SEO DIY Checklist

How can you tell if you are doing everything you can get make your website as visible and attractive to Google as possible - in other words so it is 'search optimised'?

Don't just ask your web designer/developer.  A lot of them say yes without understanding anything about SEO.  And don't ask someone who has an interest in selling you SEO services!

So, how can you tell?

If you are on the first page of Google for your most important search phrases other than your company name, chances are you are doing OK.

But if you want to do a self-diagnosis, here is a list of what to check. You should be able to answer yes to as many of these as possible.

It's only the tip of the iceberg but if you can get these right, you'll be well on the way.

1. Keyword research

Did you start off with rigorous keyword research to identify your target phrases that are relevant, have sufficient volume without being ridiculously competitive?

By this, we mean using statistical research tools, not a brainstorm among your colleagues.  You aren't your target audience and you need objective data.  If you don't want to use Google's Adword Keyword tool, here's a list of alternatives: 10 Keyword Research Tools.

To answer yes to this question, you should have a list of the top 10 phrases and an average monthly search volume in New Zealand.

2. Domain name.

Does your site name include any of your target keywords, and does the name say what you do. E.g www.jellybeans.com or www.housepainting.co.nz.  Not only does this help for SEO but it makes more sense for your audience.

Having said that, don't go looking for a domain name that exactly matches a target search phrase either.  Not only will they not be available if a high volume phrase, but Google announced that they were targeting exact match domains and reducing the SEO value.

If your domain name doesn't have any of your keywords in it, there is no point going and finding one that does and just redirecting it to your existing domain. There is no SEO benefit from doing this.  

Just know that having a domain like www.mycompanyname.co.nz isn't going to be helpful, and concentrate on getting other things right.

3. Hosting

Is your host company reliable and is your site hosted in the same country as your audience. Server location is used as a ranking signal by Google.

There are some complex technical elements to SEO that your hosting will effect. Don't just choose the cheapest hosting you can find – it is most likely to be located in the US or Asia somewhere, shared with a gazillion other sites some of which who may be up to some very dodgy activity which could harm your own efforts.

4. Site structure

Is your site structure (i.e. sections and pages) oriented around your keywords and phrases, such as Jelly Bean Recipes, Buy Jelly Beans, History of Jelly Beans etc.

If you have a section called 'services' that is a one page list of everything you do, then chances are the site is not optimised unless you answer yes to number 10.

5. Search friendly urls

Do your URL's look like this:

www.bootstore.com/gumboots/womens-gumboots (good)
or this:
www.bootstore.com/fjuths-128ards6klfi-pageid#8-dkanrd.html (bad)

For ECommerce sites – make sure your product names are included in your URL's. If you have multiple words in your page names, the URL's should show these as hyphens rather than underscores.  And because most ECommerce stores have multiple URL's leading to the same content, you'll need to sort your canonical tags to point to the definitive version.

6. Title tags

Do you have a unique title meta-tag for every product or service page? Does it include your keywords?

If you don't know, open the page in your browser and (in Firefox) press the control and U keys to 'view source' and look for what's between the " " and " "

Description tags are not used as a ranking signal, but help to get people to click on your link in Google's results so pay attention to these as well.

Make them inviting. Don't even think about fooling people into clicking on your link.

The keyword tag is ignored so don't agonise over this one.

7. Headings

Are your keywords in the headings on your page (in a way that still makes sense for the reader). The main heading (which should be coded as an 'H1') is the most important, then on down to your sub-headings.

8. Content

It goes without saying that your content – i.e the text on your page should include your keyword phrases. Don't forget to use synonyms.

The amount of content you have also counts – the more the merrier but it has to be relevant and more importantly, unique.

Avoid duplicate content and limit the amount of advertising – especially 'above the fold'. Don't 'stuff' paragraphs full of keywords to the extent that it looks unnatural.

9. Freshness

Is your content regularly updated in a way that adds quality, unique content targeting common search phrases such as frequent questions, how to's etc.

10. Blog

Do you have a blog, news or resources section?

This can help if you said no to number 4, and it makes number 9 a heck of a lot easier. By their nature, blogs or news/article sections are easier to update on a regular basis because services don't tend to change often.

If your site is a shop, in addition to adding new products you can still include tips, specials and news sections.

11. Images

Do your image file names and alt tags include your search terms. If in doubt, hover over an image on your site, click the right mouse button and choose view image info (in Firefox).

Do NOT use images to display text. And don't use images for navigation.

12. Internal Links

Do your internal links contain keywords (in a way that makes sense for the user). For example if you have a page on Food for Entertaining, your link to your Easy Cocktail Recipes page should say "Cocktail Recipes", not 'click here'.

Make sure your most important pages are linked from your homepage. Having a site-map helps search engine robots crawl your site, to make sure as many of your pages are indexed as possible.

13. Performance

Does your site load quickly, error free? This is where your web developer's expertise will really show.

Try Google's on-line page speed test If you get more than 90 you are probably Ok, but Google will give you a list of high, medium and low priority issues to look at.

Resolve the high priority ones.

14. External (back) links

Do you have other sites linking back to you?

Back links are like votes and essential for SEO. They need to be from other quality sites though, not link farms (which are against Google's terms) or irrelevant sites filled with rubbish content.

You can check how many back links you (and your competitors) have using the Open Explorer Tool (http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/)

15. Do you share?

Social sharing and conversations are now starting to count, depending on how it's done and whether it involves people linking back to your site as a result. (See 14)
You should look at what social networks would help your business engage with your audience, but knowing that sharing your unique, quality content on these networks will also help.

16. Are you mobile friendly?

Is your site responsive? Google announced in April 2015 an update that was designed to boost mobile-friendly pages - although most people missed the small print that said that this would (and it did) affect search rankings on mobile devices.  You can do a mobile test here: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly.

How did you do?

If you answered no to more than a couple of these, you need to devote some effort to search optimisation if high Google rankings are important to you.

If you decide you do need to do something:

  • Don't panic
  • Don't jump into paying someone a lot of money to get instant results. SEO is a long-term strategy and results can take months to eventuate. You would be better of on a PPC campaign in the short term.
  • Some of these items on the check list represent significant change to your site structure and underlying technology.
  • You may even have to start again from scratch with a web designer/developer who can deliver on these items.
  • Pick the ones you can do easily (or yourself) and start there.
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Client words...

"Thanks to your seemingly simple optimisations we're seeing more new customers and 40 percent greater advertising revenue from our site."

Jeff McClintock - Synthedit