Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A 46-point SEO checklist for any website

MonsterCommerce SEO team at the Google campus in 2006
Throughout my career in interactive marketing, I have maintained a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) checklist for my own use. I have updated the best practice guidelines for each item on the list along the way. It's by no means comprehensive, but I still find it extremely helpful as I approach any new project.

I thought I'd share it with you and see what you might add to this list to help make it more useful. As with any check list, it needs to be broad enough to fit most websites, but most high-level SEO guidelines generally are that broad.

The other thing to keep in mind with SEO is that the formulas are not definite. Google does not publish the exact formula for title tag length or keyword frequency/density, but throughout years of SEO expert analysis and commentary, these general best practices have come to light and tend to drive top 10 results for medium to long-tail keywords for any business with a relatively "search engine friendly" site. I will tell you that the last few SEO projects I have contributed to or led in the past 12 months have all started to see brand new top 10 rankings for relatively competitive keyword phrases off of these techniques.

I have also been known to differentiate "search engine friendliness" from "search engine optimized" in the way that I think and talk about SEO. I will elaborate on that further later, but let's summarize it here so that you get the most from this checklist: If your site is "search engine friendly", it means that there is no bulky Flash file or complex JavaScript (or other spider-blocking code) preventing the automated search engine spiders from adequately "crawling" through your site's code to reach the keyword-rich content designed to tell them what your site is all about. If your site is "search engine optimized" then that means that once the spiders do get to the keyword-rich content, the keywords were chosen properly and the content properly optimized (at effective keyword frequency and density levels, in addition to the checklist below) so as to properly differentiate and position the page as an authority on that keyword (topic), thus resulting in higher placement for that keyword query in the search engine.

I look forward to hearing from you, via the comments section below, regarding what criteria you suggest changing or adding to this list. One additional caveat: These are (mostly) on-site SEO factors, so they do not include off-site factors such as link popularity - which are equally as important in obtaining and maintaining top 10 rankings. I hope to post an entirely separate post on link building strategies soon enough. As a checklist, your goal is to achieve a YES or "Requirement met" for each item.
  1. Title Tag: Keywords in title tag appear at the beginning of the title tag, before company name.
  2. Title Tag: Unique to each page
  3. Title Tag: Relevant to each page's content
  4. Title Tag: Word count is 6-11 words
  5. Meta Description Tag: Unique to each page.
  6. Meta Description Tag: Appears in sentence format, not keyword after keyword
  7. Meta Description Tag: Word count is 12-24 words, maximum 200 characters
  8. Meta Keyword Tag: Unique to each page.
  9. Meta Keyword Tag: Word count is between 0 and 48 keywords, maximum of 2,000 characters
  10. Meta Keyword Tag: Keywords are not repeated
  11. Meta Keyword Tag: Keyword phrases are separated by , and a space
  12. Meta Keyword Tag: Keyword phrases are listed longest to shortest
  13. Images: File names have keywords in them
  14. Images: Images have SEO friendly name and URL
  15. Images: Location shows images are stored in a single directory (e.g. brandonsbaseballcards.com/images/)
  16. Images: Have alt attribute with relevant keyword
  17. Page Content: Section/topic titles appear in H tags and should be in order (H1, H2, H3, etc) in the source code
  18. Page Content: Aim for fewer than 100 links on any given page, including navigation and on Sitemaps
  19. Page Content: Homepage static content is keyword rich
  20. Page Content: Homepage static content will change regularly
  21. Page Content: Bread crumb navigation exists for each section
  22. Page Content: Use tag instead of for bold formatting
  23. Page Content: Text navigation exists for any nav options in an image link
  24. Source Code: Javascript and CSS referenced in external files
  25. Source Code: Title and metas are formatted properly (see sheet two of this workbook)
  26. IP address: Site is on dedicated IP address (recommend Bruce Clay's Server Tool)
  27. IP address: Block list check performed and not on any block lists (recommend Bruce Clay's Server Tool)
  28. 404 error: 404 error page exists and contains text links to relevant sections of site
  29. 404 error: 404 page is consistent with site's design
  30. 404 error: Webserver is configured to give a 404 HTTP status code when non-existent
  31. Robots.txt: Is located at the root directory of the site
  32. Robots.txt: Is formatted properly (recommend RobotsTXT.org)
  33. URL: www is forced (cannot access a page without the www)
  34. URL: URL uses hyphen between words in a folder and file name
  35. URL: URL should be entirely lower case
  36. URL: Any URL redirects are set up as 301 redirects (recommend Bruce Clay's Server Tool)
  37. URL: URL contains keyword-rich, relevant categories and filenames
  38. URL: URL contains the topic or category
  39. URL: root of each folder in URL goes to a landing page
  40. URL: URL is unique - no multiple URLs can reach the same page
  41. URL: URL is short as possible (75 or fewer characters)
  42. Site Map: HTML sitemap: links are categorized and links appear for all sections
  43. Site Map: XML Sitemap is generated and submitted (recommend XML-Sitemaps.com)
  44. Submission: Site submitted to DMOZ.org
  45. Submission: Site submitted to Yahoo! Directory
  46. Link Check: Run a broken link check on the site, (recommend LinkSleuth)


  1. Great stuff, Erin. It's a treat when folks who have been in this game for a while are generous enough to share something as valuable as this checklist. Haven't seen too many as readable and thorough as this one. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Brian. Glad it was helpful!

  3. I think if we try hard we can work together to stretch this to a cool 50. :)

  4. Oh oh oh! I have one - use Wordpress. Ok - if you don't like that one, how about:

    1) Check source code for lots of comments, inline HTML (old html code like fonts, etc), inline CSS, etc.

    2) Use of nofollow?

    3) Set up Google webmaster account

    4) Reference sitemap.xml in robots.txt

    5) Are images optimized in filesize? Or are they bloated?

    6) How about page load time? tools.pingdom.com - also useful for identifying bloated images and broken files.

    On #33, it is worth noting that the URL could be redirected to the non-www. You just don't want to have the site accessible on both the non-www and www.

  5. Hello Erin, I just came across your blog, very informational and well done. If I could add anything it would to make sure you build a good internal link strategy. Best way to get all your pages crawled is to interlink them properly. If I find an error that web designers make it is not to link their pages. Also, to Johns point about Conical URL's be sure to dictate which you want to have Google preference. Other wise you wind up having Dup content as Google recognizes it as 2 distinct sites. Thanks again, great job..

  6. Super useful guide, Erin. I can see I've got an hour or two to spend with this list working on my own site. Thanks for sharing such a nicely distilled nugget of your expertise with the world!

  7. Hi Erin,

    Great list... and photo!!! :)

    This site is a comprehensive list for Site Crawling. And simple. I like simple.

    A couple things I've noticed since our MC days that are different now:

    URL: www is forced (cannot access a page without the www) - Fine with or without, as long as its consistent. You can also delegate this, for Google only, using Webmaster Tools.

    IP Addresses: I've noticed it matters less now than it used to what kind of IP you're on as long as your pages load quickly and it's not blacklisted, which is very rare as long as you're not in Russia, China, or Nigeria. And speaking of page loads...

    Page Loads - You can easily check page load times with Firebug for FireFox. Run it after dumping the cache using the Firefox Cache Status Addon.

    DMOZ - Not near as valuable as it used to be. As for getting in there, it only takes a second to submit. Good luck...

    Title Tags - I've noticed the length really doesn't matter too much as far as rankings go, but you want your most important keywords in the beginning. Same with URLs and descriptions.

    I also have better rankings on the posts that have consistency in keywords matching in: the Title, URL, Description, Header, first 200 words of the content, and linked/tagged with that text on at least one separate page.


Thank you for commenting on my blog post! I really appreciate the conversation. -Erin

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