It’s safe to say SEO is here for the foreseeable future, with more and more search engine updates being rolled out. Major search engines, including Google, are constantly changing and evolving their search algorithms to give more relevant and useful results to users. That’s why we’ve decided to put together this SEO checklist for 2021.

Since the Internet became widely used, only for the last 20 years or so, search engines have been learning from user behaviour and adapting to make the search experience better, year on year. Whilst major updates have been generally a huge leap forward, changes to the algorithms haven’t been without mistakes and errors in search.

Google share some of the humorous and frankly quite frightening errors with search results over the years in their recent video. These errors, which are few and far between, have led the search engine to perfect certain newer elements of search, making for a better user experience.

SEO in 2021, User Experience

Over the past few years, user experience has been a focus for Google and other search engines. Besides providing the best answer to a user’s search, in as little time as possible, Google is now looking at the experience on a website.

Assuming the page is relevant to the user’s query, what will the experience be for the user when visiting the website?

  • Does the website take more than a few seconds to fully load?
  • Is it difficult for a user to navigate the website?
  • Does content move around on the page as each element loads?

These are just a few of the usability issues that will most probably affect ranking as we move into 2020. Google’s Core Web Vitals will become a part of ranking.

This set of metrics is there to ensure a good quality page experience for the user and shouldn’t be ignored when optimising your website for search in 2021.

SEO Checklist for 2021

SEO Checklist for 2021

We’ve put together a list of SEO requirements for your website in 2021. Some aren’t new, but are essential. Others will become more and more important as we more forward into 2021.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the optimisation that takes place on your website itself, and affects the presentation, usability and ranking of your website in search engine results.

Page Titles

Page titles are, and have always been a massive factor in search engine ranking. Ensure your pages have clear accurate titles, concentrating on a specific keyword or phrase per page.

Page Title Example

Page Title Example in Browser Tab

TIP: Don’t overuse keywords. Yes, include your keyword or phrase. But, use it with other information or synonyms.

Meta Descriptions

Write a descriptive and useful description, keeping it to (or below) 150 characters. Think of this as your ‘pitch’ to a potential customer, and make it stand out to users. Google has said that the meta description isn’t used in ranking, so involve your keyword or phrase, but don’t be repetitive.

Headings

Headings on your web pages should be useful and a little more than just your keywords or phrase. Use your main heading or H1 to summarise your service or product on offer, including the keyword or phrase for the page. Your lower page headings should follow a hierarchy.

Think about how the user will perceive your page, and ensure the layout is easy to follow and find information.

Example: Take a look above at how we’ve used H2, H3, and H4 heading tags to present the information in relevant subsections.

Content

Page content is a major part of any SEO checklist for 2021. Written content on your website is where Google gets information to determine what a page is about, and how relevant the page is for any search query.

20 years ago, writing content was about stuffing as many keywords as possible into text. This, as you can imagine, didn’t make for a particularly good user experience.

TIP: Write your content for humans, not search engines. Generally, the longer the better, so long as it’s still relevant and useful. Use your keywords and phrases, but naturally in your content without excessive use.

Use your page footer to display useful information. There’s no set rule here, but think about what a user might need available on every page of your website they visit. Contact information, social media links, important pages or FAQs all help for a better user experience.

Image Alt Tags

Image alt tags tell search engines what an image is. Make sure each image has a short but descriptive alt tag set. These are also used to rank relevant images under the image tab in Google search.

Add an Image Alt Tag in WordPress

Add an Image Alt Tag in WordPress

Schema

Schema or Structured Data helps search engines understand your business / company and certain pages within your website. Using schema allows you to mark your pages as web pages, post pages, contact pages etc. This is also used to tell search engines your status as an organisation / company and your official social media accounts. A great way to assist search engines in learning your website, to better serve it in search results.

TIP: Yoast SEO Plugin is a great tool for WordPress, which includes addition of structured data to your website.

Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress

Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress

You can test your structured data with Google’s Testing Tool.

Page Speed

It’s a big one on the SEO Checklist for 2021. A part of Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics for website performance. Aside from just page loading speed in general, Google will look at LCP (largest contentful paint), FID (first input delay) and CLS (cumulative layout shift)

core web vitals

Credit: Google

You can find out more about Core Web Vitals here: https://web.dev/vitals/

TIP: Consider compressing your images and serving them in next gen formats, to reduce load speed. Smush is a great WordPress plugin for this.

Sitemap

Ensure you put together a sitemap containing all essential pages of your website. It may be worth excluding pages that you don’t want search engines to crawl and index. For example, an admin login page or certain post categories may be worth excluding.

TIP: The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress generates a sitemap in .xml format. You can adjust the contents of the sitemap in the settings menu.

Yoast SEO Sitemap Index

Yoast SEO Sitemap Index

Technical Issues

Technical issues can have a huge affect on search engine ranking, if not found and corrected. Some of the most common errors include:

  • Duplicate page titles
  • Missing Meta Descriptions
  • Missing image alt text
  • Broken links
  • Slow page load speeds

There’s loads of tools available to test your website for technical SEO issues. Consider a Free SEO Audit to gauge what needs doing to perfect your technical SEO.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO will play a huge part in ranking a website in 2021. In particular, backlinks are a big part of ranking and should be high on your SEO checklist for 2021.

Backlinks are, and have been for some time, a major ranking factor. They are by far the best and most accurate way to demonstrate that your website content is valuable and worth linking to. ‘dofollow’ links show Google crawlers to follow links and suggest the the linked sites are valuable to the context of the link.

Links within content provide the most weight, from high authority websites. These are understandably harder to get, but worth the effort to increase the authority of your own website.

Consider the following to gain high quality backlinks:

  • Guest posting on industry specific websites
  • Posting on Q&A sites with informative answers and links to your content (Quora is generally the best)
  • Submit your blog RSS feed to blog sharing sites

TIP: Avoid paying for backlinks. It’s still a common practice but generally the links will be poor quality or spammy. Google has gotten good at separating genuine links or referrals from low quality links to websites.

Sitemap

We mentioned sitemaps in on-page SEO. Your sitemap needs to be submitted to Google in their Search Console, for them to be aware of it. This will help Google determine which pages are relevant and need crawling as a priority.

add a new sitemap on Google Search Console

Add a sitemap: Google Search Console

Social Media

Social media is big and will continue to grow into 2021 and beyond. It’s important to have a universal presence on your social media platforms. Ensure you have fully completed profiles on each platform with a link to your website.

Be active, share your pages and blog posts, offering as much useful, engaging content as possible.

Here’s some of the top social media platforms to consider in 2021:

  • Facebook – Facebook is still huge and growing everyday. At the time of writing this post, it’s the 3rd largest search engine after Google and Youtube.
  • Instagram – Owned by Facebook, a great way to share photos or pictures relating to your business. Remember, users are there for photos & pictures, so make it attention grabbing and shareable.
  • Twitter – Twitter can be difficult to master, as the feed refreshes so fast. The platform is a good bookmarking site, to share your recent blog posts with relevant content.
  • Tumblr – Tumblr is a hugely popular blogging platform. Great for sharing short blog posts or even just links to your content or blog. Consider following other bloggers in a similar industry.
  • Youtube – Youtube is the 2nd largest search engine after Google. Video content is popular and this potential level of exposure can’t be ignored. Create interesting and informative content. Don’t forget to pop a link to your article or website in the video description.
  • Pinterest – A massively popular platform for sharing ideas, particularly creative ones. Link to your website or blog posts with your pins.

Conclusion

SEO has never been so important in ranking your website in organic search. As Google and other search engines continually improve their algorithms to provide a better experience for the user, it’s essential to be ready and ahead of the changes.

The most notable changes moving into 2021 are the Core Web Vitals metrics. These will be a ranking factor within the first half of 2021 and now is the time to prepare. There’s plenty of tools and resources out there to help get your website ahead of the changes.

We hope this SEO checklist for 2021 proves helpful in preparing your website and increasing your organic ranking in 2021.

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