I have read tons of WordPress guides in the past, most try to get you to buy something or subscribe to something, Im just going to tell you how to get the best SEO results for the least amount of work. This Ultimate Guide is written for self hosted Blogs. I will write it in point format to save your time.
*Note after every step to save your work if not otherwise mentioned.
1) Find a domain to use. I suggest using your Government name or creating a word that means nothing but you can add the meaning too, or lastly a domain with keywords in it that you are trying to rank for. Register this domain for as many years as you can, the longer the length the more legit it looks to Google. If you own a business and the business name is the same as your domain make sure you use that as the admin contact info. It helps with domain credibility if the domain name and admin info match. Also consider if your Blog is locally based content, if so you may want to consider .ca or .us depending on where you live, though .com will work also. Country based domains tend to rank higher in local Google searches if two Blogs are very similar in content/architecture and the other competing website is .com or .net.
2) Select your hosting. If you will be writing about local topics, I suggest getting local hosting with a local IP address that is not shared with other sites. This coupled with your country based domain will be a really strong asset. If you are just looking for the least expensive option use Bluehost or similar. Make sure your hosting provider offers Simple Scripts or Fantastico. This will help with a speedy one-click WordPress install. As well as C-Panel interface is a huge advantage. You will also want to ensure that your hosting choice has AWstats (server dashboard) to use for inbound link tracking and general SEO maintenance. I suggest to not use Google Analytics as it is not very accurate.
3) Once you have your hosting setup, redirect your nameservers from your domain registrar to the hosting provider you purchased. It may take up to 48 hours for this to resolve.
4) Log into your C-Panel on your hosting provider, find Simple Scripts or Fantastico and install the most recent version of WordPress on your domain. Make sure you DO NOT include www. at the beginning of the domain. This will make your domain shorter and better for sharing on Twitter. As well the www. version of your domain will then 301 redirect to the non www. version automatically. This prevents any loss of inbound links adding to your ranking authority. You will also want to select a different name besides admin when selecting your login settings for WordPress. This adds an extra level of security. Also make your password really long and complicated and save it somewhere safe.
5) Once you have WordPress installed on your domain and are logged into the admin backend. The next step is to set your permalinks (URL structure). Go to the bottom left hand side at the bottom in settings and click on permalinks. Set them up like the following:
This ensures the keywords from the post are closest to the root domain, which will help with search rankings.
6) Now go into your general settings and set your admin password to the one you want and write in the site title field with the words you want your homepage to rank for in search. Try to keep it short and concise around 3 words. Other pages on your Blog will rank for other keywords, we will get to this later. Below site title put a Blog description of 150 characters or less. Only 150 characters will show up as a meta description in the search engine results page. Do not keyword stuff this.
7) Now click on the themes tab on the appearance section of the WordPress admin settings. You are going to find a theme to use for your site. I suggest something that is plain and white so you can brand it how you want to. Select a theme with at least 1 sidebar. Install this and activate it.
8 ) Find the appearance tab on the left side of the admin interface and click on editor. Go into your header.php file and put the following code between -head- and -title- tags.
This will ensure that your archives pages, category pages, tags, authors, and home page get indexed and followed correctly.
9) In between your title tags within header.php change it to the following.
This will make it so the title of the post of page is the first set of words in your title tags followed by your Blog name. This ensures proper ranking for the content and segmented search engine result page placement, locking you into the 1st and 2nd result for your searches related to your Blog brand or title.
10) Organize and left align your source code in header.php. Remove any unnecessary lines NOT SPACES. Organize like code content to sit together. This helps with site speed, which is a ranking factor.
11) Go to Favicon.cc and create a Favicon for your Blog. Upload a logo you will use or create one using their editor. Upload this to your root file domain by going into your C-Panel hosting and clicking on files. Now input the following code within your header.php file in the appearance tab editor, under your title tags. This is a good way to stand out in peoples bookmarks and on Social Media sites that allow website link placement such as Digg, Google Buzz, or Friendfeed.
12) Now that you have the basics setup, we are going to look at a few plugins. I dislike using too many plugins, but these ones are a good time saver. A large amount of plugin use can slow down your site load speeds and make for a bad user experience.
13) Install the no category base plugin. This removes the word /category/ from your blog category URLS and gets the keyword closer to the root domain, which is better for SEO. You can do this by clicking on the plugins tab of the left hand side of the WordPress admin screen and adding a new plugin. Now install and activate it. The next few steps will also require you to use the add a new plugin function of the admin sidebar so make a mental note of that.
14) Install the external links plugin. This will be used to open all external links from your website in a new window. Meaning any link to a website or content that is not your Blog will get opened in a new tab. This is good for keeping people on your site.
15) Install the no 404 page plugin. Now create a page on your site that is called about or similar and put a ton of useful information in there about your Blog and a way to contact you. Take the page number from the URL once you save this page in the admin editor. Use this page number in the setup of the no 404 page plugin. This will 301 redirect any 404 page on your website to the about us section and capture all links to your Blog that are incorrect. Maintaining your rankings and guiding visitors to the right place.
16) Go into the footer.php file in your editor tab on the appearance side bar section of WordPress admin. Remove everything that is not related to your website. I suggest leaving the powered by wordpress and link out to the .org site however. Gives credit to the CMS you are using and helps to build the WordPress community which is good for everyone. Make sure your Blog name is hyperlinked in the footer.php to link to your homepage. This helps to block out any duplicate title tags using your Blog name and ensure your homepage ranks first in the search engine results pages.
17) Now you will want to go into your widget tab on the appearance section of the WordPress admin panel. Make sure your date based archives, category pages, search form, and any related external links such as partner Blogs or Social Media sites related to your Blog have placement there. Keep your widgets concise and your sidebar from getting cluttered. Anything that is not 100% related to your site should not have a link in your sidebar. Keeping the date based archives in the side bar allows the search bots to find content deep within your site each time it gets indexed. Having the categories in your side bar ensures that the anchor text from the category links to the category pages which helps them to rank.
18) When writing content on your site you will want to ensure you do not overly stuff keywords as that is not a ranking factor anymore. It is more important to have semantic field content that is concise and well rounded. Link to pages and posts from other pages and posts using anchor text from within the content itself. Make sure you only link to content that is related to the content your are writing.
19) Do not make page or post titles longer then 60 characters as the search engine results pages only display that many. Put the most important keywords at the beginning but make them read naturally. Make sure your URL length has only 5 to 7 keywords in it, take the most important words from the title you selected and save the draft. In the first sentence of any page or post make sure the topic has placement and the general discussion points exist. This will help Google to create the most accurate meta descriptions for you. I would not suggest using self placed meta descriptions or meta keywords as they are not important for good rankings as they once were. You may want to go back into your appearance theme editor to ensure post and page titles have H1 tags, though I have found this to not be overly important.
20) At the end of the day you should be writing strong content that answers a question or solves a need not just writing content for traffic. People will naturally link to content that helps them out, which will help with your rankings.
*Side suggestion: do not let comments go live on your Blog without first reviewing them, you can do that in the discussion tab on the WordPress admin left hand side bar. This prevents off topic discussion and spam link placement which could negatively effect your rankings.
*I wrote this entire post without stopping to check for grammatical or spelling errors. I will go back through and make the changes later in the week when I have more time. Thanks for your patience.