If you’re building a new WordPress website, here’s a 20-step SEO action plan which will ensure that you build a successful website in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort.
Step One—Choose A Goal
The best advice I have for starting any project is to explicitly state your goal for it—and this is especially important for a a new WordPress website where it’s easy to waste time working on unimportant things.
First: what is your income goal, and how long do you want to take to achieve it? If this is your first WordPress website, you probably don’t have any realistic idea of how much you can make or how long it will take, but I think $100 a month income after three months of effort is a reasonable goal for a newbie. Depending on your site and the size of your niche, you may be able to increase your income later.
You also need to clarify any other goals you have, such as that you only want to write about your hobby or that you plan to sell the site after you establish it. (An established small site with $100 monthly income will sell for as much as $2,400—equaling about $800 per month of income if it takes you three months to establish it.)
You may have heard of SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. (See the Wikipedia article on SMART goals if you don’t know what they are.) I recommend using this system, or a related in-depth goal-setting system, to help you create goals with a good chance of success.
Step Two—Keyword Research
You won’t make much money if you don’t build a website people will search for. This is one reason most blogs don’t make money—they only cover subjects nobody reads. There is no point in search engine optimization if nobody searches for your topic.
You need to start your keyword research with a basic topic. Some people suggest your first site should be about something you know well, but I think writing about something you don’t know well can be even more useful—you’ll get to write about the subject as you learn it, which is both more entertaining for you and which can help you write from the perspective of someone who will be searching for your content.
After you have your basic topic, you want to sit down with a keyword research tool. Google AdWords research was free, but no longer exists. If you want to build your website on the cheap, find a few keyword ideas using AdWords, sign up for a free three day trial on a paid platform, and quickly research the ideas you got from AdWords on the paid platform before your trial expires.
But, if you have some cash to invest, you’ll save considerable time starting with the paid keyword research tools, and you may discover a profitable keyword which gets plenty of traffic, just not from Google. (For example, older audiences tend to use Yahoo and Alta Vista at a higher rate than their younger cohorts.)
The best keyword for a new WordPress website with a first-time Internet marketer at the helm will probably have 300 to 2,000 exact match monthly searches and no high-quality, highly-optimized sites competing for its traffic. Remember, fewer exact match searches usually means less traffic, but also less competition. If this is your first time trying to build a profitable website, you probably don’t want much competition.
Oh, and before your subscription to your keyword research tool expires, remember to save a list of all of your related keywords so you can write blog posts targeting those keywords later.
Step Three—Domain Name Selection
It’s less important now to find a domain name which exactly matches your primary keyword than it was a few years ago when Google gave a huge amount of weight to domain name matches. But even if Google cares less about domain name matches, many searchers still care about it a lot.
If you want to buy Levi jeans, will you go to pants-r-us.com or levi-jeans.com?
Many domain name registrars have a tool which will accept your keywords and show you a list of all available domains using those keywords. These tools are easier than trying to think of a domain yourself.
If you can’t find a domain which matches your keyword well, you will need to be creative. Try to imagine what your audience will be thinking of when they search for your keyword and choose related words. Or just go back to keyword research and find a new keyword.
Once you think you found the best domain, you may want to wait a few days to buy it. I find that better domain names pop in my head for a few days as I think about my keyword. Of course, you can always buy multiple domain names.
Step Four—Write Your Unique Selling Proposition
Although a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) has very little to do with SEO directly, it will give your site a consistent message which can help it rank higher in Google by better serving your visitors.
A USP says in just a few words what sets your site apart from other sites in your niche. For example, a Levi jeans store’s USP could be, “Just Levi jeans; nothing else.” That site’s USP tells customers that it will never try become a giant online clothes store—it will only serve customers who want Levi jeans, and customers will assume (probably correctly) that its focus will lead to a better experience for people wanting those jeans.
The more unique your USP, the more your potential customers will desire you. For example, you could take the USP above and restrict it to womens’ jeans, or womens’ petite jeans. In each case, your customer base gets smaller, but you’re also more likely to satisfy the customers you do have.
Your USP should be a part of every page on your site. If you don’t write it directly, you should at least imply it. And it’s best that you manually work it into every page to help remind you, your content producers, and your customers what your site stands for.
Step Five—Build Your Homepage
Different types of websites require different types of homepages. The wrong type of homepage will greatly increase your bounce rate—the number of people who visit on your site but then leave without clicking any links on your site. In a micro-niche with only a few hundred visitors a month, high bounce rates are unacceptable.
The typical WordPress homepage is well suited to an on-going blog. It displays part or all of the most recent few articles. (You can configure WordPress to display as much as you want.)
But if you plan to build a quick niche site and then put it on low-maintenance mode, you really need to highlight your most important content on the homepage.
Start with your USP. Tell visitors immediately what you do so they know whether or not you can help them. Although hiding your true purpose may sound like it will keep them on your page for longer, remember that they probably just came from search engine results, so they know they have other options if your site doesn’t offer what they need quick.
Within the first 100 words, give them a link you want them to click to get more info. You can track how many people click this link and move deeper into your site. You can use this link in a split test using Google Content Experiments or another system to optimize your homepage for effectiveness later.
Don’t over clutter your home page. Your only goal is to get visitors deeper into your site so they don’t go back to the search results and visit someone else’s site. Once they get into your site, you’ll have a better chance of selling them a solution or getting them to click an ad.
Make sure you include your main keyword phrase on your homepage. I recommend that your full homepage include about 300 words and three mentions of your keyword phrase—but remember to work very hard to get people to click a link within the first 100 words.
Step Six—Make Backups
This step has almost nothing to do with SEO, but I think it’s important enough to include here. In case you disagree, I’ll give you a bonus tip at the end. For now, please take a moment to ensure your site gets automatically backed up.
Good website hosting companies provide automatic backups for WordPress websites for a small fee (or a large fee if you host a lot of large files). The cost of this backup service will be a fraction of your profits, but it will also protect your business better than anything else available.
Your website has three assets: its domain name, the links pointing to it, and your content. If you don’t backup your content, your website will almost certainly suffer a technical failure or get hacked, you’ll lose all of your content, and your profits will vanish, so please take a moment now that you have a homepage already written and start backing up your website.
Step Seven—Setup Statistics
Now that you have a single page on your site (your homepage) you can setup statistics. Although statistics won’t directly influence your SEO performance, they’ll give you valuable information you need to improve your SEO and make more sales.
By far the most popular statistics program on the Web today is Google Analytics. Unless you have some reason to use another program, I suggest you start with it.
After you setup your stats, but before you get any real traffic, you need to decide how you will use your statistics.
Step Eight—Choose Your Key Performance Indicator
Every site should have a Key Performance Indicator (KPI), a number you can track on a daily basis to see how well you’re doing.
Since your website is about making money, you may think your KPI should be gross or net income, but these are fickle indicators. You usually can’t influence spenders until you already have an income stream, so income numbers are meaningless for the first month or so after you build a website.
What you really need at the start of a website is traffic, so I suggest you make something related to traffic your KPI.
My favorite KPI is how many people click on a link or advertisement on your site. In other words, your non-bouncing traffic. It’s easy to get lots of bouncing traffic, but when you get non-bouncing traffic, you know your website is doing a good job serving its visitors—and that’s when you have an opportunity for profit.
Whatever KPI you choose, see if Google Analytics can track all of it or part of it. (Some KPIs require you export data from Google Analytics and import it into a spreadsheet for further analysis.)
The best analytics will be the most real-time. If your site gets 1,000 unique visitors a month, that’s about 30 unique visitors a day, or about one visitor an hour who you can track if you have a real-time KPI. But if you use a sales-based KPI and you only get 10 sales a month, it will be three days between updates of your KPI.
The faster your feedback, the more adaptive you can be—and the sooner you get positive results from your hard work building a website, the more likely you will be to continue putting in more work.
Step Ten—Install Your Income Systems
Now that you have all the tools to measure your website’s success, it’s time to actually add the tools which make your website earn money.
Most profitable new WordPress websites earn money through two simple systems: advertisements and affiliate links. The most popular advertisement platform is Google AdSense, and the most popular affiliate platform in the U.S. is Amazon.
To serve ads or affiliate links, you will need to sign up for accounts with your ad network and affiliate network. This is usually a five minute process (or fifteen minutes if you actually read the contracts). Then the network will give you code you can use on your website. WordPress websites are wildly popular, so don’t worry if you don’t understand the technical details, there are plenty of plugins and tutorials which help you install ads and affiliate links on your website—plus you can always hire a contractor for a few dollars.
If you plan to make money other ways, such as through a mailing list, you can set those up now too, although I recommend that you focus on just one or two money making methods if you’re new to website building. See how to monetize a website.
Step Eleven—Install SEO Software
WordPress has several great SEO plugins which will help you create optimized content for your website. My favorite is SEOPressor.
Any SEO plugin should help you set keyword densities and make other SEO decisions for every article. Remember—these SEO rules are not absolute and it’s usually better to write an article that reads well than an article which follows all the SEO rules.
But having a SEO plugin will help novice SEO writers meet all of the recommended criteria until they become comfortable writing keyword optimized content.
Step Twelve—Setup Google Webmaster Tools
Now that you have statistics and a way to create SEO content, you also need a way to make sure you aren’t annoying Google or the other big search engines.
All of the major search engines provide webmaster tools. Google’s Webmaster tools are the best known. To use these tools, you need to prove to Google that you own your site, and then Google will show you special information about how it sees your domain.
Google will tell you what pages it found problems on and let you change some settings about how it indexes your site, such as how often it scans (or “crawls”) your site.
It will also give you some information separate from analytics about which pages on your site appear most often in search results. If a page appears often in search results but doesn’t get many clicks, you may want to adjust its title.
To sign up for Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools or Yahoo Webmaster Tools, just search for the appropriate tool on the appropriate search engine and follow the instructions provided.
Step Thirteen—Create Your Launch Posts
Before you start marketing your site, you need a few launch pages—unless you have the rare site which works well with just one single page.
I used to recommend that sites launch with ten posts, and I still think that’s ideal for blogs, but now I think just three to five pages is fine for launching—as long as you follow step seventeen below.
You can write the launch posts yourself or you can hire a writer to write them for you. But you definitely don’t want anyone visiting your site before you have something to offer. There are plenty of Under Construction pages on the Web which make no money at all.
Although this is step thirteen, if you plan to write all of the content on your site yourself and you don’t have any experience producing the required amount of content, you may want to make this step number one and write all of your starter content before you spend any money.
Step Fourteen—Setup Your Social Media
Small sites focused on keyword traffic rarely need social media accounts, but if you think your website will benefit from social media, this is the time to setup those accounts.
I highly recommend each website you create have its own social media accounts. That way you can sell your social media accounts if you sell your website, which will often help you earn an extra five to fifteen percent profit.
If you aren’t sure whether you need social media accounts for your website, I suggest you skip them. Collect a few months of statistics about your website without social media and then look at adding social media to see if it boosts your income without costing you too much time.
Also see my social media checklist for websites.
Step Fifteen—Setup Your Anti-Spam
Every piece of spam you get in a blog comment will hurt your ranking in Google search results, so setup your anti-spam before you start accepting comments. I am speaking from experience here. See the screenshot below of three different people commenting from the same IP address. Even worse when they all comment on the same article.
There are a number of easy ways to block comment spam. If you use the default WordPress comment system, you can activate the built-in captcha or quickly add the Google re-captcha system. Or you use use a shared comment system like Disqus with automatic spam blocking.
If you’re really worried about spam (or trolling), make sure you set WordPress to let you moderate all comments, which is usually the default setting.
Step Sixteen—Create Initial Backlinks
Now your site is ready for traffic, so it’s time for you to create your initial backlinks. Note that backlinks are not required to get listed on Google. (I’ve tested this myself.) But they do help you rank better on Google, and link traffic can convert well, so I highly recommend that you work on a backlinking strategy.
The easiest way to promote a new site is from social media sites, but many of these sites use rel=nofollow links, so mentions on them may not boost your rank.
A little bit better than social media sites are popular shared content sites, such as WordPress.com and other blogging platforms. These sites don’t usually use rel=nofollow links, but they also aren’t known for high-quality content, so it’s easy for you to build a few backlinks using medium-quality articles.
The gold standard for link building has long been guest posting. You find sites in your niche and related niches, and you offer to write an article for them which links to your blog. Getting someone else to agree to accept your guest post requires extra work over creating your own backlinks, but the extra SEO benefits of getting links from a quality site usually make it worth it.
For your initial backlinks, I recommend that you use social media and self-created accounts on popular content sites. Once your site is established and you start to see conversions, I recommend that you focus most of your backlinking strategy on guest posting to get the traffic which will make your site highly profitable.
Step Seventeen—Establish Your Regular Posting System
Your initial blogs are posted and you have a few backlinks. Now you need to establish your regular posting system.
Most blogs should have at least one new post a week just to look active. Blogs which want to grow quick should post more often, but not more than once a day unless they’re in a news-driven niche or seriously attempting to attract a huge audience.
Remember the law of diminishing returns. The more you blog, the more traffic you will receive; but the more you blog about the same subject, the less additional traffic you will receive for each now post. For example, one great post about your keyword phrase can capture 50% or more of the Google traffic for that phrase. An additional great post might get you 10% more traffic. A third post probably won’t even get you another 1%, and a fourth post might not even get you a single extra visitor.
Obviously, you want to vary your keywords slightly, and this is why you need a regular posting system which tells you what to write about and when to post. This can also help you outsource your writing by defining what you need done so other people can do it for you.
Most people start a blog by posting as frequently as they can, but I suggest that you post at the lowest frequency possible to keep your blog growing. Instead of posting, write content and save it for later.
If your blog doesn’t convert well, you can repurpose that content. If your blog does convert well, you can use that extra content as guest posts to get more incoming links quickly. If you need a quick product, you can turn those extra posts into an ebook. And, if you get sick or bored of your blog, you can use those posts to tide you over until you feel better or more enthusiastic. Posting frequently on a low-traffic new blog will usually only discourage you, so consider creating a posting schedule which lets you save up extra content.
Step Eighteen—Create A Regular Backlink System
Some sites don’t need much of a backlink system. If you’re in a niche which encourages sharing, other people may link to your site directly. For example, sites selling exciting family-friendly products often attract links. On the other hand, sites selling sex toys or promoting anything which may be considered shameful don’t often attract links.
If you need to encourage people to link to your site, create a backlink strategy. This can be as simple as writing 10 guest posts a month. Or it can be more complicated and involve social media.
As part of your backlinking strategy, attempt to measure the effectiveness of your strategy. You can’t easily track how much weight Google gives a link, but you can easily track how much traffic you get from link clicks. The more link clicks you get to your site, the better positioned your links are, so when Google sees those links, it will probably like them.
Step Nineteen—Create Partnerships
As you build your site, look for partnership opportunities. For example, instead of a one-time guest post, look for sites with which to build a partnership.
A simple partnership is the mutual mention. You agree to link to your partner’s site a few times a month in your various blog posts; your partner agrees to do the same in reverse. You both get a few extra links and a tighter connection in Google for only a tiny bit extra work.
A great way to find partners is to look at the advertisements on your site. If someone wants your traffic to become their customers, they probably want to hear from you directly about how you can help each other make more money. Anyone who pays $1 or more per click from your site is probably willing to offer you an affiliate link or other way to make money without going through AdWords. When you are doing this linking though, be careful how you link as Google is on the warpath for links and handing out Google penalties left right and centre.
Partnerships are usually what separate website pros from amateurs, so don’t leave them out of your website building strategy.
Step Twenty—Create A Site Map
Now that you have your site setup and you have more than just a handful of posts, you may want to add an XML sitemap which helps Google and other search engines index your site.
Sitemaps aren’t required if you use your WordPress website normally, but there is one advanced technique you can use with sitemaps—the submarine post.
The submarine post is a post which never makes it to the front page of your blog. Maybe it’s lower quality than your usual posts; maybe its full of affiliate links but you don’t want your regular audience to buy the product; maybe you just need to add an extra twenty or two hundred posts in a short amount of time.
In any case, a submarine post gets backdated or added to a hidden category so it doesn’t appear with your other articles, but it still exists on your site. Because it’s a bit out of place, Google won’t find it quickly—unless you have an XML sitemap.
There’s a simple XML sitemap plugin for WordPress. (I use Yoast SEO) You simply activate it and it creates a sitemap Google can find on your site. Google will download that sitemap on a regular basis and use it to find all of your new and updated content—including your submarine posts.
Clearly newbies get confused here between the on-site sitemap like this one and the sitemap submitted to the search engines like this one.
Bonus Step Twenty-One—Spend A Fiverr
After you’ve followed steps one through twenty, consider spending five dollars to get an SEO analysis of your site. For just five dollars, it won’t be a great SEO analysis. It won’t be particularly personalized and you won’t get to ask any questions—but you will get a critique of your site which can help you boost your profits.
Where do you find this analysis? Try fiverr.com, a site dedicated to letting you hire people for five dollar jobs. Just search for “SEO review” or “SEO analysis” and hire the first freelancer who looks competent. (Don’t spend too much time searching—it’s just five dollars. If you waste the money, you won’t be significantly poorer.) If you need a bigger job done then here are my tips for hiring on Elance.
Not only will you get an SEO analysis which you can use to improve your website, you will also get a glimpse into how an SEO expert analyzes websites, which will let you analyze your own websites in the future, helping you build more niche WordPress websites.