20 SEO Steps to Check Off Before Launching a New Website
You’re about to wrap up work on a new website, and it feels great… for the most part. Sure, the design looks great, the calls-to-action are bold and beautiful, and the copy is incredibly engaging. So, what could be missing?
When you get to the end (or near the end) of your web design project, it’s important to assess the SEO situation.
While it’s easy to believe that a single SEO plugin is enough to get you started, that would be a mistake. There’s a lot more you could do – even before your site goes live – if you want a website truly optimized for search. It’s better to do the work now than find six months down the road that no one’s visiting your site because the right work wasn’t done upfront.
In order to truly maximize SEO, your site needs to be ready to meet the search engine’s high expectations straight out the gate with:
- High-quality content
- Optimal performance
- Intuitive user experience
- Demonstration of authority
- Regular updates
If you can take care of as much of that as possible before launch, your WordPress site will be well prepared to take on the challenge of beating the competition in search, starting on day one.
Now, let’s explore how you can optimize your new site for search.
Maximizing SEO When Setting Up a New Site
Don’t be intimidated by the steps here. Many of these you’re already doing; I simply wanted to include them here for good measure seeing as they’re an essential part of the SEO maximization process.
Step 1: Domain Check
If your site is quickly approaching launch, then you’ve most likely purchased a domain already. Regardless of where you are in the process, do a quick check of your domain’s history. You can use tools like Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine or WHOIS Search. The latter you’ll have to pay for, but it may be worth the cost in case there’s a negative history associated with the domain that may, in turn, affect your new site’s reputation.
Step 2: Host Check
Again, this may be another step that you’ve already completed if you’re far along in the development process, but it’s still worth a quick glance back. The reason? Because an unreliable web host whose servers go down often, subsequently compromising your site’s availability, could seriously affect your site’s SEO. Do your research and be sure the one you’ve signed up with doesn’t have any major complaints against it or ongoing uptime issues.
Step 3: HTTPS Security
If you haven’t seen it yet, Google updated Chrome browsers earlier this year to notify visitors when they’ve reached an insecure website. In Google’s eyes, the “insecure” label no longer just belongs to hacked websites or ones with mixed content. Any website running on HTTP that accepts sensitive customer information is now unsecure. Rather than frighten visitors off with that warning in your address bar, get an SSL certificate and HTTPS for your site.
Step 4: SEO-Friendly Theme
There are many WordPress themes that claim to be SEO-friendly simply because they integrate with SEO plugins. Do yourself a favor, however, and check into the actual performance of the theme. A truly SEO-friendly theme will be responsive, clean-coded, fast-to-load, and feature a modern design.
Step 5: Keyword Research
Ideally, all keyword research for your site’s content and metadata was completed before any copy was written. Even if it wasn’t, there’s no time like the present to get this done. You can use tools like kwfinder and Answer the Public to identify which keywords work best for your site. They should be relevant, memorable, and less competitive if you want to improve your chances of getting found for them.
Step 6: Page Optimization
Once you have your keywords selected, you’ll want to optimize all of your content around them. In other words, use the keywords enough where it’s easy for visitors and search engines to determine what each page is about. Typically, you’ll want to use one focus keyword per page. While it’s okay to infuse a few secondary keywords within there as well, you’ll notice that SEO plugins (in step nine below) generally want you to designate one official keyword per page or post.
Step 7: Tag Inclusion
On-page tags (as opposed to blog post tags for categorization) should be used to establish hierarchy, increase readability through easy scanning, and convey a clear indication of what your content is about. The focus keyword within these tags as well.
Step 8: Permalink Fix
The default permalink structure in WordPress is not great. See the permalink in red above? That’s how WordPress will define it if you don’t do something about it. Now, see the permalink in green? That’s the ideal structure. Website URL + truncated post or page name = SEO perfection. The focus keyword should also appear in the truncated page name.
Step 9: SEO Plugin
Here is where you can start thinking about an SEO plugin. The SmartCrawl plugin can help you boost your PageRank and drive more traffic to your site with simple configuration. Once you’ve got the plugin installed on your site, run an SEO analysis scan and get feedback on how to improve your search results. With SmartCrawl, you can also set up sitemaps, Moz integration, customize metadata, set up automatic links, and more.
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Don’t forget to include the focus keyword within the title and description to continue that thread of consistent messaging throughout each page.
Step 10: Image Assignment
Each page of your WordPress site should have at least one image on it. Once you’ve selected and uploaded your image, use the metadata fields to add alt text (if you want the image to be found in search as well). If you can tie your page’s focus keyword into the alt tag, that’s even better. Then set a featured image for each page so that, when your content is shared on social media (a search ranking factor), it has an engaging image attached to it.
Step 11: Content Check
When your content’s loaded into each page and all the above optimization efforts are complete, do one more check of your content. The reason I say this is because marketing and SEO experts like Neil Patel believe that longer, more detailed page content leads to higher conversions and, consequently, an improved search rank.
Step 12: Link Internally
One of the best ways to demonstrate to search engines that your site has relevant and read-worthy content is by giving visitors a reason to visit multiple pages during their time on site. You can do this by creating a system of internal links that tie each page’s relevant subject matter to one another, or by driving visitors logically from their starting point, all the way to the end of the conversion funnel.
Step 13: Link Externally
Another way to improve your reputation with search engines is by linking to high-authority websites from your content. While this won’t have an earth-shattering effect on your ranking, outgoing links to relevant and high-authority sources have shown to have somewhat of a positive effect.
Step 14: Broken Link Check
Links can break for a number of reasons: you migrated URLs and some internal links didn’t update, you changed a page’s slug, or the external source made an update of their own.
If you’re going to all that trouble to add internal and external links to your website, use the WP Broken Link Status Checker plugin. It’ll ensure that your users’ experience as they poke around for more related content remains untarnished.
Step 15: Add a Blog
If you weren’t planning to have a blog on your website, you may want to rethink that decision. Remember how I said earlier that regular updates are one of the items search engines look for when ranking sites? A blog is one of the easiest ways to make this happen. All you need to do is designate which page will be your blog (you can do that in the Theme Customizer section). Then start writing posts and publish as they become ready.
Step 16: Security Optimization
In addition to moving your site to HTTPS (Step 3), you’ll want to add a security plugin to your site for monitoring assistance and security management. The Defender plugin will keep you attuned to security issues before they become a problem. Since a hacked website could cause a lot of harm to your visitors and ultimately your business, this one is a must.
Step 17: Page Speed Optimization
If you want to keep your site’s performance in check, you’ll also need a page speed optimization plugin. The Hummingbird plugin helps with all aspects of site optimization, including file minification, browser caching, and more.
Step 18: Image Optimization
As websites become more reliant on high-resolution and full-screen imagery, which are great for the user experience, you’ll need a way to get a handle on what they do to your loading speeds.
In addition to optimizing page performance with a caching plugin, pay close attention to the size and weight of your images by using an image compression plugin like WP Smush Pro.
Step 19: Social Media Plugin
Creating high-quality content and attaching eye-catching images to that content is great. But it’s not enough to let it sit on your site and hope that visitors stumble upon it. The more you can increase your presence on social media—and give visitors a reason to share your thought-provoking content—the better received your website will be. Use a social media sharing plugin like Floating Social to increase your brand’s social presence.
Step 20: Google Analytics Setup
While you’ll probably be able to tell how well your site is doing in search based on how much business you’re drumming up, use Google Analytics so you have a more accurate picture of what’s going on. Once you’ve set up an account for your site, get a dashboard plugin like Google Analytics + that will deliver real-time stats right to your WordPress dashboard.
Building a new WordPress site is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. You’re excited to wrap it up and get it out the door, but you want to be sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Considering how important organic search traffic is to getting new visitors to your site, you shouldn’t save SEO for after launch. Make the necessary efforts to maximize SEO now.