This is the complete WordPress SEO checklist for 2019.
Every checklist point works in 2019 and follows Google’s Guidelines
So if you want your WordPress site to be SEO friendly, you’ll love today’s checklist.
Let’s jump right in.
- 1. www vs non-www Domain
- 2. Install the SEO Optimized theme
- 3. Install a WordPress SEO Plugin
- 4. Setup Friendly Permalinks
- 5. Use Focus Keyword
- 6. Set the custom SEO Title Tags and Meta Description
- 7. Header Tags – H1, H2, H3
- 8. Use the Image “alt” attribute
- 9. Enable Breadcrumbs
- 10. Use Short URLs
- 11. Compress and optimize your images
- 12. Enable content caching
- 13. Use No Follow tags
- 14. Improve crawl budget by using Robots.txt
- 15. Write SEO Titles and Descriptions manually
- 16. Submit your Sitemap in Google Search Console and Bing webmaster tool
- 17. Insert Sitemap in Robots.txt
- 18. Interlink with older posts
- 19. Last Updated Date in SERPs
- 20. Use Schema Markup
- 21. Secure Your Site With HTTPS
- 22. Improve your WordPress Site Design
- 23. Database Cleanup
1. www vs non-www Domain
If you are starting a site and considering whether to choose www or non-www domain for your site. Then Let me tell you there are no SEO benefits of using www or non-www. It’s just a matter of personal preference. But then you might think why big brands like Bloomberg, AOL, Forbes, etc. uses the “www” version. It’s because back in the early days using “www” was a common thing like now using non-www is a common thing. And now if they want to switch to non-www version after using it from many years it can be a complex process and create issues because of lots of URLs they have.
Why I choose the non-www version?
- Because I like short URLs
- Users do not have to type an extra four characters “www.” in the URLs.
Note: Google treats www and non-www as different sites. For Example, www.growthpix.com/seo-basics and growthpix.com/seo-baiscs are different URLs in Google’s eyes. That’s why we should redirect all the version to one version.
No matter which version you choose you should stick to one version. And Redirect all the other versions to your chosen version. So that each URL is accessible and doesn’t create multiple URLs with the same content issues.
You can setup the preferred version in your hosting account’s cPanel or in search console.
Having www or non-www in your URL doesn’t affect SEO. But you should stick to one version and redirect all the others versions to a single version.
2. Install the SEO Optimized theme
Once you finish installing WordPress. Then you need a theme. WordPress provides default theme but it does not give greater control over theme customization.
So which theme you should opt for. Here are the two important things you should look for.
- Responsive Design: As the mobile searches increasing and Google also want the website to be mobile-friendly. The theme should be responsive in order to work great on mobile. Check your site on Mobile Friendly tool to know whether it works fine or not on mobile.
- Lightweight: Avoid Heavy themes. They slow down the website speed which gives bad user experience. Both users and Google doesn’t like slow websites.
I recommend these themes.
3. Install a WordPress SEO Plugin
Having an SEO Plugin gives more control on optimizing your site for SEO. It makes it easy to change the stuff which is important for SEO like SEO title, meta description, noindex tags, etc.
Here are the 3 popular SEO Plugins
- Yoast SEO (Oldest and widely used SEO Plugin)
- SEO Press (It is intuitive and easy to use)
- RankMath (New in the market but give lot functionality in its free version than SEO Press and Yoast SEO) (I am using this.)
All these plugins are popular and available in free versions with limited features. But our recommendation will be SEO Press and RankMath. I think these are now providing more functionality and ease of use than Yoast SEO.
At GrowthPix I use RankMath. By providing many features in its free version (with a promise of keeping the current list of features free for life) RankMath is also gaining a lot of popularity and positive reviews.
To install the SEO Plugin
Step 1 : In the WordPress dashboard go to Plugins and click on the “Add New”. Search for your preferred SEO Plugin and click on “Install Now.”
Step 2 : Then click on “Activate.”
Step 3 : After activating the SEO Plugin, at the left sidebar you will see an extra option in your menu. It will be “SEO” for both Yoast and SEO Press and for Rank Math it will be Rank Math. From there you can access the setting of the plugins.
Note: In the later checklist I’ll be using RankMath for demonstration and in screenshots. But if you are using other SEO Plugin still don’t worry these plugins works almost the same.
4. Setup Friendly Permalinks
Permalink is the full URL of the page, post, landing page or any content on your site. By Default, URL structure in WordPress is weird and not clean which is not good for user experience and SEO.
In the default setting “Day and name” WordPress insert date and name in the URL slug. Info: Slug is the remaining part of the URL that comes after the root domain.
But as URL is the important thing in SEO we should carefully select the URL structure.
I use and recommends to choose “Post name” as your permalink settings. It will make your slug shorter and will include your title or keywords which is good for SEO.
To change the permalink setting go to Settings → Permalinks → Select “Post Name” → Save.
Note: If you are changing the Permalinks of an older site or you have already published articles then you need to be careful doing it. In this case, changing the permalinks will cause an issue in already published articles, you need to edit the permalink using .htaccess or using a plugin like Change Permalink Helper.
5. Use Focus Keyword
I know lots of SEO experts are saying that optimize your content for the topic, not for the keyword. And they are right, but still having the main keyword in the content and at the critical point will not give any harm. Especially the main keyword in URL, Title, H1 is still important and increases the chances of getting a higher ranking. So you should not forget these places.
And that is why inserting the main keyword using SEO plugins helps you to check the places where you are missing inserting the main keywords.
You can set the Focus keyword using the SEO plugins that I mentioned above. All three of them has a section at the bottom where you can insert the main keyword. But the recommendation they provide is not completely the same. I found the recommendation provided by RankMath is better than others. These are easy and enough.
Note: Many people obsess over the keyword density. I recommend you ignore the keyword density and try to insert the keywords in the content as natural as possible.
6. Set the custom SEO Title Tags and Meta Description
SEO title and meta description is what users see on the search result.
SEO Title is among the top priority while doing On-Page SEO. It tells the users and Google about the content.
Best practices while writing the SEO Title:
- Insert the Main keyword in the title, if possible place it in the beginning. For Example Instead of “How to do On-Page SEO” you can write “On-Page SEO: The Complete Guide”
- Insert the CTR elements like Power Words, Numbers, Brackets, etc. It will help in improving CTR
Now, About Meta Description
Meta Description is not a ranking factor but it helps in improving CTR which is a ranking factor. So meta description indirectly helps in getting a higher ranking.
- Include the main keyword in the description. Its because in the Google search the main keyword gets bold in meta description which helps in getting attention.
You can edit the SEO Title and meta description using the SEO Plugin. These are at the bottom of the post or page you are editing.
7. Header Tags – H1, H2, H3
H tags help Google’s crawler to understand the content structure. Also having a proper content structure helps users to understand the content better and improves the readability. It puts the hierarchy of importance in the content.
About content formatting by Google
Organize your topics clearly
It’s always beneficial to organize your content so that visitors have a good sense of where one content topic begins and another ends. Breaking your content up into logical chunks or divisions helps users find the content they want faster.
Dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or layout separation.
Best practices for adding heading tags.
- One H1 tag per post or page with the main keyword in it.
- Can have multiple H2, H3, etc. in which you can include your secondary keywords or subtopics of the post.
You can check the heading structure of your post by clicking on the icon.
So, always make sure to edit the content before hitting the publish button. Use H tags, bold letter, italicize, underline, * lists, etc. to make your content stunning.
8. Use the Image “alt” attribute
The purpose of the “alt” attribute is to provide information about the image if the image doesn’t load properly. And this is very helpful for people who have vision impairment and using screen readers.
But “alt” text is not limited to helping visually-impaired people. It also helps in ranking your images in Google image search.
According to John Mullere.
That said, you can add the “alt” text in WordPress during uploading the image or you can just go to image and edit it.
You will see a box like this.
- Describe the image in context to the content. (priority)
- If possible add keywords in the alt text.
9. Enable Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs give the clear path of the page or post to the user and Google Crawler. With that user can easily navigate to the previous page or directly to the root page.
Benefits of using Breadcrumbs
- It helps web crawler to understand the hierarchy and structure of the website.
- It provides a better user experience by providing information about where the users are on the website.
- It looks good in the search results which maybe helps in improving CTR.
On the website, it looks like this.
And Here’s how SERP will look with breadcrumbs
And without breadcrumbs
Here’s the helpful tutorials on adding breadcrumbs
- If you are using SEO Press premium Plugin and GeneratePress Theme.
- Is you are using Yoast SEO Plugin and GeneratePress Theme
- If you are using Yoast SEO Plugin
10. Use Short URLs
Short URLs not only look nice but it tends to rank better according to a study done by Backlinko.
As we have already discussed about changing the permalinks structure in “Setup Friendly Permalinks” section. Now, let’s know how you can edit it in an individual post or page.
At every post or page, you can change the slug of the URL by clicking on the Page title where you see an edit option. Like this
Or At the right-hand sidebar “Permalink”
- Should be human readable and contains the main keyword
- Use hyphens
- Tells what the article is about by looking at it (URL).
Here’s the explanation for the last point.
If you are using Yoast SEO, it recommends removing stop words from the URLs. What is stop words? These are short non-descriptive words like is, are, a, the, etc. While this is good practice and reduces the size of the URL but sometimes it also creates weird and funny URL and can give wrong interpretation about the article. See the example below…
As a thumb rule if reading the URL without stop word gives an idea about the article then remove it otherwise keep it.
11. Compress and optimize your images
Having images in your content not only makes your content engaging but it also helps in reducing the bounce rate.
But the downside of adding images is that it increases the size of the webpage. And if your content is long then there is a chance that your content has more no. of images which results in an increase in the total size of the webpage.
And if the size of the webpage is bigger than it will take more time to load the page.
But here’s the important study.
According to Google, 53% of mobile site visitors leave a page if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds.
That said, we can’t avoid adding images and at the same time, we want our web page size to be smaller. And that’s where image compression comes into play. Compressing the images reduces the size of the image thus reduces the size webpage.
To do that I would recommend these three plugins.
All three of them works great.
Here’s how to set up Imagify
Step 1 : Sign up at Imagify
Step 2 : Install Imagify Plugin
Step 3 : Go to “Media” → Bulk Optimization → Select the Compression Level (Normal, Aggressive or Ultra) → Select “Imagif’em all!”
By Following the above step you will optimize all the images of your website. And to automatically optimize the image while uploading it you can select the following setting.
Settings → Imagify → Auto-Optimize images on upload
Next, set Image resizing.
Set the image “max width” dimension according to your WordPress theme. You will need to set the widest image resolution that can be displayed on your site. To do that, Go to Imagify General Setting → scroll down → set the size.
12. Enable content caching
Caching makes your website to load fast which is good for users and SEO as we have discussed in earlier points.
But, What is caching? In a nutshell:
When someone loads your webpage your browser creates a copy of it and store it in a cache memory(temporary memory). So that if the user loads the same page again then the browser will quickly load the copy of the webpage. Because the browser doesn’t have to load the webpage from the server it makes web pages to load extremely fast.
To enable content caching, I recommend these plugins.
Both of these plugins great. But as of now, I am not in the mood of spending money on Cache plugin so I am using a free plugin.
Here’s the setting I recommends in WP Fastest Cache
13. Use No Follow tags
NoFollow tags tells Google not to follow the particular link. This is particularly helpful when you don’t want to transfer the link juice.
And this is what we can use in our own site. We should pass the link juice to the important pages of our site.
To stop the transfer of link juice from the homepage to the pages which you don’t want to rank in search results is by just inserting nofollow tags.
Here is an example of a nofollow tag at the homepage.
14. Improve crawl budget by using Robots.txt
It cost money to the search engine when their web crawler crawls your website. And that is why Google and other search engines want webmasters to optimize their site for crawl efficiency.
When web crawler comes to your site you want them to crawl the important pages of your site. But if you are allowing crawlers to crawl every webpage on your site then there are chances that your important pages will not be crawled frequently. And Google will not be able to quickly know that you have updated the page content.
Here’s what Google want webmaster to avoid from crawling
- Don’t let your internal search result pages be crawled by Google. Users dislike clicking a search engine result only to land on another search result page on your site.
- Allowing URLs created as a result of proxy services to be crawled.
Optimizing for crawl efficiency is very beneficial for Website who has millions of pages like Forbes, CNET, Bloomberg, etc. Here’s the example of cnet.com where they are wasting their crawl budget.
Note: If you do not have too many pages ( under 1000 pages ) then you shouldn’t worry about the crawl budget much.
To stop crawling the webpage you need to disallow the pages in robots.txt file.
Here’s the recommended reading
15. Write SEO Titles and Descriptions manually
If you are using SEO Plugin then they will automatically set the SEO title (Same a Page Title) and meta description(from the content) if you forget to write them manually.
I recommend you to write SEO title and meta description manually for each post and page. Don’t be lazy.
Here’s why you should write manually.
- Sometimes your Page title is longer in character than the preferred limit of SEO Title which will result in cutting down the title in the search results.
- You should write SEO Title to get maximum CTR (which is not important in Page Title)
- Meta Description also helps in increasing CTR so we should not put this in the hands of SEO Plugins.
16. Submit your Sitemap in Google Search Console and Bing webmaster tool
A sitemap is a file which contains all the URLs of pages, posts, videos, images, etc. which webmaster wants to index.
It is the easiest way to help web crawler to discover all the important link of your site. That’s why every site creates a sitemap.
And for WordPress user, SEO Plugins makes it easier because it automatically creates the sitemap.
Usually, you can access the sitemap by placing the /sitemap.xml after root domain like this yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. Here’s what growthpix sitemap looks like generated by RankMath.
Now, it’s time to submit the sitemap in the search console.
Submitting the sitemap in google search console is the easiest and fastest way to get your URL indexed by the Search Engines. And here’s how you can do it.
Step 1 : Go to Search console
Step 2 : Select “Sitemaps” at the left-hand side
Step 3 : Insert the sitemap URLs
Step 4 : Hit “Submit” Button
Note: Before submitting the sitemap URL first check that the URL is working correctly by loading the URL in the browser. If it doesn’t show any error it means the sitemap is working fine.
Similarly, you should submit the sitemap to bing webmaster tool as well. Here are the full tutorials on submitting sitemap in bing.
To know more about sitemaps
17. Insert Sitemap in Robots.txt
Robots.txt is the first file crawler read before crawling the site. Robots.txt files tell the crawler which pages to crawl and which should not be crawled.
And sitemap.xml we have already discussed in the previous point. It is the file which is made so that crawler can easily access all the URLs you want them to crawl and index.
So if you place the sitemap URL in robots.txt it will be easier for Google to find the sitemap.xml file and crawl all the necessary pages present in the sitemap.
The easier we’ll make crawler to find the page, the faster it will index.
Here’s the snapshot of growthpix’s robots.txt file
Usually, when you install SEO Plugin it will create a virtual robots.txt file. And you edit the robots.txt file using the SEO Plugin in the WordPress dashboard.
And If you are using Yoast you checkout this tutorial
But I would recommend you go to your cPanel then file manager and create robots.txt file (if it’s not created ) and then add the sitemap.
Here’s how you can do this.
The steps shown in the video is similar to whether you are using SiteGround hosting or any other hosting.
You can follow this path
Go to cPanel → File Manager → Root Directory → Create New file → Name it “robots.txt” → Right click and then click on “Edit” → add the sitemap and the code → save it
Note: Skip creating a new file if you already have robots.txt file in the root directory.
18. Interlink with older posts
Interlink with older post also know as internal linking. In this, we place links which point from one page to another page of the same site.
It is a natural way of guiding people to get the info about a particular topic in your site. For Example, if I am recommending you to read the SEO basics in this guide then I will insert a link on SEO basics like this so that you can get to the post and learn about the SEO basics.
Interlinks is a good way to transfer the link juice from one page to another page. But, internal links are not just limited to passing link juice, it also helps to create a silo structure.
Usually, people insert internal links from a post or page which has more backlinks (link juice) and pass it to the pages which have low backlinks or require link juice boost to get higher ranking in search results.
I would recommend you to insert at least 2-3 internal link in your page to the pages which you want to rank higher in search results.
Recommended reading: Kevin Indig wrote a nice article on internal linking
19. Last Updated Date in SERPs
Showing the last updated date in SERP can help in increasing the CTR because people want to read the latest post. But whether it helps positively or negatively in the ranking is a bit controversial.
Some found it helps in improving ranking while other founds it negatively affects the ranking.
But here I want to point on updating the old content.
Usually, webmaster adds the current year in the SEO title but forget to change the associated date to the post which shows up in search results. Like this.
This can create a mismatch when people look at the results.
Here’s how you can show up the last updated date .
Step 1 : Go to Appearance → Theme Editor
Step 2 : Go to single.php and find this code “<?php the_time(‘M j, Y’) ?>” or this
or “<?php the_time(‘F j Y’); ?>”
Step 3 : Replace the above code with this code “<time datetime=”<?php the_modified_time(‘Y-m-d’); ?>”><?php the_modified_time(‘F jS, Y’); ?></time>”
20. Use Schema Markup
Schema markup or structured data helps Google and other search engines to better understand your content. But the way it displays your page will increase CTR and SERP real estate.
Here’s what I mean.
And Here’s what Google’s John Mueller says about Structured data.
That is why I recommend you to insert schema markup in your pages where it is relevant.
To insert schema you can use SEO Plugins that I mentioned above.
I do not have complete details about the schema in Yoast. So I’ll recommend these plugins.
SEOPress (Requires Premium version for schema)
Add schema using SEOPress
Add schema using RankMath
Note: RankMath as separate plugin just for the schema. So if you want to use Free version of SEO Press then you install separate schema plugin from RankMath.
In the end, make sure to check the schema for any error at Google’s Structured Data Testing tool once you finish its implementation.
21. Secure Your Site With HTTPS
Google has officially stated the HTTPS as the ranking signal.
HTTPS is not only a ranking signal but it also increases the trust in the eyes of the users. So if your site is not secured go ahead and do it.
You can ask your hosting provider for migrating your site from http to https.
And here’s a helpful guide on migrating your site to https without damaging your SEO.
Or if you’re launching a new site then set it up before launching it. Now a day hosting sites provide free SSL so you don’t need to pay extra money for implementing HTTPS.
22. Improve your WordPress Site Design
Website design is not directly related to SEO. But it affects a lot of other factors which are important to grow your website and build your brand.
When users visit your site they make a lot of split-second decisions in their subconscious mind about your blog and your brand. And the good design is the best way to give a good first impression to your users and to build trust.
Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.By Paul Rand
That said, good design doesn’t have to be fancy. It should be clean and simple.
Here are some blogs that have nice design
Here’s a few things you can do it right now.
1. Make your font size at least 14 px
2. Move your content above the fold.
3. Aim for using 2 -3 color on your site. One should be your brand color and use other colors for other details on your site.
4. Keep the sidebar of the blog clean. Don’t make the cluttered sidebar
23. Database Cleanup
If you’ve been using WordPress for a while, chances are your WordPress databases it filled with junk files (trash, spam comments, spam folder, post revisions, etc.)
This junk data makes your database bloated and cluttered. So, cleaning up the unnecessary data from the WordPress database clear up space and improves the performance of your site.
That is why it is recommended to perform database clean up regularly.
The easiest way to clean up your WordPress database is by using Plugin. So, I recommend these plugins.
Now It’s Your Turn
I hope you got a ton of value from this WordPress SEO Checklist.
It’s time to take action. Go ahead and make your WordPress site SEO Optimized.
Did I miss anything? Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now.1