Grow your CSS skills. Land your dream job.

Common Sense SEO Checklist

Published by Chris Coyier

DISCLAIMER: I don't "really" know anything about SEO. What I do know is the folks at Google and other big search engines are just human beings like us who have created and constantly tweak the search algorithms. Their goal is to give us what we want when searching, the best possible websites relevant to what we are searching for.

So let's set aside all the fancy technical stuff and just use some good ol' common sense.

1. Does this page have a good amount of honest information on it about the subject?

This is, by far, the most important one by my standards. I deal with businesses all the time that want to rank higher in search engines but then don't provide any content. If you want to be the #1 search result for "ergonomic loafers", you better start working on a bunch of written content about ergonomic loafers. Good, honest content. Not bullsh*t marketing mumbo jumbo and not keyword-soup. You need research, what they are, why they are good, where you can buy them, every last bit of expert knowledge about ergonomic loafers you can squeeze.

2. Is the information on this page well structured in the markup?

Let's not get too technical here, but just focus on the common sense. When you "view source", is the good content stuff right up near the top, or is it buried way down below a bunch of other non-related stuff? Are the important headers in <h1> tags? Is the title for the page something that makes sense?

3. There aren't any stupid cheap "tricks"

Did your buddy tell you that you should put "paris hilton boobs" in white text on a white background at the bottom of the page so you could get people searching for that? Did you buy some service that promised to submit your sites to 3,253,313 search engines for ONLY $99.99! Did you put 500 keyword variations in your meta tags?

Don't. Search engines are smarter than you. They are looking for dumb "tricks" like that and may even penalize you for them.

4. Is the URL for this page clean and relevant?

You are going to have a heck of an easier time ranking higher for "ergonomic loafers" if you own If your page about them is at - it's going to be a lot harder. Common sense.

5. If you were researching this subject, would you find this page helpful? Would YOU link to it?

Take a step back, read the content, think about it. Put yourself in the mindset of a totally random visitor. Is this page useful? Did I learn something about the subject? If my mom emailed and wanted to know something about ergonomic loafers, would I send her this link or would I sent here somewhere better? If I was writing an article about ergonomic loafers, would I link to this?

6. Is the website a reliable source of quality information?

You might notice when googling, uhm, any major subject, Wikipedia articles tend to be around the top. Clearly Wikipedia has established them selves as a high quality source of information.

SEO compounds on itself. You will have an easier time ranking highly for a term if your site is an established and trustworthy source of information.

But I did all this stuff and I still don't rank highly?!?!

Them is the knocks, kid. SEO doesn't happen overnight. It takes a long time. Much of it is based on other sites that link back to your page, and you have no direct control over that. You just need to focus on what you do have control over, which is making your page as compelling as it can be and encourage those links.


  1. Permalink to comment#

    Great tutorial!

  2. Permalink to comment#

    Excellent “common sense” SEO – Sometimes we got caught up in all the technical / cheating the system SEO

  3. Good checklist!

  4. Permalink to comment#

    Great list. Search engines are, indeed, smarter than I am! I get sick of hearing potential clients or employers tell me about the cheap tricks their buddy told them or that they saw some place else and thinking less of me for not following their advice.

  5. No word of a lie – this is the best SEO article I have read!

  6. Permalink to comment#

    Everything you need to know about SEO from a beginner/non-SEO person can be learned and explained from Google’s guide published on the the Webmaster Central’s blog. It’s clear, concise, and explained through examples.

  7. Twitter Follower
    Permalink to comment#

    Good article. Basically the same as all the other SEO articles but no reason not to do it again for your readers. I feel like I was tricked into coming here though. Twitter: “chriscoyier I know squat about SEO, but I do have common sense:“. That doesn’t say to me “I’m plugging my blog again”

  8. Permalink to comment#

    This is perfect.

  9. Jeff Campana
    Permalink to comment#

    mmmmm time to cook myself up a good ol’ pot of Keyword-Soup! Chris, you are hilarious.

  10. Jillian
    Permalink to comment#

    ?stink=true – ha! Good post, sometimes I worry that I don’t know as much as I should about SEO but I agree that if you have these essentials down you should be alright.

  11. Jillian
    Permalink to comment#

    Secondly I work for a company that is so sadly behind the times, and when I first started they informed me that I will be sent a giant list of keywords every month to update in the meta tags to reflect the current article of the month. What? I stopped that craziness the first month I was here.

  12. Great post, Chris! You’ve actually hit on a few of the main points from a book I read recently called “Building Findable Websites“. It’s an excellent no-nonsense book and the promo site that I linked to above has a free findability checklist that’s pretty handy as well.

  13. Great points! After I got my mind around SEO basics, I was surpirsed (if not insulted) by the lack of straight talk like this. Good content makes for the best SEO. What’s the use of ranking #1 if you don’t have what people are after?

  14. Permalink to comment#

    I preach this to my clients constantly, but they are still lured by the snake-oil-salesman that promises them rank, using some sort of never-been-seen-before trick that only their company knows about, for some big $$$. P.T. Barnum was right.

    Why, oh why won’t anyone believe this?

    I think I’m going to forward this post on to my clients. Thanks Chris.

  15. Permalink to comment#

    Interesting subject and topic, especially when this was on my mind all weekend. As I have started to build our c0-founded site, I have been wondering what is SEO and do SEO WP-Plugins really work. If I am not mistaken I have see in a “View Source” of CSS-Tricks that a wp-plug of this sort is or has been used. If so, was it a value to your ratings?

  16. Permalink to comment#

    The first and best SEO advice I give people, is this:
    Produce real content. If you create something that people find interesting, you’ve already taken a huge step towards the right direction.

  17. Permalink to comment#

    Does anyone have an SEO company they would recommend for the clients that need more than what we’ve mentioned here?

  18. Permalink to comment#

    From my experience rich title tags / heading tags (h1-h6) also helps out a lot :-)

  19. Permalink to comment#

    This is a great summary of good old techniques. There’s no secrets. I would add “Keep site updated”, “Write about something you know about and enjoy writing about”.

    I also hate when someone tells me to stuff a hundred keywords in h2 tags because they were told it was great for SEO. But… there will be always people who want to take shortcuts. Most of them don’t succeed, luckily.

  20. Permalink to comment#

    I would be dishonest if I said that deceptive (black hat) SEO practices don’t work……they do. I opened my big, fat mouth to a client and suggested they look into an SEO company because I was too lazy to update my own (lack of) knowledge on the subject. My client went for the 1st guy he spoke to who bragged about “proprietary code that will get good results”…..bullshit. All he did was throw every trick in the book at the site………loading on reciprocal links, keyword-loading the page title, etc. Well, it worked. Got him on the 1st page for the keyword he wanted to be searched on. All this for $2000 plus $200/mo thereafter.

    Chris is basically advocating White Hat SEO……adhering to Google standards. I have no doubt this will also work, and you’d beter believe I am going to offer SEO to my clients and make the $$ myself. But I will adhere to Google’s advice and advocate relevant content and trying to legitimately foster incoming links through quality content.

    But, again, I’m here to tell ya black hat SEO works folks. Of course, it remains to be seen how long my client will remains on the first page, and how long before Google discovers the deception and boots the site from it’s database.

    BTW, I’d post the link so y’all could see for yourselves what this guy did, but after all, the site owner is my client and I don’t want anyone to rat him out. It’s not his fault. I tried to be ethical and tell him his SEO guy might not be acting in his best interest, but how do you argue that point when he is getting search results on the 1st page?!

    • Permalink to comment#

      110% agree with Gary.

      I did a project myself, and with the help of a programmer friend, we created more than 13,000 static HTML pages, FTP them (took me like 2+ hours, lol) and voile: in a week my website was already in the first page of Google, and for MANY terms.

      I would give you the URL but I don’t want you to rat me out, hehe.

      Besides, I abandoned the project since it was too time consuming and the ROI was minimal. I’ve been doing better with my full time job anyway.


  21. Great article Chris! I always tell clients this, ” I can’t promise you a top ranking, and anyone who does is flat out telling lies. However, I can tell you that the basic SEO skills I have (many of which you stated in this article) will help your rankings.”

    It really amazes me how some people want to be #1 and have drab content that doesn’t really say anything. Thanks for the solid advice, and check out for some more solid advice, tutorials, and freebies on graphic and web design.

    Cheers Chris!


  22. Permalink to comment#

    Nice icon. Would you mind saying where you got the green checkmark from?

  23. aGoodKeenMan
    Permalink to comment#

    It shouldn’t be called “Common Sense” anymore, because its not common!

    Good work Chris, very handy, thanks.

  24. Permalink to comment#

    Great post chris!

  25. I would also suggest that peeps ask other people (that they know and trust) who own websites if they can get a link to their website. Friends linking to each other’s website is completely legit and helps a lot with SEO.

    If your website is for a small local business, you should consider talking with other small business owners in your area and ask if they would be interested in doing a link exchange.

  26. Permalink to comment#

    Way to break it down Chris! In the end it all comes down to publishing good quality content. In the world of SEO (which I too am not an expert), it seems like it’s all about Karma. Write good content and good things will happen…cheat the system and your content will be buried.

  27. Permalink to comment#

    Let’s not forgot the always present robots.txt file… assuming they’re still used

  28. The robots.txt file is still used. It’s frequently the first thing the search engine looks for, and is a great way to direct an engine through a site.

    Thanks for the Article, Chris.

    I totally agree that in the end it’s all about content, and that is overlooked way too frequently. We talk about driving traffic to a site, but we don’t always talk about what they do when they get there, or what they should do! That’s where marketing comes in, calls to action, strong design and relevant information.

  29. Permalink to comment#

    What do they say about ‘common sense’? It is not that common.

    Content is king. Again.

  30. I have had clients that were obsessed with SEO – they just didn’t get it. Its not a gimmick, or a get to the top fast scheme. It takes work and GREAT CONTENT. :)

    We get calls all the time from SEO people saying they can get us #1 on google…they are so fun to mess with!

  31. Permalink to comment#

    Check out Vladimir Prelovac’s site. I’m sure you’re going to find a ton of excellent stuff on SEO over there.

  32. Permalink to comment#

    That list is very beautiful (nevertheless valuable) but the crude reality is that it doesn’t work that way… EVER (like it or not).

    Unless YOU, the designer, own the project.

    • Permalink to comment#

      Oh, BTW, about #2:

      Are the important headers in < h1> tags?

      Each page should have ONLY one < h1 > tag. It can, though, have several < h2 >, < h3 > and so on..

  33. Adrian Turner
    Permalink to comment#

    Thank you! I can use this in a SEO war that I am having.

  34. Well explained

  35. Permalink to comment#

    I like #3- No cheap tricks. It should also include, no frame within a frame with 500 keywords.

    And no link directories…that’s just lame.

  36. Great Info

  37. great post. I’d like to add “use divs instead of tables” to the well structured part. And don’t forget your alt tags!

  38. Jannis
    Permalink to comment#

    Thanks for this overview. I’m pretty new to proper ‘web development’ coming from a pure design background and I love the down to earth, straight-talking nature of these posts and video screencasts.
    Thank you and keep them coming!

  39. Permalink to comment#

    I was shaking my head yes the whole time I read this article.

  40. Permalink to comment#

    Thanks a bunch for this Chris! I have learned so much from all of your tutorials already, but now I will have information to pass on to my clients as well!

  41. Shouldn’t it be referred to as “rare sense” since few people possess it? Rhetorical of course. This is a great tutorial and informative for anyone trying to increase their rank without a full working knowledge.

  42. Great article, and yes you’re right when you say that the content is king.

  43. Permalink to comment#

    Makes good sense dude!

  44. Permalink to comment#

    Our site tries to always do the same…good, practical advice.

  45. Permalink to comment#

    Great. Thanks!

  46. Very helpful tips on SEO, thanks.

  47. Awesome Checklist.

    Designers, content Writers and SEOs should make sure about all these points to succeed.

  48. Nice quasi-checklist of SEO tips. Good to know, thank you!

  49. Great seo checklist! Maybe can add one more – Unique Tile and Description check.

  50. Good article, some interesting comments above. I like your sense of humour (the aligator arm pits link is hilarious), too :)

  51. Excelente documento. Muy bueno si señor!

    Gracias por mostrarlo.


    Great!! excelent

  52. I learned so many new tip of SEO.

  53. This is one cool way to put the message across. I for one enjoyed reading the post, and more importantly I learned something from the content. Thanks for sharing this resource on SEO.

  54. Awesome post! I just posted it on Facebook for many of my clients to see so it will help eliminate their anxiety about SEO. (and mine).

This comment thread is closed. If you have important information to share, you can always contact me.

*May or may not contain any actual "CSS" or "Tricks".