WordPress has always been praised as one of the most SEO friendly and optimized content management systems (CMS) out there – even right out-of-the-box! But there are still some very important and basic first steps you will want to take upon first installing WordPress on your blog or site to help optimize the on-page SEO of your installation and ensure that you are on the correct path for raking well in search engines.
As well all know high rankings = traffic and well, traffic = money.
Our post today is for those who have just installed WordPress and want to optimize their site. This WordPress simple SEO guide will help to make sure you won’t have to go through tons of work later to fix your basic onsite SEO.
Step 1: Check Search Engine Visibility Settings
This is a very basic step but VERY important. WordPress has an option so you can set your site to block search engines. Some hosting companies with auto-install features may install WordPress with this setting on by default. By enabling this option, WordPress will prevent your site from being indexed in any search engine. This might be fine for a staging or test site, but not for your live website.
To check your site’s settings, navigate to Settings > Reading.
Make sure to check that the Search Engine Visibility setting for “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is left unchecked. This way Google, Yahoo, and all the other search engines will have not trouble finding your site.
Step 2: Optimize Permalinks
By default WordPress uses a messy URL structure which looks something like this:
For SEO and user-friendliness you should always have a URL structure made up of keywords that describe a page. For example, an About page should use the following url:
It is much more user friendly than ?p=123. Don’t you agree? Thankfully, WordPress has built-in permalink settings to change the URL structure of your site to something more SEO optimized.
So head over to Settings > Permalinks and choose the option that says “Post Name” or enter your own custom URL using available tags.
For most people WordPress will update your .htaccess file automatically to reflect your new permalink structure, but for some you might have to update it manually. You’ll know because you’ll get a little warning also you’ll get 404 errors on your site.
Important: If your site is already up and running and has been indexed by search engines then changing your permalinks involves a few more steps. You will also need to 301 redirect your old links as well as have search engines re-index your site to avoid broken links. But don’t worry – we have a full guide on how to safely change permalinks.
Step 3: Install a Good SEO Plugin
One of the best things about WordPress is the ability to install plugins that will add additional function to your site. When it comes to SEO, there are tons of WordPress plugins to choose from. Many of these plugins can be useful in improving your site’s overall search engine rankings. But for our WordPress simple SEO guide, here are the plugins we think you should consider.
When choosing the main SEO plugin for your site make sure to review the features and add-on available to find the one you like best. Take the time to make sure it’s a good fit. Because after you have a couple thousand posts on your blog you won’t want to switch plugins and have to go through all your posts to fix all the meta titles and descriptions.
What to Look for in a SEO Plugin
First, you want to get an SEO plugin that will allow you to easily add meta descriptions and titles to your blog posts. These are used when your page shows up in search results, so you want to be able to edit and optimize them.
Second, a sitemap is also an important. Basically it is a a list of all the links on your website that you would like indexed and you can upload it via your Google Webmasters so you can tell Google what content you have on your site and what they should be crawling and indexing.
And third, schema markup for your posts and pages should be included. We have a full WordPress schema markup guide if you want to learn more, but think of it as a note card for your page. Schema markup will tell a search engine important details in a quick bullet point format: content type, title, publish date, author, etc. Any good SEO plugin will include this.
Note: You only need one SEO plugin. Installing multiple will not improve your SEO more, in fact it could cause errors that actually hurt your SEO. So pick you favorite and call it a day!
Yoast SEO is a great SEO plugin option, and what we use here at WPExplorer. The plugin offers tons of features to help any beginner optimize their website for search engines including title and meta descriptions, schema implementation, XML sitemaps, breadcrumbs, canonical URLs, and more. Plus Yoast offers built-in SEO and readability analysis that you can use on a per page/post basis to really finetune your content.
All In One SEO Pack
Alternatively, All in One SEO Pack offers equally great options making it our second SEO plugin recommendation. There are plenty of basic SEO options for sitemaps, Google AMP, schema markup, canonical URLs and automatic title optimization. But what makes All in One SEO Pack special is that even the free version of the plugin offers e-commerce SEO options. So if you’re running a store with WooCommerce or EDD, All in One SEO Pack might be right for you.
Step 4: Choose a SEO-Friendly WordPress Theme
Which WordPress theme you choose is also very important for SEO. And where you choose to get it from makes a big difference.
First – always download your themes from a reputable marketplace or developer. A lot of free theme sites add encrypted links with weird urls (think gambling sites, hosting reviews, bitcoin scams and the like) that will hurt your SEO. Because these are sites that may not be related to yours, linking to them can hurt your rankings. By sticking to trustworthy providers like WordPress.org, Themeforest and WPExplorer you’ll avoid these sketchy themes.
Second – choose a well coded theme. Some themes do not make proper use of heading tags (h1, h2, h3, h4), content positioning (post text should always come before the sidebar) or are simply coded so poorly that search engine bots will have trouble crawling your site properly.
What to Look for in a WordPress Theme
Here are a handful of key features you will want to look for while choosing your WordPress theme.
- Site title should be an h1 heading on the homepage and an h2 heading on other pages
- All post titles should have the h1 tag
- Breadcrumbs navigation
- Next and Previous post links
- Related Posts on single posts
- Clean semantics – check with W3C
- Make sure there are no fishy links in the theme pointing to sketchy sites (these are usually in the footer)
Built-In SEO Options?
At WPExplorer we do not build SEO options into our themes (the closest we get is a simple Google Analytics field to track your performance), and we do not recommend using a theme with loads of built-in SEO options. The main reason is if you ever want to switch themes all of your on-page SEO efforts will be lost.
In our opinion it’s bad idea. Avoid themes with complex, built-in SEO options.
However, even though we would not recommend it we can understand that for some folks it simplifies website creation. Specifically if you just want to setup a quick site with few pages. Such as a quick affiliate landing page or a simple single-page site for product sales.
Our Pick: the Total Theme
When it comes to choosing a theme coded with SEO in mind we feel our own Total theme is the cream of the crop. Hand coded right here at WPExplorer, we’ve taken the time to code the Total WordPress theme with valid, semantic code. The theme also includes built in schema implementation as well as full support for the Yoast SEO plugin. And this is in addition to the numerous design options such as a drag and drop page builder, live Customizer settings, font options and more.
Step 5: Add Analytics Tracking
It isn’t necessarily an SEO step, but setting up your tracking system right away will help you keep track of how many people are visiting your website as well as monitor how they got there. Keeping a close watch on your analytics can really help you optimize your site in the future.
Many premium themes already include an option in the admin panel where you can paste your code to automatically include your tracking in the header or footer of your site. But if your theme doesn’t include this as a feature, you have a couple options.
If you are comfortable with code, you can open up your header.php or footer.php file and insert the code manually.
But this is a simple WordPress beginner’s SEO guide. There are many easy to use plugins that allow you to set up your tracking code on your site/blog. Below are a couple plugins we recommend. Again – you only need one, so pick your favorite. We do not recommend installing multiple analytics plugins.
Google Site Kit
If you’re using Google Analytics, why not give the official Google Site Kit plugin a try? This free plugin allows you to integrate and view all of your analytics from your WordPress dashboard. So not only does this make connecting your analytics easy, it also simplifies the tracking process in the future. We have a complete Google Site Kit guide to walk you through the setup process or if you just want to see more of Site Kit’s features.
Similar to Site Kit, MonsterInsights offers a full Google Analytics dashboard with your WordPress site. There is a easy one-click connect features, as well as built-in reports for audience, behavior, content, forms, search console and more. There is also a MonsterInsights pro version with added features for tracking events, e-commerce, custom dimensions, popular posts, and affiliate links as well as other detailed reporting options.
Step 6: Add Social Bookmarking
We all know how important social influence is in terms of site rankings these days. And even if it doesn’t increase your rankings, it’s still important for generating traffic and followers.
If your theme doesn’t already offer social media integration, we recommend installing a plugin for social bookmarking buttons, as well as links to your own social profiles. Here are a few plugins we link and recommend.
Candy Social Widget
Show off your social profiles on your theme’s widgetized sidebar with Social Candy. This simple plugin adds a variety of social links and styling options so visitors to your site can easily find you on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and more.
Easy Social Share Buttons
Looking for a way for readers to quickly share your content? Then Easy Social Share Buttons is for you. This comprehensive social share plugin offers integration with more than 50+ social networks, along with 30+ display methods, custom styling options, mobile messenger apps support and more. Plus there’s built-in analytics to boot!
Step 7: Write/Add Epic Content
Now that you are done setting up the basics, the only thing left for you to do is to write Epic content. Ultimately the biggest factor in whether you will get traffic and have people share your site is your content.
You need to make sure your website provides value to its readers. And not only will having great content help you rank and make people share your site, but it will also help you gather a following. And for some websites your followers are what will generate the most income for you as opposed to passive visitors.
Hopefully our WordPress simple SEO guide helps make tackling your SEO (now and in the future) a bit easier. SEO doesn’t have to be overwhelming, especially if you focus on the basics. This way you’re laying a solid foundation for your site to rank better in search engines for years to come.
Plus, if you get all the basic WordPress SEO out of the way right from the beginning you can focus on other important (and more fun) tasks. Like content creation, social media, marketing and more!