Updated for 2014, our 2014 SEO checklist is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Instead it’s a simple reminder of the numerous ‘to-do” items during an SEO project.
Our SEO team has performed hundreds of SEO audits on both small business websites and large enterprise e-commerce websites. What we’ve found is that the fundamentals (SEO Framework) haven’t changed very much over the years. Digital Marketing tactics and strategies continue to evolve as the Search Engines further refine their algorithms, but the fundamentals of on-site SEO have remained fairly consistent.
Use our on-site SEO checklist below to see if your website is built on a solid SEO Framework and is following best practices.
Visit your homepage www.domain.com and using Fiddler or Live HTTP Headers, look for redirects and the HTTP status codes being sent through the headers. A 200 (OK) status code is what you want to see, otherwise a proper redirect needs to be put in place.
You do not want your homepage to answer to multiple URLs as shown in the examples below:
Your goal is to have your homepage answer to only one unique URL.
Page Title Tag
Review the Title tag. <title> My Page Title | Company Name </title>
The Page Title tag contains the title found in the top of your browser, not what is on the actual page. Does it contain relevant keywords and is it formatted properly? Avoid keyword stuffing, use synonyms, don’t make it match the title of your page/article and ignore the character limit harped upon by SEO bloggers. As long as it’s relevant and not repetitive you’ll be just fine.
Description Meta Tag
Review the description meta tag. <meta name=”description” content=”provide a summary of the page’s content” />
This meta tag is used to provide a summary of the page’s content. It will not help with your rankings, but Google may use the content of this tag for their snippets in the SERPs. Craft your description meta tag in a way that will attract relevant and high quality traffic that you can convert. Again, ignore arbitrary character limits and heavy keyword usage. Think of the user, not Google!
Keywords Meta Tag
Review the meta keywords tag. <meta name=”keywords” content=”keyword1,keyword2″ />
These days it’s probably best to leave this blank. If you choose to use this tag, do so following best practices.
Review the canonical tag. <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.domain.com/” />
If you have a group of pages with very similar content, the canonical page tells the bots which is your preferred version. Think of product pages that list all of your Asics running shoes. You can probably sort by price, color or size. The canonical tag gives you the opportunity to tell the bots which of these pages is your preferred version to be included in the index as they might not want to add all of these pages into their index due to them being very similar.
If your website has numerous similar pages (Ex. product pages) and is using the canonical tag, be sure you’re following best practices. Learn more at Google’s Webmaster site.
Review the website’s navigation and site structure.
- URLs — Length, dashes, underscores, spammy? Dashes are preferred and the shorter the better.
- HTML Attributes — Is the menu supplemented with TITLE or ALT attributes when appropriate?
- Content Silo — Is the content grouped according to similarities?
Review the page’s content.
- Unique & Valuable: Is the content unique and provide a value to your users? Thin content is bad as well as wordy copy that’s been created for the sake of hitting an arbitrary number because an SEO blog said you needed to have at least X number of words and X% keyword density. Is this a product page that hundreds of other pages across the internet also use? If yes, then it’s best to create your own product description based upon your unique knowledge of the product.
- Heading Tags: Are you using heading <H> tags properly? One instance of an H1, one instance of an H2 unless your website is using HTML5. Then, are you using the H3 tag and below in order to provide a clear and user-friendly page layout?
- Keywords: Are the keywords you’re targeting used properly throughout the content of the page? Ignore keyword density calculations. Create high quality unique content for users using the terminology used by searchers of your product.
- Rich Snippets/Structured Data: If your content contains reviews, recipes, job listings, products or other “structured data”, you may be able to improve your CTR and get a slight boost in rankings by utilizing structured data formats.
- Hidden Text: Perform a ‘Ctrl+A’ to find hidden content on your webpage.
- Malware: View your website using a Googlebot emulator. Try the add-on for FireFox called User Agent Switcher 0.7.3 by chrispederick.
- Images: As social networks become more visual (think of Pinterest) be sure to include at least one image per page/post. Name your images with something meaningful to the actual image and also be sure to include the ALT attribute.
Site speed is a signal in Google’s search ranking algorithms. Internal user testing at Googleplex indicates that users are happiest with websites that load fast. When a website responds slowly they witnessed users spending less time on the website. These days you must be thinking of page load times in order to satisfy your user’s need for speed!
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- Pingdom Website Speed Test
- YSLow from Yahoo is a FireFox plugin that can analyze a web page and make suggestions on ways to improve their performance based on a set of rules for high performance web pages.
A website is not required to have a robots.txt file. If your website does contain a robots.txt file, you want to make sure that it’s not inadvertently instructing the bots to not crawl specific parts of your website. You also DO NOT want to try and hide content from the bots using this file.
A huge misconception regarding the robots.txt file is that most SEO practitioners will tell you that you use the robots.txt file to keep content out of the Google index. That is simply wrong!. The Robots.txt file can only tell the bots what they can and cannot crawl. It does not tell them what can and cannot be indexed.
Learn more at http://www.robotstxt.org/ and test your robots.txt file using your Google Webmaster Tool account.
Your website should have two sitemaps. One for users and one for search engines.
- HTML Sitemap: A sitemap (for users) is a simple page on your website that displays the main structure of your website. See Zappos for an example.
- XML Sitemap: An XML sitemap makes it easier for search engines to discover pages on your website that possibly they wouldn’t otherwise find. For large websites it’s a good idea to create multiple Sitemap files broken into smaller files as it makes it easier to determine what specific pages are not being added into the search engine’s index.
Mobile Friendly Version
In June of 2012, Google finally took a stance on the great debate of mobile websites. Google has stated that they prefer responsive design techniques for webmasters that want to deliver content in different (optimized) formats for desktop and mobile users, primarily, smartphones. This of course isn’t always an option, but when possible you should go with a responsive design.
Review source code for analytics code. Are you flying blind by not knowing how your website is performing?
Without knowing how your website is performing it’s difficult to develop a cohesive internet marketing strategy. We recommend Google Analytics which is a free analytics package from Google that competes with the large commercial analytics software packages, such as Omniture and WebTrends. Google Analytics can track all of the standard behavioral data on your website, as well as track conversions.
Additional SEO Resources
- Google Webmaster Guidelines — Best practices to help Google find, crawl, and index your site
- Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide — The official “starter” guide from Google to help Webmasters improve their sites’ interaction with both users and search engines.
- Google Ratings Guideline 2012 — For obvious reasons I will not link to our copy of the leaked document, but this search on Google should get a closer to your own copy.
We hope you found our 12-Step SEO Checklist useful in quickly determining if your website is following best practices and is built on a solid SEO framework. The above SEO checklist merely scratches the surface of our full-scale SEO Technical Audit.
Why You Need an SEO Technical Audit
Are you trying to determine if you need an SEO Audit? Let us give you a few scenarios as to when and why you need an SEO audit.
- Every time you hear about a Panda or Penguin update from Google your website traffic shrinks.
- Your contract is coming up for renewal with your existing SEO agency. Let us perform an audit to make sure you’re getting what you pay for and that your website is not being put at risk by shady SEO tactics.
- You’re in the planning stages of a website redesign. An SEO Framework should to be baked into your website, not treated as an afterthought.
- You’re considering the purchase of a new CMS system. Trust me, even though it’s 2014 not all Content Management Systems are created equal and can handle SEO properly. Let us help you evaluate a CMS that fits your needs and determine if it’s built on a solid SEO framework.
- Your switching eCommerce shopping carts. Same as with a CMS, not all shopping carts are created equal and are optimized for search engines. Let us help you evaluate the right shopping cart for your specific needs.
Those are just a few examples as to when it’s a good time for an SEO audit. There are plenty others and it’s never to late. Contact us today!