November 14, 2009

WordPress SEO Checklist

Published: 14 November 2009 

A friend of mine, @ccburns on Twitter, is going travelling around Asia. He leaves very soon and will be doing some very exicited stuff on his journey for months and months - I'm more than a little bit jealous. We caught up at the Brisbane Web Design Meetup group on Thursday evening and got talking about his adventure and that he's decided...

  1. ... to write a blog as he goes travelling about the places, the people, the experience as a diary and as a way of keeping in touch with family back home
  2. ... to use wordpress.
  3. ... to put some effort into SEO right from the start.

I always knew he was a very clever chap and those decisions confirm it.

What you need

I'm assuming that like Colin, you have a wordpress website and you want to know how to tune WordPress for SEO whether you use wordpress as a content management system (CMS) or a blog it makes little difference.

Colin has years of experience building high quality websites from scratch so he's...

  • bought a domain name,
  • setting up some basic hosting and
  • downloaded and installed a raw wordpress blog

This is the ideal point to be at to start working on your website SEO, before you write a single line. Why? Because...

  • With Keyword Analysis you can use the right phrases and get your text right from the first line and title
  • You don't need to rework any existing content which sometimes takes ages
  • Get yourself into the habit of thinking about keywords as you create content - this is the most efficient way to SEO a website

WordPress SEO: Skills that would help

As well as downloading and installing and wordpress it is ideal if you're prepared to get your hands dirty by editing HTML, CSS andPHP - This can pay huge dividends see below.

WordPress SEO Checklist

#1 Install some plugins

Install these excellent plugins

  1. Platinum SEO Pack (new window) - Download
  2. Google Site Map Generator (new window) - Download
  3. Page Menu Editor (new window) - Download

#2 Check your theme

Page Headings: Make sure your theme is generating Page Titles into "<h2>" HTML tags.

I'm assuming you know a bit about Browsers and HTML - basically just view a page or a post, as a visitor would, view source and check that the page title is in the <h2>Page Title</h2>. If not then you have GOT to edit your theme. Go and search for "the_title()" in the theme's php template files. Change it in the pages where just one page or post is shown i.e. often called page.php, index.php (not the posts bit), single.php

Website Headings: You need to make sure there is H1 headings in the pages. This will almost certainly be present in the header.php file of the template. If it's not present add one in. I recommend the use of a really good Website Title

Good Semantics is something that really helps with SEO and WordPress just does an awesome job (structurally)

#3 Do some Keyword Analysis (KWA)

This is something special that I do for clients and I don't want to give away my SEO secrets for free here. In a nutshell I do alot of research....

  1. Keyword Suggestions, sometimes as few as 5 is enough to start
  2. I generate lists of relevant and related terms using various taxonomies and cross-combination of keywords
  3. This list is then worked to generate a priority list which combines various opinions and traffic data about each and every keyword

The result, is a hit list of key words in order of priority that I use consistently with the client

#4 Use the Platinum SEO Pack Plugin

Get stuck into the Platinum SEO Pack's settings. Go through and type the title, keyword and description meta data for home page.

Update: As Dean points out below Google ignores the keyword field. Even though the amount of traffic from Bing/Yahoo is small compared to Google I'd still recommending adding the keywords into the meta data anyway because the targeted keywords for the page should be in the title tag anyway so they are right there in the form ready to copy and paste into the meta keyword field (maybe with some minor tweaks) but normally we just leave them the same.

#5 Create some website content

Start adding some pages describing the website.

When writing text for the web be completely obvious and straight forward. If you have a Funky Oblique name (that's cool) BUT your website should also say "We are website designers in Brisbane" if that indeed is the case.I mean just writing about my company being called Matter Solutions is a waste of time if I want visitors who type in "website design".

So for Colin a top key word might have turned out to be "Travel to Malaysia", making a whole page with a decent amount of text and a title "Travel to Malaysia" and content to explain when, where and what is going to happen on the trip will get traffic much more readily than a one-line side mention on the about page.

Use the Platinum SEO Pack to write custom META data for every page. Invest the time, it will pay off.

"Good website semantics" Use sub headings and alt text on images to describe your information properly. I recommend clients use the Key Word list (step 3) to help them think about phrases to use. When I work on SEO for clients I have that clients list open everytime I write anything.

This kind of thinking helps you structure your content too. For example Colin might think about having some pages in a "plan" section about where he's going.. these pages can be titled "Travel to Malaysia", "Travelling to Vietnam" and other countries and then give some information about plans in each location....

#6 Intelligent Links

...later when he's actually there and creating posts (which are different from pages - for those that don't know wordpress) Colin can refer to the posts from the pages and vice versa. Using the right keywords in the text of these internal links will have a huge benefit in the future too.

Also use the Page Menu Editor to change the menu text of pages for example you probably want your home page to be called "HOME" in the menu and it is if you use the Page Title = "HOME" but if you're using good SEO text to describe your website and pages then this might become "Brisbane Website Designer" in which case.... your menu will then show this long and overly descriptive text. Overcome this with this super little plugin, change the Page Menu Title (scroll down the page editor) to be "Home".

#7 Google Sitemap

Once you have some content and have installed the Google Sitemap Generator.

Run the generator as per the instructions, I've seen it go on and on and on like it isn't finished before.... but it is after a few seconds (unless you have heaps of content) and so I just refresh the admin section and it's done.

Register with Google's webmaster tools service at verify you own the website (needs some HTML skill) then submit your sitemap.xml file.

FYI - This is a great service for monitoring rankings and actual traffic generated from good website SEO.

#8 An ethical SEO final thought

The danger with some of this advice above is that your content can become far too contrived.

It might end up getting you traffic that "bounces" right out of your website because real visitors think what you've written is terrible. For this reason alone it is important to make your content good for people

Remember too that the search engines objective is to deliver the best content for humans to read. Over time the search engines are getting better and better at this so if you want to rank well now and in the future you simply must make sure your content is readable and appealing. The real skill of the best Internet Marketing or SEO Professionals is getting the best of both worlds...

  • Lots of good key words for good ranking
  • Excellent prose encouraging visitors to get in touch or buy your product etc

There is much more to it

I've glossed over...

  1. The SEO Key Word Analysis (KWA) as this is something really very special that my SEO team and I offer to fee paying clients. We even provide it to quite other website design companies in Australia and the UK. Contact us if you want a quote
  2. In-bound links. Getting links to your website is a good idea (mostly), watch the video below for some insight into what's good and what's bad.
  3. The importance of getting the semantic structure your web page's HTML just right. Out of the box WordPress does a better job than most content management systems (CMS).
  4. I've also complete ommitted any mention of getting website visitors to convert into leads or customers. That is something for another day.

Matt Cutts, Head of Google's Web Spam Team: "WordPress is a fantastic Piece of software"

Video notes:

One of the plugins Matt mentions the "www" enforce is now part of the core of WordPress.
Filmed at the WordPress camp on May 30th 2009 in San Francisco
Click here if you want to watch the whole thing at (new window)

Have a good trip Colin / @ccburns

Best of luck for your trip Colin 🙂 Let me know how your SEO efforts go.

Follow this checklist and listen to Matt with regard to inbound links and you'll be a major travel writer in no time.

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

4 comments on “WordPress SEO Checklist”

  1. Thank you for this list, very good summary!
    One question: You wrote "Page Headings: Make sure your theme is generating Page Titles into “” HTML tags." => Why use H2 and not H1 for page titles? I always use H1 for page/post titles and sub titles within the page/post will be H2.

  2. How relevant is tip #4 still, specifically about adding meta keywords, shouldnt it be add meta description?

    Many SEO pros say to exclude meta keywords and Google's own guide to SEO mentions nothing about meta keywords.

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