Rank Better on Google With This Simple SEO Checklist – Part 1

By Matthew Givner

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Here’s a handy list of tips and questions to keep in mind before, during, and after you write up your next content piece that will help you catch the attention of the search engines while still delivering valuable content to your readers.

This is Part 1, which reviews what you should do before you write. Parts 2 and 3 forthcoming!

Search Engine Optimization – Writing for Humans and Bots, Alike

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become something of a four letter word in some circles, with numerous pundits and key influencers pronouncing its death (including me, in my post SEO is Dead, Long Live SEO). In the early days, SEO stood for keyword stuffing and other less-than-reputable tactics that have since been rendered increasingly moot by successive updates to Google’s algorithm (Panda and Penguin especially).

However, making your content attractive to Google and the other search engines remains vital to getting that content consumed by your target audience. Equally vital, though, is making sure your content is written for human beings and not search engine bots.

In order to square this circle, I’ve put together a simple checklist of tips and suggestions for you to review before, during, and after you write your content piece. This checklist covers the most important aspects of on-page SEO that you can and should employ as you develop and write content for your website. From on-page topic targeting to content writing and link-building, this checklist will act as your content-writing companion to make sure you don’t lose out on traffic due to unnecessary SEO mistakes or oversights.

Before You Write Audience, Goals, Keywords, and Competition 

1. Who is your audience?

This seems almost too basic to include, but knowing exactly who it is you are hoping to reach must be the starting point for writing your content. In our eBook, How to Make a Comprehensive Content Marketing Strategy in 10 Steps, we discuss the importance of creating specific buyer personas for the most important audience segments relevant to your brand. If you’ve already made these, choose one or two from this list. If you haven’t made these, make some now!

2. What is the question you’re trying to answer?

When optimizing content for search engines, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Specifically, you need to consider what question they’ll be asking and how they will ask the search engine that question. This will help you not only come up with keywords and phrases you’ll want to focus on (more on that in a moment), but it will also help you when it comes time to writing and structuring the content on the page.

seo google checklist

3. What is the call to action?

Content for the sake of content is not necessarily bad, but in the vast majority of cases the point of content is to encourage the reader to do something. This could be downloading an eBook, clicking through to the next content piece, contacting your company, following you on social media, signing up for your email newsletter, buying your product, etc. Decide what it is you want your reader to do so that you can focus your content towards that goal.

4. What are the keywords and phrases that best describe the content?

When most people think of SEO, keywords are where the conversation begins and ends. While keywords are important, they are not the only or even the most important aspect of SEO (otherwise this would be a needlessly long checklist…).  However, whereas traditional SEO would emphasize optimizing a page for one specific keyword, nowadays content writers need to consider primary keywords, related keywords, keyword modifiers, and keyword variations in order to truly cover their bases. This may seem intimidating, but let’s take it one piece at a time.

Primary Keywords / Phrases: If you could sum up your content topic in 1-3 words, what would they be? Congratulations, this is your primary keyword/phrase.  For example, the primary keyword/phrase for this article would be: SEO Checklist.

Related Keywords / Phrases: One of the ways that Google judges the relevance of a page to a particular keyword is by seeing if the page also contains keywords and phrases that are closely related to the primary keyword. For example, if my primary keyword is SEO Checklist, my related keywords would include: on-page optimization, off-page optimization, Google SEO, keywords, link building, etc. Make a list of these keywords/phrases and keep them close when it comes time to write.

Keyword modifiers: Most SEO experts will tell you that, when it comes to ranking for keywords, it’s best to choose what are called “long-tail” keywords. These are keywords that are very specific and, therefore, do not receive millions of searches. However, because long-tail keywords are so specific, the traffic that you do receive is likely to be the most relevant. Therefore, think of some modifiers that would make your keyword more long-tail. The most common kinds of modifiers are date/time (“SEO Checklist 2014”), quality/price (“Free SEO Checklist”), intent (“Find SEO Checklist”), and location (“SEO Checklist Colorado”).

Keyword Variations: The last keyword-related item to consider is variations on your primary keyword. There are only so many times I can or should repeat the phrase “SEO Checklist” in this blog post. Also, it’s entirely possibly that someone looking for the type of content contained in this blog post would describe said content differently when searching for it. Therefore, you want to include as many relevant variations on your primary keyword as possible, including abbreviations, plurals, and other words/phrases that mean the same thing.

To help bring all this keyword stuff together, below I’ve placed a wonderful graphic from The MOZ blog. Also, here’s a link to an Illustrated Guide to Advanced On-Page Topic Targeting for SEO by Cyrus Shepard, the source of the graphic. Definitely worth a read!

SEO keywords relationships MOZ5. What is your competition for this page?

It’s almost time to put fingers to keys and get your content piece written. But before you do that, be sure to do a little research on your competition. Google the primary keyword you’ve identified for your content piece and see what comes up. What other authors and websites appear on the first page? Visit these pages and evaluate them from an SEO standpoint: is the keyword in the title, subtitle, and/or the URL? Is the content structured into thematic blocks or sections? How often does the primary keyword appear in the body? What about related keywords and variations? How many links are contained in the body? Is there a call to action, and if so, what is it? Are there links to other articles written by the same author or on the same topic? Seeing how your competition has approached their content piece is not only helpful for making sure you’re not writing duplicated content (fatal for SEO), but also for giving you an example of what works and how you can structure your piece to rank better.

Congratulations! If you have successfully gone through this checklist you are now ready to start writing your content piece! Stay tuned for Part 2 on this topic, where I’ll share with you the steps you need to take as you write your content.

Further Reading:

How to Make a Comprehensive Digital Marketing Strategy in 10 Steps

SEO is Dead, Long Live SEO

EOP Media: A Comprehensive Strategy

Keywords to Concepts: The Lazy Web Marketer’s Guide to Smart Keyword Research