Why Even Experienced SEOs Should Use Checklists

The hum­ble check­list is often over­looked, but the­se days even sur­geons use them. SEO isn’t exact­ly brain surgery, but could intro­duc­ing check­lists to your SEO oper­a­tions help you get bet­ter results?

Thomas Haynes By Thomas Haynes from Optix Solutions. Join the discussion » 4 comments

Do you use check­lists when work­ing on SEO cam­paigns or when audit­ing a site? Or do you fig­ure that check­lists are for begin­ners and you’ll be fine as you’ve done this plen­ty of times before?

If, like me, much of your expe­ri­ence is from work­ing agen­cy side you’ll be used to repeat­ing the same tasks again and again. As you pro­gress you may be able to del­e­gate the­se but they still need to be done.

The risk is that you’ll become com­pla­cent and some­thing will slip your mind. In this post I’ll attempt to con­vince you to use check­lists and I’ll provide some exam­ples to get start­ed with.

Beyond Best Practice

Con­trary to what you might read on blogs or in Linked­In Pulse arti­cles, SEO isn’t just about best prac­tice. If you could get to the top of the SERPs by fol­low­ing a few best prac­tice grid­li­nes the SEO indus­try wouldn’t real­ly exist – any­one can fol­low guide­li­nes.

SEO is actu­al­ly about over­com­ing chal­lenges, exper­i­ment­ing and find­ing your own way. What works for one site won’t work for all and there­fore a good SEO is con­stant­ly test­ing. Learn­ing new skills and tech­niques is a vital part of being an SEO and those who don’t devel­op strug­gle to get results.

Despite the fact that SEO is com­plex and con­stant­ly evolv­ing a sim­ple best-prac­tice check­list should be some­thing you use on a reg­u­lar basis.

Why Use a Checklist

If you Google “check­lists” one of the results you’ll find on the first page is a site by Atul Gawan­de who lit­er­al­ly wrote the book on check­lists. The Check­list Man­i­festo was pub­lished in 2009. In it, Gawan­de shows that errors of inep­ti­tude (where we should know bet­ter) are eas­i­ly avoid­ed by fol­low­ing sim­ple check­lists.

Gawan­de explains the impact that check­lists have had on the med­ical pro­fes­sion. Con­vinc­ing high­ly trained sur­geons that they need­ed to fol­low basic best-prac­tice check­lists was a strug­gle but one that has paid off. Research in the UK has shown that the use of check­lists has reduced surgery-relat­ed deaths by 40%. It turns out that mak­ing a sur­geon tick off a check­list item which says “have you checked you haven’t left your sur­gi­cal tools inside the patient” is a great way of mak­ing sure they haven’t.

But I’m Not a Surgeon

SEO isn’t brain surgery (which is lucky when you con­sid­er how many peo­ple who claim to be SEO experts actu­al­ly are) but there is still the poten­tial for SEO to go real­ly, real­ly wrong. Any­one who’s seen the impact of a mis­take in a robots.txt file or a botched migra­tion, can attest that it’s the small things which are eas­i­ly missed can have a big impact on a busi­ness.

What Can Go Wrong

Last mon­th I saw a site where the entire list of redi­rects added for a site migra­tion weren’t work­ing because of a typo in the .htac­cess file. This is easy to do (I’ve done it numer­ous times) but it’s eas­i­ly resolved by check­ing all the redi­rects once you think you’re done. I know this because it’s on my Migra­tion check­list.

The long term impact of not hav­ing any redi­rects from your migra­tion in place could be the loss of sev­er­al years’ worth of site author­i­ty. Of course, you would prob­a­bly spot this even­tu­al­ly but at this point you would have a very unhap­py client or boss who will be very keen for you to fix the prob­lem very soon. It’s at this point you wish you had used a check­list.


As well as pre­vent­ing you from caus­ing unnec­es­sary issues a check­list can help you and your team to ensure that noth­ing is missed. If there are mul­ti­ple peo­ple work­ing on a cam­paign it’s easy for every­one to assume that some­one else has cov­ered the best prac­tice bits. With a check­list you can be sure that every­thing is up to scratch before mov­ing on to the more inter­est­ing exper­i­men­tal, prob­lem solv­ing SEO.

Check­lists also help less expe­ri­enced mem­bers of staff who may be unfa­mil­iar with the tasks they’re being asked to com­plete. They’ll still need sup­port and train­ing but a list can help them to break up tasks and hit the ground run­ning.

Where to start

There are lots of SEO check­lists you can use but you might find that none of them is com­pre­hen­sive enough to cov­er all bases. It might be that you need to com­bine mul­ti­ple lists or use some as a basis for your own list.

At Optix we use the fol­low­ing lists for SEO cam­paigns:

  • SEO Setup Check­list
  • Site Migra­tion Check­list
  • Google Ana­lyt­ics Audit Check­list
  • Key­word Research Check­list (this one is more of a process than a tra­di­tion­al check­list)
  • Con­tent Mar­ket­ing Setup Check­list
  • Out­reach Setup Check­list
  • On Site Opti­mi­sa­tion Check­list

You might not need to use this many straight away but hope­ful­ly I’ve con­vinced you that using a check­list can help you reduce risk, improve con­sis­ten­cy and get bet­ter results.

Thomas Haynes

Written by Thomas Haynes

Head of Digital Marketing, Optix Solutions

Thomas is a Digital Marketer with 10 years of experience in small and large agencies.He has worked on digital marketing campaigns for a wide range of organisations including Oxfam, Marks and Spencer, Bet365, Three, Etihad Airways, Myla, Tesco, The Eden Project, and HSBC.He is currently the Head of Digital Marketing at Optix Solutions in Exeter.

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4 Comments on "Why Even Experienced SEOs Should Use Checklists"

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Brian the Bot gets his car ready for winter.

Detail of what the checks are on each list would be help­ful to those in the indus­try.

Oth­er­wise it’s like Linkdex will begin to pub­lish fea­tures such as “Why expe­ri­enced motorists should check that their car is ready for win­ter” with­out actu­al­ly say­ing what needs to be done. If this is an arti­cle you would like to fea­tured with a link back to me please get in touch – I remain…confused dot com

Pat Hong
1 year 5 months ago

Hi Mr Bot,

The poignant point here would be that there are plen­ty of motorists who don’t, in fact, check that their car is ready for win­ter. (Inci­den­tal­ly, there are ideas for the kinds of checks you can do includ­ed in at the bot­tom of the post.)

Brian the Bot gets Cara
1 year 4 months ago

Hey Hong,

I think you missed the point and are a tad con­fused.

At the bot­tom of THIS post there is a list of check-lists…. but no help­ful exam­ples of what is on the check-lists to check.

Any oth­er thoughts? Ping me Pong.

Pat Hong
1 year 4 months ago

Hel­lo Mr Bot,

I’m going to give you the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Thank­ful­ly, there are plen­ty of exam­ples of SEO check­lists avail­able.

Here is the link to a page of Google Search results where you can find one to your lik­ing.


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