For the average website owner, Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO) can be confusing and difficult to implement yourself.
Regardless of how great your website may be, Google has the right to disagree. Their search algorithm has no interest in your passion or pride.
If your website doesn’t align with what the crawlers are looking for from a technological point of view and isn’t good enough to inspire people to share it, you probably won’t see much success.
We’ve assembled a comprehensive checklist of 16 things you can do to boost your site’s organic traffic. We talk a lot about SEO in the context of blogging, but the principles apply to all forms of SEO.
1. Pay Attention to SEO
First of all, you need to understand that Search Engine Optimisation matters, even if you pretend it doesn’t.
It matters because people use Google to find content. If you want people to find your content, then you need to optimise your website for search engines. It’s another way to diversify your traffic.
Many are big fans of social media traffic, but that’s not merely enough by itself. You need Google, too!
If you want to optimise for Google, you should be thinking “what would people be searching for” and not “I’m going to write a post about XYZ that someone may never find.” That’s not to say writing about your opinions or ideas is bad. But if people aren’t searching for that topic on Google, then you’re unlikely to gain organic exposure.
Also, note that Google uses 200+ ranking factors to rank your website. All of these are different, and I go through a number of them below.
These signals can either be part of “on-page SEO” (the practice of optimising individual web pages to rank higher) and “off-page SEO” (the actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages). Just something to keep in mind!
Once you understand what SEO is and how it’s important, you’re ready to move on.
2. Set up Google Analytics & Search Console
Now that you know SEO matters, you need to get all the technical aspects set up correctly.
Before you can focus on things like keyword research, link acquisition, and page optimisation, you need to make sure you have the structural components of your website set up to build the foundations of your SEO.
To make sure you have everything set up correctly, be sure you have 1) Google Analytics installed and 2) Google Search Console. You’ll use both of these sites to work on your SEO, so you must have these set up and configured.
The next step would be to link your Google Analytics account with your Search Console account. This will allow you to see keyword info in Analytics.
3. Install an SEO Plugin
Next, you should install a plugin on your site that helps you manage the general optimisation of your website, as well as a page-by-page level.
We use and recommend The SEO Framework (this is pretty common and highly recommended by a lot of SEOs and site owners). It’s a free plugin within WordPress and very easy to use. The SEO Framework provides on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps, and other awesomely helpful features.
You can connect your Search Console account to WordPress through The SEO Framework, too. Do this by clicking on SEO in WordPress in the left column of your WP panel, then go to the Webmaster Meta Settings section. You’ll then be able to insert your Google Search Console Verification Code.
4. Upload XML Sitemaps
Now, let’s make sure your XML sitemaps are working.
An XML sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website that leads Google to all your important pages.
If you use The SEO Framework, then your sitemap will look like this when you go to yourwebsite.co.uk/sitemap.xml.
You can also find your sitemap in WordPress if you use The SEO Framework by going to SEO → Sitemaps Settings.
If you go to yourwebsite.co.uk/sitemap.xml and you get a 404 error, you need to ensure that you have Sitemap Output enabled within Sitemaps Settings.
5. Remove Duplicate Content
Once you have everything set up correctly (i.e., you’ve done steps 1-4 above), you can start digging into your website to make sure it’s optimised for SEO.
In this step, focus on removing duplicate content.
Duplicate content confuses the robots that crawl your site. For example, if you have multiple pages with the same meta title and description, and a large portion of the text is copied directly from other pages on your site, this is seen as a duplicate piece of content (which is not good in Google’s eyes).
To see if you have duplicate content on your site, go to:
- Google Search Console → Coverage
You can see duplicate meta descriptions and title tags here.
There are other ways to figure out how to remove duplicate content through software such as Screaming Frog.
The point here is to avoid duplicate content and remove it as soon as you identify it.
6. Redirect 404 Errors
When a robot crawls your site, if it goes to a link that is no longer working (e.g., you deleted a blog post), the robot gets a 404 error page. Similarly, if a human goes to a deleted page, they will also get the same 404 error.
The crazy thing is that crawlers see the weirdest 404 errors that readers would rarely ever get to.
But, the only thing you need to worry about for SEO is that 404 errors are not present on your site.
To find 404 errors, go to:
- You can use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider for free (and paid) to check for broken links (the HTTP response ‘404 not found error’) on your website.
Once you have identified the 404 errors, redirect them using a redirect plugin. You can use a plugin called Redirection. It’s a free plugin that allows you to redirect one link to another.
7. Remove Intrusive Interstitials From Your Site
Google makes algorithm updates all the time. In recent years, with the continuous increase of mobile users, Google introduced the mobile intrusive interstitial penalty.
Are your mobile ads intrusive? If so, it’s time to change that.
8. Increase Your Site Speed
Your site speed can have a negative impact on your SEO if your site is slow. Google penalises slow websites.
To check your site speed, use Google PageSpeed Insights. On this page, enter the specific URL you want to test (e.g., your homepage or a specific page). You will get feedback from Google with things you can fix. A lot of it can be technically challenging to fix, so if you can’t fix it yourself, talk to your web developer.
9. Get Links Back to Your Site
One of the biggest ranking factors for SEO is how many and the quality of links that point back to your site. This is because the more links pointing to your website, the more Google views your site as an authoritative site in your niche.
There are many ways to get links back to your site, including
- Leverage testimonials
- Reverse engineer the backlinks of a competitor
- Build links from social profiles
- Create linkable assets such as data-driven pieces and infographics
There are tons of different ways to get more links, but the emphasis here is that links matter—the more links pointing to your site, the better.
But remember, QUALITY is far more important than QUANTITY.
10. Use the Right Images
Images in a page/post are a good thing for SEO.
The reason images can help boost your SEO on a page is that images are another place where you can include your keyword(s). That’s why you should include your keyword in the file name and alt tag. If you don’t, Google won’t know what the images are.
Another big boost fro SEO is infographics. People love them. These will also help with SEO and as mentioned above, can help generate one-way links to your site.
11. Write Blog Posts That Are at Least 1,000+ Words
Your posts should be no less than 300 words of content to rank in search results. For most, 1,000+ words of content would be optimal.
It used to be that shorter posts that were posted more frequently on your blog were better.
Keep in mind that this is for purposes of Google rankings — not social media. So, if you get most of your traffic from social, then you may want shorter posts. The key is to know which works and what your goal is.
12. Do Keyword Research
Now, we’re going to talk about keyword research. This is a significant part of SEO, so I’ve broken the step up into four parts.
#1: Why keywords matter:
You need to set up your pages and posts with the right keywords so that people can find it when they search Google.
This is a big one for SEO. So, pay extra attention to this step.
The “keyword” in a blog post is a phrase you want to identify as being the main point of your post.
Because the internet is such a competitive place, you need to do research ahead of time to determine which keywords to focus on in your blog posts.
#2: How to do keyword research:
You can find keywords for free by typing into Google what people are most likely to search for. Google will then offer suggestions (this is a way of seeing what is popular and what people are searching for). But you won’t find any data on the searches. You won’t know how many people are searching for that term.
So, the next step is to use an online service to do keyword research. There are many companies out there that offer keyword tools, including Google Adwords Keyword Planner, SEMRush, and Ahrefs.
It’s pretty standard to use a service to do Keyword research — especially Ahrefs or SEMRush. Despite knowing this, If you’re looking to get started with Google Adwords Keyword Planner, you do have to enter your billing information, but you can immediately pause the campaign (you can do a £1/day budget and immediately pause it once signed up). After doing this, you’ll have access to the Keyword Planner to do your keyword research.
You can also use something like LSIGraph.com to figure out what variations of your keyword you should use throughout your post. You can only reference your keyword so many times, but you can include other variations of it. The more of these variations in your post, the better for SEO.
You should also consider using long-tail keywords (3-4 keywords or longer phrases), which are less competitive (i.e. you have more of a chance to rank for them).
#3: How to choose the right keyword:
When you’re researching which keywords to choose, look at the following factors:
- Average monthly searches – how many people are searching for this keyword. The higher amount of monthly searches, the better.
- Suggested bid – how much competition there is for this keyword for people paying for ads. The higher the suggested bid, the more likely people will convert into paying customers (known as commercial intent).
- Competition – how competitive is the keyword to land on the first page of Google.
- Long Tail Keywords – longer keywords that give you a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google. Find long-tail keywords by searching something in Google and seeing what else pops up after the keyword. You can also scroll to the bottom of the page where it says “searches related to…” to find more long-tail keywords. Then, you can use these in Adwords or your tool of choice as the original keyword to get more info on them.
Of course, you should also apply a healthy amount of common sense here.
If you sell online, think about your customer and how Google searches might fit into their buying journey. Do you want to improve your SEO around the Zero Moment of Truth, or are you targeting them earlier in their research? Is your goal simply to be found at the point of purchase? Might it also be valuable to target them after they have purchased to build loyalty?
Once you have your keyword chosen, you need to use it in your post.
#4: Where to put the keyword in your post:
Once you have your keyword, you need to put it into your post.
Great places to put your keyword for SEO purposes include:
- In the H1 tag (further to the left is better)
- In the slug (aka URL or permalink)
- In the Meta Title (the title shown in search results)
- Throughout the content of your post content
- Image alt tags
13. Use the Skyscraper Technique From Backlinko
Backlinko, one of my favourite authorities on SEO, introduced the Skyscraper technique to increase your backlinks (referring domains).
The Skyscraper Technique is a system for turning content into high-quality backlinks.
To use the Skyscraper technique, do the following:
- Find content that’s authoritative on Google in your niche and ranking for the keyword you want.
- Build a better post by a) making it more thorough and lengthier, b) making content more up to date, and c) making the content better structured.
- Promote your post by emailing relevant site owners and letting them know about your new piece of content.
14. Get People to Stay on Your Page Longer
Anytime a reader might get bored, insert a phrase that’s known as “bucket brigades” that will get the reader to stay on the page longer. Here are a few examples from Backlinko:
- here’s the deal,
- but there’s a catch,
- what’s the real story?
- how can you actually use this?
- the best part?
- why does this matter?
- that’s not all…
While the phrases above are from Backlinko, the strategy, in general, is a copywriting strategy that copywriters use a lot.
So, take the time to look up ways for you to use phrases that encourage readers to stay on the page, anytime you think they’re likely to leave.
15. Break up Text With Subheadings That Are Enticing
Headings help Google know what your post is about. The H1 tag being the core heading that tells search engines what your page/post is about.
The next best tag is the H2 tag, which you should use for your headings within a post.
Breaking up your text with useful subheadings will encourage readers to stick around longer. Not only that, but if you can include a keyword in your subheadings, you’ll stand more chance of ranking.
16. Add Internal and External Links in Your Blog Posts
It’s no secret that including links in your posts is good for SEO. Be sure to include links to your own content (internal linking) and links out to external sites.
I typically recommend 2-3 links per 1,000 words.