Comprehensive SEO Checklist for 2016

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If you haven’t noticed, SEO has changed over the past months. Search engines constantly update their algorithms which often makes it difficult to keep track of the latest best practices. We’ll help you get started on implementing an effective strategy and getting your site to the top.

Whether you’re setting up a new site or optimizing a current one, this checklist contains everything you need to know.

Let’s start with three vital changes that have dramatically affected SEO in 2016.

Mobile Dominates

Mobile has become more important than desktop: over 50 percent of all Google searches queries are now performed on mobile devices. This means that we’ll have to prioritize mobile from now on when it comes to SEO and web development. It’s of the utmost importance that your website is responsive –scaling content and built with mobile users in mind.

Social Matters More

Social media content is becoming an equal to website content at a fast rate. Search engines are now indexing and ranking social media pages, so it is inevitable that website content and social content will hold the similar weight in rankings in the near future. This means that businesses should claim their social pages, become more active on their relevant social networks and engage their audience.

Video Conquers The Web

Video is now key to any branding or marketing strategy; perhaps because it is more engaging and immersive than any other form of content. This is the time to start taking advantage of video and reach your audience in creative ways.

Now let’s look at our SEO checklist.

SEO 101: The Basics

Design a Responsive Site

As I mentioned earlier, mobile dominates. More than half of all Google searches are now performer on mobile. Your site not only needs to be mobile-friendly, but responsive on all devices. Ideally you create your site with mobile users in mind first and desktop users second.

Go with Google Analytics

Statistics are at the core of SEO. They provide important insights into your audience and traffic: site visitor behavior, where your prospects are coming from, how they’re finding your site, etc. – metrics that enable you to hone and optimize your efforts accurately.

Setting up Google Analytics is fairly straightforward with All in One SEO Pack: just sign up and add a tracking code to your website. You’ll find all detailed instructions on how to get started right here.

Check Your Page Speed

It’s important that you’re website’s pages load fast. The ideal load time is less than 2 seconds, because most users tend to leave your page if it takes any longer than 4 seconds to load.

Checking your site’s speed can easily  be done using Pingdom or Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. These tools analyze your site within seconds, telling you what’s wrong and what you can do to fix or improve it. A score above 80 (out of 100) is considered great for both mobile and desktop.

Within seconds, PageSpeed Insight tells you what to do to improve your site's speed.

Within seconds, PageSpeed Insight tells you what to do to improve your site’s speed.

Install a WordPress SEO Plugin

An SEO plugin will help you with on-page SEO like titles, meta descriptions, XML sitemap, social meta, etc.

Our All in One SEO Pack is one of the most popular plugins with over 30 million downloads and over 5 million users. You can find documentation and beginners guides to help you get the most from this powerful SEO tool over in our Documentation section.

Add Your Website to Google & Bing Webmaster Tools

Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools help you analyze and monitor various search traffic factors like security concerns, search queries, broken links and many more. In conjunction with setting up those accounts, you should also create and submit an XML sitemap to Google and Bing.

Sitemaps provide search engines with a list of pages that are accessible to them. High-value or high-performance pages should be at the top. Luckily for you, All in One SEO Pack makes sure you don’t have to do this yourself.

It’s highly recommended – in fact, necessary – to do a full site audit after setting up Webmaster Tools. Go through every section (from Mobile Usability to Crawl Errors to HTML Improvements) to ensure that nothing is broken or needs to be fine-tuned.

Run an SEO Audit

Last but not least, get an SEO audit performed on your website by a professional. We provide such a service and details can be found on our website.

On-Page SEO

A lot of people ask us if keywords are still relevant.

They are, but not as you might think of keywords. Google has switched their emphasis from looking at basic “keywords” in your content to long tail terms. Their analysis of the way we use search engines showed that we don’t search by entering a string of keywords, we search by asking Google a question (entering a search term). Google realized back in 2013 that they had to change the way they return search results, so now, they don’t look at keywords in content, but instead they read and understand your content.

Depending on your niche, it can be quite hard to figure out which long tail terms you should actually focus on. Luckily, there are a few effective methods you can use and combine to get a list of relevant terms for your site. Keep in mind that writing quality informative content is much more important than paragraphs of poorly written text stuffed with keywords nobody bothers to read.

Develop Your Buyer Personas

Buyer personas will help you accurately define your audience; and consequently create a marketing strategy that targets them. To build one, think about the problems your ideal customer is facing; their needs; and their online and offline behavior.

Try to get as detailed as possible. Developing your buyer personas takes time and should be done seriously. After completing those steps, you’ll need to execute an effective content strategy to reel them in.

Get Ideas from Google & UberSuggest

You can come up with some great high-value, high-performance keywords with the following tools:

Google AdWords 

https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner

Enter your current keywords, your industry, and competitor sites in the Keyword Planner tool to get a list of relevant keywords.

You can combine lists with keywords to come up with new ideas.

You can combine lists with keywords to come up with new ideas.

UberSuggest

https://ubersuggest.io/

Provides a list of long tail keywords and phrases that match your industry keywords.

Google Trends

https://www.google.com/trends/

Generate a list of trending topics and keywords. It also has a tool that compares keywords and checks the performance of keywords in different locations.

You can also just browse related searches and suggestions in Google – they can be found towards the bottom of the search results page.

Titles, Descriptions, Headings, Permalink Structures and Images

Create Unique Title Tags

You should write unique title tags for your posts and pages. Here are a few essential tips when writing title tags:

  • Limit the title tag length to 60-65 characters. Search engines like Google won’t display more characters in the snippet and will cut your phrase off
  • Add your company name at the end of every title tag to raise brand awareness
  • Place the relevant keyword at the beginning of the title tag as this could increase your SEO score

Our All in One SEO Pack plugin will help you with your titles.

Write Engaging and Succinct Meta Descriptions

Write a succinct and engaging meta description for every page or post. You should:

  • Limit the meta description to a maximum of 160 characters
  • Include a call-to-action, i.e. “read more” or “call [phone number]”
  • Make sure each description is unique

Meta descriptions do not affect the score of a certain webpage, so you shouldn’t focus on stuffing them with relevant keywords. Engaging, well written meta descriptions however have been proven to increase the click through rate and are key to attracting visitors to your site.

This is how an ideal Google Snippet should look like.

This is how an ideal Google Snippet should look like.

In fact, combined with title tags, meta descriptions are the billboard for your site. Google’s final word on meta descriptions has always been to use quality descriptions. As with title tags, All in One SEO Pack will help you with you descriptions.

Make Use of Heading Tags

Heading tags give search engines an idea of what your page is about. There should be one H1 heading which should be your page or post title.  Headings  should be used (H2, H3, H4…) appropriately across your content to break up content. Headings also allow you to define the structure of your text and add more detail to the appearance and layout of your content.

Use Keywords in Your Permalink Structure

It is highly recommended to use your keywords, particularly high value ones, in your page URLs. Try to use them whenever possible as they are a ranking factor for search engines. Where possible, your URLs should closely match your page structure and page titles.

Alt Tag Your Images

Always include your keywords in image Alt tags and titles; and use at least one (featured)  image in every post. Alt tags are displayed when the image cannot be loaded on the user’s device and are very much appreciated by Google and the like.

Always Create Qualitative Content

You should never create content for the sake of creating content. All your content should serve a specific purpose, usually to help answer a prospect’s questions or address their concerns. Here are a few rules to creating quality content:

  • Content should be over 500 words (it can be lower if necessary)
  • Speak directly to the reader – use a conversational tone of voice
  • Do not overstuff your content with keywords, Google may penalize you
  • Provide accurate titles and descriptions
  • Use images and videos to increase visitor engagement

Use Internal and External Links

Direct readers to other relevant content through internal and external links. They will not only be appreciated by your visitors, but also add some extra SEO juice to your page and help search engines crawl and index related content on your site.

Keep Your Site Structure Simple

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) applies to everything that deals with SEO and user experience on your site. In fact, SEO is all about user experience. In that vein, KISS also applies to your site’s structure.

Make sure that all key content is easily accessible in as few clicks as possible, preferably under three clicks from your homepage. If that’s not possible, you may want to rethink your site’s navigation.

Off-Page SEO

Quality, relevant backlinks tell search engines that your site is reputable and shows you are an expert in your field. Below we’ll describe some creative methods to get some quality backlinks.

Analyze Your Competitor’s Backlinks

It’s important to know where your competitors are getting their links from, so you can acquire links from those places as well. You can find competitor backlinks via SEMrush or Moz.

Next, create a list of your competitor’s most valuable links. This list will help you organize and develop an effective link acquisition strategy.

Finally, reach out to the owners or editors of those sites and ask them for backlinks if it could be beneficial for the both of you. There’s no point in requesting backlinks from, for example, a site on American history if your site is about great hamburger restaurants. Website owners need to be able to offer their users value as well.

Find Key Influencers in Your Niche

Influencers have contributed to the success of many big brands. Google Search and social media (particularly Twitter and Instagram) can identify relevant key influencers in your niche. Engage them and aim to cultivate valuable relationships.

These, for example, are top 5 influencers for SEO.

These, for example, are top 5 influencers for SEO.

Consider using Klout – it’s a great platform to identify and engage with key influencers in your industry.

Find Non-Linked Content About Your Business

You write great content and have great products or services. So chances are someone has written content about your business. Search for it, then contact the site owners or publishers and kindly ask them to link the content back to your site. Chances are they will be more than happy to comply.

Review Existing Backlinks

Go through your existing backlinks to see if they are relevant and link to the right pages and content. If they’re not linked correctly, you can reach out to the author and have them update the link or use a redirection plugin if they are linking to a non-existent page. Also check to see if they are using the appropriate anchor text. If not, kindly request that they change it to something more suitable.

Believe it or not, you can remove backlinks that are irrelevant and harmful to your site. Simply ask Google to remove it from your SEO search assessment. That essentially means that you’re asking Google to not include it when calculating your PageRank. Here’s how to go about disavowing backlinks.

Join the Conversation

Participate in relevant forums and discussion boards to develop your authority. Provide useful and informed responses to relevant questions (on topics in your niche). You can always direct users to your site to find more comprehensive and thorough answers.

Quora is a great forum for the above. You can answer questions and link back to your site.

Finally, use social media and enable your visitors to share your content easily on their social networks. Respond to people who contact you via social media.

Social SEO

Go Where Your Customers Are

Where are your prospects socializing online? Identify those networks, create profiles and build strong followings on those channels.

Nowadays it’s essential to claim your social business pages on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter as it is expected that social content will become as valuable as regular site content.

Monitor the Social Conversation

Keep your ears tuned to the social conversation. You should know when people are looking up or discussing your company, products, services or anything else that pertains to your business. There are several social media monitoring tools you can use, such as Hootsuite, Buffer and many more. Hootsuite and Buffer also help with scheduling and managing social media posts.

You should also pay attention to Open Graph social meta  as well. All in One SEO Pack features a Social Meta module that allows you to optimize your site for social media.

Follow and Engage Influencers

As mentioned earlier, identify your key influencers on social networks. Engage with them and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. You’d be surprised at the power of a direct message (to the right influencer) in getting your content distributed over a wider network and to new audiences.

Conclusion

This checklist should help you to greatly improve your SEO if your site performance is below expectations. Although this list mostly covers the technical aspects of SEO, always keep in mind that delivering quality content to your customers is key to excellent SEO. And spamming links to generate backlinks isn’t the way to go.

Stay tuned to our blog for more helpful tips to help you with your SEO and social media marketing.

Arnaud, a foodie from Bruges, Belgium, is the editor for the Semper Plugins blog. He also manages the translation teams for All in One SEO Pack (over 58 languages!).

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