If you wish to reach a large section of internet users, it is significant that your WordPress site ranks on the first page of the search engine. This means that WordPress SEO requires your constant attention so that you can maintain and improve your SERP rankings.
Here are some of the most well-known brands that run their websites on WordPress.
- BBC America
- The Walt Disney Company
These websites receive millions of visitors a month, just because they have applied SEO tactics for great SERP positions.
In this article, I will teach you the essentials of SEO optimization for WordPress. The ideas range from advice for beginners to experienced users. At the end of the article, you would have a clear understanding of how you can optimize your WordPress website SEO for better rankings and traffic.
Sounds good? Let’s dive right in.
- The Basics of WordPress SEO
- Best WordPress SEO Plugins & Tools
- Advanced WordPress SEO
- WordPress SEO Checklist
- Focus Keywords
- Title Tags
- Title Description
- Image Title Text
- Focus Keyword in the First Paragraph
- High-Quality Content
- Short URL Good URL
- WordPress SEO: Add Internal Links
- External Links
- Nofollow & Dofollow
- The Impact of Social
- Broken Links
- Responsive Design
- Avoid Copyright Violations
- Hidden Text
- Images, Video, and InfoGraphics
- Valid 404
- Low Quality and Useless Content
- Press & PR (Press Release)
- Customer Experience
The Basics of WordPress SEO
WordPress is an open-source content management system that simplifies website creation and maintenance. Whether you are a newbie or a techie, WordPress offers the perfect balance of simplicity and features for your skill level.
Now when you have created your WordPress website, the next step is to make it available to the targeted audience and to search engine bots that can crawl through your website and rank it appropriately in the search engine.
While there are many ways of driving traffic to your website, the most effective way is through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which helps your website rank higher in search engine results.
Online SEO Audit
To start off, you can use a host of online tools to run an SEO audit of your WordPress site. I will use the SEO Analyzer by Neil Patel for the demonstration of the idea.
Enter your site’s URL inside the field and hit the ‘ANALYZE WEBSITE’ button.
The tool will run an SEO audit of your site by analyzing it on various parameters and give you valuable insights.
The result starts with an overall SEO score which is given after analyzing all the pages of your website. Next is the organic monthly traffic considering the organic keywords. Finally, it shows the number of website backlinks (discussed later).
The tool also shows other useful information like the overall health status of your site as low performance has a direct adverse impact on the SEO of your website. If you wish you can click on errors, warnings, and recommendations for further in-depth information.
The second fold of the result page contains the site speed on both the desktop and mobile platforms.
I recommend testing your website on other WordPress speed test tools to get a competitive analysis of the issues and in-depth insights into the performance of your website.
WordPress Search Engine Visibility
When you create a new WordPress website, it doesn’t get listed (or indexed) in the search engines automatically. In fact, WordPress offers a core functionality that prevents search engine spiders from indexing the website. If you go to WordPress Admin Dashboard > Settings > Readings, you will see the option Discourage search engine from indexing this site checked by default.
If you have finalized website development and are ready to go live, uncheck this option and click the Save Changes button.
Make Your WordPress URLs SEO Friendly
SEO friendly URLs is a smart way to get your website ranked in the search engine. There are three ways to ensure all the URL on your WordPress website conform to the standard guidelines:
- Use SEO-friendly permalink structure
- Install an SSL certificate
- Use plugins to make sure the URLs are SEO-friendly
Let’s see these options in a bit more detail:
Use SEO-Friendly Permalink Structure
Let’s first see two examples of URL structure:
Now, which one do you think is more easy to understand for both the humans and search engines?
Obviously, the first one gives a clear idea of what the blog is all about and what to expect from the blog. Therefore, it is important to set the URLs which are easy to understand and gives the idea of the type of content a reader expects to find within.
Install an SSL Certificate
Google started marking HTTP sites as Not Secure from July 2018. This signifies the importance of the SSL certificates in getting higher SERP positions. Here is how SSL encrypted and otherwise URL look like:
Not Secure: http://cloudways.com
You have a lot of options when it comes to securing your WordPress websites with SSL certificates. You can either buy a certificate or just install a free one. Similarly, the validity of the certificates ranges from yearly to lifetime. Usually, WordPress web hosting providers provide in-depth support for installing and renewing SSL certificates.
At Cloudways, we offer a FREE SSL certificate by Let’s Encrypt. If you want to know more about WordPress SSL certificates, here is a detailed guide on securing your WordPress websites with free SSL certificates.
Likewise, if you have a paid SSL certificate, you can easily import and install it at your Cloudways managed servers, simply by uploading the relevant files to the server.
Use Plugins to Make Sure Your URLs Are SEO-Friendly
Yoast SEO is perhaps the most popular WordPress SEO plugin out there. One of the most important website SEO information that the plugin offers is about the use of focus keywords in the URL structure.
Note that this is just one of the many WordPress SEO focused information that Yoast SEO plugin provides about your website.
Best WordPress SEO Plugins & Tools
While Yoast SEO is a popular plugin (as I write this, the plugin has five million active installs), it is always a great idea to have options. Here is a list of other great WordPress SEO plugins and tools that you can use to help you rank your website in all major search engines.
- All in One SEO Pack
- Google Keyword Planner
Let’s have a very brief intro of these useful WordPress SEO plugins.
All in One SEO Pack
When it comes to finding an alternative to Yoast, look no further than All in One SEO Pack. The plugin is considered a powerful WordPress SEO plugin with over 2 million active installs. The best part – if you have been using Yoast, there is little to no learning curve as the features are very compatible.
KWFinder is a keyword research and analysis tool that simplifies keyword discovery. Regardless of the niche and industry, KWFinder is an ideal tool for finding web keywords that you can use in your blog posts and landing pages for better SERP rankings.
Google Keyword Planner
If you don’t want to invest in paid SEO tools, Google Keyword Planner is the best bet for finding out relevant keywords. Google Keyword Planner gets a bad rap, especially since Google removed the ability to see the exact monthly search volumes. Now they just show an approximate range.
However, if you want to know the actual value of your keywords, I would recommend going with a premium tool.
If you want to know what your competitors are doing, which keywords they are ranking on (and at what position), how many keywords they are using in specific landing pages or blogs, Ahrefs offers a powerful tool. This premium tool is ideal for discovering all keyword and link related information about your competitors.
Advanced WordPress SEO
Now that you have checked out beginner-level WordPress SEO ideas, let’s discuss some advanced WordPress SEO tips.
Add XML Sitemaps to WordPress Websites
XML sitemaps list all website pages and make sure that Google bots can easily find, crawl and index them all. In many cases, developers also use these sitemaps to make sense of the website’s architecture. Similarly, SEO experts use these sitemaps to apply several SEO tactics to the site.
The good part is that creating a WordPress sitemap is a matter of using a plugin. In fact, if you are using Yoast SEO plugin, you don’t need to put in additional efforts as Yoast creates website XML sitemap by default. If you have already set up the Yoast SEO plugin, you can see the sitemap at sitemap_index.xml.
Image Source: Yoast
Add Your Website to Google Search Console
Regardless of the nature of your websites, you need to have detailed and up-to-the-minute data on WordPress website performance.
Fortunately, Google offers several excellent free tools such as Google Search Console and Google Analytics for this purpose.
Google Analytics for WordPress is an excellent choice for analyzing visitor trends and traffic sources.
In general, when you install Google Analytics on WordPress, you get detailed insights into who visited your website and the user behavior on your website (such as page views, time spent on pages, bounce rate, the origin of the traffic, etc.).
We have a step by step guide on how to use Google Analytics for WordPress: All-in-One Guide (2019).
Google Search Console
Google Search Console allows you to check page indexing status and optimize the visibility of your websites. You can use this tool to index pages and sitemap, page blocking, measure CTR & impressions, analytics, page performance, site errors, responsive issues, URL issues, HTML issues, and much more.
WordPress SEO Checklist
Now that you know the fundamentals of WordPress SEO, it is time to present the only WordPress SEO checklist you will need to make your website rank at the top of the SERP.
Keywords are important but focus keywords are essential. Make sure you understand how search volume works and why you need to continuously discover new focus keywords to retain your rankings. These keywords should be included in the headings and subheadings of the websites.
Title tags are often the h1 and h2 on the website. Make sure that these tags include focus keywords. In fact, all the titles of the pages should be SEO friendly and very much related to your niche and keywords.
For example: If you are writing about WordPress SEO, your title should be something like “SEO for WordPress.”
You can see that I have added the focus keyword at the beginning of the topic. I know this is not possible for every topic but you should come up with creative ideas for including focus keywords in your title tags.
To make things interesting, Google only shows the first 63 characters of the title tag. This is such an important restriction that WordPress SEO plugin, such as Yoast SEO has a special area for a title tag that indicates when you are about to cross this limit.
Tip: Your Title Act as a Headlines 🙂
Similar to title tags, description tags are another great opportunity for adding the focus keywords to your content. Note that Google shows the first 150-160 characters. A well-written description summarizes the idea of the content and induces the readers to click and come to your website.
The limit of the meta description is 150 to 170 characters with space.
Image Title Text
Image title text help improve both the traffic and the overall user experience on the site. When visitors hover on a specific image, they can have an idea of what the image is about by reading the image title text.
Similarly, you can add an ALT text field for every image, another good opportunity for adding focus keywords for improving WordPress Search Engine Optimization.
It is a good practice to include the name of the image in the ALT text to help the visitors understand the context of the image.
Focus Keyword in the First Paragraph
Google crawls your website pages from top to bottom, so including the focus keyword in the first paragraph is a good practice that indicates to the search engine that your content should be ranked for that particular focus keyword. In fact, the focus keyword should also be included in the last 100 words for maximum effect.
Content is an essential aspect of every website. And why not? It is the only way you can bring your products and services to the attention of the visitors. Whether it’s a blog, infographic or video, content is everything.
If you are writing a blog, check out Google’s good content guidelines. The length of the content is a very important search signal as are proper subheading structure and keyword distribution. Similarly, you need to follow industry guidelines for producing videos and related visual content
Short URL is Good URL
Always use a short URL for your posts because they look good, clean and are easy to remember. Google likes a short URL with a good structure and the focus keyword. By default, WordPress creates URLs according to the title of the post. This is not a good practice and you can easily fix this issue
As you can see, the focus keyword (WordPress SEO plugins) is included in the URL and the length is good enough for a quick scan.
Add Internal Links
Internal links are an essential part of any WordPress post. These links interconnect the content on your website and easily allow bots to crawl your website. The recommended number of internal links in a post is four to five. However, when linking your own content, remember that the context of the link is as important as the anchor text
External links are an important ranking factor that signals search engines that your content is validated by external websites. While there is no set limit of external links, it is essential that important facts and statements should be validated by external links. So If you add some 80 plus DA website links in your posts, you get a chance to rank your post in the top ten SERP positions.
Nofollow & Dofollow
Nofollow and Dofollow are two very important link attributes that bots use to follow (or not) links. In simpler words, if a link is tagged as Nofollow, the bot will not follow it to the destination. On the other hand, if a link is tagged as Dofollow, the bot will follow the link. This forms a channel for the “link juice” to flow from higher-ranked websites to lower-ranked websites as a vote of confidence.
A backlink is exactly what it says on the package: a link that points back to your website. This is why these links are also known as inbound links. A good strategy is to get “earned” backlinks that other content producers create while linking to your content. For Google, these links are an endorsement of the quality of your content. Thus, the more backlinks you have, the higher you will be ranked in SERP.
The Impact of Social
If you have a WordPress website, you simply cannot ignore social media. The top two platforms, Facebook and Twitter have the potential of transforming your humble site into an industry leader. All you need to do is create an account and start sharing your content. As your profile grows, you will start seeing relevant traffic on the site. Eventually, you will form useful relationships that benefit you in unexpected ways.
Broken links on your website indicate that you are not serious about website maintenance. This issue can directly hit the UX of your website and thus Google takes the issue seriously.
Fortunately, you have a whole host of tools to tackle this issue and detect all the broken links on your site. In fact, several plugins such as the Broken Link Checker plugin monitor your website and generate an alert when a broken link is detected. You can also check broken links and other error details through a host of free and paid tools. Once you have the list, you can either set up redirects or remove the links altogether.
Responsive design has become the way all websites are built for a simple reason: Responsive design makes your website look and function great on any device. Since Google places a lot of value on mobile experiences, responsive design is an essential component of any WordPress SEO strategy. I recommend opting for a well developed responsive theme to implement this tactic on your site.
Avoid Copyright Violations
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown negatively affects your ranking in SERP. When using content created by someone else, always check out the license to use/redistribute. Experts suggest using images and videos available under Creative Commons (CC) or similar licenses to avoid DMCA strikes.
Hidden text is an underhanded way of inflating the size of published content and adding unrelated keywords. While invisible to humans, the invisible text is very much visible to Google bots. Since this is considered an unethical practice, Google Google penalizes it.
Images, Video, and Infographics
Visuals have a significant effect on the bounce rate and content readability. In addition, these elements provide the alt text as an opportunity of increasing keyword density. In addition, you need to make sure your videos and images are optimized and do not add to page load time.
404 indicated that a particular page does not exist on the webpage. While some instances of the error occur because of misspelled or related scenarios, there is always a chance that 404 indicated a broken link on the website.
Here are some best practices for designing a 404 page:
- Tells visitors that the requested page cannot be found
- Shows easy navigation
- Track 404 pages in Google Analytics
- Make sure your 404 pages are not indexed
Low Quality and Useless Content
Avoid the trap of using low quality and useless content to quickly get the website up and running. Always give the content production adequate time and you will soon see its impact in SERP rankings.
Press & PR (Press Release)
Most people believe that press releases do not affect SEO because of no-follow links. However, PR has a great but indirect impact on SEO. Your website gets natural high-quality links that improve brand visibility and awareness.
Customer experience is the next big thing for SEO. Whether you are running an actual business or just a simple blog, your entire marketing pitch should be tailored to provide a great experience to your customers. You should have a clear idea about the demographics of your customers so that all your marketing and all other strategies start bearing fruit in the form of excellent WordPress SEO results.
Local SEO has a serious impact on shaping user behavior and thus the SERP rankings. The trust that local SEO adds to your brand leads to higher rankings. If you are not decided about local SEO, here is a simple fact for you: If your business has local customers, you have to do local SEO for more conversions.
Some effective guidelines for Local SEO:
- On-page factors targeted toward local SEO
- Citation (Local Listing)
- Verified with Google local listings
The simple truth is this: page load time affects SEO. For WordPress websites, the average load time should be 2 seconds, tops. The best tool for measuring this factor is Google PageSpeed Insights. Note that many speed-related issues can happen on the server-side. For this try to host your websites on high performance and optimized-for-speed platforms. I recommend the best SEO Friendly Hosting: Cloudways
If users coming from everywhere (regardless of location and language) can easily understand the content and offerings on your site, you are in for great SERP positions. Here is a complete list of FAQs about Internationalization.
That’s it! In this guide, I have mentioned WordPress SEO tactics including the basics and advanced. I have also mentioned some of the easily actionable WordPress tips which you can deploy almost immediately.
If you have any questions regarding this guide or if you found any point which I have missed, feel free to let me know I would love to add your tip.
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Saud is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WooCommerce Hosting Platform. Saud is responsible for creating buzz, spread knowledge, and educate the people about WordPress in the Community around the globe. In his free time, he likes to play cricket and learn new things on the Internet. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org