Launching a new website: SEO checklist
Recently I launched my new website which is the one you are on right now so I thought to share with you a process I went through before the official launch.
The process I followed was to make sure that all is set up in a way that will help SEO and that there were no technical issues.
If you want to have an SEO advantage from the start, you should take a look at this checklist and try to implement some of the suggested recommendations yourself.
I currently don’t have many categories on this website as it’s still quite new but when choosing categories for your posts, my advice is: don’t just pick something random, put some thought to it.
The categories you choose shouldn’t be too broad or too narrow and they should contain the important topics you want your blog to be known for and rank for.
Choose categories wisely. They help to structure your website in a logical way that Google will see and reward. They help to create a good user experience so that people can browse your website easily, finding topics that interest them quickly. A good user experience is really important for SEO as it helps to decrease bounce rate and indirectly improve your rankings.
Permalink structure in WordPress is the way your permanent URLs (permalinks) are displayed.
By default, WordPress will display your posts in the following format:
Displaying some random numbers in your URLs is not user-friendly, nor is good for SEO. For this reason, you should change it.
To change the permalink structure, log in to your WordPress, go to Settings > Permalinks and pick a different option.
There are two options which are good for SEO:
- Post Name, for example: http://www.yourwebsite.com/this-is-my-new-post/
- Custom Structure (with category included in your URL) – to enable this you would have to choose ‘Custom Structure’ from the list and then add the following to the end of your website’s URL:
This is the permalink structure I use on my health blog and you can see it here:
This means my posts will be displayed in this way: http://www.behealthynow.co.uk/healthy-meals/salmon-fish-cakes/
Just a word of warning, if you change a permalink structure when your website is already established and getting some good traffic, this will create lots of 404 errors as your pages will have different URLs now.
The best is to choose the right permalink structure from the start and stick with it. You can still change it later but it needs to be done in the right way – by setting up suitable 301 redirects (redirecting traffic from your old pages to the new pages).
Enable https version of your website
Security is a top priority for Google and in 2014 they announced https as a ranking signal.
Having a https website just means that it’s more secure for your visitors especially on pages where they share their personal data with you. This means that hackers cannot steal sensitive data shared on your website.
In the beginning, when https was announced as a ranking signal, it was a very lightweight signal but now it has become really important with Google recently announcing a deadline of July 2018 as the date for when Chrome will begin explicitly warning users if a site is insecure (not https). This means that if your website is not https, a warning will be displayed to your website’s visitors who are using Chrome and this may cause some visitors to leave your site, increasing a bounce rate and negatively impacting other metrics such as conversions and affiliate clicks.
If your website is new, you shouldn’t hesitate to switch to HTTPS and luckily most web hosting providers offer free security certificates so the cost should not be barrier.
I switched to https easily via my web hosting provider SiteGround by simply clicking on a switch within the SiteGround interface.
I don’t know how easy it is to switch to https if you use other web hosting providers but the best is to get in touch with them directly and ask. I do recommend SiteGround web hosting as their customer service is simply top-notch and cannot compete with others (from my experience). They will also help you with just about any issue you have and they will resolve it very quickly for you.
Remember, if you have a relatively new website, enabling https is highly recommended to do, but if your website is quite old, don’t go rushing now changing your http website to https as it could have a negative impact on your traffic.
You have to understand that any of the links you may have coming to your website are pointing to http version, not https. Before changing to https you need to make sure you have suitable redirects in place although this can still affect your traffic – redirects are not the same as links pointing directly to your website (they don’t have the same value so you lose some of these links’ strength which can affect your rankings negatively).
Once you switch over, you also need to change any internal links from http to https so there is some work involved and you may need a help from a web developer to help you make sure you haven’t missed any internal links. Here is a full https migration guide for those who like to do it themselves.
Key learning: The best is to enable https version of your website from the start or when your website is still very new and doesn’t have many links pointing to it.
Preferred version of your website
Every website owner must decide what version of their website they want to show to their users.
Some people prefer the “www” version while others prefer “non-www” version. It really doesn’t matter which version you use as it won’t affect your SEO performance. But you need to make sure that there is only one version used and that version is used consistently throughout your website.
You also need to make sure that non-preferred version gets redirected to the preferred version, otherwise this won’t be good for SEO (this creates duplicate content issues and new links may link to a non-preferred version which decreases their value).
On this website, for example, I use “www” in front of my domain petrakravos.com.
If you try to go to my website using https://www.petrakravos.com, this will get redirected to https://www.petrakravos.com.
So how do you do the redirect?
There are a few different ways of redirecting your domain to ‘www’ or ‘non-www’ URL but they are all a little bit technical. Here are the options:
- Set up a redirect via your cPanel: Login to your cPanel (where your website is hosted), go to the Domains section and click on Redirects. The process is explained here.
- Use .HTACCESS file in WordPress – the process is explained here.
- Via DNS (Domain Name System) control panel – Log in to your domain management area and choose a domain to edit. Go to DNS settings and add a new CNAME record. The way you add a new CNAME record vary across DNS providers but if you are using 123-reg, for example, you would put ‘www’ as a hostname. See this DNS Management guide to learn more.
So which option should you go for? It’s your decision but I personally use Advanced DNS Settings where I add the relevant new records. I know setting this up may sound difficult to those who are not very technical but you can always get in touch with your domain/hosting provider for help.
Set up WordPress SEO plugin (by Yoast)
Yoast SEO plugin is the best SEO plugin you can install on your WordPress site and once installed you will be able to:
- edit page titles and meta descriptions for various posts and pages
- control which pages you want to appear in Google’s index
- create XML sitemaps
- edit robots.txt and .htaccess files
There are a lot of videos and tutorials on the web showing you how to configure this WordPress plugins so I won’t go into a detail here.
If you just want a basic setup you can use a Configuration wizard provided by Yoast.
Meta descriptions and page titles
After you have installed an SEO plugin that allows you to edit your page titles and meta descriptions, go through all the pages and posts on your website to make sure they have a good descriptive title and compelling description.
For the page title, you want to make sure you use keywords that people use when searching on Google.
Here is an example of a page title and meta description that I use on one of my blog posts on my health blog:
The snippet above is shown in Google search results with page title in blue and meta description in grey. Compelling meta description will increase a click-through rate to your site, driving more traffic when your site appears in search results.
Install Google Analytics
Without Google Analytics, you won’t know how many visitors your website is getting and where they are coming from, so this is really important to set up before your website is launched.
First of all, log in to your Google account and go to https://www.google.com/analytics/.
For your business you should use your business Google account, not the personal one.
Sign in to Google Analytics and then on the next page click on a Sign Up button. Continue setting up your Analytics by following these steps.
Once you have found your tracking code, there are a few different methods of placing it on your website. The easiest is by installing Google Analytic WordPress Plugin. Go to this page to see detailed instructions on how to install this plugin.
Alternatively, you could place Google Analytics tracking code directly into your header.php file:
- Login to your WordPress site, go to ‘Appearance’ tab and select ‘Editor’.
- Under Templates section of the page (located on the right side of the screen) find a file called header.php.
- Open the header.php file and place your tracking code right above </head> tag.
You could also use Google Tag Manager to install your Google Analytics and this is my preferred option but it’s not normally needed if you are not planning to have lots of different tracking codes on your website (for example, Facebook pixel, Adwords remarketing code and Crazy Egg code).
Google Search Console
Once you have set up your Google Analytics, it’s time to set up Google Search Console.
Google Search Console enables you to see some additional data about your website, such as 404 errors, all the search queries and incoming links.
I went through all the steps on getting started with Google Search Console here, so do take a look and follow the instructions.
Submit XML sitemap to Google
Creating an XML sitemap is easily done with Yoast SEO plugin. You don’t even have to do anything as it’s automatically created.
Once created, submit your sitemap to Google via Google Search Console. You add a new sitemap by going to Crawl > Sitemaps section.
Once the sitemap has been created you can add its location to your robots.txt file. It’s just an additional step to ensure that the web robots will definitely see it and this will help them crawl your website.
Robots.txt can be easily created using WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. Just go to SEO > Tools and select ‘File editor’.
Create a new robots.txt file if it doesn’t exist already. Put the following code into it:
Replace the URL above with your own.
A site speed is an important ranking factor and one way of speeding up your website is by using caching.
Caching is simply storing a version of your web pages on your server so that they are ready to show to your visitors once they land on your website.
Cached pages are served up as static HTML versions of a page in order to avoid potentially time-consuming queries to your database.
Luckily, on WordPress it’s very easy to set up caching for your pages, all you need to do is install a caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache (this is the one I use). To install it and configure it, just follow instructions on this page but you can also check this comprehensive guide here.
Although many websites don’t use breadcrumb trails anymore, it’s still a good thing to have as it helps to provide a good user experience and can even lower the bounce rate. Not to mention that Google loves breadcrumbs as they help them figure out how your website is structured. Google also displays breadcrumbs in search results.
In case you don’t know what breadcrumbs are, they are simply navigational aids to help people visualise where they are on your site.
Here is an example of a breadcrumb trail showing in Google search results:
If you have a Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can enable breadcrumbs by navigating to Advanced section of the plugin and turning the breadcrumbs on. But to insert the breadcrumbs in your theme you need to get involved with the code. You can find detailed instructions here but if you are not confident doing this yourself, the best is to get a web developer to help you out.
AMP pages are Accelerated Mobile Pages which are shown in search results to people on their mobile devices. AMPs are designed to load much faster, providing users with instantly available content.
When people visit your site using one of your AMP pages, they have a better user experience as they are able to access your content much faster. Another benefit of using AMP pages is that you get a better visibility in search results.
AMP pages are definitely good for SEO but implementing them may not be that easy. Google does offer comprehensive resources and tutorials to help you with implementation but this does not mean it’s easy to do.
If you are a WordPress user, the good news is that there is a plugin to help you set up your AMP pages (AMPforWP plugin) but even with a plugin it’s not easy. However, there is a good guide on this online so do check it out.
No-Index Tag Presence
The final thing you do before you officially launch your website is you check for the no-index tag in your robots.txt file.
While working on the initial content of this website I had a ‘noindex’ option enabled in WordPress which meant that search engines were not able to index my website while I was still working on it.
To disable this option in your WordPress interface, go to Settings > Reading section. At the bottom of this section you will see ‘Search Engine Visibility’ and if it’s ticked you need to untick it to remove the noindex tag from robots.txt file.
So there you have it, your SEO checklist before launching your new website! I’ve tried to include only the most important things you should do before the launch but if you are unable to do everything on this list, don’t worry, there are certain things you can always do later such as AMP pages and Breadcrumb trail (that’s why I included them more towards the end).
Also to note, Breadcrumb trail is not something absolutely essential so you can skip it.
But do try to get permalink structure and a preferred version of your site set up correctly right from the start.
Also, enabling https should not be too difficult to do so I highly recommend you do it before the official launch.
If you have any questions about the points above or there is something you don’t understand, do let me know in the comments.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means I may get a small commission if you purchase a service once you click on one of the links. This does not cost you anything. s