The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
From web development to branding and design, there are plenty of moving parts when launching a new website, but your SEO strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought.
In fact, your SEO strategy should be one of the primary considerations before you even start your website. To take things a step further, the best case scenario would be that your website structure is fully built based on the SEO strategy you already have in place. Doing this from the get-go saves lots of headaches for things like web development, content formatting and design, URL structures, and more.
So instead of fighting to make your website SEO-ready later on (which, trust me, is always an uphill battle), start with this holistic SEO checklist for new websites and save yourself valuable time and resources, and experience the beauty of good SEO (i.e. revenue) in a fraction of the time.
Why is SEO valuable for new websites?
New websites are like infants. They can’t comprehend language yet (no indexed pages), they don’t have many friends (no backlinks), and thus also have no authority (aka they can’t do much for society, yet).
As time presses on, Google starts to sniff out and apply changes as your website matures (assuming the SEO strategy is done right), and you’ll soon see that there are some big kids on the playground to contend with.
But don’t be afraid, all you need is a clever SEO strategy.
A baby website can start by focusing on longtail, low-competition keywords until it works its way up to toddler, then teenager, then full-fledged adult. Over time, with some tender SEO love and care, your new website can grow to compete and even overtake the strongest of competition.
1. Pick the right domain name (you can’t change it after!)
The right domain name is associated with SEO equity, so aligning your company and brand name with your domain name is critical. When you have a new domain, you’re essentially starting your SEO from scratch.
So, how do you find a domain name?
Here are some popular options to check if the domain you’d like to purchase is available:
Bonus points if your brand has a keyword similar to what you do as a business. It’s helpful, although not a must. If in doubt, choose a smooth brand name over a keyword.
2. Choose a high-speed website hosting provider
I personally recommend Siteground for its 100% uptime reliability, quick page time loads, and support (specifically for WordPress users). The host’s quality has a gigantic impact on your site’s performance, especially when it comes to a dedicated IP, SSD, HDD or other forms of storing, processor, and operational systems.
And, let’s be honest, the average Joe won’t wait longer than three seconds for a website to load, so ensuring an excellent host is the first step of your SEO strategy.
3. Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console is like your SEO fairy godmother. It’ll provide you with tons of that that you need to achieve SEO success. With Google Search Console, you can check things like:
Page speed issues
Organic keywords that bring in website clicks
Your average click through rate (CTR)
Crawl and index errors
…and much more!
Once you buy your domain name, Google Search Console is up and running, and you’ve got a speedy host, you’ve built the bare minimum for a website, and it’s now time to focus on developing your SEO strategy.
Quick note: at this stage, you may want to also consider adding Google Analytics to your website, as that is often the starter database for all of your marketing data. However, with recent updates regarding data privacy changes in the EU, I suggest not to rely too heavily on it and check for an analytics platform that matches your country’s customer data privacy laws.
4. Study your SEO competition
How is their company similar to yours? How is it different? Check out their unique selling points.
What topics do they write about?
What keywords are they already ranking for?
One super important thing to consider here is your true “SEO competitors”. Every business has product and service competitors (people who sell similar stuff), but that doesn’t mean they have an SEO strategy that’s worth trying to outperform. The key here is to identify who sells similar stuff, writes similar content, and is piling up top keyword rankings. Those are your “SEO competitors”, and they’re who you want to beat.
Once you’ve identified your SEO competitors, it’s time to perform a keyword gap analysis. A keyword gap analysis uncovers the keywords you need to rank for in comparison to competitors, in order to close the gap. And with a bit of intentional filtering, you can indeed use this information to soon outrank them.
Here’s a snackable checklist to perform a keyword gap analysis:
Add your root domain versus your chosen competitor root domains into an SEO tool like Moz.
Review the competitor overlap and shared keywords.
Export that into a spreadsheet and filter for the keywords that are relevant for your website (this is where the manual work comes into play, but it’s time that’s extremely well spent, especially because it helps you build your keyword map).
For more information on how to perform a keyword gap analysis with Moz, check out this guide and free template.
5. Research keywords and create your keyword map
Keywords are at the center of your SEO strategy, because they’re what connects search queries to your content listed in the SERPs.
Google’s goal is to use the keywords used in search queries to identify and present the most valuable information to searchers, otherwise known as “search intent”.
For example, let’s say you live in Los Angeles and you want to order delivery pizza, so you Google “pizza delivery Los Angeles”. Something similar to the image below pops up (though it can vary based on your search history and IP address):
As the searcher, Google has understood that your “search intent” was to order delivery pizza from businesses in Los Angeles, so the SERPs directly show businesses that match that criteria. Google uses that concept to match keywords with content all day, every day, no matter whether someone wants to buy pizza, compare CRM software, or find socks for their boyfriend.
A keyword is only as powerful as the search intent it matches.
Say you want to make some vegetarian dishes, but you don’t have all the time in the world to do it so you type “quick vegetarian dishes” into Google.
You tap the first one and find it takes two hours to make.
“Ugh! That’s not the one” you think to yourself.
You’re onto the next one and then the next.
Finally the third link down only takes 15 minutes to make.
“Okay, now we’re talking!”
If there are enough people intending to find a quick vegetarian meal and discover that the third option delivers on that “quick” part, then chances are that page will rank higher for intent and keyword matches and eventually overtake the first option.
Let’s now put this into context for your SEO strategy.
Search intent and the buyer journey
If you can uncover longtail, low competition keywords that exactly match what you’re selling, that’s your direct path to ensuring SEO has a major impact on your revenue and long-term profitability.
Understanding search intent plays a major role with buyer journey stages, so ensuring that you’re crafting content that’s appropriate for buyers in the awareness, consideration, and decision stage is crucial to carrying out the most effective SEO plan.
I often create SEO strategies for the B2B world, so understanding where the reader is in their decision-making process is crucial. If someone searches “what is marketing automation”, you wouldn’t want to give them a full-blown software landing page, because they’re probably not even ready to buy it yet. They just want to understand what marketing automation is. That’s where SEO comes into play and provides that informational content in order to build up brand credibility — emphasis on the “informational” part there. When done correctly, that same reader will come back to you when they’re ready to buy.
As with all things in marketing, being helpful is always more successful than aggressively trying to sell something to someone who isn’t ready.
So when choosing keywords, you’ll need to consider both search intent and the buyer journey by asking questions like:
Does the keyword truly match my product or service?
Does the keyword match questions that customers have asked (or might ask) throughout their buying journey?
What is the keyword’s difficulty? (level of competition to rank for that keyword)
What is the search volume of the keyword?
What page types appear in the SERPs for this keyword? (blog vs landing page vs home page)
The number one SEO strategy essential: your keyword map
Step 1: We review where the website is now in terms of what’s ranking, what the top pages are, and create benchmarks for key SEO and website engagement stats. With a brand new baby website, this probably zero, but that’s ok, because this playbook also turns SEO zeros to heroes!
Step 2: We do a keyword gap analysis based on top SEO competitors, expand on the keyword list with our own keyword research, and then create a website structure that can achieve the desired business goals. If we know where the website is versus where it wants to be, we can strategize to make that happen. We also consider how users will find content coming from Google organic search as well when searching around on the website, so we always strive to find a balance.
Step 3: We then build a thorough keyword list that spans across the entire buyer journey, including all relevant product or service keywords and organize that into the main content verticals (content that scales and compounds organic search volume over time). Content verticals are often website sections such as industry pages, the blog, use case pages, product pages, and more.
Step 4: Now it’s time for the keyword map – the most important part of your SEO strategy. When creating this map, we cluster keywords (put related keywords into groups), so we know exactly what pages to create in terms of landing pages, blog articles, services pages, or collections and products. Importantly, we’re also getting aligned on the most efficient keyword for a website to try and rank for. Once we know this, we write out the URLs, headings, meta data, and more.
To give you a better idea, here’s an example of a keyword map in a spreadsheet:
Now comes the fun part, building out your content calendar and breathing life into your website.
6. Build a strategic content calendar (and keep posting)
When done consistently and with intention, a strategic content calendar naturally attracts customers and helps you rank for keywords.
Here’s how to build such a content plan:
Prioritize sections of your keyword map: You might well end up with a keyword map that spans 100+ pages. This is actually a good thing, as it means you have a lot of space to accumulate organic traffic (remember, even multi-million monthly traffic websites like HubSpot began with zero!). To start, you’ll want to prioritize pages that your website needs right away, such as product or service pages, as those have the highest likelihood to result in conversions and generate revenue for your business.
Optimize your content: Writing content that ranks does take some best practice flex. Don’t forget to use keywords in the H1, URL, and metadata. If you’ve truly matched keywords with search intent, this comes naturally through writing anyways – keyword stuffing be gone!
Track your keyword rankings: Once you publish content, keep an eye on how it’s performing. Even if you start out way down at the bottom, content can absolutely move up over time as Google perceives your content to be trustworthy, you provide a good user experience, and your Domain Authority increases. Patience is a virtue here!
Post consistently: In order to improve those last three points, you need a consistent publishing schedule. There’s no one exact number, but I often recommend at least 4 new website pages per month. Remember that SEO has a compounding effect, so the more individual pages rank, the more likely it is that content across your entire domain ranks.
7. Ensure an optimized URL structure
I mentioned putting keywords in your URL briefly above in the content calendar section, but I’ll mention it again, because it is super important for ensuring that your content is being set up properly.
Here’s how this works with a fictional website:
www.catsinabag.com is your official domain
www.catsinabag.com/blog/ is the URL for your blog, in which /blog is the parent page
www.catsinabag.com/blog/cat-food-for-cats is the URL for a blog article focused on ranking for the keyword “cat food for cats”
In the words of Rand Fishkin, “if there’s other keywords you haven’t used, or URLs you haven’t targeted with certain keywords, you do so during this process. This way you’re covering your tracks, making certain there are words and phrases that are covered early on.”
Also remember that URLs are permanent, so changing one is like starting any SEO attached to that URL from scratch. It’s always best to choose a URL-friendly system and stick with it to avoid any sudden drop in organic traffic or rankings. And if you have to update them, be sure to redirect the old URL to the new one, so any backlinks attached to it don’t disappear.
8. Review Core Web Vitals and page experience
Just like you go to check your core vitals at the doctor, you should do the same for your website to steer clear of any unnecessary issues.
Why does this matter?
Here’s my two cents as a seasoned SEO plus a bit of information from Google on their related algorithm update:
SEO has been around for a while. There’s tons and tons of content out there and more is being published every day. This means that Google is having an increasingly tough time differentiating who to give the top spots, so CWV and page experience are a way to differentiate the SEO winners and losers. SEO is no longer just about putting keywords in the right places, it now also involves content format, design, page load speed, as well as user behavior — like time on page and bounce rates.
In a nutshell, sustainable SEO success no longer ends with the click, you have to wholeheartedly satisfy your readers while they’re on the page in order to consistently rank.
While this is an extremely technical part of SEO, PageSpeed Insights quickly identifies errors and suggests how to fix them in plain English.
Here’s an example of what the results might look like:
If you have a score that comes up as yellow or red, you’ll see suggestions you can show to your developer in order to improve.
9. Observe accessibility
Accessibility simply means how easy it is for users (and search engines) to access the information on your website. This element is taken into consideration as a ranking factor. You want an accessible site for everyone, right? Of course, you’ll want to make sure that your content is being indexed and crawled correctly, but you can also take these steps to ensure that happens:
Optimize alt text in images (for screen readers)
Use enough contrast (make sure your colors are easy on the eye)
Correctly label elements like buttons
Make your font size big enough to read
10. Promote, promote, promote
Whether for SEO or not, your website content shouldn’t just be published and sit there. The phrase “build it and they will come” is completely untrue when it comes to SEO.
You have put in the effort to create your content, so it deserves to be shown to your audience. Think about where you already have a strong presence and harness that. Maybe it’s on social media, YouTube, or your email list. Whatever the case may be, think about how you can use other channels to drive even more traffic to your website. This in turn improves your SEO, because the more people who spend time on your website, the more Google identifies that you have trustworthy content.
And if you aren’t getting the traction you hoped for when all your SEO efforts are said and done, you may even think about paid traffic for the first few months (after all, Google loves their money, and rewards those who pay). Doing this will help you to test your website design and content with pay per click visitors, so you can use this data to quickly adjust your SEO accordingly!
Now you’re set for SEO success
Ultimately, SEO is a marathon, and not a sprint. Your overall focus point should be laying down a strong website structure from the get-go, so you can scale easily and accumulate monthly organic traffic.
As you move along with your SEO strategy, continue to monitor and update so you can optimize for the best results. With ever-changing competitor strategies and trends, your SEO strategy should never be put in autopilot. Consistent hard work brings in consistent results.
Bam! There you have it – a bulletproof SEO checklist for new websites!