Many consider search engine optimization (SEO)—the process of enhancing your Web site's visibility in the search engines through ways other than paid search ads—a sort of black box. But once the essential features of a search-engine-optimal Web site are laid out in a concise list, SEO is not nearly as mystifying.

That's where this checklist comes in. I've designed it for Web marketers and Web developers so that they can easily understand search engine optimization and start tackling it.

Implementing the 15 best practices below (or at least some of them!) and avoiding the worst practices (as detailed in Part 2 next week) should offer you a straightforward approach to better visibility in search engines, including Google and Yahoo!

Best Practice Doing it now Will do it soon Won't or N/A
1. Are the keywords you are targeting relevant and popular with searchers?      
2. Do your page titles lead with your targeted keywords?      
3. Does your site employ H1 heading tags for content titles?      
4. Is your body copy sufficiently long and keyword-rich?      
5. Does the hyperlink text pointing to various pages within your site include good keywords?      
6. Do you have keyword-rich alt tags for all navigation graphics and all product images?      
7. Do you employ text links from your home page to your most important secondary pages?      
8. Does your Website have a site map with text links?      
9. Do the URLs of your dynamic (database-driven) pages look static?      
10. Does your site have a flat directory structure?      
11. Do your home page and other key pages of your site have high PageRank scores (at least 5 out of 10)?      
12. Is your site listed in Open Directory?      
13. Do your pages have keyword-rich meta descriptions with a compelling call to action?      
14. Does your site have a custom error page?      
15. Do your filenames and directory names include targeted keywords?      

1. Are the keywords that you are targeting not only relevant but also popular with searchers?

There is no point going after high rankings for keywords that no one searches for. Compare relative popularity of keywords using WordTracker or Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool before deciding what keywords to employ on your Web pages. One drawback of Overture's tool is that it combines singular and plural forms together, along with popular misspellings, and only displays the aggregate number.

Despite the popularity of individual words, it's best to target two- or three-word phrases. Because of the staggering number of Web pages indexed by the major search engines, competing for a spot on the first or second page of search results on a one-word keyword will be a losing battle. This should go without saying, but the keywords you select should be relevant to your business.

2. Do your page titles lead with your targeted keywords?

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Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer