Essential SEO Checklist 2021

Roxana Humelnicu
Digital Marketing and Content Executive
Topic
SEO Checklist 2021

Whether you’re new to the world of SEO or are stuck using the same old optimisation techniques, it’s easy to miss a trick that will make a real difference to your rankings.

Search engines are always experimenting with new features, developing algorithms and changing ranking factors, so there is a lot to consider when it comes to deploying the perfect SEO strategy.

To ensure you’re in the best position to get your website ranking, we’ve created an in-depth checklist that covers everything you need to consider in 2021.

We like to make sure we’re always up to date with the latest SEO trends which is why we’ve updated our essential checklist. Whilst many items on the list remain the same and are an imperative part of an SEO strategy, we’ve also seen some new developments that we feel are crucial to a solid strategy.

Pre-launch Checklist - The Initial Steps

Search Engine Optimisation isn’t something that should only be considered after you’ve built or even launched your website; it needs to be kept in mind from the beginning and throughout your entire project. From your initial research, through to planning your site structure, SEO should be a major consideration.

To ensure your project gets off to a strong start, here is what you need to tick off before going live.

1. Check Out Your Competitors

Whether you’re launching your first website or simply looking to improve your SEO performance, you need to know what’s going on in the market. Having an idea of how your competitors are performing is an easy way to spot opportunities and create an effective strategy.

One of the best ways to learn is by learning from those who are already doing well, so take the time to analyse every aspect of their website. See how their site navigation works, take a look at what landing pages they have and make a note of what keywords they have used. But be warned, just because they are doing things a certain way, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right or that things can’t be done differently. Be original. Be creative. Be smart about what will please both search engines and users.

A clever way to investigate your competitors is to reverse their backlinks. This way, you can see exactly where they’re getting their links from, and if there are any opportunities for you.

Using tools such as Ahrefs, you can paste your main competitor’s domain in the tool and be given a comprehensive report into their backlink history. From there, you can work on getting as many of their backlinks as you can.

2. Set-up Search Console

If you’re launching a new website, this part specifically applies to you.

As a best practice, now is a good time to get your Google and Bing Webmaster tools set-up. They are incredibly powerful (and free) SEO tools that help you to track your website’s health, crawler issues and overall performance.

Whilst you can do this post-launch, doing it beforehand means that as soon as your website is launched, you’ve got the tools in place to start seeing how well your website is doing.

If done correctly, setting up your account is a fairly simple process.

First, head over to Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, and sign in.

Setup Search Console

Next, add your website and pick one of the available verification methods and follow the simple instructions.

Although Bing is not as popular as Google, it is growing in popularity and should therefore also be considered. With this in mind, don’t forget to go through the same process with Bing Webmaster Tools.

For now, this is all you need to do. We’ll return to this later when we’re talking about robot.txt.

3. Get GA ready

In order to gain valuable insight into your visitor demographics and website performance, you need access to analytics.

Google Analytics is one of the most popular web analytics services and the easiest way to see how people find and engage with your website. Recording data such as traffic levels, user engagement times, bounce rates, page views and user demographics, it’s essential that you have a GA account.

Get Google Analytics

To get set-up, you need to register for an account and install your unique GA tracking code onto your website. Depending on how confident you are going into the backend of your website, you may or may not need your web developer for this.

Quick Tip

If you use a well-known content management system, you can install a plugin which allows you to set-up analytics by entering your GA code. Just make sure it is compatible with the CMS version or the theme version if using a theme.

...and another

Connect Google Analytics with the Google Search Console. When you do, you’ll see helpful SEO information from inside of your Google Analytics account.

4. Blocking Crawlers from Visiting the Dev Site

When you’re in the middle of building a new website, you can easily forget to discourage search engines from crawling the website. So make it a part of your checklist to stop Google and other search engines from crawling your website before it’s ready.

To do this, either put the below in your robot.txt file or find an option in your CMS block all bots from crawling the website.

Agent: *

Disallow: /

Keyword Research Checklist

As a core part of any strong SEO strategy, keyword research needs to be done with user intent, service offerings and business objectives in mind.

Whilst you can spend hours and eventually days trawling your mind and the internet for relevant keywords, this mini checklist will help you find the right tools to get your business to where you want it to be online.

Quick Tip

With the potential to end up with hundreds, even thousands of keywords, a good place to start is your sitemap. Create a spreadsheet that follows the structure of your website and list 1 - 3 keywords for each page. By doing this, you can make a more conscious effort to optimise each page for a specific term or phrase and keep your research more focused.

1. Find Staple Keywords With Google Keyword Planner

As Google’s official keyword research tool, Google Keyword Planner is used by many SEO professionals and marketers as a quick and easy way of finding useful keywords.

Providing insight into relevant keywords, keyword phrases, search volume and competition, it’s a great free tool that gives you a starting point. However, as it sits within Google AdWords, you need to bear in mind that the competition figure is for paid advertising, not organic. Nonetheless, it is still useful for SEO keyword research.

Google Keyword Planner

2. Delve Deeper With Long Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords such as ‘tennis shoes’ are often more competitive and much harder to rank for. Finding more unique, but still relevant, long tail keywords gives you a better chance at ranking in the right places.

For example, “red tennis shoes for women” is still relevant to your website or product, but the competition will be much lower.

On top of this, using more long tail keywords means you’re focusing your efforts on attracting customers who are searching more specifically for what you’re offering; meaning they will be more likely to purchase or enquire.

One easy way of collecting long tail keywords is by using ‘Google Suggests’.

Google Suggests

Simply type a keyword into Google and don’t press enter. Instead, let Google present you with a whole treasure trove of suggestions in a drop-down box.

Thanks to AI and Google’s eagerness to be more helpful, you’re now looking at a whole list of search terms that you know people have used to search for products and services like yours.

3. Tap Into Users’ Minds With Question Keywords

If you think about it, we all use Google to answer aI’d go  query. We are all looking for an answer or a solution to our problem. So finding question keywords that target queries in the form of a question is a great way to get your blog posts and articles amongst the top results in SERPs.

For example, a homeowner who is considering remortgaging their home may want to know more about how the process works. To get the answers they need, they will most likely search with a question such as ‘how do I remortgage my house?’.  This is now a great keyword phrase that you can focus on and rank for with a helpful blog or guide.

Answer The Public is another useful tool that is completely free to use. Just type in your keyword and the wise man with the beard will provide you with tonnes of questions that people have used to search the internet.

Answer the public

4. Don’t Forget to Optimise for Voice Search

Voice search is quickly becoming a widely-used way to search, especially for users on mobile devices who are looking for quick answers to their questions or location-based services. In order to optimise your keywords for voice search queries, you need to combine long-tail keywords with location-based searches.

It’s important to know that voice searches use more “natural language”. Let’s compare a traditional search engine search to a voice search:

Traditional search: make cold brew

Voice search: “Okay Google, how do you make your own cold brew coffee at home?”

Not only will the rise of voice search impact the way we do keyword research, but it’ll also have an effect on our on-page SEO.

5. Find your Main “Money” Keywords

When developing your keyword list, you need to ensure you know what your main “money” keywords are. As the name implies, these are the keywords that help towards driving leads, sales, and conversions.

These keywords may also be referred to as “head terms” and/or “pillar page keywords”.

Generally, these keywords should be high in search volume and high in competition, clearly summarising what it is you have to offer, such as products or services at either topic or category level.

We recommend using SEMrush’s Keyword Overview Tool to conduct your keyword research, based on your products and/or services, to find your perfect money keywords.

6. Find and Fix Keyword Cannibalisation Issues

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood SEO concepts is keyword cannibalisation. Despite previous opinions, this is actually about the intent of a page, not just the keywords that are used both within the content and the meta information.

If your site is suffering from cannibalisation, you’ll struggle to rank for certain terms, especially more competitive ones, as search engines will find it difficult to decipher which page to show.

Make sure to find and address any cannibalisation on your site by making a list of your URLs and stating which keyword is associated to it. From here, you can clearly see any duplicates that appear and begin to work on optimising the page to fix the issue.

 

On Page Optimisation

Once you’ve completed all of your research, it’s time to turn your attention to your website. Using a few tried and tested SEO techniques, you should now start to optimise your on-page elements such as content, meta tags, and URLs.

1. Make The Most Of Your Meta Tags

Whether it’s a title tag, meta description or alt tag, all of your meta tags present an obvious opportunity to increase traffic. By incorporating keywords and spending time optimising each one, you can show both search engines and users exactly who you are and what you do.

Title Tags

Starting with title tags, it’s no secret that you should include your keyword in here. After all, Google confirmed title tags to be a ranking factor, so you should always prioritise optimising these. The real question is where do you add your keywords?

A keyword placed at the beginning of your meta title may have more impact on search rankings; so ensure your most important, core keyword is placed earlier on in the title. You want to clearly show both users and search engines what your page or post is about. We treat our title tags as headlines; short, snappy and engaging.

For example, a guide for on-page optimisation could be called “On-page Optimisation: A Complete Beginners Guide’.

Title Tags

E-commerce Title Tags

When it comes to eCommerce websites, things work a little differently.

With multiple pages selling the page product in a different colour or style, it’s important to ensure that your title tags are all unique.  Otherwise, you can risk creating lots of duplicates that will affect your site health.

Thinking of different title tags for pages selling similar products or products from the same brand can be challenging. Therefore, try to focus on using unique key phrases rather than individual keywords.

An easy formula that works well and clearly displays information that the consumer is looking for is the ‘brand-model’ recipe. This involves focusing on including relevant product information and the name of your brand.

For example, your title tag should be structured in the following way: Brand - Model - Type.

ecommerce title tags

Meta Descriptions

Whilst meta descriptions are not considered to be a ranking factor, they still work in partnership with your title tag to offer a seamless user experience. Your meta description is the ideal place to summarise a web page's content, informing users of what to expect before clicking through to the page.

It is also important to optimise your meta descriptions for both users and Google, as they can impact a page's CTR (click-through-rate).

A good meta description will include your focus keyword, summarise the page, engage the user, include a call-to-action, and most importantly, be unique.

Sometimes, it is okay to NOT write a meta description. In this instance, if your page is targeting three or more keywords, it may be best to let the search engines write the meta description instead.

Meta Descriptions

Alt Tags

Adding images into your blog post or landing page is a great way to incorporate another form of content and engage the reader. But whilst search engines are clever, they aren’t smart enough to read images.

Therefore, to make things easier for them, you need to make sure you optimise your image alt tags and filenames.  It’s a really simple task and one that will pay off.

Start by saving the image using a filename that briefly describes what the image is. Then, when you add it on to your website, give it a descriptive alt tag.

For example, the image below could have the filename “three-puppies-in-basket.png” and the image alt text could read “three-cute-puppies-in-a-basket”.

Dogs Alt Tags Image

2. Incorporate Keywords Into Your Copy

Keywords have always played a major part in getting your website ranking in the right places. But gone are the days of ‘keyword stuffing’. Now, if you are caught using these black hat tactics, your website will be penalised and recovering your rankings will be a long and painstaking process.

Today, search engines look for quality content that not only incorporates keywords but provides useful, reliable information. So, instead of forcing the same keyword into every sentence, it is best to mention your chosen keywords a few times and support it with synonyms. But as good practice, try to include your main keyword within the first 150 words of your copy.

Once you’ve achieved this, it’s time to consider LSI keywords.

LSI keywords are terms that are semantically related to your main keyword and support you in helping search engines to better understand your content.  If you’re stuck for ideas, try using tools or websites such as LSIGraph.com.

LSI Graph

Quick Tip

Don’t panic over using enough keywords. Write naturally and you’ll probably end up incorporating several keywords without noticing. You can always go back and add in any that you’ve missed, but it’s important that the copy reads well and engages the user.

3. Create A Strong Page Structure With HTML

Ensure your content is clear and easy to read by making good use of h1s, h2s and h3s. By breaking your copy down into smaller digestible chunks, it not only provides a better user experience but also the chance to incorporate keywords in headings and subheadings.

For example, we have used keyword phrases such as ‘Keyword Research Checklist’ in our subheadings to help this checklist rank higher for more specific search queries.

Whilst using HTML won’t send your rankings through the roof, it is a small factor that sets you in the right direction.

4. Spot Opportunities for External and Internal Links

Link building is another fundamental part of a successful SEO strategy. Taking the time to review your content and find opportunities to insert both internal and external links is a sure way to boost your rankings. By linking to other quality content and sources, you’re showing Google that your own content is well-referenced and credible.

Whilst you may find it fairly easy to link your internal pages, be tactical about the anchor text that you choose to link with. Try to use a keyword or phrase that not only helps the user to find more useful information but also works towards ranking your website for your specific terms.

For example, try to avoid linking with the classic ‘click here’ anchor text. Instead, try to use a keyword such as ‘SEO checklist’ or even a long tail keyword such as ‘things to consider when launching your website’.

Quick Tip

Try to link to 5-8 external authority websites and 2-5 internal pages in any one article.

5. URLs - Keep Them Short and Sweet

No one likes a messy URL. User’s don’t trust them and Google can’t understand them, so it’s best to keep them clear and concise.

You want to make sure your URL clearly indicates what your page is about, so the best practice is to follow your folder structure and incorporate your main keyword.

For example, our target keyword is ‘SEO checklist’. So we made our URL for this page “champions.digital/seo-checklist-2020”. 

6. Make Sure Your 404 Page is Helpful

404 Error pages are annoying at the best of times. But what’s more annoying than facing one with nowhere to go?

As a simple solution for turning a problem into an opportunity, create a custom 404 page that redirects users to another piece of great content that you’ve published.

Error 404 Message

7. Check the Page Depth of your Site

To provide the optimal experience for your customers, your pages shouldn’t be any further into your site than around three clicks. If some important pages take more than three clicks, you may need to revisit your website structure, as the user journey to get to that page is too long.

Essentially, the deeper a page is into your website, the less likely users, and search engines, are likely to find it. This can reduce your keyword ranking for that page, as well as cause you to miss out on potential conversions.

 

Technical Optimisation Checklist

It is true, content is king, but Technical SEO can be your knight in shining armour. Whilst many of us try to stay clear of all things technical, our mini checklist will help you in fixing common technical SEO issues.

1. Submit Your Sitemap To Search Console

We mentioned search console at the start of this checklist, but if you haven’t already, you need to now make sure your xml sitemap is submitted to Google and Bing. 

Many marketers worry that creating an xml sitemap will be too tricky and technical,  but in reality, it isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

With most leading CMSs you can find a module that you can integrate to automatically generate a sitemap based on the pages that exist. All you need to then do is select the priority of each URL or group and then the frequency in which you would like them to be crawled.

Once you’ve done this, simply login to your Google and Bing Webmasters accounts and submit!

Search Console Sitemap Submission

2. Identify and Resolve Duplicate Content

With Search Engines continuing to crack down on duplicate content, you are bound to be faced with duplication issues at some point. Whether it’s a duplicate meta title, URL or webpage, they are common errors that can become costly.

Using helpful SEO tools such as ScreamingFrog and SEMrush, you can crawl your website and uncover all types of duplicate content. Once you’ve found them, simply review and rewrite.

3. Find and Fix Crawl Errors

You can use Google Search Console to quickly and easily identify any crawl errors that are appearing across your website. These errors appear when a search engine tries to reach pages on your website but fails for one reason or another. This can have negative impacts on the overall ranking of your website.

Using the coverage report on Google Search Console, you can see the errors and excluded pages, as well as those with warnings.

From here, you should spend time resolving all the errors that you find, as well as explore the cause of the excluded URLs in further detail. This can help towards ensuring the same error is not repeated in the future.

Broken links are common issues that appear when doing a crawl. While small, they are extremely significant in maintaining strong SEO rankings. As part of your ongoing strategy, allocate time in your weekly or monthly schedule to crawl your website and fix any broken links. If the page no longer exists, simply find a new alternative that is still relevant and helpful to users.

semrush crawl errors

4. Secure Your Site With HTTPS

As a confirmed Google ranking signal, HTTPS is a nice additional extra to consider.

HTTPS basically encrypts and protects information such as payment details. For eCommerce businesses, it is crucial to have HTTPS, as it builds consumer confidence as well as keeping details secure. Whilst it is not as important for all websites, it can definitely add a sense of security for users and can be a positive signal to Google.

If you want to make your website HTTPS secure, speak to your web developers or hosting company about purchasing an SSL certificate.

5. Review Your Robot.txt file

This is the first place a crawl bot visits to know what pages it should and mostly should not crawl. The file sits on the top level of the FTP (file transfer protocol) which you can speak to a web developer about. The file itself should be utilised with a strategy to enhance crawl budget, as crawl bots have trillions of sites to crawl hence we have to spend the crawl budget as best as possible.

Right at the top, there should also be a mention of the sitemap url in the form of:

Sitemap: www.example.com/sitemap.xml

6. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

Since the rise of the smartphone, more and more people are using their phones to surf the internet. In response to this, search engines are now prioritising websites that are responsive and providing an enhanced mobile experience.

Whilst there are lots of things to consider when making your site mobile-friendly, it’s always a good idea to start by actually viewing your website on a mobile device. It may sound silly, but many people forget to experience their own website through a mobile - especially if they work on a desktop all day.

As an alternative, Google has also created a great tool that shows you whether your website is mobile friendly or not.

Mobile Friendly Test

7. Check Your Site’s Loading Speed

A slow loading website doesn’t go down well with both users and search engines. So if your pages are taking a long time to load, then expecting high SEO rankings would be unrealistic.

As best practice, you should regularly check your site speed. Using tools such as PageSpeed Insights, you can not only quickly see your site loads for mobile and desktop users but also ways in which you could improve the loading speed.

8. Check Temporary 302 Redirects

Unlike a 301 redirect, which is permanent, 302 redirects are only temporary. 302 redirects are commonly used when performing A/B testing, or while you are updating a web page and ensuring viewers are still provided with a consistent experience.

Oftentimes, these temporary redirects are forgotten about. If you have any 302 redirects, you should check them and either remove the redirect or replace it with a 301 redirect.

9. Page Experience

As part of Google’s 2021 core algorithm update, page experience is now an important ranking factor to consider. Page experience includes things such as mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, and HTTPS.

Here are the three core web metrics to consider:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – This measures when the main content has been downloaded and is both visible and useful to the site visitor.
     
  • First Input Delay – This refers to how long a user has to wait for the site to react when interacting with a web page element, such as a link.
     
  • Cumulative Layout Shift – This determines how long until the content stops shifting around and is stable enough to be successfully interacted with.

 

Content Checklist

If you really want to boost your rankings in Google, you will need high-quality content. Without it, you’re fighting a losing battle.

Great content is at the heart of every strong SEO strategy, so this checklist is here to make sure your content gets the best rankings in 2021.

1. Create Content Around Keywords

You already know what keywords you would like to rank for, so what are you doing about it?

Sometimes without realising people aim to rank for something that they haven’t even covered on the site or if they have, it’s not in enough detail.

From experience, it is essential to have a mixture of broad and technical knowledge around a piece of content to showcase experience, guidance and authority. It is what makes the page authoritative alongside many other factors i.e. backlinks from authoritative websites.

Long tail keywords also make great blog titles and are less competitive. If you think that there is enough information to create a landing page, why not go that step further and provide a helpful guide or resource?

2. Break Your Content Down Into Chunks

No one likes reading great big blocks of text. No matter how nice your font is, people won’t read it - especially not on a mobile. So it’s time to create nice, easily digestible chunks.

The Plain English Campaign recommends that lines should not run to more than 70 characters. Additionally, paragraphs should be kept to a maximum of a few lines, especially if the line length is fairly long.

An easy way to avoid big chunks of content is to introduce a simple structure. Make use of headings and subheadings and suddenly you’re page becomes a lot easier and quicker to read. Refer back to the point we made earlier about using appropriate h1s, h2s and h3s and you’ll soon have a well-structured piece of content that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read on all devices.

3. Watch Your Word Count

As more companies start to realise the importance of creating quality content, the word count needed to secure top rankings continues to rise.

In a recent study, databox found that their blog post sweet spot was between 1500 and 2000 words. Similarly, a joint study by OKDork and Buzzsumo stated that copy over 3,000 words receives more social shares.

At an absolute minimum, your blog should have over 300 words to avoid it being considered “thin” content on your site.

This might sound like a lot, but if you are serious about rankings, you need to dedicate time to create a helpful guide or in-depth article.

4. Start Using Schema Markup

Whilst using schema markup on your website is one of the more advanced tasks to master, it is definitely worthwhile. By putting this code onto your web pages, you help search engines to understand your content better and provide users with more relevant and helpful information.

For example, you can use rich snippets to tell Google to pull out important information such as product prices, event details, brand names and reviewing ratings into the SERPs. 

schema markup example

In doing this, you’re making your organic listing on SERPs more appealing, credible and engaging with users. And, as a result, you’re guaranteed to have a higher CTR. But if you’re still not convinced, then have a read of what Google has recently said and how Schema can help your rankings.

5. Analyse the Intent of Ranking Pages

To provide a smooth and meaningful user journey, you need to make sure that your pages content matches the searchers intent. In order to do this, you need to analyse the pages that rank for your target keywords to ensure that your content aligns.

You need to make sure you understand the intent of the content that Google is ranking. For example, say you’re looking to target a term at a nationwide level. You may come across a term that has high search volume and low competition, making it seem perfect. However, if search engines only return local results for this term, you won’t get the results you were hoping for.

Local SEO Checklist

Whether you’re a small start-up or a big-time brand, local business is always good business.

Today, consumers are searching locally at all hours of the day for a whole number of reasons. They can be searching for a contact number, service reviews or even a new place to grab a bite to eat. In fact, 50% of consumers who do a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day and even more impressively, 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases.

So yes, Local SEO is an important element to the checklist.

1. Get On Google My Business & Bing Places For Business

Ensuring you have an account set up for Google My Business and Bing Places for Business is essential for local SEO. They are free portals that enable local business owners to list their business and optimise for local search.

Simply set up an account, add important information such as opening times, contact details, a link to your website and then finally request verification. It’s a quick and easy process that puts you firmly on the local map.

Google My Business Screen

2. Optimise By Location

give your business the best chance of sitting at the top of the results page for geographic search queries, as well as in voice search queries, you need to ensure you have pages that are focused on specific locations.

For example, as a digital agency, we are much more likely to rank number 1 for ‘digital agency Nottingham’ than the much broader term ‘ digital agency’. Hence target to acquire business based on location and if you have a bigger budget, look to set out national campaigns.

To optimise by location, focus on including locational keywords in important places such as your title tag, meta description and body copy, but don’t overdo it as it needs to be natural, not forced.

3. Get Listed in Local Directories

Securing credible backlinks from local directories is an easy way to support your quest to rank locally.

Set some time aside to find a number of credible directories and guest posting opportunities to get building on those backlinks!

If you want to get serious about Local SEO and get to the top of the Local search, take a look at our complete local SEO checklist.

Outreach and Link Building Checklist

Link building is an important part of SEO. Creating more opportunities for high-quality inbound links, link building can help to increase a websites search engine rankings. There are multiple methods for link building that you can apply to your SEO campaigns.

1. Mention Influencers in your Content (if possible)

With influencer marketing becoming a more popular and valued form of marketing, it's important for you to take this on board. With that being said, there’s a very quick, easy and simple way you can dip your toe into the pool of influencer marketing.

If the opportunity arises, mention an influencer in your content, then let them know you’ve mentioned them. That’s it. Chances are, they will look at your content and choose to share it with their audience!

2. Guest Content

Whilst you, of course, want to create high-quality content for your own website, it’s also important to consider the benefits of writing high-quality guests posts and sharing them to websites with high Domain Ratings.

By creating fantastic guest posts, you can have a higher chance of getting your content secured on a reputable site, earning you a valuable backlink that’ll work towards improving your own Domain Authority.

3. Turn Unlinked Mentions into Links

Did you know that there are more savvy ways to increase your number of your referring links? As well as investing time and effort into your main outreach strategy, you can also utilise your press releases to find more linking opportunities.

Chances are, there are some existing press releases or pieces of content on the internet that mention your brand name. You can capitalise on this by turning these mentions into referring links.

By simply contacting the webmaster, you can ask for the mention of your brand name to be linked back to your website. You especially want to try this technique if you see your brand mentioned on a website with a high Domain Authority.

Now that we have reached the end of our checklist you should not only understand more about the SEO essentials but also have the confidence that you will improve your rankings in 2021.

Whenever you’re looking to launch a new website or climb the SERPs, keep this checklist in mind and you’re guaranteed to be taking a step in the right direction.

Roxana Humelnicu
Digital Marketing and Content Executive