If you work online creating content for a website or your publication, you might already have an inkling about the importance of something called search engine optimization (SEO). If you’ve been plugging away adding new content online for some time now and still have no idea what SEO is, then you’re going to be thrilled to find out that there is a reason your content isn’t being seen by search engines (or people); fortunately for you, the reason your content isn’t being seen doesn’t have to do with a lack of quality. It has to do with a lack of SEO strategy. If you just write content and don’t try to optimize it for search engines, your result is usually invisibility. And no one creates content for the sole purpose of having it hidden away in the unreachable corners of the Internet.
Turn the Lights on
Writing online content without optimizing it for search engines is much like writing a book and handing it to someone to read in the dark. It could be a bestseller or copy of a classic, and it’s still not going to matter. Until you flick the lights on for your reader, they’re not going to see anything. Failing to implement an SEO strategy is the same thing. You’re creating loads of content for readers that will never see it because a search engine won’t rank it high enough in their results to make it visible to the average searcher. This 31-point SEO checklist is your light switch. Use these strategies to turn the lights on so that your readers will finally see your content.
These are your basics. If you haven’t set these up, don’t move onto the next section. Get all of this taken care of and then see the next section about keyword SEO.
1. Create your robots.txt file
The robot.txt file should be added to your website’s home directory. It’s more or less a love letter to search engine spiders, letting them know how often to spider your pages, which pages not to spider, and where your sitemap is (more on that in a moment). This simple plain text file is one of the essential pages of your entire website, and if you’re new to this whole website business, likely, you don’t even have a robots.txt file yet. So if your future audience is still in the dark, this might be why. Use a robots.txt generator to create this page and add it to your directory today.
2. Create and upload a sitemap
The sitemap.xml page is another vital component of your file directory. It’s a list of all the URLs on your website, and it’s a handy guidepost for search engine spiders to follow as they crawl your site. WordPress plugins like Yoast automatically create this page for you, but if you’re doing a website using another platform or just from scratch, you can simply use a generator to create this critical file. The name of the actual file will be sitemap.xml. All search engines look for this holy grail of your content. Make sure you have one.
3. Google Search Console
In the old days of SEO, Google let everyone figure out all the fun unknowables on their on. Those days are over (thank God). Today Google maintains things like Google Search Console to help you monitor your site’s performance, pages, and so many other things. Not only does Search Console track your performance, but it also gives you suggestions along the way about how to use your keywords more effectively to raise your rank in those areas. Google Search Console is indispensable. Don’t go without it.
4. Google Analytics
Search Console is Google’s way of letting you monitor your keyword performance and pages. Analytics enables you to track your visitors, discover their habits, and find out what might be wrong with certain parts of your content. The overall goal is the same: to evolve and improve. You get a tracking code that you install on your website, and from there, Analytics will take care of the rest. You’ll see which pages your visitors are going to, how they’re getting there, and how quickly they’re leaving, among a host of other essential browsing habits.
5. Yoast Plugin
If you’re a WordPress user, you can automate just about everything from the previous four entries by installing the Toast plugin. Not only does Yoast net you an automatic sitemap and robots.txt file, but you’ll find on-page SEO that you can do piece by piece with every new page of content you add. Other CMS programs also use Yoast, so you can find out how to install yours by giving Google a ring.
Keyword SEO Checklist
Keywords are the words that describe your website and your content. You want your site to be rich in them so that you will be ranked on these particular search terms. However, there are a few tricks of the trade that search engines know you will optimize for, and it’s perfectly okay to use this type of white-hat SEO.
6. Find your keywords
Believe it or not, it’s not always easy to know how to describe your content down to a single keyword or even a string of words. Not only that, but what keywords you choose to optimize for the need to be strongly related to what people search for online, so you’ll need to find an SEO keyword tool that lets you know what people are searching for every month. When you find keywords that (1) appropriately describe your content, and (2) that people are searching for, then you’ve got a home run. That’s what you are looking for.
7. Optimize for long-tail variations
Seasoned searchers may choose a single keyword or two to search for, but people who search from mobile devices or who have less experience in searching may search for an entire sentence. For example, instead of searching for “teddy bears,” they may search for “teddy bears that have a pink bow on their head and look adorable.” Since most of the shorter variations are already sewn up by older pros at this, you can focus your efforts on those longer variations and try to optimize for them. You’ll see a lot of success at this!
8. Google’s “also ask” box
When you type in a keyword into Google, you get a host of other queries that are common among Google users. This is keyword gold right here and can strongly influence what your next article should be about or how you should structure your website to grab these additional questions or keywords. Don’t ignore anything in that box. It’s Google saying to you, “This is what people want. Give it to them.” You can then optimize for those words or phrases.
9. Don’t always aim for the moon
With so many websites online and so many users, it is going to be virtually impossible to rank highly on specific keywords. For example, trying to grab the keyword “google” is very likely going to end in an avalanche of your content being buried underneath a good couple of million websites. Then you’ll probably be buried under a couple of million more. When you’ve got this type of impossible keyword, you move onto the aforementioned long-tail variations and work hard at grabbing the specifics instead of the general. Trying to grab these impossible keywords is like aiming for the moon with your finger instead of a rocketship and expecting to reach the surface of the moon; it’s not going to happen, and you’re going to get very tired of pointing at the moon.
On-Page SEO Pointers
You have the most control over your content, and here is the place that your SEO efforts can pay off the most. You can add things to your pages, subtract them, change the appearance, and apply all the things you learn here most efficiently when it’s on your page. Pay attention to these.
10. Title tag and description
The basics still count in SEO. Make sure that the title of your page is manageable for your readers to comprehend and remember. It needs to be catchy without being overbearing. Describe your page as concisely as possible without browbeating your readers with too many facts or keywords. When it makes sense to add keywords to the title, do it! If it doesn’t make a lot of sense or detracts from the uniqueness and appeal of the title, ditch those keywords and put them in the body of the page more often instead. A natural-sounding, engaging title is essential.
11. Shorter URLs
The names of your files are going to be important sometimes in how they’re ranked. Although no one knows precisely how search engines rank everything they do, even when they’re very transparent about their practices, there’s always some level of mystery about Google and other popular search engines. The human reader, though, we know a little more about, and one thing they appreciate is a shorter URL. Shorter URLs tend to look more legit and tidy, often leading a user to click on them over a longer URL that might seem more robotic or automated.
The link is one of the most critical elements of the Internet in general. It’s how we travel on this highway. Linking to highly relevant sources on and off your website will inevitably lead to you ranking higher on specific keywords. It’s not always the rule, but in most cases it is, and it happens often enough that we recommend sticking with that general rule. Don’t go overboard, but make sure that your content is packed with highly relevant links to pages within your website and high ranking sites off your page. If you do this, success will follow, or at the very least, you’ll have your best chance at it.
13. Search engines love those H1 tags
Always use an H1 tag at least once on your page! When you put your keyword in this H1 tag, search engines most definitely appreciate that. Only do this when it makes good sense to do so. For example, don’t put “Dogs are great” in your H1 tag if the article you’re writing about is all about how “cats are great,” even if you want to rank on that all-powerful and lovable dogs are excellent keyword phrase. If it makes sense, do it! If it doesn’t, don’t.
14. Make use of “alt” tags
Images have “alt” tag possibilities that most users never even use at all. When you’re creating content that has images, please make full use of your “alt” tags that describe that image. Make sure to get a good number of keywords into those “alt” tag descriptions, too. Search engines will thank you for it by sending more visitors your way. The great news is that if you do this, you will be one of the few content creators taking advantage of this quick keyword strategy. Only about 30% of people now add “alt” tags at all! You want to be among them.
15. Write those long-tail keywords in there
When creating content, have a healthy list of long-tail keyword variations that you can intersperse on your page. Primary keywords are great, but they’re a much longer shot in terms of being ranked high. Long-tail variations, though, are more specific and highly specialized, and it’s much less likely that other writers are throwing those keywords in there. Whenever it makes sense in your content to do so, make sure that your secondary keywords are all over your content in the form of those long-tail variations that someone might search for.
16. Schema Markup
Schema markup is a relatively new language that allows you to customize more how your search results look on search engines like Google. Your result will look tidier and more enticing thanks to the possible image that will show. While it won’t drastically change the description of your page, it will make your result look more appealing to searchers, and that spells higher click-through rates (just what you’re after here).
How About Content?
Your content is what you’re trying to get out there to the masses. It’s always going to be most important in all of this, but you can structure your content in a way that’s pleasing to both readers and search engines. Believe it or not, you can have the best of both worlds. Here’s how.
17. Readability and pretty content
We’ve all heard of the dreaded “wall of text” that most readers flee from very quickly. Sure, you already know that you don’t want that, but what do you want? Well, our advice is to make sure that you keep things tidy and readable by breaking things up via images, shorter paragraphs, lists, and anything else that prevents that wall of text from forming and becoming an eyesore on your page. You can also use readability checkers to make sure that you’ve kept an article readable for the masses.
18. Say hello in a way that builds trust
Online, you often have only one chance to make an impression on a reader before they say, “Forget this,” and bolt for the next piece of content. Online readers these days have no patience or time to waste. They want it, and they want it now, so if you want to make sure you’re the one who gives them that content, you have to get it right in the first paragraph and image. Proper introductions are few and far between, so you want to read as much as possible about how to craft an introduction that your readers will respond to and be happy with. One such strategy is to offer them a solution to their problem. What did they come to your page for? Make sure you trustingly promise that answer down the road.
19. Keep it simple
A great plugin called Hemingway helps you determine the reading level of your written piece. In other words, what reading level will your audience need to be to understand what your content is saying? Half of the people in the U.S. at least are reading below an 8th-grade reading level, so if you write a college piece, you’ve already alienated at least half of your readers. Make sure that you always check to see if your piece is readable by people who are 8th grade or lower in reading level. The key to this is to keep paragraphs and sentences short.
20. Own the content
When writing content, you need to assume a position of authority, but you also need to come across as trustworthy and genuine. To do that, it’s best to have people write about subjects that they have experience with. If you are the sole writer, make sure you do your homework before actually writing the piece. When you talk, you want your readers to get a sense of trust in your position. When you know your subject matter well, your readers will trust you more.
Technical SEO Strategy
Great content is great, but if your website is not built to be technically sound, the whole house of cards comes down. It’s just like that reader who’s still in the dark. The great content is there, but they can’t find it. Here are the things you need to focus on to build a website that’s accessible to your readers.
21. No crawl errors
Your goal should always be zero crawl errors. You don’t want links that lead readers to a “page not found” error message. You want them to go to content regularly. There are many tools out there that will crawl your website and let you know where the dead links are. Fix those!
22. Maximize content for fast loading times
Remember how we said that online and mobile readers are completely inpatient these days? Well, they always have been. A slow website is almost a death blow to any type of chance you have at online prosperity. Increase your site’s load times, and you’ll inevitably see many more happy readers over time. A quick site audit will often reveal if your website is loading too slow.
23. Bad website code
The world of web design is a fickle, often infuriating place. Coding your website just right sometimes isn’t even within your control, as many people use content managers these days. Hiring someone to fix lousy code is well worth it! Given how destructive it can be to your readership numbers, make sure that your website isn’t sending spiders running and readers running even faster.
If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site in today’s world, you’re missing out on the chance to reach millions of people daily. Mobile users make up the majority of readers these days, not homebound desktop users. If your website looks funky on mobile devices, you’re going to hemorrhage readers. Find a testing tool that lets you view your site on different mobile devices. You might quickly see areas where you can improve.
25. HTTPs Matter
Even Google has let it be known that secure websites matter to them. That HTTP may be cutting you off from higher search engine rankings. Not only does an HTTPs site increase your chances of higher rankings, but it will also keep your visitor’s information safe!
26. Canonicalizing content
Duplicate content is among the webmaster’s most frequent headaches. Due to the often different versions of the same webpage, you simply can’t go back through all of that and create entirely different content for each different version of the site. That’s why canonicalizing your only hope. It’s what makes sure search engines know what page they should rank and that the other pages are merely different versions of the same page.
We’re almost there! Here are just a few last tips for dwelling on before wading out into the war and trying to create a correct SEO strategy. Keep these few precious things in mind.
27. Update frequently
Don’t leave your website dead in the water. Make sure that you’re continually adding new content to show search engines that you’re active and to reach out to your readers.
28. Create social media hubs
You want to have a social media presence on each of the big social media websites. Update those pages frequently, too, and if readers respond to you, make an excellent first, second, and third impression!
29. Write for people, not bots
While you want to have an SEO strategy in place, your actual content is the one place where you’re speaking first and last to your readers. It’s them who will buy something from you or come back to read more. Write for people, not spiders.
30. Try press releases
When you put out an essential piece of content that you’re particularly proud of, make sure to put out a press release! It’s a great, natural way to let others know about your content without using any underhanded SEO strategies. It also gives you backlinks to your website and spreads your content around the web in a natural way.
31. Optimize for many search engines
Don’t just focus on Google or Yahoo or Bing. Focus on all of them and then some. Even focus on some of the directories out there or the lesser-known search engines. Traffic is traffic. If people search on a search engine, work a little bit to optimize for those sources, too.
You can’t possibly follow all of these in one day, so take some time to review these strategies and realize that search engine optimization is a lifelong process. As long as your content is alive, you’re going to have opportunities to optimize it for search and people. Take a deep breath, commit, and pick out just one to get started.