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It’s a New Year! What a great time to take a fresh look at your SEO strategies. While Search Engine Optimization should be an ongoing process throughout the year, reviewing some core elements is too often overlooked. By addressing all of the items outlined in our checklist, you will be well on your way to improving your website’s visibility in the Search Engines.

WebFuel’s 2011 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Checklist:

1. Domain Name Ownership
Review your domain name registration and ensure that it does not expire. This is likely the most important item on the checklist. No rights to use your domain name equals no live website. Just imagine what that would do to your Search Engine rankings. While you are checking your domain status, register the other related extensions (if applicable). This is known as Google insurance.

2. Reliable Hosting
It likely goes without saying, but a site that is down due to hosting issues does not help your Internet visibility. Even worse, Search Engines cannot crawl a site they cannot access. Ensure that you have engaged a reliable company to provide you with hosting services. There is software (some free) that can track uptime as well as alert you if your site goes down. Being live 24/7 is a must.

3. Crawl & Index Friendly Website
Making certain that your site stays live is the foundation of the SEO process. The next step is to ensure that your website design, including the navigation system, is “spiderable”. This will allow Search Engines to crawl and index your web pages – and other online digital assets (such as slideshows, podcasts and videos).

4. Website Content Review
Yes – content is still King. After all, this is what generates the possibility of your web page to appear in the search results. Content review should include checking for content starved pages, outdated and / or non relevent information, as well as building new content pages – if required. Copywriting revisions should also include integrating keywords and addressing internal lingo (generally not what people search for).

5. Robots.txt
Review and update your robots.txt file. This is usually the most overlooked item on the checklist. We see this almost every time we perform a SEO Website Audit. The robots.txt file tells Search Engine crawlers what content you do / don’t want crawled. Not everything on your site should get found in a Search.

6. Website Download Speed
One of the more recent Google ranking factors is based on the download speed of your website. In other words, the faster the web page downloads, compared to your keyword competitors, the better. Google is rewarding websites that are / or have been optimized based on speed performance. Do a test. Again, there are several free tools on the Internet that can be used.

7. Search Engine Submissions
If you haven’t already done so, submit your XML sitemap to Google, Bing & Yahoo. You can do this via your various Webmaster Tools accounts. While there is no need to submit to the major Search Engines (they find you), you should take this opportunity to review what industry-related engines exist (always new ones). And… of course, submit your URL (if relevant).

8. Social Media / Social Search
Now think beyond just your website and explore Social Media / Social Networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn – and of course Twitter. If you are already using them, ensure that you can get found in a social search for at least your company name. If you haven’t embraced Social Media yet – and even if you are unsure if these sites are a good fit for your particular business, create / claim a company profile (just in case). Once again, this is also known as Google insurance. This likely goes without saying but inactive profiles should be hidden from web visitors as well as blocked from the Search Engine crawls (if possible).

9. Online Reputation Management (ORM)
Don’t just pay attention to your company brand based on your site and/or social media profiles. Manage your reputation on the Internet as well. To get started, simply Google your company name, products and/or services, key people in your organization etc… and review the search results. Again, there is lots of software available to track what is being “said” on the web about your brand – some are fee-based and others are free (Google Alerts). And… of course you can hire a company that specializes in monitoring your brand and keeping your online reputation clean.

10. Web Analytics and Measurement
Review your filters, goals and conversions to ensure that they are in place as well as a system to analyze the data. Make sure that you are tracking everything on your website that should be measured. If you don’t have a application installed to track your web visitors, and what search engines are doing, put this on the top of your “to do” list. Google Analytics is a powerful tool – and it is free!

11. Search Engine Ranking Reports
If you haven’t already done so, invest in ongoing Search Engine ranking monitoring and reporting. In a nutshell, this type of report lets you know which web pages from your site are showing up in a SERP (Search Engine Results Page), your keyword positions – and in which search engines. This data will help you understand which SEO strategies are working – and which ones are not. It also documents and tracks keywords and search engine performance over time (good to have if you hired a Search Engine Optimizer). This is likely the best investment you can make when it comes to search.

Our SEO prediction for 2011 is that Search will continue to remain strong – with another year of enormous growth expected in Social Media. Ensure that this year you manage and improve your online visibility.