Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

We talk a lot about SEO and we give you, our readers, much insight into how to use it to your advantage.

Last year we offered a detailed guide about the SEO best practices for 2020.  Well, why should 2019 have all the fun? It’s 2021’s turn and we’re going to expand on our SEO guide for the best ways to conquer your SEO campaign in 2021.

So, here we go.

Wondering what’s the latest in SEO?

Or, what SEO strategies should be focused on in this brand new year of 2021?

With terms like “AI,” “RankBrain,” and “Chatbots” and Google algorithm updates,  it’s easy for the everyday non-techie to feel overwhelmed when it comes to tackling SEO.

But the truth is, with the right strategy in place, you can outrank your competition.

In this blog post, we’re looking at actionable items anyone (non-techie), including you, can do today to achieve your SEO goals in 2021.

From beginner to advanced, we’re going over what matters for SEO in 2021!

  • Foundation for SEO
  • Tried and true best SEO practices
  • New techniques and ranking factors
  • What top SEO experts say matters in 2021
  • Loads of resources and tools to propel your SEO game

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021:

  • Chapter 1: SEO 101
  • Chapter 2: Mobile-First Indexing
  • Chapter 3: Website Speed
  • Chapter 4: Site Security
  • Chapter 5: RankBrain & Artificial Intelligence
  • Chapter 6: Visual Search
  • Chapter 7: Evolution of Keywords – Voice Search / Conversational Search in Keywords
  • Chapter 8: User Experience & Content Overhaul
  • Chapter 9: Writing for SEO
  • Chapter 10: Domain Authority
  • Chapter 11: Backlinks
  • Chapter 12: Search Intent
  • Chapter 13: Google Image Search
  • Chapter 14: How to Rank for Featured Snippet a.k.a Position “0”
  • Chapter 15: Video SEO
  • Chapter 16: Social Media & Directory Pages
  • Chapter 17: Tried & True SEO Strategies that Still Matter in 2019
  • Chapter 18: Creating a Synergetic Approach
  • Chapter 19: Awesome SEO Tools & Resources

Chapter 1: SEO 101

If you’re already well versed in the basics of SEO, you can skip this section.

For those newbies out there and others who could use a refresher, let’s go over some basics.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.”  It boils down to anything that improves the internal and external aspects of a website to increase the traffic the site receives from search engines.

Wikipedia provides a more detailed description:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural,” “organic,” or “earned” results.

In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a website appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then be converted into customers.

SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, video search, academic search, news search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.

SEO differs from local search engine optimization in that the latter is focused on optimizing a business’ online presence so that its web pages will be displayed by search engines when a user enters a local search for its products or services. The former instead is more focused on national or international searches.

How search engines work

Before you can dive into every element of SEO, you have to start with the basics, including an understanding of exactly how search engines work.

Also, check out what Matt Cutts had to say about Google:

 “When you do a Google search, you aren’t actually searching the web. You’re searching Google’s index of the web, or at least as much of it as we can find.

We do this with software programs called spiders. Spiders start by fetching a few web pages, then they follow the links on those pages and fetch the pages they point to; and follow all the links on those pages, and fetch the pages they link to, and so on, until we’ve indexed a pretty big chunk of the web; many billions of pages stored on thousands of machines.” – Matt Cutts,  How Search Works

Are you curious how search engine spiders “see” your website? Check out Browseo.

SEO 101 Resources

Want to learn more about the basics of SEO? Check out these awesome resources:

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

SEO Strategies

While some SEO strategies remain tried-and-true, others are emerging due to factors like Google’s search algorithm changes and people’s search habits continually evolving to include the growth of voice search and the increase of mobile devices in search over a desktop.

“If you’re not on page one, then you might as well be nowhere!” – SEO Experts, Like ALL Of Them!

So, what should you be focusing on right now to help you get to page one of Google (and the other search engines)?

It used to be that mobile, security, and site speed factors gave you an easy up in rankings over your competition, but with Google algorithm changes happening on the regular, making sure your website is mobile-friendly, secure, and provides quick load speeds are necessities for 2021, and none will guarantee you top ranking.

Yes, everything that was important for SEO in 2019 is still important in 2021, however, there’s more…

So, what’s the newer stuff that will contribute greatly to your rank in 2021:

  • Visual Search
  • Voice Search
  • Domain Authority
  • Backlinks
  • Search Intent

You may be thinking that these things were incorporated into your 2019 SEO campaign- that’s great.  But what we’re telling you is that these items need to become a priority if you want to make a dent in rank.

We’ll discuss them all in detail later in the post, but keep in mind that ALL of these practices are important, these are not in any particular order.

First, let’s talk mobile, page load speed, and security: the basics.

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 2: Mobile-First Indexing

The internet has transitioned into a mobile-first world. These handheld devices are now our go-to source for searching the web.

Therefore, it’s only natural that Google puts a strong emphasis on a website’s mobile performance.

In March of 2018, Google finally rolled out its mobile-first indexing.

In the months that followed millions of people got emails from Google with a “Mobile-first indexing enabled” message.

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Google offered up this information when it announced the rollout:

“To recap, our crawling, indexing and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.” – Webmaster Central Blog

“Mobile-first indexing enabled”

What’s important to note, is that once Google’s Mobile-first indexing enabled ranks your website based on the content of your mobile experience and not your desktop experience as it has done prior.

So if you have content hidden on the mobile version of your website, it will ignore that information when it considers your ranking, since it’s first observing the content on your mobile site.

Is your website mobile friendly? Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to find out.

Also read:

Chapter 3: Site Speed

Websites that take………….f…o…r…e…v…e…r to load will end up falling in their rankings.

And if by some miracle, you’re one of the websites with a slow load speed that doesn’t see the drop in Google, you’re going to see the effects of bad user experience. So make page load speed a priority.

In July 2018, Google officially confirmed it uses page speed as a ranking signal in mobile search ranking. This comes with the understanding mobile users are on the move, in a hurry and need answers quickly. This initially is set to just affect pages that deliver the slowest experiences to users and only affect a small percentage of queries.

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Page Load Speed Tools:

  • PageSpeed Insights from Google
  • GTmetrix: GTmetrix loads your site. Then shows you real-time loading speed and recommendations for getting your website to load faster.

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Also read:

Chapter 4: Site Security

In line with their HTTPS everywhere initiative, Google is now flagging URLs that are not secure.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private and integral.

SSL certificates are simple to purchase from your hosting company, and they can walk you through the installation process.

After you’ve installed the certificate on your site, make sure you do a find and replace on your site to replace any instance of HTTP to HTTPS. If you’re running on WordPress, you can use a plugin like Really Simple SSL

Chapter 5: RankBrain / Artificial Intelligence

I think people get scared when they hear the term RankBrain, as we actually start to get into the wild world of AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Don’t be scared of these terms….

RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries. It measures how users interact with the search results and rank them accordingly.

. Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

To win at RankBrain, you need to win at:

Dwell time – How long a visitor stays on your page

Dwell time is significant to Google.  It takes it as a huge indicator that your audience is interested.  To win at dwell time make sure you’re providing the best content possible.

CTR (Click through Rate) – The percentage of people that click through your result from Google

To get a better CTR make sure you’re optimizing your page title tags and meta page description tags to entice people to click from Google onto your web page.

Want to have better CTR? Heck ya! Don’t we all! Use words like the following in your title tags and page description tags:

  • Best
  • News
  • Reviews
  • Top
  • Guide
  • Step-by-Step
  • Right Now
  • Today
  • Information
  • Community
  • Simple
  • Quick
  • Easy

These words have been proven to rank better when used in your title tags. Why? People are drawn in by these words, so they click through. So they get more clicks leading to a higher ranking.

Also read: How to Boost Your SEO Using Schema Markup

Chapter 6: Visual Search

Visual search is sure to go big in 2021, so get into it if you’re not already.  Have you tried it yet? We’re talking top-notch technology within a product that’s in its infancy- meaning, it’s only gonna get bigger and better.

Grab your cell and open Google Lens, start focusing in on items in your house and see what happens- there’s a lot (over 1 BILLION items) to discover.

But why do you want to use this feature?  Oh, because it’s darn handy for helping you when it comes to pesky things such as shopping, directions, recipes, identifying pretty much anything…

Get your website on board by using super descriptive file names and being sure to write deliberate alt text for every image you have.  Also, you need to be an authority, keep you site updated with new information, and keep your images big, bold, meaningful, and at the top of your pages.

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 7: Voice Search / Conversational Search in Keywords

As search by voice continues to surge, the instant answer without search results will continue to be on the rise and Google, Apple, etc. will have to continue to discern simple question / answer problems.

How can small businesses win? Start to include more question and answer specific content for your audience in your content marketing plan. Make sure to include conversational keyword search terms that your buyer personas use by doing the proper keyword research.

Different types of voice queries include:

  • The answer to a question / problem based
  • The question itself / explicit and direct
  • Description of the problem / symptom-based or detailed
  • Description of cause / symptom based
  • Brand name or product parts / direct and educated
  • Informational queries / awareness stage, or uninformed

Look to solutions like Answer the public when drafting out content to get insight into commonly asked questions around a given topic, then provide the answer.

Maybe you haven’t personally bought into the whole Google Home or Alexa experience, but in 2018 (a whopping two years ago) there were already over 39 million Americans using a smart speaker.  We can only assume we couldn’t find the 2019 intel on this number because no one can count that high.

Your site needs to be optimized for voice search, like, yesterday.  It will help so much with your ranking because it’s relatively new and your competition may not be doing this… YET.

Here’s what to do:

  • Within your website copy, ask a question and then answer it- “Why is the sky blue?”  “The sky is blue because…”
  • Have a FAQ page
  • Optimize for and create featured snippets

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 8: UX (User Experience) & Content Overhaul

You have to focus on your user! Too many times businesses get caught up worrying about what matters to Google, that they lose sight of connecting with the user.

UX Starts with Great Content

It’s more important to focus on quality content over quantity. It also might be time to consider re-organizing your site structure.  Maybe even consider pruning back content that is no longer relevant, or (like we’re currently doing within this post) make it relevant by adding more, newer information.

Quick Content Wins Website Updates

Dive into your analytics, and look at what pages are “just there.” Meaning, they’re sitting on your website, but not doing anything.

With SEO in mind, I now go through your website and:

  • Update and/or remove any information that isn’t relevant or accurate
  • Replace outdated stock images with new ones
  • Lengthen short pages with more detail
  • Combine multiple pages /posts surrounding one topic into one longer more detailed page

Rank Better by Combining Pages

In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered questions about when combining pages make sense and when it doesn’t make sense. Mueller explained that by combining weaker pages into a single, stronger page, it could propel your page ranking. The combined pages must be complementary and address one single topic better as combined robust page verses several weaker pages.

Navigation Structure

Make sure that your navigation structure makes sense to your visitors and when they land on a specific page, that they have a breadcrumb link back to a subpage, or they can easily navigate to the next logical step without confusion. If not, they’ll end up bouncing off your website.

Bounce Rate

If a website visitor clicks from Google to your website, lands on a page, doesn’t see what they want, can’t find the navigation to get where they need to go, and click back to Google it’s called a bounce.  And a high bounce rate can have a negative influence on your SEO. It indicates to Google that you may not be answering your visitors’ search query. 


Accessibility also falls under the category of user experience. It’s about how well your website can be used by visually impaired, color blind, or death visitors.

Wikipedia words it like this: Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e., unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).

Google doesn’t view your website your website the way you see your site with pretty images and formatted text. Google is deaf and blind in the way they view your site. This is why we use items like  Alt image tags, for example, to describe what an image is so that a visitor who can’t view the image will be told what the picture is displaying.

Chapter 9: Writing for SEO

Writing for SEO has changed dramatically over the years.

Follow these 8 steps to guarantee success in your 2021 SEO writing efforts.

  1. Make Sure Your Persona’s Needs are Being Met
  2. Define User Intent
  3. Define Keyword(s) Based on Intent
  4. Come up with a Compelling Topic
  5. Create a Basic 1st Draft (don’t EVEN think about SEO for this draft)
  6. Create Your Second Draft
  7. Before You Push Publish Review Your Draft
  8. Publish and Spread the Word

Also read:

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 11: Backlinks

Domain authority used to be based primarily on backlinks because these babies are important.  How do you get ‘em?  You need to write quality content first and foremost.

Quality content will inspire others who believe in quality content to link to you.  When you become reputable and have link building relationships with other reputable sources, you’re doing it right.

Backlinks are part of Google’s algorithm and they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Check out our Link Building for SEO Guide to learn more about gaining backlinks to your website.

Also read:

Chapter 12: Search Intent

Search intent is the reason for a search query, meaning the answer to why the person made the query.  Was it to buy something? Learn something?   Whatever the reason, search intent is gonna become even more relevant in 2021.

First step for you is to understand the intent behind every single one of your keywords.  When your content matches search intent your rankings will improve, it’s as simple as that.

How are your customers finding you?  How do you want them to find you? Do your keyword research and make sure your users can find you easily through a perfectly aligned search intent match.

And keep in mind that optimizing older content to fit your search intent is always a big plus.  If your content is valuable and worth saving, make it happen through quick updates to that material.

Chapter 13: Google Image Search

Don’t belittle the role images play in SEO. Images are becoming more common in normal search results, on both mobile and desktop, for commercial and informative searches.

Google Image Search can drive massive traffic to your website if you follow a few simple steps.

Optimize your images for Google.

To start with, edit your image name to reflect the content.  In other words, change your image name from “DSC_84549.jpg” to “about-keyword.jpg.”

Add image alt tags that include your keyword. This tells search engines what your image is representing.

Compress your image.  If you are using WordPress, you can install plugins like Smush that automatically compress every image you upload.

In addition, Google has provided image search SEO tips:

  • Provide good context
  • Optimize image placement
  • Create informative and high-quality sites
  • Create device-friendly sites
  • Create a google URL structure for your images

“If you include structured data, Google Images can display your images as rich results, including a prominent badge, which gives users relevant information about your page and can drive better targeted traffic to your site.” – Google.

Also read: How to Make Images SEO Friendly

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 14: How to Rank for Featured Snippet a.k.a. Position “0”

What’s better than ranking position 1 on Google… Ranking position “0”, also called featured snippet.

According to SEMrush11.52% of all search results have a Featured Snippet.

Featured snippets in Google search

Here’s how Google explains featured snippets:

“Featured snippets are special boxes where the format of regular listings is reversed, showing the descriptive snippet first… Google’s search results sometimes show listings where the snippet describing a page comes before a link to a page, not after as with our standard format. Results displayed this way are called “featured snippets.” We display featured snippets when our systems determine this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description about the page and when they click on the link to read the page itself. They’re especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice. Featured snippets commonly contain one listing, but more than one may appear.”

How to rank for featured snippet aka position “0”

An Ahrefs study found that search queries with the following words have a better chance of getting featured:

  • Recipe
  • Best
  • Make
  • Definition
  • Can
  • Get

Ultimate SEO Guide & Checklist 2021

Chapter 15: Video SEO

Video impacts SEO from a few directions:

  • Ranking directly on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo
  • User experience, conveying trust, and explaining information
  • User engagement, which is a signal to Rankbrain
  • Quality content to share through social media channels

We’ve seen a growth in these forms of multimedia which have proven to increase dwell time.

Including quality video on key pages of your website will not only dramatically increase the time spent on that page, but also provide a better user experience. This additional time people spend on your website will directly your domain authority with Google.

Also read: YouTube SEO 2021: How to Rank YouTube Videos

Transcribe your video to assist search engine indexing

Video with transcriptions is and a double whammy when it comes to content, but you’ve got to know your audience.

If you’re using your video on a blog (versus someone else pulled content from Vimeo or YouTube), I highly recommend that you have the video transcribed the audio into to text to include on your page and in your metadata.

What type of video works best?

Focus your efforts on addressing your customer’s pain points.

“From a content perspective, I’d say one of the best ways to get SEO value out of video is to focus your efforts on addressing your customer’s pain points.” –  Jodi Harris, Dir. of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute

Chapter 16: Use Social Media & Directory Pages

Social media can play a large influence in SEO.

  • Social media profiles rank in search engines
  • Social media channels are search engines, too
  • Social media helps companies amp up their reputation / provide social proof
  • Social sharing can increase your inbound links, views, and engagement
  • Allows you to meet your ideal customer/clients, where they already are
  • etc.

Online Directories

Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are the two biggest directories, so start with them.

Claim your free pages by visiting these websites; they have similar processes that include filling out some info and verifying your business.

Chapter 17: Tried and True Old School SEO Practices that Still Matter in 2021

In this article, we’ve gone into detail about some of the most critical elements and newer techniques for a successful SEO campaign in 2021, but that doesn’t mean that some of the best tried and true techniques shouldn’t be overlooked.

We aggregated the most popular SEO Success Factors in one place, so you know how to apply your time and resources.

It’s important to note that note that not all SEO success factors are equal.  Here are a few tried and true SEO best practices that are still important.

  • Running an SEO audit
  • Making sure your website is crawlable and accessible to search engines
  • Making sure you don’t have any broken links
  • Quality and quantity of inbound and outbound links
  • Uniqueness and freshness of content
  • EAT – Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
  • URL structure

You can read their full article 100+ Google SEO Success Factors, Ranked, for additional insight.

If you haven’t conducted a simple SEO audit, it’s time to do so! You have to know where you are to know where you should be headed.

Chapter 18: SEO as Part of a Synergetic Marketing Approach

The world of SEO continues to grow outside of the realm of pure tech.

And thus, SEO must overlap with your other content marketing efforts (content marketing, social media, PR, community outreach, offline campaigns, etc.).

“… tying in your SEO strategy harmoniously with other channels and strategies for both retention and acquisition will be crucial as we move further into the era of ‘assistive search’. We are moving into a stage of ubiquitous computing so joining up the cross-device journey in SEO and tying this in with both blazing fast speed and seamless and frictionless UX as users seek to solve problems and complete intent-driven tasks will be our challenge into the future. Voice Search will continue to evolve and emerge as new formats such as ‘speakable’ and Google’ Dialogflow bank of Google Actions question and answer knowledge grows, feeding into the possible responses for both Actions and Conversational Search. Finding ways to make this work for SEO will be the challenge commercially.”

Chapter 19: Awesome SEO Tool & Resources

Here are our go-to resources and tools you can add to your SEO arsenal right now!

This is a list of some of our favorite SEO tools & resources.

Most of these were mentioned earlier in this article.

All SEO tools in this list are free (some are freemium – offering free and upgraded paid options)!

Analytics & Website Tracking

  •  Google Analytics  – Better understand your website visitors by measuring traffic sources, bounce rates, interactions with your content, and more
  • Google Search Console  –  Search Console tools and reports help you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google Search results
  • Bing Webmaster – Get a summary view of how well your site is performing and identify what needs emphasis

Conduct an SEO Audit

Mobile-Friendly Website Test

Page Speed

  • PageSpeed Insights from Google
  • GTmetrix – GTmetrix loads your site. Then shows you real-time loading speed and recommendations for getting your website to load faster.

WordPress SEO Plugins

  • Rank math – Rank math SEO plugin ps you optimize meta tags and content, generate instant sitemaps, and much more.
  • Yoast SEO

Also read: Yoast SEO vs Rank Math SEO Comparison

Keyword Research

Backlink & Broken Link Checker

  • Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker – Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker shows the top 100 backlinks to any website or web page for free.
  • Almost all items under SEO audit will test to see if you have any broken links & some check your bank links


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