website designer geek with a pencil

SEO checklist

for non-techies

Think of SEO before you start to build your website

How do you plan SEO before you start? What are the important checkpoints after it has been launched?

Note: 'Level of importance' indicators are our estimates, based on our subjective opinion; other professionals may think differently. They may also vary according to the nature of your business and your priorities.


1. Before you start to build a new website think of the following:

Copywriting

Level of importance:

Copywriting is NOT just about fine words. Your content has to be useful, engaging and professional. Never write something just because you think it will get SEO results. It has to be written in a natural tone of voice. It's always worth using a professional copywriter and if you do, make sure that you tell them as much as possible about your business so that they can understand it properly and write the best possible content.

Advice: Write a brief version of all your most important topics in a separate file and give them to your copywriter.

modern symbols of copywriting

Content structure

Level of importance:

When you plan your web content, think about your potential visitors. Although the need for a clear structure seems obvious, it's not so easy to do. The structure has to be logical. All your pages have to be within three clicks from your home page. Your readers should easily be able to understand the content structure.

Advice: Grab a piece of paper and jot down all the topics that your website may contain. Don't forget to prioritise your topics.

pages, structure and connections

Readability

Level of importance:

Readability involves a bit of everything: Web design, font size, number of words, number of sentences, etc. Formatting is also important. Use titles appropriately, with the aim of helping readers to 'skim' the page easily. Search engines pay attention to how readable your content is.

Readability is also vital in terms of so-called 'dwelling time'. If your readability score is high, your visitors will stay longer on your website. Don't forget: The higher engagement level your visitors have, the higher scores your website gets from search engines.

Advice: Test your readability level using Text Readability tool. Try to reach a score of at least 50/100.

badly and well formatted demo pages

Good technical foundations

Level of importance:

This is a complex topic and involves both web design and web development. One thing’s for sure: design is important but it’s not everything. Your website may look good, but if it’s slow you might struggle with SEO. Some issues can easily be fixed after the website has been launched but others can be more long-term problems.

Advice: Ask your web designer to show you a few website references which either have a good speed score or have a good search position. Having both at the same time is the best.

single puzzle piece will fit in its place

Mobile-friendly design

Level of importance:

Responsive or mobile-friendly? These are not the same. A responsive website is not always 100% mobile-friendly. Font size, tap targets, wording, speed, content structure, formatting are all factors that, together, determine how mobile-friendly your website will be. More and more 'trendy' design solutions are developed with the aim of being more mobile-friendly. Don't forget: This is what Google also suggests.

Advice: Keep in mind that more than 52% of website visits are on mobile devices.

colourful cartoon-style mobile phone

Planning URLs & 'slugs'

Level of importance:

Take a look at the address bar at the top of your browser. You will see the words'seo/seo-checklist' after our main URL, 'addmonte.co.uk'. Those words are called the slug. Every single page on a website has a unique slug, which identifies it. A meaningful URL and slug help to tell search engines what your page is about. It also helps website visitors because they will feel more comfortable if they can see that they are on the right page. URLs like 'www.yourdomain.com/data?id=423657' were quite common a few years back and these helped neither people nor search engines. Things have changed for the better.

Advice: Always consult with your web designer about the structure of your content. In the case of brochure websites it's not crucial, but for websites which contain more than about 10-12 pages it's vital.

cartoon-style laptop

2. After your website has been launched, check the following:

Meta Titles

Level of importance:

Meta titles are shown in the tab of your browser and also, when your website appears in search engines, the meta title is shown first.

It's important to have them for two reasons:
1. It tells the search engine what the page is about.
2. It helps the website visitor to see what the page is about.

Typically, Google shows 50-60 characters of your title, but it’s not specified exactly. That’s because it’s not the number of characters that matters, but the length of the title in pixels.

Advice: Write unique titles for each page. Keep it to about 50-60 characters. Make it concise and compelling.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: If you have a Content Management System (CMS),you should be able to access your meta titles. The location of the meta title field will depend on what system your website is based on. If you can't find it, ask your web developer, or ask them to put them in for you.

Technically it's easy but remember that it's writing the titles that takes the time.

Meta keywords

Level of importance:

Meta keywords are not visible but are contained in the code of a page. Several years ago they were a strong SEO ranking factor. However, their importance has shrunk a lot since Google stated that they don’t make any positive impact on rankings. They are still used by other search engines such as Yahoo, Bing, etc, but as approximately 90% of people use Google, meta keywords are not really important.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Add unique keywords and keyphrases to your pages, separated by commas. The location of the meta keywords field will depend on what system your website is based on. If you can’t find it, ask your web developer, or ask them to put them in for you. Like meta titles, technically it's relatively easy.

Meta description

Level of importance:

A meta description is contained in the code of a web page and is shown in the list of search results.

Bear in mind: Google won't show your meta description if it thinks it's not relevant enough; it will show a section of your content instead. It's up to Google.

Advice: Avoid duplicates. Write unique, concise and compelling meta descriptions for each single page.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Take your time to think through what to write. Don't be lazy! In our experience, this is something that website owners don't do. It might not seem to be very productive, but it’s well worth it.

Technically it's easy, but we've given it 2/5 for difficulty because, although you don't need any technical skills, it does require writing skills.

H1, H2, H3 tags

Level of importance:

‘H’ heading tags are there to give a clear, logical structure to a page. And, just as for humans, they provide search engines with valuable information.

Think of a book or newspaper: We are more likely to read more if it’s well laid out, with a clear heading structure.

Given that readability is another important SEO factor, your page should be easy to skim and easily legible.

Advice: Use only one H1 tag per page, placed as closely as possible to the top of the page. It’s worth including a keyword in an H1 tag but always write in a natural tone of voice. Bear in mind: a title isn’t necessarily an ‘H’ tag just because it’s a title. It must be an ‘H’ tag technically, not just visually.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Make life easier for yourself by writing your content with proper formatting right from the start. Then read your pages as if you were just a visitor on your website. Check that the text is easy to read and has enough empty space. It’s about web design.

Minify CSS and JS files

Level of importance:

It’s a technical issue. In some cases, it can be resolved by non-techies, but in our experience it’s much faster and more effective to ask a professional. Good technical foundations are important because even if it can be done after the website has gone live, in some cases it’s not that easy.

Advice: Make sure that it's done properly. Why is it important? Because it has an impact on website load speed and thus on SEO too.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Check your website with this tool and look for ‘Minify JavaScript’, ‘Minify CSS’, ‘Minify HTML’ rows. If you see green colours in ‘grade’ column (showing around 90% or higher),your CSS and JS files are minified.

Image optimisation

Level of importance:

Heads up: file size (in kilobytes) isn’t exactly related to the image size (in pixels).

Image optimisation is a complex issue. Images can and should be optimised in terms of

  • physical size (pixel)
  • reducing the size of the file (kilobytes) by ‘cleaning’ the file.

It’s hard for a site owner to know if image optimisation has been done properly, so the responsibility lies with the web designer.

Why is it important? Because unnecessarily large images mean pages load slower, causing a negative impact on your SEO scores.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Check your website with this website, look for the “Optimize Images” section.

It’s not always possible to have all images optimised because you could have images on your site from other websites (eg. Facebook).

Image 'alt' attributes

Level of importance:

The ‘alt’ attribute is a small bit of HTML code that specifies alternative text (alt text) that is to be shown when an image cannot be rendered for any reason.

“The alt attribute is used by 'screen reader' software so that a person who is listening to the content of a webpage (for instance, a person who is blind) can interact with this element. Every image should have an alt attribute to be accessible.”
Wikipedia

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Use Chrome browser and install Lighthouse plugin to check if your site’s images have alt attributes. (There are many other tools as well, but this one is a free, quick and easy solution.)

GZIP compression

Level of importance:

This is a simple issue, but it may need professional help. Using GZIP compression, a web server sends a compressed version of a website to the visitor's computer. It’s one of the many ways to make a website faster.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Check your website on this website, and look for “GZIP compression” section.

Web server speed

Level of importance:

If your web server isn’t fast enough, it will have a negative impact on your SEO scores.

You can test your web hosting server on this website.

We are proud to say that our web server speed is exceptionally good. Visit bitcatcha.com and type ‘hosting.addmonte.co.uk’ into the input field, then hit Enter.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Chose a web hosting provider with a fast service. If you already have a website, check its speed.

Robots.txt

Level of importance:

It’s a must. Robots.txt is a text file that instructs web ‘robots’, such as search engines’ automated web crawlers, how to inspect pages on a website.

It’s your web designer’s job to create this file.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Check if your website has a robots.txt file. Type in your browser
your_website_com/robots.txt

If you see something like
‘User-agent: *
Disallow: ‘
it’s good news, you have a robots.txt file.

XML Sitemap

Level of importance:

An XML Sitemap is a file that helps Google to find the most important pages, and to know when they were last updated. It’s a catalogue of a site’s pages, an easy-to-read map for Google. Like robots.txt it, too, is a must.

You don’t actually see this file because it’s for Google only, but you can check it. See an example here.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Type in your browser: www.your_website_com/sitemap.xml
This file may have a different URL, so if you don’t find it, it doesn’t mean that it’s missing. Ask your web designer.

Check URLs and slugs

Level of importance:

As we explained above, a meaningful URL (or slug) gives an indication to search engines what a page is about. Well written slugs help a lot with SEO ranking.

It’s your developer’s job to create a good URL structure and write appropriate slugs.

Advice: It's better to plan ahead than change URLs later on. Although every web designer will do his/her best, you are the expert in your business, so it’s up to you to suggest meaningful URLs.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Click every page of your website and check the URLs. Are they short? Are they ‘meaningful’? It’s best to avoid underscores.

Internal (and external) links

Level of importance:

Internal links lead visitors from one page to another on a website. A good website always has internal links, to guide visitors around.

Example: Read more about SEO basics.

Advice: Don't be afraid to use external links, too, pointing to other websites.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Read all your pages as if you were a visitor and look for connections between your topics. Whenever you think you could link to another relevant page of your website, go for it! Important: Don’t overdo it, just be natural.

Google Analytics

Level of importance:

Google’s free analytical tools are a must. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership. You get data about your website visitors and Google gets data of your visitors’ behaviour. Win-win.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: If you have a WordPress site there are various plugins that connect the site to the Google Analytics service. In the case of a custom system, ask your web developer. It’s recommended that you have a Google account but if you haven’t, your developer will be able to help.

HTTPS

Level of importance:

Your website should work using 'https' (the so-called ‘SSL’ certificate). It shows search engines that communication between the user’s computer and the website is encrypted and hence is secure. It has a positive impact on SEO because Google values secure sites. Without HTTPS your website will still be indexed by Google, but SSL is important.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 1

ToDo: Check if your website has a small ‘padlock’ next to your domain in the address bar.

Inbound links

Level of importance:

Why is having inbound links so important?

If you are a prominent player in your industry and your website reflects this, search engines will value your site more highly. One way that they evaluate this is by seeing what other websites say about your services or products and how many links are pointing from other sites to yours.

There are debates about quality versus quantity: Is it better to have hundreds of low-quality links or have fewer, but high-quality ones?

One thing's for sure: Either way it’s a very long process.

Advice: Don’t register your website on so-called ‘link farms’. Always write useful content that generates natural interest and—hopefully—you’ll get more and more inbound links from other websites.

Difficulty:

difficulty level 5

ToDo: Search and think. Create interesting content what your potential visitors might be interested in. Create unique functions that other websites find useful.

Summary:

This advice has been simplified for non-experts. It’s not all-encompassing but we think it’s a useful guide for SMEs.

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