SEO Checklist

As I mentioned in a previous post about knowledge panels, I was doing a little bit of SEO work recently. I found a lot of information and advice while I was researching tips on how to improve search engine rank. Because Google doesn’t reveal much about the criteria it uses to rank search results, and because they make changes over time to their ranking algorithm, it is difficult to know for certain which steps to take.

The best thing you can do for SEO is to produce high quality content that is targeted to answer specific questions that Google’s users might have. Google is trying to guess which site has the most appropriate answer for a question (a.k.a. search term) and you want to craft your site to make it easy for them to determine that your site has the best (and succinct) answer.

I’m not going to try to provide an all-encompassing list of SEO advice. After all, entire books are written on that subject every year. But I am going to provide a checklist of some non-content related activities you can do that may help improve your search engine ranking:

Use descriptive page titles

Make sure your page titles accurately describe the content of your page. The page title is what is used for the link text in Google search results, so it really stands out and might be the only thing a user actually reads as they scan down through a page of search results.

Use descriptive URLs

Having a descriptive URL is important because it also shows in the search results and can potentially be a factor in Google’s algorithm to determine what your page is about. Try to make your URL be human readable, a few words with dashes between the words is best.

Use meta tags

Meta “description” and “keywords” tags used to be critical to search engine ranking, but today they are less so. I don’t know how much of a role they play in Google’s algorithm, but the meta description tag does give you a way to specify which content is shown in the two line excerpt below your listing in search engine results. Without having a meta description tag, Google will try its best to come up with a suitable excerpt, but this is not always the most appropriate text for communicating what your page is about. So at a minimum make sure you have a short (30-50 word) meta description tag, and while you’re at it, add a meta keywords tag including a comma separated list of keywords that pertain to your page. Make sure the keywords truly pertain to your content however.

Make sure your site is mobile friendly

Google prefers pages that are mobile-friendly. It also displays a “mobile friendly” tag next to search results when you search from a mobile device. For this reason, and also in order to make sure your mobile visitors have a good experience, you should make sure your site is considered mobile friendly by Google. Google provides a Mobile Friendly Test Tool you can use to verify whether they consider your site to be mobile friendly or not. Bing also has a Mobile Friendliness Test Tool which is worth using as well.

Create a sitemap.xml

A Sitemap is an XML file that describes the structure of your website and is used by Google to crawl your site. All of your pages should be accessible by navigation somehow through your site, but having a sitemap will make sure none of your pages get missed during the crawl.

Sign up for Google Search Console

Sign up for Google Search Console. Add and verify your site and submit your sitemap. Verification involves either adding a custom DNS TEXT entry or adding a meta tag to your site.

Sign up for Bing Webmaster Tools

Sign up for Bing Webmaster Tools. Add and verify your site and submit your sitemap, just as you did with Google Search Console. Bing Webmaster Tools also has a feature called “Connected Pages” where you can tell Bing which social media accounts link up to your website, so if you have any social media accounts related to your site, you might as well link them here. While you’re in Bing Webmaster Tools, you might as well use the SEO Analyzer tool which can identify problems with your site that may be holding back SEO.

Analyze your page speed

Web users don’t like to wait a long time, and as such, Google prefers to show them pages that load quickly. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get some feedback about the performance of your site. Keep in mind, this is how Google perceives the performance of your site, which may be different from the actual performance you perceive. I’ve found this tool to be pretty harsh on its ratings and you may not be able to fix all of the problems it identifies, but it does provide some good feedback and ideas on how you might be able to make your site load faster.

Sign up for Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool you can use to further analyze the traffic that arrives at your site. While it may not do anything to directly improve your site’s position in search results, the information it provides can help you make better decisions about how well your content is ranking in search results and help give you ideas on how you can improve your content.

Check whether your site is included in Google’s and Bing’s indexes

A good way to quickly check what Google has in its index for your site is to use the special “site:” prefix when searching. So for example, if you go to Google and search for “site:blog.cinlogic.com” it will show you a result list of all of the indexed entries it has for blog.cinlogic.com. This is a simple way to confirm that indeed Google has indexed your site’s pages and a good way to check how your site’s title, URL, and description appear in the search results. If you don’t see pages you are expecting to see in this list, it is a red flag that maybe there is an error or some other problem preventing your site from being crawled by Google.

Submit URLs directly to Google and Bing

If your site is new, or if you don’t want to wait for Google to re-crawl your site after you’ve made changes, you can attempt to prompt Google to crawl a URL by submitting the URL directly to Google.
Bing has a similar way to submit your site.

Use HTTPS

Google has publicly said that using HTTPS can improve your search engine ranking. Just how much this is a factor is unclear, but given the low cost of HTTPS, it makes sense to use HTTPS for your site if you can.

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