When it comes to SEO best practices, you could spend half a day or much more reading the high-ranking SEO articles at Yoast or on Neil Patel’s site.
Or, you could save yourself a ton of time and simply use the easy checklist below to make sure you are implementing on-page SEO correctly when drafting and publishing your WordPress posts.
I Use Yoast so Why do I Need Your SEO Checklist?
Good question. Let me address it head on.
Using the Yoast SEO plugin automates some of these checks to a degree (especially the character length limitations and suggestions), but I still recommend you use this checklist for double-checking SEO best practices.
As you’ll see for some of the elements below, in its pursuit of “SEO for everyone”, Yoast does notalways get everything right. And that's fine; it's still a great tool I use.
Anyway, it's always good to subject your posts to a bit of a manual SEO audit and this checklist serves that purpose too.
VPN SEO Checklist: Element-by-Element
To make sure you are ticking all the right SEO boxes for your WordPress posts, use my easy SEO checklist below. The items are generally listed in order of importance.
Each item to check, has a highlighted tickbox [ ] to help guide you.
Title / H1 Heading
This is the very first thing you do to create a new post in WordPress: type in the post’s title (which then also becomes the post's H1 heading).
Ensure it contains your focus keyword [ ] ideally at the very beginning of the text [ ]. Make sure your post uses one and only one H1 (ie, this one) [ ].
Remember also to never use the same focus keyword for other posts. Each post should use a unique focus keyword [ ].
URL (aka post’s website address)
Make sure this contains your focus keyword [ ], ideally right at the beginning [ ]. Sometimes the URL for your post will only be the focus keyword.
This is an element where Yoast is not always helpful. For example, it will recommend you remove stop words from the URL such as “the”, “and”, “in”, “more” and even “how” as well as writing copy, but they could be a key part of your focus keyword, especially if it is a long tail keyword. As a result, you should often ignore this Yoast advice.
To make matters worse, by default Yoast will simply base the URL on your post’s H1. This can backfire since you have more characters to play with for the H1 whereas you should keep the URL tighter.
Together, these features of Yoast are not always helpful. Override this and manually enter the URL for your post, so it expressly contains the focus keyword and not much more [ ].
Meta Description (aka Google SERP snippet)
Ensure this contains your focus keyword [ ], ideally at the very beginning of the text [ ]. For bonus points, try to also include a variation of your focus keyword elsewhere in the meta description [ ].
Remember that there is no guarantee Google will use this snippet in its SERP results, but it's still a very important element to pay attention to. It's like a free ad so treat it accordingly (see Writing).
The easiest way to do this is to be guided by Yoast’s displayed keyword weight statistic. Google changes the length of meta descriptions from time-to-time, so make sure your Yoast plugin is up-to-date.
Subheadings (aka H2s to H6s)
Ensure plenty (at least 3) subheadings contain your focus keyword or variations of it anywhere in the text (ie, it does not have to be at the beginning) [ ]. But make sure you don't do this in a spammy seeming way [ ].
Body (aka your main post content)
Write about the topic naturally with the focus keyword and variations appearing in a normal manner throughout the text and not in any way forced [ ].
It helps to have a featured image for your post for an SEO boost, but is no longer as essential as it used to be. Many sites with a high volume of visitors have dropped them altogether. Unless you have many visitors (>100,000 per month), I'd suggest you use a featured image for your posts [ ]. There are plenty of sources for good quality free images.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure all images in the post (featured or otherwise) use the ALT tag [ ] and contain the focus keyword or variations.
Use Captions that include the focus keyword or a variation [ ].
Also add them and pay attention to the filenames of images before you upload them to WordPress [ ]. Image filenames can be a pain because you can't change them after uploading an image to WordPress’ media gallery.
For all of the above, inject focus keyword or variations but not in a forced or spammy seeming way [ ].
Of course, all images should be optimized before uploading too so they load fast and don't slow down your visitors’ experience [ ]. Perform a Google PageSpeed Insights test on a finalized and published post to check that it's OK from this perspective [ ].
SEO Title Tage (aka browser tab text)
Use a variation of your focus keyword here [ ].
This is another way Yoast is not always helpful: by default, it makes your post’s title the same as the post title aka H1 heading. Instead, override this and make it a little different by using a variation of your focus keyword.
Have 1 to 3 links to authoritative posts on external websites [ ]. Ensure the external posts are not 100% on the same topic (in other words, the external posts you link to should not have the same focus keyword as your post, but of course this is not always easy to tell) [ ].
Make sure these links open in a new tab [ ], else you risk visitors leaving your site and not returning.
If the post you are checking is not a cornerstone post on your site, it should link to one and do so usually close to the start of the post’s text [ ].
Cornerstone posts are those most likely to generate calls to action. Non-cornerstone posts should of course have calls to action too, but more often they act as funnel pages directing your visitors to a cornerstone post on your site.
Ideally, you should “cloak” any affiliate links in the post by using redirected and shortened URLs based on your own domain [ ]. For bonus points, add the keyword or variations to the redirect’s URL [ ].
Also ensure that the redirect opens in a new browser tab [ ] and is NOFOLLOW [ ].
The easiest way to accomplish all of the above is to use the Pretty Links plugin (free) for WordPress.
This can be tricky to judge and so is listed towards the end of my SEO best practices checklist.
For some topics, it may be important for your post to appear as having been recently published or even “hot off the press”. If so, consider updating the published date of your post. This is sometimes referred to as keeping a post “evergreen”.
You could also amend the H1 but not the URL to include any important signal for Google; for example, such as adding “(Updated Month Year)” to the end of the H1.
Of course, it's paramount that the actual contents of the post are updated too!
For other topics, this won't matter. If you judge your post to be “timeless”, leave the published date “as is” and do not risk taking a hit, even short term, in Google's search results.
To help make the judgement, put yourself in the shoes of your potential visitors and ask: all other things being equal, would they prefer and be more likely to click on a more recently dated post as displayed in Google's search engine results pages [ ]?
For heaven's sake, make sure you are not using this for the post [ ]. The leading search engines no longer use this and may even punish you for doing so. Plus, it tips off your competitors.
SEO Checklist Wrap-Up
There you have it. Everything you needed on about one double-sided printed page.
Check your posts against the above and see how they fare, especially on your most important posts. Harvest any low hanging fruit by addressing any big gaps you find.
Did you like our easy SEO checklist? Let us know in the Comments below.
Keyword research finished?
time to publish those posts