect the look of how it is displayed in the search results. Here is an example image below:
This is how it would look in schema markup.
Schema markup can increase the clicks and it is also not technical to implement. You can use any of these:
Choosing the primary keyword and a few secondary long tail keywords as well as doing other basic on-page SEO is crucial but not worth if the content is not up to the mark. Follow these tips to ensure high-quality content:
1. Write a Brilliant Introduction
If you fail to convince the reader that your web page offers what they are looking for in the introduction, then you wouldn’t think twice but hit the back button and look for another source.
You need to have an attractive intro and should include:
There is another reason why you should have a compelling introduction. No one will link to your content without reading it. Thus, to attract links (which is an important ranking factor), you need to engage the reader to your content.
Would you like to read a big paragraph? No one would. Thus, it is important to divide the content into bullet points, subheadings, add images etc.
In short, make your content readable with lots of images for a better understanding. You will notice that a lot on our blog.
3. Keep Sentences and Paragraphs Short
Did you know 50% of the US people read under an 8th grade level.
So make sure you target the entire population with your article. Using shorter sentences and paragraphs will help them understand better. Also:
4. Informative Content on the Topic
As you may know, the readers are on your website to get some information. Make sure your content is concise and there is no fluff.
Follow the E-A-T method that Google claims to be looking for in your content. E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the creator of the content.
Technical SEO Checklist
Often, technical SEO problems don’t hold back a website from ranking. Most people think that technical SEO is complex and tedious. The fact is, it isn’t.
This section focuses only on common SEO problems that you can solve. For in detail understanding, what this video (embed SEO Audit: How to Fix Your Website’s Technical SEO)
1. Find and Fix Crawl Errors
The crawl errors mean that Google is finding it difficult to view your content. If it doesn’t view, it will not make your page rank. Thus, fixing these issues is very important.
Find crawl errors in – Google Search Console – Coverage
2. Fast Website Speed and User Experience
Search engines value the sites that load fast and provides a great user experience. If your site loads slow, the user will lose patience and leave. This will not only have you lose customers but also drop your engagement rate.
Use GTMetrix to check page load time.
3. Mobile Responsiveness
It is very important to have a website that is mobile -friendly. Every person has a mobile and internet connection. Most searches happen on mobile devices, and you just cannot ignore this point.
Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool to know if the site needs to improve on mobile.
4. Find and Fix Broken Links
It is important to find and fix the broken links on your website. Its does not affect the ranking of your website but the user experience. Less than 2% of the websites ranking in the top 10 of Google searches have broken links.
Learn how to find and fix broken links here.
5. No Plagiarized Content
Make sure your website does not have duplicate content on it. This can be a problem for you because Google gets confused about which page to rank. It dilutes the value of your content. Find and fix duplicate content as a priority.
6. Find Bad Redirects
A 302 redirect is temporary. It is used for time-specific promotions and maintenance. The drawback of this redirect is that it will not pass all the SEO values to the new page like 301 redirect. So replace all the 302 redirects with 301 redirects.
7. Switch to a Secured Connection
If your website is HTTP, switch it to HTTPS today. Google has stated that HTTPS is a ranking factor. Since the study is too old, we suggest you to take it with a pinch of salt but not ignore. Most websites are switching to HTTPS and so should you.
Keeping the ranks aside, switching to a secured connection will protect yours and your visitors’ data which is very important.
Off Page SEO Checklist
Off page SEO is the most challenging task of Search Engine Optimization. The reason is that most of the things are not under your control and you have to rely on others to give you a link. Below are the few tried and tested off page SEO tactics that you can use:
1. Evaluate Competitor’s Links
Your competitors may have some backlinks if not many. It is a good thing for you as if a site is linking to your competitor’s site chances are that it would link to you as well.
Thinking how can this help you? Find the websites that are linking to your competitors with the help of Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool and enter all the competitors and you get a list of links. Look for the ones that you can replicate like guest posts etc.
2. Look for Unlinked Mentions
Unlinked mentions are when people and mention your brand name without linking back to you.
The image below will help you understand better.
You need to convert these unlinked mentions two linked mentions. All you need to do is just reach out to the author and request them to give you a link. Since they already know your brand, there are higher chances of them giving you a link.
If you do not know how to find unlinked mentions read this guide.
3. Contact Linkerati
Linkerati are those who would be interested in your content and also have the power to link you. Blogger outreach services can help you contact these right people.
If you are thinking, if it works or not, yes, it does. There is an example of a reply to an outreach email below.
Miscellaneous SEO Checklist
There are a few more things that you need to consider apart from those mentioned above to help you secure a place in the search results.
1. Hold Your Brand Page on all Social Media Platforms
Make sure to hold your brand page on social media platforms before anyone else gets that account. This is because you want to ensure all the results on the first page of Google are yours.
2. Setup Bing Webmaster Tools
Bing works well for many companies all over the world, especially the United States. It is just like Google Search Console for Microsoft’s search engine.
3. SEO Re-audit
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What comes under On Page SEO?
On page SEO means optimizing each web page on your website separately to rank higher and get more relevant traffic. It refers to optimizing both, HTML source code and content, on contrary to off page SEO which refers only to the links and external signals.
2. What are the most common issues for On Page SEO ranking?
The most common on page SEO issues are:
3. Is WordPress Better for SEO?
WordPress fits very nicely with Google as well as other search engines. It has lots of themes and plugins for SEO and is fast as well as mobile friendly. One of the best parts of WordPress is that it is secure and simple to learn. If you are looking for or a CMS for SEO, WordPress is perfect as it helps you build websites that rank.
4. How do I conduct Keyword Research?
There are various steps that you need to incorporate to conduct right keyword research. The steps are:
5. Should I start SEO before or after my website is built?
A well-made website ranks higher on search engines. It is wise to include the SEO elements during the design stages that make the process simpler. The basic considerations for a well-built site are load speed, number of web pages and navigation.
6. Is on page SEO still relevant in 2020?
Are you still confused if on page SEO is still alive? Yes, it is still relevant. Often it is overshadowed by off page SEO, but the fact is that it takes months to build backlinks while a keyword can be added to the tags in a minute and it optimizes instantly.
Tackling all the points in the checklist above will make you ahead of your competition for sure. Do not forget that SEO is an ongoing process and you need to stay updated.
SEO Checklist Infographic
It is well-known that every website requires an SEO plan to rank on Google, increase traffic and sales. This practical 2020 SEO Checklist infographic covers the 6 most essential best practices that you need to consider and implement while doing your website’s SEO.
This infographic will explain you the important White Hat SEO rules in brief that will get into your head in one go!