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An SEO Checklist for the New Year

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While many are using this time to reminisce about the year that was, here’s a simple SEO check list for those of you that are already looking for bigger and better SEO results in 2008. If more free traffic from the search engines is your new year’s resolution – then commit to these essentials:

1. Stop Stabbing in the Dark – Keyword Intelligence

Start 2008 with some intelligent keyword analysis. Find out what your potential customers are searching for and create your keyword hit list. Don’t under estimate the value of long tail too – searchers are getting smarter and relying on longer keyword phrases to filter out irrelevant results.

2. Master Your Meta Data

Once you’ve got your keyword hit list, it’s time to get your Meta data right (the code optimization at the foundation of good SEO). When reviewing your code, focus on the Meta elements that matter – "titles" and "descriptions" are where you get your real ranking value. So commit early to reviewing all your key web page’s Meta tags – and avoid the usual pitfalls of keyword competition between your pages or even worse – duplicate tags across pages.

3. Search Engine Webmaster center Sign-ups

Since the search engines have been kind enough to provide site owners with free webmaster tools (i.e. Google Webmaster Center, Yahoo! Site Explorer, Live Search Webmaster portal), do yourself a favor and sign up. Verification is simple, and the indexing diagnostics and analysis should be a part of your regular monthly (or even weekly) reviews.

4. Liven up Your Link Building

Yes, confusion and controversy has reigned supreme in the link discussion over 2007, but one thing still remains – your links still drive your ranking. So in 2008, seek some serious link love.

Fee based links

- there’s still a range of important links that come at a cost which provide valuable link "juice" (e.g. Directories such as Yahoo!’s Directory). Whether we like it or not, they charge a fee for the process of reviewing submitted sites – and this scrutiny ensures the value of the listings and links.

Free links

- there are many ways to get free relevant links back to your site, they just take time and perseverance. Whether you contact site owners directly, create affiliations with relevant industry groups, or create and post articles on other sites – they’re all valuable additions to your SEO plan.

Earned links

- there’s nothing better than earned links. If you provide unique information or resources on your website that others find useful or relevant, then the links will come. This sort of content not only helps from the purpose of drawing in relevant links, but also helps establish your business as a serious operator in the industry. Good examples of this content includes glossaries, whitepapers, industry reports etc.

5. Commit to Creating Content

Top ranking is driven by fresh quality content. Whether you choose to create the content on your site, or elsewhere with a link back – regularly created relevant content keeps the search engine spiders crawling your website.

To start with, take your keyword hit list and give all your existing content the once over. If you’ve got low keyword density (i.e. not many of your hit list keywords are in your web page text), it’s time to do some fresh copy writing.

Once you’ve covered off the web page copy essentials, commit the rest of the year to creating new content on your website. Even a couple of keyword rich new pages per month will make a significant difference to smaller websites – and there’s no easier way to do this than with a blog (see: Embrace social SEO below)

6. Understand Your SEO Successes with Analytics

I’m amazed at how many people are still measuring their success with primitive hit counters or even worse, no analytics at all. Considering the range of free services out there – if you’re not using a half decent website analytics service, then 2008 is the year to change! And more importantly – understand the proper measures of your success.

Successful SEO isn’t always going to equal more sales, so make sure to track the right metrics such as rankings on your keyword hit list, and organic traffic from search engines (yes most analytics services will show you this metric).

7. Get Serious about Site Structure & Sitemaps

When was the last time you looked at your website structure? Website elements such as URLs and navigation between pages can play a major role in your SEO success. So use start of 2008 as a chance to review these site structure elements to ensure they are reinforcing your SEO goals. (i.e. do your URLs include relevant keywords, is there strong linkage between your web pages, and is your Sitemap up to date – assuming you have one).

8. Get Social with Web 2.0 SEO

The last item on the SEO checklist for 2008 is the social web. It’s one of the greatest tools for SEO and as it generally costs no more than a bit of your time on regular basis – it is a must if you’re serious about your rankings. There’s a lot of social media to get lost in, so to focus your initial strategies, get started with the following:

1. Set-up your own blog:

It’s a simple way to create new keyword rich and relevant content for your website and relatively simple to integrate.

2. Social bookmark all your content:

many social bookmark services (i.e. del.icio.us) get crawled by the search engines and will provide some useful links back to your site.

3. Engage in the Industry Conversations:

Make it a weekly ritual to visit your favorite industry blogs. Then on a regular basis actually contribute to the conversations by adding relevant useful comments. Engaging commenting not only builds your profile, but can also provide valuable links back to your website.

Okay, so this is not the definitive list of SEO strategies (that would be a much longer article), but as 2008 draws rapidly closer, if you commit to at least all of the above on a regular basis in 2008 – then you’re sure to get much closer to your ranking goals.

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