At SiteVisibility, we’re all about knowledge sharing, it’s in our blood. Through this blog, our Podcast and our industry events like BrightonSEO, it’s at the core of what we do. However, it’s not just our own expertise that we like to shout about. We love to share other’s knowledge as well and we’re always open to new collaborations with businesses and individuals who want to feature on our site. If you have a great digital growth story or an insightful digital discovery that you’d like to share, please get in touch.
With the news that WordPress, widely known to be the No1 Content Management System, now powers 25 % of all websites, we thought it was a great time to invite Pragmatic, our long term WordPress partners to share some of their knowledge:
Small Business Guide: What to check on a WordPress website before starting SEO
At Pragmatic, we always build websites that can be easily fully optimised by our clients themselves or by their SEO partners, but this isn’t the case for all developers.
If your business uses the WordPress CMS, there are many aspects you’ll need to look into before implementing SEO work. To help, we’ve outlined the main things you should look out for on a WordPress website to better understand the scale of SEO work that needs to be undertaken.
Has everything been set up correctly?
In some cases, you might find that your basic SEO and analytics tracking tools haven’t been set up at all yet, and you may have to start from scratch.
Has the following been set up correctly?
- Google Analytics – Check that the right tracking code for the website is being used and that it is located in the Header.php file. You’ll also want to check that these are set up correctly:
- Event tracking – Make sure that all of the events (such as link clicks) have the correct tracking code set-up on your website. You can learn how they should look on the Google Developers site. If you haven’t got them set up, we suggest using Raven Tools Event Tracking Code Generator.
- Goal tracking – Make sure you have the right goals set up for your website’s objectives, and ensure you have destination goals set up for thank you pages. You can learn how to configure goals on the Analytics Help Centre.
- Google Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools) – This gives you more insight about how users organically find your website on Google, and identifies 404 errors and duplicate content. You can use Google’s Tag Assistant browser plugin to check to see this is set up on your website.
- Yoast SEO Plugin – This is our preferred SEO plugin, but equivalents are available. Make sure you have all the correct settings set up in the CMS that enable the website to be found on search engines.
- Robots.txt file – Not only will you need to check that the website has a Robots.txt file, but that it is also optimised. Learn more about how to optimise your WordPress Robots.txt file on WPBeginner.
- Sitemap.xml file – This enables you to tell search engines your website has been updated. If you have WordPress SEO by Yoast installed you can enable your sitemap via the WordPress CMS. The team at Yoast explain how.
Is your site a new or established WordPress website?
If the site isn’t new, but it was using a different CMS publishing software before it was moved to WordPress, you will need to know:
- Was the migration successful and undertaken by a professional? If it wasn’t, get in touch with your WordPress Technology Partner to finish or check the migration.
- Has the domain changed? If it has, you’ll need to ensure redirects are in place.
- Are all the correct redirects set up and working well? You can check this via Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
- Have you or has anyone else previously optimised your website? If you have, you’ll have to examine the existing SEO on your website.
Existing SEO on the website
If it is an established site (whether it was an original WordPress website or has migrated to WordPress) you’ll need to check there hasn’t been any sketchy SEO tactics used in the past that could be causing harm to your existing WordPress website. Find out:
- Who previously did the SEO and how long ago was it? This should give you an indication of how well the optimisation was done and how up to date the tactics used are. SEO tactics that were once standard practise can quickly become outdated and become harmful due to updates in Google’s guidelines.
- What is the health of the backlink profile? We recommend using SEMRush or MajesticSEO for this. If the backlinks have a bad score, see if you can request their removal by contacting the webmaster or by disavowing. Learn how to disavow links on Search Console.
If it is an established website and has an SEO plugin enabled such as SEO by Yoast, we recommend checking the existing SEO to ensure it is correct.
You should look into:
- Has an appropriate keyword phrase been associated to every page? The more appropriate the keywords are to the products and services, the better.
- Have fully optimised meta titles and descriptions been added to every page and blog post of your website? This makes the website look more attractive in search engines.
- Do the images have ALT tags? This helps with both accessibility and SEO.
The hosting provider and package that your WordPress website uses will have a direct impact on its optimisation and performance.
- What hosting provider is used? If you know your hosting provider is unreliable you should ask around for a recommendation for one your contact’s know and trust. Otherwise, all your hard work on the speed performance of your website could barely improve the site.
- Is the hosting provider a specialist in WordPress hosting? Specialist WordPress hosting providers are much better suited to supporting your WordPress website as they have a fantastic understanding of WordPress security, the backup process and publishing environment. If you’re unsure who to use, we suggest using WP Engine, who we use to host all of our client’s websites.
- What is the hosting package? Make sure your package allows for enough storage and the monthly traffic your site generates a month.
- Is the site up to the capacity of the hosting package? Make sure you have plenty of wiggle room if you are doing PR activities that could lead to a large surge in traffic.
- Is the WordPress website regularly backed up? Your website should ideally be backed up daily by your hosting provider. If they don’t already offer a regular backup process as part of their service, you should consider moving to a hosting provider that does, or use a suitable backup plugin.
- How fast is your website to load? Use Google PageSpeed and GTmetrix to analyse your site performance. These page speed analysers offer suggestions on improving your website’s score. Again, many hosting providers offer speed optimisation as part of their service, but if they don’t, and you don’t want to move to one that does, it is worth installing an appropriate plugin.
Plugins are a fantastic way to add new functions and features to a WordPress website, but sadly, some free plugins can cause more damage than good.
We often come across sites where those managing the site have a plugin addiction, where they’ve downloaded and activated every plugin they think they may need, regardless of whether or not they’re suitable or secure for their website. This is a huge security risk and causes a drain on page load speed.
Some plugins can be fairly pointless as well. Take a plugin that enables you to activate Google Analytics tracking to your website for example; something someone on your team may install due to a lack of technical knowledge, but something you or an SEO expert can quickly implement manually by editing the Header.php.
There are also poorly developed WordPress plugins that don’t follow industry standards. If you think a plugin looks suspicious, deactivate and delete as soon as possible.
Some plugins simply won’t work well with others, or with your hosting provider. WordPress specialist hosting providers such as WP Engine bans and removes plugins that are a burden on their servers or that offer a service their hosting already covers, such as backups, caching and certain security measures.
Things to look out for with plugins:
- Are all unused plugins deactivated and deleted? This is a good security measure and the same should be done with inactive themes.
- How up to date are your plugins? Look out for out of date plugins that may not work well with your current version of WordPress.
- Remove any unnecessary plugins. This includes functions you can easily add manually.
- Check to see what plugins are using a lot of resources. We recommend using P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) Plugin to check.
We recommend reading Pagely’s post on how to test the responsiveness of your WordPress website.
Does your website seamlessly adapt to:
- Different screen sizes? Desktop, tablet, mobile?
- Different devices and operating systems? All the different type of desktops, tablets and mobiles.
- Different browsers? As well as looking at current browsers, test your website on older browsers versions also, as not everyone remembers to update theirs.
Not only should it adapt, but the website should perform perfectly on all screen sizes, devices and browsers as well. This involves things such as images and text resizing to the screen at full resolution.
Markup or console errors
You should check for the following markup and console errors:
- Is your code validated? Make sure any custom code you have undertaken follows W3C standards. Following these standards helps with debugging and maintenance, and assists with future-proofing your website.
- Are there any 4XX or 5XX errors? These are an indication of broken links on your website. 4XX errors link to forbidden pages, or pages that do not exist. 5XX errors are server errors, related to your hosting. We recommend using Screaming Frog SEO Spider for finding this information and for the final points below.
- Are there 302 redirects that should be 301 redirects? If the page has moved to a new location permanently, your website should be using 301 redirects. 302 redirects are considered a temporary solution.
- Are there any crawl problems? You can crawl your website as a search engine does using Google Search Console, or Moz Crawl Test. These tools show you errors related to your DNS, server connectivity and Robots.txt file.
We hope this checklist has been useful to help you better understand your website and the SEO work that needs to be done. If you would like a WordPress Technology Partner who you can turn to for expert knowledge on WordPress development and design, get in touch.
- Google Developers
• Analytics Help Centre
• How to Optimize Your WordPress Robots.txt for SEO by WPBeginner
• XML sitemaps by Yoast
• WordPress SEO Audit by Pagely
• Test The Responsiveness Of Your WordPress Website by Pagely
- Raven Tools Event Tracking Code Generator
• Google’s Tag Assistant
• Yoast SEO Plugin
• Screaming Frog SEO Spider
• SEMRush& MajesticSEO for backlink profiling.
• WP Engine for WordPress hosting
• Google PageSpeed & GTmetrix to test to speed of a WordPress website.
• P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) Plugin to check which plugins are slowing down your client’s WordPress website.
• Moz Crawl Test to search for crawl errors