There’s no getting around it: SEO is complicated.
It’s not just content. And it’s not just link building. And it’s not just technical stuff.
It’s everything. And it’s hard to keep up with if you’re not a professional SEO practitioner.
That’s why you need a checklist. More specifically, you need this SEO checklist.
Why this one? Because it’s the most complete SEO checklist you’re going to find on the internet. And it’s the only one you need to do SEO in 2024.
Let’s dive in.
Whether you’re just setting up your site or trying to actually get some SEO results out of an existing site, one of the first places to start is your content management system (CMS).
This is the system you use to update your site. That includes publishing new pages and blog posts, installing new plugins and apps and more.
There’s WordPress, Wix, Webflow, Squarespace, Shopify, Drupal, Joomla and many more.
Don’t get me wrong — you can do SEO on any of them. But some are more SEO-friendly than others.
For example, you need to be able to change your robots.txt file. That’s not easy to do on Shopify.
Drupal is kind of outdated. And Wix and Squarespace are very much geared toward beginners, but they aren’t as easily customizable as you might need them to be as you check the items off this SEO checklist.
That’s why I like WordPress. It’s free and open-source. And it has a plugin for everything. That makes accomplishing many SEO tasks MUCH easier.
If you’re already on a non-WordPress CMS, it might be worth the time and effort to migrate your site to WordPress or another SEO-friendly CMS.
The URL of your website domain should be HTTPS — HTTP. HTTP is outdated and much less secure than HTTPS.
Besides, HTTPS is a minor Google ranking factor. So, you’re leaving SEO potential on the table (and making your site look outdated) if you don’t use it.
To set it up, you’ll need an SSL certificate. You can get one for free online or through your hosting provider.
When you make the switch, make sure to redirect your HTTP domain to HTTPS.
Even after you switch to HTTPS, you might have two versions of your site to choose from:
Neither is better than the other from an SEO perspective. But you need to choose one and make it the canonical version.
(That’s the version you tell Google is the most important one — the one it should index and display in search results.)
So, choose by your preference. Then, add the proper canonical tag to your site’s code. And redirect the other version.
That way, when you type in the URL version that you didn’t make canonical, it will redirect you to the version you did choose.
As you’re setting up your site — hopefully long before you publish a bunch of content — you need to choose the basic structure of your URLs.
There is a wrong answer here. A couple of them, in fact. You need your URLs to be keyword-rich.
That means, when you publish a page, its URL reflects the H1 (title) of the page. (And the H1 will contain your keyword if you’re doing your on-page SEO right.)
So, if you’re publishing a practice area page targeting the keyword “Chicago car accident lawyer,” your URL should look something like this:
Here’s what it should NOT look like:
By default, most WordPress sites will want to publish with one of those two bad URL structures. That’s why you need to go into your settings and change the URL structure to reflect page and post titles.
Trust me — Google looks at the words in your URLs. Having your keyword there is going to be much better for your SEO efforts over the long term.
If you want to know how your site is performing, you’re going to need Google Analytics (GA).
Good news is that GA is completely free. And it’s not hard to set up.
All you have to do is sign in to GA and set up your web property. Then, you can paste a little piece of code into your website’s header.
That’s it — you’ve got GA set up.
Why does this matter?
Because all this SEO work you’re doing is going to affect how your site performs. And GA is how you’re going to understand what’s working and what’s not for your business.
Google Search Console (GSC) is also free. And the setup is really similar to GA.
What’s different? GSC is focused specifically on organic traffic and impressions — that’s traffic from Google.
It’ll also give you a wealth of information related to your website’s performance in Google search, including backlinks, manual actions, page indexability, Core Web Vitals information and much more.
Go ahead and set it up now so you have all the data you need to make informed decisions about your SEO efforts in the future.
I know, I know. Bing has only a fraction of the search engine market dominance that Google has obtained.
But it’s still worth setting up Bing Webmaster Tools (Bing’s equivalent to GSC).
Why? Because it’s free, and it can provide additional insights about your performance in search engines in general (rather than specifically on Google).
It’ll only take a few minutes, and it might just pay off in the future. So set it up.
Please — don’t fly blind as you build your website. Have a plan for the structure of the thing.
More specifically, identify the broad topics you want to rank for. Then group subtopics under each of those topics.
This is part of a process called content clustering. You write pages or posts for each topic and subtopic. And then you link the subtopic pages to their topic pages and vice versa.
Before you know it, you have a broad website structure plan in place. Now, add your broad topic pages to your top navigation menu.
This process is not only helpful for your website visitors, but for search engines. They want to know and understand what your website is all about, and having a clear structure is a huge help.
This one’s tricky. That’s because I hate SEO plugins. But I recognize that they offer some important functions for website owners who want to do SEO.
I’m talking about Yoast or Rank Math. I really would just do one of those two. They’re the most recognized SEO plugins.
Install one of them on your site. But be warned: They’re going to give you A LOT of recommendations that you’re going to want to ignore.
For example, they want to go crazy with “keyword density,” which simply doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to.
So, why am I recommending that you install an SEO plugin when their core function tends to be more or less useless? Because of the other stuff they do.
For one thing, both help you set up 301 redirects super easily. They also make it really simple to change title tags and meta descriptions. And those things actually DO matter for SEO.
Here’s one more thing that your SEO plugin of choice will make much, much easier: your XML sitemap.
An XML sitemap is a simple text document that lists all the URLs on your site. What’s the point? So search engines like Google can easily find and index every page you want it to.
If you don’t have an SEO plugin, you have to dig up one that your CMS might have automatically generated behind the scenes (and manually update it) or write one yourself from scratch.
But both Yoast and Rank Math — those two primary SEO plugins I mentioned earlier — will generate a perfect XML sitemap for you. And they’ll automatically update it every time you publish a new piece of content on your site.
As you build out your website, pay attention to click depth.
Click depth is the number of clicks it will take for a person or search engine bot to reach any page on your site if they’re starting from your homepage.
In general, you want to keep click depth to any important page as low as possible — not more than two or three clicks if you can possibly avoid it.
If you’ve got, for instance, a super important service page, users should probably be able to access it via a single click from your homepage.
And blog posts you want to rank well in search engines should be no more than two clicks away from your homepage. Your blog archive will help with that, but also spruce it up with your internal linking strategy.
Speaking of internal linking, don’t forget to do it. A lot of it.
What do I mean by that? I mean linking from posts and pages on your site to OTHER posts and pages on your site.
Don’t just do it at random, either. Do internal linking with purpose. Choose thoughtful, keyword-rich anchor text. And link more often to the pages you want to rank higher in search engine results.
Search engines are ALL about links. And that includes internal links.
They’re going to read all those internal links as votes for which pages on your site are most important.
An added bonus: Your internal links pass link juice that enters your site via backlinks to the important pages on your site, boosting your ranking power.
Backlinks and internal links get all the glamor shots, but external links are still an important factor that you shouldn’t overlook.
By external links, I mean links within your website content that point to other websites. Usually, you externally link to the sources you use to write a blog post, for example.
Pick your external links wisely, by the way. Google is reading these to make sure you’re associated with high-quality websites.
So, whenever possible, link out to .gov, .edu and .org pages. And if those top-level domains simply aren’t going to cut it for your external linking strategy, do your best to link to the most authoritative sources possible.
Remember — when you link to a site, you create a relationship with that site. Google sees that and judges you by it. So, if you’re linking to crappy sites, Google will think YOUR site is crappy.
No matter where you are in the SEO process, you need to know where you’re starting from.
Take five minutes and start a free trial of any popular SEO tool. Pop your domain into the tool to see what you’re ranking for right now.
This is your starting point. It highlights what’s already working, and it gives you a baseline by which to judge the effectiveness of future SEO efforts.
Break out your pen and paper (or blank Google Doc and keyboard). This is the part where you make a list of keywords that you might want to rank for.
We’ll refine this list later, but for now, no keyword idea is a bad idea. Write down every keyword for which you’d like your site to show up at the top of Google.
Then, go through every keyword you’ve written down and make sure it matches the search intent of your ideal customer or client.
For example, if you’re a law firm, you might’ve written down the name of a particular statute in your state, such as “California Civil Code Section 3324.5.”
Ask yourself: Does my ideal client Google that?
Probably (definitely) not. Lawyers might Google that. But non-lawyers? No way.
So, strike it off the list. It’s irrelevant.
Now do the same thing for every other keyword idea you have written down.
Fire up that SEO tool of choice again. And plug in your remaining keyword ideas.
See what the tool returns. You’re looking for two things:
In other words, you’re looking for a sweet spot.
Some search volume means that at least some people search the keyword idea you’ve identified in Google each month.
Too much search volume shows you that you’re going to have to work really hard to rank for that keyword. And it might take a long time. That’s because the keywords with the highest search volume tend to be the most competitive.
For instance, “car accident lawyer” might be searched thousands of times every month. And big, national law firms are probably dominating the rankings for it. It’s too competitive.
Meanwhile, “Lakeway Texas car accident lawyer” might get searched a grand total of zero times per month. It doesn’t have enough search volume and probably isn’t worth your time.
The sweet spot? “Austin car accident lawyer” — with a reasonable amount of monthly search volume and a reasonable possibility that you could rank for it in this lifetime (with lots of great content and backlinks).
If you want to win at SEO, you need to know who you’re competing against. So, make a list of your competitors.
You probably already know some businesses that you compete with in the offline world. They should definitely go on the list.
But take some time to explore the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the keywords you’ve decided to target.
Make note of the websites consistently ranking well for those keywords — they’re your competitors, too.
While you’re poking around in the SERPs to find your competitors, take other notes. More specifically, make a note of the opportunities you may have to increase your visibility there.
I’m talking about SERP features. You’ve seen them — they’re anything OTHER THAN the 10 blue links you usually see.
So, if there’s a “map pack” showing local results for one of your keywords, write that down. If there’s what’s called a featured snippet (a snippet of text or an image at the very top of the SERP), write that down, too.
Make note of People Also Ask boxes, related searches, video and image carousels and anything else you see that’s out of the ordinary.
Why do this? Because each of these SERP features represents an opportunity for you to stand out in the results. Capture one of those SERP features, and your traffic and leads could skyrocket.
Remember that list of keywords you made before? Now, you have to decide the content you’re going to write in order to rank No. 1 for each of them.
Basically, write down the title and subject matter of the content you’re going to create to target each keyword in the list.
There are some exceptions, but in general, assign just one keyword to each piece of content.
With all your content listed out, you’re ready to schedule it. You probably don’t have the time or resources to create it all at once, so put it on a calendar.
Obviously, the faster you get your content live, the better. But only do what you can reasonably afford to do.
If it’s a post per week, so be it. If it’s two posts per week, even better.
You’re smart. But all your potential customers who might find your website? No guarantees there.
That’s why you need to make your website content SUPER easy to read. Generally, you want your content to be at an eighth grade reading level or below.
I need to be really clear with you here:
I mean write so an eighth grader can understand. NOT like an eighth grader would write. There’s a (BIG) difference.
How do you measure this? With a free tool called the Hemingway App. (Hint: Make your words and sentences as short as possible.)
Don’t halfway cover the concepts you discuss in your website content. Cover them all the way.
Why? Because Google likes comprehensive content. It ranks for more keywords, and it’s more likely to answer Google users’ queries.
So, write the whole thing. Cover as much detail as you can. And you’ll be rewarded in the SERPs.
If your site has been around for a while, you probably have a lot of pages on it. Audit them.
You can use Google Search Console, Google Analytics, a third-party SEO tool or some combination.
The point is to see all the pages on your website — and more importantly, see which ones rank for no keywords and get no traffic.
List those pages out. Then, look at each one. Do you need or want it on your site? Or is it serving no purpose?
If it’s serving no purpose, delete it. And then redirect the old URL to your homepage or another relevant page.
This saves on your crawl budget, which means Google will use its resources more on the more important pages of your site — the ones you want to rank.
Your title tags — the titles for your content that show up in the SERPs — are a ranking factor.
They need to contain your target keyword. And they need to be under 60 characters so Google doesn’t truncate them.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to encourage readers to click on YOUR search result and not someone else’s.
So, audit your existing title tags for those factors. And keep the factors in mind as you write new title tags.
Meta descriptions are similar — they’re what shows under your title tags in the SERPs.
They’re not a direct ranking factor, but they still matter.
They can encourage readers to click through to your search result. And, if they include the keyword the Google user searched, Google will bold them in the SERPs, making your result stand out even more.
So, spend some time with your meta descriptions. Make sure they’re on point and keyword-rich.
Your header tags (H-tags) are bits of HTML code that tell Google the parts of pages that are particularly important.
Each page should have one (and only one) H1. And that H1 should contain your primary keyword because it’s the most important text on the page.
Section titles should be H2s, and they should contain your keyword or variations of it. Subsections should be H3s. And so on.
Make sure each H-tag is serving a purpose. And NEVER use H-tags for style (design) purposes only.
People like images. Google likes images. So why aren’t you using images?
So many people skip the images. Or they treat them like an afterthought. That’s a mistake.
Invest in high-quality, relevant images for every piece of content you publish on your website. It’s a major SEO factor.
And each of those images you create or commission should have alt text.
Alt text is the text that shows up if you hover your mouse over an image. It’s also what screen readers — the tools those with visual impairments use to read online content — will say out loud for users. It describes the image.
Search engines reach alt text. It’s a ranking factor in many contexts. So make sure to include alt text for every image, and try to get your target keyword into the alt text whenever possible.
Schema markup data tells Google more about your webpages. It helps them understand all kinds of things, such as the fact that a particular page provides a recipe. Or another page is selling a product or service.
It’s an important way to help search engines understand what your website is all about. And that helps your rankings.
But there’s another bonus: Many schema implementations will get you extra real estate on the SERPs.
For example, if you use reviews schema, you can get ratings stars to show up under your SERP listings.
Some SEO plugins can handle basic schema. But the more advanced stuff can get pretty tricky and often requires the help of a developer. But it’s worth it.
Google places a lot of value on what it calls “E-A-T” — expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
There’s a lot to discuss here, but the main thing you need to know is that Google wants to see that you are qualified to write about the things you write about your website.
So, create an “about” page that discusses your qualifications. And add your name as the author of each page and post you publish.
There’s much more to E-A-T, but this is a good start.
If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t need a robots.txt file. This is a simple text file that tells search engines which pages on your site they can crawl.
But your site may already have a robots.txt file. And because this file can affect your ENTIRE website’s rankings when it’s done wrong, you need to check it.
Just type this into your web browser: https://yoursite.com/robots.txt
If there’s nothing there, you’re probably all set. But if there IS a robots.txt file, make sure it’s not disallowing your important pages — the ones you want to rank.
Head back to your SEO tool of choice and plug your website in. Find the report that details 404s and other broken link issues.
Here’s the thing: Google doesn’t like broken links. When it sees them on your site, it interprets that as a bad sign. And that can affect your rankings.
So, audit for broken links. And fix them — whether it’s through changing the broken internal or external links or setting up 301 redirects.
While you’re poking around in your SEO tool, find the part that talks about orphan pages. These are pages on your site that have no internal links pointing to them.
Take some time to fix them by pointing links to them from other pages.
That’s going to make them MUCH easier for Google and humans to find.
How fast does your site load? If you don’t know, find out. Go to PageSpeed Insights and plug in your domain.
The faster your site on mobile and desktop, the better. Google prioritizes the user experience, and page speed is a major factor in that.
So, follow the tool’s recommendations to increase your page speed if you aren’t happy with the numbers you see.
Google cares about page speed ALMOST as much as it cares about mobile-friendliness. That is, does your site present well (and remain usable) on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets?
You can find out with another free tool from Google: the Mobile-Friendly Test.
Hopefully, the tool tells you your website is mobile-friendly. But if it doesn’t, it will detail the possible errors. Fix those issues as fast as you reasonably can.
If you don’t already know this, let me clear it up: Backlinks are a BIG deal for SEO.
Whether you’re just starting out or well into your SEO plan, you need to see what backlinks you currently have.
The best way to do that is with your SEO tool of choice. Find the backlink analytics section and export the data.
You’re looking for a couple of things:
You don’t necessarily have to do anything with this information. (Be EXTREMELY careful with the disavow tool — you’re risking your rankings when you use it.) But you do need to make note of the current state of your backlink profile.
With a full understanding of your CURRENT backlink profile, you’re ready to make a plan for your FUTURE backlink profile.
That is, which links do you want? Why? And how will you get them?
This is going to require a lot of research. But we’ve made it easier with this guide to finding the best backlink sources.
Make a list of backlink targets. Make a plan to get them. Then make it happen. It’s the only way to truly dominate the SERPs.
Don’t get so wrapped up in all this SEO stuff that you forget social media. Fill out ALL of your social media profiles: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and so on.
I’m no big fan of social media. And it’s not a direct ranking factor for Google search. But it IS a major trust signal to people.
In other words, having a social media presence makes your business look legitimate. And that’s going to be hugely important in converting all the lovely organic traffic you’re generating into actual leads for your business.
Every industry has online directories. And then there are general business directories, as well as local directories in your city or state.
Fill as many of those out as you can. Prioritize the ones that give you a link back to your website (it’s great for SEO).
And don’t be afraid to pay for some of these directory links. Don’t go crazy and pay for some low-quality link from an unknown directory, but for the major players, it’s OK to pay to play.
This is both an SEO consideration and a legitimate way to generate business. There’s no reason not to fill out your directory profiles.
Please, please don’t skip this one. You need to claim (and completely fill out) your Google Business Profile (GBP).
(In case you’re confused, it used to be called Google My Business, or GMB.)
Your GBP is your ticket to ranking in Google Maps for local searches. It’s also a great way to boost your SEO in general.
Google loves it when you use its tools, so do that with GBP. And don’t stop there — make a plan to post often on your GBP profile, too.
You need to be able to assess your SEO ranking progress over time. If yours is a local business, you’ll need to be able to see where you rank in the SERPs in your city.
So, set that up. Lots of tools will do it — the major SEO tool platforms and some more dedicated (and lower-cost) rank trackers.
From the last step and many more in this long list, you’re going to get a lot of data over time. That data is EXTREMELY valuable.
Why? Because it shows you what’s working. And what isn’t.
Bottom line: It empowers you to make informed changes to your SEO efforts.
So, use it. Review the data you’re getting at regular intervals. And make changes to your strategy accordingly.
SEO never stops. Neither should you.
I know I just threw a lot at you, but you don’t have to absorb it all right now. Bookmark this page and come back to it.
If you do all the things on this SEO checklist, I PROMISE you your rankings will improve.
SEO is one part art and one part science. The science part makes me confident enough to guarantee that your rankings will improve if you check all the to-dos off this list.