WordPress sites can be great for SEO – really among easy-to-set up, widely used CMSs or site building solutions, there aren’t many I would recommend above WordPress. And of course, WordPress is a great solution for building websites in general (with about 25% of sites on the internet being run on WordPress).
There are fantastic plugins that allow you to deploy performance improvements that can boost your rankings with no technical expertise. And if things get ugly, there’s a huge and relatively low cost development community at your fingertips online.
Unfortunately, the flexibility of WordPress can mean that after the initial setup, you may find that you have some SEO issues you weren’t expecting. And with the sheer mass of plugins available to help you solve these problems, it can be a bit daunting to find the right ones.
In collaboration with SerpBook, we’ve put together this guide to help you avoid a few common pitfalls. This way, you can ensure you’ve covered all the basics in setting your WordPress site up to attract organic traffic.
1 – Set up Google Analytics
The first step I typically take with a WordPress site is setting up Google Analytics. Google Analytics is extremely useful for collecting user data and tracking on-site behavior. One of the nice features of Google products is that by setting up Google Analytics, you can (usually) automatically set up Google Search Console with just a few clicks. To set up Google Analytics, I would suggest reading this tutorial from WebsiteSetup.org (I personally use Option A).
2 – Set up Google Search Console
Search Console is just an absolutely necessary tool for doing anything with SEO. Once you’ve set up Google Analytics, go to Google Search Console home. Then select “URL Prefix”, and enter your domain exactly as it appears when you navigate to it in a browser (but include http:// or https:// if it it isn’t in by default). Then select the option to verify with Google Analytics. And that’s it!
3 – Fix the WordPress Default URL Folder Structure of Blog
By default, WordPress will set the blog URL structure for your site at /YYYY/MM/DD. This is fine… if your content is specifically related to a day in history, or becomes quickly outdated as it’s news or a time-based archive. But chances are your site isn’t that (as those are all large websites), so you probably want to change this URL structure. The best option is to select /CATEGORY/ instead of the default date-based hierarchy. This can be done by going to the Setting > Permalinks item in the left hand menu of WordPress, and selecting the “Custom Structure” radial button. From there, create a tag using the drag and drop tags (see below).
4 – WordPress Plugin Installation
From there, I typically start by installing 5 basic types of plugins, which are all mostly free and only require very basic configuration. I’ve listed out the broad plugin categories below, as well as the particular solution I personally use in most cases.
- Version control/backup: UpdraftPlus – ensures that you don’t permanently break your site with any changes you make, and makes it easy to revert to earlier version if there’s a problem. If you’re a better developer than I am (which isn’t saying much), you may prefer to use Git.
- SEO Management: Yoast SEO – allows you to edit and preview SEO titles/meta description tags, set SEO keywords, and manage social cards.
- Redirect Management: Redirection – tracks changes for URL slug edits and automatically issues 301 redirects. Can also be used to manually create batch redirects.
- Caching: W3 Total Cache – speeds up page loading time for returning visitors by storing certain files in their browser cache.
- Compression: Smush – speeds up page loading time for all visitors by ensuring that images and other files are as small as possible while still maintaining full quality for use on the site
5 – Add Page Titles and Meta Description Tags
After that, I would use the Yoast SEO plugin (see above step) to add meta descriptions and edit titles for your homepage and other existing pages. You can do this by opening the page in the WordPress editor, and scrolling down below the body text entry block to the section titled Yoast SEO. For the title tag, you ideally want to use between 50 and 55 characters (but not more than 60). Meta descriptions should probably be more like 180 characters. Both should be rich with keywords and phrases, and avoid using filler words (it, and, the, of, or, if, on, etc.) as much as possible. This will ensure your website description and title in search results are user friendly, SEO friendly, and generally well polished. Be sure to save your changes!
As Ryan Wardell, all around growth expert and co-founder of Startup Sauce puts it, “Your page titles and meta descriptions are what users see in the SERPs – so write them like an ad, in a way that entices people to click on the link to your site. There’s no point ranking on the first page of Google if nobody actually clicks through to your page.”
6 – Yoast Plugin Configuration
Next, I would probably do a bit more basic configuration with the Yoast SEO plugin. The first step I would take is to link it to my Google Search Console account for the website.
Assuming these are both set up properly and you’re logged in to your Google Account, this should be a relatively simple setup through the Yoast SEO section in WordPress (although it might require you to manually copy/paste a code from Search Console).
7 – Submit XML Sitemap
After that, go to the “General” section of Yoast SEO within WordPress (the “SEO” tab in the left hand menu). Scroll down to “XML sitemaps” and click the question mark button. Then, click the “See the XML sitemap” hyperlink and copy the URL of the sitemap page you’re taken to. Open your Google Search Console dashboard and go to the site maps section. Click add sitemap, paste the link you copied, and click submit. This should index your sitemap, but make sure to check back in a day or so for any errors.
8 – Write SEO Friendly Content
From there, try and build out the content on your site a bit. I typically try and do this from two different angles. The first is to try and flesh out the information about my business, product, or service in order to better address the next questions visitors are likely to have upon reaching my site. The second is to try and build out valuable content featuring keywords frequently used in relation to the product or service I provide. Ideally this content should be valuable enough that other sites might be willing to link to it. Which leads us to our next point…
9 – Create Initial Backlinks to Important Pages Your Site
The importance of backlink is pretty well known to anyone who knows how Google works. However, many people don’t realize that search engines would like to see a good spread of backlinks across pages of your site, not all just to your homepage. This indicates to search engines that there’s a breadth of quality content on your site, and can dramatically improve your search rankings. Try to find a way to repeatedly create new pages on your site that you know you can post on or will be shared by another relevant site if you can.
Jennifer Geacone-Cruz, expert on content infrastructure and web architecture, says that for her site, “I have special landing pages for my top talks, with keyworded copy on the topic, backlinking to the events and conferences I’ve presented it at. In addition, I’ve added video, further resources, and internally linked to my public speaking landing page and any other talk pages on my site that might be related. This consistent internal and external referencing that’s static and more permanent (as part of the site infrastructure, as opposed to blog posts) really builds up a foundation onto which you can implement more agile or temporary strategy with other content.”
10 – Use Other Resources to Incrementally Improve SEO
Once you’ve spent a bit of time setting up the above pieces and poking around Google Search Console, Yoast SEO, and other tools, you’ll actually have a pretty decent grasp of the basics of SEO. From there, I’d suggest starting to read more general SEO resources, or auditing your site to find opportunities for improvement and Googling for how to implement a solution. If you can learn to do the latter, you’ll gradually improve your SEO skills over time until you become an expert. I’ve made a list of a few resources and tools I’d recommend checking out below:
- Search Engine Land
- BlueArraySEO Newsletter
- LSI Keyword Graph
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- Curated SEO Tools
- Google Adwords Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
Hopefully this guide makes it a bit easier to get started driving organic search traffic to your websites. Let us know if any of the tips above were particularly useful, or if you think we’re missing something.
And if you need help measuring the performance of your SEO efforts and discovering keywords where there’s opportunity to improve, be sure to check out SerpBook:
- Website: http://serpbook.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SerpBook/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/serpbook
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/serpbook/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/serpbook/
This guest post was written by Matthew Eisner, a 10+ year SEO and WordPress veteran.