A Technical SEO Checklist for Beginners

technical seo checklist for beginners

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When it comes to improving their SEO, most small businesses focus on getting the right keywords on the page. But many are missing the mark when it comes to the foundations of their website set up. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m ALL about creating relevant content that serves your ideal client. And relevant content that uses your target keywords? That’s the sweet spot. 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 doing yourself a disservice.

Don’t be deterred by the words “technical SEO”. This checklist is for the SEO beginners, dabblers and DIY-ers. I’ll take you through the most important elements of your website set-up, so you can get Google to fall in love with your web pages.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, just launched, or looking to make some improvements to your current site, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know. Think of me as your search engine match maker 😉

But first..

Why Technical SEO Is Important


Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. To achieve this mission, Google needs to find the most relevant, useful and high-quality content out there every time someone types a keyword or phrase into the search engine. Sounds like a BIG job.. and it is!

Google uses over 200 ranking signals to determine how relevant a page is for a specific search query or keyword. The more relevant Google sees your content, the higher your web page will appear in search results.

Some of Google’s ranking signals relate to your website content itself, like the keywords you use, the length and uniqueness of your content, readability, format, structure and much more.

But many of the other signals are related to how well your website is set-up, and the user experience you provide your site visitors. These signals include things like website speed, security and engagement. They may sound less sexy than keywords or content, but without good foundations, you can’t expect Google to love your website content!

Technical SEO Checklist

 

1. Set Up Google Search Console

Google Search Console (or GSC) 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:

  • Which keywords are driving the most traffic to your site
  • Which of your pages are getting the most clicks from Google
  • Where each of your pages rank in Google

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.

2. Submit your sitemap to Google

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.

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of a sitemap, or ever seen it on your own website. Most website platforms like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace will automatically create a sitemap for you, and keep it updated as pages are added or removed from your site. You just need to know how to find it and submit it to Google. This step will only take you a few minutes and is super easy once you’ve located your sitemap.

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 any of the below:

  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml
  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap
  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/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 your sitemap should be processed straight away, but can take some time depending on how many pages you have on your website.

3. Check your website is secure

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 the hell 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 with an SSL certificate. 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.

Websites built with platforms like WordPress, Squarespace and Wix should automatically include an SSL certificate which will secure your website and make sure it uses HTTPS. But if your website was custom built or you purchased your domain through another hosting provider like Go Daddy, you’ll need to double check that you have an SSL certificate installed.

4. Improve your page load speed
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 clients won’t wait around either if your blog post or about page isn’t available within a couple of seconds.

In fact, 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. Imagine you had a shop front and almost half of everyone who walked in, turned back around 3 seconds later, and left without even browsing your products. It wouldn’t be great for business, and neither is a slow website.

The good news is Google has created a free tool to help you improve your website speed. Just visit Google’s Page Speed Insights to start testing your web pages and review Google’s recommendations to speed things up.

5. Check that your website is mobile-friendly

60% of all Google searches happen on a mobile device and this figure jumps to 80% for “near me” searches. Whether you’re a local business or not, your ideal clients will be searching for your services on their phone or tablet, so you need to make sure your website is mobile friendly.

Mobile friendliness is a measure used by Google to determine how well 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 visibility will suffer.

You can check your mobile-friendliness in Google Search Console or via Google’s Mobile Friendly TestIf you find any usability issues, you may need to speak to a developer to have these fixed.

6. Check that your pages are visible to Google (indexed)

Google’s index is the database that holds all web pages that the search engine finds and categorises to be ranked in search results.

Google is continually scanning all the pages on the internet to discover new content to be indexed, but if your web pages are hidden from Google, they won’t appear in search results.

Most of your content pages should be visible to Google. This includes your homepage, service pages, about page, blog posts and any other pages you want found in search results. There may be a few pages, like your thank you page or privacy policy, that you don’t want showing in search results, so these should be hidden from Google. 

Your website should already be set up in this way, but you’ll want to double check which pages Google can see. To do this, go to Google in your browser and type “site:yourwebsite.com” then hit enter. This will show you which of your web pages are indexed by Google.

Have a look at the pages that show up in search results and make sure you can see all your important pages, and nothing you don’t want shown. If you need to change the visibility settings of a page, you can do that in the back-end of your website, in page settings.

7. Check for any error pages

Broken links create 404 errors on your website which provide a poor user experience for your site visitors. They’re also bad for SEO because they prevent Google from discovering and ranking your site content.

A 404 or Page Not Found error is what happens when Google or a user tries to visit a page that no longer exists on your website. These errors are usually the result of old pages being removed or URLs being changed.

You can check your website for errors your Google Search Console Coverage reportIf you do find any 404 error pages, you can fix these by 301 redirecting them to another relevant page on your site.

Keeping the romance alive

Congrats! Now you know how to set your website up for SEO success. So, follow this simple checklist and you’ll be well on your way to page one of Google.

But don’t forget, SEO requires ongoing effort so you’ll want to check in on things regularly and make sure your website stays in tip top shape. Logging into your Google Search Console once a week can help you keep an eye on your technical SEO, and spot any errors that need fixing.

Looking for support from an SEO expert? Check out my affordable SEO packages for small business or book a free discovery call and let’s chat about how I can help.

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