How to set Basic SEO foundations on a WordPress Website

Too often I see WordPress sites with the same issues. These issues can all be avoided by laying some simple foundations early on in the build of a WordPress site. If you build, or are building WordPress site, and want to know how to lay some simple SEO foundations, this is for you.

Here’s what we are going to run through:

  1. Removing content automatically produced from theme demos
  2. How to configure your permalinks
  3. Making sure one version of your site is accessible to search engines
  4. Improving the performance of your site
  5. Mastering the search appearance settings in the SEO Yoast plugin

The good news is, these foundations are simple to implement, and I’ll walk you through each step. If you’ve already launched your WordPress site, this can still be relevant. It’s better late than never. However, be cautious of changes you make as they can impact your current performance.

Let’s do it!

1. Remove junk content imported from theme demos

Many people start off building their site by adding a theme to WordPress and importing demo content they liked the look of. This is great from a design point of view, however there is something that can’t be ignored when doing this. The demo data you import is going to add a lot of content. These usually include:

  • Images
  • Pages
  • Posts
  • Galleries
  • Portfolio Items
  • Testimonials
  • Tags
  • Categories
  • Blog Comments
  • Sliders

In certain cases there can be more.

Why imported demo content is a problem

If left unattended, these will reap havoc on your site down the track. Too many times I have seen imported demo content littered through the Google Index. These items will have no relevance to your site, will confuse search engines, possibly drive irrelevant traffic to your site, and will waste your allocated crawl budget. Often these pages have little to no content on them, and if they do, they are copied from the demo site, causing mass duplication/thin content.

Ultimately, this reduces the quality of your site, and will negatively impact the ability of your site to rank in search engines. It’s time to get rid of the junk.

The VERY simple solution to imported demo content

It’s very simple problem to avoid.

  1. Don’t import it – Many themes will give you the option to not import this content. If you don’t need it, don’t import it.
  2. Manually Delete – If you need the full demo for design and templates, there will be some manual work involved. Starting at the top, work your way from “Posts”, all the way down to “Comments” and delete any irrelevant items the demo import may have created. Items will be different based on the theme, however it will be clear what content is not relevant. Be sure not to miss any tags or categories that may have been created.

Fantastic – you’ve removed all demo content and have a clean slate to work with. In future, if you hire an SEO, they won’t charge you thousands of dollars to clean up poor content that’s found it’s way into the Google Index.

Clean Out Demo Theme Content

2. Configure your permalinks

PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION IF YOUR SITE IS ALREADY LAUNCHED. IF YOU ARE RECEIVING ANY ORGANIC TRAFFIC, PLEASE DO NOT CHANGE YOUR PERMALINKS WITHOUT PROPER PLANNING.

Such a simple step that I’ve seen overlooked many times. In human speak, this is setting up how your URLs will be formatted. By default, they are going to be set to plain. I shiver every time I see this structure, and you should too. If my site was using a plain structure, this post would have a URL like “https://jcordigital.com.au/?p=123“. Not very attractive is it?

Why is URL structure important

  • While not a huge ranking factor, having your keyword in the URL path sure beats having ?p=123 – this will help you rank.
  • Think of the user, it’s much easier to share, or come back to a URL that has a clean, memorable structure.
  • Clear URL structures give search engines a better idea about the themes of your content.

How to have a clean URL structure

If you haven’t already launched your site, simply change your permalink structure from “Plain” to “Post Name”. More advanced users can explore custom structures, but for a standard user, post name will be fine. Reminder, do not change permalink structure if your site is launched and indexed. You will need to implement 301 redirects if this is the case, which may result in short term loss in performance.

Permalink Settings

3. Make sure ONE version of your site is available

You can have many versions of one website, even one page in the eyes of search engines. Let me elaborate.

  • https://www.jcordigital.com.au/blog/
  • https://www.jcordigital.com.au/blog
  • https://jcordigital.com.au/blog/
  • https://jcordigital.com.au/blog
  • http://www.jcordigital.com.au/blog/
  • http://www.jcordigital.com.au/blog
  • http://jcordigital.com.au/blog/
  • http://jcordigital.com.au/blog

While the above are all theoretically the same page, with the same content, if all of these are accessible, search engines will view these as 8 different pages, all competing against each other. Madness.

Duplicate content Simpsons

Why having multiple URL versions available is a no no

When all of these versions of a URL are accessible to search engines, there’s a chance they may all be indexed, causing duplication issues. There may even be issues indexing the pages at all. Also, consider if your site is 100 pages, and there’s 8 versions of those pages, all of a sudden search engines are working through 800 pages. Now think of larger sites with 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 pages, it can be a real issue.

This is inefficient, and will result in indexation issues and poor rankings.

301 redirects to the rescue

Firstly, pick the version of the site that is going to be universal across all URLs (this is called the canonical version). WordPress adds the “/” onto the backend of URLs, so it is simpler to make sure your chosen version has this. WordPress will also automatically redirect non-WWW to WWW and vice versa, based on your URL settings (Settings -> General). I like to keep the WWW, but this is purely your own preference. It must be a secure “HTTPS” connection.

If you look at the URL of this blog, you can see I’ve gone with httpS://WWW.jcorjidigial.com.au/seo-foundations-wordpress– this format is universal across my URLs, and all other versions will redirect.

WordPress is super friendly when it comes to this. The main redirect needed is the HTTP – HTTPS.

  1. SimpleDownload a Force SSL plugin like this one, activate and test.
  2. Advanced – Add a redirect rule to your .htaccess file. I prefer this method as I try to minimise plugin use. Add your website and copy the script below into your .htaccess file.

 

#HTTPS Redirect
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80 RewriteRule ^(.*)$ yoursitehere.com [R,L]

 

Always proceed with caution when dealing with the .htaccess file, a small mistake can bring down your site, so only work with it if you’re confident. Test your changes by going through all versions of your site and make sure they redirect to that one canonical choice.

4. Make your site quick from the get go

A quick site is essential for so many reasons. First and foremost, we want to provide a seamless experience for our users where they complete their task, without constantly staring at loading screens. Search engines look favourably on quick sites, and reward them when they provide a good user experience.

You don’t want a site as slow as Homer, so let’s find out what we can do.

How to make your site go vroooooom

While it can seem counterproductive to use plugins in this instant, I have found success with these plugins.

Side note – run a test on one of the many site speed tools (I like to use Pingdom Page Speed Insights) prior to making your changes. Run again after you have made changes and compare results.

  • Install WP Rocket – it is a paid plugin, however it’s worth it.
    • There are a number of configuration settings which I won’t go into, however, if you are new to a plugin like this, my advice would be to enable every setting, test your site, see if it has broken anything, then deactivate certain settings to see if that fixes the issues. Work backwards until you find the right mix. It’s a tedious process, but you will find the ideal settings that work well with your site, and boost it’s performance. Works best for sites that haven’t launched yet. If your site is live, it makes more sense to do this in a test environment, or during a time of low demand.
    • If you aren’t ready to spend money on this, I’ve found the free version of WP Fastest Cache to be a good starting point for performance improvement.
  • Install Imagify – again paid plugin.
    • Large images are common among new sites, and can seriously slow your load time. This plugin simply compresses and boosts the performance of images on your site from the moment they are uploaded.
    • Ideally, before you upload any image to your site, make sure it is saved for web. Try as best you can to get image sizes to 100kb or below.

It should be noted that hosting also plays a role in the performance of your site. You probably have your hosting sorted, but it’s worth noting my two favourite providers for small to medium sized websites.

  • Quadra Hosting – Perfect for small Australian sites. Great price and performance, and support is always quick and helpful.
  • WP Engine – If you have more budget, go for this. Amazing performance, 24/7 live chat. Options to pay a little extra and use their CDN services. Overall great hosting and have never had a bad experience with them.

I like to take the approach of never being satisfied with a website’s performance, so it’s something that should be constantly worked on. These measures are a great start, and will provide a quality experience from the get go.

5. SEO Yoast configuration

SEO Yoast is the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. It is the perfect tool to enhance your setup, and will help you in future make basic optimisations. There are some important settings to make sure you have right from the moment it’s installed.

I’m going to run through some basic technical settings that should be in place to help your site get indexed and crawled efficiently. Note, I only use the free version.

Why Yoast search appearance feature is important, and how to set it up correctly

Yoast has a number of different features, too many to go into here. The most important one to get right when setting your foundations is the search appearance configuration.

WordPress automatically creates a lot of pages, especially categories and tags. If you are not consistent with your tagging and categorisation of posts, these can turn into hundreds of low quality pages. Also, similar to step 1, themes import their own page templates, which do not need to be indexed or viewed by search engines.

Yoast search appearance

If  “No” is selected, Yoast adds a “noindex” directive to pages with that certain template. It also removes these pages from the automated sitemap.xml file that Yoast creates. This is a good thing – it means low quality pages will not be indexed by search engines. Here’s what we need to do.

  1. Navigate to the Search Appearance section of Yoast plugin.
  2. Under “Content Types”, make sure posts and pages are set to “Yes”. These are your main pages. We must not exclude these from search results.  There may be other options from your theme included here, it is up to your judgement whether or not that template should be excluded. I cannot give advice on these, and advise you test.
  3. Move to “Taxonomies”. I set everything in this section to “No”. These are pages that can be generated in bulk, and are low quality.
  4. Move to “Archives” and set these to “No”.
  5. Save your changes.

Now, this does have a level of danger to it. We don’t want to accidentally block a page that we want search engines to visit. Good news is there’s a very easy way to test that we haven’t messed things up.

  1. Download and install Screaming Frog SEO Spider (paid version required for sites bigger than 500 URLs).
  2. Enter your site’s URL and click start. Let it run to 100%.
  3. Navigate to Overview -> Directives -> Noindex. Here you will see the pages that include a noindex directive.
  4. If you see any important pages here that should be indexed by search engines, revisit your search appearance settings in Yoast and pinpoint the template that page relates to, and set it to “Yes”. (If it’s tags, categories and archives, you’re all good)
  5. Crawl the site again and make sure the noindex directive is no longer in place for those pages.
  6. Note – if your global WordPress settings are set to discourage search engines while you are building your site, every page will automatically have the noindex directive. Turn this off under Settings -> Reading (only briefly) to test which pages will have the directive when you go live. Remember to turn this setting back on once testing is finished.

Screaming Frog No Index

6. Some juicy extras

I couldn’t help myself. I’m not going to give much detail, but you should be looking into these areas when setting your SEO foundations (not all WordPress related).

  • Setup Google Tag Manager.
  • Setup Google Search Console.
  • Setup Google Analytics.
  • If you have trouble working through PHP templates, install this plugin to help you insert code into the head and body of your site.
  • If your site has not launched, make sure you discourage search engines from indexing the site (under Settings -> Reading).
  • If your site has launched, make sure you ARE NOT discouraging search engines from indexing your site.
  • Implement an SSL certificate, it’s just a non negotiable these days.
  • Setup your Facebook Pixel (not SEO related but extremely useful for marketing down the track).

That’s all for now. While basic, I hope this can help people who are building their sites with limited SEO knowledge. Getting these things right early will save time and money in the future. I’m constantly adding to this list, so would love to hear from other experts their thoughts on how they approach this. If you have any questions please reach out via the comments or connect with me on LinkedIn.

If you’re looking to get an expert to help you with your SEO, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Email Marketing, and all the rest of these exciting online channels, reach out and we can organise a free strategy session to go over your business goals, your current digital strategy, and how it can be improved.

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