Having proper SEO for your new website will help you gain organic traffic, ensure visitors have a good user experience, and help you build domain authority. Let’s dive in.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. Why a new website SEO checklist is important
  2. Free tools to accomplish SEO checklist tasks
  3. SEO basics to get your new site set up right
  4. Keywords: How not to lose your website’s SEO rankings
  5. Technical SEO checklist for your new website
  6. On-page SEO checklist for your new site
  7. Off-page SEO checklist for your new site

Dive into our comprehensive guide to safeguard your SEO during a website overhaul or domain migration. Discover the essential new website SEO checklist in this comprehensive guide that will help you hold onto your site’s search engine ranking.

This new website checklist is your blueprint for maintaining SEO performance. From auditing your current site to employing 301 redirects and choosing the right agency for the job, follow these steps to ensure your new site keeps its high ranking for all your site’s search terms.

HawkSEM: new website seo - balloons

Historical data is equally important in the SEO process, so instead of deleting old content, create a plan to improve it. (Image: Unsplash)

Why a new website SEO checklist is important

New website SEO is important for many reasons, but most importantly, visibility on the search engines. Getting it right means showing up when your customers are searching for services like yours. New website SEO will allow you to:

  • Rank higher in searches
  • Appear for searches relevant to your business’s services
  • Improve user experience
  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Heighten user trust

Free tools to accomplish SEO checklist tasks

Maintaining your SEO as you move to a new site can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are a bunch of free tools that can help you with many of the steps. Before you start the checklist, make sure you have the following SEO tools set up.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an indispensable tool for monitoring your website’s performance. It offers insights into your site’s traffic, user behavior, and more, helping you make informed decisions about your SEO strategy.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console will help you understand how your site is appearing in the Google search engine results pages (SERPs). It allows you to monitor your site’s presence, identify issues, and even give advice on how to optimize your content for better search visibility.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Similar to Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools offers valuable insights into your site’s performance on Bing, the world’s second-largest search engine. It provides data on search traffic, site maps, and indexing, ensuring your site remains visible across major search engines.

Yoast SEO Plugin (for WordPress sites)

Yoast SEO is a favorite SEO plugin among WordPress users – and for good reason. It simplifies many on-page SEO tasks, from optimizing meta descriptions, titles, and H1s with your target keyword to generating sitemaps and checking readability.

It’s an excellent tool for ensuring your WordPress content is optimized in line with SEO best practices. If you want to use Yoast but don’t have a WordPress site, you can check Yoast for availability.

XML Sitemap Generator

A sitemap is essential for search engine crawlers (bots) to understand the structure of your site. The XML Sitemap Generator tool can automatically generate a sitemap for your site, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index your content.

If you have a WordPress site and have Yoast installed, the plugin also offers a sitemap generator tool, so you won’t need this.

SEO audit tools to fine-tune

The free tools we talked about will help you generate the common pieces you need to develop good website SEO, but you’ll need other tools to ensure every aspect of your SEO is covered, from canonical links to alt tags.

HawkSEM’s Senior SEO Audit Manager, Madison Scherner, says, “I think there is a wide range of tools capable of running a site audit. Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, and Semrush are the classic SEO-focused crawlers I’ve seen in my time as an SEO.”

She recommends using OnCrawl, for enterprise sites with millions of pages. “I think more important than the auditing tool is the interpretation of the data after the crawl,” Scherner explains.

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a bit more manual and a lot more technical. It’s a website crawler to help with on-site SEO. You can crawl your site and find issues like empty meta tags, structured data issues, and page title and meta title description length. It’s a great companion for ticking off all of the items on your new website SEO checklist.


Ahrefs offers an audit tool in addition to a dashboard that allows you to keep up with your SEO. You can track your rank with the rank tracking tool and explore your competitors’ backlinks and rankings with the site explorer. It’s a comprehensive tool for all of your SEO needs.


Semrush is a great tool for beginners and experts alike. It covers backlinks, broken links, keyword ranking, and competitor analysis. If local SEO is important to you, you can use the listing management for your Google Business profile and other business directory profiles.

There are also SEO content templates to ensure your blog content is keyword-optimized.

It’s not just about the data itself. It’s also understanding and interpreting it. “If you can’t read, digest, and create a prioritized action plan based on the audit, you will only run into a bigger headache,” says Scherner.” “Semrush is probably the most introductory in my eyes for basic crawling.”

What makes it so great? “They give a very nicely prioritized list of next steps, which makes audit accessible to marketing managers and developers alike, but be wary of their prioritization as I don’t agree with it 100%,” she says.

SEO basics to get your new site set up right

You need to have the basics covered to achieve good SEO on your new site. If you fail to do so, your site may struggle to rank. Even the most engaging content and creative strategies can’t compensate for a lack of foundational SEO.

What are some things to focus on? “During a site migration, I would specifically look at sitemap errors and other GSC Core Web Vitals errors as this is where I usually see some of the biggest changes appear first in poorly managed site migrations,” says Scherner.

Below, we dive into essential SEO tasks that you should look at first when launching a new website.

1. Set the canonical domain name for your website

Choosing a primary domain (www vs. non-www) is crucial. This decision tells search engines which version of your site is the definitive one, helping to avoid duplicate content issues that can negatively impact your SEO efforts.

Implementing a canonical tag ensures that search engines index your preferred URL rather than two versions of the same site. This means traffic is directed correctly to your site and consolidates your page rankings.

2. Use HTTPS protocol

Security is important when it comes to navigating the internet. Migrating your site to HTTPS secures your users’ data by encrypting the connection and signals to search engines that your site is trustworthy.

This boost in security can positively affect your search rankings, as Google has confirmed HTTPS as a ranking signal.

3. Make sure Google can index your site

Your website’s visibility to search engines is fundamental to your online presence. If Google, Bing, or another search engine can’t find your site, you can’t rank.

Use Google Search Console to verify that Google can effectively crawl and index your site. In the left-hand menu, you can go to “Indexing” > “Pages” and check how many of your pages are indexed. If pages are missing, you will want to examine why, fix the issue, and resubmit your sitemap to Search Console.

4. Create a robots.txt file

This file is a guide for search engine crawlers, indicating which parts of your site should not be crawled or indexed. A properly configured robots.txt file ensures that search engines focus on your valuable content and ignore pages that do not contribute to your SEO.

For example, you may decide you don’t want to index your blog’s tag or category pages. Or that the areas of your site that you need a login for should not be indexed. You can use the robots.txt file to indicate this to any search engine crawlers.

To check if you have a robots.txt file, you can type your homepage URL and add “/robots.txt”.

5. Check Search Console for manual actions

Google may apply penalties to your site for practices that violate its guidelines. These penalties can impact your site’s search rankings.

Check that no new penalties have appeared as you move to your new site. After that, regularly monitor Google Search Console for any manual actions taken against your site, and address these issues promptly.

6. Make sure you have SEO-friendly URLs

The structure of your URLs plays a significant role in your site’s SEO performance. When you migrate to a new site, your URL or URL structure may have changed in the process.

If you have changed them, make sure they still align with SEO best practices. This means that they should be clear, concise, descriptive, and easy for both users and search engines to understand. They should ideally include relevant keywords to enhance your content’s visibility in search results.

Keywords: How not to lose your website’s SEO rankings

When transitioning to a new website, your keyword strategy should aim to preserve your existing SEO achievements and seize opportunities for improvement and growth.

Keywords are the cornerstone of SEO, guiding potential customers to your content. Here’s how to refine your keyword strategy for your new website.

1. Find your top-ranking ‘money’ keywords

Do some keyword research to find the most valuable keywords for your business – the ones driving sales and leads. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can help you analyze which keywords currently bring the most traffic and conversions to your site.

But you may also want to invest in an SEO tool such as Ahrefs, Semrush, or Moz that can give you more in-depth keyword analysis.

The insights you gather from these tools will help prioritize these high-performing keywords in your new website’s content and SEO strategy.

In this process, you might also find your “deadweight” pages. These can be pages that are not ranking for anything or ecommerce product pages with zero sales, and you might want to consider deleting them when you migrate your site.

2. Determine your organic competitors

When you understand who your organic competitors are, you get a better idea of the keyword landscape of your industry. Use SEO tools to analyze competitors’ websites and identify which keywords they are ranking for.

This can highlight potential keyword opportunities for your new site and areas where you can differentiate your content.

3. Find new keyword ideas

Expanding your keyword list can uncover new opportunities to attract traffic. Here are some strategies:

  • Analyze the intent of your pages that rank: Understanding the search intent behind the keywords can help tailor your content to meet users’ needs. Analyze the pages that currently rank for your target keywords to gauge the type of content that performs well (informative, commercial, navigational).
  • Create a keyword map: Organize your keywords by relevance and intent, assigning them to specific pages on your site. This ensures that each page is optimized for a unique set of keywords, reducing internal competition (also known as cannibalization) and improving the overall site structure.
  • Look at what questions people ask: Tools like Answer the Public can provide insights into the questions and queries around your main keywords. Incorporating these questions into your content can give you ideas for new content or improve the relevance and value of existing content.
  • Understand keyword difficulty and search volume metrics: Most SEO keyword research tools give you two key metrics: difficulty and search volume. Keywords with high search volumes often come with high competition, making them more challenging to rank for. You may want to look at long-tail keywords with lower volumes but more focused search intent rather than short-tail words that will be difficult to rank for.

Technical SEO checklist for your new website

Your technical SEO needs to be on point to make sure your rankings don’t crash as you move to a new site. Here are the essential technical SEO aspects to consider during and after your transition.

1. Check your page load speeds

Site speed is an important ranking factor in user experience and SEO. Migrating to a new host or platform can affect your site’s load time, as can changes in your design or CMS platform. Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights to test your new site’s speed and implement recommended changes to speed up performance.

Speed is a part of Google’s Core Vitals, which improves not only rankings but also user experience. One of Google’s studies shows that when a site meets the Core Web Vitals thresholds, research showed that users were 24% less likely to abandon page load.

Pro tip: The Google algorithm is updated regularly, and ranking factors can change, so stay on top of updates to avoid any penalties and keep your strategy relevant.

2. Optimize your crawl budget

Your crawl budget is how often search engines crawl your site. Don’t let technical errors waste it. Audit your site for crawl errors and fix them promptly to ensure search engines can index your content efficiently.

3. Ensure all your site elements are crawlable

Some website elements might be invisible to search engines due to poor coding or complex JavaScript. Use tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to detect and rectify uncrawlable on-page elements.

4. Check for mobile-friendliness

With Google’s mobile-first indexing, ensuring your site is mobile-friendly is non-negotiable. Test your site’s responsiveness and adjust design elements to offer a seamless experience across mobile devices, tablets, and desktops.

Pro tip: Besides checking mobile friendliness, you should ensure that your site looks good across browsers, too. Test your site in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari before you go live.

5. Check link integrity and repair broken paths

Broken internal and external links can negatively impact your SEO and user experience. Conduct a thorough audit to identify and fix broken links to maintain your site’s link equity.

6. Use structured data markup to enhance your SERP appearance

Implementing structured HTML data (schema markup) helps search engines understand your content better, potentially enhancing your visibility in search results with rich snippets. Add structured data to relevant pages to make your site more attractive to search engines and users alike.

7. Fix any 301 redirect loops

As you move to a new site and possibly restructure your URL hierarchy, setting up 301 redirects is essential to guide users and search engines to the correct pages. Check for redirect chains or loops that could confuse crawlers and visitors, ensuring a smooth transition from old URLs to new ones.

On-page SEO checklist for your new website

Your content marketing and on-page elements play a pivotal role in attracting and engaging visitors, as well as boosting your SEO performance. Here’s a checklist to improve your on-page optimization.

1. Optimize your tags: avoid duplicate and missing page titles and meta descriptions

Ensure each page has a unique title tag and meta description that accurately describes the content. Avoid duplicates, missing tags, or truncated texts that can harm your search engine rankings. These elements are crucial for click-through rates (CTR) from search results.

2. Use singular H1 tags for clear content structure

Each page should have a single H1 tag for the header, used to define its main topic. This avoids confusion for search engines and users. This tag should be used for the main headline only, with H2s and H3s as subheadings to structure content hierarchically underneath.

3. Elevate your titles, meta tags, and content

Revise your title tags, meta descriptions, and page content to ensure they are engaging, keyword-rich (without stuffing), and relevant to your target audience. This not only helps your search rankings but also improves user engagement.

4. Include alt text with images

Every image on your site should have descriptive, keyword-rich alt text. This improves accessibility for visually impaired users and helps search engines understand the content of your images, contributing to image search rankings.

5. Strengthen your internal linking

Robust internal linking helps distribute page authority throughout your site and improves navigation for users. Review your internal links on a free tool like Screaming Frog to ensure they are relevant and use descriptive anchor text.

6. Address keyword cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages target the same or very similar keywords and, therefore, end up competing with each other. Identify any cannibalization issues and decide whether to merge quality content, redirect the poorer pages, or differentiate the keywords targeted on each page.

7. Diversify your content

Engage your audience with a mix of content formats, such as videos, infographics, and interactive tools, alongside your text. This diversity can enhance user experience, increase time on the page, and provide more opportunities to rank in search results.

Off-page SEO checklist for your new website

Link building can significantly impact your new website’s authority and rankings. A strategic approach to acquiring high-quality backlinks to specific web pages will support your site’s visibility and credibility in search engine results.

Here’s a checklist to guide your link-building efforts for your new site.

1. Identify relevant link-building prospects

Start by finding websites, blogs, and forums that are relevant to your industry or niche. Look for sites that share your target audience but aren’t direct competitors. Tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and Semrush can help you identify potential link-building opportunities by analyzing where similar sites get their backlinks.

You can then reach out to these sites and offer to do a guest posting, sponsor a piece of content, or give them exclusive access to publish content you have already written that their audience will enjoy.

2. Launch a link outreach campaign for your new site

Capitalize on the buzz of your new website launch as a unique angle for your link outreach campaign.

Reach out to industry influencers, bloggers, and websites with a personalized pitch, offering them valuable content or insights from your new site that their audience would appreciate. Highlight any new features, resources, or content that set your new site apart.

3. Conduct a backlink gap audit

A backlink gap analysis compares your new website’s backlink profile to those of your main competitors. This audit can reveal opportunities where competitor sites have backlinks, but your site does not.

By identifying these gaps, you can target these same sources for your link-building efforts, potentially capturing valuable backlinks you’ve missed.

4. Turn unlinked mentions into links

Monitor the web for mentions of your brand, products, or services without a link to your site. Tools like Google Alerts, Mention, or BuzzSumo can automate this process.

When you find unlinked mentions, contact the site owners or authors and politely ask if they can add a link to your site. With relatively little effort, this tactic can convert existing brand mentions into valuable backlinks.

5. Ensure you have a strong social media strategy

While social media links are typically “nofollow” and don’t directly influence search rankings, a comprehensive social media strategy can significantly contribute to your link-building efforts.

Advice for migrating to a new site

Of course, advice can’t be one-size-fits-all when it comes to site migration. Rather, the exact steps you take will depend on the size of your site, the age of your domain, and more.

Here, Scherner lays out some of the biggest items to look out for:

  • Google Analytics and event tracking: Make sure all of your tracking tags are being ported over to the new site correctly. Lapses in tracking can cause misreporting on the success of the website changes.
  • Redirect maps: If you’re culling content significantly consider the page’s organic success, it may be worth keeping just for SEO health. If there aren’t proper redirects in place you will see 404 errors and a poor response from Google.
  • Update your metadata: I love using site migrations and updates as a chance to refresh metadata. Are your targeted keywords still aligning with the page’s content and purpose? If not consider changing the page title and meta description.
  • Upload a fresh sitemap: Google has been crawling and indexing your site likely a long time. Make sure that once the new site goes live a fresh sitemap is uploaded so you don’t have any indexation issues.
  • Maintain the old domain: Don’t just drop the old domain if you’re shifting to a new one. Redirecting the old domain to the new domain will save you a huge headache.
  • Migrate during your slow season: Make sure you have access to a strong development team for at least a month or two after the site goes live, and bring on an SEO expert if you’re in unfamiliar territory and organic traffic is a big portion of your traffic.

The takeaway

Digital marketing success, especially when launching a new website, hinges on a well-rounded SEO strategy. From conducting a thorough SEO audit to understanding and using keywords effectively, every step is pivotal.

Ensuring technical SEO is up to par, optimizing content and on-page elements, and building a robust link profile are all essential.

By following the steps we’ve laid out, you can ensure your new website maintains and improves its visibility and ranking in search engine results, paving the way for long-lasting digital marketing success.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

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