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SEO checklist part 2: SEO scorecard


Welcome to part two of our SEO checklist series that focuses on where to start an SEO campaign.

Conducting a website audit using this SEO scorecard will help you measure the overall SEO health of your site. Whether you’re an in-house expert, an agency guru or an independent consultant, creating a SEO scorecard will help you identify opportunities and threats to your online search presence.

The following categories are the main sections of this SEO audit, which, after analysis, can be turned into a prioritized action plan.

  1. On-page content optimization
  2. Site architecture and navigation
  3. Accessibility
  4. Off-page optimization
  5. Competitive analysis

Download this Google spreadsheet and customize the SEO scorecard for yourself. The information below will help you score each section.

1. On-page content optimization

Unique, high quality and relevant content continues to be the focus of all search engine algorithms. High quality content has a tendency to have higher word counts, comprehensive topic-related keywords, and rich media like photos and videos. Google’s goal is to evaluate and rank content in order of quality and relevancy to the search query.

According to Searchmetrics’ 2014 Ranking Factors Study, there are 13 “on-page content factors” that have positive correlations with higher positions in search results.1 It’s important to analyze each factor on a domain and per-page level.

On page SEO ranking factors - SearchMetrics study


Some of Searchmetrics’ on-page factors overlap, so they’re combined for efficiency. As you fill out the scorecard, use these questions to help rank each section.

Keyword targeting
  • Is the content relevant to the intended audience?
  • Is the content spammy?
  • Are the right words used?
  • Where are the most important keywords?
Unique content
  • Does your content bring value to your audience?
  • Is the content original and written from a unique perspective?
Content length
  • Does the page have sufficient length?
  • Do at least 90 percent of the pages have 400 words or more?
Title, H and image tags
  • Does the page title accurately and succinctly describe its content?
  • Does the page utilize <body> tags like H1, H2 and H3?
  • Does the page utilize alt image text and strategic image filename selection?
  • Are targeted keywords placed in the beginning of all tags?
Meta descriptions
  • Are there duplicate meta descriptions for pages?
  • Are the meta descriptions less than 155 characters?
  • Will the copy inspire potential visitors to seek more information?
Over-optimized keywords
  • Are target keywords overused?
  • Does the copy look unnatural?
Rich media
  • Are there too many large blocks of text?
  • Are there a variety of content types like images and videos?
URL conventions for SEO
  • Is the URL structure intuitive, short and user-friendly?
  • Is the website using subfolders instead of subdomains?
  • Are there too many URL parameters?
  • Is there URL-based duplicate content (multiple URL’s for the same page)?

Read more here: SEO checklist part 9: On-page optimization

2. Site architecture and navigation

A well organized website is one that is user-friendly and intuitive for both search engines and visitors to navigate. Planning out the website’s hierarchy takes careful consideration of all the content, functions and goals of a business or organization. Ultimately, site architecture sets the boundaries for website navigation including how many levels it will have (vertical depth) and how those levels are interconnected.

It’s important to have a well organized and correctly labeled website so search engines can index as many pages as possible.

Search engines crawl web sites following the links on each page at super-sonic speeds, which are then indexed and called forward when a user searches for a term that the search engine algorithm deems relevant to the page. Each website is given a certain “crawl budget” that limits the crawl time per day, which is why it’s important to have a well organized and correctly labeled website so search engines can index as many pages as possible.

The following diagram is a “site architecture for beginners” resource for understanding how a website can be organized.

Flat site architecture for SEO beginners


Site hierarchy
  • Is there a universal navigation bar?
  • Are the most important pages one click away?
  • Does the page hierarchy make sense?
  • Are there vertical breadcrumb links?
Internal linking and anchor text
  • Do the most important pages receive the most internal backlinks?
  • Is there horizontal linking (deep pages with links to related services/products)?
  • Are blog posts interlinked when possible?
  • Does the website use descriptive anchor text in the links?
Categories and tags
  • Does the website use categories and tags to organize products, services and blog topics?
  • Are there too many categories and tags?
  • Do categories and tags overlap?
Responsive mobile design
  • Is the website optimized for all devices (mobile responsive)?
  • Is the mobile navigation architecture just as intuitive as the desktop site structure?
User experience (UX)
  • Is the design simple and easy to use?
  • Are there valuable resources buried too deep in the website?
  • Is there a simple footer sitemap?
  • Is the website’s bounce rate too high?

Read more here: SEO checklist part 5: Site architecture

3. Accessibility

If Google, Bing and Yahoo can’t access your website, it can’t be indexed. And if it isn’t indexed it might as well not even exist. There are some technical aspects to check to ensure your website is search engine-friendly.

Robots.txt file and SEO
  • Is the robots.txt file restricting search engine crawlers to pages you want to be indexed?
  • Are there any robots meta tags that are inadvertently blocking search engines from specific pages?
HTTP status code crawl errors
  • Are any URLs returning HTTP status code errors (4xx and 5xx)?
  • Are there any 404 errors (i.e. broken or missing pages)?
  • Are there any 302 HTTP redirects, when they could be 301 redirects?
Duplicate page content
  • Are there multiple internal pages with identical or near-identical content?
  • Are there external pages with duplicate content (websites that republished your content)?
  • Do pages appropriately use rel=”canonical” to avoid accidental duplicate content?
XML sitemap
  • Is there an XML sitemap document that follows the right sitemap protocols?
  • Has the sitemap been submitted to Google via a Google Webmasters account?
  • Does the sitemap contain all up-to-date pages?
Site speed and SEO
  • What is the website’s Google PageSpeed grade? (See image below)
  • Can images and JavaScript be optimized?
  • Can browser caching be optimized?

Screenshot of the Google PageSpeed SEO test

Avoid Flash
  • Is important information and content hidden from search engines because it’s housed in Flash?
  • Does the website look different when viewed with a search engine spider simulator?
Index status
  • Do all pages appear when you Google search “site:example.com”?
  • Do the most important pages appear when you Google search “http://www.example.com”?
  • Is the website appearing for all brand searches?
… off-page factors like backlinks are just as important, if not more.

4. Off-page optimization

On-page factors like content, site architecture and accessibility are very important, but off-page factors like backlinks are just as important, if not more. Google’s famous PageRank algorithm has always been heavily oriented towards a website’s backlink profile. In simple terms, Google can get a detailed picture of the quality of your website, based on the number and quality of other sites that link to yours. There are tons of subfactors that go into off-page SEO analysis, but these are the most important:

Organic traffic and CTR
  • Is there an upward trend of new visitors to your website?
  • What is the click through rate (clicks/impressions) of your site on Google?
Backlink profile
  • How many root domain backlinks does the website have?
  • What is the quality of the backlinks? (Use Moz’s Domain Authority and Page Authority)
  • Is there a diversity of old and new backlinks?
  • What is the homepage to deep link backlink percentage? (More deep links are better.)
  • Are the backlinks coming from relevant websites?
Link anchor text
  • Does the anchor text appear natural (i.e. are keywords being over optimized)?
Nofollow links
  • Are any of the links using rel=”nofollow” attributes?
Trustworthiness and authority
  • Does the site have low third-party SEO trust and authority ranks (i.e. MozTrust and Domain Authority)?
  • Is your website being penalized for keyword stuffing or hidden text?
Social factors
  • Are social media profiles linked to the website?
  • Do the profiles have low retweet and Facebook post like rates?
  • Is there a low rate of social shares on posts?

Read more: SEO checklist part 10: Link building

5. Competitive analysis

Competitive SEO research is a necessary part of any SEO audit because even if your website is doing everything right, you still may be outranked by competitors. Fortunately, you can discover their weaknesses and strengths and turn them into opportunities.

SERP rankings (Recommend AuthorityLabs or SEMrush)
  • What is the website’s Google rank for target keywords compared to the top competitors?
  • Is the website not ranking for important search terms?
  • Which terms do competitors rank highest for? 
Keyword difficulty (Recommend Google AdWords Keyword Planner)
  • How competitive are the chosen target keywords?
  • What direct and indirect competitors are currently ranking for target keywords?
Link opportunities (Recommend Majestic or Open Site Explorer)
  • Google results for "Charlotte Hospitals" and local SEOCan you replicate top competitor backlinks?
  • Are many prominent industry sites currently linking to competitors? 
Local SEO
  •  Do chosen target keywords trigger local search results? (See image below.)
  • How competitive is the local niche?
  • Is the business listed in all relevant local directories?
  • Has the business verified the Google Local business result?

Read more: SEO checklist part 4: Competitive Analysis

Now, prioritize into action items

Once you’ve completed the SEO scorecard and gone through the rest of this SEO checklist, you can prioritize which areas of SEO to focus on first. The next parts of this series dive into detailed tactics, actionable optimization processes and tools to fix any SEO problem areas you may have discovered.

  • Martin
    Posted at 14:52h, 05 January Reply

    Hi Ryan, I’m not a SEO pro but know a little bit about the field. I’ve been asked to look at a friend’s website and give feedback on it and work out why it is not ranking at all on Google…so this checklist is extremely useful, many thanks for that.

    One question: where does social media fit into the checklist? I’ve heard that Goolge takes ‘social signals’ into account when ranking, can you comment on this? Cheers, Martin

    • Ryan Edwards
      Ryan Edwards
      Posted at 17:10h, 05 January Reply

      Hi Martin!

      Thanks for asking your question. To answer why your friend’s website isn’t ranking at all there are a couple of things to look for:

      1. Google Webmasters – If you haven’t already, register and verify the website in Google Webmasters and see if there are any Google errors or notices.
      2. Robots.txt flaws – There could be code blocking search engines from indexing your websites in this file.
      3. Duplicate content – Remove any pages that Google would consider a duplicate page. Use Moz to help you find these.
      4. Malware or spam – This is not your fault, but if the site has been hacked in the past, Google may deem the URL unsafe for visitors.
      5. Unnatural links – I’d do a comprehensive link audit and disavow any and all links that you think Google could be penalizing the website for.
      6. Domain age – If the domain is brand new it will take some time for it to begin to rank well for unbranded terms, and even branded terms.
      7. Phrase test – Try taking a long-tail keyword phrase from you homepage and searching for it as “example long-tail keyword from small business” in Google and making sure your page appears. If it doesn’t you’re probably being penalized.
      8. Brand test – If your site is appearing for brand related keywords, then your site may not be being penalized. It may simply just not be ranking high for non-branded words.
      9. XML sitemap – Test your XML sitemap and make sure it is available and working properly.
      10. Website speed – Ensure that the website is rendering properly across all devices and browsers. If it’s not Google could have de-indexed it so as not to send visitors to a website not working for some folks.

      In terms of social factors, yes they are growing in importance, but when compared to things like having a great backlink portfolio their effect is pretty small. For more detail on SEO factors, check this report out.


      • Martin
        Posted at 20:40h, 06 January Reply

        Very useful and helpful response Ryan, many thanks!

  • Gokhan
    Posted at 13:27h, 27 August Reply

    I can’t believe how useful this blog and also this specific post is! Thank you million times Ryan! SEO Checklist is an amazing source for all SEOers. I will be tweeting, liking, sharing and +1ing about you guys 😉

    • Ryan Edwards
      Ryan Edwards
      Posted at 17:53h, 27 August Reply

      Thanks so much! We put a lot of work into this series and we’re glad you find it useful.

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