In this blog post, I’m going to talk about a detailed SEO checklist that helped us grow organic traffic to our blog from 50,000 monthly search visits to over 230,000.
The first thing you should do is create a sitemap. Sitemaps tell search engines of where to find important content on your site so they can easily crawl and index your pages. Here’s what the site map for our blog looks like, which was created automatically with the Yoast SEO plugin. Now, if you don’t use WordPress or prefer not to use Yoast, there are tons of free site map generators you can find from all over the web. The next thing to check for is a robots.txt file. A robots.txt file is important because it gives instructions to search engines on where they can and cannot go on your site. For example, you may not want them to crawl certain pages or directories like a cart for an eCommerce store or RSS feeds, so you’d add that to your robots.txt file. If you’re unsure if you have a robots.txt file, just go to yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If you see a plain text file like this, then you’re good to go. If you see anything else, then Google “Robots.txt generator” and create one.
The last couple of things you should do is set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Google Analytics can give you insightful data on how your visitors interact with your website. For example, analyzing bounce rates and time on page can give you an idea of user experience and engagement. Google Search Console, on the other hand, is a must-have tool for all webmasters. You can track your performance in search and see the keywords that you’re ranking for.
While there are a lot of ways to approach keyword research, there are certain fundamentals that I think every page should follow. The first being to find a primary keyword target for your page. Every blog post we create has one main primary target. Just look at any of our titles and you can tell right away which keywords we’re targeting. “Long-Tail Keywords: The ‘Secret’ to Getting TONS of Search Traffic,” “YouTube SEO: How to Rank Your Videos From Start to Finish.” To find the right primary keyword, you’ll need a keyword research tool. For example, by searching for “SEO tips” in Ahrefs keywords explorer, you’ll see things like keyword difficulty score, search volume, as well as various SEO metrics on the top-10 ranking pages for the keyword.
Now, the second thing you’ll want to do is assess search intent. Search intent means the reason behind the search query, and Google is good at helping you do this. Just search for the primary keyword phrase you want to rank for, then look at the top-ranking results. To assess search intent, you’ll want to look at the types of pages that are ranking and the format they’re using. As you can see here, the types of pages that are ranking for the keyword “SEO checklist” are blog posts. As for the format, they mostly seem like a hybrid between list posts and tutorials, which you can infer by the titles.
Now, if you were to create a product page selling an SEO checklist, then you probably won’t rank because you won’t be matching search intent. Once you have search intent down, you’ll want to look at related queries to your topic. The first place you can look at is Google’s autocomplete. Just type your primary keyword in the Google search bar and take note of other relevant search queries. Two other places to look are in the “People also ask” box in the search results as well as the related searches at the bottom of the page. In this case, queries and questions related to the side effects of apple cider vinegar show up in both places, so this is something we would want to include in our post.
To find even more related queries and questions people are asking, you can check the search suggestions and questions report in Ahrefs keywords explorer. Across these two reports, you’ll find over 28,000 keyword ideas along with keyword metrics like keyword difficulty, search volume and more. If you’ve done all of these checkpoints, then you should have a strong idea of what your content should be about and the questions you should address throughout your post.
The next step is to find the relevant keywords and subtopics for your posts. In our study of three-million searches, we found that, on average, the top-ranking page also ranks for nearly a thousand other relevant keywords in the top-10. One of the main ingredients to ranking high for numerous keywords are links, but an equally important part is content. Fortunately, you can find subtopics to cover by looking at the keywords that the top-ranking pages are already ranking for, then make sure you cover those points on your page. To do this, go to Ahrefs keywords explorer and enter your primary keyword target. Now, scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll see the top-10 ranking pages. The main column you want to look at here is keywords. This one seems to be getting a lot of search traffic. They rank for a ton of keywords and the page is relevant to the one I’m creating. Let’s click on the number under the organic keywords column to see which keywords they rank for.
To keep things super relevant, let’s set a position filter to only show keywords that rank in positions one through five. Some interesting sub-topics to cover here might be the benefits of apple cider vinegar. We might want to talk about organic versus nonorganic products. And something even more fascinating to me is the part of Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar, which is a branded product. Then there’s an attribute here with mother, which is a health term often used with apple cider vinegar that I would have otherwise never thought of on my own. Sprinkle some of these terms in sheer content, use other parts as subtopics and do your best to cover the topic using data.
The last thing on the keyword research and analysis side is to assess your chances of ranking in Google. To understand your chances of ranking, you need SEO metrics of the top-ranking pages. Otherwise, you’ll just be guessing. As a very general estimate, you can use the keyword difficulty scores in keywords explorer to get a very rough sense of that, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on it alone.
So, here’s what the final section of our keyword research checklist should look like. The first point here is to use short, yet descriptive URLs. We studied two-million keywords and found that pages with shorter URLs rank better than those with long URLs. Now, while there’s a clear correlation, it doesn’t mean causation. A simple way to choose your URL is to set it as your primary keyword target. For example, a blog post on 75 actionable SEO tips could be domain.com/seotips. It’s short and anyone can tell from the URL what the topic is on.
Next, ensure you have a compelling title tag and meta-description. Old SEO advice will tell you to include your target keyword in your title and meta-description, but our data shows that exact match keywords in the title and description do not correlate with the ranking position. So, should you use your keyword in your title and description? The answer is, it depends. The most important thing about the title is that it entices a click. After all, clicks translate into traffic, but if you find that you’re stuffing the keyword for the sake of inclusion, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
The next thing you should do is add relevant internal and external resources. In the same on-page SEO correlation study, we found web pages that link out to high DR external resources rank higher than those that don’t. Second, you should add internal links from relevant pages to your new post. A quick way to find these pages is to go to Google and search for something like “Site:yourdomain.com” and then add a keyword related to your topic. You’ll then see all posts from your domain that include your keyword. Just visit these pages and add internal links to relevant anchor text. A nice little bonus tip would be to pair the search results with Ahrefs’ SEO toolbar. Look at the URL rating to identify relevant pages that will likely have the greatest impact on your new post. In general, the higher the number, the more authoritative the page.
When you do this properly, you can pass link equity to your new page and possibly increase the speed that Google discovers your page. And that about does it for the on-page SEO checklist section. Here it is in all its glory, so take a screenshot and let’s move onto the next section, which is all about content.
Choosing a topic with high search traffic potential and doing some basic on-page SEO is important, but all of your efforts will be in vain if your content isn’t up to par. Here are a few things you can add to your to-do list when creating your content. The first thing is to write an engaging introduction. The purpose of the intro is to let your readers know they’re in the right place and that your page will solve the reason for them being there. Fail to do so, and your readers will be gone fast.
Start with something that resonates with the reader. Build trust or credibility and promise a solution to the user’s problem. Second, focus on readability. Let’s talk about readability in two categories. The first is visual comprehension. When a reader lands on your page, the first thing they’re going to process is how your page looks. And if they land on a big wall of text in 10-point font, they’ll likely get overwhelmed and leave. Instead, break your content into pieces by writing in short sentences and short paragraphs. Other visual assets you can add are images to separate paragraphs but don’t just throw in stock photos for the sake of faking visual appeal. Put some effort into creating or finding images that will enhance the reader’s experience. For example, on the CloudBooks blog, we often use graphs, charts, or screenshots that help illustrate a point or lighten the read.
These tips will help increase your chances of turning visitors into readers. Now, the other category in readability is reading comprehension. According to a study, 50% of the US population reads below an eighth-grader level, which means that if you’re writing at a higher level, you’re alienating half the population as well as non-native speakers. There’s a free tool called Hemingway Editor. Just paste your content in there and it’ll give you a readability score. If you’re the type to write academically and struggle to lower your readability score, a great tip you can use is to write as you speak. The last part of the content checklist is to ensure your content solves the reason for the searcher’s query. Great content is content that solves a user’s problem. For example, if you have a post on productivity tips, try and go beyond things like sleeplessness and hustle.
Someone searching for productivity tips probably wants practical and actionable information they can try right away. They want to know how they can measure whether their productivity levels are increasing. If your content solves their original problem and answers the questions that might come to mind as they’re reading, then you probably have some decent content.
When it comes to white-hat link building, you’ll have to pony up and do some email outreach. Now, outreach isn’t about begging for links. In the words of the late Eric Ward, “Links aren’t things. A link represents something somebody finds valuable. A link represents something someone wants to share. A link represents the human manifestation of a desire to let someone else know about something useful.” And there are a few strategies you can use to promote your valuable, shareworthy, and useful content.
The first thing you can do is look at who’s linking to the top-ranking pages for your target keyword. These will likely be the most relevant prospects seeing as they’ve already linked to a competing article on the same topic. The easiest way to find these people is to go to Ahrefs’ keywords explorer and enter your primary keyword. Next, scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll see the top-10 ranking pages along with their SEO metrics. The parts we want to pay attention to are the backlinks and referring domains column. If there are a decent number of referring domains, meaning unique websites linking to the page, then click on the number in the backlinks column to find out who’s linking to them. You can now skim through the backlink support and look for relevant prospects.
After you’ve depleted your list, expand your list of prospects using Content Explorer. Content Explorer has a database of over a billion pages along with its social and SEO metrics. You can start by entering your primary keyword, and I’ll also set the search type to a title search since a lot of people include their primary keyword in the title. Next, I’ll set a referring domain filter to only show pages that have at least 20 links from unique websites. Now, skim through the pages and if anything pops out to you, click on the number of the referring domain to see if the websites linking to the page are worth investigating further. If they are, then you can click on the carrot here, open the backlink support and add relevant prospects to your outreach list.
The final link building tactic that works well is guest posting. I’m not going to expand on this here, but check out our video on scaling guest posting, which will give you the full details on doing it successfully. Now, these three techniques are great to use for new and existing content, but there are a couple of other link building strategies that work more effectively if you do the prospecting beforehand, and these are the skyscraper technique and broken link building. Prospecting before you create content guarantees you’ll have a list of people to promote your new piece too. Again, I’ll leave links to full tutorials on these two strategies. Here’s your final link building checklist you should go through, take a screenshot and let’s move on to technical SEO.
At this point, you should have a solid SEO checklist you can rinse and repeat for each new page you create, but as you create more pages, there will likely be technical SEO issues that go unnoticed. So, I want to focus more on the domain level here to find and fix these issues. You can find these issues by running a crawl with a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit. The tool will then crawl your pages and search for over 100 predefined technical SEO issues. After the crawl is completed, you’ll see a list of issues we found on your site. Now, Site Audit is great for finding the issues on autopilot, but you’re still going to have to fix them. Let’s go through a few important ones you should fix.
The first is page speed. Slow loading pages are annoying for the user experience, and as a result, Google has said that page speed is a ranking factor. You can use tools like Pingdom, GTmetrix, or Google PageSpeed Insights to measure the speed of a single page. So, let’s go back to the Site Audit and click on the slow loading pages issue. Next, I’ll copy one of the URLs from our list and put it into PageSpeed Insights. And as you scroll through the list, you’ll get suggestions on what to fix and the time savings you can get by fixing it.
Next, we want to make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. Google has a mobile-friendly test tool you can use. Just enter the URL you want to investigate and they’ll tell you whether your page is mobile-friendly. Next, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t have any external or internal broken links. If someone clicks on a link and ends up on a broken page, then that’s a bad user experience. On top of that, you’ll want to fix these because linking to broken pages is a waste of link equity. If you’re linking to any broken pages, then you’ll be able to find that in Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool under “Page has links to a broken page.” Just click on the number of affected URLs and you’ll see a list of pages that are linking to broken pages as well as the broken pages that are being linked to.
Since every site will have different technical SEO issues, I recommend using a tool to help you identify these issues and then tackle them one by one.