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February 24, 2015

SEO 101: The 29-Point SEO Checklist

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If you’re just getting the hang of all the things that go into an optimized website, there’s no doubt the list can be overwhelming. In Bruce Clay, Inc.’s SEO training course, we offer students an SEO checklist as one of the many take-home materials. Here, we’d like give you an excerpt of that list to help you on your way. While not exhaustive, many people find a list like this to be a great reminder of the many “to-do” items during their SEO projects.

Editor’s note: This post, originally published in June 2011, was last updated in February 2015 to account for ongoing changes to SEO best practices.

SEO Checklist

On-Page Optimization

1. Head Section Order
BCI’s best practices is to ensure your web pages’ Meta tags are in the right order: Title > Description > Keywords. Remember, the information you put in these tags is used to render the title and description in the search engine results pages, and is what searchers see.

2. Title Tag
BCI methodology states Title tags should be approx. nine words, plus or minus three. You want to make sure the most important information, including top keywords, show up before the cutoff in the SERP in Google at 512 pixels, which translates to approximately 55-65 characters including spaces.

3. Description Tag

The description tag should also be mindful to include the most important info and  keywords before the SERP cutoff at approximately 920 pixels wide, which translates to approximately 156 characters including spaces.

Side note: Don’t forget to make the title and description compelling as this text assists in conversions. You don’t want to waste your prime real estate in the SERP with boring copy. (Read more about the ins and outs of Meta data.)

4. Keywords Tag
Even though Google has stated the keywords tag is not a consideration in ranking, we always include it as a best practice. We list keywords in order from longest in length to shortest in length, separated by commas.

5. Heading Tags
In the body of your content, make sure your first heading tag always begins as an <h1>. Subsequent heading tags should be <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, etc., and be used as the page’s table of contents.

6. Overall Word Count
The amount of words you have on a web page will vary by topic, keyword and intent. But, in general, less than 250 words is rarely recommended – especially if you’re trying to optimize for keywords. Informational web pages will almost always warrant at least 450 words. Quality content is key. Since the Google Panda Update penalizing low-quality content, avoid duplicate content and thin content and focus on robust coverage of your website topics that prove your subject matter expertise.

7. Alt Attributes with Keywords
The American with Disabilities Act says you should always describe the image on the page for the vision impaired. Ensure your images have proper descriptions associated with them, and if appropriate, keywords for the page. Alt attributes are also required to validate your HTML code.

8. Dashes vs. Underscores in URLs
Underscores are alpha characters and do not separate words. Dashes (or rather, hyphens) are word separators, but should not appear too many times or it could look spammy. For more on this topic, check out this post by Google’s Matt Cutts.

9. Fully Qualified Links
If you make your links fully qualified, there’s no question by search engine spiders, browsers, etc. as to where the file is located and what it’s about. If your link looks something like “../../pagename” (a relative link), then it may result in crawl issues for some search engines. Rather than complex URLs, use fully qualified links (http://www.URL). And the site map should always have fully qualified URLs.

10. Make JavaScript/CSS External
You want to be sure the most important code is the first thing the search engine bots crawl. You can externalize the code that gets in the way of this to ensure there aren’t unnecessary lines above the body text.

Sitewide Optimization

11. Site Map
Your site should have an HTML sitemap, and every page should link to that sitemap, probably in the footer. You should also have an XML Sitemap you submit to search engines. (Editor’s note: You can learn how to create a sitemap in our SEO Tutorial.)

12. Text Navigation
Verify there is text navigation, not JavaScript or Flash navigation that spiders can’t see. Make sure you at least have text navigation on the bottom of the page if there aren’t any spiderable navigation links in the top nav.

13. Make Robots.txt File
It’s important this file exists, even if it’s empty. The Robots.txt file tells the search engine spiders what not to index. Also make sure the file doesn’t accidentally exclude important files, directories or the entire site (this has been known to happen!).

14. Keyword Strategy
The keyword strategy is an ongoing process that essentially never ends. It starts with extensive research and iterates with extensive research. One could write novels about this topic; just know it’s part of any solid SEO checklist.

15. Web Analytics
There’s much you could say about web analytics in your SEO strategy. The important thing is to make sure you have it. Ensure your analytics are properly set up and monitor them regularly to find out of if the keywords that are generating traffic are in your keyword list, and that your site is optimized for them.

16. Linking Strategy
This section warrants way more than just a few sentences, but it should be noted as part of the SEO checklist. Your internal linking structure typically stems from your siloing strategy. Your inbound/outbound links should be part of an organic, natural strategy in compliance with search engine guidelines, and be monitored regularly.

17. Server Configuration
Regularly check your server, looking for 404 errors, 301 redirects and other errors.

18. Privacy Statement
Some reports say a “privacy statement” on your site is an important element in bing. It’s best practices to include one anyway; this is so you can let site visitors know what you’re doing with any data you collect about them.

19. Static Pages
Complex, dynamic URLs could be a problem. If your URLs have more than two query string parameters and/or dynamic pages aren’t getting indexed and/or you have a lot of duplicate content, consider converting them to static pages. You can also use mod_rewrite or ISAPI_rewrite, as appropriate, to simplify URLs. Rewritten URLs will appear to be static pages. This tends to be a lot of work, but is a surefire way to address this issue; you can also use the Canonical tag.

20. Static Index Pages
If you have a home page with content that constantly changes, it can result in diluting the theme of your site and cause poor rankings for key terms. Try to maintain chunks of constant text on the home page.

21. Use Text over Images
Any time you can use text for something instead of image files, this helps the spiders understand what the page is about. This is because search engine spiders can’t “see” all the text on an image file.

22. Ensure No SPAM Tactics
Make sure your SEO strategy is following Google Webmaster Guidelines. If ever in doubt about any of your tactics, refer to what Google accepts for SEO.

23. Check for Duplicate Content
Do a search to see if your content exists elsewhere on the Web. You may want to check out and use it regularly.

Webmaster Tools

24. Set Up a Bing Webmaster Tools Account and a Google Search Console Account

Webmaster tools accounts for Google and Bing give site owners insight into how search engines view their sites with reports on issues like crawl errors and penalties. If you haven’t already set up a Google Search Console account, this article will walk you through it.

25. Check Crawl Errors Reported

When a page has a crawl error, it means Google is unable to access the page. The first place to begin troubleshooting crawl errors is with the Crawl Errors Report, which can be found in the Crawl section of Google Search Console. Read more about crawl errors here.

26. Review Mobile Usability Issues

O00MGHPXG6Google is invested in providing users a great mobile experience. See how your site is performing on mobile devices with the Mobile Usability Report, located within Search Traffic section of Google Search Console. This report lets you know if your touch elements are too close, if your content is sized to the viewport, your flash usage, font size and more.

You can also use Fetch as Google within the Crawl section of Google Search Console to render your site the way Google sees it different mobile devices. Lastly, you can run important URLs through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test for developers here.

27. Check for Manual Penalties Reported

If a manual penalty has been levied against you, Google will report it to you within Google Search Console. Check the Manual Actions Report within Search Traffic. Read more about the Manual Actions Report here.

You can also find out if you’ve suffered a penalty from Bing. Review the Index Summary chart with the dashboard of Bing Webmaster Tools — if the number of pages for a given site is set at zero, you have been hit with a penalty.

28. Analyze Your Site Traffic Against Known Google Algorithm Updates

If your site is running Google Analytics, use the Panguin Tool to check your traffic levels against known algorithmic updates.

29. Improve Site Speed and Performance

Check PageSpeed Insights in Google Search Console or use tools like to analyze and improve a website’s performance.

Want more SEO tips? Our SEO Tutorial teaches you search engine optimization step-by-step, and it’s free!

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31 responses to “SEO 101: The 29-Point SEO Checklist”

  1. Adam Ricks writes:

    Great piece Jessica. Valuable tips in there. Fellow Aztec here. Go Aztecs!

  2. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hey, fellow Aztec! I *just* found out a couple months ago they closed down the bar on campus (guess it was old news); I spent many sunny afternoons studying outside on the patio with a cold beer. Glad you enjoyed the post, Adam. Take care!

  3. Jared Yaple writes:


    I’ve been trying to organize a checklist for SEO that will speed up the process of auditing sites for clients.

    This list is excellent!

    Thank you,


  4. Jessica Lee writes:

    Oh good — glad it’s helping. Thanks for taking the time to tell us, Jared!

  5. Kent writes:

    HI Jessica, thanks for sharing the list, will include to my company SEO List.

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    You’re welcome, Kent. Have a great week.

  7. arlene aranzamendez writes:

    Thanks for this seo checklist Jessica, it clears up my mind on how to use the meta tags properly to improve my search engine ranking..

  8. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    Great overview of SEO. You make an important point regarding numbers 2 and 3. The title needs to grab the attention of the searcher and the description is your sales pitch as to why the page should be clicked on. Include the benefit that the visitor will get from clicking on the page and a call to action if space allows.

  9. Ryan writes:

    Very thourough checklist. Great information Jessica, thank you so much. Is not having ANY images considered harmful to SEO? For some reason I was under the impression that Google tends to rewards sites with media such as video and images.

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    You’re right, having engaging content on your web pages outside of just text is great for user experience — which is what Google is most concerned with. This isn’t a complete SEO checklist — we could write entire books about that (and actually, we have!), so adding sections on videos and images certainly would be beneficial to this list. Visuals are a great addition to any Web page. Thanks for your comment, Ryan!

  11. James Jseo writes:

    Like the updated version for 2015, thanks Jessica

  12. vaibhav writes:

    excellent checklist , i found very valuable information what i am searching for SEO.

  13. Soumya Roy writes:

    To the point, informative and really valuable piece of content on SEO. The only thing I missed is structured data. Other than that this article is so much complete that it can be a reference resource for any newbies in this industry.
    Thanks for sharing, Jessica.

    Soumya Roy

  14. Jessica Lee writes:

    Nice update BCI team! This is the gift that keeps on giving. ;)

  15. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Jessica. It really is! So thank you!

  16. amit Singh writes:

    I want to know that , will google penalty always affect our rankings or it will helps my ranking ?

  17. Mehedi Hasan writes:

    This is a great post to me . Now I understand how to rank blog on Google page . Happy Blogging .

  18. Josh writes:

    A lot more comprehensive than my SEO checklist. Nice one. 101 good pointers that can be applied to help SEO.

  19. srinivas nuvvula writes:

    To the point, informative and really valuable piece of content on SEO. The only thing I missed is structured data. Other than that this article is so much complete that it can be a reference resource for any newbies in this industry.

  20. Jitendra Singh writes:

    Thanks a lot, Jessica
    a very helpful seo checklist to making “Plan of Action” for any websites.

  21. Dimitriou Michail writes:

    For the 29 (website speed) here is the best tool to check the site speed:

  22. sasirekha writes:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable and informative post about SEO Checker. As an SEO beginner, it helps a lot!

  23. mang chong tham writes:

    Keywords Tag is the most important

  24. Băng cản nước writes:

    Now I understand how to rank blog on Google page

  25. Mallory writes:

    Is it a bad idea (or will it hurt) your SEO if you list out your services? Example for a roofer
    – roof replacement
    – re reoofing
    – roofing tear offs

  26. Paula Allen writes:

    Mallory: That’s a good question that every business website has to answer. If your website visitors will benefit from seeing the services you offer, which I assume they would if they’re vetting your business, then you should find a way to show them. The bigger question is HOW you should organize that information and present website content lining up with each of your services.

    Your content needs to be siloed into logical categories. For instance, if you are a general contractor that does roofing, plumbing, and others, then consider having a main silo landing page all about roofing, which could list all your different roofing-related services and link down to subpages about them. You’d also want other silos for the other categories of services. However, if you are a roofing contractor solely, then you’ll want to think about how people search and organize your site accordingly. If you believe visitors search by type of roofing service (as opposed to some other criterion such as location, materials, or other), then you might list your different types of roofing services in your navigation and maybe on your home page.

    We have several pages on this site that explain the practice of siloing in depth. See as a start.

  27. shravan kumar writes:

    Thanks for the information! It is very useful to SEO beginners to rank their page on google.

  28. Ankit Chauhan writes:

    On Page SEO mostly comes down to understanding how write for people, so following the standards in terms of organization and communication that newspaper publications, academic papers, and books utilize will definitely impact results. Great post!

  29. Chandan writes:

    Great SEO checklist indeed. Solving canonical issues and other need of 301 or 302 redirection could have been included in the checklist.

  30. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Great point, Chandan. Redirects could definitely have a place in this checklist. Adding this to the queue for a revision! Thank you for the feedback.

  31. Mark writes:

    I wish some of my clients would read this page to show them that I am not full of crap. Very well put together and I will definitely will be using this to show some of my clients. Thanks

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