local search ranking checklist


Improve Your Odds of Ranking Online in 2021


Improve Your Odds of Ranking Online in 2021

It’s always the question…

How do I get ranked using SEO?

If you’re not familiar with MOZ, then let me share my take on a list they published to provide the guide of all guides to put best practices in place to help your website rank in search. How to Rank on Google: 25-Step Master SEO Checklist

As you work with an online marketing agency or press forward with an in-house marketing team, the checklist provided follows a broadly-applicable framework for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to use in building a solid foundation to continue improving on. Consider this post a “Readers Digest” version of their article to spur some thought as you construct a plan to improve your marketing efforts heading into 2021. The best part of this checklist is you only need a basic understanding of SEO to follow it. Depending on your resources, it’s also a list you could get through in 2 to 12 weeks.

  • Working Smarter, Not Harder

  • Start With a Mighty Seed

  • List It Out: Dream Your Keyword Theme
  • Leverage The Competition
  • Finding Diamonds in the Google Rough

  • Creating Value

  • Detect Intent: Form & Function
  • Be The Last Click

  • Why Completeness Beats Length
  • Smart Topic Modeling (Without A Computer)

  • E-A-T Your Authority

  • CTR Starts Here: Be The First Click

  • On-Page: Master the Basics

  • Schema All The Things

  • Make it Fast, Make it Sing

  • Over-Optimization: Titles, URLs, Stuffing, and Links

  • Internal Links, Relevance, & User Engagement

  • Linking Internally for the Reasonable Surfer
  • Content Hubs & Category Pages

  • The 50/50 Rule of Link Building

  • Don’t Create Content Until You Do This First

  • The Easiest Shortcut to Good Links

  • Tentpole & Flywheels: Link Building on AutoPilot

  • A World of Link Building Tactics

  • Keep It Fresh: Links, Content, & Engagement

1. Working Smarter, Not Harder

Growing up, I worked construction at a company my grandfather and dad started. I learned quite quickly the importance of measuring twice (or more) and cutting once. Gradually, I learned various techniques and became increasingly familiar with what would be needed for various projects to ensure it went as expected. Bringing the right tools, so to speak, to the job will definitely help you work much smarter in online search ranking efforts. While this list is lengthy, none of them will matter if you forget the most important tool of them all: Keywords.

Notice I used the plural form of the word? It’s crucial to develop a broad list of keywords taking into consideration the myriad terms someone might enter in their search for your products/services. While prepping for keyword research, here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Choosing keywords that are not specific enough (too broad)
  2. Choosing keywords with too much competition
  3. Keywords without enough traffic
  4. Keywords not relevant to your business
  5. Trying to rank for a single keyword at a time

An exercise to help select keywords is to begin with a solid core search term and build around it.

2. Starting With A Mighty Seed

Known as “Seed Keywords”, these basic and obvious phrases related to what you “think” you want to rank for. Of course, what you think of in the simplest terms of how you perceive the searches going may not be how consumers search for you, but it can lead to broader terms to add to your list. In determining what your seed keyword could be to expand your keyword list, consider the following:

  • What services/products do I offer that my website is about?
  • What keywords do I think I want to rank for?
  • What do my competitors rank for?
  • What keywords do I already rank for?

Avoid going too broad with the seed keyword. For example, a home care agency might feel “home care” is a good seed keyword, but it’s too broad. Whereas terms like “home care provider”, “home care agency houston”, or “senior in-home care” might be better starter terms.

3. List It Out: Dream Your Keyword Theme

Consider this a vision board of the types of searches you want to rank for now and in the future. This expanded list shouldn’t be limited only to the whale-sized keywords, rather multiple keywords surrounding a single idea that you could possibly rank for and attract relevant search traffic. There are some free and paid tools available to help comprise such lists of long-tail keywords.

These long-tail keywords provide greater specificity in aligning with search intent than the broad keywords and can result in an increase in qualified traffic to your website from the search engines.

Examples of long-tail keywords to keep building into your dream list of terms to rank for if you were selling bikes:

  • mountain bikes
  • boys mountain bikes
  • womens mountain bikes
  • carbon mountain bikes
  • aluminum mountain bikes

Consider your industry to determine what variations exist around your primary (seed) keywords based on what you provide and how your target audience searches online.

4. Leverage The Competition

In sports, you’ll often hear of teams watching the reels of their competition to help anticipate offensive and defensive plays in an upcoming game. In online marketing, search results are where the games are played and keywords are the plays being made by your competition.

If not entirely sure, a great place to begin is studying which keywords your competition already ranks for. You can do this by tying in some random keywords and seeing what turns up – or using keyword research tools.

5. Finding Diamonds in the Google Rough

Of the myriad – potentially dozens of – keywords you’ve discovered by this point, the real goal is to choose the exact right keywords to build your content around and target your audience with.

To help narrow down the ideal keywords for building the content and marketing strategy around consider these requirements:

  • Search volume – Is there a sufficient amount of search traffic for the keyword?
  • Context – How well can you tie the keyword to your what and WHY instead of simply providing “definition” content?
  • Obtainable – Some keywords have more competition than others. Is it realistic to expect to rank for the terms you’ve selected?
  • Relevance – Is the keyword relevant to what your business does?
  • Engaging – Can you create more compelling content surrounding this keyword than can be found elsewhere?

The requirement of obtainable has to do with the level of competition already ranking for keywords and what it might require to potentially rank. Some industries have significant levels of competition making simpler terms for the industry more difficult to rank for than those that are longer-tailed or more specific to what you provide within the industry.

6. Creating Value

Over a decade ago, I was known for saying things like: “Content is King.” As search engines increase in their capacity to understand search intent and determine how your website relates to what’s being taught, this has been adjusted to: “Context is King.”

To make your context king, you need to become a student of your target audience’s intent in search. From there, you can begin drafting content with the objective of creating value exceeding what could be discovered on other websites currently ranking for your keywords.

Rather than turning your website into a dictionary/encyclopedia for your industry, write content that establishes a mix of utility, trust, authority, and optimal user experience. If you’ve heard the term “SEO Content” before, please forget it. The more engaging and relevant your content is, the more completely you can satisfy the users’ needs and protect against future algorithmic changes.

7. Detect Intent:  Form & Function

Guessing intent is like throwing darts while blindfolded. While you could attempt writing content for content’s sake, hoping for some results, there are metrics you can check to help gauge your ability to connect with intent.

Perform a search using one of your keywords and determine:

  • Which pages are already ranking?
  • What are some of the common elements on the page? Images, videos, shopping, etc.
  • What doe Google show as “related searches”?

As you create your content, it’s helpful to include various elements that can be searched: text, images – keyword named and alt name specific, and video, etc.

In various tools (Google My Business, Google Ads, etc.) you can see which terms are attracting traffic to help identify how accurate or inaccurate your content is in drawing in users based on the intent that lines up with your business offerings best.

8. Be The Last Click

This seems a bit obvious and basic, but certainly worth the mention. Of all the clicks a user might make from the search results provided, your goal is to be the absolute best result and – therefore – the last click.

What’s required to be the last click varies from one search result to the next, though here are some consistent considerations to help you get there:

  • Match user intent in both form and style
  • Provide more complete informatoin
  • Be authoritative
  • Offer a better or unique experience (design, UX, speed, call-to-action)

Hint: If you notice a high bounce rate in your Google Analytics, there’s a chance you are not the last click.

9. Why Completeness Beats Length

While content length often is brought up in SEO discussions and “Less is More” might be referenced, it’s really more a question of completeness in determining whether enough has been written.

What is “complete” content? It is content that:

  • Completely satisfies the user’s search query (again, “be the last click”)
  • Offers supporting evidence
  • Answers additional related questions to the user’s search query
  • Is authoritative (in other words, provides the user a reason to trust the information)
  • Provides quality supplemental content to support the main content

More complete content helps Google better determine what your website is about and how it aligns with user intent as well as satisfying the user’s needs.

10. Smart Topic Modeling (Without A Computer)

If you recall 8th or 9th grade English, you’ll recall somewhat of a structure in creating rough drafts to help “model” what content you would need to complete an essay or writing assignment. The following elements will help you map out a proper page or blog post to achieve completeness for both Google and users:

  1. Focus on your primary topic (keyword) in your:
    • Title tag
    • URL – http://yourwebsite.com/keyword-specific-url-here
    • Page Title
    • Main Content of the page
    • Images and/or Video – alt names and file names relative to your keyword (for example: keyword-related-name.jpg)
  2. Use a list of the secondary topics/keywords from your research expanding on the “seed keyword” to support the main topic. If warranted, use these terms as subheadings in their owns sections. This entire list is a series of subheads supporting the topic of Page Ranking.
  3. Similarly, you can use the “related questions” to expand supporting content sections.
  4. Be sure to satisfy user intent by providing a variety of elements and formats you discovered in the top ranking results – including images and video.
  5. Enhance your content with useful supplemental content. This can be internal links to other pages or blog posts within your website or externally to non-competitive websites that help lend credibility to your statements.

11. E-A-T Your Authority

Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness

As you review your content, ask the following questions – removing as much personal bias as possible, of course:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the content on your website include duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues? (We recommend Grammarly – free or Premium)
  • Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

In a micro-moment, Google’s algorithm will determine relevance followed by a slightly longer micro-moment of a user determining whether your content meets their needs.

12. CTR Starts Here: Be The First Click

That’s right. Be the last click and be the first click.

Clicks can come from Ads in PPC, display ads, organic search results, Google Maps, social media, etc. When it comes to Google search rankings, here are the primary levers yo influence Click Thru Rate (CTR):

  1. Titles
  2. Meta Description
  3. Rich Snippets
  4. URLs / Breadcrumbs
  5. In some cases, video and image results

The more these elements align with intent, the greater the likelihood of a user clicking on your search result.

example search result

13. On-Page: Master The Basics

If you’re new to SEO, this list might overwhelm you somewhat. What’s been listed up to this point are most of the basics you should continue focusing on as you work to improve your content. If your website is on WordPress, we recommend installing the plugin Yoast SEO to help evaluate how well your page/post is focused on the primary term/keyword for the page – along with completeness of some of the elements discussed so far.

There are also software options available to complete an analysis of your entire site ranging from free to one-time or subscription paid.

14. Schema All The Things

Schema is not visible to the end-user, rather is a markup option important for two significant reasons:

  1. This additional content helps Google understand your page, providing potential ranking boosts in some circumstances.
  2. Schema can help you win a mix of rich snippets, further boosting your CTR.

While not alone a Google Ranking Factor – meaning simply adding schema may not boost your rankings, the additional content included in the schema that search engines can read does help Google better understand your content for search result consideration.

Chief among standard schemas are:

15. Make it Fast, Make it Sing

For all you Top Gun lovers out there, Maverick isn’t the only one who feels the “need for speed.” When clicking from the search results, here are some key experience signals Google factors in – that also make an impression on users:

  • Page Speed (among other Core Web Vitals you can check in your Google Webmaster tools)
  • Mobile-Friendliness
  • Safe Browsing
  • HTTPS (established with SLL Certification)
  • Intrusive Interstitial (avoid aggressive popups)

Rather than consider these as potential rank-boosting factors, these are spec considerations for a minimal viable website entering into the SEO race. While minimal in its influence for ranking – when weighed against other ranking factors, Page speed does account for significant influences in other areas of the online experience: namely bounce rate and conversion rates. Higher speeds do tend to make a greater first impression when aiming for the last click objective.

16. Over-Optimization: Titles, URLs, Stuffing, and Links

Lazy SEO companies used to thrive on over-optimization because no one knew better. As contextual-based search increases, this lazy method of SEO not only fails to show Google how relevant you are, it absolutely disconnects from the users. As you look over this example of over-optimization you’ll understand why.

Let’s say you’re a plumber in Seattle, WA trying to rank for “best plumber Seattle” and are using diversity lacking elements like:

  • Pate title tag is “best plumber Seattle”
  • Your URL is https://best-plumber-seattle.com/the-best-plumber-seattle
  • Your H1 title is “best plumber Seattle”
  • Your content includes the phrase “best plumber Seattle” 20-25 times
  • Most of your internal links (and external links) use “best plumber Seattle” as the anchor text

Use the keyword research from earlier to help ensure you diversify phrases used in your content to help prevent being demoted in search by Google and increase the likelihood of meeting the needs of the searcher.

17. Internal Links, Relevance, & User Engagement

If there’s a “silver bullet” or “magic trick” for SEO in this list, this is it. Of course, it takes some time and coordination to achieve.

Fact is no matter the keyword you hope to rank for, it’s nearly impossible to do so if you rely on a single page to compete for a handful of keywords. However, taking that keyword list derived from the “seed keyword” and producing several pages/posts around a central theme makes the job of ranking exponentially easier.

As you continue producing themed content, you’ll be able to:

  • Interlink related pages…
  • … with topical anchor text
  • Improve user engagement by answering more questions

Overall, the added posts/pages of content branching out from the “seed keyword” and relevant search terms will assist your site in ranking for an increased multiple of queries.

18. Linking Internally for the Reasonable Surfer

How you link is just as important (if not more) than what you link to. Here are some linking guidelines to leverage maximum power from every new page you create.

  • Link to your most topically related content. It’s believed the more related the content linked to is with the content in your article, the more weight Google passes through.
  • When possible, try to link within your main content (rather than sidebars or navigation elements)
  • Link higher up (sooner) within your content, as these carry more weight than links further down in the page/post.
  • Use anchor text with relevant keywords, varying your anchor text greatly so as not to be repetitive.

As you complete a new page, take the time to revisit priority pages relevant to the topic and potentially edit/revise to ensure timeliness and relevance as well as add to internal linking from existing pages to the new content.

19. Content Hubs & Category Pages

Not all pages are equal and having central pages that link out to sub-topic or sub-category pages/posts establishes anchor/higher authority pages for your internal linking strategy. Reasons for this would include:

  • Category pages often develop more link equity. These pages sit “closer” to the home page in the user experience and often attract external link equity.
  • These category pages generally sit higher in a website’s architecture heirarchy, meaning they are usually better placed in a site’s navigation and breadcrumbs, for example.
  • These pages can often rank for high-volume head terms – as opposed to lower-volume, long-tail terms
  • Category pages can target broader user intent than individual topic pages and can serve as a jumping off point into deeper dives for each subject

The best category pages don’t simply list off latest posts or keywords related to the topics, rather contain their own unique content, relevant answers to questions, and links to the sub-topic/related pages. If you don’t have a category page, you need to create one to help connect the other related pages.

20. The 50/50 Rule of Link Building

There are two 50/50 rules when it comes to link building. It’s important to consider these factors so as to avoid frustrations in your efforts.

#1. Assume Google ignores 50% of your links and that only half of your link are good. Of course, not knowing exactly how many links Google ignores, this is a good assumption all the same. Here are some reasons Google may devalue or ignore your links:

  1. Irrelevance
  2. Manipulation – if Google detects you’ve engaged in a pattern of linking that violates their Webmaster Guidelines
  3. Disavowed
  4. Links marked as no-follow or possibly “ugc” or “sponsored”
  5. Penalized domains

As far as eternal links, the more “natural” and relevant they are the better. If the links come too easily, they may hurt you – whereas harder links to earn generally provide greater value.

#2. Spend 50% of your time creating content and 50% promoting link-worthy content. The content you create doesn’t automatically go to work for you. Drawing attention to your content to earn links is an active endeavor. Make connections through social media or networking efforts, letting them know about the content you hope to have relative sites point to.

21. Don’t Create Content Until You Do This First

Link building and content campaigns often fall short of their goals – or fail – when not properly planned out. Some reasons some efforts fail: content that doesn’t resonate, poor design/layout (UX), not enough reach, and many other reasons.

Ask: Do you know exactly who is likely to link to content before you create it?

A few areas to investigate which content to work on and have greater linking potential with include:

  • What type of content earns the most links?
  • What topics are trending?
  • What content, exactly, are journalists/publishers/bloggers looking for?

Rather than write content and hope it attracts links, work backward from the target audience of potential link sources to determine who’s most likely to link to what types of content, and then begin writing.

22. The Easiest Shortcut to Good Links

This gets a little more complex and may require an online tool, but similar to your keyword efforts by looking at your competition, you can also determining your “link gap”. A few quick steps to determine your link gap are:

  1. See who ranks in Google for your target keyword(s)
  2. Select 2-3 of the top-ranking URLs
  3. Use a link research tool to find pages linking to your competitor URLs (but not you)

Some of these links might be industry-specific listing sites that are easy to add yourself to, while others might require a plan to reach out to and show your content is superior!

23. Tentpole & Flywheels: Link Building on AutoPilot

Building content that can earn links on its own, as opposed to actively soliciting links yourself is certainly appealing – and can prove helpful in link source diversity.

As opposed to your higher-level content that might aim for direct conversions, your broader educational content regarding the industry might play well in this sort of scenario: A blogger needs to write an article on the real estate market. They Google “best places to live” and find your article that is relevant and contains great data points. They then link to your article in theirs, citing your page as a source.

The trick to generating naturally “citable” content from bloggers and journalists is to include a combination of or any one of these:

  1. Studies – From your product or service interactions, what are some case studies you’ve completed that connect your services with their experiences in a substantive manner?
  2. Statistics/Data – Documenting key metrics, then publishing those you are comfortable with sharing to help educate and inform.
  3. “How To” Content – There are likely basic tips you can provide that help establish authority regarding a topic through teaching people how to do something on their own.
  4. Guides – Example: this article.
  5. Tools – If you have simple tools (mortgage calculator, car payment calculator, other cost estimators, etc), these can attract natural links.
  6. Wikis/References – Secondary or Tertiary content on your website might include a glossary or other tools to help users understand terms on your site that may attract bloggers/journalists looking for a source of a definition.

While such pages tend to compound over time in terms of links received, the value isn’t as strong as those higher-priority pages requiring more manual outreach. Often, the manual link building efforts are needed before the flywheel strategy content can potentially show up and begin working.

24. A World of Link Buiding Tactics

While some great options are explored here and in Moz’s full article, the greatest success comes by employing various tactics. If you find yourself struggling to succeed in link building efforts, others have shared their success stories that you could search online. There are also more statistically evaluated options documented in articles like these:

25. Keep It Fresh: Links, Content, & Engagement

Just because the strategy seems to be working now, doesn’t mean it always will – due in part to Google constantly shifting rankings based on relevance and algorithmic changes. Static content on a website is a sure way to lose ground in the ever-competitive landscape in search ranking efforts. As you develop a strategy to maintain freshness and relevance, here are some key freshness signals Google considers:

  1. Date last updated
  2. Amount of Content updated – significant vs minor
  3. How often content is updated. A more regular cadence in content updates may signal more freshness than updating only occasionally
  4. How often you create new pages/posts on your website
  5. Rate of new link growth (don’t let your link building stagnate)
  6. Freshness of traffic and engagement signals (less relevant sites tend to have declining engagement)

Freshness isn’t only related to the content, but can also pertain to the overall SEO experience: titles, URLs, meta description, schema, user experience, etc can all impact how likely your site is to rank and how likely you are to be the last click.

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