With SEO, you’re actually never done. Most people who are involved in SEO want to rank higher in Google and therefore regularly check rankings, but also traffic, sales etc. But there are also some checks that are often forgotten or that you have not thought of. Therefore a list of things you definitely want to check if you want to get started with SEO.
SEO things to check:
- Resolve 404s
- Internal links
- XML Sitemap
- Number of pages in the index
- The SERP for important keywords
- Backlink profile
- Performance of main pages
- Content gap
- Structured data
- Core web vitals score
404s are pages that no longer exist. Technically they give the status code HTTP 404 and that is why they are popularly called 404’s. In Google Search Console you can check which URLs are giving a 404, you can find this under Coverage --> Not found.
A page that issues a 404 is not desirable for several reasons:
- Visitors are not getting anywhere, they are ‘dead’.
- Search engines drop the URL with 404 from their index
- Link value disappears
By redirecting the old URL to a replacement, new URL, you can avoid all of this. Use a status code HTTP 301 to set up the redirect. A redirect is a kind of relocation ticket that you use to technically set up that URL A has changed to URL B.
Setting up redirects can be done in many CMSs, if your website runs on WordPress then the SEO Redirection tool is a handy and user-friendly tool. You enter the old URL, you enter the new URL and that’s it. Can’t figure this out or does your CMS work differently? Ask your web builder for help. In Google Search Console you can see which pages Google has detected that deliver a 404.
Note! It’s not that your website shouldn’t have 404’s. If a product goes out of stock, never comes back and there is no replacement, then a 404 isn’t bad at all. At least you don’t want to link to it within your own website. However, if a page has a lot of links from other websites, redirecting is a must.
Below you can see that I also have 404’s on my website, these are pages on which I once published blogs. I don’t want to use this content anymore and it is not linked to by other sites. Great URLs to have a 404 so.
Fix internal links
Ideally, within your own website, you link directly to pages with an existing URL. Huh? Sometimes URLs change, as in the example above. Someone involved in SEO makes sure that URLs are redirected and both search engines and users are automatically directed to the correct page.
Although it is not terrible, you would rather not link within your own websites to URLs that have been redirected. You actually send search engines from pillar to post. You can check whether you are linking to redirected URLs within your website by using the Screaming Frog tool. Up to 500 URLs you can use this tool for free. Scan your website and look for Status Codes. Select everything with a 301 and 404 and click on the bottom left tab “inlinks”, here you can see from which page there are links to a redirected page (301) or a non-existent page (404). In the CMS, find the page with the link and adjust the link so it immediately goes to the correct page.
In the example below you can see that the page under From links to the page under TO and what the alt text is. However, the page under To does not exist and has been redirected. In this case, I have no choice but to link directly to the correct URL in other cases. Find the existing URL and modify the link on the pages under From.
Check your images
Alt text allows you to tell search engines what is shown in an image. Even software for the blind and visually impaired often looks at the alt text. Especially if you sell products, you want your images to have alt text and preferably one that is as descriptive as possible. Do you have a few hours to spare? Then go over the images on your site. Open your CMS, look for an image and see if there is an alt text entered. If you work in wordpress then you can enter 1 alt text for each image that is the same on every page.
Below you see an image on my site, the alt text I entered is: Photos of my journey towards ZZP.
For this image, that is a relevant alt text and since I have no commercial goal with this, it is fine. However, do you sell comforter covers for toddlers in blue with pink polka dots and bees? Then a useful alt text would be: comforter cover toddler blue with pink dots and bees. If someone searches for a comforter cover and uses this type of search term, Google can match it.
Check and update the XML Sitemap
The XML sitemap is a kind of street directory of your website and is often located at the URL domain.nl/sitemap.xml. Check regularly in Google Search Console whether the correct sitemap is “logged in” there and whether Google has found any errors. In an XML sitemap you want to include URLs that give a 404 or are redirected.
In the image below, you can immediately see why you need to check this regularly: Google fails to view my sitemap. So it’s a search job. In my case I do the research myself, if you are not that handy or technical ask your web builder for help.
Double check the number of pages in the index
Every now and then you also want to check how many pages Google has indexed. You do this by entering: site:[yoursite] into Google. So: site:chantalsmink.nl
You will get a rough estimate of the number of pages. Do you have a clear webshop with about 300 products but Google has indexed several hundred thousand pages? Then you have work to do because so many pages is really not necessary with a limited range. It means that Googlebot is always busy finding (unnecessary) new pages while you would rather he is busy finding pages that you had made on purpose.
How doe your SERP looks?
It’s certainly not an unnecessary luxury to occasionally check how the search results page looks for search terms you’d like to rank for. Things to pay attention to:
- What features are there?
- When do you see the first SEO result?
- Who is ranking high and with what kind of content?
- What questions are there in the People questions too?
- What kind of pages does Google show?
This will in fact give you an idea of what to get, whether you can compete with the other players, what kind of questions people have around the topic and what kind of content Google shows. Useful information that you can take into account in your plan of action.
In the example below you can see the US SERP for the keyword ‘Running Gear Women’. All pink circles are results where Google shows a blog. If you check this for your own industry, you immediately know what to do if you want to rank for such a keyword: create a very good blog.
Performance of most important pages
Of course, as a website owner you need to know which pages are the most important and send the most traffic to your website. In Google Search Console or Google Analytics you can check this. Look per page which search terms send traffic and whether that is logical. You do this by clicking on a URL in the overview and clicking on ‘search terms’. You can look at the first 10 pages, but you can also see up to 500 pages in the overview.
You can look at small details: are pages pulling traffic on the right search terms, you can also look at big picture: what kind of pages are pulling a lot of traffic? Then it’s time to look further; what makes these pages so interesting, what can we learn from them? And which pages don’t attract any traffic at all? Are they already old or have they only just existed? If the pages have been around for a long time and aren’t pulling traffic, it’s worth taking a look at them with SEO specialist.
In the example below, you can see which pages are pulling the most traffic to my website. Click on ‘search queries’ to see the search queries used. You can also click on a URL first and then on search queries to see which search terms are driving traffic to that particular page. On the bottom right you can select how many results you want to see.
Note: these points are important to check from time to time, however, if you have full focus on SEO, you will want to do more in-depth analysis but that could be a blog article in itself.
Do you have any content gaps?
It can be a very interesting activity to look for content gaps. You can do a lot of work on this (the single most important part of my job as an SEO strategist is finding content gaps) but you can also do some small checks using a tool. When I do such a small pragmatic check I myself always use the tool Semrush for this, but unfortunately it is not free.
What you can do here is enter your own website and those of competitors. Click on Unique and then you will see which keywords your competitor ranks for and you do not. Not always you can do something with this (if you do not sell a particular product, for example) but sometimes it does provide inspiration. Try to see a keyword as a theme. What I mean by this is the following: suppose you sell baby products and you see that a large webshop is displayed on the keyword “pink baby clothes” but not you. Keep in mind that it is a theme and not so much this keyword. Create a page with pink baby clothes and make sure this page can be found on all sorts of different keywords: pink baby clothes, pink clothes, pink baby clothes 3 months, pink baby clothes 6 months, pink romper, pink pajamas baby etc.
Want to know more about optimizing content on your website? I explain all about this in my e-book Handbook Horizontal SEO (NL only).
Check your backlink profile and find inspiration
In Google Search Console you can see who is linking to your website and to which page exactly. This is interesting to know because it gives you an idea if people have found your content and want to share it. Do you see few or no referrals? Then it’s high time to start looking at how you can earn more interesting links.
Even more interesting is to compare your link profile to that of your competitors; which links do they have and to what kind of pages? Often this can be a huge source of inspiration. Note: it is not the intention to copy the link profile; it is about seeing the big picture. Who is linking to your competitor and why? Then you immediately know what you could do to collect (interesting) links.
Various tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs are suitable for checking link profiles, but are unfortunately not (always) free. Below you see a screenshot of a backlink gap analysis in Semrush. Click on Unique and you will see the links that other parties have, but you do not. For example, if you want to know why Reuters.com links to Converse, then click on the ‘4’ and you will see the pages that Reuters links to. Often you’ll immediately understand why.
Last to do 1: Structured data
A slightly more technical tip. Structured data is code that allows you to better tell search engines what certain content is or contains. You can place structured data next to a video and tell Google that it is a video, what the title is, what the video is about, how long it is, etc. Besides structured data for videos, you also have structured data for products, blogs, podcasts etc.
You can enter a URL on this page and see if it contains structured data.
If you are handy, you can add structured data yourself in your CMS (for example using a plugin). If you are not so handy, ask an SEO specialist or web builder for help.
Last to do 2: Core Web Vitals score
This tip is also technical in nature. Core Web Vitals are part of an update that Google rolled out in 2021. Google is looking at a number of important technical aspects. It’s mainly about the score on a mobile since Google indexes mobile first. As you can see, my homepage scores 51/100 points. You’ll also get immediate suggestions from Google on how to do better. Check this regularly for your website and then immediately check different types of pages such as your homepage, an overview page or lister, a product page and a blog.
Work to do? Then call in your web builder, this part can quickly become technical. There is still work to be done for me as well, but I already made some improvements today, which made the score go from a 36/100 to 51/100.