The Ultimate Free SEO Checklist for New Websites

An SEO checklist walks you through major and minor web content changes that will boost your search engine ranking and increase organic traffic. Add these tasks to your SEO checklist and keep them in mind so your site always follows best practices.

We’ve broken the checklist items down by SEO focus area and arranged them in a way that makes sense. You’ll eventually want to complete all of the suggestions, but the way they’re organized makes it easier to tackle one type of SEO at a time before moving on to the next.

Basic SEO Checklist

Even if you jump around the rest of this free SEO checklist, start with the basics. Without these foundational SEO tasks completed, it’ll be difficult for your website to rank.

Use Google Search Console

Google isn’t the only search engine out there, but it is the one you’ll want to focus on the most. Google Search Console lets you manage your website’s performance in Google Search. GSC shows you how Google views your website, allowing you to make changes that will put it in a better light.

You can also see if there are any website issues that violate Google’s guidelines and could seriously impact your rankings. In GSC, go to the Security and Manual Actions option in the left sidebar, then select Manual Actions. Any issues will show up here.

The Manual Actions section of Google Search Console, which is part of the SEO checklist.

Set Up Bing Webmaster Tools

Bing Webmaster Tools is like GSC for the Bing search engine. You’ll be able to see the keywords that users are searching for to find your content, and you can also find crawl errors that could be hurting your ranking.

Set Up Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the leading website analytics tool — and it’s free. You can view reports that show you information about your site traffic, like how many people are visiting your website, where they’re coming from and the actions your users are taking.

Once you’ve set up GSC and Google Analytics, you can connect the two accounts to view SEO information in Google Analytics.

Install an SEO Plugin for WordPress

WordPress users should install an SEO plugin on their website, like Rank Math or Yoast. You’ll see guidance about how to optimize your pages and posts for search engines. Aside from using keywords in content, you’ll also get tips about improving technical SEO factors like canonical URLs and meta data.

Submit a Sitemap

Your website’s sitemap helps search engines locate, crawl and index your content. WordPress users don’t have to worry about this tip because sitemaps are automatically created for WordPress sites.

However, if you’re using a different content management system (CMS), you can use a tool that will generate a sitemap, like XML-Sitemaps.com. You can then submit the sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools and GSC.

Keyword Checklist

Keyword research lets you find potential search queries from your audience that are relevant to your business. In addition to finding useful keywords, this area of SEO includes sorting and prioritizing them so you can create a strategy.

Find Your Primary Keywords

Your primary keywords are the ones that will attract leads, drive conversions and get you sales.

Usually, your primary keywords will have a high volume and high competition. That means they’re searched for a lot and there’s a lot of competition online for them, which will make it harder for your content to stand out.

These keywords are important for you to incorporate in your strategy, though. They highlight what you offer, so avoiding them because of their difficulty means missing out on attracting your target audience.

While it’s intended for people who will be running Google Ads, the free Google Keyword Planner can provide you with a ton of insight that will help you choose the right primary keywords.

Find Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are more specific than primary keywords. They’re longer and more detailed, and they usually have a lower search volume than broader keywords. You want to use these along with primary keywords, partly because if you focus only on your main keywords, you’ll fall into the trap of keyword stuffing, which Google doesn’t like.

Also, while people search for long-tail terms less often than primary keywords, they have higher conversion rates because they’re so specific. Since there’s less competition out there, it’s easier to rank for long-tail keywords.

Start by picking a primary keyword. Then, use Google to find related long-tail keywords. We go over this more in our article about creating topic clusters , but to get you started, look at the Google auto-completes in the search bar.

Enter your primary keyword, then see the other searches that pop up underneath:

Google auto-complete for modern home decor search.

You’ll find similarly helpful long-tail keywords in the People Also Ask and Related Search sections as you scroll down the results page.

Map Your Keywords

Once you know the keywords you want to target, it’s time to map them so you know how to organize your website content.

Start with one keyword and find related keywords. You can use a tool like Surfer SEO to do this:

Keyword results in Surfer SEO, part of important steps in an SEO checklist.

Add the keywords to a spreadsheet, then group similar keywords together. Every time you have a cohesive set of keywords, you can use them to develop a page or post.

To dive into keyword mapping more, check out this guide from SEMrush.

Check the Ranking Difficulty

Keyword difficulty refers to how hard it will be for you to rank organically in Google’s top 10 results for that keyword. The higher the score, the more difficult it will be.

Keyword difficulty report in Surfer SEO.

High-difficulty keywords don’t need to be completely avoided, but a smart approach is to optimize for high-volume keywords with lower-difficulty rankings.

Research Your Competitors

Determining which keywords the competition is using puts you in a better position to compete with and outrank them. The idea is that your competitors share your audience, and keywords that are working for them will also work for you.

A free way to do this is to use WordStream’s keyword tool. Input a competitor’s URL, click Find My Keywords, confirm details (URL, industry and location), then search. You’ll see results like this:

Free keyword tool from WordStream to help with your SEO checklist.

Match Content to Search Intent

Search intent refers to why a person is searching for something. There are four main categories of search intent:

  • Commercial: The user wants to learn about something before they buy it. For example, they may want to read a review of a cookbook they’re interested in buying.
  • Informational: The user wants to learn about something, like how to cook a specific meal.
  • Navigational: The user wants to find something, like a local restaurant.
  • Transactional: The user wants to complete an action, like buying a kitchen utensil.

It’s important to gear your content to the user’s search intent. You can use a keyword planner tool to do this. In Surfer, you can filter keyword groups by search intent:

Search intent filter in Surfer.

By matching the content to the user’s search intent, you can improve your ranking and increase site traffic.

Learn Which Questions Your Audience is Asking

Audience research is just as important as competitor research — maybe even more so because you can find gaps in content that people need you to cover. There are a lot of ways to find what your audience is asking about:

  • AnswerThePublic, which generates phrases and questions based on keywords
  • Comments on blogs and social media posts
  • Online communities like Quora and Reddit
  • People Also Ask section on a Google results page

In addition to adding these long-tail keywords to your SEO strategy, you can also use them in FAQ sections in your content.

Technical SEO Checklist

A tech SEO checklist focuses on how easy it is for search engines to crawl and index your website.

Use HTTPS

HTTPS is a Google ranking signal, which means it’s one of the many website characteristics that tell Google whether or not it’s a valuable result to include. HTTPS URLs are more secure than HTTP URLs.

An HTTPS website will have a padlock to the left of the URL:

How to check that your site has HTTPS as part of your SEO checklist.

If your website has links that point to the HTTP version of the URL, they should be updated to the HTTPS version.

Check Google’s Index for Site Duplicates

You may be able to land on your website when you go to a couple of different versions of the URL, such as https://www.yourwebsite.com or https://yourwebsite.com. But Google should only index one version of your website to avoid crawl and index issues.

If you have multiple URLs for the same website, the variations should direct to the primary URL via 301 redirects.

To check if the URL variants are redirecting to the correct one, simply go to them in your browser. If you end up on the primary URL, then they’re working correctly.

Analyze Crawl Depth

Crawl depth (or page depth) is the number of clicks between a page and the website’s homepage. The fewer clicks, the easier it will be for search engines to crawl and for users to find. Best practices say that pages should be a maximum of three clicks away from the homepage.

Often, removing old pages can reduce crawl depth. Beyond that, you’ll probably need to use a site audit tool that has a crawl depth reporting feature, like the one from Semrush.

Address Crawl Errors

Crawl errors occur when a search engine finds an issue as it’s crawling your website. These problems can often impact your SEO.

To see if there are any crawl errors with your website, visit GSC. Go to the Indexing section in the left sidebar, then click Pages. Select the Not Indexed tab so that it turns gray.

Checking for Not Indexed pages in GSC.

Scroll down to see indexing issues affecting your pages:

Indexing issues in GSC.

Fix those issues, taking note of which problems to avoid in the future.

Add Schema Markup

Schema is a type of HTML vocabulary that gives search engines information about a page. That information then shows up in search results to provide the user with more context.

Also referred to as structured data, it’s often used on pages for businesses, books, events, recipes and reviews.

For example, the rating, reviews and timing information for this grilled cheese recipe is shown thanks to schema markup:

Rating and review data on a grilled cheese recipe in Google Search results.

The easiest way to add schema to your website content is to use a dedicated WordPress plugin, like Schema & Structured Data for WP & AMP.

Improve Site Speed

Slow websites create a bad user experience (UX), and UX is another Google ranking signal. To see how fast your website is loading, use the PageSpeed Insights tool.

Enter your URL and click Analyze. After a few seconds, you’ll get a report card with analyses of Performance, Accessibility, Best Practices and SEO.

Tool for analyzing website page speed as part of your SEO checklist.

Scroll down to see specific suggestions for each section, then apply the changes to your website.

Choose an Optimized Link Structure

The more SEO-friendly your link structure, the easier it will be for search engines to crawl your website and determine what each page is about.

A bad-for-SEO URL may look like this:

https://www.yourwebsite.com/category.php?id=19

An SEO-friendly URL may look something like this:

https://www.yourwebsite.com/travel-planning

Simple, short, descriptive URLs are best. They please search engine crawlers and users will have an easier time navigating your site.

Pro Tip: Instead of underscores, use hyphens to separate words.

Repair Broken Links

Broken links go to pages that don’t exist anymore. You’ll see an error message that says the page isn’t available. This means that the server received a 404 status code, meaning “page not found,” when it tried to go to the link.

Links that don’t go where they’re supposed to can negatively impact UX. To find them so they can be fixed, use a tool like Link Whisper, which creates a Broken Links Error Report that tells you what needs updating.

Analyze Redirects

While not as detrimental to SEO as 404 pages, 302 redirects should be assessed and updated to 301 redirects if needed. While a 302 redirect is meant to be temporary, if you decide that the redirect will remain in place, it should be updated to a permanent 301 redirect.

Additionally, redirect chains and loops should be fixed to avoid needless redirecting, which uses up a search engine’s crawl budget for your site. Whenever possible, redirects should go from URL A to URL B without any additional jumps in between.

Serve a Mobile-Friendly Website

According to Google, the search engine “predominantly uses the mobile version of a site’s content, crawled with the smartphone agent, for indexing and ranking.”

Translation: If your website doesn’t perform well on mobile, it could hurt your ranking.

You can see how your site performs by using the Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Plug in your URL and click Test URL. After about a minute, you’ll be brought to a results page. If your page needs work to make it more mobile-friendly, you’ll see a list of suggestions.

Tool for testing if a website is mobile-friendly.

On-Page SEO Checklist

All of the SEO tweaks in the world can’t replace great content. You need these on-page SEO checklist tactics to rank highly and attract traffic.

Create Optimized Content

We could have an entirely different checklist dedicated to creating optimized content. Best practices include adopting a strategy like the Skyscraper Technique or topic clusters when planning content, using the focus keyword within the first 150 words, and addressing readability issues. This article from Ahrefs goes over many of the free SEO checklist items to hit when creating content.

Audit and Update Your Content

Regularly auditing your content to find areas of improvement can improve your SEO. Whether you’re updating outdated content, removing or combining low-quality pages, or adding SEO to refresh low-performing pages, you should always be on a cycle of updating existing content so it stays fresh.

Optimize Title Tags

Title tags let search engines know what your page is about. The easiest way to follow a basic title tag structure is by using a WordPress plugin like Rank Math or Yoast. You’ll select the different meta data you want your page titles to include, such as the blog post title, site title, etc.

Title tags in Rank Math.

This article goes over how to build and optimize your site’s title tags with Yoast.

Remove Extraneous H1 Tags

H1 is an HTML tag for the largest heading on the page. On WordPress, the post title is automatically an H1. That should be the only H1 in your content — a webpage shouldn’t have more than one H1. As you create and update content, make sure that all of your other headings are H2 or smaller (H3, H4, etc.) aside from the title.

Optimize Meta Descriptions

While meta descriptions don’t necessarily help with ranking, they can encourage users to click on your page. These short descriptions give a brief overview of what the page is about. Your meta descriptions should incorporate keywords, match the user’s search intent and encourage people to learn more by clicking on the link.

Optimize Your Images

Alt text is the HTML code used to describe an image. It’s used by those with visual impairments so they can understand the context of an image. It’s also helpful for search engines to identify what your images are about.

You can write the alt text for every image you upload to your website. Use full sentences that include your keywords and are properly worded and punctuated.

Address Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization is when two or more pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword. This makes it difficult for search engines to know which page to rank. Finding and fixing keyword cannibalization can improve your ranking and help people find what they’re looking for.

Improve Your Internal Linking Strategy

Internal links are a big part of your link-building strategy. They help search engines, as well as users, navigate your site and find related information. To analyze your current internal linking structure, use Link Whisper to conduct an internal link audit.

Link Whisper will also help you find orphaned pages, which are ones that don’t have any internal links pointing to them.

Off-Page SEO Checklist

Off-page SEO has a reputation for being the most difficult kind to get right. However, you can’t ignore it since it can be a big influence on your website’s success.

Research the Link Profiles of Competitors

Knowing where your competitors are getting backlinks from can inform your own backlink strategy. You’ll need to use an auditing tool to get this information.

Request That Mentions of Your Site Include Links

If you notice that your website is mentioned on another site but there isn’t a backlink, reach out to the site owner. Ask if they’ll consider adding your link to the reference. If you’re not yet monitoring brand mentions, here’s a list of tools to consider.

Seek Out Link-Building Opportunities

Finding link-building opportunities isn’t easy, but over time, the work you put in can really pay off. This article has a number of ways to encourage getting more backlinks to your website.

Create a Google Business Profile

Every local business should have a Google Business Profile. Your business will show up in search results in a way that encourages clicks and visits:

Google Business Profile for a local pizza place.

Final Thoughts

Optimizing your website’s SEO isn’t a one-and-done task. You’ll want to regularly go over the above tips so that your site is always competing well. Use Link Whisper to create optimized content and audit your internal linking to find areas of improvement.

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