These days, setting up a WordPress site is relatively easy. You can go from nothing, to a very professional looking website (live on the internet) in about 20 minutes.
It's also really easy to completely blow it when it comes to having your site ready for Google and other Search Engines.
This SEO checklist will guide you through the process of optimizing a brand new WordPress blog. When you finish, your site will have a much better chance to get indexed and rank in search engines.
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It would be a good idea to read over this guide before you attempt to set up your site. It can also be used as a checklist that you can refer to while you are installing WordPress.
If you want to keep a copy of guide, there is a link at the end of this page to download the PDF/eBook version.
Also, make sure to check out the video version of this guide. It's just under 20 minutes and touches on all of the topics in this list.
Don’t worry! It’s not rocket science, but it is important to get it right the first time! Ready to get started?
IMPORTANT NOTE: This tutorial is mainly intended for new WordPress installs. If your site is already established, you should be very careful about making any changes that might affect your URLs. This includes changes to permalinks, category slugs, tag slugs, or changing your preferred domain (WWW vs Non WWW).
1 Block Search Engines Until Your Site is Completely Ready
When installing WordPress, you will see an option (checkbox) that asks if you want to allow Search Engines to index your site. Your initial instinct will probably be to check yes (of course you want to be in Google!), But wait! Take a step back. This can be a bad idea for a couple of reasons.
First, WordPress comes pre-installed with some sample content. There is a sample post called “Hello World”, a sample comment on that post, and there’s also a sample Page. If you’ve left the “index my site” option checked when you set up your site, there’s a really good chance that those pages will end up being indexed in Google.
This is one of the most common yet easily avoidable mistakes that people make when setting up a new WordPress site.
We can actually look at Google’s index to see just how many people have made this mistake. I currently see about 650,000 of these test pages. — Click here to see the madness!
Note that if you click through to some of the “Hello World” pages, you’ll see that many of them have already been deleted by the website owners, but these results are still hanging around, and will probably linger in Google’s index for quite some time.
So not only are you starting out on a bad foot with Google by having your first indexed pages be the exact same content that is already on thousands of other sites, but you also end up looking unprofessional and inexperienced.
Leave that little box unchecked until you get your site installed and completely configured.
But Don’t Forget! — When your site is completed and ready to be published, go back to “Settings” > “Reading”, and next to “Search Engine Visibility”, uncheck “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” to allow your site to be crawled and indexed by search engines. Forgetting to do this would be bad as well.
2 Choose a Domain Prefix (www or non-www) and Stick With It
This step is only for those with a new domain name. If you are adding WordPress to an existing site, you can skip this step.
Whether you decide to go with www.domain.com or just domain.com doesn’t really matter. It’s mostly personal preference. But whatever you do, don’t set it up one way and then change it a few weeks or months later. This can completely wreck any rankings you have, and set you back to square one when it comes to getting indexed in Google.
If at some point in the future, you absolutely must change a url or domain name, make sure you thoroughly read up on how to properly set up 301 redirects. This process takes a lot of careful planning and preparation, and even then, things don’t usually ever go exactly as planned.
Decide now – before setting up your site – whether you will use WWW or not in your domain name. That way, when you get to that part in the installation where you’ll need to specify a choice, you know what to use.
3 Set up Social Media Accounts (even if you don't plan to use them now)
Go ahead and decide which social media accounts you want to use for promoting your site.
If you’ve already got personal accounts, that’s fine, but unless you want to start getting blocked by your friends and family, you need to create profiles specifically for your website or brand and promote your content there.
Create accounts for your site on the most popular networks. Even if you don't plan to use them now, you can reserve your name.
Also, if possible, try to use the same user name across all networks.
You’ll be adding your new social accounts to WordPress later in this guide (Tip #10), so make sure to keep all of your usernames and account urls/addresses somewhere handy.
4 Set up Accounts for Google Analytics and Search Console
This step is all about measuring progress (Google Analytics), and monitoring heath (Search Console) of your website.
Google Analytics is software that keeps track of how many people are visiting your site. This is important, because it’s the way that you will be able to measure progress as you add content and make improvements.
Google Search Console (used to be called Webmaster Tools) is a little different. It allows Google to communicate any technical issues that may be causing your site to not show in their search results. It also provides an interface for adding and removing content from Google, and monitoring the health of your site.
Both of these are very important, so you should get them set up before any traffic ever hits your site. That way you’ll have a complete picture of your site’s traffic and where it is coming from.
Once you get Google Analytics set up, it’s a good idea to go ahead and prevent yourself from being tracked. You will be visiting your site quite a bit while you are working on it, and you only want to keep track of true visitors.
5 Don't Let Categories and Tags Get Out of Hand
Even though category and tag pages are usually considered either thin or duplicate type pages, they are still very important.
Categories and tags can help to keep your content organized. This not only results in a better user experience, but also helps search engines to find and index your pages more easily.
The problem is, it is really easy to add new categories and tags. If you're not careful, you can end up with way too many of them. On the other hand, you can end up not using any categories, and all of your content will end up in the dreaded “Uncategorized” category. These issues are bad for both people and search engines.
Come up with least 4 or 5, but no more than 10 categories. Keep in mind that each category is going to become a page on your Blog, so you don’t want to make too many.
Tips for Choosing Tags and Categories
Use broad categories, for example “Tutorials”. These can be used for lots of different topics.
Tags are a little bit different. They should be used as modifiers for your categories.
For example, you might be writing a news story about a recent sports event, featuring a famous athlete.
A blog post like this might go under the category “News”, and be tagged with “Athlete's Name” and “Football”.
As a rule of thumb, use general categories and more specific tags.
These aren’t hard and fast rules, but I think the main idea is to keep things organized.
6 Choose a URL (permalink) Structure and Stick with it!
A permalink is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a permanent link. That means that once you make them, you should never change them.
A good way to think of a permalink is like your current physical address. If you’ve ever moved, you know how much of a mess it can be. You take all of the precautions you can think of, but you can be sure that some of your mail is always going to be delivered to your previous addresses. It’s pretty much exactly the same with a website address. Except instead of mail, it’s links and authority that gets lost.
If you absolutely must change your web address, there are special precautions that you can take to try to ensure that traffic, links, and visitors get routed correctly to the new address, but in the end you will always end up losing some of the original equity and value that was built up over time.
- /%category%/%postname%/ — this option is nice because it will make the site seem a bit more organized, and put related content into dynamic silos. It also gives users a better sense of where they are on the site. Having the category also adds another related keyword to the url.
- /%postname%/ — this option is probably the most commonly used. Benefits are that urls will generally be shorter, simpler, and easier for people to remember.
Recommendations for permalink structure:
Choose a permalink structure under: Dashboard > “Settings” > “Permalinks”.
7 Delete WordPress’s Sample Content!
As a part of the installation process, WordPress publishes several types of content as examples. This includes 1 blog post, 1 comment, 1 test page, and a category called “Uncategorized”
- This is always one of the first things you should do after installing WordPress. You’ll want to do the following:
- Go to “Pages” and delete the test page.
- If you haven’t renamed the “Uncategorized” category, go ahead and do that (you can change it to something else — just don’t leave it as Uncategorized, the same as a zillion other WP blogs.) under “Posts” > “Categories”.
- In the Dashboard, under “Settings” > “General”, the default “Tagline” says: “Just another WordPress Blog”.
Depending on your theme, this may or may or not be included in your site, but it’s still a good idea to use something relevant to the topic of your website.
8 Install a WordPress Plugin for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The next several steps of this guide involve the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s not mandatory to install, but this plugin would not be included in this guide if it wasn’t extremely helpful/useful.
There are several plugins out there that can help with SEO, but Yoast SEO (formerly WordPress SEO) is the one that will be used for this guide. Not because of any partnership, but Yoast just happens to have some truly useful features that can help in many aspects (Not just SEO).
Yoast has several helpful feature for SEO newbies, including a built in on-page optimizer (pictured right).
This handy feature gives you real-time on-page SEO advice as you write. Pretty great stuff.
To install Yoast, just find the “Plugins” link in the dashboard. Click “Add new”, search for “Yoast SEO” or “Yoast”, and install. When it’s done, you’ll have a new menu item in your dashboard called “SEO”.
You’ll get the real-time on-page optimizer right off the bat. We will cover several other Yoast features as well (steps 9,10, &11).
9 Noindex Category Pages, Tag Pages, and Other Thin/ Duplicate Content
WordPress has several types of pages that are very useful for visitors, but not so great for search engines. For example, category and tag pages are helpful for organization and also allow search engines easier access to your content, but they typically don’t contain any unique content.
Essentially, we want to allow search engines to crawl these pages, but we don’t want any of the duplicate content on them to be indexed. The easiest solution is to use “noindex,follow” meta tags.
Minimizing the amount of thin and duplicate content on a website greatly reduces its risk of being negatively affected by algorithm changes like Panda. It also gives your real content the best chances of being indexed and ranking well.
Use the Yoast SEO plugin to manage these page types. Click the “SEO” link in the left sidebar of your Dashboard, then go to “Titles & Metas”
- Under the “Taxonomies” tab, check “noindex,follow” for **“Categories”, “Tags”, and “Format”.
- Under the “Archives” tab, I check “noindex,follow” for “Author Archives” and “Date Archives”, then Save.
- On the “Other” tab, I check “Noindex subpages of archives”, then Save.
** Noindexing categories is optional here, but if you do want them to be indexed, I’d recommend adding a substantial amounts of content (Write long descriptions / articles) for each category, and also making sure that you are only showing a small snippet for each post, and not the entire article.
10 Add Special Social Meta Tags to Promote Sharing on Social Media Sites
Have you ever noticed that some links you share on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites will automatically turn into a really nicely formatted preview with a title, description, and photo?
This is achieved by adding special html meta tags called “Open Graph” and Twitter Cards to a site.
Each site (like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc) has its own preferred image size, so it’s always best to optimize for the platform that you plan to share on. You can find an up to date guide to ideal images sizes for your social media posts here.
Yoast SEO can easily add both Open Graph tags and Twitter Cards to your blog posts.
In the Dashboard, under “SEO”, click the “Social” link. From here you can add all of your social media profile info. Make sure to go through each tab and fill info for any accounts that you have (Hint: this would be the info from step 3).
11 Add an XML Sitemap to Your Blog to Help Pages Get Indexed by Google
XML sitemaps are files specifically for search engines where you can specify a list of all of the pages that you want them to know about. There are lots of plugins that can create this file for you, but fortunately for you, this is yet another feature of Yoast.
In the Dashboard, under “SEO”, click the “XML Sitemaps” link. Default settings should be fine for most.
12 Optimize Page Speed to Improve User Experience and Rankings
There are several plugins that can help to improve your WordPress site’s speed.
Some of the more popular options include WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache.
These are relatively straight forward to install, and default settings should be sufficient for most users.
PageSpeed speed is one of the most important factors when it comes to ranking well in search engines. There are several methods of improving performance, and browser caching is one of the easiest ways to do this with WordPress.
Some other ways to improve site speed
- 1) Find a better host: Inexpensive hosting is great for beginners or hobby sites, but when it’s important to have a professional site, the extra cost is well worth it.
- 2) Remove unused plugins: If it’s not a necessity, uninstall it.
- Change Your Theme: Some themes look great, but weren’t necessarily designed with performance in mind.
- 3) Try a CDN (Content Delivery Network): A content delivery network is a service that increases performance and speed by distributing cached versions of your website to strategic locations around the world. So wherever a user is, they will have fast access to your site.
13 Make Sure Your Site is Mobile Friendly – Get a Responsive Theme
Back in April of 2015, Google rolled out an algorithm update that gave preference to mobile optimized sites over desktop sites in mobile search results.
This means that if someone is searching from a mobile device, Google is going to show mobile optimized sites above desktop only sites.
The update, dubbed “Mobilegeddon” caused quite a panic during the weeks leading up to the change. Website owners scrambled to make desktop only sites mobile friendly. Many missed the deadline, and as result have since dropped in the mobile search results.
Fortunately for WordPress users, creating (or upgrading to) a mobile friendly site is nowhere near as complex as it is for most.
The easiest way to make your site mobile friendly is to choose a responsive theme from the WordPress theme directory. Just go to your site dashboard and click “Appearance”> “Themes” > “Add new”. From there, click the “Feature filter” tab, check the “responsive layout” box, and click the “Apply Filters” button. You can browse through hundreds of great responsive themes.
Google recently announced that they would be moving to a “Mobile-First” strategy. This means that instead of indexing the desktop version of a site, they would now be indexing the mobile version.
This will negatively affect sites that are showing a stripped down version of their website for mobile.
The easiest way to avoid any negative effects from this change is to use a responsive theme.
If you already have a theme that you don’t want to change, another option to make a WordPress site mobile friendly is to use a plugin.
Here are a few different plugin options:
- Jetpack’s Mobile Theme Module
- WP Mobile Detector
14 Add Some Content and Standard Pages to Your Site
The last thing you want to do is go live with a site that doesn’t have any content. That wouldn’t give search engines (or users for that matter) much incentive to come back.
So before you go live, it’s a good idea to create some content.
- 1) A Contact Page
A contact page is almost a necessity for any website these days. If you’ve ever tried to contact a company who's website doesn’t have easily accessible contact info, you know how frustrating it can be. A good contact page should include any relevant contact info. This can include things like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked in Accounts.
- 2) About Us Page
An “About Us” page is important for both visitors as well as Search Engines. It’s a way for visitors to learn about your site, and is also an important way to brand yourself and earn trust.
- 3) At Least One Blog Post
This will be something related to your new blog’s topic.
It can also include a contact form, which is pretty easy to add to WordPress with a plugin like Contact Form 7
15 Set up a Static Home Page
This step is optional, but I prefer my WordPress sites to look less like a blog, and more like a standard business website with a blog attached.
A good home page should quickly communicate to visitors who you are, and exactly what they can expect to do on your website.
Most themes have the option to set up a static home page and move your blog to its own directory.
Click here for step-by-step instructions to add a homepage to WordPress.
16 Create a Custom Menu / Navigation
This step is also optional because I believe WordPress by default will add any new pages that you make to your menu, but a custom menu has several advantages, including the ability to tweak your anchor text of your menu to add specific keywords.
The main navigation of site is really important for SEO because just like external links, the words you use in the link let search engines know what your pages are about.
They also help to spread linking authority to specific pages using specific keywords.
Another advantage of adding a menu is that you can create sub menus under main menu items, allowing you to show more links in a smaller space.
For more, see our step-by-step guide for creating custom menus.
17 Start a Mailing List Now!
If you’re anything like me (or at least how I was), the idea of asking your visitors to sign up for a mailing list might sound cheesy or desperate. You might cringe every time you see one of those popups asking you to join a list.
Well, it’s true. Mailing lists aren’t for everyone, but just because some people don’t like them, doesn’t mean that just as many (if not more) don’t find them to be extremely valuable.
But the truth is that people are coming to your website because they value your content and what you have to say. Many of them would love to have another avenue to receive content, news, and updates.
There are several tools you can use to start building a list of subscribers.
Aside from having your own domain name, building a list of subscribers is one of the most important things you can do to build your business online. Unlike Facebook and Twitter lists, an email list is all yours. There’s no 3rd party in the middle deciding who will and who will not see your message.
To get started, you can sign up for a free account with MailChimp.com. With that, you can store your list and send newsletters.
For collecting newsletters, it’s a matter of personal preference, but there are lots of options that will integrate with Mail Chimp. Two good options to start with are SumoMe or addthis.com. SumoMe is a plugin, so it might be the better option for beginners.
18 Secure Your Site from Hackers
These days, it's a given that your site will become the target of hackers, and If you are using WordPress then you are going to be even more of a target.
It used to be enough to keep WordPress up to date, but now that's just not enough.
You have to take steps to protect your site, otherwise you will eventually be hacked.
Some Hackers will only deface your website, and move on, but others are much more malicious. They can delete files, install malware, or even feed tons of spam to Google without your knowing.
The unfortunate part is that usually, once you find out about a hack, the damage has already been done. So it is in your best interest to implement strong defense.
I recommend using a plugin called WordFense Security. The free version is excellent protection for most sites, and default settings should be enough for most.
19 Crawl Your Site and Fix All Errors
We’re almost ready to go live, and now is a great time to do one final check of your site to make sure there are no major problems.
For this, I recommend Screaming Frog SEO Spider. It’s a desktop application that crawls your website (just like Google and other search engines), and generates some extremely useful reports.
Like other programs in the same category, Screaming Frog is great for finding broken links, but the coolest features are those that are geared toward optimizing on page SEO.
It breaks down things like: page titles, total word count, h1/h2 length, page speed, meta tags, links, and much more. (And you can also do all of this for your competitors sites).
Screaming Frog is Free for smaller sites (Under 500 pages) which is perfect for a new (or relatively new) site. If you have a bigger site, it’s about $150/year. In a world of premium SEO tools that cost almost that much per month, this is a steal.
It’s a good idea to run Screaming Frog at least 2-3 times per month to find any problems that may have popped up on you site. And It’s especially helpful to run SF after making any major changes on your site.
20 Flip the Switch! Allow Search Engines to Crawl Your Site
Now that you’ve added some content, and optimized your blog, you’re ready to flip the switch to allow Google to index your site.
Go to the Dashboard > “Settings” > “Reading”, and uncheck the box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”.
Before unchecking “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”, make absolutely certain that your site is ready for the public. You’ll probably have pages indexed in Google within a day of unchecking the box.
This guide has covered just about everything you need to do to ensure that your site is optimized for search engines. Now it’s time to start creating some great content and promoting it!
Remember, traffic won’t come overnight. It takes time (and good content), but if you’re consistent and stick with it, traffic will come.
Now you’ve got all of the tools you need to start a successful blog. Now go out and start one today!
Make sure to check out HowToStartABlog.org for a step-by-step guide that anyone can follow to start a blog.
When you’re ready to start making money from your website, check out our guide to making money with a blog.
Indexed just means that a search engine has saved a copy of your webpage to it's database or index. Indexed pages will later be shown in search result pages.
A 301 redirect ( or Permanent Redirect ) is a kind of redirect that can be set up in the place of a page or url on a website. It's function is to take visitors to the new address, and let search engines know that the address of the page has changed permanently.
Curious about any other terms used here? Just ask, and I'll add them.
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