The Ultimate WordPress Setup and SEO Guide for Small Businesses
If you’re interested in having a website developed (or even doing it yourself), you’ve probably run across a lot of information on types of sites, platforms, CMS, and other aspects of building a website. The question is: What platform will be best for you?
At DAGMAR, after having used several different platforms we prefer to work with and maintain WordPress sites.
WordPress is the most ubiquitous website platform around right now. It powers an estimated 30% of all websites globally!
Some of the most widely read and influential websites are run on WordPress platforms. These include The Chicago Sun Times, BBC America, The Disney Company, The New York Post, and many more. Even our own DAGMAR Marketing site is on the WordPress platform.
While some view WordPress as a simplistic website builder or a free, basic blog platform, it is much more: It’s a powerful tool for getting your information and services out to your potential customer base.
If the magic of Disney trusts WordPress to their website, you can bet it will work for your site as well.
WordPress SEO benefits
We’re an SEO company first and foremost. When we evaluate websites and tools, our primary concerns are “How will this help with better search engine visibility?” and “How will this make the optimization of a website easier and better?”
WordPress, when initially installed, is SEO-friendly from the get-go. The basic setup allows pages to be indexed quickly and easily. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to tweak WordPress to get the best SEO benefits. The first thing website owners should do is get familiar with some of the basics of how to setup a WordPress website and SEO best practices.
WordPress Setup Basics:
Choosing a name if you’re launching a brand-new site
While this isn’t specific only to WordPress, choosing a good domain name is fairly important to getting started with your site. You don’t have to have the perfect name, but you’ll need a domain name for your website before you can launch it.
WordPress does allow you to get a free URL as a subdomain of WordPress.org. If you’re just interested in blogging or a do-it-yourselfer wanting to get a feel for WordPress, this can be a good place to start.
But if you have a business or you’re using a blog to sell products and information, you’re going to want your very own domain name.
Here are our recommendations for choosing a domain name:
- Stick with .com whenever possible. While there are a lot of new, unique-sounding domain extensions—such as .pizza or .ninja—.com is still the most established and recognized extension for websites. When in doubt about typing a website, most people will add .com to the end of URL just because that’s what they’re used to. If your preferred name isn’t available on a .com, the next best is .net or, if you’re part of an organization or non-profit, .org. But when available, a .com is our recommendation.
- Use a keyword or keywords in your name if possible. While Google has claimed there’s only a small benefit to having a keyword in your domain name, studies seem to show otherwise. In a study published on SearchEngineWatch, it was found that 63% of the top ranking sites across multiple industries utilize keywords in their domain name. There’s no need to get spammy—just pick a keyword that’s relevant to your service or industry and use that when possible. It also helps to make your site a little more memorable. “ChrisBlueWidgets.com” is a bit more memorable than “ChrisGregory.com” if the goal is to sell blue widgets. If you’re a regional/local company, adding a location to your URL wouldn’t hurt either.
- Keep the name as short as possible. This helps with memory and it’s easier to read than a long, complicated URL.
- Do not use hyphens. They look spammy and amateurish, and no one will remember to hyphenate your name when typing it in the URL bar.
- Register your name for multiple years: This is somewhat of a personal preference, but if this is your business, you want to keep the domain name locked up for years to come. Most domain name registrars will allow you to purchase your domain for multiple year increments. Also, according to several Google patents, domain registration length may be a ranking factor.
Once you’ve settled on a name and purchased it, you’re going to need web hosting to get your website online for people to see.
Choosing WordPress Hosting
Your web host will be where all of the files for your site reside. When someone wants to visit your site, your host is what will serve your website up to readers.
You’ll want to choose a web host that has reputable customer service and, ideally, one that is experienced with WordPress hosting. There are quite a few good services available, including:
These all have good customer service, allow for easy installation of WordPress and are affordable options.
Our preferred hosting service is WPEngine. We host our website there and, whenever possible, we put clients’ websites on WPEngine. WPEngine is dedicated to hosting WordPress websites and do not host any other platforms. That means its customer service team members are WordPress experts, but in addition to that, you are given a development platform (to make site edits behind the scenes without messing with your live site) and daily backups which are easily published in case you run into issues with your site and need to revert to an older version.
Whichever type of hosting you decide on, just ensure they can provide adequate WordPress support and will make sure your website is always online.
Setting Up HTTPS Security
When you launch your site, you want to use a secure certificate. Google will be providing warnings on all sites in Chrome that do not have a secure certificate (i.e., have HTTPS:// in their domain). So you will want to make sure your site is using SSL which can be purchased from your host.
In addition to it being a trust signal to users that their information is being securely protected, it is also a ranking factor for Google.
Choosing WordPress Themes
Because of how easy it is to get started on WordPress, many users are not web designers or programmers. And thanks to that, WordPress has made it easy to make a site your very own with the use of themes.
There are thousands of themes available for WordPress, both free and paid, and you can also use a basic WordPress install for creating a custom theme.
While there are perhaps thousands of theme developers online, when we’re not going the custom theme route, we tend to use StudioPress. This is a WordPress-specific theme developer with approximately 30 theme designs to choose from. With StudioPress (and most other theme developers) you can use their themes to build upon and customize your layout if you have the coding skills.
Once you choose a theme, install and activate it from the “Appearance” → “Themes” section of WordPress.
How to Setup WordPress Homepage (Blog vs. Static Page)
WordPress originally was set up as a blog platform, which means that anytime you added a post to your site, that post would be the top/most recent article appearing.
But if you’re running a service business or you sell products, and information is secondary to your offerings, then a static homepage is probably best for your needs.
First you will need to create a couple new pages (as opposed to posts in WordPress, which show chronologically). One of the pages you create will be assigned as your “HOME” and the other will be for “BLOG” posts.
Now you will need to go to Settings → Reading and click the button to set a static page. You will then assign your new HOME page as the frontpage and the BLOG page for your posts.
You’re WordPress install is now setup more like a traditional website, with a blog page, versus the standard blog layout in WordPress.
Search Engine Visibility Settings
This is a biggie, and I’m not too proud to admit: I’ve made this mistake a few times, once with some serious consequences.
When you’re setting up and publishing content on WordPress, you want to make sure Google and other search engines can find and crawl your website.
There is a setting in the WordPress dashboard that allows you to have your site not crawled and indexed by search engines. Generally speaking, you always want your site to be crawlable by search engines. This is especially important for when you’re redesigning or moving an existing site to WordPress.
Go into Settings → Reading and scroll down to Search Engine Visibility then make sure “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked — if it is, uncheck it.
This setting could seriously wreck your site’s rankings. What this is telling Google and other search engines is you do not want them crawling and indexing your site, or showing it to users in search results. You’re de-indexing your site. If you accidentally do this and don’t catch it quickly, you can have a hell of a time regaining your lost rankings and indexed pages.
Trust us: Never click the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” selection.
Install Google Analytics and Verify Your Site in Search Console
Google Analytics is probably the single most important tool in the business owner’s and digital marketer’s toolbox. First, it’s FREE, and second, it provides you with all sorts of information about visitors to your site, including the amount of time they spend on your site, the pages they visit, the pages they come into your site on (i.e., landing pages), and more.
Your first step will be to go to analytics.google.com and setup an account. From there you will create a new account.
- Go to the Admin (gear icon) and click to open new dashboard
- Click the dropdown arrow on the Account view box
- Go to bottom of dropdown and click Create new account
Once you click Create new account, you will get a setup page. Fill out your site name, URL, niche you’re in, timezone, and a few default clickboxes, then click Get tracking ID.
Next, you will be brought to a screen with your tracking code and ID. Depending on your WordPress install, you can either use a plugin to install the tracking ID/code or have the code inserted directly into the source code of your site. Once the code is installed, you can send “test traffic” to your site to make sure it is loaded correctly and tracking visitors. Analytics is ready to go!
Next, you need to set up Google Search Console via Webmaster Tools. This tool will give you more insights into how visitors find your site, the click through rate for specific search terms, and how many clicks pages and terms are getting.
Go to www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home and set up your account. Next you will need to click the Add a property button
A popup will appear where you can add your URL to Search Console
Once you click the Add button, you will be brought to the “verify your ownership” page.
Google gives you a few options here, including using your hosting service and uploading another snippet of code.
But by far the easiest method to verify ownership is the Google Analytics process. As long as you created the analytics code installed on your site (or you have full edit access to the Analytics property) you can verify your ownership of the site.
Once verified, you will have to wait a few days to start seeing data.
Before adding lots of pages and posts to your site, make sure you edit the permalink structure of your URLs.
By default, WordPress uses a post id or chronological-folder URL layout for your posts. These tend to look like:
post id structure: site.com/p?=555
chronological date structure: site.com/2018/02/20/postname
Those are really ugly, user-unfriendly permalink structures. We prefer something much simpler and user-friendly: We use an easy post-name structure. When setting permalinks go to Settings → Permalinks and choose the “Post Name” or the “Custom Structure” setting. This will make your URLs read like: site.com/post-name.
If you use categories within your blog posts, you can select the custom structure setting and put in: /%category%/%postname% in the selection box.
Note: If your site has been up for a while and you’re not doing a new WordPress setup, do not randomly change your permalink structure. Doing that on an established site can destroy all of your links. You will need to set up 301 redirects to ensure all internal and external links point to the right pages and posts.
WordPress Plugins and Our Recommendations:
What is a Plugin? And What is its Purpose and Function?
Before we get into which plugins you should have installed on your site, let’s briefly discuss what they are and why you need them to make your site perform at its best.
Plugins are simply software programs that are installed on your WordPress site to add specific functionality or features to your site.
The beauty of plugins is that they allow you to add all sorts of features to your site without having to know any code. If you have a specific need, there’s probably a plugin for you to install. Many of the plugins in the WordPress plugin library are free or free with a premium upgrade option.
As long as you have administrator rights to a site, you can install plugins with ease. Simply go to the Plugins section of your WordPress dashboard and add new (under Installed plugins is where you can also uninstall plugins that aren’t needed). Advanced users can also install plugins via FTP, but really it’s just easier to install them from the WordPress dashboard.
Our Recommended Must-Have Plugins
Yoast SEO is our preferred plugin for on-site optimization of title tags and meta descriptions, setting up indexation rules, and quickly creating .HTACCESS edits if we don’t have access to the file through FTP. With the plugin, you can optimize title tags and descriptions on a page-by-page basis, or if you prefer, you can use the advanced settings to make bulk edits to all pages and posts at one time. Also, with Yoast you can create your XML sitemap, which you can upload to Google.
This one isn’t a necessity, especially when using StudioPress themes, but for some sites that have custom themes or other theme developers that do not include an easy way to edit the head section of your site, the Headers and Footers plugin helps you add codes quickly without accessing files via FTP or through the editor (which can bring its own problems). This is useful for adding tracking codes such as Google Analytics or other tracking snippets into the <head> section of your site.
Caching allows your site to be loaded to a user much more quickly than without caching capabilities. Speed is a big issue in the SEO world and it can have an effect on your rankings. The whole point of caching is to have your pages statically waiting to load (as opposed to having the page load dynamically everytime someone visits it). Caching speeds up loading of pages and reduces resources being used on your server. The bottom line: A good caching plugin will help your site load faster. One of the more common caching plugins is W3TotalCache.
It doesn’t really matter what the purpose of your website is—whether it’s a local business, a blog, or an ecommerce site—you’re going to need a way for people to contact you. You could slap your email address on a page, but you would be inviting spam and it’s just not as professional as having a contact form. So you’re going to want to use a contact form on a Contact Us page or in a sidebar widget, or wherever else you want people to reach out to you. Some of the most common contact form plugins are Contact Form 7 and Gravity Forms. CF7 is free and basic and will make easy to drop in contact forms on any page. If you want more design options and better integrations, Gravity Forms is a good plugin, but it requires purchasing a license to activate.
Block Comment Spam
This is not a necessity per se, but rather a personal preference. I really hate comment spam. It drives me nuts to login to a WordPress dashboard and see a bunch of new comments on posts, only to realize they’re 99% spam. Akismet is the standard plugin for this. While this is meant to block spam, some will get through. If you are not interested in discussions on your pages and blog posts, you can always add in a Disable Comments plugin.
No one wants to have their site go down or crash. It can, however, happen due to the most innocuous things, such as updating a plugin or having a theme that isn’t compatible with the version of WordPress you have on your site. Backups of your site are critical to ensure an easy fix if this happens to you. While some services offer regular backups (like the WPEngine hosting we recommended earlier), a backup plugin is your next best bet. We really like Backup Buddy, a reliable and easy to se tup plugin.
How to Build Out Your WordPress Website:
One of the things that makes WordPress so easy and functional is that adding content is pretty straightforward.
If you’ve ever written in MS Word, Google Docs, or any old-school word processor you should be able to figure out how to write using the WordPress editor.
Here are some additional tips and tricks for building out your WordPress site:
If you’re running your WordPress site as a service business and not a blog, you should already know how to add pages to your site. But a quick recap won’t hurt: When you’re in your dashboard go to the “Pages” section in the sidebar and click “add new” or click the “add new” button on your Pages list:
Here you can add what would normally be “static” pages — pages designed to give information but not necessarily needing to be updated regularly. We use pages for information on Services Provided, About Us, Contact forms, and more.
If you want any new page you create to show up in your navigation menu (on your live site) you need to add them to your menu. After you’ve created a new page and made it live/updated it, go to the “Appearance” section of your dashboard and go to “Menus.” You should then be able to add the new page to a menu. Most themes support a few different menu locations, but the standard is a primary menu that should have links to your home, contact, about, blog, and the most important services you provide.
This is what WordPress was originally created for. Posts are your blog posts and are displayed in chronological order (from newest to oldest). To add a new post, go back to your dashboard then to the posts section and choose “add new”—it’s the same process as adding a page.
Once you add a new post, you’re ready to start writing your content and publishing it.
The Proper Use of Categories and Tags
If you write about a variety of topics and you want to keep those topics organized, WordPress lets you create Categories and/or Tags. Done correctly, they will help you, your readers, and search engines sort your content.
What is the difference between Categories and Tags? Generally speaking, a Category should be used for your broad topics. These are the general, overarching themes of your topics. They help assist readers with determining what your blog is about and help find the right content. Tags are more about the details of a specific post—sort of like the ingredients in a recipe. A Category could be “Breakfast Recipes” and the Tags could be “bacon”
Here’s an example from our own process: We write on a wide range of SEO-related topics, and my focus is usually on local SEO. We have a Category for the overarching topic of local SEO, but within that category are all sorst of subtopics we discuss, and sometimes regularly. If I did a post on Google My Business edits, I might have the Category as “Local SEO” and the Tag as “Google My Business.” If I were writing a piece on fixing citation errors, the category would stay the same but my tag would be “Citations.”
You have to set a category. If you don’t set one, the default in WordPress is “uncategorized.” You can edit this to something basic if you don’t plan to use categories, but WordPress will categorize your content anyway. Tags are completely optional.
There is a difference in how the URL structure will display for both categories and tags:
If you’re going to use categories, your blog posts should be able to easily be sorted into a single category. We do not recommend using multiple categories per post. If you think of categories as a sort of “table of contents” or “chapters” for your blog, it would make sense that you wouldn’t use multiple categories on a single post. Tags are more like an index in the back of a book, and you can use tags on multiple categories.
This was a pretty deep-dive into setting up a WordPress site, and we hope that it’s helpful in getting you ready to launch your own site. If this seems too daunting or you’re just not in the DIY mood, please check out our website design services for help getting your site live and ready to accept customers!
Latest posts by Brian Valentin (see all)
- The Ultimate WordPress Setup and SEO Guide for Small Businesses - May 15, 2018
- How To Avoid the “Not Secure” Warning In Chrome Browsers - August 22, 2017
- How to Grant Access to Google Analytics - April 27, 2016