These are some basic steps which I feel every search engine optimizer must follow to optimize a website from scratch. If these issues are resolved at the start then you will not face any optimization issues later on.
Check for 404 pages/broken links on website
Broken links are poison for any website. If you have access to a crawler then the first thing to do is check for broken links on the website. This will give you a clear picture of the navigation structure of the website as well as links which are broken. To save time you can also request the website owner to provide you access to their Google Webmaster account which will outline the complete crawl issues of the website. After you have the complete list of broken links on the website you should have them corrected as soon as possible. I have developed an online 404 checker for this purpose which is free 🙂 so please do use it.
Enable search engine friendly URLs on website
If the website URL structure is dynamic in nature i.e. have “?” and “&” in its URLs then you should try and have search engine friendly URLs enabled on the website. The benefit of these URLs is that they will be keyword rich and help optimize those pages on search engine results. Most websites nowadays already have these URLs enabled as support is available on both Linux and Windows hosting servers.
Check for duplicate pages on website and remove them
Try and check for duplicate content by using moz or plagspotter. Both are paid however Moz offers a 30 days trial period. You can cancel the trial period after the completion of 30 days. Both these websites let you know if there are more instances of web pages which have the same content as yours and it helps you take action. Most of the time the duplicate content may be due to minor navigational issues in your website which can be resolved with some tweaks however these need to be catered to otherwise the website may never come high on search engine results and may even get banned.
Implement the canonical tag on website
As per Google definition
“A canonical page is the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content”
Google provides this one stop easy solution for website owners to implement the canonical tag and inform Google and other search engines which is the main version of the page the search engines should give priority when giving results. You can read more about canonical tags here and here. The best part of this solution is that it can help resolve your duplicate page content issues very quickly.
Make sure that the meta tags are unique for each page on website
Most websites have nearly the same meta title, meta description and meta keywords on multiple pages which leads search engines to think of these pages as duplicates. Due to this search engines do not think highly of these pages and they do not come up on search results often. Try and create as unique meta content as possible related to the web page which will help your website in the long run.