On-page optimisation is a huge part of SEO, and an SEO checklist help ensure that you do everything perfectly!

This guide can be used whether you are creating a brand new site, or going through a website migration or redesign.

If you want more traffic to your website you need to be taking on-page optimization seriously. Unless you are a non-profit blog, more traffic typically means more sales, more clients, or more commission from whatever

We have split this checklist in some easy reading sections.

  1. The Initial Setup & Laying the Foundations
  2. Audit Checklist for newly written content, and reviewing previously published content

Initial Setup & Laying the Foundations

Before your charge ahead and start optimising your individual pages and posts, it is worth taking a moment to ensure you have some high-level housekeeping done. Laying these basic foundations will get you off to a good start, before we drill down and really begin to optimize your content.

The great thing about the recommendations in this section is that they only have to be done once. Typically an experienced onpage optimizer will do these from the day the website is launched.

But don’t worry if you haven’t done these already, and your website is a few months or years old. You can get started on these today!

1. Install an Analytics Tool (most likely Google Analytics)

Every website should have some sort of analytics tool installed on it. Ideally this would be setup and ready from the day the website is launched.

An analytics tool lets you see exactly what is happening on your website. Among hundreds of other metrics, the key ones to note are where your website visitors are coming from, and what they are looking at.

These two basic bits of information let you know where to focus your marketing efforts, and what pieces of content on your website are getting the most eyeballs.

Most individuals, small business, and medium businesses use Google Analytics as it is free and easy to setup. Larger businesses by opt for alternatives such as Adobe Analytics, which can come with a very large price tag.

We recommend signing up for Google Analytics if you haven’t already, and installing this on your website.

2. Install Google Search Console

Google Search Console (also often referred to by it’s old name Google Webmaster Tools) is another essential tool to have installed on your website. Google Search Console gives you extra valuable metrics that Google Analytics doesn’t.

You will be able to view all the websites that link to your site, how many times Googles crawler visits your website, and any manual penalties the Google team may have placed on your site.

There is also valuable data about how many times your website’s pages have displayed in the Google search result pages, and what your position and click through rate is.

This data helps you keep the finger on the pulse of your website and see exactly what is happening.

3. Ensure your XML sitemap is Submitted to Google

Using Google Search Console you can tell Google exactly where your XML sitemap is located.

An XML sitemap is a file hosted on your server that lists all the pages you want Google to view and index. It also sneaks in a little extra information about how frequently you update your site.

4. Create your Robots.txt file (and submit to Google)

Robots.txt is like the guard that stands at your websites front door, and tells web crawlers what pages to look at and what pages to ignore.

An example of a page to ignore may be your admin pages that you don’t want to be listed in search, or pages that you want to be seen only by select customers (eg pages which allow people who viewed a specific campaign to click through too).

Using Robots.txt you can set the rules of what is discovered and indexed, and what is simply ignored.

5. Install Schema.org Snippets (advanced)

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Integer gravida, tellus sed cursus accumsan, sapien felis finibus lacus, accumsan condimentum massa diam vel libero. Donec in arcu et mi ornare faucibus sed vitae sapien. Fusce ultricies maximus felis, sit amet aliquet lorem lobortis at. Vivamus auctor nisi id enim lobortis vestibulum.

Optimising the newly written post

6. Start with some Keyword research

Keyword research tells you what words and phrases get searched the most, so you can accurately target the low hanging fruit.

It would be a huge waste of time to write a 2000 word guide on a topic that people only search for 50 times a month. With keyword research, you can find he phrases that people search for 200, 500, or 1000’s of times per month, and optimize your content for these keywords.

You can use a mix of tools for keyword research. I personally start by writing what I think will be the main keywords and phrases into excel. Then I search for each of these terms, and copy the “Searches Related too…” results at the bottom of any Google Search.

These can be used to seed tools such as Keywordtool.io or KWFinder.com – along with Googles own keyword tool which is free with any Adwords account.

7. Create a user friendly URL

URLs should be written for humans, so whether you are launching a new website, or doing a general website health check for an established website, take a moment to ensure your URLs are understandable, and free from unnecessary characters or numbers.

url optimization for seo

For those readers that came here looking for a website migration checklist, or an SEO checklist for a website redesign, it is super important for you to ensure that URLs either remain the same on your new website, or there are redirects setup from the old URL to the new URL on the new website.

If you don’t do this, organic traffic will decrease, and anyone who had your old links bookmarked will get 404 errors.

8. Include your keyword(s) in the URL

Including your keyword in the URL will happen naturally if you are following the best practice comment above, regarding writing a user friendly URL.

To create a user friendly URL you need to describe what is on the page, and to do this, you most likely need to use the keyword of the page.

keyword in URL

9. Include your keyword(s) in your H1 tag

As with the keyword in the URL, you should also attempt to use the keyword in your H1 tag. As with all things SEO, don’t force it for the search engines, but if you can pull it off in a natural manner, I recommend doing so.

keyword in h1 tag

10. Include your keyword(s) in your opening paragraph

Many SEO tools, such as the popular Yoast for WordPress, will encourage you to use your keyword within the first paragraph of content on the site.

From a technical SEO audit point of view, this isn’t required. For a best-practice content audit point of view, there is no harm in doing it.

I include my main keyword in the first paragraph when I can do it naturally, and only when it fits well for my readers. Never try to force anything for any search engine, if it makes your users experience on your website worse.

For those wondering, the main keyword in my opening paragraph is seo checklist.

11. Include your keyword(s) in your subheadings

Where possible, include your secondary keywords in your subheadings. Your secondary keywords could be the words with slightly less volume, but still closely related to your niche.

12. Sprinkle your keyword(s) throughout the main body of content

This occurs naturally of you are writing 1000+ words on a topic. You can’t not include many of your keywords, and variations of your keywords, when you are writing long-form content.

It does help to follow a process however, even if it is as simple as mine.

I start with keyword research, and highlight 5 to 10 main keywords I want to target on a given page. I then either move this to my secondary screen, or print it off and keep it on my desk.

As I am working through writing content for my websites, I’ll tick of the keywords as I am using them, and mark down how many times I have used each.

I’ll use my main keyword 10 or so times in a 3000 work article, and my less important keywords only 3 or 4 times.

13. Use Thesourus.com to add a few variations of your keyword

If you are optimizing a page for “car rental”, consider using variations of this term a few times throughout your website. For example the term “vehicle hire” is completely different, but could be used by a previously untapped segment of the population.

In years gone-by it was important to include variations on your keyword, and Google would treat them as completely different search terms. These days however, Google is getting a bit smarter, and knows that people searching “car rental” and most likely looking for the same thing that people searching for “vehicle hire” are.

suggested keywords

You may also like to look for a few variations of your keyword using Googles search suggestions. Type in your main keyword into Google, scroll to the bottom of the page, and see what other similar search terms they suggest.

In the screenshot above I searched for “seo checklist 2017”, and turned up a new keyword I wasn’t previously using – “seo checklist for new websites”.

14. Ensure you use internal links within your post

Internal links help you create a concise website that is easy to navigate. They ensure users can discover all your content, and that no content is orphaned. Try to link to related content the the user will genuinely find valuable.

For example, because you are reading our SEO Audit Checklist guide, you may also be interested in our Ultimate Guide to Meta Titles & Descriptions which we published earlier in the year. See? Easy!

15. Also include a handful of external links

I like to link to external websites to put my site in a good neighbourhood.

There is no hard data showing this is valuable from an SEO perspective, but I figure a page that links to 5 other quality websites is better than a page that links to none.

If you are writing great, long, valuable content, your going to naturally need to link to other pages to show sources, and share other resources with your users.

16. Ensure your spelling & grammar is flawless

This probably shouldn’t be on an SEO checklist, but I still think it is super important, and it pays of in multiple ways.

If users come to your website and see poor spelling and grammar, they are more likely to bounce and go else ware. Websites with high bounce rates typically perform poorly in Google.

17. Write long, quality content

In 2010 and before content could be 300 words and it would rank well in Google. These days, I always aim for 1000 words minimum in my informational posts and guides.

There is no hard rule on how long your content should be, but there are a few good guidelines to follow.

Firstly, your content needs to be better than all the other content on the first page of Google for the same keywords. If it is not, don’t hit publish until it is.

Secondly, do fill your content with fluff. Once you have stopped adding value to the topic, stop writing.

18. Add a range of media

Most topics have images, video, and audio which can help supplement the page.

If your pages are a wall of text, expect users to bounce away relatively quickly. When doing a website audit, ensure that all blog posts and articles have appropriate images scattered throughout.

From an SEO checklist point of view, ensure the images are compressed (to decrease the page load time), and have an alt tag which describes the image.

19. Turn on reader comments

On blog posts, and long articles, I always recommend allowing readers to comment. Fostering a community on your website keeps it fresh, and users engaged.

Comments also help build up the volume of text on the page, and improves the Text/HTML ratio in most cases.

What do you think of this checklist? Scroll to the bottom and tell me in the comments!

20. Optimize Image filesize

Running a website audit tool on your website will help to identify all images that are over a certain filesize.

When images are identified that are too large, save them to your computer, open them in Photoshop, and save them using as much compression as you can get away with (before the images start to look a bit pixelated).

Google loves a fast loading website, and images are one of the main things that can bring your websites speed to a crawl.

21. Optimize Image filenames

Everyone has downloaded an image from a website and seen the filename is something long and ugly like rodeo_4611_460X222FINAL.jpeg.

Not only do users not appreciate this, but its not good for search engine optimization either.

When doing a website audit, don’t only look at the content on the HTML pages, but also look at the image filenames and rewrite them using plain English that humans can understand.

image filename optimization

Describe what is in the image (eg black_dog.jpg). If absolutely necessary add a little bit of extra text to describe the type of image (eg black_dog_thumbnail.jpg).

22. Ensure every image has alt text

For the sake of an SEO audit all you need to know is that alt text (also known as the alt tag) tells Google what is depicted in the image.

However, the actual purpose of alt tag is to inform people what the image was meant to show if it doesn’t load, and more importantly to inform people who use screen readers what is shown in the image.

Ensuring every image on a website has an alt tag can be a bit tedious to do manually, but most website audit tools will quickly scan your website and highlight what images on what pages are missing alt text. A web crawler will scan your website in minutes, similar to the way Googles own crawler scans the entire internet, and report on what images need attention.

23. Ensure your Meta Title is Enticing

Meta titles typically follow a similar format across all large websites. This is a short description of the page, followed by a pipe ( | ), then the companies brand name.

It’s good to have consistency with all your meta titles, but for the sake of an SEO audit, make sure your title is descriptive, and ideally includes the main keyword you want to rank for.

enticing meta title

I also recommend ensuring your meta title makes 100% sense when reading it as a sentence. In the above example, it looks like “Accountants, Accountant” has been written for SEO purposes, and not the reader.

The second example has a great tagline, and makes me much more likely to click it.

24. Also Ensure your Meta Description is Enticing

Your meta description is perhaps the most important piece of text you can use to increase your click through rate from the search engine results pages.

A well written, enticing meta description that includes a call to action can significantly increase traffic if you are ranking in the top 5 to 10 results on Google for your keywords.

25. Include Modifiers in meta title & description

Adding a modifier to the meta title and meta description opens up your website to being discovered by many more people.

A modifier can include things such as “reviews”, “2017”, or “best”…plus hundreds of others.

A page title without a modifier could be “Vacuum Cleaners – Petes Vacuum Shop”.

With modifiers, this title could be rewritten as “Best Vacuum Cleaners of 2017 – Petes Vacuum Shop”.

The second title will likely have a higher click through rate as it is much more enticing, and describes more precisely what will be on the web page when the user does click.

Including modifiers in the meta title and descriptions isn’t something you need to worry too greatly about when doing a website audit for a redesign or migration, but if you are doing a general SEO audit to identify opportunities to further optimize an established website, then adding in some modifiers may help boost your traffic.

26. Stay within the Meta Title recommended length

I’m a big fan of testing and optimizing your meta titles. By making your meta title more enticing to click, you will increase the volume of traffic you get from the search engines, even if you don’t increase your ranking. Easy!

meta title length

27. Stay within the Meta Description recommended length

Google is often changing the number of characters that appear in a websites meta description. It also varies by device the user is on; desktop, tablet, or mobile.

As at the time of writing most experts recommend to keep you meta description under about 165 characters. This is the ideal meta description length if you want your entire description to appear fully on the majority of devices.

meta description length

But since this number is changing all the time, we recommend using a web crawler tool as part of any website audit. Most of the best web crawlers will use the most up to date data from Google, so you can be sure that your meta descriptions are being optimized to the correct length.

Do you have anything to add to our SEO checklist? Let us know int he comments below! If you are doing a website audit, whether it be for a brand new website, or during a redesign, take a look at our website auditor solution so you can automate your website health checks. We offer a 14 day free trial!