Today, I’m gonna show you my complete SEO checklist. In fact, this is the same checklist I’ve used to get first page Google rankings for competitive keywords, like Keyword Research Tools, and SEO Campaign. I’m Brian Dean, the founder of Backlinko, and in this article, I’m gonna walk you through my entire SEO checklist, step-by-step, keep reading. When I first got started with SEO, I had no idea what I was doing.
So, I started to search for things, like how to get higher Google rankings, and how to SEO my site, and despite following all the advice that I read, my traffic didn’t budge. It was really frustrating. (growls) I hate you, Google. Today, my site brings in hundreds of thousands of visits per month, mostly from Google, and major media sites, like Entrepreneur, have called me “an SEO genius”. My secret, I developed a repeatable, step-by-step SEO process, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna share with you right now. So let’s kick things off with Step #1 of this SEO Checklist, Set Up Essential SEO Tools and Plugins.
Your first step is to make sure that you have three important SEO tools set up and ready to go. The first tool that every site needs to have is the Google Search Console. This tool makes it super easy to track your site’s performance in Google. It can also help you find technical SEO problems that are holding you back, but most important of all, the Search Console shows you the exact keywords that you rank for, and where you rank for them, and unlike third party tools, this data comes straight from Google, so you know it’s legit. The next tool you wanna set up is Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is the best way to see how people find and use your website, but that’s just scratching the surface. With Google Analytics, you can do all sorts of cool stuff like find pages on your site that bring you traffic, identify the exact websites that send you traffic, your site’s Bounce Rate, Paid Views, and Time on Site, and lots more. Finally, if your site runs on WordPress, you need to install the Yoast SEO Plugin. Yoast is by far the most popular SEO plugin on the planet, and for good reason.
Yoast makes it super easy to make your WordPress site SEO friendly right outta the box. And now it’s time for the second step in this Checklist, Find Keywords That Customers Search For. It’s no secret that keyword research is super important. The question is, how do you find keywords that your customers search for? Here are three simple techniques. First, find long tail keywords with Google Suggest. To use this technique, type the keyword into Google, but don’t press enter or the search button. Instead, take a look at the keywords that Google shows you. Google only suggests keywords that people are actually searching for, so when you see a Google Search suggestion, you know that lots of people are searching for that term.
Next, find keywords with the Google Keyword Planner. The Google Keyword Planner is Google’s official keyword research tool. This tool is technically designed for Google ads, but it’s still super useful for SEO keyword research. To use it, just enter a seed keyword, and check out the suggestions that the tool spits out. That’s all there is to it. Finally, spy on online communities. Fortunately, this isn’t as creepy as it sounds. I’m talking about reading threads on sites like reddit, Quora, and online forums. All you need to do is head over to the community and find questions that crop up again and again. For example, I noticed that a big chunk of the threads on the Paleo sub-reddit are all about Paleo and Keto desserts, so if you ran a site in the Paleo niche, terms like best Paleo desserts and Keto friendly desserts would be great keywords to target.
With that, let’s jump into Step #3, Keyword-Optimize Your Content. So, you’ve installed all of the important SEO tools, and you’ve found a handful of keywords. Now it’s time to actually optimize your site. Here’s how, first, use your keyword in the first 100 words of your page. Google puts more weight on terms that show up at the top of your page, so make sure you use your keyword once here. For example, on this post for my site, you can see that I use the term SEO tools right off the bat. Next, use your keyword in the beginning of your title tag. Just like with your page’s content, Google puts a little bit of extra weight on terms that show up early in your title tag. For example, my main keyword for this post is SEO case study, and, as you can see, my title tag starts off with that keyword. Third, use short URLs that include your target keyword.
Why is this important? Well, a recent SEO industry study found a correlation between short URLs and higher Google rankings, so you’ll wanna keep your URLs short and sweet. For example, this post on my site uses a super short URL, and that short URL is one of the main reasons that this page ranks number one in Google for my target keyword, SEO techniques. Last up, you wanna use your keyword in a H1, H2, or H3 tag. Honestly, H-tags aren’t really that important, but every little bit helps, especially if you’re trying to target competitive keywords. For example, my main keyword for this page is Content Marketing Tools, so I use that exact keyword inside of an H2 tag, simple.
Moving right along, let’s quickly blast through the fourth step in this SEO checklist, Find and Fix Technical SEO Issues and Errors. The truth is, technical SEO problems can tank your rankings, so if your site has technical SEO problems, you’ll wanna find and fix ‘em right away, here’s how. First, make sure that your site is mobile-friendly. As you might’ve heard, Google now runs on a mobile-first index, which means if your site isn’t optimized for mobile devices, it won’t rank. What the heck, I can’t click anything. Fortunately, you can easily see your site’s mobile-friendliness with the Google Mobile-Friendly Test. Just pop in a page from your site, and Google will tell you whether or not your page is mobile-friendly.
Next, ID crawl errors. A crawl error just means that Google is having trouble indexing all the content on your site, and if they can’t index your page, it’s not gonna rank. You can easily find crawl errors in the Google Search Console using the Coverage Report. Finally, improve your site’s page speed. Your site’s loading speed is a confirmed ranking factor. Now, to be clear, in my experience, page loading speed isn’t gonna make or break your rankings, but in general, the faster your site loads, the better. To evaluate your site’s loading speed, check out Google’s PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest.org. Both tools give you a benchmark for how quickly your site loads.
They also hook you up with recommendations to help you speed things up, nice. And now it’s time for our next step, Create Content Designed to Rank in Google. There’s no denying it, if you wanna rank in Google, you need to publish great content, but what is great content, exactly? Uh, it’s content that’s great. In my mind, great content is content that actually ranks in Google, and now I’m gonna show you exactly how to create the type of content that ranks on the first page of Google. First, create awesome content with the Skyscraper Technique. The Skyscraper Technique is a three-step formula for creating amazing content. In fact, I used this technique to double my search engine traffic in two weeks. Here’s the three-step process. First, find a piece of content in your industry that’s popular.
Next, create something even better, and finally, promote that content. For example, last year I noticed that lots of people are writing about SEO for Ecommerce, so I decided to take what was out there and make something even better, specifically, I spend 20-plus hours on an 8,000-word post called Ecommerce SEO, The Definitive Guide. I promoted this post on social media and using email outreach, and this three-step process brought in a massive spike in traffic. It also helped me crack the top three results for my target keyword, Ecommerce SEO. Second, break your content down into chunks because here’s the truth.
No one, and I mean no one likes reading giant walls of text like this. That’s why I always break things down into chunks, because it makes my content super easy to read and skim, and because my content is easy to read, my Bounce Rate, a key Google ranking factor, is super low, more on that later. Next, make sure to cover everything there is to know about your topic. When I recently analyzed over a million Google search results, one thing was clear. Content that covers an entire topic in depth ranks above content that only covers part of a topic.
For example, remember that Ecommerce guide I mentioned earlier? Well, that ultimate guide could’ve been a lame blog post, like five ways to get high rankings for your Ecommerce site, but I decided to create something that covered everything there is to know about optimizing Ecommerce sites, which helped my page hit the first page of Google in record time. Besides making your content in-depth, you also wanna use lots of multimedia on your page. I’m talkin’ about stuff like images, polls, visual content, videos, charts, and infographics. For example, I use lots of screenshots, visuals, and videos in pretty much every post. Finally, you want to double down on content formats that are working best right now. I recently teamed up with BuzzSumo to analyze almost one billion blog posts, so what did we find?
Well, there was some good news and some bad news. Let’s get the bad news outta the way. The bad news is that most content is completely ignored. In fact, we found that 94% of all published content gets zero external links. That’s right, zero. Now, for the good news. There are certain content formats that attract more backlinks than others. We found that why-posts, what-posts, and infographics get significantly more backlinks than other content formats. For example, this why post has been linked to over 50,000 times. Obviously, you can’t just publish a why-post or an infographic and expect the links to roll in, but our data shows that sticking to these three content formats can increase the odds that people link to your stuff.
Speaking of links, it’s time for the last step in this checklist, Build Links to Your Website. So, are backlinks still important for SEO? Heck yeah, in fact, a recent study by Stone Temple Consulting found that backlinks are still one of Google’s most important ranking factors. The bottom line, if you’re serious about ranking in Google, you need backlinks, and lemme walk you through a handful of link-building strategies that are working great right now. First up, build backlinks using link roundups. Link roundups are one of my all-time favorite ways to get backlinks, why?
Because the entire point of a roundup is to link to amazing content. So if you publish something amazing on your site, there’s a good chance that you could get a link from a roundup. For example, here’s a roundup in the marketing space. They link to the best content about SEO and content marketing that came out over the last week or so. Lucky for me, I had recently published a giant guide to SEO, and because my post was a good fit for their roundup, they happily linked to me. Next, build links using strategic guest posting. So, why do I say strategic guest posting and not just, guest posting? It’s not to sound smart. That’s because guest posting can work, but you need to be strategic about it, and if you do guest posting the wrong way, your site can get slapped with a Google penalty.
So, how do you do guest posting the right way? The right way is to publish your guest post on a respected site in your niche. The wrong way is to publish guest posts on any website that has a Write For Us page, even if the site has nothing to do with yours. A good rule of thumb that I follow is to only guest post on sites that are gonna send me targeted traffic, and related to my site. For example, here’s a guest post that I published on the Buffer blog. Buffer’s blog focuses more on social media, and my site is about SEO, but those two topics are related enough. If I publish the same post on a site about cute cats, that would look shady to Google. Anyway, I got a solid backlink for my post, and it brought in a decent chunk of targeted traffic to my site.
The next strategy I wanna show you is to go on podcasts as a guest. This is one of the most underrated link-building techniques on the planet. Just like with a guest post, you get a nice, contextual link from your podcast appearance, but unlike a guest post, there is much less legwork. You don’t need to pitch topics, or work with an editor. Just schedule your interview, and show up and provide value, that’s it. Because this strategy is so easy, I’ve actually appeared on over 70 podcast episodes over the last few years. Last up, we have the age-old strategy of mentioning influencers in your content. This process couldn’t be any simpler. First, mention influential bloggers in your post. Then, let me know about it.
Seriously, that’s it. For example, a while back, I published this giant list of SEO tools. Now, I could’ve published this post and hoped and prayed that people actually see it, so I decided to be proactive. So I reached out to each person to let them know that I mentioned them, and as you can see, most of the people that I reached out to were happy to share my post. Now, before we close out this video, it’s time for a quick bonus step, Tap Into Advanced SEO Techniques and Strategies. At this point, you’ve got the basics down, so lemme walk you through a handful of advanced SEO tips and strategies that are working really well right now. My first advanced SEO tip is to delete what I call zombie pages. Zombie pages are pages on your site that don’t bring in any traffic, and as it turns out, Google hates sites with lots of zombie pages.
In fact, a Google employee recently stated that they prefer to rank sites that have a small number of high quality pages over those that are bloated, with lots of pages that don’t provide any value. That’s why I make sure that every page on my site is awesome. In fact, Backlinko generates over 300,000 visitors per month, and to date, I’ve only published around 70 total blog posts. How is this possible? It’s because, when it comes to content, I focus 100% on quality, not quantity. To be clear, you don’t wanna start deleting pages like a crazy person. This is a process you wanna do slow and carefully, so use Google Analytics to find a handful of pages that don’t generate any traffic, then delete them, or redirect them to another related page. Wait a week or two to see how it goes. Then, over the next few months, slowly delete more and more zombie pages. For example, the team at Proven.com noticed that they had almost 50,000 pages indexed, way more than they thought.
As it turned out, a lot of these extra pages were zombie pages that didn’t provide any value, so they deleted them, and thanks to this and a few other SEO improvements they made, Proven’s organic traffic significantly increased. Our next advanced tip is to boost your organic click-through rate. As you might’ve heard, Google pays very close attention to how many people click on your site in the search results. If people skip over your site and click on the other results, your rankings can drop like a stone, but if lots of people click on your result, Google considers your page a great result for that keyword and you’ll get a rankings boost. In fact, a Google document states that “when you click on a link in Google Search, “Google considers your click
“when ranking that search result.” So, how do you improve your organic click-through rate? Scan the first page search results for your target keyword, and imagine what someone searching for that keyword would want to click on. Then, optimize your title tag and description to match what a searcher wants to see. For example, if you search for video SEO, you’ll notice that most of the results are guides and tutorials. In other words, people that search for this keyword don’t want a handful of tips, they want a complete guide, and to show people that my result was a thorough guide, I made sure to include the word guide in my title and description. The last advanced SEO tip I have for you is to keep your content up-to-date. Back in the day, I’d publish a new post and never think about it again, and as time went on, my content got really outdated. I had old screenshots, outdated strategies, and overall, content that just looked kinda dated, so early last year, I started a huge project. Go back and update every single post on my site. Like I said earlier, I only have about 70 posts, but that’s still a lot of content to go through and update. Fortunately, I didn’t need to update all 70, I only had to update about 20 posts, so how did it go?
Well, after I’d update a post, I’d notice a huge spike in search engine traffic, and even though the traffic eventually dipped, it was still much higher than before the update. For example, a few months ago, I updated this post. Even though I updated that post months ago, that page still gets 30% more organic traffic than before the update. And, thanks mostly to these content updates, my site’s overall organic traffic is up 24.6%, which means 249,000 more people visit my site every year than before, crazy. So that’s it for my SEO checklist. If you learned something new from today’s video, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel right now. Just click on the button below this video, and if you want exclusive SEO and traffic techniques that I only share with subscribers, head over to Backlinko.com and sign up for the newsletter, it’s free. Now, I wanna turn it over to you.
Which strategy from this video are you gonna try first? Are you gonna update your old content, or try link roundups? Let me know by leaving a comment below, right now. Okay, ready? Is he in the shot? Here’s my hometown. Okay. I was like, who said that? If your site isn’t mobilized, oops. Usually, it’s higher at the end. It’s kinda on here.