wordpress seo

WordPress SEO: The Definitive Guide for Beginners

wordpress seo

Mastering WordPress SEO is key to driving and maintaining quality traffic to your WordPress website. In the early days of the web, all you needed to do to rank on search engines was to intelligently insert keywords in your content.

But all that has changed now. SEO has gone from insertion of keywords, optimization of post titles and loading time etc. to a whole new algorithm best known by Google. Little wonder some believe SEO is dead. Well, it’s not – SEO is still as effective as it was at the start. Your job is to do it right.

In this definitive guide, we will explain, in simplest terms, what SEO is all about. In addition to that, we will walk you through WordPress SEO starting from the basics. And finally, we will share with you tips to make the most of your SEO efforts. Even if you are a newbie to WordPress, following this guide won’t be a problem.

In this article:

 

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization – SEO for short – is a term used to refer to strategies used for improving the visibility of a website in search engines. The end goal of SEO is to drive traffic to a website, organically – that is without paid ads. Whether you are looking to rank your website on Google, Yandex, Bing or any search engine of your choice, SEO will come in handy.

It should be borne in mind that Search Engine Optimization differs from Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The fundamental difference between the two is that, while SEO comes at zero ad cost, for SEM you need a marketing budget.

To illustrate the difference between SEO and SEM, head over to Google. In the search bar type “SEO + your area”. For instance, “SEO Austin”. What you will see is this:

The web link with “Ad” (Advert) prefix paid Google to appear for the keyword you searched for. Whereas the web link without the prefix is ranking by the function of SEO – zero ad money was paid to Google.

Basically, that’s SEO!

 

Why Invest in SEO?

While it’s true you don’t need a marketing budget to maximize SEO, you sure do need to invest time – and a lot of it. This, added to the fact that it takes quite some time to see meaningful results from SEO, makes it undesirable to marketers looking for quick returns. But if you have the time to invest, SEO is an excellent source of cheap, quality organic traffic.

Here are more reasons to invest in SEO:

  • SEO has higher clickthrough rates than SEM. Stats show that 70% of users prefer to click on organic results from their searches.
  • SEO is an excellent channel for capturing localized traffic – that is traffic coming from your local area. This makes it a  great solution for businesses that operate locally.
  • You can easily outrank your competitors with SEO. With the right strategy, you can rank above the competition, irrespective of how huge their marketing budget is.
  • SEO helps build credibility as users tend to trust organic searches more than paid searches.

That said, let’s see the different strategies you could use to improve your website’s ranking.

20 WordPress SEO Tips for Improving Your Website’s Ranking

WordPress websites are SEO friendly. Unfortunately, that’s never enough – it’s your job to properly optimize it if you are to see meaningful results.

 

Tip #1: Install a WordPress SEO Plugin

WordPress plugins are there to make life less laborious as a WordPress designer/developer. Of the numerous SEO plugins for WordPress out there in the market, Yoast SEO plugin is the most popular.

To install, log into your WordPress Dashboard and scroll down to Plugins. Hover over it and click Add New

Next, search for Yoast in the search bar. When you find it, install and activate.

After successful installation and activation, you should have Yoast right in the dashboard of your WordPress website.

Please note that Yoast won’t automatically optimize your website for SEO. At best, it will give you recommendations – it’s entirely up to you to implement them.

 

Tip #2: Ensure your website is visible to search engines

Right within your WordPress dashboard, you can make your website unreachable to search engines. The idea behind this feature is to keep your website from the reach of the public while still building it.

By default, this feature is turned off, but if it is mistakenly turned on your website won’t rank on search engines.

To turn it off, navigate to Settings >> Reading

Then ensure that Discourage search engines from indexing this site is unchecked.

With that, you are done and search engines can find and index your site.

 

Tip #3: Choose HTTPS over HTTP

You might have noticed that most websites now use HTTPS in their domain structure. The “S” – which stands for secure – is a function of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology. Put simply, https ensures that the data transfer between browser and web server is secure.

In the early days of the web, HTTPS/SSL setup was purely by choice – now it is mandatory. Websites with unsecured connection (HTTP) perform poorly on search engines. You sure don’t want that to happen to your website.

We have a detailed guide on our blog which explains how to migrate your website from HTTP to HTTPS. Do check it out.

 

Tip #4: Set the right permalink structure

Permalink is a term used to describe the structure of a website’s URLs (web links). These include URLs of blog posts and pages of the website.

Permalink structure, in more ways than one, influences the performance of a website in search engines. As such it’s important to get it right from the start.

Here’s how a bad permalink structure looks like:

mywebsite.com/?p=123

Both humans and search bots will find it difficult to read the link above.

A good permalink should take this structure:

mywebsite.com/wordpress-seo/

Or

mywebsite.com/blog/wordpress-seo/

The key is to make links to your website readable as meaningful text. To change the permalink structure of your website, navigate to Settings >> Permalinks right within your dashboard.

Next, check the Post name option.

Scroll down and save changes.

If you had been using a non-friendly permalink structure, say Numeric, WordPress will take care of the redirects.

If your website is more than 6 months old, seek the guidance of an SEO professional before switching your website’s permalink structure. This is so as to avoid losing the ranking you’ve built up.

 

Tip #5: Update your website’s PHP version

You can’t paint a car with rust body and chassis and expect everything to turn out fine. Same goes with WordPress SEO – you can’t use new, trending SEO strategies on an old PHP version.

Updating to the latest version of PHP has numerous benefits, some of which include better load speed and tighter security.

We have a detailed guide on our blog which shows you how to update to the latest version of PHP.

 

Tip #6: Do some research before creating content

Content, they say, is King! Content is the bread and butter of SEO – it’s mostly through it that web users find your website. But curating content just because everyone else is doing so is a failing strategy. Your goal should be to educate, entertain and ultimately attract quality traffic.

Before writing a single word, first do some research. Your goal should be to:

  • Discover what kind of content web users are looking for
  • Find the right mix of keywords for your content
  • Conduct competitor analysis, and determine which keywords they are ranking for

Avoid going too broad with keywords in your content. For instance, “professional photographer” is keyword too broad to rank for. “Children photographer in Kingston” is a lot better.

Also, when using keywords, exercise caution as excessive use of them can get your website blacklisted by Google.

Yoast SEO plugin can help straighten things out with keywords.

 

Tip #7: Optimize your blog post

Blog posts that aren’t properly optimized may never rank no matter how informative they may be. Everything from the title, meta description, and sub-headings of every blog post you publish should be optimized.

When optimizing your blog posts for search engines, also put in as much effort to optimize them for human reading. How? Make it easy for readers to scan through the post.

Here are a couple of rules to observe when optimizing your blog posts

  • Use subheading tags generously to break up your content. H2, H3, H4 etc. are typical subheading tags in WordPress.
  • Ensure the focus keyword you are targeting is contained in the blog post’s permalink. But by all means, make it readable.
  • For images and videos, use appropriate alt attributes for a proper description. Additionally, name your media files appropriately. Avoid using generic names like “IMG_123382.png”

 

Tip #8: Use internal links maximally

Internal links constitute part of Google’s ranking algorithm. As the name suggests, these are links that interconnect the individual pages and posts of your website.

Internal links help Google search bots find newly published pages and posts. They tell Google bots, “hey there is something interesting over there, so follow this link to see it”.

Human readers also depend on internal links to navigate the content of your website. Other benefits of using internal links include:

  • Increases the ranking of your content.
  • Lengthens user engagement, thus lowering bounce rate
  • Increases traffic to your site.

A higher number of internal links pointing to content means higher ranking for that content. So, the most important contents of your website should have the most links to them.

There are many ways to link to a piece of content. One is contextual linking: text-based links. Here’s a typical example:

The text containing the link is referred to as anchor text. An anchor text should be descriptive.

The text containing the link is referred to as anchor text. An anchor text should be descriptive and relevant.

Other linking methods include linking from navigational menus and linking from taxonomies (categories and tags).

 

Tip #9: Use No-follow links for external linking 

When you link to an external website, some of your website’s SEO score (link juice) would be passed to that site. To avoid this from happening in places like comments on your site, use a no-follow link. No-follow attribute tells Google search bots not to follow a link to wherever it is pointing to.

These can also be used for referencing external websites when you do not want to pass link juice to them (for example when linking a product).

This is how a normal link looks like in HTML

<a href=”https://externalwebsite.com”> External website</a>

Whereas a no-follow link

<a href=”https://externalwebsite.com” rel=”nofollow”>External website</a>

The rel=”nofollow” attribute is what makes the difference.

To insert no-follow attribute to a link in WordPress, follow the steps below

Highlight the text (anchor text) you wish to add the link to.

Next, click on the link insertion button, or alternatively hit Ctrl (Cmd for Mac) + K

In the popup box, enter the web address and click the Apply button. Next, click the Text tab at the top right corner of the text block.

Finally, insert the no-follow attribute as shown below.

Tip #10: Avoid duplicate content

A piece of content is said to be duplicated if it appears more than once on the web with different URLs. For instance, say you published a piece of content with title “search engine optimization”. The URL to the content reads: “www.mywebsite.com/blog/search-engine-optimization”. The duplicated form of it could read “www.mywebsite.com/categories/search-engine-optimization”.

Duplicate content is a headache to search engine bots: they find it hard to determine which content to rank. Search engine bots do one thing when they come across duplicate content: de-rank both content.

Content duplication is caused by a couple of factors. Common factors include multiple URL generation by your Content Management System and content scraping. Content scraping happens when someone copies content from your website and publishes it on theirs.

The one sure solution for fighting duplicate content is a canonical URL. Canonical URL indicates to Google which post/page is the original. So, even if the post/page has multiple, different URLs, Google will only rank with URL with canonical attribute.

To make a link canonical, simply add rel=”canonical” attribute just as the same way you would add rel=”no-follow” attribute.

Here is an example of a canonical URL

<a href=”https://externalwebsite.com” rel=”canonical”>External website</a>

 

Tip #11: Make your website load faster

The loading speed of a website is a major ranking factor for Google. Put simply, the faster a website loads, the higher ranking Google gives it.

There are a couple of online speed checking tools you could use to check your website’s load speed. Google PageSpeed Insight happens to be one of the most popular.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for improving the load speed of a website. Popular strategies include compressing images before uploading, using a Content Delivery Network etc. Uninstalling and deleting redundant plugins might also help improve the load speed of your website. To learn more, read our WordPress Speed guide.

 

Tip #12: Optimize your website for mobile 

Up until 2016, the desktop was responsible for the largest website traffic, compared to mobile. Now, more people surf the internet with their mobile devices than they do on desktop. 6

In the wake of the mobile era, Google came up with what is known as mobile-first indexing. Mobile-first indexing means Google’s search algorithm will rank websites based on their mobile responsiveness. Long story short, websites that aren’t responsive on mobile won’t perform well on search engines.

If your website isn’t mobile responsive, and it runs on WordPress, change the theme. Ensure the theme you select is mobile responsive. WordPress’ Twenty Nineteen theme is a popular, free theme reputed for its mobile responsiveness. If you’ve got the budget go for premium themes – they offer better value.

In addition to using a responsive theme, using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) can also help improve your website’s mobile usability. The idea behind AMP is to make websites load super fast on mobile. To get started with AMP, install and activate WordPress AMP plugin on your website.

 

Tip #13: Structure your website’s content with category and tags

Categories and tags make it possible to organize the content on your website in such a way that it makes sense to search bots and humans.

Think of categories as a table of content for your website. Say you run and manage a travel blog. You can categorize your posts into travel gear, best destination in summer, travel deals, etc.

Tags, on the other hand, are descriptive keywords used on a post. At a glance, a reader can tell what a post is all about by checking its tags.

While categories are hierarchical – in that they can have children – tags are not.

To add categories to your website, log into your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Posts >> Categories. 

Next, set the name of the new category, the slug, the parent(if necessary) and description.

You can leave out the slug because WordPress will automatically generate one for you. Leave the parent category as none if it will be the main category. Finally, click add Add New Category.

Next time before publishing a post, select the appropriate category.

Follow the same steps to create new tags for your posts.

 

Tip #14: Manage your breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs serve as guide map within a website. Breadcrumbs make it easy for users to quickly navigate within your website at the click of a button. Here’s how a typical breadcrumb looks like:

Home > Blog > Post

Breadcrumbs aren’t meant for human readers alone, but also for search bots. Thus they help improve SEO.

To add breadcrumbs to your website using Yoast SEO plugin, first install and activate this plugin. Next, navigate to Appearance >> Editor. Locate the Single Page (page.php) file and paste the following code:

<?php

if ( function_exists(‘yoast_breadcrumb’) ) {

  yoast_breadcrumb( ‘</p><p id=”breadcrumbs”>’,'</p><p>’ );

}

?>

Click Update File. Next, navigate to SEO >> Search Appearance.

Click Breadcrumbs and enable it

Tip #15: Make your website more secure 

Due to its popularity, WordPress is a major target for hackers. Should a hacker gain access to your WordPress website, your SEO will be affected severely. While WordPress has a handful of security features, there are added steps you can take to improve security.

One is using unique usernames and passwords for logging. Your login details should be difficult to guess. You can take things a bit further by using two-factor authentication – there is a plugin for that.

Other additional steps you could take include limiting login attempt, disabling file editing and using top-notch security plugins. Read our WordPress Security guide for more information.

 

Tip #16: Fix broken links 

Broken links hurt a website’s SEO in more ways than you can imagine. A link is said to be broken when it leads to a non-existent or deleted page. Oftentimes when you click on a broken link, an error message saying “Sorry this page does not exist” pops up.

Left unchecked, broken links can also hurt your website’s reputation, especially if there are too many of them.

The first step to fixing broken links is finding them. Online broken link checker tools – like this one – would be of great help. Google Search Console can also help in finding broken links. More on Google Search Console shortly.

There are basically two things you can do to fix a broken link: change the URL or delete the link altogether.

Let’s say a link in your website got broken because the domain of the website it is linking to changed. All you have to do is to update to the new domain. If it is linking to a deleted page which you can’t trace, delete the link.

 

Tip #17: Connect your website to Google Search Console

Formerly known as the Webmaster tool, Google Search Console is an SEO performance checking tool. It provides website owners with detailed report and data of their website performance on search engines – Google to be specific.

Connecting your website to Google Search Console won’t automatically improve SEO. But it will help you keep track of your website’s SEO performance and make improvements.

To get started with Google search console, first sign up for an account using your Gmail login – it’s free.

Next, enter the URL to your website. If you noticed, we used the URL prefix option to the right. If you want to enable this console for an entire domain, then use the Domain option. Be sure to put in the right protocol (HTTP or HTTPS).  Click Continue

The next screen presents you with options for verifying your website. Scroll down and select HTML Tag. Copy the verification code.

Next, navigate to SEO (Yoast) >> General. Click the Webmaster Tools tab, scroll down and paste the copied code in the Google verification code section.

Finally, click Save changes.

 

Tip #18: Create XML sitemap and add it to Google Search Console

As the name suggests, sitemaps are navigational tools search bots use for crawling a website. Though it is not compulsory to have them, they make it easy for search bots to crawl a website faster and better.

Yoast automatically generates sitemaps for you. To access your website’s site map, visit the site below

http://mywebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml

Replace the “mywebsite” with your real domain. What you would see is this

To submit your sitemap, log back into Google Search Console, navigate to Sitemap. Next, add sitemap_index.xml at the tail end of your URL.

Finally hit the Submit button.

 

Tip #19: Optimize blog commenting 

Comments –genuine ones – are indicative of an active blog. And an active blog means high user engagement, and user engagement is one of Google’s ranking factors.

On the flip side, comments can be a nightmare. Oftentimes, spammers use them to forcefully milk link juice from a website. Though Google has put checks in place to combat spam comments, you’ve still got work to do.

First, ensure that commenters fill out their names and emails. To do this, navigate to Settings >> Discussion and tick the “fill out name” box.

Secondly, check the option for manual approval of comments.

 

Tip #20: Promote your website on social media

Chances are your targeted audience are hanging out on their favorite social media platforms. What other better way to reach them than promoting your website on social media?

Getting influencers to talk about your brand on social media will greatly help. All it takes is consistent, friendly outreaches.

Additionally, encourage your readers to share your content on social media. It helps improve SEO.

 

Conclusion

In this guide, we exhaustively discussed what WordPress SEO is all about. We took things a bit further by explaining 20 tips you can use to improve your website’s search ranking.

Of course, it’s entirely up to you to put in the work. But with persistence, a lot of tweaking and a little luck, your website would start ranking in no time.