The Always Up-to-Date SEO Checklist
In Bruce Clay, Inc.’s SEO training course, we offer students an SEO checklist as one of the many take-home materials. Use this excerpt as an in-hand to-do list or basic audit outline.
While this checklist isn’t exhaustive (although it’s constantly updated and growing!) many people find this list to be a helpful reminder of the many items to check during their SEO projects.
Mobile internet use isn’t a fad. It’s just our way of life. More searches happen on mobile than desktop. And Google says that 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches.
For businesses, people’s growing penchant for mobile search and browsing is an opportunity to outshine and outperform the competition.
Digital marketers talk about a mobile-first world. This means positioning a business’s website to fit the mobile browsing experience. Here are basic but important things to check related to a website’s optimization for a mobile visitor.
1. Mobile Usability
Search engines are invested in providing users a great mobile experience. See how your site is performing on mobile devices with the Mobile Usability Report, located within the 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 on different mobile devices. Lastly, you can run important URLs through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test for developers here. Similarly, Bing offers a Mobile Friendliness Test Tool.
Page load speed is also a ranking factor, especially for mobile. Skip down to Point 37 in this checklist for the tools to check page speed.
2. Mobile and Voice-Related Keywords
When was the last time you tried a voice search of your keywords? Try to find your business and competitors as your customer would with a voice search. Are you optimizing for relevant voice search terms like “near me”? Are you accounting for searches formed as questions and in sentence structure, more and more common with the advance of voice queries?
For a deeper look at mobile and voice search optimization, our SEO Tutorial’s step on mobile SEO provides a starting place.
3. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Accelerated Mobile Pages, AMP for is an open source project that enables web pages to load instantly for mobile users.
Google intends to broaden the scope of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to extend to all web pages, and as of this writing, AMP is available for news publishers, ecommerce, entertainment, travel and recipe sites.
AMP pages get a ranking boost in the mobile search results. If a business aligns with AMP requirements, create an AMP version of content. At the very least, become familiar with AMP technology so you can implement and be ahead of the curve as Google prioritizes AMP further.
Review each important page, from the home page to a high-priority product page, with an eye to these issues.
4. 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 often used to render the title and description in the search engine results pages, and could likely be what searchers see in the search results.
5. Title Tag
In general, title tags should be about nine words. You want to make sure the most important information, including top keywords, shows up before the cutoff in the SERP in Google around 600 pixels, which translates to approximately 70 characters including spaces.
6. Description Tag
The description tag should also include the most important information and keywords before the SERP cutoff, which translates to approximately 24 words or 156 characters including spaces.
The title and description text can assists in conversions. Don’t forget to craft compelling tags. 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.
7. Keywords Tag
The meta keywords tag is not a ranking consideration for Google, but our SEOs use it for basic optimization guidance and tracking over time.
If a page has an SEO keyword target, record a primary and secondary keyword in the meta keywords tag. This way, the target is contained on the page and can translate even when a page changes hands between teams and over generations.
List keywords in order from longest in length to shortest in length, separated by commas. Never keyword stuff this tag to steer clear of trouble with search engines.
8. Heading Tags
Headings serve the purpose of allowing a reader to see the main sections and points of a page. They are a visual cue for a reader of what topics are covered on a page. They’re also a signal to search engines about the topics on a page.
As a technical point, make sure the first heading tag within the body of a page is an <h1>. The following heading tags can be <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, etc., and should be used like a page’s table of contents. Navigation elements and other global text should be styled with CSS and not heading tags.
9. Word Count
The amount of words you have on a web page will vary by topic, keyword, competition and user intent (read about the three types of user intent to the right).
To determine the number of words needed on a page, count the number of body words on the top ranking pages for a keyword you’re targeting. That will give you a ballpark for what a search engine considers the normal word count for that topic. It’s safe to say that informational web pages almost always warrant a minimum of 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.
|3 Types of User Intent
These queries happen when a user has an intention to buy something now. For example, the exact brand and model of a product suggest the intention to buy.
These are research-oriented queries. Sometimes research is done in advance of a future transaction. For example, if someone searches for the best electric toothbrushes, there’s a good chance that a purchase in the near future.
These are queries done to help a searcher get somewhere, whether online or in the physical world. Searching for the name of a restaurant will get the user to that restaurant’s web presence or physical address.
10. Call to Action (CTA)
It is important that your key pages all make it clear what primary action a visitor should take. On a product page, the CTA to “buy” or “call” or “get a quote” should be prominent, clear, and easy to select.
On the home page, it should be easy for the visitor to take the next step in the conversion funnel. The actual language of the call to action should be active and the placement and design of the CTA should draw the visitor’s attention.
Note: A page doesn’t have to be transactional in nature (in contrast to an informational page) to warrant a call to action. If an informational page is a top-performing traffic driver, for example a blog post that answers a common question or a FAQ page, include a CTA to encourage the visitor to further their engagement or enter the conversion funnel.
11. Image and Video Optimization
Images and videos are engagement objects that adds visual excitement and multi-media interest to any page. Images are important to include on a page to break up text elements and keep a reader interested in the content. Videos are a highly consumable content format with additional SEO benefits and social sharing power.
While images and videos provide additional ranking opportunities through image, video and blended search, they do pose some additional optimization considerations.
Images and videos can slow down the load of a page. To reduce file size and to increase speed as much as possible, include width and height attributes in image tags. For images, resize the files to the display size rather than uploading the original file and asking the browser to shrink it.
File names should be descriptive and include keywords. As a general rule, avoid including text in images. Search engine spiders can’t read all the text in an image, and so a search engine can’t index and understand the content of an image.
Also, make sure to include an ALT attribute with images. 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 of validated HTML code.
For videos, there’s a whole slew of optimization best practices, including optimization on YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting sites. Read our guide on 10 video SEO tips to improve SERP rank.
12. Structured Data Markup
Structured data clarifies for the search engine what content on your page is about. Specifically, it helps the search engines understand what type of information you’re presenting.
On your company’s About page, for example, use structured data markup to indicate your street address and phone number so it has the potential to show up on a SERP.
Along with a location and phone number, other common data types you can use mark up are reviews and ratings, such as on a services page or product page, and events.
There are various structured data markup languages: microdata, microformat and RFDa, and the most often discussed Schema. For more on how to implement structured data on your site, check out How to Use Schema Markup to Improve Your Website Visibility in Search.
13. Social Markup
Social markup, or social meta tags, refers to the code used to enhance content on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
Facebook Open Graph tags, Twitter Card markup and Pinterest Rich Pins are the major social markup tags. Content in these tags dictate what image and text will show up on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest when someone posts your content on social networks.
By specifying social markup in your HTML, you can ensure you look your best on social media.
There are six types of Rich Pins: app, movie, recipe, article, product and place.
The Twitter Card types are: Summary Card (with or without a large image), Photo Card, Gallery Card, App Card, Player Card and Product Card.
The basic Open Graph tags are title, image, and description; Google+ will use the Open Graph tag content to generate a preview, and Twitter will fall back on Open Graph tags if no Twitter Card markup is specified.
14. URL Optimization
Use dashes rather than underscores for 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.
You also want URLs to be descriptive and contain keywords, without being spammy. And shorter URLs are preferable to long URLs.
15. Fully Qualified Links
If you make your internal 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 relative URLs, use fully qualified links (http://www.domain.com). The sitemap should always have fully qualified URLs.
16. Content Freshness
Make sure to periodically review your content (web pages and blog posts) to make sure that it is up to date.
For example, this very checklist is continually refreshed as SEO best practices evolve with search engine guidelines.
From Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines: “unmaintained/abandoned ‘old’ websites or unmaintained and inaccurate/misleading content is a reason for a low E-A-T (expertise, authority and trust) rating.”
What’s on your site that needs a refresh? Update it.
In March 2014, a document called the Google Quality Rating Guidelines introduced the terminology E-A-T to the SEO community. A shorthand way of referring to expertise, authority and trust, E-A-T is now a pillar of search engine optimization.
A site as a whole should signal expertise, authority and trust while conveying subject relevance and optimizing for search engine accessibility. The following items address this.
18. Contact Information
An explicit E-A-T signal, the search engines expect that a trustworthy site will clearly and visibly include contact information, such as a phone number and address.
Another E-A-T signal, testimonials located on your site supports your authority as a business and your value to your customer base. Testimonials are great for signaling your value to your human visitors, too!
20. Privacy Statement
Having a privacy statement on your site is considered a trust signal for the search engines. In addition to bolstering your trust with Google and Bing, it’s a best practice to include one. A privacy statement lets site visitors know what you’re doing with any data you collect about them.
21. Text Navigation
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. If you already have sitemaps, check them regularly to make sure they’re current.
You can learn how to create a sitemap for users and search engines to easily access all areas of your site in our SEO Tutorial.
23. Robots.txt File
The Robots.txt file tells the search engine spiders what not to index. It’s important this file exists, even if it’s empty. Also make sure the file doesn’t accidentally exclude important files, directories or the entire site. (This has been known to happen!)
24. Keyword Strategy and Research
The keyword strategy development and research is an ongoing process that essentially never ends. It starts with extensive keyword research and iterates with extensive research. One could write novels about this topic; just know it’s part of any solid SEO checklist.
Our SEO Tutorial will get you started and includes a free version of the SEOToolSet Keyword Suggestion Tool.
25. 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.
26. Server Configuration
Regularly check your server, looking for 404 errors, 301 redirects and other errors.
Here’s a free tool, no sign in required, and instructions on how to use the Check Server Page Tool to monitor your web server for errors.
27. Static URLs
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 URLs.
You can also use mod_rewrite or ISAPI_rewrite, as appropriate, to simplify URLs. Rewritten URLs will appear to be static URLs. This tends to be a lot of work, but is a surefire way to address this issue. You can also use the canonical tag to tell search engines that the current page is intended to be indexed as the canonical page.
28. Static Content on Home Page
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 sections of consistent text on the home page.
29. No SPAM Tactics
30. Duplicate Content
Do a search to see if your content exists elsewhere on the World Wide Web. You may want to check out CopyScape.com and use it regularly.
Duplicate content is a problem because it’s a low-quality signal to search engines and can cause your site to rank lower. If you, for example, have three pages on your site with the same content, a search engine will then choose on its own which one to rank for relevant queries — and the page they choose might not be the page you wanted to rank.
What’s an SEO without their tools to surface data that leads to analysis? Just remember, there’s a difference between data and wisdom.
31. 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.
Per usual, our SEO Tutorial unpacks the role of analytics in the step How to Monitor Your SEO Progress.
32. Webmaster Tools Accounts
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. For help setting up a Bing Webmaster Tools account, view the Bing Webmaster Help & How-To Getting Started Checklist.
33. Crawl Errors Report
When a page has a crawl error, it means the search engine is unable to access the page. The first place to begin troubleshooting this issue for Google is the Crawl Errors Report, which can be found in the Crawl section of Google Search Console. In Bing Webmaster Tools, go to the Crawl Information Report in the Reports & Data section. Read more about crawl errors here.
34. Manual Penalty Review
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.
35. Algorithm Updates
If your site is running Google Analytics, use the Panguin Tool to check your traffic levels against known algorithmic updates. If you see any drops or rises in search referrer traffic at a time that coincides with Penguin, Panda and other known algorithm updates, you may be affected by a penalty. Read more about penalty assessment here.
Google is changing its algorithm all the time. The most recent buzz in the industry has been around RankBrain, machine learning — and how new artificial intelligence technology is changing the search results. While optimization for AI is not as straightforward as checking for traffic drops, familiarize yourself with how SEOs should approach RankBrain in our recent podcast episode.
36. Site Speed and Performance
Check PageSpeed Insights in Google Search Console or use tools like GTmetrix.com to analyze and improve a website’s performance. For more on improving page speed, read Page Speed Issues Overview for SEO.
Want more SEO tips? Our online SEO Tutorial teaches you search engine optimization step-by-step, and it’s free!