SEO checklist for new website launches
Launching a new site is an enormous undertaking. It requires months of development from initial conception to design and implementation. All that hard work culminates into a highly anticipated launch for the world to see what your business has to offer. But unless your brand is already well known, having a site isn’t enough to reach your audience, so you’ll need SEO. Data has shown that the top search results in Google attract a majority of all clicks:
Most users rarely click past the first page.
The bottom line is clear: If your site isn’t ranking, it might as well be invisible.
Poorly optimised sites stand little chance of ranking for competitive keywords. So before launching a new website, your SEO needs to be impeccable. Otherwise, your site will be lost in a vast sea of competition and barely receive any traffic.
An SEO checklist is one of the most indispensable tools you can have to track key action items you may have missed. Check each of the following items to ensure a successful launch of your new website.
Let’s get started.
1.0 Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics is one of the most widely used tools for measuring website traffic. It’s completely free and provides key insight you can use to inform your marketing strategy. You’ll also be able to measure other metrics like which pages receive the most traffic and convert the best.
These details are incredibly important and reveal a lot about how users are interacting with your site. You can even use Analytics to set up goals—completed actions that have a positive impact on your bottom line. Examples include visitors making a purchase, filling out a lead form, or signing up for a newsletter. Setting up goals can help you better evaluate your marketing efforts so you can see what works and what doesn’t.
If you haven’t already, head to Google Analytics then sign in with your Google account or create one. Note that you’ll need to set up a new property and install a tracking code to your site to ensure that data is being tracked.
Follow the steps as outlined here to get started with Google Analytics.
2.0 Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is another free tool that provides valuable insight into your site. Search Console shows valuable metrics such as search queries that visitors use to find your site, average positions for your top pages, and even organic click-through rates.
Other useful features include being able to check for crawling errors, view index status of your pages, and submit a sitemap. If your site has also received a manual penalty, you’ll see a message and find out more information about how to address it.
Start by heading to Google Search Console, then log in to your account. If you are just getting started, click the red Add Property button, enter your URL, and click Add:
Just like with Google Analytics, you’ll need to verify your site. There are different ways to do this but the most common is to verify your site by inserting an HTML code.
3.0 Check for Crawling Errors
Crawling errors prevent Google from properly crawling and indexing pages on your page. To determine if Google is able to access your site, log in to your Search Console account. Then under Crawl, click on Crawl Errors:
If Google is able to successfully crawl your site without any issues, you should see the following:
Site errors indicate that an issue is preventing Googlebot from accessing your site. The most common errors include:
- DNS errors
- Server errors
- Robots failure
It’s critically important to address these issues as they anyone is preventing Google from accessing and crawling your site. On the same page, Google also displays URL errors for the top 1,000 pages on your site. Examples include URLs pointing to non-existent pages. It’s also important to address these issues to ensure a successful launch.
You can learn more about fixing crawl errors here.
4.0 Check For Broken Links
Many sites are often reluctant to link out to other pages. But there is data that suggests a positive correlation between external links and rankings. In other words, linking out to authority sites can actually improve your rankings in the search results.
But broken links are often a major problem. Not only do they lead a to a poor user experience (from visitors finding themselves on non-existent sites) but they can also have a negative impact on your SEO.
If your site links out to other resources on the web, be sure to check for any broken links. Some of the most common reasons are simply that a site becomes no longer available or the URL structure has changed. Best practice is to either update or remove any broken links.
The problem though is that identifying broken links can be extremely tedious to do manually.
Screaming Frog is a tool that crawls up to 500 URLs for free. In addition to fetching onsite elements such as your page titles, meta descriptions, and headers, the tool can also be used to identify any broken links on your site.
Here’s what it looks like while crawling a site:
Use the tool to identify and fix any broken links on your site.
5.0 Implement a Mobile Responsive Design
As more consumers browse the web from different devices, a mobile-friendly design is a must. Nothing is more frustrating than landing on a site only to find that it’s not optimised for mobile. Users are much more likely to leave a site rather than zoom in and out just to read the content.
A mobile-friendly design is important for another reason—It’s now a major ranking factor. That means your site could rank lower in the mobile search results if it isn’t optimised for mobile devices.
Head to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Enter your URL and click the “Run Test” button. If your site is mobile friendly then you’ll see the following:
If not you need to take steps to ensure your site meets all mobile-friendly requirements.
Google’s recommended configuration is responsive design—a gridlike design that dynamically adjusts to fit all screen resolutions. It also offers a number of SEO benefits as the same code are rendered on the same URL regardless of the users’ device.
6.0 Improve Your Website Loading Speed
Consumers today expect a fast browsing experience. Data from Google shows that pages that take more than 4 seconds to load increases the chances that a visitor will bounce out. Slow performing sites leave a negative impression and only cause users to leave in frustration.
What’s more is that site performance is yet another ranking factor. Your site could be ranking lower if its performance is not up to par.
Head to Google’s PageSpeed Insights for an analysis of your site:
The tool provides a score based on the mobile and desktop version of your site. If the score provided is green, it means your site performance is above average. But if it’s orange or red, you’ll need to take steps to improve loading times.
The tool provides a list of recommendations on what you can do to boost site performance from leveraging browsing caching to minifying resources and reducing server response time. Each second counts so be sure to improve your scores as much as possible before launching the site.
7.0 Submit an XML Sitemap
A sitemap is like a table of contents for your site. It links to all the pages on your site which helps search engines crawl and index your content more efficiently. There are a number of third parties available to create a sitemap. Alternatively, if you use WordPress the Yoast plugin automatically creates one for you which you can then submit to Google.
Login to your Search Console account and click Sitemaps under Crawl.
Then click the Add/Test Sitemap button and enter the URL for your sitemap.
8.0 Check Your Robots.txt File
It’s common practice to block search engines from crawling a site while it’s still in development. This is typically done from the robots.txt file—a file that gives instructions to web robots. The following instructions completely block search engines from accessing any pages on a site:
Be sure to double and triple check your robots.txt file before going live. The last thing you want is to accidentally block all search engines from crawling and indexing your site after launching.
Here’s an example robots.txt file that points crawlers towards the sitemap and prevents search engines from accessing the login page:
You can learn more about robots.txt here including how to create them.
9.0 Optimise On-Page Factors
On-page SEO refers to optimising individual aspects of your site to improve the overall relevance of your pages and improve rankings. All factors being equal, a well-optimised site stands a much better chance of outranking a site that leaves SEO as an afterthought.
There are many aspects to on-page SEO. Optimising each will help give your site a major competitive advantage online. We broke down this section into sub-checklists to better organise your efforts:
9.1 Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most important parts of creating a properly optimised site. The process involves identifying queries your audience is searching for to find your products or services. With this information, you’re better able to optimise the on-page factors of your site. More importantly, targeting the right keywords also ensures that you get the right visitors to your site.
Head over to the Keyword Planner which can be found within AdWords under the Tools link. Then type in keywords that are relevant to the products or services your business offers:
Here you’ll see a list of additional keywords you can target along with traffic estimates and their estimated competition levels in AdWords. You can get even more accurate traffic data by adding those keywords to your plan and entering in a high bid.
Keyword Planner isn’t the only tool though. Use other resources like forums to identify potential keywords your audience is searching for.
Next, you’ll be using those keywords to optimise the on-page factors of your site.
9.2 Title Tags
Title tags are one of the most important SEO on-page factor. They’re the first thing that visitors see in the search results and search engines look at them to determine the relevance of your pages. Each title should include your target keyword and provide a concise description of the page’s content.
Here’s a good example of a properly optimised title:
Use a tool like Screaming Frog to review each of your title tags. Ensure that each one is completely unique and includes its target keywords (like in the example above). Each title should also ideally be within 50-60 characters otherwise Google will automatically truncate results that are too long. Be sure to also include a city name to reach local prospects.
9.3 Meta Descriptions
Optimising your meta descriptions won’t necessarily boost your rankings. But a well-written meta description has an indirect benefit as a strong call to action can help increase click-through rates.
Here’s a good example of a well-written meta description:
Another added benefit is that any keywords used that match a search query are bolded, helping them to stand out more in the search results. Include your target keywords and a strong call to action to entice users to click through. Be sure to also keep the text within 165 characters to properly display in the mobile and desktop search result.
Header tags (e.g. H1, H2, H3, etc.) are beneficial for two reasons—They provide additional context about your page’s content and improve readability by providing a clear structure for readers. Again, use a crawling tool like Screaming Frog to check your site for header tags. Then write relevant and optimised headers for any pages that are missing them.
Here’s an example of an H1 tag that Xero uses as its main headline:
And here’s an example of an H2 tag that highlights features of the software:
Use both header tags in your content to provide a clear structure of your page, but remember not to simply stuff those tags with keywords.
9.5 SEO Friendly URLs
Optimised URLs are yet another signal that provides more context about your site. They also help users know what to expect before clicking through to a link. Your URLs should include their target keywords separated with a hyphen “-” and should also be concise.
Here’s an example of an optimised URL:
It’s clear what the page is about and the URL is even broken down into subcategories, helping search engines better understand the structure of a site.
9.6 Image optimisation
Best practice dictates to optimise and compress images before loading them onto your site. Raw files are often massive in both file size and dimensions. Uploading them as is will slow down loading times significantly and cause potential customers to leave in frustration.
Use a tool like Photoshop to shrink your image file sizes before putting them on your site. If you use WordPress, another alternative is to use a plugin like Smushit to do the heavy lifting for you.
Be sure to also optimise the ALT text of your images as doing so helps Google better understand the images on your pages and could even drive traffic via Google Images.
10.0 Optimise Your Content
Quality content remains one of the most important ranking factors.
Stuffing thin content with keywords may have worked in the past. But thanks to the Panda update, doing so will only get your site penalised. Even a few pages of low-quality content can affect rankings for the entire site. Go through each page and give an honest assessment of its quality. Here are some questions that Google provides to give a better idea of what it ranks:
The Webmaster Guidelines is another great resource for best practices to follow when creating content. What Google is ultimately looking for is useful and informative content that covers a topic comprehensively. It should also be well researched and include citations to show your site’s credibility.
We briefly covered the Yoast plugin for creating a sitemap but one incredibly useful feature is being able to enter in a target keyword and see recommendations on how to better optimise the content:
Go through each post and follow some of the suggestions listed to improve your content. Include your target keywords but be careful not to over-optimise your pages either. The key is to focus on providing an excellent user experience with engaging content.
111.0 Review Your Backlink Profile
Backlinks continue to carry a great deal of weight in the ranking algorithm. But what matters is the quality and relevance of your links. Simply spamming your pages with low quality links is likely to do more harm than good thanks to the Penguin update which targets sites that rely on questionable link building.
Unless you’re starting off with a newly registered site, it’s a good idea to review your backlink profile. You can view links from Search Console under Search Traffic and click Links to Your Site.
Note that Google only shows a few links. Use resources like Ahrefs or Majestic for a more detailed analysis of the links that point to your pages. These can also be used to identify link building opportunities from your competitors.
Your rankings could be affected by low quality links so you’ll want to take steps to remove them or links that are clearly from spammy sites. Contact the webmaster directly or use the Disavow Tool which tells Google to completely ignore certain links.
12.0 Verify a Google My Business Profile
An important aspect of any local SEO strategy is to claim a profile on Google My Business—a platform that lets businesses manage their presence across Search and Maps. If your prospects are primarily local, a profile on Google My Business makes it easy to update important information about your business. If you haven’t already, be sure to create a profile and verify your listing.
To prove you’re the owner, you’ll need to verify your listing which is typically done by postcard. While you wait for verification, completely fill out all aspects of your profile by including a short description, your phone number, business hours, and your URL. Be sure to also add quality photos to make a great first impression with your visitors.
13.0 Claim Social Profiles
Just like with Google My Business and other relevant business directories, you should also claim profiles on social networks. Here are the platforms that provide the best ROI:
There are multiple reasons to make social media a part of your launch strategy—You can claim more spots on the front page for your brand name, reach more potential customers on different channels, and better manage your reputation online.
Be sure to set up each of your profiles and completely fill out all details. Submitting quality and relevant content will also help to build a strong following.
Follow this comprehensive SEO checklist to give your site a major competitive advantage online or get in touch with our team to have us check each of these items for you. We conduct an extensive audit and address any issues to ensure a successful launch of your new site.