Going to the grocery store without a checklist guarantees chaos.
Since you’re not following any list, you put food in your shopping cart on a whim.
You grab too much of one thing, not enough of another, things you don’t really need—and then, of course, you forget what you came for in the first place.
This is what happens to digital marketers without an SEO checklist.
There’s a plethora of tips, tricks and hacks out there. What do you really need to prioritize? What do you need to make sure happens on every page and in every blog post?
And, once you know what’s what, how do you make sure that you don’t forget anything while you’re hard at work on your site?
That’s where our SEO checklist comes in.
Specifically, our onsite SEO checklist. This checklist will guide you through optimizing every piece of your content so it can rank well on Google and reach thousands (even millions) of readers.
First, we should get on the same page about what onsite SEO actually entails.
What Is Onsite SEO?
At its core, SEO is the interplay of three different elements:
- Offsite (or off-page) SEO covers everything outside your website that affects your search rankings, such as social media engagement and backlinks. Some of this is within your power to influence (you can promote content on social media, and do linkbuilding outreach, for example) but some of it is not.
- Onsite (or on-page) SEO covers everything on your website that affects your search rankings, from site speed, image optimization and HTML source code to the quality of your content. This is everything that’s directly within your control, so it’s arguably the most valuable element of SEO to focus on.
- Technical SEO refers to the behind-the-scenes coding and setup of your website, though it’s sometimes simply folded right into onsite SEO. If you improve your technical SEO, you can improve Google’s ability to crawl through your pages, see your content and rank it highly. You can also improve the overall user experience (UX) meaning that people stick around longer to enjoy your content.
So, we can define onsite SEO as what you do with what you already have.
Unlike things like social shares and backlinks, which are largely at the mercy of other people, onsite SEO is within your control and easier to modify.
You can work towards:
- higher search engine rankings for your keywords.
- a rock-solid, trustworthy brand for your business.
- more loyal customers or readers who will prefer your articles over those of your competitors.
- increase in backlinks, social media shares and click-through rates.
Onsite SEO goes beyond optimizing your content around a specific keyword.
Google has gotten smarter, so there are many more things to consider beyond keywords.
We’ve been through it all, and figured out what’s important and what’s not—and we’ve put all of this to the test by developing the Monitor Backlinks SEO monitoring tool.
And after lots of trial and error, here’s the onsite SEO checklist we swear by.
The Definitive Onsite SEO Checklist
When it comes to onsite SEO, you’re pleasing not just one but two masters: Google’s search engine crawlers and the people who visit your site.
This checklist satisfies both. It takes care of their needs in a language that both of them understand.
Therefore, this checklist is divided into two parts:
- SEO factors — These ensure your contents are groomed and ready to rank on Google.
- Usability factors — These are all the elements needed to improve user experience which, in turn, boost the overall value of your site.
If you follow this guide, you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone. Not only will Google rank your pages and deliver more organic traffic to your site, but those random visitors will also turn into fans as soon as they land on your pages.
Let’s get the ball rolling!
□ Make URL SEO-friendly
□ Add keyword at the beginning of the title
□ Add modifiers to the title
□ Place target keyword in the first 100 words
□ Ensure your blog post title has H1 tag
□ Insert keywords in subheadings
□ Sprinkle some external links
□ Add internal links
□ Include some LSI keywords
□ Optimize images
□ Check for broken links/crawl errors
□ Spot-check redirect problems
□ Make it a multimedia experience
□ Make your website mobile-friendly
□ Boost website speed
□ Make social sharing easier
□ Write longer blog posts and articles
□ Make sure content aligns with user intent
□ Engage with your community
□ Optimize your meta data
□ Connect your homepage with your best content
□ Use schema markup
Part 1: SEO Factors
Make URL SEO-friendly
The URL (universal resource locator) is the address assigned to each page on your website. You already know that, but what you may not know is how to optimize this.
The goal is to create a URL that will help search engine crawlers figure out what your page is all about.
You also want people browsing your site to remember it. Hence, having ridiculously long URLs like the one below defeats this purpose.
Keep it short and simple. Every single character between the “www.” and “.com” (or whatever top-level domain you have) must count.
You want proof?
Backlinko’s analysis of one million Google search results found out that pages with short URLs tend to rank higher than those with long URLs.
The graph below illustrates that, the longer the page’s URL is (i.e., with 60+ characters), the lower its Google ranking is.
So, we know that short URLs tend to have better Google rankings, but how will you know if your URL falls within the ideal length? How short is “short”?
Google’s Matt Cutts has an answer:
Based on the information I’ve gathered, the ideal URL permalink has three to five words (maximum 60 characters) separated by hyphens, and that’s following your domain and any categories you’ve decided to add to the URL, if you’ve done that.
You can go beyond this limit, but as Matt Cutts stated, Google will just ignore the additional words. Not to mention the URL’s readability will suffer, making it more difficult for people to remember it if they want to visit again later.
There’s an ongoing debate whether including dates in URLs helps in SEO. While it works for news websites where contents tend to go stale, the same can’t be said for those with evergreen content.
Unless you have a moral responsibility to tell your readers how old your content is, you can choose a simple URL containing nothing other than the title of the article or your target keyword.
Take note, however, that changing the URL format only works for new websites. Doing so if you already have published content will result in broken links.
To choose a simple URL format, go to your WordPress dashboard. Under “Settings,” select “Permalinks.”
From the list of options, select “Post name” format which cuts all the fluff to give you the most basic URL:
The “/sample-post/” can be your target keyword or the title of the article. In case the title is too long, you can reduce its length by eliminating “stop words.”
Examples of stop words are the following:
These words only serve as fillers and are ignored by Google. If the URL makes sense and is still readable even without the stop words, then you’ve made the right decision.
You can still include dates and categories in the URL, especially if that’s what the top websites in your niche are doing. Just remember that whatever format you decide to use, it should be applied consistently throughout the website.
Add keyword at the beginning of the title.
The closer your target keyword is to the beginning of the title tag, the more likely Google will rank your content for that keyword.
Take for example the keyword “ketogenic diet.”
If you Google this keyword, you’ll notice that the top positions are dominated by articles with the main keyword at the beginning of their titles.
It goes to show that when creating titles, first impression always counts.
Add modifiers to the title.
People may be looking for the same thing, but they use different keywords to find it.
If you only use your target keyword in your title, you may be missing out on longtail keywords that can generate just as much traffic.
For example, if you’re writing an article about essential oil diffusers, you can improve its chances of ranking for many longtail searches by including modifiers like “best,” “reviews,” “guide” and “checklist” in the title.
Using the examples above, you can come up with a title like “Best Essential Oil Diffuser: An Ultimate Guide.”
You can also add the year the article is published (e.g., Best Essential Oil Diffusers of 2018) since most people are always looking for the most recently updated guide.
Place target keyword in the first 100 words.
It’s common sense to include a keyword in your blog post.
But where exactly?
If you want to rank for a keyword, don’t be shy about it. Place it where Google and your readers can easily find it: At the beginning of the article.
Remember, keyword stuffing is already a thing of the past.
Mentioning the keyword once within the first 100 to 150 words is already enough. Just make sure you only add the keyword where it flows naturally and adds value to the sentence.
Ensure your blog post title has H1 tag.
The H1 tag is used to distinguish the title or headline from the rest of the article’s content.
WordPress and most content management systems automatically add H1 tag to titles. In this case, you don’t have to do anything.
However, some themes can mess with WordPress and wipe out the built-in H1 tag altogether. To ensure the blog post title has H1 tag, check its source code.
You can do this by right-clicking the page and choosing “View page source.”
If you see H1 tags like in the post above, then you have a functioning headline tag.
Insert keywords in subheadings.
Although subheadings have less SEO weight than the headline, it doesn’t mean you should take them for granted.
Subheadings, or those wrapped in H2 and H3 tags, also help Google understand what the content is all about. For readers, these sections allow them to quickly scan and pick ideas from the article without reading the entire piece.
Hence, it won’t harm to add your main keyword at least once in the subheadings. Your lazy readers will thank you for it.
Sprinkle some external links.
External links are links that send your readers away from your website.
While it may sound counterintuitive, adding external links in your contents can benefit you in two ways:
- It helps Google recognize what your page is all about.
- It establishes your website as a high-quality source of information by mere association to high-quality authority sites.
The power of external links proves that no website is an island.
Even if you’re the best in your field, you can’t possibly know everything. Hence, the need to get ideas from other sources.
Of course, you should practice moderation. Pages with more than 100 external links are at high risk of facing Google penalties.
To avoid getting slapped with Google’s punishments, limit your external links to only two to four per 1,000 words and only link to established authority sites.
Add internal links.
While external links refer your readers to outside sources, internal links lead them to related contents within your website.
As a result, your bounce rate is reduced and Google interprets this as a positive user experience.
As a rule of the thumb, add two to three internal links in your article, preferably at the beginning of the post where links are more likely to be clicked.
You can add more, as long as the articles are related and provide additional insights into the topic.
This internal linking helps a lot of things. Dwell time measures how long people stay on your page while bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page.
These two elements reflect how effective your strategies are in engaging your audience.
However, with the increasing number of high-quality pages competing for the same keyword, users tend to bounce from one source to another to get the best information.
This is why reducing your site’s bounce rate to zero is impossible.
Although you can’t convince everyone to avoid leaving your site, you can still control how long they stay on your page. One way to achieve this is by writing long and engaging contents that answer all possible queries.
The bounce rate can also be reduced by encouraging users to explore further. You can do this by adding internal links at the beginning of the article, a strategic position where most readers are still in the mood to click around.
Include some LSI keywords.
When Google crawls your page, it also expects to find synonyms or terms related to your target keyword. It does this to judge the overall quality and relevancy of your content.
These related keywords are known as LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords.
If you’re writing a long, detailed guide about something, chances are you’ll include different LSI keywords without even consciously thinking about it.
For example, if the blog post is about “running,” LSI keywords may include “fitness,” “running shoes,” “marathon” and the like.
To find LSI keywords, you can use free online tools like LSIGraph.
Or, you can head over to Google, type in your keyword and scroll down to the bottom and look for “Searches related to..”
For example, to get LSI keywords for “how to get rid of eye bags,” I performed a simple Google search and found the following at the bottom of the search result:
Google Image Search can also be a decent source of traffic.
To boost your chances of appearing on top of image search result, insert your target keyword in two key places: The image’s file name and its alt text.
The file name is the name you assign to the photo the moment you save it on your computer (e.g., on_page_SEO.png).
Alt text, meanwhile, can be found as soon as you upload the image to WordPress.
If you’re uploading several images at once, insert your target keyword in one of the photos and then use LSI keywords for the rest.
Check for broken links/crawl errors.
One way to slow down the effects of onsite SEO is by neglecting crawl errors. They can drag your website down and lead to negative user experience.
Fortunately, Google can help you find and fix them before they can even affect your rankings.
Go to Google Search Console and select your website.
From the dashboard, choose “Crawl” and then click “Crawl Errors” to display whatever issues your website is currently dealing with.
There are three types of crawl errors: Server error, soft 404 and Not Found.
The server error (i.e., 500 Internal Server Error) usually happens when the limited memory allocated to your hosting account can’t keep up with a sudden surge in traffic, causing your website to be temporarily inaccessible.
The soft 404 and Not Found errors, meanwhile, affect individual pages. It can be due to one of the following reasons:
- A typo in the URL of the link (either internal link or from another website) which points to a page that doesn’t exist.
- A page has been deleted or changed its URL but you’ve failed to 301 redirect it.
- The website has been moved to a new domain but there’s a mismatch of subfolders.
At first, the obvious solution would be to 301 redirect all broken links to the homepage or specific pages where they’re supposed to go to.
However, too many redirects aren’t good either.
A better way to fix crawl errors is to 404 all links that don’t pass any value and let them die the natural way (meaning Google will simply stop crawling them).
If the 404 or Not Found pages have been indexed and are still generating traffic and links, a 301 redirect is recommended.
Spot-check redirect problems.
Just like broken links, bad redirects can also mess up with your onsite SEO.
You want to make sure old URLs that no longer work are redirected to new pages that readers and Googlebot can access.
There are two ways to do this:
- 301 redirect — A permanent redirect, this tells Google that all backlinks and SEO value you’ve gained from the old URL will be transferred to the new one.
- 302 redirect — A temporary redirect, this is ideally used for pages under maintenance, time-specific promotions, or pages only accessible to logged in users. This redirect doesn’t pass SEO value to the new destination.
Between the two types of redirects, 301 is considered the standard and ideal way of keeping the link juice flowing.
The more 302 you can convert to 301, the better your website’s SEO score will be.
Since manually checking your website for 302 redirects can be tedious, I recommend using MonitorBacklinks’ HTTP Header Status Checker, otherwise known as redirect checker.
This tool allows you to check all redirects in your site and test whether or not they’re good for SEO.
To access it, go to Link Checker tab and choose SEO Tools from the menu.
From the drop-down list, select “Redirect checker.”
Enter the URL of your website and click the yellow “Check” button under it.
301, as I said earlier, means that a page has permanently moved and the backlinks pointing to the old URL have been transferred to the new page. The “200,” meanwhile, is a standard code for good URLs. It means that both the page’s URL and content exist and can be detected.
Otherwise, it will identify 302 redirects which you can work on to improve your website’s onsite SEO. For beginners, here’s a list of common HTTP header error codes and how to fix them.
Part 2: Usability Factors
Make it a multimedia experience.
Adding a video, image or screenshot to your blog post won’t cause your rankings to skyrocket overnight.
However, adding these elements to your contents can boost user interaction/engagement. And the more people like your content and interact with it, the more chances you have of earning new backlinks and seeing enthusiastic social shares.
In addition to that, adding multimedia to an otherwise boring wall of text in your article helps reduce bounce rate and increase time on site—two crucial metrics that Google use to measure the overall quality of a page, and which affect your SERP rankings.
Make your website mobile-friendly.
In 2015, Google rolled out an update that penalized websites with mobile-unfriendly designs.
The Mobilegeddon saw a lot of casualties, and the crackdown continues as more users become inseparable from their mobile devices.
If that’s not enough to convince you to adopt a responsive design for your website, I don’t know what else will.
In case you’ve already joined the trend, you can verify your site’s mobile-friendliness by using Google’s testing tool:
Plug your website URL into the designated box and click “Run Test.”
After a quick analysis, Google will show this result if your website is mobile-friendly:
For pages that aren’t mobile-friendly yet, it will provide actionable tips to make your page easier to use or navigate on mobile phones.
And one final takeaway: When writing any content, think about how that content will translate to mobile.
Boost website speed.
As early as 2010, Google already stated that Google’s testing tool
If you consider the fact that Internet users have a shorter attention span than a goldfish, Google’s decision actually makes sense.
Few people are willing to wait more than five seconds for a page to load. If you have a slow website, it can piss off your visitors so much that they’ll hit the back button, increase your bounce rate, and put your website on Google’s chopping block.
Worried that your website doesn’t meet Google’s standard of speed?
Access Google’s very own speed test tool, Google’s testing tool.
Enter your website URL in the box and click “Analyze.”
Depending on how fast or well-optimized your website is, Google will rate it as Good, Average, or Poor.
For a quicker access to your PageSpeed Insights score, go to your Monitor Backlinks dashboard and find the “Speed” icon.
By pointing your cursor to the symbol, you’ll also get a list of suggestions on how you can improve your site speed.
Aside from Google’s suggestions, you can also try the following tips to boost your site speed:
- Use a cloud delivery network (CDN) like Cloudflare.
- Switch to a faster hosting.
- Install speed-boosting WordPress plugins like WP Smush (for image compression) and WP Rocket.
Make social sharing easier.
With social media dominating the Internet (some people even think that Facebook is the Internet), it’s almost a crime to have a website that lacks social media sharing buttons.
Make it easier for your followers or readers to share your content by using big, eye-catching buttons. Add a plugin that allows readers to quickly highlight a chunk of text and share this on any social media platform. We use Sumo for both purposes.
As you generate more eyeballs on your articles, you’ll also get the attention of other bloggers who are more likely to link back to you. The more backlinks you get, the better your search engine visibility will be.
It’s all one big cycle of sharing.
Write longer blog posts and articles.
An analysis of 1 million Google search results reinforces what some content marketers already knew: the correlation between content length and search engine ranking.
Specifically, the study reveals that the articles in the first-page result have an average word count of 1,890.
Of course, there are outliers that rank well with fewer words, but you should also take into account other factors that might have propelled them to the top like domain authority.
In terms of pleasing Google, few things can be as effective as writing in-depth contents. Here are some reasons why:
- Longer content improves your page’s topical relevancy.
- Longer content boosts user engagement.
- Longer content attracts more social media shares and potential backlinks.
Aim to publish articles that are no shorter than 1,500 words. Prioritize quality over quantity: It’s better to have shorter and concise content than a long article full of fluff.
Make sure content aligns with user intent.
Google Panda has already punished websites with thin contents.
Today, low-quality content will get you nowhere. Longer content with keywords used in a natural way is the best way to go.
But longer doesn’t always mean better. You also have to make sure that the article meets the needs of your target readers.
For example, a person searching for the long-tail keyword “how to use essential oil diffusers” probably needs a beginner’s guide to using the device, not boring information about the history of essential oils.
Ensuring your content matches user’s intent is at the core of Google RankBrain, an emerging metric that measures how satisfied the readers are with your content.
It takes into account the bounce rate, dwell time, and other user engagement metrics already discussed in this guide.
Engage with your community.
Google’s Gary Illyes himself once tweeted that “a healthy, thriving community on a site” can help a lot when it comes to improving Google rankings.
Before you go on an anti-comment tirade, let me explain that blog comments can’t directly influence your rankings.
Let’s say your article is about “how to get a passport.” No matter how hard you try to cover everything in a single blog post, your readers will never run out of questions.
By providing detailed answers to these queries, you’re also adding essential information to your article.
As the number of comments grows, more visitors will choose to stay on your site to read them, boosting dwell time.
Google, in turn, will recognize the positive user experience and reward your page with more search engine traffic.
On the other hand, if you have decided to say “Bye, Felicia!” to blog comments, you’re in good company. Influencers like Seth Godin and Steve Pavlina also did the same thing and their blogs are still doing great.
Let’s face it: Blog comments aren’t for everyone. As your traffic grows, so do the blog comments. And if you’re just a one-man army, it’s impossible to accommodate all these comments without sacrificing your time that’s better spent elsewhere.
If you’re still undecided, perhaps the following questions will help clear things out:
- Do you get quality, insightful comments from your readers or mostly spammy, self-promotional reactions?
- Does replying to blog comments consume most of your time?
- Do you always get “destructive” criticisms or hateful comments that are causing you a lot of anxiety?
In addition to the questions above, you should also consider where most of your followers are hanging out. If you notice that you get more comments on social media like Facebook or Twitter than on your blog, perhaps it’s time to refine your strategy.
Remember, a community can thrive anywhere, whether it’s on your blog, social media or email list.
Optimize your meta data.
The meta description is the short statement beneath the title tag that provides a summary of what the content is all about. But it’s not just a simple summary.
Using short, descriptive words containing between 50 – 300 characters, the meta description serves as an advertisement that sells the page’s content to people cruising the results on search engine results pages.
The goal here is to entice readers and convince them to click on your headline instead of other competing pages in the search result.
With its power to differentiate your content from other similar pages, it’s no wonder why 43.2% of people click on a result based on its meta description.
Adding a meta description tag has never been easier, thanks to WordPress plugins like Yoast.
Apart from writing a succinct description that attracts clicks, you should also optimize the meta description tag with your target keyword.
As a general rule of the thumb, insert your target keyword only once. To boost your page’s visibility, you can also add LSI keywords and weave them into the meta description in a way that appears natural.
Pro Tip: The best way to improve your click-through rate is to learn from a source that already did the hard work for you.
I’m talking about Google Adwords ads. Yup, those advertisements on top of the search result for a competitive keyword.
To generate the best ROI, these ads went through a lot of split tests, which can be anywhere from hundreds to thousands.
Now, you can piggyback on their results by identifying the specific keywords and descriptions they use.
Although there’s no way to know how effective they are unless you do your own split tests, these ads give you a slight advantage.
By incorporating the elements in these ads to your title and meta description tags, you can potentially outperform not just other pages but also the ads competing for people’s attention.
Connect your homepage with your best content.
Do you have critical pages on your website that you want to rank higher on Google?
Perhaps it’s an online tool that serves as a link-bait or a comprehensive buyer’s guide that has been your site’s bread and butter. Whatever it is, you can improve its PageRank by placing it as close to the homepage as possible.
The homepage is the most linked-to page on your website. Hence, it also has the highest PageRank.
If you put links to your priority pages on your homepage, the more SEO value will flow to them. It will also make it easier for your target readers to find your most important contents.
Use schema markup.
Schema markup is a code that you can add to help Google understand and crawl your contents better.
In addition to that, it also generates a virtual business card for your contents. This business card can display photo, product price, video, product ratings, author name and other specific details you won’t get from a typical search result.
Because of this, schema markup can improve your content’s visibility and click-through-rate by up to 30%.
Websites that feature recipes, news, flights, apps and e-commerce products will find adding schema markups as a great way to get people’s attention.
To get started with schema markups, here’s a short guide we’ve written for you.
Onsite SEO is just one piece of the content marketing puzzle. For beginners, this is the best starting point to learn the tricks of the trade.
Offsite SEO, which can be another term for link building, is the yang that complements the yin (onsite SEO).
Combine the two and you have a winning recipe for website success.
Just don’t forget to track your backlinks to thwart any negative SEO before they even wreak havoc on your rankings.
And that wraps up the checklist!
You’re all set to get out in the world and start optimizing.