Want higher rankings in Google?
Then you need to start optimizing your WordPress blog for SEO on Day 1.
How to Setup and Optimize Your Blog for WordPress SEO
I’ve always approached SEO for WordPress through the basic principles of SEO. I focus on the three major search engine factor areas and by doing this I can focus my optimization efforts.
The 3 Major Search Engine Optimization Factor Areas:
- On-site SEO
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Site SEO
We will be covering all 3 aspects here in this guide and by the end you will be able to publish content on your site knowing your WordPress website has been setup correctly and is highly optimized. Your blog will then be able to maximize it’s SEO Rankings in Google’s search results every time you publish a new post or page.
It’s all about establishing a foundation for SEO and that’s what we are going to do.
We are going to go through this as if you haven’t even installed your site yet and take it step by step. This will help you make sure you hit every SEO Milestone as you go.
I don’t want you to miss anything.
Let’s get started.
1. Selecting Your Domain Name
A few years ago the selection of your domain name was a critical part of SEO. The keywords in the domain and whether or not it was a .com were both hugely important factors.
This is not something you need to worry about now. Now any domain will do. That being said, I still think picking the right domain is important for brand recognition.
You always want to pick a name which is easy to recognize and is easy to remember. Anything which is too complicated or long will diminish the intrinsic value of the domain. So pick the right one in the beginning and while having your site’s target keywords in the title might give it a slight boost, it really won’t provide much if any help.
Branding will be more important to your business in the long run.
2. Selecting Your Web Host
Yes, website hosting is an important part of your WordPress SEO. I always get questions asking why hosting is such an important part of the process and the answer is simple.
One of Google’s ranking factors is Site Speed (page load times). They check this for both desktop and mobile versions of your site and each will affect you site’s rankings accordingly.
Site speed and loading times are affected greatly by the web host you use for your site. The more optimized the server you are on, the faster your site will be and the faster it will load.
One of Google’s newest and most important ranking factors is ”User Experience“. Site speed and loading times are a part of this and critical user experience elements which you cannot ignore.
I like to use two (2) seconds as my benchmark for page loading times. Google says you have an average of 2 seconds to capture the attention of your site’s visitors. If your pages don’t even load in 2-3 seconds, you might have a problem.
Once you have web hosting and have installed your blog, it is time to start digging into the individual settings and optimizations of your site.
Having an SSL Certificate on your site is great for security. It is also a Google ranking factor. With this being a relatively new factor, it is safe to say it will only grow in importance.
Security and safety of a website is part of the user experience equation, so I expect this to be something you will need on your site sooner than later.
I am going to be switching everything here to SSL soon. It will be a pain, but I know I have to do it.
This is one of those things which really need to be done by your host. If you cannot do it yourself, use your hosting support. More time than not, they are happy to help with this, especially if it helps you become a long term customer.
The hosting companies above all have free SSL options, making it easier to get started. You can also use the Free SSL service, Let’s Encrypt. It is a solid open source option for taking care of your blog. If you are running an ecommerce shopping cart, I suggest upgrading to a higher level SSL. For SEO purposes on a blog, the free option is definitely enough.
3. Set Your Permalinks
After you install WordPress the first thing you should do is set your Permalink settings. This will help you create an SEO Friendly URL structure on your site.
All you have to do is make the change in your Settings > Permalinks section from the default settings to the “Post name” settings and click Save.
Once you’ve done this you now have “SEO Friendly URLs“.
This step will also automatically create the settings which actually make this work inside your .htaccess file in the root of your site directory. The .htaccess file controls redirects, special commands, and the URL Rewrite commands which make this new and SEO Friendly URL structure possible.tly.
4. Install the Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin
It might sound simple, but installing a plugin, no matter how many features it has, will NOT optimize your blog for SEO. There are still a lot of steps you need to follow after installation until your blog is truly optimized.
You can do a search for the plugin from inside your WordPress installation admin menu by going to Plugin > Add New and typing “Yoast SEO” in the search box. You can then install it and activate the plugin right from inside the WordPress Admin. If you want to do it manually, you can download the plugin from the WordPress Repository here.
The WordPress SEO plugin is a great free option for fulfilling the optimization tasks required for SEO on your site. There is a Premium Version, but it isn’t something I would say that is required unless you are in a very competitive niche.
5. Yoast SEO General Settings
The first thing we need to do after installation is connect your site with the Google Search Console. We will do this in the General Settings portion of the Yoast SEO plugin in the Webmaster Tools Verification tab.
Connect Google Search Console
While Bing and Yandex are great search engines in their own right, I recommend connecting Google Search Console first What this does is allow you to use the tools inside Search Console to get Google to index and crawl your site when you are ready among other things.
Here’s what you need to do.
- Create your account at Google Search Console.
- Click on the Red “Add a Property” button.
- Choose the Meta Tag Verification option.
- Copy the Meta Tag html and Paste it into the Google Search Console section of the Webmaster Verification section of Yoast SEO and click the Save button.
- Now go back to Google Search Console and click on the Verify button.
- That’s it! Your blog should now be connected to Search Console and Webmaster Tools.
Now that you are connected to Search Console you will be able to accomplish some other tasks which we will go over a little later.
Add Company or Business Information
In the Yoast SEO General settings section, you then need to add your company, blog, or business information. This lets Google identify your site in search by its name or alternate name. Its rather simple. Just follow the directions and input your own information in the format shown below.
6. Setting Up Titles and Post Meta Data
The Yoast SEO WordPress plugin automatically creates post Meta Data and Titles so Google and other Search Engines can read them. This comes with preset default template tags which I recommend using. You can make minor tweaks, but the guys at Yoast are some of the top SEO Experts on the web. Take their recommendations seriously here.
There are 2 parts of the Yoast SEO plugin which control Post and Page Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions. The main plugin settings and page/post specific settings. I will show you how to setup each one to get the best optimization possible.
Optimizing the Titles and Descriptions Template
The main plugin settings portion in the WP Admin controls the overall template which helps ensure that all the titles and descriptions are written for every post and page on your site. Start by going to the Titles and Metas section in Yoast.
You can see the Yoast template tags I use above for blog posts (Use the Yoast default settings for Pages too). You can use these tags throughout the Yoast settings for titles and descriptions so every post and page will be SEO ready no matter what you do.
Here are a few other template tags you can use in this section:
- Categories, Tags and other taxonomies:
%%term_title%% %%sep%% Archives %%page%% %%sitename%%
- Search pages:
You searched for %%searchphrase%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%
- 404 pages:
Page not found - Error 404 %%sep%% %%sitename%%
- Author archives:
%%name%% %%sep%% Author at %%sitename%%
If you use Custom Post Types, I recommend using the same settings described for Posts and Pages above.
Optimizing for Individual Posts and Pages
The second place you can edit Titles and Descriptions is directly in the Post and Page edit pages. This allows you to do custom SEO specific edits to really optimize each and every post or page you create.
The plugin will analyze your titles, metas, and even your post content and let you know if your current optimization are good or bad. This is great for when you are starting out. It gives you a full analysis with insight into the parameters that will help you write better titles and descriptions for SEO and make your site rank faster and better.
Categories and Tags Settings
When it comes to Categories and Tags, the general rule is to allow Categories to be indexed and set your Tags for noindex. The main reason for this is because people tend to add a lot of Tags to their site. Google will still follow the Tags, but it won’t index them, minimizing issues with duplicate content.
*If you do not plan on using a lot of Tags, then you can set them to index. In the end we are looking for the best SEO benefit and it is better to have one and not the other. Google will still follow the links either way and this is what we care about the most in this instance.
If you use Custom Taxonomies, I recommend setting these to index since in most cases they are specialized and would require additional attention by Google.
Author and Date-Based Archive Settings
For your Author Archive settings (in the Archives Tab), I recommend not enabling these unless you have a multi-author blog with a lot of contributors. You can see my recommended settings below. Do not allow the Date-based archives to be enabled as they simply create a lot of duplicate content on your site and this is definitely not good for your SEO.
Other Sitewide Settings
In the Other section, use the Yoast default settings. As you can see in the image below, I recommend setting the Subpages of Archives to “noindex” and I definitely do not recommend using the Meta Keywords Tag in your blog. Google doesn’t recognize the Meta Keywords Tag anymore and by using it you would simply be wasting your time.
7. XML Sitemap Settings
I recommend sticking to the default settings for the XML Sitemaps (SEO > XML Sitemaps) in Yoast SEO too. If you are an intermediate to advanced user you can go into each tab section and select individual parts of your site that you do or do not want included in your sitemap. It is better to leave this alone if you are not 100% sure of what you are doing since the other settings we have gone through above will tell Google how to treat your content.
Submit Your XML SItemap to Google Search Console
Once you are ready to submit, all you have to do is go back to the Search Console account you created previously. Using the sidebar menu inside your site property management dashboard, go to Crawl > Sitemaps.
Next, click on the Add Test/ Sitemap button and add your sitemap URL. All you should need to add is “sitemap_index.xml” to the form. and then click the Submit Button.
Once your sitemap has been submitted (you may have to wait a few minutes), you can refresh the page. You should then see the “sitemap_index.xml” file shown. Over time, you can come back to this page and see how many pages and images Google has indexed from your site.
The sitemap should be checked by Google and auto updated. I still always come back and resubmit mine about every 90 days, just to make sure Google is getting the updates to my site.
8. Submitting Your Site to Google for Indexing
Once your Sitemap has been submitted, stay in Search Console and go to the Crawl > Fetch as Google section. Here you can submit your entire site or just specific pages for indexing. I recommend submitting your base domain URL.
Click the Fetch and Render Button and then wait for Google to process your submission. Once they are done, you will see a “Request Indexing” button. Click this button as shown below.
The form below will then pop-up. Select the option to “Crawl this URL and its direct links” and then click Go.
This will automatically ensure your site gets crawled by Google and the Indexing process will begin. You can come back to this page and submit the request, but don’t abuse it. I recommend only doing this when you have added a new, significant item to your site.
*Do not resubmit your site just because you created a new blog post. Google and Bing both will be Pinged by the Yoast SEO plugin every time you create a new post and your sitemap will update too. Most of the time this will be all you need.
One additional thing to do when you are submitting your site, if you remember, we asked Google to “Fetch and Render” your site. If you click on the Status, which may say Full or Partial rendering of your site, then you will see a graphic rendering of how Google sees your site and how visitors will see your site.
This can show you if you have any potential errors or if you need to make corrections to your site. If it is a Partial rendering, you may not see your entire Home Page, so don’t get worried if you don’t.
9. Yoast Social SEO Settings
Next, go to the SEO > Social section of the Yoast SEO Plugin and fill in the entire section, going from Tab to Tab. If you do not have one of the accounts listed, that is OK, but I recommend that you go set each social media account up that is listed in the Tabbed sections at a minimum. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest will help you with Social SEO quite a bit.
I will be doing a complete Post on Social SEO and How to set it up in a highly detailed future post. So stay tuned.
10. Optimizing Your Robots.txt file
Don’t get me wrong, there are Advanced cases where you do want to block Google, bots, or even other search engines. Things like Special Memberships, private content, images, etc. But for most sites, you want Google to see and crawl everything. You don’t want to block any links which are providing you SEO value inadvertently.
The Robots.txt file you should be using now should have 2 lines in it:
# This space intentionally left blank User-Agent: *
This will take care of everything and the Yoast plugin does it for you. If you are saying, great, I didn’t know what the Robots.txt file was anyway. Then relax, you don’t have to worry about it.
If you do want to edit this file, all you have to do is go to the SEO > Tools section of the Yoast SEO Plugin and click on the File Editor link. There you will be able to make any required changes to the Robots.txt file.
This is where we are pretty much done with the Yoast SEO Plugin. From here we continue on with other WordPress SEO Optimizations. *Note: If you want to go above and beyond, try SEOPressor Connect for a Premium WordPress SEO and Social SEO solution.
11. Optimizing Images for SEO
When it comes to optimizing your images in WordPress it couldn’t get much easier. You see, Google only looks at the “Alternative Text” or “Alt Text” for images when it come to Image SEO. In WordPress, all you have to do is fill in the Alt Text form field when you upload a new image as shown below.
You can do this in the Image Editing section of your existing images too. See below.
All you have to do is enter SEO Keyword friendly descriptions of your images in the Alt Text box and that is good. For example, when I added the image above, I created the following Alt Text for it: “Editing Image Alt Tags in WordPress.”
Remember, visitors can see the Alt Text when they hover over images on your site and when people browse without images in different RSS Readers, the only see your Alt Text, so make sure it is descriptive and not spammy.
If you use a lot of images or do a lot of bulk uploading of images, you may want to use a plugin to optimize the Alt Text. I recommend using the SEO Optimized Images plugin. It does everything you need.
12. Site Speed Optimizations for WordPress
When it comes to optimizing your WordPress blog for speed, there are a lot of optimizations you can do. The best optimizations often happen at the Server level and this is why Web Hosting was one of the first things I talked about in this Tutorial. Your Host will dictate what optimization you can do in a lot of cases with different types of server level caching tools, etc.
For WordPress itself, I always recommending using a caching plugin and a CDN. at a minimum. Some WordPress Hosting services provide both and make it easy to setup.
All of this boosts the speed and load times of your posts and pages. It can make a slow dull site turn into a high speed site with about an hour’s worth of work on your part.
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