If you want to shorten my life by a year, ask me to explain SEO, and then ask:
“Can’t you just give us a checklist?”
Every time I hear that, my heart clenches, and I have to expend massive amounts of energy resisting the urge stab myself in the ear. I’m pretty sure it weakens my aorta by 25%.
I hate checklists.
I hate them more than I hate yogurt. More than I detest pennies. More than I despise fruit in my chocolate (seriously, wtf people?!).
That’s a simmering, Dark-Side-Of-The-Force-sized serving of hate.
SEO checklists: A refuge for the weak-minded? Or a terrorist plot?
SEO checklists are a refuge for the weak-minded. Harsh? Maybe. But SEO isn’t an assembly line activity—it’s a very complex process that requires:
- Server setup expertise;
- Development smarts;
- Design and creative intelligence;
- Great writing;
- A shred of common sense to bring it all together.
Maybe you can create a checklist for the server, development and design stuff. Maybe. But you sure as hell can’t write a checklist for common sense.
Instead, when you write a checklist, it becomes a replacement for common sense. Then, the next time someone does something mind-numbingly stupid, they shrug and say “Oh, sorry, it wasn’t on the checklist.”
OK. Next time, I’ll add “Don’t launch the site when the entire navigation is broken” to the checklist.
I’ve tried it.
Understand, I’ve tried to use checklists. I’ve written lots of them.
Here’s an sample from a site launch SEO checklist that I did:
- Don’t launch the site with “disallow *” in robots.txt.
- Don’t build pages with more than 10,000 lines of HTML code in them.
- Make sure all pages render in under 10 seconds.
- Fix broken links on the site.
- Compress all 125 × 125 thumbnails under 20kb.
- Don’t use 600 × 600 originals for 125 × 125 thumbnails. Resize the images first.
By the time I was done, I wanted to cry. Why the hell do I have to tell anyone any of this? These are basic, forehead-slapping best practices for any web site. They’re not “special SEO stuff.”
Make sure pages… render… in under… 10 seconds…
Sob. We’re all doomed.
Should I add “Don’t slam your tongue in your desk drawer, it hurts” as the final tip?
Wipe out the scourge of SEO checklists everywhere
I know we’ll always have checklists in SEO. It’s a common-sense discipline, and we live in a world lacking that trait.
But you can do your part to at least minimize the spread of checklists by:
- Explaining the why, not just the what, so that folks make the connection. It’s easier to remember how to do something when you understand why.
- Working on the culture. I know how hard it can be to get a big team to start thinking SEO. But they will. You have to keep chipping away at it until the light dawns.
- Be honest with clients. Your client is usually a head of marketing, or a CEO, or a business owner. If a developer, designer or writer is completely screwing your client’s SEO hopes, you need to tell the client. It’s your responsibility, not an option. Talk to the individual first. But if they don’t wake the hell up, make noise. If necessary, get them fired. It’s not being mean. It’s protecting your client’s interests.
- Write. Talk. Teach! Get out there, will you?! Tell folks how this stuff works. Explain it’s not just about ‘buying some links’ or ‘editing the meta tags’. Explain the connection between SEO and good user experience design. Make sure clients understand that the two should be complimentary, not contradictory.
And yeah, now and then, write a checklist. I know you have to.