SEO 101: The 29-Point SEO Checklist
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
23. Check for Duplicate Content
Do a search to see if your content exists elsewhere on the Web. You may want to check out CopyScape.com and use it regularly.
24. Set Up a Webmaster Tools Account for Google and Bing
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 Webmaster Tools 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 Webmaster Tool. Read more about crawl errors here.
26. Review Mobile Usability Issues
Google 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 Webmaster Tools. 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 Webmaster Tools 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 Webmaster Tools. 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 Webmaster Tools or use tools like Gmetrix.com 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!