Best Practice SEO Checklist for 2022

Best Practice SEO Checklist
I’ve devised a best practice SEO checklist that marketing professionals of all abilities and stages in their career can use to optimise their websites and stay ahead in their respective marketplaces.

Best Practice SEO Checklist

This best practice SEO checklist covers the core areas of website optimisation, from the set up of a website, researching relevant keywords, technical optimisations, on-page content and keywords, as well as off-page content and link building tactics.

Best Practice SEO Checklist for 2022

Website Setup:

Set up GA, GSC and other analytics tools

What it means: Any website should have Google Analytics and Google Search Console set up, but especially a new website. You can also look at others such as Semrush and Sistrix, etc., most of which make up my tool stack.
Why it matters: Through analytics tools, we can track and measure traffic performance to our websites. We can also track how many conversions there are and find demographic information about the people using the website. With this information, we can make better-informed decisions about the changes we make to the website and target the audience.

Generate and submit an XML sitemap

What it means: An XML sitemap informs search engines of the indexable pages on your website. Several plugins will do this for you if you have a WordPress website or speak to your developers for a custom solution. Once created, you need to submit the XML sitemap file to Google; you can do this through Google Search Console.
Why it matters: Submitting your XML sitemap to Google provides them with a map of the pages on your website, which helps them prioritise the pages that they crawl. The file should not conflict with any rules you have set up in your robots.txt file, as this sends contradictory messages and may mean that your URLs are not crawled and indexed as you would like.

Create a robots.txt file

What it means: A robots.txt file informs crawlers which URLs or folders we do not want them to access. It is a way to help manage the crawl budget and not a way to ask Google not to index your content. There are plenty of WordPress plugins such as Yoast that can help you edit a robots.txt, or as before, a developer can help you add the information you need here.
Why it matters: By creating a robots.txt file, you can stop search engines, or specific user agents, from accessing certain areas of your website. Managing the crawl budget means optimising the number of pages that Google can crawl in a given time. Search engines do not have infinite resources for crawling, and robots.txt is one of the ways we can help guide them in the right direction so that our most important content does get crawled rather than inconsequential content.

Ensure indexability of your main content

What it means: A common and easy mistake to make on your website is to noindex your content, whether specific pages or your whole website. This is typically done through meta robots but can also be affected by the robots.txt and canonical URLs. Most content will be indexable by default, but if you have migrated your website, it is worth ensuring that there are no non-indexable rules that have been left behind.
Why it matters: Your content needs to be indexable for it to show up in Google search. The more pages you have that are indexable, the hope is that you will receive more organic traffic. As well as including the URL in your sitemap, you need to ensure it’s also linked to from elsewhere. Otherwise, you will create what is known as orphaned pages.

Monitor GSC for crawl errors

What it means: Once your Google Search Console has collected enough data, if it has incurred any problems with crawling and indexing your website, you will see these messages in the Index > Coverage section. The number of errors it encountered can is in red, and any warnings will be in yellow; there is also a section in green for valid URLs, and you will find any excluded ones in grey. 
Why it matters: If your website has a large number of errors, then these are reasons why Google cannot index your website as intended. All URLs will be grouped by issue, and you will be able to find details on how you can resolve them and inspect the URL yourself. You should resolve these to ensure there is nothing that is having a detrimental effect on your website.
GSC errors example

Keyword Research:

Identify your competitors

What it means: It is essential to know who you are competing with online. Those who you are competing against in your brick and mortar store are not necessarily the same businesses you are competing with online. There may be online businesses that direct competitors or others you are competing with for specific products or categories.
Why it matters: Knowing who your competitors are means you can also determine what is working well for them, where they are not performing as well, and calculate what you can do to either keep them at bay or start to eat into their share of voice. Suppose their competitive advantage is down to particular USPs (unique selling points). In that case, there may not be anything you can do about it, but if it is down to additional products, content, or optimisations, then this is certainly something you can work on.

Research your target or "money" keywords

What it means: Keyword research is the process of researching the terms that your customers are using to find your website and other businesses like yours. Target or “money” keywords are your priority keywords that those looking to convert are using.
Why it matters: If you do not know what your “money” keywords are, you may miss a significant opportunity. It is ultimately these money keywords that help you to generate money revenue. Not everyone searches in the same way, which is especially true if you have several customer personas. Knowing how each of them is likely to search, and optimising for them, will help increase your visibility and conversions.

Find long-tail variations of your keywords

What it means: Long-tail keywords, as the name suggests, are longer and often more specific terms that customers generally use when they are further down the conversion funnel and looking to make a purchase. Once you know your long-tail keyword variations, you will find how truly valuable they can be.
Why it matters: While it is true that long-tail keywords have less search volume, they usually have a higher conversion rate, meaning that they will be a lot more valuable to your business. They work particularly well in a competitive market and tend to be easier to rank for.

Use a keyword map that has the competitiveness of keywords

What it means: Keyword mapping is where you match your target keywords against the landing pages in your website structure. The idea of this framework is to help you discover areas of your website that you may need to optimise and where you can create new landing pages of other content to help you generate more search traffic.
Why it matters: Keyword mapping is beneficial as it helps inform your internal linking structure and means you can better measure your SEO efforts. It sets the structure for your  SEO strategy and enables you to capitalise on keyword opportunities. Including the competitiveness of your keywords in your keyword mapping helps you understand the ease, or the difficulty, of ranking for those keywords. With this, you can better determine the amount of effort that should go into this content to get the best ROI.

Monitor the intent of keywords - do pages match that intent?

What it means: Keyword intent is about the purpose of the search. It represents what your customer is likely to do when looking for a particular phrase. There are four common types of search intent, which are: informational intent, where the user is looking for more information; navigational intent, where the user is looking to visit a specific website, transactional intent, where the user is looking to make a purchase, and commercial intent is where the user is researching their available options.
Why it matters: Keyword intent is powerful because Google aims to match users with the most relevant search result. Quite simply, if you do not provide the best match to the searcher’s query, then Google is unlikely to display your website. Understanding the intent behind your keywords will allow you to create content that matches that. If someone is searching for the “best washing machine, ” your landing page is unlikely to rank as search engines understand that customers will be looking for reviews, blog posts, comparison charts, etc.

Find questions asked by users e.g. FAQs and People Also Ask

What it means: Most people use search engines to look for answers, which means there will likely be plenty of questions related to your business and your industry too. Finding these FAQs is a great inspiration for your content, especially if you have really specific keywords.
Why it matters: A great place to find some Questions related to a search query is through the Keyword Overview in Semrush. You can also scrape results from the ‘People Also Asked’ section in Google through to find more ideas and questions that you can answer in your content.

Monitor the search volume of keywords and check for seasonality trends

What it means: Search volume is not static. Just because it received a high amount of searches in one month does not mean it will receive the same number of searches every month. As the seasons change, and as certain events happen throughout the year, so does the information that people search for.
Why it matters: Search volume and trends matter as it helps you focus on certain areas of your website, or certain products, according to when they are most popular. No one wants to spend all their time and effort on something that is not popular right now. The example below from searches over the last 12 months for “BBQ” from Google Trends is one example.
trends for bbq

Technical SEO:

Ensure your website is secure and using HTTPS

What it means: In July 2018, Google Chrome began showing a “website not secure” warning message to users when visiting a non-HTTPS website. To use the HTTPS protocol on your website, it is essential to use robust certificates from a reliable certificate authority that ideally also offers technical support. Ensure you are using permanent server-side redirects to redirect both users and search engines to the HTTPS resources on your website. I would also suggest using the URL Inspection Tool in Google Search Console to ensure that your pages can be crawled and indexed.
Why it matters: If you need your website to generate sales and lead-generation enquiries, you must use the HTTPS protocol to stop your users from abandoning your website due to “not secure” messages. Having the secure green padlock in your browser provides comfort and instils trust in your company. Ensure that you have updated any internal links from HTTP to point to the HTTPS versions.

Keep on top of your site speed and check Core Web Vitals

What it means: Site speed is of increasing importance and is crucial to a good experience on a page. Site speed is a measurement of how fast the content on your page loads. Core Web Vitals were introduced as part of Google’s Page Experience update and are made up of a series of metrics that measure various aspects of page experience. You can find more information about them within Google Search Console.
Why it matters: We know that Google uses page speed as one of its ranking signals in its algorithm. There is also a strong correlation between a fast loading website and conversion rate; thereby, your conversions will be less if your website loads slowly. Google also confirmed on the 2nd September 2021 that the page experience update has finished rolling out; there should not be any dramatic rankings changes due to this. Still, it is something that you should monitor.

Find and fix broken internal and external links

What it means: Broken links, both internal links on your site and broken external backlinks to your website, lead to a poor user experience and affect your website’s crawlability. Broken links should be treated as part of the general maintenance of your website, but remember that the emphasis should be on providing the best experience for users. What I mean by this is, if there is not a close alternative page to redirect to and you believe it could confuse users, then it may be worth leaving the page as a 404. Search engines can deal with a small number of 404s on a website.
Why it matters: Broken backlinks are known to waste link equity, so it is crucial to take the time to resolve them – as long as it makes sense to do so. Links are one of the ways that search engines discover new pages, and if they run into a lot of errors in doing so, it will affect the way your site is perceived.

Use a friendly URL structure and site hierarchy

What it means: A good URL structure and hierarchy/architecture will tell search engines what each of the pages on your website is about and help them understand how each of them relates to each other. A friendly URL structure is simple, can be easily read and understood by humans, and includes keywords relevant to the page’s information.
Why it matters: A good website architecture provides an improved experience for both users and search engines. The URL should indicate what the page is about, and the use of keywords here can contribute towards rankings.

Make use of structured data

What it means: Structured data is also known as schema markup, or schema, and is a type of coding language that provides more information about your content to search engines. This code can be added manually into the <head> of the code on your pages, or you can use tools such as Google Tag Manager or even SEO plugins such as Yoast SEO or RankMath.
Why it matters: The benefit of schema markup means that you can start to take up more information on search engine results pages; you can also experience an improvement in your CTR as a result of this. It is all about providing more detailed and informative information to searchers, which Google is looking to provide.

Use permanent 301 redirects; 302s are ok in some situations

What it means: A redirect with a 301 status code indicates that a page has permanently moved to a new location, whereas a 302 redirect tells search engines that the page has temporarily moved to a new location and may return. Unless the page is likely to come back, you should use a 301 redirect. That’s not to say that all 302s are wrong; common usage is when users try to access a part of the website, such as a wishlist, that is only accessible to logged-in users, so they may be temporarily redirected to the login page.
Why it matters: When 301 redirects are used, Google understands that the destination is the new version of that page. It will eventually transfer the link equity to the new URL and, after some time, will remove the old URL from its index in favour of the new one. This does not happen in the case of 302s as it understands that the change is temporary and both URLs will remain in the index.

Find and fix redirect chains and loops

What it means: A redirect chain happens when multiple redirects between a URL and the final destination. For example, URL A redirects to URL B, which redirects to URL C. A redirect loop is where there is no resolution in the chain as it points users back to one of the redirected URLs.
Why it matters: The problem with redirect chains is that URL C would take longer to load for visitors and search engines. Google will not follow more than five redirects in a chain, and a redirect loop will fail as the browser is redirected too many times. In the above example, URL A should redirect straight to URL C, URL B should redirect to URL C, and you should update any internal links to the first two resources to URL C.

Use canonical links to associate and avoid duplication

What it means: A canonical link, sometimes known as a canonical tag, helps to prevent duplicate content issues by specifying to search engines the canonical or the preferred version of a web page. Google recommends using self-referencing canonicals as best practice, which is a URL where the rel=canonical points back to itself, but they are not mandatory for Google to be able to pick up the main version of a page.
Why it matters: Canonicals are needed to reduce potential duplication, including from content that could be deemed very similar. A large amount of duplicate content could mean that other, more important, unique content gets missed. Without a canonical, search engines may choose the wrong URL as the “main” version of the content. Using canonicals helps you have more control over this.

Resolve any issues with orphaned pages

What it means: Orphaned pages are those that are not linked to from any other page or section on your website. The result is that users cannot access these pages unless they know the exact URL. They are problematic for search engines to find and can mean that they are rarely indexed.
Why it matters: Orphaned pages are a problem as users cannot find them in your natural site structure, so if the pages contain helpful or important information, chances are it won’t be read. This is a frustrating user experience and a waste of your time and effort.
good website architecture

On-Page and Content:

Resolve any missing, duplicate, long and short page titles

What it means: Each page should have a unique, optimised page title that describes the content on the page. Google may change your page titles based on what it believes will help generate more clicks as part of what has become known as Titlegeddon. It is necessary to monitor what is being used in its place and determine if you may need to take action and update your titles further.
Why it matters: Page titles are a ranking factor, so ensuring they are accurate and reflective of the buyer intent is important. Monitor your performance and consider the value of periodically updating your titles accordingly. Compare this against your competitors’ performance too.

Resolve any missing, duplicate, long and short meta descriptions

What it means: Each page should have a unique, optimised meta description that describes the content on the page. The meta description is the small blurb that appears underneath a website on the SERP. It is designed to provide users with a small summary of the page so that users know if the page will answer their questions.
Why it matters: Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, but they do have an impact on your click-through rate. Monitor your performance and consider the value of periodically updating your meta descriptions accordingly. Compare this against your competitors’ performance too.

Resolve any missing or multiple H1s

What it means: Each page should have a single, unique H1. Titlegeddon implies that in some cases, Google is replacing page titles with your H1 headings. This emphasises the importance of ensuring your H1 is a relevant variation of your page title that includes your target keywords.
Why it matters: The H1 should be the largest and most prominent heading on a page. It can introduce the content on the page and help Google and users understand the page’s topic. Search engines can use this to help them recognise how they should index the content.

Optimise images, including file names and alt text

What it means: Image optimisation is the exercise of producing quality images that are the optimal size and resolution for your website. You should also name any pictures uploaded to your website correctly, so if it is an image of one of your products, it should be named as such rather than “1.jpg” so that search engine crawlers can understand your images. I would also recommend using appropriate alt text so that screen readers and search engines can better understand the content.
Why it matters: Search engine crawlers cannot view images; they use image file names and alt text to help them do this. But the most important reasons for optimising your images are that it provides a better user experience, improves page load times and can help your website rank better.

Regularly audit your content to ensure relevancy

What it means: You may see benefits from pruning your content – pruning content means removing content that does not rank in SERPs, adds no value and ultimately adds no benefit to your website. I’d suggest keeping an eye on your underperforming content and auditing and removing any thin, duplicate, or low-quality content once or twice a year.
Why it matters: Removing unnecessary content from your website allows your more valuable content to flourish. A website with around 100 pages probably doesn’t need to audit its content, but it becomes a worthwhile process once a website has approximately 1,000 pages.

Ensure appropriate use of internal linking

What it means: An internal link is a text hyperlink from one page on your website to another. They also help establish your site architecture, and in some cases, they can be more valuable than backlinks.
Why it matters: Internal links are powerful as search engines and users alike use links to find your content. Users utilise links to navigate through your website, find the content they are looking for and complete your CTAs. They also help with transferring link equity throughout your website. For this reason, internal links are crucial to your SEO.

Monitor for instances of keyword cannibalisation

What it means: Keyword cannibalisation is where there are too many identical or very similar keywords on your website, and search engines struggle to determine which content they should rank for a given term. If this happens, Google may decide to rank a web page that is not your priority.
Why it matters: There are several ways to resolve this, and it ultimately depends on the degree of keyword cannibalisation. Options include restructuring your website, creating new landing pages, combining pieces of content, optimising for alternative keywords, and using 301 redirects.

Regularly produce new content

What it means: You should regularly add new content to your website; this can be landing pages or blog posts. Doing so helps your website to rank for a broader range of keywords.
Why it matters: New content means your website can target more long-tail keywords and other phrases related to your business and the products/services you are offering. New content is vital because it also creates new links for your website that you can use for both internal linking and external link building.
Keyword Cannibalisation in SEO

Off-Page and Link Building:

Analyse your competitors link profile

What it means: Analysing the backlinks that your competitors have to their website allows is typically completed using backlink analysis tools. These tools include Ahrefs, Majestic, Kerboo, Semrush, and Open Link Profiler. An in-depth analysis means you can understand which sites are sources for links, and you can then use that to your advantage.
Why it matters: By analysing their link profile, you can assess the level of competition in your industry, see how well others are performing and build guidelines and targets for you to follow to compete with them. You can see what link-building tactics work for others and if any particular domain links to them more than others.

Conduct an audit of your existing backlinks

What it means: Auditing your own backlinks means identifying and analyse all of the existing links to your website. Using the tools mentioned above, you can review your link profile, spot any unnaturally or spammy links, remove (or disavow) any that you feel may put you at risk of a penalty. From there, compare this with what you found from your competitors, and develop your targeted link building strategy.
Why it matters: Auditing your own backlinks matters because it helps you stay ahead of the game and keeps the risk of receiving a Google penalty at bay. An outreach strategy that is unique to you will help your website to earn more coveted links that will make a real difference for you in terms of business goals.

Check for unlinked brand mentions

What it means: Unlinked brand mentions are mentions of your brand on external websites that do not link back to your website. Google does indeed place some value on brand mentions, even those that are unlinked; it is clear that backlinks provide far more weight and contribute towards rankings.
Why it matters: Backlinks are a significant ranking factor for Google, so it is worth spending some time turning these unlinked brand mentions into links. I’d suggest completing this as a quarterly exercise using tools such as Semrush, BuzzSumo and Majestic. Results are not guaranteed, but once a publisher agrees to provide a backlink, you may start to see results quickly.

Identify new link building opportunities

What it means: Through the analysis’ mentioned above and through other means, you will find that there are always plenty of link building opportunities that you can set your sights on. You should always be seeking ways to build top quality links to your website – remember, quality is always better than quantity.
Why it matters: As mentioned, backlinks remain a vital ranking signal, so if your website is missing valuable backlinks that your competitors have, you may be missing a tremendous opportunity and allowing your competitors to get ahead.

Check for broken links and opportunities to reclaim them

What it means: Reclaiming broken links is the process of finding or fixing broken external links to your website. You can also replace links that aren’t passing link equity as efficiently as they could. Broken links can be seen as low-hanging fruit, so it can certainly be a worthwhile exercise.
Why it matters: Link reclamation is needed to ensure that your website isn’t losing link equity as a result. This exercise can be completed quarterly, or around twice a year as a minimum, and has the added benefit of helping you to find any valueless pages, duplicate content or other issues with your internal linking and navigation.

Set up and optimise Google My Business

What it means: Creating and optimising a local business listing does take time and is an ongoing process. Still, without a Google My Business profile, you are practically handing business to your competitors.
Why it matters: If you run a local business, or you are seeking local customers, you need a listing on Google My Business to appear in local searches. Don’t miss out on local visitors and drive website visits and conversions from “near me” searches and local map results.

30+ Point Actionable SEO Checklist

And there you have it, I hope you find this SEO checklist useful and are able to use it to make a difference for your website and for that of your clients.

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