OK so before your eyes glaze over at the words "technical SEO", I’m here to tell you this isn’t your ordinary SEO checklist. This one’s for the SEO beginners, dabblers and DIY-ers. You won’t find any tricky jargon here. Just a few actionable steps you can take to nail your website set-up and help Google fall in love with your web pages.
So whether you're starting from scratch, just launched, or looking to make some improvements to your current site, this checklist has got you covered. Think of me as your search engine match-maker 💕
One of the biggest SEO mistakes small businesses make is focussing all their time and energy on creating great website content, without optimising the back end of their website.
Don't get me wrong, I’m ALL about creating relevant content that serves your audience. And relevant content that uses your target keywords? *chefs kiss*
But if your five-star content sits on a website that Google can't find, or one that doesn't provide a great user experience, then you're wasting your time (harsh but true!).
So, why does Google care so much about your website set-up? Let me break it down..
Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
Each time someone types a keyword into the search engine, the Google algorithm gets to work analysing every single web page in its database to determine the best content to display.
The best content is not just well-written and relevant, but it loads quickly, is safe to access and easy to read on a mobile. And that’s where technical SEO comes in.
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Google Search Console (or GSC because we love acronyms in the SEO world) is a free tool created by Google to help you keep track of how your website is performing in search results. It can give you important insights like:
It also helps you understand whether Google can find your content, so you make improvements and fix any issues (some of which we will talk about later in this checklist).
There's a bit of set-up required to connect GSC to your website, but it's a powerful SEO tool and completely free, so definitely worth 15 minutes of your time! Head to Google Search Console and follow the instructions to get started.
Your sitemap is a list of the most important pages on your website and where to find them. It lives on your website and Google uses it to discover your website content.
When you submit your sitemap to Google, you're basically saying "Hey! Here's all my website content and where to find it. Go read it and add it to your index (database)". If you haven't submitted your sitemap, you run the risk of having some of your pages hidden from Google, so it's not a step you want to skip.
Your website's sitemap can usually be found by typing "sitemap.xml" at the end of your domain name eg. https://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml. Different websites are set up differently, so if you can't find your sitemap at the above address, try /sitemap_index.xml, /sitemap or /xmlsitemap.php.
Once you've found it, simply log into your Google Search Console, navigate to Sitemaps on the left-hand menu, and paste the URL where it says 'Enter sitemap URL'.
Hit Submit and voilà! Your sitemap should be processed straight away but can take some time depending on the size of your website.
OK, this might sound kind of scary and 'techy', but I promise you it's a quick check and an easy fix for most websites. Before we get into it, you might be thinking "what does website security have to do with SEO"? Well, I'm glad you asked! 😉
Security is a top priority for Google, so if your website isn't secure it will be flagged as unsafe in Chrome (a browser used by ALOT of your clients), and will give any potential leads a bad impression of your business. Not only that, but Google also penalises unsafe websites, so you'll have a harder time ranking on the first page of Google search results if your site isn't secure.
You'll be able to tell if your website is secure by looking at the URL. If your domain begins with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP” this means your website is secured! The S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure” and having this extra letter at the front of your website URL tells Google that your site is safe and secure for users.
If your website is missing the "S" from "HTTP", you'll need to purchase an SSL certificate from your website or domain provider. This process will be different for everyone, but if you login to your hosting provider you should be able to find some info on how to purchase, install and verify your SSL.
A slow website is bad news for your SEO visibility. Google doesn't like slow sites, and neither do users.
Think about the last time you landed on a website that took more than a couple of seconds to load. It's FRUSTRATING, right? You probably didn't wait around, and your potential customers won't wait around either if your content doesn’t load within a couple of seconds.
And they’re not alone. 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. That's almost half of all people coming to your website!
That’s why Google created a free Page Speed tool to help website owners speed things up. To start testing your page speed, go to Google's PageSpeed Insights and enter your homepage URL. You can then check each of your most important pages and have a read of Google’s recommendations.
It might not be a *huge* surprise to you that 60% of all Google searches happen on a mobile. And this figure actually jumps to 80% for “near me” searches.
But whether you're a local business or not, we know that your customers are using Google on their phone or tablet, so it’s essential that your website is mobile-friendly.
So, what does that mean?
Mobile-friendliness is all about making sure your website content can be accessed and read on a mobile device. It takes into account things like font size, page design and plugins. It's also one of Google's 200 ranking signals, so if your site isn't mobile-friendly, your SEO visibility will suffer!
But guess what... Google has another free tool for you! Just enter a URL into Google's Mobile Friendly Test and wait a minute or so. Once the test is complete, you'll see a screenshot of the page on mobile and a list of any mobile usability issues.
You’ve probably heard that term ‘index’ being thrown around a bit when it comes to SEO, and it sounds *way* more techy than it actually is.
Google's index is the database that holds all the web pages that the search engine has found and categorised. It’s from this database that Google chooses what to display in search results.
So if any of your web pages are hidden from Google, they won’t be added to the index and they won’t appear in search results.
The good news is most of your content pages should already be visible to Google, but there’s a quick way to double-check. Just go to Google in your browser, type "site:yourwebsite.com" and hit enter. This will show you which of your web pages are indexed by Google, or in other words, the pages that appear in search results.
Ever clicked on a website link and ended up on a 404 page? This is what happens when you try to visit a web page that no longer exists, and it’s not a great user experience is it?
But what you might not know, is that 404 pages are also bad for SEO. Why? Because they prevent Google from discovering and ranking your site content, and if you have a tonne of them, it can signal to Google that your website isn’t being maintained properly.
404 errors are usually the result of old pages being removed or URLs being changed. The content no longer exists and so it creates a 404 or Page Not Found error. To avoid creating these broken links, make sure you redirect any old URLs before you change or remove them.
OK you know what I’m going to say… Google has a free tool for this! Just pop into your Google Search Console and head over to the Coverage report to check your site for any errors.