While having a website that is properly set up for SEO does not guarantee SEO success, having one that is designed and/or set up poorly can guarantee failure. While the bulk of the work of SEO is publishing quality content at regular (and preferably frequent) intervals, it’s critical the SEO setup of your WordPress site be done well.
This post describes how to set up a WordPress website for strong SEO. At the end of this post we include stuff that is important for conversion. This is because, unless you’re selling advertising, visitors are not enough. You need website visitors to take actions that drop them into your sales funnel. You need website visitors to become leads.
This post assumes familiarity with WordPress. As such, WordPress concepts are not explained, and details on how to navigate within the WordPress dashboard may be missing.
WordPress Site Setup Important for SEO
There really is only one setting that is critical. And that is how you set your permalink, which defines the structure of the URL for your blog posts.
The URL of your blog posts should contain the relevant keyword phrases. The best way to do this is to:
- Set your WordPress permalink so the URL of the post contains the blog post category name, and so that the URL of the post contains the title of the post.
- Choose blog post category names that are relevant SEO keywords.
- Create strong SEO friendly blog post titles that contain the relevant keyword phrases.
- Per the image below, set your permalinks to “Custom Structure”, and set the Custom Structure to “/%category%/%postname%/”.
This causes two things to happen:
- The blog post category name will appear in the URL.
- The blog post title will appear in the URL.
Both of these provide an SEO boost. The importance of the blog post category names is discussed below in the section titled Topic.
Plugins that Provide SEO Benefits
There are five types of plugins that provide SEO benefits as you setup a wordpress site. The last one listed is the one that allows you to set the SEO metadata for your pages and posts. We list it last not because it’s the least important, but because most people focus only on SEO metadata, and fail to attend to other important aspects of the SEO of their WordPress site.
Maintain an up to date sitemap.xml file
The sitemap.xml file is a list of all the URLs on your website. When a website search robot visits your site, it looks for this file. The existence of the sitemap.xml file makes it easier for the search engines to crawl your site, and also provides an ability to index pages that are not linked to somewhere on your site.
We recommend Google XML Sitemaps By Arne Brachold.
This plugin creates an updated sitemap.xml file every time your website is updated.
There is only one “caveat” with this plugin (and we believe all the XML Sitemap plugins), and that is after you install it, you must manually initiate the creation of the initial sitemap.xml file, which you do by selecting Settings > XML-Sitemap.
We’ve never found any reason to modify the settings of this plugin from their default values.
Redirection of 404 “Page Not Found” Errors
There is a belief among SEOs (and somewhat supported by Google) that the SEO ranking of your site is hurt by excessive 404 errors. While there is no definitive definition of what “excessive” is, and not everyone agrees with this idea, installing this plugin is quick and easy, and makes the issue go away.
In case you need a refresher, a 404 Error is Page Not Found. It occurs when someone attempts to load a non-existent URL. A common way this can occur is if you have a blog post which someone else has linked to, then for some reason, the URL of the blog post changes. Either you’ve changed the category name, or changed the blog post title (even slightly) and the web page URL along with it.
We recommend Redirection By John Godley
After you install this plugin, when your website is presented with a non-existent URL, it returns the home page rather than a 404 error.
Finding Broken Links (So You Can Fix Them)
A broken link is a link from a web page on your site to a URL that no longer exists. When you have a broken link on your site, someone reading the page with the broken link selects the link (not realizing it’s broken) and is presented with a 404 Page Not Found error.
404 Page Not Found errors hurt your SEO because this hurts the user experience.
We recommend Broken Link Checker By Janis Elsts, Vladimir Prelovac.
This plugin compiles a report of all broken links on your site. It makes it easy to find them and fix them. By default, a check is run every 72 hours, but we’re a little extreme and we set ours to run every 24 hours.
This allows you to know: 1) which post (or page) contains the broken link, 2) what the anchor text in the post is, 3) what URL you’re linking to, and 4) what error is being returned. With the above report, it’s really easy to find and fix broken links.
Displaying Related Posts at the Bottom of Every Blog Post
These plugins need to be configured, but there is no one right way. You have great flexibility and how you set things up is mostly a matter of preference.
The SEO benefit of this plugin is that the TITLES of other related blog posts are displayed at the bottom of every blog post. While you must not keyword stuff posts, the post itself is only part of the web page real estate.
Google has a concept of Main Content as well as Supplementary Content.
By displaying the titles of other blog posts at the bottom of every blog post, you somewhat keyword stuff web pages without keyword stuffing blog posts.
We recommend Related Posts By iLen.
Set the SEO Meta Data for Posts and Pages
There are two critical fields of SEO metadata: Title Tag, and Meta Description. The title tag is sometimes called the SEO secondary title and it should be different from the blog post title. The SEO metadata is the description that appears in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). See below.
We recommend SEO Ultimate By SEO Design Solutions.
We know Yoast SEO is the most popular SEO plugin by far, but the truth is Yoast WordPress SEO asks that you setup far too many things. As recently as 4 years ago the various things the Yoast plugin looks at made sense. But as Google tightened its algorithm to focus more on content quality (which is the ULTIMATE source of inbound links), most of that detail is no longer relevant enough to spend time on. That being the case, we’re recommending “out of sight and out of mind”.
We recommend SEO Ultimate as it is by far the simplest SEO plugin we’ve seen.
The two fields displayed above ARE what’s most important for the SEO needs WITHIN your post. H1, H2, etc headers do provide some SEO benefit, but it’s so small the time spent worrying about it would be time better spent on writing other content or doing link-building outreach. Keyword density can get you in trouble. It’s best to stick to the basics while taking a more “holistic” view of the SEO requirements of your website.
So install SEO Ultimate, accept the default settings, and start publishing.
Plugins that Provide Conversion Benefits
For conversion, what matters is: Call to Action buttons, forms, contact DBs, and keeping people on your site.
Let me first talk a little about Forms and Contact DBs. What we suggest below is the simplest method of capturing lead information. The form generator and the contact DB are local to the WordPress site.
A better solution is to use an email marketing or marketing automation solution where they provide both the ability to generate forms and a place to capture contact details. All the major email marketing and marketing automation providers have this ability.
But when you’re first starting out, using WordPress plugins for this makes sense.
Contact Forms and Contact DBs
We recommend Contact Form 7 and Flamingo (Both By Takayuki Miyoshi).
Contact Form 7 is a plugin that allows you to create forms. Flamingo is the companion plugin that stores the contents of the submitted form. Significant setup is required to create a form and have it routed to the email address of your choice, but the setup is pretty straightforward.
Call to Action Buttons
If your WordPress theme does not allow you to create Call to Action (CTA) buttons, then you need a plugin that does. For these plugins, there are no settings per se, but you have to create buttons (at least one) which you will place within blog posts and/or pages.
We recommend Max Buttons By Max Foundry.
All the CTA buttons on this website are created with MaxButtons.
Opening Links in New Windows
This plugin is by no means necessary and all it does is when someone selects a link to a webpage that is NOT on your site, it opens that page in an external window (a new browser tab). This allows the visitor to leave your site without leaving your site. When they close the browser tab, they’re back on the page where they started from.
We recommend Open in New Window By Keith P. Graham.
Plugin for Monitoring and Measuring
Another important aspect of WordPress site SEO setup is monitioring and measuring your optimization to ensure the best results.
We recommend Smart Google Analytics Code By Oturia.
This plugin makes it very easy to set up your site for both Google Analytics and Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools). You will be using both of these tools, so you need to set up your website to do so. This plugin is simply the easiest way to set up both that we’ve found.
This is a topic (no pun intended) about letting the search engine robots know what your site is about. When your site is very very large (such as Wikipedia, or Facebook) it can be about many things and Google won’t get “confused”. But when your site is smaller it needs to be ABOUT something and when it’s about too many things, the search engine robots take longer to rank your site. Sometimes much longer.
What follows is not settings per se, but things you set within WordPress that allow the search engines to know what your site is about. we’ll go into each one in more detail below, but there are four areas where you tell Google what your site is about:
- SIte Title
- Blog Post Category Names
- Blog Post Titles
We know someone who calls this The Golden Thread, and that’s a good name. What matters is that you create a “thread” of your website topic(s) through those 4 things.
Set in Settings > General. This should be 2 to 4 words that provide a very broad idea of what your website is about.
Also set in Setting > General. This should be a sentence that includes relevant words and phrases to help search engines “focus in” on what your website is about.
You have limited real estate, so be sure no word is used more than once. When some word is used twice, you’ve eliminated the ability to use a different word, and you want as many different (and appropriate) words as reasonably fit into a proper sentence.
Blog Post Categories
You set these as Posts > Categories. They are relevant to SEO because you’ve set your permalink to display the category name in the URL, and that part of the URL provides some SEO benefits. Some, but this is something you set once and leave alone, so it’s worth doing.
You want no more than 12 blog post categories. Maybe 13, but do not get carried away.
Blog Post Titles
These are the individual titles of the individual blog posts. They are the last layer of the golden thread. It should be obvious which category a blog post goes in, and if it’s not you may need to rethink either your category names or your blog post topics. These are relevant to SEO for two reasons:
The title shows in the URL because of how you’ve set permalinks, and this provides an SEO benefit. Your title IS your H1 header, and that provides SEO benefits as well.
Blog post titles should be 55 to 70 characters long (70 characters is the limit of displaying titles in Google SERPs), should contain words and phrases people are likely to use in search queries and use each word only once.
Like your Site Tagline, your blog post titles provide limited “real estate” and when you use one word more than once you give up the opportunity to use another word. You want your blog posts to match as many search terms as you reasonably can.
While this may seem like a lot, for the most part, WordPress Site SEO setup is something you do once and don’t need to continue doing. It will setup your WordPress blog site for SEO success, provided you publish a sufficient stream of quality content others find good enough to link to.
We want to emphasize that setting up your WordPress website for good SEO does not guarantee SEO success, but rather it is where you start.
Sometimes an improperly setup site kills the SEO benefits of the highest quality posts. The search engine robots never index the posts and pages and hard work is wasted (not permanently). But, doing this basic setup in no way relieves you of the responsibility to publish, which is the real work of SEO and Content Marketing.