When launching a new website, especially if it's on a new content management system, it's imperative that you review the site for SEO issues prior to launch. We conduct in-depth technical site audits all the time and I've put together this list of some of the more important, and often-overlooked issues that should always be addressed prior to launching a new website.
1. Content length on key pages
Your landing pages should, ideally, have at least 250 words, perhaps more. Take a look at the ranking competition for your the terms you're targeting with your key landing pages; a lot of times you can get an idea of the type of content Google prefers by looking at what's already ranking.
2. Meta titles
Meta titles are one of the most important on-page elements for SEO. Aside from the search engines paying close attention to these, the meta title is also what will show up in the search results, so make sure it's descriptive and encourages clicks.
3. Meta descriptions
These are often overlooked but they shouldn't be. Meta descriptions will often show up as the snippet of text beneath the meta title in the search results. They should be well-written with user intent in mind and designed to both describe what the user will find on the page and also encourage them to click.
4. Meta keywords
They're useless, get rid of them.
5. Use of heading tags (h1, h2, h3, etc)
Aside from being used by search engines to assist in understanding the structure and meaning of a page, heading tags make content more readable, which means people will stay on the page longer and be less likely to bounce.
6. URL parameters
You don't want your site to rely on query strings to display content. Rewrite those URLs using htaccess on Linux or the URL rewriter in IIS.
7. Descriptive, keyword-rich URLs
For a page selling concert dog collars, try something like http://domain.com/dogs/collars/ instead of a structure that isn't as descriptive.
8. Duplicate content
Do you have the same content showing up on more than one unique URL of your site? This is a problem commonly introduced by content management systems and you usually have to pay really close attention to catch it. Google Webmaster tools and Screaming Frog SEO Spider can help make this a little less painful.
Other things to watch out for:
- Does the content show up on different subdomains? (www vs non-www or others)
- Has the content been scraped or copied to/from another website entirely?
9. Robots.txt blocking
Double check robots.txt to ensure important sections of the site are not inadvertently being blocked from search bots.
11. 4xx and 5xx errors
Scan the site for page errors. It's common on a new site launch to introduce broken links or other issues that could lead to 5xx errors.
12. 301 redirect old pages
If you do nothing else on this list, do this. If your URL structure changes, even a little bit, it's very important that you redirect those old pages to corresponding URLs on the new site. This can be a really long and tedious process on larger sites or, with the help of some careful planning and htaccess, it can be relatively simple.
13. Website speed
Site speed is now being used as a ranking factor and it will only become more important in the future. Check the page speed section in Google analytics as well as WebPageTest.org to see how your site performs. Consider page speed optimization if things are running slow.
14. XML Sitemap
While it shouldn't be used to compensate for poor site architecture, an XML sitemap can help ensure the search engines are aware of all the content on your site.
15. Canonical tags properly implemented
For many sites it's difficult, impossible, or simply undesirable to eliminate all duplicate URLs. Canonical tags tell the search engines which URL is the "primary" version.
16. Internal links
Are you linking to other pages on your site within the site content where it makes sense? Not only will this help distribute link equity, it will provide a more friendly user experience. While you're at it, make sure your internal links' anchor text is well-optimized – just don't go overboard.
17. Check that good pages return 200 response code
We've seen it before where a misconfiguration results in every page on the site returning a 404 (not found) response code. This is definitely not something you want.
18. On-site Local SEO
Do you have separate pages for each of your locations? Is contact information shown on each page using Schema.org markup? Is content targeted toward your local area?
19. Orphaned link check
Pull all your backlinks, grab the target URL, and then crawl the list to ensure they are all return either 200 or 301 response codes. This will help ensure you didn't forget to redirect any old URLs.