16-point checklist for SEO newbies and veterans

Apply these search engine optimization tips to ensure your content attracts both search engines and human readers.

Search engine optimization (SEO) and content optimization can quickly get confusing. However, there are a reasonably small number of areas you have to concentrate on.

This guide is a quick checklist to help you focus your attention. Let me know if I missed anything.

1. ALT descriptions: Always use keywords for an image’s ALT description. It strengthens SEO and is a courtesy to human readers who cannot display images on the screen.

2. Anchor text: Use keywords in the anchor text for internal and outbound links.

3. Bold and italic text: Many believe bold and italicized text carry more weight in search engines than plain text. Use these formatting options with care, however. Too much of either can result in a page that is confusing to human readers.

4. Entry pages: Concentrate your SEO efforts on the pages of your site that you really want people to find in searches. These pages, called entry or landing pages, will be keyword rich and your targets for inbound links.

5. Flash animation: Do not use Flash for navigational elements because the navigation text, which you should optimize with keywords, will be invisible to search engines. Text navigation links are essential.

6. Footer links: Jamming the bottom of a Web page with keyword-stuffed links is a bad SEO practice and confuses the reader. Footer links should be relevant, easy to navigate and reasonable in number.

7. h1 tags: Every Web page should have one—and only one. Use keywords whenever possible, but don’t overdo it.

8. h2 and h3 tags: Use these for subhead text. Again, tagged subheads should be keyword rich.

9. Image titles: Always use keywords in image titles.

10. Internal links: Internal links carry some SEO weight and are useful to human readers, as they provide another way to navigate around a website. It is a good practice to include relevant internal links on and to entry pages of your site.

11. Keyword phrases: Select phrases that are relevant to the page content and commonly searched. (I’m generalizing. Determining which phrases to use greatly depends on the competitive situation, which is why research is important.) Over- and under-using keyword phrases on a given page will result in a penalty or ineffectiveness.

12. Meta descriptions: These snippets of text often appear under the link on a search engine results page (SERP). Although of minimal SEO importance, it’s wise to write meta descriptions persuasively because they influence human readers.

13. Meta keywords: Meta keywords are no longer of much importance to search engines because of rampant abuse.

14. Meta titles: The meta title (title tag) of a Web page appears at the top of a browser and is important for both SEO and human readers. This is where you want to put your primary keyword phrase for the page in question. Every Web page should have a unique title tag.

Meta titles can also include a branding message. I like the SEOMoz title tag approach, which uses the pipe bar | to separate the brand from the keywords.

15. Outbound links: There are different schools of thought on this, but packing a Web page with 100-plus outbound links could result in an SEO penalty. Outbound links add nothing to SEO, so the safest route is to use them selectively, make them relevant and use optimized anchor text when possible.

16. URL structure: Use hyphens rather than underscores to separate words. Always use your primary keyword phrase. Avoid long URLs as a convenience to human readers and to support branding.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Straight North Marketing blog.

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