WordPress SEO: your first five steps

In this article, I will lay out what I believe to be a solid set of five first steps for SEO optimizing your new WordPress site. Of course, there is always more SEO to be done, but these five steps are crucial for success. In my experience building dozens of WordPress sites, they aren’t too time consuming either!

1. Pick a theme that won’t hold you back

There are a lot of themes out there that, while “pretty,” are total garbage from an SEO perspective. They don’t allow for sufficient content that Google can index, and may have bizarre linking structures. Here’s a great example of a theme NOT to chose if you want to succeed in SEO:


What’s wrong with this theme from an SEO perspective? Well, simply put, there’s no parseable text whatsoever on the page. So unless you have a boat load of links, search engines won’t view it as an authority on… pretty much anything. Don’t get me wrong, themes like these are great for personal or portfolio-based websites, but if the goal is maximizing your exposure in organic search, it’s best to steer clear. You’d be much better suited with a theme that has plenty of space for text-based content and hyperlinks, like this one:


2. Form a content plan by polling your audience and create individual pages

This step is crucial. I’ve seen many businesses flounder in SEO by writing exclusively about what they know, rather than what their audience wants to read. Chances are you are friends with some folks that fit into your key demographic – just ask them what they are interested in right now. Then write up a page (or post) of at least 300-500 words for each of these. Try to avoid combining multiple topics onto a single page, because it often makes it more difficult to rank well in Google when splitting your effort between two or more topics.

For example, suppose a friend of mine wanted to create a website about house music, with the goal of eventually selling related merchandise once he had built up an audience. He polled his audience and found that many of them were confused about all the different subgenres of house music. So, he saw this as an opportunity to create individual pages about the different subgenres in order to capitalize on people looking these terms up. So he ended up with pages like:

What is “deep” house music?
What is “progressive” house music?
What is “tech” house music?

Having individual pages for these was a much stronger approach for SEO than having one page addressing “What are deep, progressive, and tech house?”

3. Install the Yoast SEO plugin

There are a lot of SEO plugins out there, some better than others. But the one I’ve come to trust has been the Yoast SEO Plugin. It’s free, not prone to bugs, and effective. You can find and install it just by visiting the plugins section of WordPress, clicking “Add New” and searching for Yoast SEO. Then just click “Install Now” under Yoast.

What will this do you for? Well, to start, it will clean up your URLs and generate you a high-quality XML sitemap (you might need to check the box at the top of the XML Sitemap page to enable that). Overall, it works really well out-of-the-box, but I recommend browsing through each of it’s options, as the exact setting to choose will depend highly on your website. If you don’t understand it, just install it, enable XML sitemap creation, and forget it.

4. Make sure your homepage and key landing pages have enough text

So I’ve already touched on this twice, but it’s worth talking about specifically. Simply put, your chances of ranking well are much lower if you have only a small amount of text on a page. Generally, we recommend having at least 500 words of text (including a given keyword at least 2-3 times) on a page that you want to make visible in the Google or Bing search results.

This is absolutely crucial on your homepage, but can benefit other pages too – including your category pages. This might take some fiddling with the code of your theme, and so if you’re not up for that, don’t worry about it. But if you have the programming chops, I highly recommend including at least 300 words of text on each of your category pages.

5. Write optimized title tags and meta descriptions for your key landing pages

Finally, using the Yoast SEO box that appears beneath the text editor in the page editing interface of WordPress, you can specify custom title tags and meta descriptions for your posts and pages.

For any page that you’d like to see appearing in Google or Bing, take the time to write a unique title tag and meta description. Here are some guidelines:

Title tags:

  • Keep ‘em under 70 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword, preferably at the first start of the title tag.
  • If you need to separate keywords, do so with a “pipe” symbol: | . For instance, a good title tag could be: Deep House Music | How to Make Deep House | HouseGuru2013.com. This includes two separate keyphrases and also the website name.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.

Meta Descriptions:

  • Keep ‘em between 70 and 155 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword – doesn’t matter where it appears in the meta descriptions.
  • Include a call to action, like “click here to learn more about..” or “find out how you can maximize …”.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.