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WordPress SEO Guide: First Steps

January 2, 2018

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.

This post is for those whom have just installed WordPress and want to optimize their site to make sure they won’t have to go through tons of work later to fix up their basic on-page SEO.

1. Check Your Privacy Settings

This is a very basic step but VERY important. WordPress has this little option under Settings –> Privacy where you can set your site to “block search engines”. Some hosts that have auto-install features may install WordPress with this setting on by default which will prevent you from being indexed in any search engine.

Make sure to check that the setting is set to the option that says: “Allow search engines to index this site.”.

WordPress Privacy Settings

2. Optimize The Permalinks

By default WordPress uses a very “dirty” URL structure which looks something like this:Β

For SEO and user-friendliness reasons you should always have a URL structure made up of keywords that tell you something about a page just by looking at it. Thankfully, WordPress has a “permalink” settings page which lets you change the URL structure 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 structure below.

WordPress Permalink Settings

Note: 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.Β  You’ll know because you’ll get a little warning also you’ll get 404 errors on your site.

3. Install SEO Plugins

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 which can be very useful in improving your site’s overall On-Page SEO.

All In One SEO Pack or WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast

First you want to get an SEO plugin that will allow you to easily add meta descriptions and meta titles to your blog posts. I’ve tried several out there and myYoast SEO favorite plugins for this are the All In One SEO Pack” andΒ  “WordPress SEO By Yoast“. Personally, I use the All In One SEO Pack because I have already been using it for a long time and it would be very work intensive to switch over to the plugin by Yoast.

When choosing the main SEO plugin for your site make sure to test a few out and find the one you like best. Make sure you really like it 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.

Google XML Sitemaps

A sitemap is always a great idea. 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.

The Google XML Sitemap is my favorite plugin for creating sitemaps. It will automatically re-generate your sitemap every time to write a new post and it will let the Search Engines know that the sitemap has been updated.

Automatic SEO Links

In my opinion the Automatic SEO Links is a must have plugin. This plugin will allow you to enter keywords and choose a URL for each. The plugin will then automatically replace that keyword in your blog posts with a link to the matching URL. It is a very effective cross-linking technique that takes very little effort.

The Automatic SEO Links can also be used for affiliates that want to promote products via keywords on your site. And yes, there is an option to add no-follow to any individual keyword link.

Scribe SEO Content Plugin

Scibe SEO is a premium plugin that has gained a lot of popularity lately and is sure to be one of the best content and link-building plugins out there. The plugin was created by the very popular “CopyBlogger” and it works on a membership basis. Basically it adds a whole SEO analysis system to your site so whenever you are writing a new post it can scan it and give you all kinds of SEO tips for improving the blog post in terms of content, keywords, meta tags…etc. The plugin will also show you sources from which you could get related links to your posts as well as identify influential social media users that may want to share your content.

Scribe SEO

4. Choose An SEO-Friendly WordPress Theme

Choose a WordPress theme is also very important for SEO. A lot of free themes out there come with encrypted links that go to nasty gambling sites that will make you lose valuable page rank. Because these are sites that may not be related to yours, linking to them can hurt your rankings.

Another issue is that 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 the search engine bots will have trouble crawling your site properly.

What to look for in a WordPress Theme:

Here are some things 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

Built-In SEO Options?

I personally do not like built-in SEO options in my WordPress themes. The main reason is because if I ever want to switch themes my On-Page SEO efforts are now all lost. So in my opinion it’s a really bad idea. However, for some people that really just want to setup a quick site maybe with just a few pages (like a quick affiliate landing page) built-in SEO options might be ok. Below is a quick look at the seo options that Nick adds to his themes over at Elegant Themes.

Elegant Themes SEO

You might want to check out my Elegant Themes Review if you are interested in purchasing their bundle.

5. Add Analytics Tracking To Your Theme

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.

There are many plugins out there that will allow you to set up your tracking code on your site/blog (such as the Yoast Google Analytics Plugin). However many of the premium themes out there include an option in their admin panel where you can paste your code and it will automatically include your tracking in the header or footer of your site.

Personally I would just open up my header.php or footer.php file and insert the code manually.

6. Add Social Bookmarking To Your Theme

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. So you’ll definitely want to install some social bookmarking buttons on your site, such as the tweet button, google plus button and facebook like button as well as post links to your social profiles.

Below are a few plugins I’ve used and liked.

Social Box Social Widget

WordPress Social Box

This is my favorite plugin for showing off your social profiles on your theme’s widgetized sidebar. It not only allows you to showcase your links, but it also shows a counter of your followers. Plus, I’ve used it on WPExplorer in the past and it has worked great!

Sticky Bar Social Sharing WordPress Plugin

WordPress Social Sticky Bar

Sticky Bar is a really awesome WordPress Plugin that will add a static sharing bar to your website so users can easily click to like, tweet, or whatever your posts. It comes with some great options and since it adds a sticky bar, it will always be visible to your readers, making it more likely that they will click the buttons.

Note:Β Seems like this plugin is no longer available (sad face). Here is a good looking free alternative – Slick Social Sharing Buttons.

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.


If you get the basics done first and right, it will make your SEO work in the future an easier task. I’ve seen a lot of people that didn’t change their permalink structure until after they had hundreds of posts, which meant that they had to create a TON of redirects simply to flow their page rank to the new URL structure. Plus, if you get all the basic SEO out of the way right from the beginning you can focus on the more important stuff like content and social media.

Article by AJ Clarke WPExplorer Staff
Published on: March 28, 2012
Last updated on: January 2, 2018
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  1. Justin M. says:

    Thanks for the info! SEO is always something that can be tricky to us beginners. Love the blog so far and your themes are really well thought out and laid out nicely.

  2. Michael says:

    Hiya, thanks for the post. It’s always a pain when you do something to later find out you should have given more though. Then again, you don’t always think about it at first cause you’re just starting off and learning πŸ™‚

    I do have a question. If I run a blog that posts 1 post per day but aim to hire authors/writers so that we post 5-10 per day then would it not make sense to go from a permalink that is to

    Curious to hear your thoughts.

    Many thanks,


  3. AJ Clarke says:

    Hey Michael, thanks for stopping by. Honestly, it’s up to you. The reason I go with a more simple permalink structure is if you ever want to change it in the future it’s much easier to do so without losing so much valuable page rank. the date/month/day permalink structure can get a bit complicated, also its not as optimized because it pushes your keywords to the end of the URL.

  4. Michael says:

    Hi AJ, thanks for the response. I guess like you say it depends. Seems like for news/magazine type sites where posts are churned out non-stop then maybe dates make sense.
    Thanks again and happy Thursday!

  5. Anita Hamilton says:

    Hi AJ. I’ve noticed for a client that we installed an elegant themese website for and had some e-panel options entered for SEO & Integration initially, then added the seo all in one pack a few weeks later, it seemed like their ranking dropped. Should we be turning off all e-panel seo/integration options for elegant themes when we install seo all in one pack?

    • AJ Clarke says:

      I personally would turn off the E-Panel settings and use Yoast SEO. Love that plugin, way better then All In One SEO – in my opinion πŸ˜‰

      But also focus more on social media and creating awesome content and rankings will come!

  6. Anita Hamilton says:

    thanks we’ll give it a try. appreciate the post & your reply.

  7. NAZMUL HASAN says:

    I think this is the best structure for Permalinks.


    This is best for ever…

  8. Jac says:

    Thanks for the tips. SEO is a whole lot more important than some know. I live in Germany where I’m finding out that many businesses even thing that having a website is and “option” and if and when they do get one, they are rarely SEO’d. Great tips!

  9. Blogger guy says:

    Start to finish a great tutorial from beginner level to expert, every tips that this article contains is awesome, thanks for sharing!

  10. Hassan says:

    Thanks for the great tutorial, All In One SEO Pack is awesome

  11. Chief says:

    Super post. Nice site in general. Thanks for sharing such great content. You’ve done a really nice job of step by step for SEO in this post.

  12. sunil says:

    Than you Mr.Clarke for this post because this post works like charm for new bloggers as i’m.I’m also new in this blogging world and i follow your rules and i’m getting enough traffic for my blog and also knowing good knowledge of plugin.Thank you very much Sir !

  13. Joe says:

    Hi AJ,

    Just how SEO friendly are the actual website frames of the themes? Particularly like the Corporation theme but unsure how it stacks up in terms of SEO?

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      I wouldn’t worry so much about what theme you are using in terms of SEO, but more in terms of what content you are putting on your site. If you are publishing quality content everything else will follow πŸ˜‰

  14. Arty says:

    Actually I am looking for a good free WP Theme. Thanks for the checklist. My problem with my actual theme is the management of the Headings. Page/Post name is not and so one.This is frustrating. Hope to find a proper theme around somewhere in the web.
    Thanks for the good information in your post.

  15. Miz.Chellie says:

    Your themes (and articles) are great. I’ve been blogging for under a year and have 4 sites; one site with your QUIK theme and I have a page 3 ranking already – only on the site that I have Quik on.

    I’ve been banging my head around trying to add a full page width template though – I know how to do it but it doesn’t work because of some coding in the theme that I am not familiar with – – looks to me like somehow the main division xs thing is already figured in – even though you don’t see it there in the template – not sure but still trying – I’ll get it eventually.

    Anyway, it’s a great theme. Thanks for putting out such well coded non malicious themes!

  16. coco laura says:

    Do not know why but something told me that if this issue was something I did not know, but hopefully not by the time I mean by SEO, QUIK is very friendly as you say, but I always liked is not I wanted, but I will adapt to the subject, thank you very much AJ Clarke.

  17. Oli says:

    Sorry for posting my question here, but I can’t get in touch with you by twitter and found no emailadress on your sites.

    My Question is:
    Am I allowed to delete the footer links at your free themes ?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      Yes, all my Free themes are 100% GPL you can do whatever you want with them. I get thousands of messages via twitter a day I can’t possibly answer everyone on there, sorry.

  18. Oli says:

    Thanks a lot for your fast reply! πŸ™‚

  19. Oli says:

    PS: The best theme for me is not online anymore πŸ™

    Can you fix this?

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      This theme is very old and outdated, I’m no longer supporting it. It would require many fixes. Sorry ;(

  20. Niko says:

    Hello… I’ve recently changed the title of my website, and I want Google to “detect” if I have changed it or not when I search the website on Google search. How long does it take for Google to pickup for the change in the title? Thanks.

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      It really depends on how popular/important your website is. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to days/weeks. I would suggest to have some patience πŸ˜‰

  21. Jatupon Rattanapanop says:

    Thank you very much. You are handsome and kind πŸ˜‰ this really useful. Thank you.

  22. Marshall Shoaib says:

    Are you sure about the AUTOMATIC SEO LINKS plugin?
    I don’t think its a very good idea for a business website.

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      It really depends on the site as you mention. I think its best for blogs. For a business site of course it would just come across as “spammy”.

  23. MegaIndex says:

    Hey AJ Clarke, Really a Great informative post for the SEO lover and Online Marketer. Super duper Post…

  24. jademulders says:

    This is super helpful having just set up my site πŸ™‚

  25. pariya says:

    nice tips, It’s a good article covering the basics of WP posts for beginners and intermediate guys, like me having little knowledge about SEO, thank you and keep it up

  26. Organic Seo Services says:

    Let me say about this helpful information to built our site
    This is fantastic tool for everyone
    Thanks for this helpful tips

  27. Bareera says:

    hello im using seo by yoast on my site rel=”nofollow”> but not receiving better results but one of my friend suggest me wp easy seo plugin so plz tell me can i use two seo plugins on single site ? plz help

    • AJ Clarke says:

      You should only use 1 SEO plugin. Pick one and stick with hit. The SEO plugin you choose will do very little compared to building a brand, exposure and back-links which generate real traffic.

  28. doubleglick says:

    Hi AJ – The post is getting old but it’s still very relevant in terms of SEO plugins. I could not agree more about your brand building comment. On page SEO doesn’t do a whole lot without some decent hard work in the background ‘publishing’ your site.

  29. Pembesar Penis Alami says:

    this step guarantee of SEO Onpage only or not ? i want to know about it..

    • AJ Clarke says:

      There is no “guarantee” there are A LOT of factors involved in SEO, just because your onpage SEO is “perfect” it doesn’t mean you will rank well in search results.

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