SEO,  UX

My Site Evaluation Checklist

Last Update: 11/18/2020

We all have our bag of tricks in the industry. As time passes, I find that my bag is getting pretty big and cluttered. When I get stuck on an audit and need to kickstart myself, or when I think I’ve got everything, I like to use this list to make sure I’m not missing anything. This list is incomplete – and I’m constantly adding (and sometimes removing) items as I go. Hope it’s as helpful for you as it’s been for me over the years. 🙂

UX /CRO/User Journey Stuff:

Readability

  1. What’s the reading level of the content? Here’s a good tester.
  2. Are they using two spaces after a period, or long blocks of unbroken paragraphs? This may be hard to read for dyslexic people. See UX Movement for details.
  3. Would strategically bolding important words help the content become more skimable and palatable to read?
  4. Is the same line height being used for all text, or does larger text also get tighter? reference
  5. Is color use on content monotonous? Would it be better if body text was a lighter color than the heading?
  6. Would bulleted lists look better if they were checkmarks or arrows instead?
  7. Can pure-grey text on a colored background be improved if it takes on the hue of the background color instead? reference
  8. Is the case form chosen for headers used consistently throughout the site?
  9. Do text-heavy pages use a font size of at least 18pt? Are long blocks of text in all caps or italics, making them extremely hard to read? Italics especially are hard to read for dyslexic people – source.
  10. Does the page continue to load in a way that moves text/images/etc around while you’re trying to read it, so the visitor is constantly trying to relocate what they were trying to look at?

Content Tweaks

  1. Will visitors really understand what your acronyms or corporate language means? Is it something that can be removed or more clearly defined?
  2. Is the most important content on core pages buried underneath trust content?
  3. Would every page of the site work as a landing page if a visitor landed there as their first touching point on the site?
  4. Are the category/archives links on the sidebar of the blog likely to be useful for visitors? Are visitors on category pages overloaded with options? How can that be better sorted/organized for them?

Video

  1. If it’s a YouTube embedded video (for example) does it bring up a slate of recommended videos at the end that could potentially be competitor’s videos? The URL parameter  “rel=0” will prevent competitor videos from showing.
  2. Does a video have a “WATCH VIDEO” button when simply having a play icon on the video itself would suffice?
  3. Do videos automatically play when the lightbox/modal opens, or do they require an additional click/touch?

Design

  1. Would a search box, or other design element, look better with a background color instead of borders? (try adding more space between elements as another possibility for replacing borders.) reference
  2. When using icons that have more weight than the text, would it look better if icons were slightly lighter than the text for inactive states reference
  3. Would a stock photo look better if we had someone on Fiver make a hand-drawn illustration of it instead?
  4. How can database-pulled lists and tables be improved by swapping information around in a more palatable way? reference reference 2
  5. Would radio buttons look better as selectable cards? reference
  6. Do icons on the site conceptually match the content they’re representing?
  7. Is the home page super confusing? Can visitors immediately understand what the business is and if they are relevant to the visiting audience (service area, target industry, etc)?
  8. Is it time to recommend that they get rid of an auto-scrolling carousel on the home page?
  9. Is the logo on the left-hand side, where it’s more easily found? Studies show that the logo being on the left improves brand recall by 89% over right-aligned logos, and improve navigability by six times over centered logos.
  10. Does a next/prev pagination function have way too many clickable options? Can it be simplified and the clickable items enlarged to make them easier to read?

Links

  1. Have all e-mail addresses on the site been validated? This tool works for a small number of them.
  2. Send a test email to significant addresses to ensure they work and don’t have crazy away/offline messages returned.
  3. Do all outbound/external links open in a new window? If it’s WordPress, this plugin is pretty good to fix that.
  4. If it’s a WordPress site, ensure that the setting that makes images link to themselves by default is disabled.
  5. Does the site use underlined text where no link is present? How misleading is the text for visitors?

Footer

  1. Are social media logos in the footer ordered so the ones of greatest interest to visitors are shown first?
  2. Are the items in the footer ordered in a logical, user-friendly way, or are they a cluttered mess?
  3. Do we have Terms & Conditions and a Privacy Policy, and if so, are they in the utility footer instead of the main footer? Is there also a link to the HTML site map there?
  4. Does the logo in the footer link to the home page, or does clicking on it do nothing?
  5. Is the copyright date in the footer the correct year?

Header/Menu

  1. Is the language in the top menu simplified? For example, do we have “About Us | Contact Us” when “About | Contact” would serve just as well?
  2. Does the top menu have no more than five items wide, and five deep, if possible?
  3. Does the header stay persistent as visitors scroll down? Will be important for CTA’s, as well as Google’s scroll-to-text feature.
  4. If you are on a page that is in the top menu, does that top-menu item indicate it by being a different color – a sort of “You Are Here” indicator? Good reference here.

Forms

  1. Would longer forms look better if organized in a two-column format? reference
  2. Do contact-form error messages use friendly, useful language?
  3. Is the blog using Facebook/Disqus comments, or have them turned off, or is it making users fill out a clunky, high-maintenance form to leave a comment?
  4. Are visitors being forced to prove they’re not a robot with clicks, rather than simply using a honeypot? Check for a honeypot with these tips.
  5. Do all forms work properly?  Do they have an engaging thank-you message?
  6. Are all required fields in forms indicated with a visual cue?
  7. If they have a newsletter sign-up form, or an opt-in checkbox for receiving a newsletter on a contact form, does it say “Sign up for updates” or does it describe the content and benefits of signing up for the newsletter?
  8. If the form is one-column, is the submit button aligned to the left? If it’s two columns, is it aligned to the right? Source.
  9. Do all input fields have descriptions? See this link for guidelines.
  10. Do all text areas have descriptions? See this link for guidelines.

Mobile

  1. Does the site pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly test?
  2. Is horizontal scrolling necessary to see the content?
  3. Are tap targets super close to one another?
  4. Are icon sets and link lists translating well from desktop to mobile?
  5. Is there any awkward spacing?
  6. Does the site use justified text? How disruptive is it to the mobile UX experience?
  7. Is the hamburger menu persistent, or do you just leave it at the top when you scroll down?
  8. Is the hamburger menu in the top-left-hand corner of the page?
  9. Do all forms convert well for mobile keypads (number keypad for phone numbers, email keypad for email with the right input types)? This would also cause contact forms on desktop to autocomplete with mismatched information.
  10. Does the mobile menu have all the important navigation and CTA items that the desktop menu has?
  11. Would this be a good website to replace the hamburger menu with a menu floating at the bottom instead, where it’s more accessible for thumbs?
  12. Rather than simply inherit the desktop design, can any modals be moved to the bottom of the screen (closer to thumbs) to make them more convenient and accessible to use?

Site Speed

  1. Are the images optimized for file size, and/or are they larger than they appear on the page?
  2. Are images in the correct format, not stretched out or warped to fit their box, and free of pixelation?
  3. Are images hosted off site? Move them to the site’s hosting instead.
  4. How is its score using Google’s Speed Test? How does it test on WebPageTest and GTMetrix? This is a cool resource to link to.
  5. Is the website showing separate images for different screen sizes? This is a good source to explain how that works.
  6. Is the site using lazy loading where possible? This will become increasingly important over time. Here’s a good code snippet to make it happen in WordPress, and here’s a good resource to review standards.
  7. Is the site’s largest contentful paint below 2.5 seconds, or at least below 4 seconds?
  8. If the site uses WordPress, are unusued themes and plugins uninstalled? They can impact site performance.
  9. Can any important CSS files be preloaded to speed up the first meaningful paint? Reference
  10. Is anything loading as a priority, such as live chat, that could be deferred to later load without interrupting the UX?
  11. What does the site cost to load?
  12. How does the site’s first load speed compare to the second load? Is it optimized properly to improve as visitors go deeper and/or return?
  13. Is inline CSS being used more than it should be?
  14. Use this tool to check if the CSS is minified.
  15. Is the server located in the country it serves most? Check this tool.

Accessibility

  1. Could a chart be improved for people with colorblindness by instead using different hues of the same color instead? reference  Check the site with Dalton’s Colorblind Chrome plugin to see how things look.
  2. For buttons with visible labels, check if additional inner text has been added to the button element to delineate an accessible name. Example: <button>Book room</button>
  3. Do important videos have a caption option for visitors?
  4. Does the Siteimprove Chrome Plugin have any recommendations for ADA compliance?
  5. Are PDF’s ADA complianct? Use this checking method.
  6. Is content in all caps and/or title case where sentence case would be more readable?
  7. is there pure-black text on a pure-white background? (Bad for dyslexic readers)
  8. Can the site be crawled and used without Javascript on? Chrome can disable JS to test it out.
  9. Use this tool to check for any issues I’ve missed.

Language

  1. Add an html [lang] attribute, such as <html lang=”en”>
  2. Does the language-selection feature lead you into a dead end, where you can’t switch back?

Information Accessibility

  1. Do the resources pages have some kind of search feature, if they’re large enough for one?
  2. Does the blog have a copious amount of categories that should be distilled down to 6-7 or fewer?
  3. The site search feature is working properly, and a custom, helpful response is shown when no results are found.
  4. Does a FAQ page or other page with expandable drop-downs show the first item expanded by default?

Calls To Action

  1. Does each page have a CTA? Are they missing opportunities for a CTA above the footer?
  2. Is the language in CTA buttons as concise as it could be? How about in menu items – for example, can “Contact Us” be shortened to “Contact”?
  3. Does the blog have an RSS/E-mail subscription set up?
  4. Does the site use intrusive interstitials? Can you click outside of the box to escape them, or do they force you to search for some hidden X or button that frees you?

Shopping Cart

  1. Does the shopping cart empty too quickly? (For example, the Magento default is after 20 idle minutes.)
  2. Does the shopping cart freeze if I add something to the cart before the product images start loading (observed on Magento)

Misc

  1. Does the content of key pages match likely visitor intent?
  2. How does the site look in different browsers (check how all fonts look in different browsers too)?
  3. Do the phone numbers work?
  4. Does the site load in an annoying order that makes the content jump everywhere as you’re trying to read it (poor/low visual stability)?
  5. Does the site use irresponsible javascripting when visitors try to use the back button?
  6. Check out the site with these tools, as well as with the Web Vitals plugin.
  7. Are there any negative results in Google autosuggest?

Technical SEO, IA, Indexation

Crawl Budget & Architecture

Redirection

  1. Pull a list of pagination loops from Screaming Frog.
  2. Does the site have any redirect chains that should be fixed?
  3. Does the site use 302 redirects where it should be using 301’s?
  4. Discover how many redirects are used to enforce URL conventions.
  5. Do all deleted content pages have proper redirects in place?
  6. Does the logo link directly to the home page, or is a redirect involved?

HTTP/HTTPS

  1. If HTTPS, is the meta referrer tag implemented?
  2. Does the site have an “abandoned” HTTPS or HTTP site that does not redirect or rewrite?
  3. https:// redirects to https://www, or the appropriate location. – Good resource to send the devs
  4. When the client migrated to HTTPS, did they update their disavow file in GSC accordingly?
  5. Are all images located on an https location as well?

Duplication

  1. Does any alternate version of the site exist – for example, if I add .html, .asp. /index.php, or other versions of the site at the end?
  2. Are there persistent URL tags that follow visitors through the site that are creating tons of duplicate content in the index?
  3. URL conventions are in place for trailing slashes and capitalization – Good resource to send the devs
  4. Do deep pages use dynamic redirects to pages they “think” will work when an incorrect URL is entered, rather than delivering a 404 message?
  5. If there is a print version of a page, is it noindexed?

Internal Linking

  1. How does the site internal structure look? Does it pass SEO value along in an effective way?
  2. Is the site not linking to the blog from any significant navigation/footer location?
  3. Does the site use bread crumbs, and if so, do they use bread crumb schema?
  4. Does the site have a lot of orphaned content?

Misc

  1. Is the blog, or other sections of the site, on a separate website and/or subdomain?
  2. Is the site making inappropriate use of the nofollow tag?
  3. Do folders have short, concise names that are human-readable and readable from search?
  4. For WordPress sites, does every single image on the site have its own, indexed gallery page?
  5. Do images have SEO-friendly file names?
  6. All noindex/disallow tags present during development have been removed.

Metadata, Markup, Social Markup, & Schema

  1. Is the site using up-to-date schema? Check for the most recent version as a signal of when it was created. Add “sameas” schema to link to all social media account, wiki, and key profile pages.
  2. Does the website support rich results?
  3. Do pages have self-referencing canonical links? Do they work when you mess with the URL, or do they just reflect whatever URL you happen to be on?
  4. Do all images have alt text?
  5. Make sure the site is not using the meta keywords tag.
  6. Do all pages use an H1? Are they using JUST one per page?
  7. Are H2’s being used properly?
  8. Do images have spammy title tags? If so, get rid of them.
  9. Is the meta author tag being used?
  10. Are they in the knowledge graph? Use this tool to check it out.

Indexation

  1. Do noindex tags include a nofollow tag? If so, remove the nofollow tag – but remember that it will be implied by Google after a period of time.
  2. Does the site use send-to-a-friend links with unique query attributes? If so, make it stop.
  3. Does the site have non-https pages indexed? Check on a Google search with (for example) site:bbc.co.uk -inurl:https
  4. Does content that’s currently behind tabs really need to be? There’s been a long-standing contention that tabbed information is not preferred by search, and it’s not always best UX practice anyways.
  5. Is content hidden behind tabs and dropdowns being indexed? Do a in-quotes search to see if it shows up, and then an out-of-quotes search to see if it’s ranking for itself.
  6. Do paginated pages deliver a 404 on URL’s where no content would appear (beyond the last page).
  7. If it’s hubspot and has a blog, see if any /archive/ pages exist.
  8. Is there any meta robot blocking on pages that should be removed?
  9. Are iframes preventing important content from being indexed?

Sitemaps

  1. Check Screaming Frog to see if any sitemaps are over 50MB
  2. Check Screaming Frog to see if any sitemaps have more than 50K URL’s
  3. Does the HTML site map link to inappropriate things like PPC landing pages, development test/placeholder pages, and thank you pages?
  4. Does the sitemap pass a crawl analysis in Screaming Frog?
  5. Is the sitemap located in the root folder, or the parent folder of the URL’s being indexed at least? See this link for why it needs to be.

404 Page Stuff

  1. Check to see if any URL’s in the sitemap are not indexable and/or 404
  2. If they’ve done a recent migration, do they have a top of top-traffic pages that 404 now? How many pages that used to earn traffic now 404?
  3. Does the 404 page actually deliver a 404 message?
  4. Does the site create “soft 404” pages?
  5. Do we see a lot of inbound traffic to the 404 page from external links? Search in GA by Page Title for visits to the 404 page (based on the title tag of the 404 template) while adding source medium or referral dimensions, and see where the links are coming from to those pages. Could be easy to fix traffic/link sources there.
  6. Does the site have a strong 404 page that includes a friendly message, a site search feature, contact information, and user pathways to key content?

Robots.txt

  1. Does the site incorrectly use “noindex” in the robots.txt file?
  2. Is the site disallowing URLs in the robots.txt file when it could be noindexing them?
  3. Do the http and https versions of the site use different robots.txt files? If so, do either of them cause issues? Recommend 301-redirecting to the https version.
  4. Test the robots.txt file using this tool.
  5. Does the site have a sitemap that’s referenced in robots.txt, as well as an html site map? Is the sitemap submitted in GWMT and Bing WMT?
  6. Pull a list of all resources blocked by robots.txt from Screaming Frog.
  7. Robots.txt is case-sensitive. Is an issue with case causing any issues?

Spam

  1. Does the site have spammy outbound links?
  2. Does the site have spammy inbound links?
  3. Has the site been blacklisted? This tool and also this one can help figure it out.
  4. Are ad, sponsored, and affiliate links marked with nofollow, ugc, and sponsored tags as needed?
  5. Has a disavow file been created?
  6. Does the blog have a lot of spammy comments?
  7. Is there any signs of cloaking issues?

Misc

  1. Check Google Developer Tools to see if there’s any other technical issues that should be reported.
  2. How does a crawl of the site with Google in GSC, the cached version, and the mobile-friendly view look?
  3. Is there a high-quality logo image of a standard format (preferably jpg or png) that Google can display in the knowledge graph, and we can refer to in schema?
  4. What does the site look like in early versions in the Wayback Machine?
  5. Are depreciated HTML tags in use? Use this scan to check.
  6. Is the site W3C Complaint?
  7. Run it through builtwith to see if anything else is going on.
  8. Run it through this tool, since it occasionally finds stuff I’ve missed.
  9. Is Flash being used?

Content Strategy

  1. What are the top-traffic pages and how are they performing?
  2. Can category pages be improved by adding content?
  3. Is the content duplicated or plagiarized on other sites?
  4. When was the last time the blog was updated?
  5. Will anyone care about the blog content? Can you imagine an audience that loves it?
  6. Is there any great evergreen content that’s badly in need of an update?
  7. Does the site have an up-to-date Privacy Policy and TOS?
  8. Do pages address searcher intent?
  9. Can I land on the home page and know what the company does, and/or what the site is about?
  10. Is there a main company address in the footer?
  11. Does the site have team pages and author pages, where applicable?
  12. Are several pages competing for the same keyword (content cannibalism)?

Search/Social Appearance

  1. Does the site have strong meta titles in place, with no duplicates?
  2. Does the site have 155-character or less meta descriptions, and 140 or less for blogs?
  3. All planned Twittercard/OpenGraph data is in place and working properly.
  4. Ensure that PDF’s have metadata.
  5. Are all social media sites linking to the most current (usually HTTPS-version) URL?

Analytics

  1. Does the site (and the blog) have the GA tracking code set up?
  2. Is Universal Analytics & Tag Manager installed, or is it the old GA code?
  3. Is GWMT and BWMT set up on all pages?
  4. Is Google Tag Manager set up?
  5. All forms and applications generate a thank you page or code that is trackable in Google Analytics, and include a noindex tag.
  6. Does the site have multiple GA codes installed, or multiple instances of the same one? Use the Chrome Tag Assistant to check for hidden ones in external files or via Tag Manager as well.
  7. If I do a hostname-filtered search in Google Analytics, do any unexpected domains/subdomains come up in the results?
  8. Are the goals being reported in analytics aligning with the back-end goal reporting/what is actually coming through?
  9. Does GA show any signs of bot traffic spikes (check time on page, country, etc)?
  10. Do they have language spam or lots of “C” language traffic (A bot language)? Good code to filter out C – (?:^|\W)c(?:$|\W)

Alerts

  1. Set up a filter for spikes in abnormal subdomain traffic

Local/International SEO

  1. Is Hreflang in place?
  2. Has Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and Google Analytics been set to communicate the service area?
  3. Is there proper language alternatives for content, or opportunities to build those that are not being used?
  4. Has a Google My Business and Bing Business page been set up and look great?
  5. Are they set up with the BBB?
  6. Do they have an off-site presence on all niche industry pages, especially the ones where competitors exist?
  7. Is the site using rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” ?
  8. Is the site using an international URL structure?
  9. Does the site use international signals in its xml sitemap, as well as an “x-default” line?
  10. Does the site do anything sketchy with location-based redirects that could be interfering with indexation?
  11. Are canonicalization issues damaging international SEO?
  12. Are we using <meta http-equiv=”content-language” content=”en”> – type tags?
  13. Are link rel=”alternate” links in place?
  14. Is there an accessible way to switch between different international versions of the site for the users?

Off-Site Stuff:

  1. Does the site have a Wikipedia? How does it look?
  2. Does the site have a Wikidata? If it has a Wikipedia, we should create and/or improve it.
  3. Is a recent copy of key pages, the sitemap, and the robots.txt saved on the Wayback Machine? (Helps with troubleshooting.)
  4. If we link to an office location and/or headquarters via a google map, do we have that listing/location claimed if the map is clicked on? Should it be developed?

Security

  1. If the site is HTTPS, is it using HSTS? Check chrome://net-internals/#hsts, and if static_upgrade_mode: and/or dynamic_upgrade_mode: is set to dynamic, then it’s set up d — OR just use this tool. Screaming Frog also checks for it now, and this tool is great for a really fast check.
  2. Is HSTS Preload in place? Submit it to https://hstspreload.org/
  3. Is the site using mixed HTTP and HTTPS content? (Check the lock in the address bar in Chrome). If so, Google will block the content.
  4. Is the site still using TLS 1.0 or 1.1? You can check this out via Google Chrome’s developer tools (Control+Shift+J), which will show it as a warning. Google will block connections to a website using these and show a warning instead starting in about March 2020.
  5. Use this tool from SSL Labs and check for security vulnerabilities.
  6. Has the site been hacked?
  7. Do external links opening in new windows have either rel=”noopener” or rel=”noreferrer” to their target=”_blank” links? If not, this could be a security and/or site performance issue. Reference
  8. Does the site need any security headers updated, added, or fixed? This tool is great for checking that out.
  9. Does the site have malware? This tool helps you find out.

Misc/Small Stuff:

  1. Does the site have a favicon?
  2. Are bulleted and numbered lists formatted for both the website and the blog in the CSS?
  3. What does web.dev say?
  4. Has/Can the client sign up for HARO?

Screaming Frog Custom Searches

Add these to the custom search options before scans:

  1. Lorem Ipsum and Hello World
  2. Curly quotes/smart quotes and see if they’re rampant (‘ ’ “ ”).
  3. “http://”
  4. Does not contain “gtm-“
  5. Contains loading=”lazy”

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