We all know that getting our blogs (or our clients’ blogs) SEO optimized is one of those crucial tasks we have to take care of, even if we don’t like the idea of SEO.
There are basically two camps of SEO experts. The first camp says that optimizing your content is crucial and that Google pays close attention to your site’s structure. The other camp says that producing quality content is all that matters, that people will notice it and link to it on their own without you interfering.
If you’re in the second camp, then sorry, you’re wrong. There’s no point in producing quality content if you don’t tell anyone about it.
“Does a tree make a sound when it falls if no one is around to hear it?”
That’s why you need to do both of these things: product quality content and optimize it to gain some search engine exposure.
SEO is essentially a two-part activity: there’s on-page SEO, and off-page SEO.
Off-page SEO is all about links. No matter if you’re building backlinks yourself or convincing others to build them for you. And by links I mean all possible scenarios: article links, comment links, forum links, social media links, etc.
On-page SEO, on the other hand, is all about working within your site, tuning stuff, installing proper plugins, tweaking your site’s structure, and making sure that the navigation is actually easy and clear to both humans and search engines.
The following checklist is about on-page SEO because this is something you can do right now without having to wait for your links getting approved, your Twitter profile becoming popular, or anything else.
Your blog’s privacy
This is the most basic thing you have to do, but I still want to mention it here to keep the message complete.
There’s a section in your WP admin in Settings > Privacy. There’s only one setting there, but you have to make sure that it’s set to: “Allow search engines to index this site.” Otherwise Google won’t be able to index any of your pages.
Start with keyword research
Guessing the keywords you want to optimize your site for is not a clever thing to do. It will make you fail 100% of the time.
Keyword research is a topic for a whole other post (or even a separate website), so I won’t try to explain it here. But I can still tell you where to start.
Go to Google Keyword Tool (GKT) and input the first phrase that comes to mind when creating content for your site. GKT will get back to you with a list of relevant keywords. Your job is to find keywords that have a minimum of 6,000 searches a month.
Now take this list of keywords and check how competitive they are. Go to Google, input each of them in quotation marks and note the number of results. Every keyword with more than 100,000 results can be difficult to rank for.
Once you have a list of 3-5 keywords you can start optimizing your site.
Also, you should repeat this process for every post your write. Yes, I mean it. Choosing good keywords for your individual posts is what will allow them to receive good rankings.
Correct HTML and CSS code
You can check this easily by installing one of the popular browser plugins, like HTML Validator for Firefox.
Correct HTML code is crucial if you want Google to be able to crawl your site without any issues. Just because your site displays with no problems in your browser doesn’t mean that it has correct HTML structure.
Just a hint: Get yourself a nice theme that has good structure already built in.
Use an SEO plugin
The plugin I recommend is WordPress SEO by Yoast. It is the only real all-in-one-SEO-pack.
Some things you’ll find in it: title settings (your posts’ and pages’ titles), indexation settings (choose what should get indexed), XML sitemaps, breadcrumbs, RSS optimization features, and more.
Setting your permalinks right
Permalinks are one of the most basic settings in WordPress, and – at the same time – one of the most significant for SEO. You can find them in the Settings > Permalinks section of your WP admin.
The best setting from an SEO perspective is the simple “/%postname%/” which will give you full control over what your URLs look like.
To find out more about permalinks feel free to visit: getting the permalink settings of WordPress just right.
Set a proper robots.txt file
Google always looks for a robots.txt file to determine which areas of your site can be accessed and which are off-limits. Creating a proper robots.txt file is a wide topic so I’m just going to send you over to my other post: understanding robots.txt.
WWW or non-WWW
As you probably know, you can set your blog to appear either as www.domain.com or as domain.com.
Essentially, the exact setting you choose doesn’t matter, but you have to let Google know which one it is.
You can do it by going to your Google Webmaster Tools (sign up now if you haven’t already), navigating to Configuration > Settings, and setting the “Preferred domain” parameter.
Remember the keyword research I told you to do earlier? Here’s where it kicks in. Whenever you’re creating new content you should always make sure to use the keywords you’ve chosen for it.
Place the keywords in the headlines/titles, URLs, and the body of the content. Be careful not to overdo this, though. Keyword stuffing can only hurt your site.
Improving your internal linking structure
Google pays attention not only to links pointing to your site from other sites, but also to your internal links – the way you are linking to your own content. It’s your job to implement an internal linking structure that showcases your most important content.
There are two main ways of doing this:
- Manual linking. Whenever you have a chance to link to one of your previous posts, do it. Remember to use good anchor texts containing your main keywords.
- Plugins. There are two plugins I’d like to recommend. SEO Smart Links – it goes through your posts and pages, searches for keywords and then links them to each other automatically. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – the plugin analyzes the content of the current post and displays a list of related posts (you can customize what should be considered being related and what shouldn’t).
Also, feel free to check one of my previous articles on how to link keywords to URLs automatically.
Speeding up your site
Site speed is a known factor in SEO. Google simply prefers fast sites to their slower brothers and sisters.
First things first, start with a good hosting package, then you can install the W3 Total Cache plugin and optimize your blog even more.
Using rel=”canonical” tags
These tags tell Google that the current page is a copy of the page pointed out as the canonical. This doesn’t sound like something useful since you probably create only unique content, but bear with me.
Some sites will inevitably link to you using a number of additional attributes, like: “utm_source=SOMETHING,” for example. If you don’t want these duplicate URLs to rank you should use the canonical tag.
Installing the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin (already mentioned in this post) will take care of this for you.
No broken links
Broken links can really mess up your SEO. Google surely doesn’t like to follow a link only to find out that the destination doesn’t exist.
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution. You can scan your site with a plugin like Broken Link Checker to have this fixed.
That’s all for my on-page SEO checklist for a WordPress blog. Feel free to comment and let me know if you have more ideas for things one can do to optimize a WordPress blog.