Your SEO Checklist: 6 Starter Steps for an SEO-Optimized Website

SEO-optimized websiteThe goal of SEO (search engine optimization) is to build up traffic flowing to your website. Great SEO means your site is easy for search engine crawlers to find and categorize, plus, it helps determine where your site will land within search results. Your goal, of course, is the highest possible ranking you can achieve: the first listing on the first page. That’s the listing that’s going to attract the most visitors. Hands down.

SEO isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s a constant, ongoing process that takes strategy, monitoring, and refinement.

There are far more than six constantly moving parts to building and maintaining your SEO-optimized website, so consider this checklist the bare essentials of SEO.

Your starting line

1. Semantic Content

Just a few years ago, this #1 item on your SEO checklist would’ve been “Keywords and Phrases.” The launch of semantic search changed all that. Today, your website content has to be relevant to your industry or products. Repetitive keywords are out, concepts are in.

That simply means that all of your website content and copy needs to relate to your industry, your products, or your company. Forget random clickbait and keyword-stuffed articles. Instead, concentrate on providing real value: information your customers are searching for.

2. On-Page SEO

Before you publish, make sure your meta-data is in order:

  • Keyword-based titles unique to each page. To help search engines categorize your pages, include the site name and the page title. For example, our Contact Us page title is “Get In Touch – Grow With Cultivate | Cultivate.”
  • Clear, succinct description tags. This is a succinct description of each webpage—and it should contain at least one keyword. Use no more than 145 characters and be sure to hook the reader. This is what appears below the page title, so it’s valuable real estate you can use to persuade the reader to click.
  • Optimized images. To ensure fast loading time (which also influences your search rank), be sure your images are sized and optimized for web viewing.
  • Simple, but complete sitemap. With both an HTML and XML sitemap, all your search engine bases are covered. Sitemaps make it much easier to submit your site to search engines for faster indexing.

3. Analysis Tools

SEO-optimized websiteAlways use the most current site tools to help you analyze your website to find flaws, broken links, and other issues that affect SEO. You can also analyze competitor sites to find out how your site compares and what you might do more successfully.

One critical analysis no self-respecting webmaster can afford to overlook is backlinks. Be sure you don’t have incoming or outgoing links to low-quality sites. SERPs hate that.

4. Regular Monitoring

With your SEO boosted, you’ll want to monitor your campaigns and new content to see what’s most successful (which content or ad earns the most clicks, conversions, likes and reshares). By adjusting your SEO strategy to make your audience happier, you boost your traffic organically. It’s all one big circle. SEO builds traffic, and traffic boosts your search engine rank…which results in more traffic.

5. Testing

To get to that sweet spot where your visitors are coming back on their own and sharing your content with their friends and colleagues, you’ll need to try new things. Depending on your industry, your visitors might be more interested in how-to videos, eye-catching photos, detailed instructions, user-generated content about your product or service in action, lengthy consumer reports, or one-line quips. Figuring out what works best for your audience means trying new things and doing more of what works.

6. Mobile Friendliness

No SEO-optimized website checklist is complete without a mobile component. More and more frequently, your potential customers are using mobile devices to find information. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, your SEO is flatlined more than 61% of the time.

Your SEO strategy should be focused on user experience—on delivering the very best answer to the user’s question. SEO is an ever-changing scenario with a lot of influencing factors, so use this checklist as a bare-bones guide to basic SEO. If you’re not confident in your SEO strategy, let us know in the comments!


Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Use the free and easy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out. Now’s the time to go mobile, but how? Check out this handy and comprehensive FREE guide to making your website mobile friendly.

Download: The Smart Marketer's Guide To Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

5 Components of a Comprehensive SEO Audit

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a constantly changing landscape with a lot of moving parts, so it takes a real pro to accurately assess your website. You may be tempted to do your own SEO audit using free tools available online. However, the truth is … free tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them or if you don’t know how to interpret the results.

A professional, comprehensive SEO audit should consider things like: navigation, keywords, incoming and onsite links, content, information architecture, metadata, and most importantly, user experience. The purpose of an initial audit is to identify areas on your site for improvement to immediately increase organic search engine visibility.

However, if you are not overly familiar with SEO, the information within the agency proposal can sometimes feel like a foreign language.

What should be covered in a comprehensive SEO audit?

When reviewing a proposal for an SEO audit for your business website, ensure it includes the following five components:

1. Technical Analysis

If search engines can’t crawl, identify, and index your website, it will not be listed. The first step in any worthwhile SEO audit is to verify the underlying code supporting your site.
What Should Be Covered in a Comprehensive SEO Audit? *Great resource + printable.
When checking your SEO, a knowledgeable professional will:

  • Analyze how duplicate content is identified. Almost every site has some duplicate content, and some have content syndicated from other sites. Canonical tags save your site from duplicate content penalties.
  • Validate your sitemap. XML sitemaps provide search engines with information, including page hierarchy, public pages to be crawled, and when pages were last updated.
  • Assess site speed. The time it takes for your page to load is critical. You probably know users will click away from slow-loading sites, but did you know that you get a ranking bonus for loading speed?
  • Perform a backlink analysis. The links leading into your site also influence your ranking. Links from poor quality sites or sites unrelated to your industry can damage your SEO.

2. Usability Audit

Do visitors find your website easy to use? Usability checks include:

  • Ease of navigation. Every site is different and there’s no one right way to create your navigation structure. No matter how fancy or simple your menus are, the important consideration is this: Can visitors find what they are looking for?
  • Proper internal linking. It’s natural to have links on each page to other pages on your site. It’s great for reducing bounce rate and keeping visitors engaged. During an audit, SEO professionals will ensure your pages aren’t overly saturated with links and the existing links are not blatantly optimized, an SEO no-no.
  • Content grouping analysis. It sounds more complicated than it is. Content grouping is an organizational system that allows you to group URLs for related pages. This logical approach to structure works especially well for retail sites to help users drill down from a general category like “Clothing” to a specific category like “Women’s Knit Shirts.”
  • Semantic markup. HTML tags are designed to inform search engines about specific details. For example, you can use semantic markup to help search engines index your site more accurately and create rich snippets to help users find what they are searching for.

3. On-Page Audit

Each page of your site offers a wealth of SEO-boosting opportunities you may be missing. Your digital assets—all the content on your pages—is scrutinized during an SEO audit. The most important on-page SEO factors are:

  • Title tags. For some reason, title tags are often remarkably unhelpful. Matt Cutts advises title tags on every page. Make each one concise, unique, and descriptive.
  • Meta descriptions. For users, meta descriptions are often the deciding factor between links they click and links they pass up. Page titles and URLs can be a little deceptive. A well-written meta description tells the user exactly what to expect on the page. It’s your bait, and it should be tasty.
  • Headers and subheaders. Optimized text inside header and subheader tags isn’t just for the reader. Keywords turn your headers into categories search engines can recognize.
  • While semantic search has changed the way keywords are used, their importance hasn’t diminished. Keyword oversaturation will kill your SEO…as will missing or misleading keywords.

4. Page Layout and Design Review

The way your page is laid out helps users find their way around, and also helps search engines make sense of your content. Your review will evaluate ease of use, overall design, calls-to-action, and how and if the pages are connected for a natural flow.

5. Content Analysis

Well-written content is foundational and essential to SEO. Customer focused and industry or brand specific content attracts both visitors and higher rankings. During a comprehensive SEO audit, your content is assessed for its value and consistency.

Use this guide as a cheat sheet when reviewing an agency proposal for an SEO audit. Print this document and check off the aforementioned terms as you see them appear within your proposal. Use this simple checklist to ensure all your bases are covered:

Printer-Friendly List

Ongoing SEO, Content Strategy and Deployment

When choosing an SEO specialist, knowledge and Geek Speak are important, but also look for someone who is personable and can work well with your team. After your website’s comprehensive SEO audit, your specialist will work with you to create a plan of action. An SEO expert will then collaborate with your team to help execute solutions and move forward with those goals.

Make sure these five areas are covered during your site’s SEO audit to ensure you have a clear and detailed road map to success when defining your strategy.