SEO Checklist for Developing a Domain

SEO Checklist for Developing a Domain

So, you have an exact match domain name that you want to develop in a full website that will, ideally, rank well in the search engines. What is the best way to develop that domain name into a website that Google and Bing will like? How much effort is required in order to bring in that highly-coveted natural, organic search engine traffic that we all love? There are a lot of tasks and subtasks required. Probably more than you think. To make it easier, I’ve put together the following SEO checklist, along with additional notes and links to resources when needed. I don’t guarantee that you will gain top search engine rankings if you follow this checklist, of course: but you will be on your way to having a site that both visitors and search engines will love.

This checklist is what I call an SEO Checklist, because it pay particular attention to what the search engines (mainly Google) are looking for: search engine friendly websites. In this case, basing all of this as if I used a keyword rich domain name such as, which I just bought and is, at first, a “parked” domain. The SEO checklist below reflects what should be done to develop into a fully functioning site that could have a chance to rank well for “red widgets”.

Set Up Web Hosting – domain name is currently a parked domain at a parking company. The first order of business is to set up web hosting for the domain. Decide if you are developing one site or several websites. The type of hosting, etc. is not critical at this point, as the domain can be moved to another server or the hosting can be upgraded. I recommend a host like, Host Gator, something other than a domain parking company; some ‘domain development’ services will host many domains on the same servers with the same templates, which is not something you want to do. You need your own web hosting, I perfer to start off with a VPS so I can host multiple domains/sites on the same server.

Set up a basic web page – Immediately, when the hosting is set up, put you some sort of landing page. It could be a basic web page even made using “notepad” that has a sentence or two on it. Make sure it has a unique title tag, meta description tag, heading, and at least one or two sentences on it. The web design doesn’t matter at this point, we’ll deal with that later. The most important factor here is to get SOMETHING other than the previous parked domain lander on that domain. This must be done on day one, as it will take some time before Google puts your domain back into their ‘normal’ search index and starts to “like” the domain again. As far as Google is concerned, parked domains are spam–and they don’t want them in their index. You must get into Google’s “good graces” by putting up something other than a parked domain page. It could take up to 30 days to get reindexed properly, so setting up this basic web page is key.

Research Your Competition – Start with one main keyword phrase, such as “red widgets”, which is probably your a main keyword. Find out who is currently ranking in the top 10 for that keyword phrase, and start thinking about what it will take to get there. Make a list of the top ranking sites (top 10 sites, for example) and use the “site” operator to find out how large those sites are. For example, search for this at Google:

Notice that I’m searching for just the domain name, not the www or other subdomain. This will show you how many pages they have indexed and how large (or small) those websites are. Try to get an ‘average size’ of the site by looking up several sites. That will give you an idea of how large your site needs to be in order to compete. Note those sites (competitors) on a spreadsheet, you’ll need that list in the next step.

Also, while researching your competition, you’ll need to look to see how many links they have from other sites. Take that list of sites that are ranking well currently for your main target keyword phrase and figure out how many links those sites have. Use tools such as Open Site Explorer ( or even Majestic SEO ( to look up your competitor’s backlinks. It’s a good idea to see how many links your website will need in order to compete for the keyword phrase you’re targeting. You’ll eventually need to have just as many links, just as “good” as the competitors (Google likes quality over quantity) in order to compete. It will take time to get hundreds or thousands of links, but you need to be realistic at this point, and make it a long-term goal.

Keyword Research – Before you start building content on your website, you’ll need to figure out what type of content you’ll need on your site (we already have figured out how much content you’ll need). It’s quite possible to rank well in the Google search results with only one web page, but that’s not very realistic for most websites. Use a tool such as in order to figure out what type of content you’ll need and get content ideas for your website. You can easily find out related keywords as well as what keywords your competition is ranking for currently so you can build similar content on your website. I recently wrote an article on the SEMrush blog about how to find content ideas using SEMrush which you may find helpful.

Generally speaking, you need to come up with a keyword list. A list of keywords that you’d like to target on the website. Think about targeting one keyword per page, with the main keyword for the site focused on the home page. Then, your site structure going forward should be a top-down type of structure, or “pyramid” type of structure:

Main Page
– category page
– sub category page
– sub-sub category page

Each page will target one main keyword phrase, with the possibility of making the sub category page and the sub-sub category pages being articles or blog posts.

The ultimate goal during keyword research is to come up with a keyword list. Using SEMrush is a great tool to find that out, and to allow you to focus on keywords that will potentially bring in the most traffic to the site.

Social Media Accounts – It’s important to set up or “claim” social media accounts for your site and link those accounts back to your site. Twitter, Facebook, and creating a Google+ page are critical. You can certainly go on over to and find more places to set up accounts. Ideally, though, you should start using those accounts and participating, not just to Tweet links back to your site (which is important to do), but to network with others in the same topic as your site. Tweet their stuff, they will eventually tweet links to your articles. Social is a big part of SEO nowadays, and the search engines are looking for “social signals” that indicate that real people like your site. So, if you can help show those signals, it will help your site.

Keep in mind that the social sites have separate policies regarding usernames especially when it comes to trademarks. These policies are typically very different than domain name trademark policies and rules, so you need to be familiar with them. In any event, set up social media accounts, with a plan to keep them updated on a regular basis (manually updating or update through a feed or by using to schedule updates) and link to those social accounts from your website. Regular usage, even from the beginning, is key. Profiles should link back to your domain name, and you should add as many friends and followers as feasible for your industry.

Web Design, CMS – Deciding which CMS (content management system), web design, and soforth is not critical from an SEO perspective–but WordPress and Drupal are good candidates for sites that will developed that mostly contain content and articles (and blog posts). Certainly, sites that have custom functionality such as the ability to sell online (an ecommerce site) require a different plan altogether. But for many basic content sites, WordPress is what I recommend. Here’s what I recommend for setting up a WordPress site:

– Custom theme – The site should be appealing visually and not use the basic generic “themes” that are packaged with WordPress “out of the box”. I recommend spending a little bit to get a custom theme for the site. I really like the “Genesis” framework and the “StudioPress” premium themes.
– Custom logo – You will need a logo for the site. 99 Designs, and even Fiverr are options (get several Fiverr logos done, choose the best one).
– WordPress Plugins – There are several that you should use, including Akismet or CommentLuv for spame, Yoast SEO Plugin, Tweet Old Post (if you want to use that sort of option), and WordFence (good for WordPress security).

Content – Content on the site is key. I’ve already mentioned the type of website structure you’ll need, so you may want to start writing out how the site will be structured. Then, you’ll need to take the keyword research that you’ve done and translate that into content for your site. It should ultimately be a combination of several (or more) static pages of content (home page would typically be a static page) with articles/blog posts added on a regular basis. There are several options if you’re not going to write the content yourself:

– Text Brokers, iWriter, elance, and are all options. Make sure you are as specific as you can when it comes to the article/content you’re looking for.
– Always include photos/images within articles and posts. Stock photos are a good option if you cannot take the photos yourself.
– Static content can be added to the site all at once, blog posts on a regular schedule, add new blog posts to your social profiles/socialize them when you post new content.
– Never use free content. You’ll always run into duplicate content issues with the search engines, and vistors typically don’t really like content that’s been posted on other sites.
– Before posting content, you may want to spend time optimizing it. Certainly all pages need a unique title tag, meta description tag, and headings, but take it one step further and optimize it using ScribeSEO ( before you post it on your site. There is a WordPress plugin and a Microsoft Word Plugin for Scribe SEO.

Linking – Getting links from other website is key to helping your site rank well in the search results and get more “trusted” by the search engines. We’ve already done some research to see how many links your competitors have–now is the time to go out and get those links. You may not be able to get all the links your competitors have, but it will give you some ideas on where to start getting them. I still recommend the typical web directory listings, such as Yahoo! Directory,, and to name a few. If there are industry specific directories, you may want to get them too. If your industry has a trade magazine, then that is a good place, as well, to start. As a general plan, your site will need to get new links each month going forward. If you want to be on the aggressive side, you can hire a link builder to help build links to your site. At the same time, great content on your site along with a strong social media plan to socialize that content can also help, as well. Consider the following other linking techniques to help promote your new site, as well:

– press release (announcing launch of your site)
– local citations
– image sharing (upload product images to image sharing sites, link back to your site)
– video sharing
– research competitor’s links
– find link opportunities, such as dead links, event listings, unlinked mentions of your site/brand

By this time, your site should be indexed by the search engines with the new content. Because you’ve set up your social accounts and have begun to socialize your articles and content on your site, you should be seeing your content indexed and potentially some new traffic to the site. Adding new content and socializing it will bring the search engine back often–and get your pages indexed. Working on getting new links to the site each month will keep the site in the search engine results–and hopefully you’ll be enjoying the traffic from your newly developed domain.

Ahhh, the joy of having a developed domain versus a domain that’s parked. I have to say, there’s nothing like it.

Bill Hartzer

Bill Hartzer is a search engine optimization consultant that specialized in highly technical SEO Audits and link audits of websites. Bill is a frequent speaker and expert discussion panel participant at various search engine marketing and internet marketing conferences and events such as the Search Engine Strategies and PubCon Conferences, and was the Keynote Speaker at a recent domain conference. Follow him on Twitter or on Google+.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Michael August 6, 2013, 1:43 pm

    You forgot the most important part where to place the ads on your site to make money :p

  • Bill Hartzer August 6, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Actually, Michael. I left that off of the list on purpose.

    I prefer to have NO ads on the site whatsoever, so it’s all about the content at first. That way Google likes the site a lot better (it’s a non-commercial site), and the traffic starts flowing. Then, once the site ranks well for its keywords and the traffic is steady, that’s the time to introduce ads on the site or monetize the site in another way: by selling it AND the domain all at the same time.

  • Frans August 7, 2013, 6:06 am

    Hi Bill, I enjoyed reading your article! I’ve been developing quite some sites myself and it has been a steep learning curve, especially after the dramatic Google updates of last year. Your article had some great take aways for me, and I like some of the tools you’ve mentioned. Based on my experience there are a couple of things which I would like to emphasize and add:
    – Agreed on the WordPress choice and on the customization. But please pay good attention to the on-page optimization, very clean CSS and HTML (run your site through, no inline elements, no tables (or at least avoid as much as you can), try to avoid JavaScript as Google cant read/follow this and make sure you have a high link density (meaning that all your pages are reachable from all other pages, the closer to 100% the better as long as useability is not affected) etc. Put that structure right from the start as later on it will cost a lot of time to improve or change. I have seen great impact of bad optimized sites on indexing and have learned a great deal the hard way
    – Other thing I would like to mention about link building. Avoid directories (the once mentioned are fine) but directories wont give you much SEO juice, better to avoid. Same with press releases, Google has been hammering down on this quite a bit so focus only ‘real’ news and last but no least, when link building please only focus on referring domains with minimum PR3/citation flow >30, it is all about quality and DONT put any specific keywords in the anchor text, none, just your brand or any random text.

    Building out your own properties is a long term game and you need a lot of patience, money and resources to do it right, especially when you are in high competitive verticals.
    Thanks for the article!

  • Bill Hartzer August 7, 2013, 7:58 am

    Frans, thanks for you comments. You’re absolutely right in mostly what you’re saying. I have a few comments, though, and I’ve detailed them below:

    >> avoid JavaScript as Google cant read/follow this
    Actually, Google has been known now to execute JavaScript. In fact, when they upgraded their crawler a few years ago (which is a version of the Chrome browser), that’s when they started understanding JavaScript. Google does follow links in JavaScript and other code on the page. But, the jury’s still out so to speak on whether or not PageRank is passed through a JavaScript link.

    Having clean code is really good–but don’t obsess over w3c standards. Some of those standards aren’t that SEO friendly.

    >> about link building
    I didn’t go much into link building in post because there are so many things to mention. But, I can say that what you do at first is important, make it look “natural”. Building TONS of unnatural links will not get you anywhere. All I’m going to say right now is that link diversity is key: make it look natural.

    >> when link building please only focus on referring domains with minimum PR3
    Again, if you ONLY focus on PR3 and higher links that “might not” look natural. So, I recommend a good mix of different types of links.

    >> DONT put any specific keywords in the anchor text, none, just your brand or any random text
    I have to disagree with you. For a good link profile, brand anchor text should be around 70 to 80 percent, while the rest of the anchor text links should be “natural”, which does in fact include keyword rich anchor text. Lots of different phrases is better than concentrating on one or even two or three phrases.

  • Diana Goodwin August 7, 2013, 9:46 pm

    Thank you, Bill, for this excellent, concise post. As a newbie, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to develop out a site; your list is going to help me get refocused on the basics I need to tend to. The comments left above were very informative, as well.

  • Frans August 8, 2013, 5:45 am

    Hi Bill, thanks for the explanation and response. We are only scratching the surface here, as you said yourself there are so many things to mention about these topics. But short response:

    >> Google and JS. I have clear examples of situations where Google doesnt index pages which are behind for example a search box or selection boxes. Now, there might be other reasons as well that Google doesnt index those pages. And besides Chrome, there are obviously browser who having difficulties with JS. ‘NoScript Elements’ could be the answer in some occassions. But I look more into this, honestly it is a subject we are still struggling with how to deal with.

    >> can you mention some of the W3 standards not being search friendly? We’ve not experienced this yet. We got some conflict on some specific meta tags like ‘copyright’ and some others which are differently handled in HTML5, but other than that? also, i was more referring to use the validator to check your CSS/HTML, just on mistakes in your code.

    >> agreed on the link building. But link build should always be a combi of different strategies and hopefully including building links the ‘natural’ way as well. too much to mention here 🙂

    >> anchor text. We might be in disagreement here and that’s ok. I guess it is depending on the profile of your site. Since last year I have been extremely carefully on this topic and yes partly agreed on the phrases (so not using the exact match keyword only but in a phrase) but I just think that Google has been hammering on the importance of anchor text in general (so wont give you that much SEO juice anymore like it used to be) and I just feel that there are certain verticals/words which should be avoided, like anything insurance related for example. But I guess this is more my ‘fear’ than anything else 😉

    Thanks again for the article and responses!

  • Michael August 9, 2013, 3:16 pm

    My little SEO help that I think Bill will like 🙂

    Things I do:
    Mod Rewrite URL’s
    Link to a generator I like:

    Good titles for every page.

    Build websites that people will find useful.

    To find the best Keywords I like to go into my Google Adwords and find the most typed in Keywords(Keyword tools) and focus on them for my sites.

    To get my sites indexed really fast I just link to then from one of my own sites, that is relevant. Normally indexed in a day or two.

    I also like to write a description and add a few keywords in my meta tags for the page.

    I also like to always think of new stuff that I think people will like and build it for my sites!

    Link building is hard so I don’t even focus on it, I just let it happen naturally and build rss feeds and send them to Twitter and Facebook. Link : you’ll like it 🙂

    Build websites that are fun for you! The first site I built was and arcade cheat code site in 2004

    Of course buy good domain names! Spend some money people!!! hahaha

    I think that should help someone get started off right 🙂


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