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Andrew M McCall

A Complete SEO Checklist For Local Small Business Websites [Free SEO Audit Template]

Demystify Search Engine Optimization by using my free SEO Checklist for Local Small Business Websites.


Download My Free Manual SEO Audit Template: free SEO Checklist For Local Small Business Websites

Today, I am going to show you how to conduct your first manual SEO audit on your local small business website. There is a ton of competing information out there which can confuse SEO beginners. I know I was confused in the beginning. Thankfully, you will also have access to my free SEO Checklist For Local Small Business Websites.

The truth is, if you want to be an SEO you need to do SEO! Not everyone wants to be an SEO, though. There are many small, local businesses that need to conduct an SEO audit on their local business website. That is why I am going to show you exactly how I do my small local business seo audits so you can save some money and customize your SEO audit to your needs!

What is an SEO Audit And How Can It Help Your Local Small Business?

A search engine optimization audit is a valuable tool to your online business. The purpose behind an SEO audit is to conduct a thorough review of your website and find areas of opportunities to help you improve your potential rankings on Google and other search engines. You will then want to work with a web developer to implement some of the technical changes and hire a traverse city marketing agency to implement changes to your website content.

You have to know where you are to get to where you want to be.

Source: Search Engine Journal’s Guide To SEO

It can help achieve a few goals:

  1. First, it helps you get a sense of where your site currently is on its SEO journey.

  2. SEO audits sheds like on your current content and publishing strategy.

  3. SEO audits can help find glaring technical issues with your site

  4. You become intimately familiar with your website

  5. Can give you a great depth of information about your content, what needs to be rewritten, and what needs to be reworked, and where you need to put effort into creating content around.

Some of the topics that a manual search engine optimization audit include:

  1. Core Web Vitals are a set of measurable metrics that impact your websites user experience. This includes user input responsiveness, website load performance, and general layout stability.

  2. Safe Browsing audit is making sure your website does not have active malware installed or phishing campaigns lurking on it.

  3. Responsive Web Design is checking websites need to have a mobile-first approach and be able to respond to viewport size changes fluidly.

  4. On-Page SEO is anything you optimize on your website pages that relates to your website’s SEO performance. This includes URL structure, internal linking, title tags, page and content structure, as well as other website and page related items.

  5. Off-Page SEO is anything you optimize for your SEO campaign that is not a part of your websites pages. This includes things like local citations, backlink outreach, Google Business Profile.

  6. Keywords and Content: This includes measuring your contents performance and researching new topics and planning your SEO content strategy. Also taking a look at thin content and the types of content you currenty have.

  7. Local Search Optimization is the process of optimizing a website for the purpose of being found by local searches. This can be done through a variety of methods, such as optimizing the website for specific keywords, creating local listings, and building citations.

Now that we know what goes into an audit, let’s start creating the checklist so you can easily do your own manual search engine audit on your own website.

Basic SEO Checklist: A Foundation To Grow From

First, let’s see a broad overview of what goes into an SEO checklist for local small business websites.

  1. Domain Name

  2. Page Elements

  3. Content Audit

  4. Internal and External Link Profile

  5. Technical Audit

  6. Off Page Audit

  7. Local SEO Optimization

8.Mobile / Speed / Security Optimization

  1. Competitor Research & Content Planning

As you can see, the founations of the basic seo checklist are broken into managable chunks. Each step has child items that make the checklist comprehensive. The goal with this small business website checklist is to not overwhelm you. In fact, I recommend starting small and only working on sections one at a time to get used to the idea of manually auditing your website.

Next, we need to start breaking down our checklist into the managable chunks.

Domain Name: Does A Domain Name Help WIth SEO?

Is the domain short and memorable?

In short, your domain name does help with SEO. Having a short, memorable domain is a good idea because google increasingly prefers websites that are accessible and usable websites. I think it is natural to think that this applies to the pages themselves, but having a short, memorable easy to type domain name is also considered a usable and accessible practice.

This also includes doing your best to exclude hyphens and other symbols in your domain. These can be considered a poort user experience and make it more difficult to remember your domain name.

According to a search engine journal article:

In a Google SEO office hours hangout, John Mueller answered whether it’s OK to choose a hyphenated domain name.

He said that it’s perfectly fine to choose a domain like that. But he also said that keywords in the domain name is overrated.

What this highlights is that Google doesn’t penalize using a hyphenated domain name. From a user experience perspective, I still recommend avoiding it because I know from personal experience (having a hyphen in my domain myself) that it is challenging to remember for searchers.

Check Your Domain Name For SPAM

The history of your domain matters. There are circumstances in which your domain name can carry a penalty even after it has been registered by a new owner. What can make this even more challenging is that Google may not provide a manual action to the website domain so you aren’t even aware of the problem. This can cause huge issues with ranking, indexing, and featured snippet displays for your property. So how can we check this to make sure our domain isn’t suffering from the spectre of a past owner?

The free and cheap method is to simply head over to archive.org and use the wayback machine. The idea here is to simply plug your domain into the wayback machine and start looking through your domain history. If your site has ever linked to some spammy content, you will be able to manually audit this. For example, you may find in the past that your domain was linking to a ton of pornographic content or other nefarious content.

This can then be brough to the attention of search engines through a manual submission process to clear your name from a prior domain owners past.

Keywords In Your Domain Name: Do You Need Them For Local SEO Optimization?

The answer here is: it depends. For local seo optimization, I still think they are valuable and send strong local search signals. This SEJ article clarifies Google’s stance on the issue:

Google’s John Mueller advises SEOs and site owners there’s no ranking benefit associated with having keywords in a domain name.

That being said, I still think there is some value in it. It does send stronger trust signals to your local searchers. After all, doesn’t it makes sense that if someone searches for “Chicago Car Detailing” they would be more inclined to view a website domain named “chicagocardetaling” to be more in line with their search intent?

So yes, keywords in your domain will most likely not help your ranking, but it can still send the trust signals to searchers.

Domain Registration Length: Does It Matter To Search Engines?

Personally, I think your domain age is still a factor. What does that mean? The consecutive length your domain has been active while it has been owned by you or your business. Unfortunately, I do not have a case study to show you but it makes sense. After all, on maps Google shows you how long a business has been active.

That being said, there continues to be no new developments on registration length as a ranking factor. Refer to the following search engine article for more information on this: Domain Registration Length Is Not A Ranking Factor.

These are the three main things to look for when auditing your domain name for your small business website checklist. At the end of the day, your small business local seo will not be hugely influenced by your domain name accept in terms of user experience and accessibility.

Page Elements Audit: The Small Business Website Checklist Technical Guide

Some of the most important items are in the page elements audit. Page elements like the title tag, meta description, and h1 tag are the must haves for any web page. Your local seo content will fall flat if it doesn’t take advantage of correctly using page elements.

Let’s run down some of the things you need to check when you are performing a page elements audit for SEO.

  1. SEO Title Tag: every page should have a unique seo title tag. This is the title that goes in thehtml element. If you have duplicate SEO title tags, this will send confusing signals to search engines. Here is a nice study that SEMRush did on removing dupicate title tags.

It is recommended that you put your primary keyword as early as possible in your SEO title tag. Ahrefs has a fantastic simple guide called How to Craft the Perfect SEO Title Tag.

  1. Meta Description Tag: This tag describes your page to search engines and users looking for information. We want this to be less than 160 characters if possible. Also, if we can answer the search intent inside of the meta description, it will typically increase your click through rate for the page. It should reinforce what the page is about and is an opportunity to reinforce the primary keyword. Each page should have a meta description and they should be unique.

  2. H1 Tag: there should only be one H1 tag per page. This should be a title that describes the purpose of the page in a human readable format. Length isn’t strict here but an H1 tag should backup the primary keyword. Here is a nice article via ahrefs about H1 best practices: What is an H1 Tag? They should describe the page, and be styled distinctively to set itself apart from the other heading tags. Keep them as short as possible (again length isn’t strict) but the shorter the better.

  3. Check For Broken Links: Links need to connect to their intended destination. Not only is it a poor user experience to have broken links, it can affect the ability for search engines to crawl your website which will impact your SEO. If a link is an image link, there should be an image alt tag to pass context down to the anchor tag. Check out Neil Patel’s Article on anchor text for SEO.

  4. Reviewing EAT: is the on-page content an exemplary example of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness? Each article should be crafted to show Google and your users that you are an expert on this subject. Is your content well researched, documented, sourced and cited? Review Search Engine Journal’s Great Article: What Exactly is E-A-T & Why Does It Matter To Google? The article will describe the process of ensuring your content meets Google’s guidelines for E-A-T. In a nutshell, you will want to be linking to authoritative sources, creating about us pages and author pages to highlight the expertise of the writers, and ensure you are working directly with experts in the field to create content.

  5. Pageload speed: we all hate slow pages. Google hates slow pages, too. What is a slow page? Anything that loads slower than 2 seconds to interaction. How can you check your load speed? Visit gtmetrix and put your website url into their handy dandy tool.

  6. Images: images should be optimized by viewport. ALL images should have alt tag text. Images should have a defined width and height. It is okay for images to have descriptive al text that reinforces local seo content. You don’t want to do too much keyword stuffing, though. Google Images SEO Best Practices is a fantastic resource to review image best practices. These include: ensuring the image offers good context for the page content, optimizing your image placement, not embedding important text in the image, using images to create high-quality sites, creating device-friendly sites with your images, and creating excellent url structure for your images. Advanced users may wish to offer Google an image sitemap as well.

  7. Structured Markup is a data-schema format that search engines use to better understand your page content, and in turn better display your content in the search engine results page. From Google:

Google Search works hard to understand the content of a page. You can help us by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google by including structured data on the page. Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content; for example, on a recipe page, what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.

Source: Google

As a site owner, you can go over to https://schema.org/ to learn more about structured schema markup or validate your schema with their handy tool.

  1. URL Structure: urls should be structured in a uniform format. What is a url? URL stands for uniform resource locator. Think of it as a unique address that browsers use to retrieve information from the internet. Each url should point to a distinct and valid piece of information on the web.

URLs should not be keyword stuffed and make sense when read by a human. Additionally, the url structure should give meaningful context or description to the page’s content.

  1. Internal Linking: internal links provide a few benefits. First, it gives your users an opportunity to click around your site and learn more about topics that are related to the article. Secondly, it allows search engines to discover content on your site more easily and also gives them more context about what the page is about which will help determine your position in the SERP.

You don’t want to go crazy on internal links and just link everything to pages. You really want to focus your internal link juice on pages that really do reinforce the content of the current page or help users better understand a topic. The additional anchor text will give search engines plenty of context to know what the linked page is about. What you don’t want to run into is a page that is listed on your xml sitemap, but cannot be crawled via your website (unless purposefully made that way).

  1. External Linking: search engines want your content to be as informative, accurate, and engaging as possible. In other words, search engines want high quality content on your website. One way a site can achieve this is by linking out to high-quality sites and information sources. For example, use proper citations to support your written arguments or assertions. Instead of linking to a comment in Reddit, look towards academic sources such as JSTOR to back up your arguments. Read more about external linking best practices: here.

Content Audit For Small Business Local SEO

Every small business website checklist should include a content audit to maximize their understanding of their search engine optimization and website health. SEMRush has a fantastic article on this: The Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Content Audit in 2022.

But what is a content audit? This is an opportunity to define your website goals. Any small business website checklist needs to have a content plan that is focused on defined goals. For example, are you simply looking for more traffic? Are you looking to drive other areas of your businsess through content creation?

A Content audit is essentially a SWOT analysis. You will be defining some goals for your content to achieve, analyzing a ton of data about your content, looking for areas of opportunities (weaknesses) and determining where your content is doing well (strength) and, most importantly, getting a sense of the current demand for different types of content and looking at what the competition is doing in your space.

To summarize, it can be broken down like this:

  1. Create goals that your SEO content can help you achieve and what metrics you plan to measure by. For example. do you want to increase CTR? Maybe just boost your organic traffic? Or potentially create a SEO Silo.

  2. Take time to completely inventory your audit. Use tools like SEMRush’s Content Auditing Tool and Screaming Frog to help you analyze your current content.

  3. Collect and analyze your data. Tools like moz to deeply understand your rankings, search visibility, and other important metrics to better understand your strengths and weaknesses.

  4. Create a plan of action to address duplicate content, thin content, pages with no visits, keyword opportunities, and competitor research. Can you reuse or repurpose some of your content? Do you need to delete zero-traffic pages? Do you need to fix pages that aren’t indexed? Do images need to be resized, and alt text added?

  5. Make adjustments to your current content strategy. What works today may not work tomorrow. As the saying goes, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Your content strategy needs to adjust as trends come in and out of fashion or business practices change.

Take your time during this valuable processes and touch every aspect of your content.

My SEO checklist for local small business websites includes looking at link profiles. I already covered this a bit so I won’t go into too much more detail about this topic. The key take aways is that incoming links to your website are like votes.

Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz all have similar tools to review your backlink (incoming link) profile. The goal here is to make sure that you don’t have a ton of spammy links for some reason. If you do, you will need to work with Google to disavow those links. Google has a handy dandy guide for this: here.

If you backlink profile checks out, do yourself a favor and look at your competitors backlink profile as well. This is an opportunity to see where you might be able to earn links from. Are there any links out there where your content might be a better fit? Reach out to the site owner and see if they are willing to add your link, or better yet, replace the lesser quality link.

Since we covered internal linking already I will just reinforce that internal linking is important because it helps give context to users and search engines. Make sure your anchor text is thoughtful and that the linked content supports your current document well.

Off Page Audit & Local SEO Optimization , Social Media, Local Citations, Google Business Profile

Does your SEO checklist for local small business websites need to include Off Page and Local SEO Optimization? You bet! But, at the risk of repeating myself I will briefly summarize that a big portion of off page seo is going to be your backlink profile. So, again, make sure you are auditing your backlinks for poor quality links, disavow those that are spammy, and take some time to research your competitors backlinks to see if you can steal some of their links away.

That being said, there is quite a bit more to discuss here.

Local Citations: Why your small business needs local citations

A local citation is any online mention of partial or complete name, address, and phone number of a local business - also called NAP data. Citations can occur on local business directories, on websites and apps, and on social platforms. Citations help people to discover local businesses and can also impact local search engine rankings. Specifically, having high quality basic citations can help you rank accurately on Google’s local search interfaces. Local businesses can actively manage many citations to ensure data accuracy.

Source: Moz: What Is a Local Citation?

The key take away here is that you have local business directory listings, the qualified national directores (think yelp or angie’s list) and a strong presence on social media platforms that all align your local citations NAP, Google Business Profile NAP, and social media NAP.

Social Media: Do Small Local Businesses Need Social Media?

Yes, small local businesses need social media. Here’s why:

Social media is a great way for small businesses to build expertise and authority. When done right, it can help businesses appear more trustworthy and engage with potential customers.

Small businesses that use social media effectively can reap many benefits. For example, they can attract new customers, create loyalty among existing customers, and boost sales. Additionally, social media can help small businesses build relationships with other local businesses and connect with their community.

Some advice about how to help your small local business with social media: use a tool like SproutSocial to schedule multiple social posts at the same time. Schedule them out well in advance and create a content publishing calendar for social media that aligns with your current content publishing strategy.

Google Business Profile: You Need To Do This

Google Business Profile is your official Google listing that contains your business address, hours, photos, reviews, descriptions of products and services, and posts that contain information or promotions about your business.

If you have not claimed your business yet, you need to do that.

Google Business Profiles are a powerful tool for local businesses. When optimized correctly, businesses can attract new local clients easily.

You will want to make sure you include things like parking, whether or not you are accessible to folks who are wheelchair bound, your phone number, any special hours, and whatever must-know information that affects people choosing your business. Yes, this information is probably already on your website, but many people use Google Business Profiles to vet a business before visiting their website.

Follow this excellent guide to learn more about optimizing your Google Business Profile: Optimize Google My Business For Small Local Businesses

Conclusion: SEO Checklist For Local Small Business Websites

There is nothing mystical about small business local SEO and any small business should be able to create a basic seo checklist. In this article I showed you my SEO checklist for local small business websites and gave you a broad overview of how to start doing your own local seo optimization.

If you have any questions, feel free to schedule a free consultation.