How to Improve SEO: A “Beyond the Basics” Monthly SEO Checklist

Several years ago I wrote a blog post, “What is SEO maintenance anyway?” that poo-pooed the concept of “SEO maintenance.” I have always intensely disliked the term because it sounds so….passive. Like SEO is something you do once and then just tweak month to month. Like cheap and automated SEO is effective and acceptable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Come on. How do you “maintain” activities that are designed to consistently build traffic, growth and authority? What’s maintainable about that?

I think one of the intentions behind the concept (and frequent searches) around maintenance is the need to have a checklist in hand for pricing and cross referencing monthly work for both clients and providers. What should maintenance cost month-to-month? What should an SEO charge for monthly work? What work was actually done this month?

If only there was an easy answer.

The Name of the Game Is Iteration

The fact is, you will 99.99% of the time NOT knock your SEO out of the ballpark on your first attempt. SEO success requires iteration, testing, and building upon consistently. Sadly, there is no “happily ever after.” There is no “done.” That’s good and bad, right?

When Can You Get Away With Doing Minimal SEO (And Still Get Good Results)?

Yes, of course there are some instances where websites are SEO’d once and then can ride off the initial work for a number of years by tweaking meta data and cleaning up crawl errors. While those are few and far between, here is a list of instances where you can get away with minimal SEO and basic “maintenance” and achieve results:

  • When you’re Gary Vaynerchuk or Tim Ferriss and have the platform to preach from that “the best SEO is a good product.” (sorry, that doesn’t cut it for the rest of us back in coach)
  • When your competition isn’t savvy and you’re by far and away the best of the best in your niche offline and online. A little SEO might legitimately go a long way
  • When your other channels – public relations, for example – are doing the heavy lifting and keeping you afloat

But I still ascertain that these people are leaving an incredible amount of growth on the table by not doing more purposeful work. And I’m sticking to my original philosophy that SEO maintenance is a misnomer that does a disservice to the industry. But I’ve always felt that leaving it at that leaves people unsatisfied. Because at the end of the day I know what we all want is a nice and tidy checklist to follow.

Give the People What They Want Already! An “SEO Improvement” Checklist

One of my admitted weaknesses is my inability to be simple and concise about SEO. (As anyone who has heard me speak on stage knows!)

But from a very simplistic standpoint (I’m doing my best here), how you improve SEO will boil down to essentially these 3 areas:

  • Implementing one-time and ongoing best practices
  • Identifying and capitalizing on areas of opportunity
  • Identifying issues to resolve

The scale at which you do this is where the definition, and where the amount charged for regular and monthly SEO, varies so widely.

Regular SEO work will also be dependent on your niche, industry, difficulty of keywords, and inherent authority. BUT if you forced me to lay out the common activities and action items that apply no matter what type of site you have, here is what I would list out and say you need to have in your monthly “SEO Improvement and Growth” plans.

Checklist Item #1: Working Your Audit Action Plan

Any improvement plan has to stem from a solid SEO audit. You need to be working off a plan that was created strategically. Elements usually include:

  • looking for low hanging fruit
  • diagnosing and fixing technical issues
  • benchmarking data
  • competitive audit and assessment
  • evaluating on-page optimization and content gaps and weaknesses
  • assessing backlink gaps, issues and prospects
  • identifying keyword gaps and opportunities
  • local optimization improvements
  • setting up key accounts and methods for data collecting and metrics measuring
  • going through this detailed SEO checklist on Bruce Clay
  • adapting and applying modern trends

The items above should keep you busy for several months. While you’re executing action items from the audit there is nothing passive about it. And after several months go by, you probably need to repeat and audit in some form all over again because things change a lot faster than they used to.

Checklist Item #2: Ongoing Growth Assessment and Execution

  • SERPS optimization – getting an organic listing is just the first thing. Then there is featured responses, maps, PAA (people also ask), carousels, additional schema, repurposing content for off-site channels, etc.
  • Optimizing and guiding new content creation and optimization
  • Identifying new keywords
  • Pursuing backlink opportunities
  • Identifying and resolving technical issues that may be preventing better results

Checklist Item #3: Monthly and Weekly Reporting

  • At a bare minimum, it’s important to play defense and monitor health metrics such as:
    • Ranking reports and performing and under-performing important keywords
    • Performing and under-performing SEO landing pages
    • Backlinks
    • CTRs
    • Time on Site
    • Traffic from non-branded organic SEO
    • Conversions
    • Indexing errors reports
  • Pulling reports, analyzing data, and disseminating important and actionable findings into one-time or ongoing activities

Checklist Item #4: Organization and Communication

  • Document, document, document. The longer I do this, the more I realize that documentation and regularly adding plans to a task management system is a critical part of ongoing SEO services. Sitting down on a Monday to do the “next” SEO task you’ve been keeping in your head is akin to a novelist staring at a blank piece of paper and getting writer’s block. You have to be disciplined to keep a calendar and project management tool ready for the multitude of “SEO checklist” items and pending requests you need to follow up on from others that contribute to visibility, traffic, and conversions
  • Play nicely. Your website is not a static thing. It’s a living, breathing ever-changing organism that many people have their own opinions (and agenda) about. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and you’re most likely one of many. Any successful SEO knows that they have to learn the art of persuasion and compromise to get done what they need to lest their requests get stuck indefinitely or declined altogether
  • Look for the wins: establish goals and identify objectives that are important to the client (not just you) and then don’t be shy about sharing said wins. As SEO professionals we must demonstrate our value and not be shy about our ROI (something I’ve struggled with in the past in my misguided attempts to be humble). #andthatrhymed

Checklist Item #5: Misc.

  • Networking and Nurturing Relationships with Other SEO Professionals. Networking is high on my “SEO improvement” list. Because at some point, something is going to leave you freaking out and/or scratching your head. You have to have a trusted group, or close colleagues, who you can trust to open up about hard situations. Sure, you could sit around and google answers to your questions (which I do every single day), but when the going gets tough, having smart colleagues who are happy to help and see you succeed is priceless
  • Regularly affirming the goals of why you’re even doing what you’re doing in the first place. Honestly, I think half the battle with SEO success is keeping your eye on the ball and not going down a rabbit hole. Early in my SEO career, I dug up the freaking farm I was going down so many rabbit holes that were time consuming and didn’t really help contribute to what the client cared about

Checklist Item #6: Keeping up with Google, Internet, Competitors, and Consumer trends

  • Ah, we have to love our fickle and constantly evolving consumers and buying behavior. And you must adjust and test to the changing nuances of what matters to our target market. For example, did you know that “fast shipping” is growing and more in demand than “free shipping”?  (source)
  • Allocating regular monthly and weekly time to reading about industry, buyer, and online trends and applying them to your website and SEO plan
  • Keeping up with changes and new technology that will impact SEO. Voice Search? AMP? Home Device SEO. VR/AR. Crap.
  • Dancing with Competitors. As a hat tip to a blog commenter, Chris, you really can’t talk about SEO Improvement plans without regular competitor analysis (also see SERPS analysis above). That might mean those one or two of your closest competitors, or it could mean the websites that may not be “true” competitors but they continue to rank ahead of you

The Term “SEO Maintenance” Will Always Make Me Cringe

An SEO Improvement plan and monthly work will always include a mix of playing both offense and defense. It boils down to establishing an audit and strategy from the get go, keeping your eye on the ball, constantly looking for opportunities for improvement, putting the right measurements into place, working with the teams in charge of the other activities and channels that help move SEO in a focused direction, and knowing how to show your value. Rinse and Repeat.

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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