This is an SEO checklist and guide with general search engine optimization best practices that you need to follow in order to ensure your content follows all modern SEO tactics and is well optimized. This will make the life of everyone involved in each article/content material easier. The aim is to have a first draft that is already in very good shape and will require fewer changes to be fully optimized and SEO-ready.
Here are the SEO checklist and guidelines to follow when writing an article optimized:
Usually as a content writer you will know from the beginning the target keyword (aka KW) either from the content plan and brief of your SEO guy (that’s me 😉 ) or from your initial keyword research. So when you write your article, make sure to:
- Include your target keyword (exact match) 3-5 times in your text but be aware not to overuse it and always be relevant and natural, as keyword stuffing is penalized. SEO tools generally recommend between 0.5% and 2% keyword density (including the very close variations) as some articles can be longer than others, which you can check with this online software. Modern SEO works beyond the term ‘keyword density’. You write for humans and not for robots, so trying to achieve a specific percentage of KW density is not the correct way to go. However, having the exact match of the KW some times throughout the text (especially in specific places) is a good strategy.
- Use alternatives/synonyms to your KW. In addition to using your target KW to reach the right keyword density, you should use alternatives as well. These could be either long-tail versions of it or semantically related ones. For example, if your target keyword is recruitment process, besides the exact match, you could use: recruiting process, what is recruitment process, recruiting, recruitment process steps, selection process, hr recruitment process, etc. In simple words, just think that you need to use keywords that are commonly mentioned together with your focus keyword and are industry/topic related in order to make search engines better “understand” your article.
- Place your focus keyword in the main title (the closer to the beginning it is better). It also needs to be part of your first introductory paragraph, at least one subheading and one alt/alternative text (image).
Important Note on Relevant and Long-tail Keywords
Do not overdo it. You need to have in mind that you are writing for humans and not for the search engines. So, since you will know your target keyword and you will also already have done your research about the topic, the industry, and of course the product, you do not need to spread keywords everywhere. They need to come up naturally inside your text because they are relevant to the topic.
2. Take a Look at the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages)
You may have a plan on what you will write, what you will include in your text and how you will approach the topic you will write about but it is important to understand the search results that are on the first page. This is a clear picture of the searchers’ intent and also the context of the articles search engines choose to rank high.
For example, if 6 out of 8 search results of the first page write about the pros and cons of AI in recruitment, it is easier for you to write about the same than approach the article very differently.
Again, this is not a rule, it is just a suggestion. Sometimes a very different topic may shine and make your article rank high with higher organic CTR.
3. Make Sure Your Text Has a Nice and Clear Structure
This means you need to:
- Avoid too long sentences and paragraphs. A paragraph of ~46 words / ~270 characters is great.
- Use headings for a better structure. Each article should have only one main title (H1) but it is suggested to use subheadings (H2, H3). For example: as an introduction of something you will talk about in the next paragraph(s), or creating a list.
- When you can, create numbered lists (see what I am doing now?).
See this example:
You are writing about tips for hr managers. After an intro paragraph, a good practice to use subheadings is:
7 Tips for HR Managers: (h2)
Tip 1: …. (h3)
Analyze this tip […]
Tip 2: …. (h3)
Analyze this tip […]
- Use questions as subheadings and then answer them in the paragraph that continues.
4. Article Length
Generally, a longer article is better for SEO and ranks better. But only if you have relevant information to write about. Do not repeat yourself or write without adding anything extra to your article just for increasing its length. Anything more than 1000 words is good for SEO, but in many cases, this is considered already too long for people to read.
Try to find a balance based on the topic. If you can keep the article valuable and interesting, aim for >1000 words. If you feel it would be a stretch, stick to 700-800 words.
You can check the very interesting study mentioned by Neil Patel about the impact of word count on organic traffic, linking domains and social shares.
5. Include Images/Videos/Infographics
Enriching your article with rich media is very good for many reasons. Some things you need to follow, however, are:
- All of the images that are in your text should have an alt (alternative) text that describes the image. This is how Google recognizes your images (which come up in Google Images search results). Trust me (✊) you can have a lot of organic from the image results – Read more here. Every image should also have a caption (description, which is visible in the article).
- Do not use generic image file names. Use a proper name that describes the image. For example, if you use an image from Pixabay about a sunset at Eiffel Tower called “pixabay-12345”, you should rename it something like “sunset-at-eiffel-tower”. You should also use dashes (–) and not underscore (_) as some search engines do not recognize them.
- Compress the images using sites like tinypng.com or compressor.io in order to reduce the image size and make the article load faster when it is published.
6. Use Internal Links
You need to include internal links pointing to older and relevant articles of the blog. Make sure to use as anchor text the word or words which describe best the article you are linking to. For example:
Good practice: When you talk about a hiring process you need to […]
Bad practice: When you talk about a hiring process (read more here) you need to […]
The underlined text will point to an article that talks about the hiring process.
Again, be sure to link to relevant articles to the one you are writing and not just to articles in general.
7. Use Outbound Links
If you are using stats or the summary of research, or in general something from another site, you should link to that site. This is almost like the internal links. If you are using information from other sites, do not be afraid of linking to them.
The bigger (popular, with high domain authority) the website the best (i.e., pointing to a website like hubspot.com, which has enormous authority, is adding authority and trust to your article). Just make sure that you are pointing to a URL that is relevant to the topic you are writing about.
8. Add SEO metadata (it is crucial ⚠️)
SEO metadata consists of the title tag (SEO title), meta description and the slug (URL). What you will write there, will impact the appearance of your post on the SERPs (search snippet).
You need to follow these best practices for success:
- SEO title:
- Length: Make sure your title is not too long. Keep your characters under 60 and do not use all capitals as the actual length is not based on the characters limit BUT on the pixels.
- Focus keyword placement: Make sure your focus keyword is included in the title and ideally as close as it could be at the beginning of it.
- How to write the perfect SEO title: The SEO title can be different than the main title (h1) your text has. Imagine that this is the title that a person sees when searching for relevant terms. This means that apart from using the focus keyword in the title, or at the beginning of it, you need to make your title catchy and clickable. You need to grab the searcher’s attention and make him click on your article and not on a competitor. This will increase the article’s CTR. Bigger CTR means more traffic to the site AND may affect the ranking.
- Meta description:
- This is a short description of your post. The meta description is not an SEO factor but it affects the searcher’s action. You need to write a compelling and short description (up to 160 characters) that describes best your article and can increase the intention of a searcher to visit your article. It is like you are writing a good ‘ad copy’. Finally, make sure you include the focus keyword of your text. We have here a pixels limit as well and not a characters, but it’s easier to use this in order to make this more easy to digest.
- Slug (URL):
- Make sure that your slug is short and optimized. Ok what does this mean?? Short means something between 3-5 words separated by dashes (-), while optimized means that you should include there your focus keyword. Generally you have to think smart and create a good and descriptive slug that is not only SEO friendly but user friendly as well.
Each time you are writing this data, use this tool (serp simulator) that simulates the search results and can indicate to you whether you are following all the characters’ limitations.
Main keyword: buy cryptocurrency
SEO title: Best Way to Buy Cryptocurrency: Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum
Meta description: Want to buy cryptocurrency? We introduce the easiest and fastest way to buy, hold and exchange Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash and XRP.
9. Respect Copyright and Don’t Use Duplicated Content
When you use information and reports from other sources, cite them properly according to standards. Only use images free of copyright. Add the references as required by each source (if required, like the case of Wikimedia Commons).
Websites with free-to-use images: pixabay.com, pexels.com, gratisography.com, unsplash.com, Wikimedia Commons, etc.
Never copy-paste text from other sources and always write original content that was not published anywhere else.
10. Keep the Article Clean
Keep the article clean, no bold, italic and underline at the same time (only bold should be consistent), no extra spaces, not too many subtitles, intercalate text with relevant images, use only materials of high quality and try to avoid typos. Read your article twice before sending it for review.
☑️ On-page SEO Checklist:
1. The focus keyword is appearing in the first paragraph of the copy. Make sure the topic is clear immediately.
2. The exact-match keyword density is at least 0.5%.
3. The focus keyword is used in at least one subheading (such as an H2).
4. The SEO title contains the focus keyword (it would be perfect if it appears at the beginning but don’t sacrifice the meaning for it). The SEO title should be up to ~560px for desktop and ~550px for mobile (around 65 characters). You can check whether your copy is not exceeding the viewable limit with a SERP simulator.
5. The meta description is longer than 120 characters (maximum ~960px for desktops and ~680px for mobiles – around 156 characters) and contains the focus keyword. Should be treated as copy, as in the most convincing, well-written piece of text. This is what will bring organic traffic to the website. Again you can use a SERP simulator like Mangools serp simulator to check that you are inside the viewable limit.
6. The slug/URL for this page contains the focus keyword, is less than 33 characters (3-4 words) and doesn’t contain stop words (and, in, the → exception: “how-to” might be so relevant to the topic that it is worth keeping with stop words)
7. The images on this page contain alt alt texts and at least one of them includes the focus keyword. Of course the alternative text should be descriptive. Just using the focus keyword as image alt text is pointless.
8. The text contains a minimum of 600 words. Even more than 1,500 would be ideal (if it is required for covering the topic) but a balance between relevance and length should be kept (if an article is too long, readers might find it too much and bounce, which can impact your page negatively).
9. The article has outbound link(s) (links pointing to external websites) and internal link(s) (links that point to your domain).
10. You’ve never used this focus keyword before. It is not the best thing to write articles targeting the same keyword as this is like competing yourself while you are confusing the search engines at the same time.
I hope you found this on-page SEO checklist helpful and going to use it as a reference when you create a piece of content you want to rank high. Keep in mind that SEO is continuously evolving with thousand of algorithm updates per year so it is good to keep updated for the latest best practises.
But… don’t panic, I will be here to update this SEO checklist if I have to.
Credits to the featured image belong to rdwgroup.com