Finishing the website setup can be quite a daunting task for a beginner. Is it time to start writing content? Nope. There’s a few more steps you need to take to avoid SEO problems further down the road.

Checking the Canonicalization Setup

This is one of the usual problems that SEO beginners like myself had a problem with. You have to choose the default homepage URL that your users and Google will see. Typically, there are two ways a website can appear: the naked domain (http://yoursite.com) and the www variant (www.yoursite.com)

In SEO, it doesn’t really matter what you choose between the two. However, you do need to choose one and just redirect the other address to the former.

Redirection is important as to avoid 404 errors, which Google and your visitors hate. For most WordPress installations, you can choose which at the initial setup and it automatically does the rest for you.

If you want to change the default URL on your WordPress site, you can do so by going to Dashboard > Settings > General

Sometimes, a WordPress installation can go wrong one way or another and just setting the default URL here doesn’t go as planned. An advanced way of trying to fix canonicalization issues is editing the .htaccess file, but we will dive into that later.

Installing SEO Plugins

One of the reasons why WordPress is beginner-friendly is because of the plugins. Still, they can be a double-edged sword and you’ll know why soon.

There are only two leading SEO WordPress plugins out there: All In One SEO Pack and Yoast SEO.

Yoast SEO

Yoast is superb at handling on-page SEO mainly because of its built-in text analysis that is just one of its many features. It guides the user to write content with SEO in mind. However, it does lead to some over-optimization problems if a user tries to please Yoast all the time.

Besides the text analysis, Yoast also has XML Sitemap options, snippet preview and editing, basic open graph, meta robots settings, and more.

All In One SEO Pack

While the AIO SEO Pack plugin lacks text analysis, it makes up for its plethora of SEO settings. For instance, you can set more open graph options and check which taxonomies to NOFOLLOW and NOINDEX. It also has XML Sitemap generation and a snippet editor.

What I don’t like about this plugin is the user interface. It feels half-baked. Still, it gets the job done. If you are confident with your on-page SEO or if you simply just want to write content the way you want it, go for the All in One SEO Pack.

After setting up your chosen plugin, you may start to write content. It is advisable to refrain from publishing first before you have set up the next steps.

Choosing Your Theme

Some may say that this is often a personal choice and it should be, it’s your website after all. There are tons of free WordPress themes that may suit your niche, but there are also some factors to consider.

a. Is it too heavy?

Most people want a blog that’s flashy and visually attractive. There are a lot of themes with sliders and such, but they can take a long time too load especially if there’s a lot on the screen. One ranking factor is web speed and having a heavy website will not really help.

b. Does it serve your purpose?

One common problem in choosing a theme is that it might not suit all of your needs. It took me several hours to find this exact theme with everything I want. Others could have a really great menu, but fall short in the images department. Some may have great grids for posts, but the posts themselves look horrible. There are also some themes that claim to be “SEO-friendly”.

Choosing Your Permalink Structure

Keywords are a big part of the SEO game, but gone are the days of trying too hard to reach the perfect density and placement. Hell, even Google started to ignore meta keywords altogether in 2009 to prevent spammers from abusing the tags. That’s even separate from the Panda algorithm that rolled out in 2011.

What does keywords have to do with the permalink structure? Instead of stuffing keywords in your content, you can place a natural one via the URL itself. Consider this post as an example, I don’t have to put the whole search engine optimization term in the title since it’s already spelled out in the URL. This is often called as the breadcrumb.

Start off with choosing the custom permalink structure in WordPress. By default, it is set to the Plain structure which is not only ugly, but also worse for SEO. If you want to follow the breadcrumb path, use **/%category%/%postname%/ **for the structure.

If you are going with the silo structure, this is also the way to go. Build out categories and subcategories as you wish to maximize your website’s relevance with your target niche.

Once that’s done, there’s still one problem. The category URL is not consistent with your permalink structure. You can avoid this by installing the Remove Category URL plugin for a quick fix.

Now, you can write optimized content and group them according to categories.

Organizing the Menu and Categories

Woah there cowboy, we’re not done yet. You have to organize the menu with the appropriate categories. This is crucial if you want a neat site structure that both a user and a Googlebot can follow.

To arrange your categories and add any other pages to your menu, go to DashboardAppearance > Menus

Changing the Blog Posts Page

This is recommended if you want to separate your posts with the use of categories. If you are just going to the plain old Blog page route (which isn’t advisable since you’ll be missing out on the breadcrumb SEO bonuses), you can just choose to set the Blog page as your Posts page. To do this go to Dashboard > Settings > Reading

Here, you can do a lot of things for your website. The first is to set whether your landing page will just be a static page. In which case, you will need to set the static front page and which page will display your blog posts.

If you want the landing page to post all of your latest posts, just choose the first option. This is often done for blogs that update their posts regularly such as an entertainment site. You can also choose how many blog posts show up in the page.

Another useful option is to set if a feed will show the full text of your post or just the summary. I would suggest the latter since you don’t want users scrolling down a 2000-word article just to get to the next post. In that case, you should learn to use the Insert Read More tag to cut out your summaries. Some themes do this automatically, but it’s better to be safe than sorry with the summary.

Installing an Image Optimization Plugin

While high-resolution photos may look good on your blog, they can easily add a few seconds to your loading speed. A good way to make sure that your posts are not heavy is installing a good image optimization plugin.

The two best image optimizers I used on several WordPress-based websites are WP Smush and EWWW Image Optimizer. Both have bulk optimization options which comes in handy if you’ve already uploaded your images on the site.

WP Smush

WP Smush is pretty straightforward. It optimizes your image once you upload it. It also shows how much data has been compressed on the uploader. Bulk optimization comes at a price though.

EWWW Image Optimizer

While EWWW Image Optimizer is a bit more complicated, it does have a plethora of image optimization options. For one, you can choose which image file types to optimize. The bulk image optimization option can be done quick and it includes all of the thumbnail sizes of each photo as well.

Activating Website Cache Plugin

By default, there is no website cache activated on your WordPress installation. Caches are crucial to improving the website load speed by a fair amount. Fortunately, there are plugins that can do both website caching and Gzip compression which greatly reduces the file size of your landing pages.

W3 Total Cache seems to to the job well. It’s free except for the CDN of course. Besides the cache, it can also minify HTML, CSS, and JS files.

Fixing Your Profile Description

If you are making a website for your personal portfolio or brand, one of the first terms you should rank for is your name. One way of doing this besides the usual placement in the title tags is to prepare a descriptive profile/author description. This way, every blog post you write and publish will have your name or branding.

Do note that some themes do not show the author description below a single post. It’s not entirely bad, but you are missing out on a chance to rank for your name or brand without having to mention it every time on the body of your content.

With all of that done, you are ready to write and publish your first post!