My 5-Step SEO Checklist

For New and Potential Clients

Updated: October 3, 2018

When I first started in SEO, I would spend hours, if not days, analyzing every small detail on a potential client’s website. I’d uncover every duplicate meta title, every missed keyword opportunity, every broken link -- and I would write awful, jargony reports that would bore you to tears.

I quickly realized I was spending more time trying to lure new clients with an in-depth analysis than I spent solving problems for my current client base. I knew something had to change, or I would lose key clients.

I created this SEO checklist to get the initial information I needed to provide recommendations to potential clients and to focus the majority of my time and energy on existing relationships. It is in no way a comprehensive or complete list, but it is at least a starting point.

1. Crawl the Website with Screaming Frog

The first thing I do on every SEO audit is fire up Screaming Frog. The software allows you to crawl an entire domain or a handful of specific URLs. The crawler pulls meta data, status codes, header tags, inbound and outbound links...the list goes on. Once successfully crawled, I export the data into an Excel spreadsheet and the real work begins.

Quick sidebar: I love Screaming Frog (and they’re not paying me to say so). They offer a free version of the software, but the paid version only costs £149.00 (under $200) a year, and I’d readily pay 10 times that amount for everything it offers. If you run your own SEO agency or freelance on the side, add this tool to your arsenal.

2. Identify Broken Pages

Most websites I’ve crawled have one or two pages that throw a 400 or 500 status code error. In most cases, the offending page(s) was missed in a mass redirect project and is no real issue. I let the client know and the page either gets fixed or redirected.

If I crawl a website with dozens of page errors, it generally means the client either doesn’t know pages are broken or they don’t know what to do about it. Either way, these pages need to be dealt with ASAP.

Before creating a list of broken pages, I like to sort the list of URLs alphabetically to identify any duplicate pages. If you find two matching URLs -- one with an error code, one that’s perfectly fine -- the broken page should be redirected or killed altogether.

Once the duplicate URLs have been dealt with, I filter the list down by each status error and suggest solutions or redirect locations. Depending on the size of the website and the number of status code errors, this step can take between five minutes to an hour.

3. Investigate Metadata

Next, I like to sort the SEO titles and meta descriptions alphabetically to see if there is room for improvement. Many older websites overlook or ignore metadata, which is a huge mistake. If I notice a number of content-based pages are missing this data, I offer a few examples of optimized SEO titles and descriptions specific to their website.

I also look out for duplicate metadata, as every page should have specific and unique titles and descriptions. I warn all potential clients that changing SEO titles can have an immediate negative impact and that it’s best to experiment on low-traffic pages. The last thing you want to do is crash a top-performing page with an unsuccessful SEO title.

4. Examine Header Tags

The next step is to check the H1 and H2 tags across the site. I check for typos or grammatical errors and for proper keyword usage and placement. While headers help search engines understand the content on the page, this is most beneficial for your readers.

Depending on the site’s content strategy, I’ll offer a few examples of optimized headers, which involves content based around long-tail keywords to help answer readers’ questions or solve a particular problem.

5. Find Broken Links

Search engines place a lot of value on links. More importantly, your readers place a lot of value on links even if they don’t realize it. With Screaming Frog, I can quickly identify broken links, but there are a myriad of tools you can use to run this audit.

One of my favorite tools is a Chrome extension called Check My Links. You won’t be able to do a site-wide audit with this tool, but it does highlight all the links (broken or not) on a specific page. This tool can help you find broken links in navigation bars, footers or page templates.

If a client has a ton of broken links, chances are there are a lot of outdated pages on their site. From here, you can suggest removing the broken links, updating the content, or redirecting low-traffic pages elsewhere.

This Is Just the Start…

The above steps are part of the first SEO audit I perform for every potential client, and it gives me enough information to understand where I can start. If I see red flags in all of these areas, I pass the information to the client and offer my services.

On the other hand, if a website doesn’t have issues in these five areas, I’ll spend more time looking for potential problems, but I switch to a marketing mindset. I check out social media strategies, explore paid search options, identify influencers, and more. For me, this is where the real fun begins.