December 4, 2023
Whether a small business or a large brand, you’ll benefit from an SEO strategy. If you run your website through WordPress, you can use various tricks and techniques to help the site perform better on search engines, which will help you reach a wider audience of potential customers. To understand what WordPress SEO is and how it works, read our beginner WordPress SEO guide.
What Is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, drives traffic to your website by increasing your ranking for keywords on search engines. SEO involves various techniques, including web design, content creation, and user experience.
Search engines use algorithms to analyze every page on the web and determine their relevance to different search queries. SEO aims to offer high-quality content that Google recognizes is valuable to its users.
Why SEO Matters
SEO is essential to your online marketing strategy. There’s an unbelievable amount of content on the web, and you need to have a competitive edge to expand your audience. With an SEO plan, potential customers will likely stumble upon your site from a Google search.
Not only does a good SEO strategy draw more visitors to your site, but it brings high-quality traffic to your business. For someone to find your page from a Google search, they must already be looking for something related to your product, service, or industry. These visitors are highly likely to become customers. All you have to do is make your presence known; SEO helps you accomplish this.
Ranking highly also improves your reputation. Everyone knows it’s hard to reach the first page of Google results, so visitors will trust your brand more when it appears as one of the first results.
What Is WordPress SEO?
WordPress SEO is optimizing your WordPress site to rank highly on Google or other search engines. Most SEO practices are the same for WordPress sites as for different platforms. However, WordPress offers extra tools and features to consider when creating your SEO strategy.
Search engine algorithms are always changing, so SEO is constantly evolving. To succeed at SEO in WordPress, your plan should be comprehensive but adaptable. Here are 15 tips for WordPress SEO for beginners:
Your WordPress theme isn’t essential to your SEO strategy, but it does make a difference. When you choose a theme, you should consider more than just the aesthetic. It should have a high-quality design and functionality.
The two most essential elements of an SEO-friendly theme are speed and code. Slow sites don’t rank well, so you should always choose a theme that allows for fast loading. The code should be as clean and concise as possible to increase your odds of ranking on the first page.
Most popular and current themes are built with SEO, so you have many options. The most significant risk is choosing an old theme that may not be up-to-date on the latest SEO practices.
These are our favorite sites for WordPress Themes:
2. WordPress Hosting
There are a lot of hosting options out there. The hosting service you use significantly impacts your site and performance. We highly recommend picking a hosting provider that is built for WordPress.
A quality WordPress hosting company will make your site fast with minimal downtime. While a WordPress hosting plan might cost more than your average one, the extra couple of dollars is well worth it since their servers are well-tuned for WordPress. Some will even automatically update your WordPress installation and plugins.
3. Research and Planning:
Only build your site after creating a plan. No one reaches the top spot on the search results page by accident. Researching and developing a detailed strategy is the only way to optimize your site successfully.
First, ensure you can answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of your WordPress site?
- Who is your audience?
- Why will your audience visit your site?
- What topics or ideas will your site focus on?
Once you’ve narrowed down your goals and target audience, look at similar sites performing well. Notice how they structure their sites, which keywords they use, how many links they use, and what their web design looks like.
Explore several of your successful competitors’ sites to see if you can find any patterns. If every competitor on Google’s first page does the same thing, you should do it, too.
Next, start doing keyword research. Your keywords are the most critical factor in your SEO strategy because they connect your content and the search queries. You must identify which search terms and phrases you hope to rank with. Then, keep those keywords in mind as you develop the rest of your SEO strategy.
You can use an online keyword research tool to help you identify possible keywords. For example, with Google’s Keyword Planner, you can type in broad, general terms related to your business, and the research tool will suggest specific search terms. It also will tell you how often people search for these terms and how competitive the keywords are.
Besides Google Keyword Planner, some of our favorite paid keyword research tools are
It’s generally better for small businesses to focus on long-tail keywords. These are long phrases that use natural language. Although these queries may not see as high of a search volume as broader terms, you also won’t have to compete with massive nationwide brands.
Target the keywords that are highly relevant to your ideal audience. People search online because they have a question or problem that needs solving. What information, product, or service does your website provide to visitors? Choose keywords that draw in viewers who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
If you’re a local business, target location-based keywords such as your town, state, or neighborhood. These are less competitive than organic keywords, and they help you attract the right audience.
The easiest way to find these long tail keywords is to use Google itself with Google Autocomplete. Go to Google and start typing your keyword, and you’ll notice that Google will try to guess or autocomplete your search query. These are the keywords you are also searching for.
Pro Tip: Inserting an underscore between two of your keywords will cause Google Autocomplete to display search queries that fill in the blank. For instance, if you search for “Austin _ remodeling,” you will see a list of results, such as “Austin home remodeling,” “Austin kitchen and bath remodeling,” and other similar keywords. You can then choose the search terms that are most relevant to your business.
Since the release of Google Hummingbird, latent semantic indexing has been increasingly used in Google’s ranking algorithm. LSI keywords are terms related to the topic you are covering in your content. For instance, if you were writing an article about countertops, the article should include LSI terms like “kitchen countertops,” “kitchen countertops ideas,” “granite countertops,” and other relevant words. Tools like LSI Graph should be used to identify LSI terms that are relevant to the content that you create.
The best way to optimize your WordPress URLs is to use permalinks. As the name suggests, a permalink is a permanent link to a specific page of your site. It uses clear language so site visitors can understand the page’s topic by reading the URL.
Updating permalinks is a great SEO strategy for new sites, but if your site has already been running for a few months, be careful. Changing your link structure will cause you to lose your social media share count.
Changing your permalinks in WordPress is easy. You must go to “Settings” and click “Permalinks.” Then, select “Post Name” and type in your new, SEO-friendly URL.
The URL is one of many elements you can optimize on your page. A strong URL explains the content and purpose of the page. When you read it, you should have a good idea of what the page is about.
URLs that include long numbers instead of keywords will not favor your site. Search engine bots read URLs to help determine whether the page is relevant to specific queries, so including keywords is essential.
After installing Yoast, you can edit URLs by going to the page you want to edit, scrolling down to the Google Preview in Yoast, and then editing the URL where it says Slug.
WWW vs Non-WWW
WordPress also allows you to choose between a WWW and a non-WWW URL. This should be fine for your search rankings, but it’s essential to be consistent with your choice. Google will recognize a WWW and a non-WWW URL as two completely different sites, so you should pick one and stick with it.
In WordPress, go to “Settings” then “General” and make sure the URL is the same in both the “WordPress Address” and the “Site Address” boxes.
5. SEO Plugins
WordPress is an excellent platform because there are so many different plugins available. No matter what you want to do with your site, a plugin exists to help you. You don’t have to waste your time reinventing the wheel.
Keep in mind, though, that plugins do increase your loading speed. Instead of installing every appealing plugin, choose a few that will provide the most value for your site. Here are some of the best WordPress SEO plugins:
Yoast SEO: This is one of the most popular SEO plugins. Yoast offers both a premium and a free version of the plugin.
All-in-One SEO Pack: This plugin is very similar to Yoast SEO. It supports Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, a tool that can increase your site’s loading speed. The paid and free versions have several other features that can strengthen your content, site structure, links, and tags.
Rank Math: This plugin integrates with Google Search Console, which helps you monitor your current rankings. It also includes a rich snippets markup tool and a 404 error monitor to identify broken links.
For this guide, we’ll be using the Yoast SEO plugin. To install Yoast, login to your WordPress Admin, hover over “Plugins” in the left-hand menu, and click “Add New”. Search for Yoast and click “Install Now” next to the Yoast SEO plugin. Once “Install Now” turns to “Activate,” click “Activate” to finish installing Yoast.
6. XML Sitemap
A sitemap is simply a list of the URLs on your site. This can include pages, images, videos, pdf, etc. Adding a sitemap makes it easy to improve and control how Google indexes your website. For instance, you can exclude pages from your sitemap, signaling to search engines to ignore certain pages or sections of your website. Your sitemap will inform Google immediately when you release new content, helping it get indexed faster.
If you’ve installed Yoast SEO, it will automatically build an XML sitemap for you. You can find it at https://yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml.
Here’s an example of an XML Sitemap:
An HTML sitemap lists all your URLs on one page, making it easier for visitors to navigate your site. We recommend creating one with the Simple Sitemap plugin.
7. Setup Google Search Console
Google Search Console allows you to see how Google sees your site. You can check to see if your pages are showing up in Google, the keywords you come up for, and any errors that keep your site from performing its best.
Once you’ve signed up, go to your profile and click on “Sitemaps” in the left-hand navigation. Next, copy and paste your sitemap’s URL and click “Submit”.
Once Google crawls your sitemap, you’ll find a list of URLs. Google will update this regularly.
Your written content is the heart of your WordPress SEO strategy. Tags, links, site speed, and other elements of your site are essential, but visitors ultimately come to the page to see the content. This is where you can optimize your keywords and turn first-time visitors into recurring readers.
These are the characteristics of high-quality content:
The main goal of your blog may be to improve your search rankings, but that doesn’t mean the content can be subpar. Keep your readers in mind when you create content. Everything you post on your site should be of real value to your visitors.
Creating high-quality content is your priority. Optimizing for search engines is the next step. Some people find it helpful to write their first draft without thinking about keywords and then go back to add their target phrases. Others prefer to start by thinking of their keyword and developing blog ideas centered around that idea.
Try to use your primary keyword within the first 100 words. This will help you establish the topic of the content right away. Then, use keyword variations a few more times throughout the page. Your keywords should always appear naturally.
Most importantly, avoid keyword stuffing. This is the practice of adding as many keywords as possible, even when they don’t make sense in the context of the post. Google’s algorithm is innovative, and it can tell when sites are trying to spam, cheat, or manipulate their way to the top of the results page.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Page titles and meta descriptions are what show up in Google when you search for something:
Remember that Google has been moving increasingly towards rewriting Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. So make sure to see it precisely as you set it.
Use your primary keyword close to the beginning of the page title. Try to make it unique and informative but concise. Sixty characters should be enough.
The meta description can be more descriptive. We recommend using a call to action and keeping it to 155 characters.
You can add your Page Title and Meta Description within Yoast. Just go to the page you want to edit, scroll to the bottom, and you’ll see the Yoast SEO box:
Headings and subheadings are a great way to organize your posts. Your page’s title should be inside H1 tags, and subheadings should be inside H2, H3, and H4 tags.
Headings provide another opportunity to use keywords, and they help you create more organized, engaging content. When someone clicks on your page and sees a wall of text, they may get overwhelmed and immediately click away. Breaking up the text with headings makes the page more accessible to the eyes and allows readers to quickly scan the content to find what they’re looking for.
In WordPress, you can add headings by clicking on the block, selecting ‘heading,’ and selecting the heading type you want to use:
Images are another essential element in your content strategy. You can optimize the image alt text, which is the written description of the image. Most SEO plugins allow you to add alt text to your images quickly and easily. If you have many photos on your site that need alt tags, we recommend using the Auto Image Attributes From Filename With Bulk Updater plugin to bulk update your alt tags.
The alt text should clearly and concisely describe the image within the page’s context. Your site visitors should get the same message from the alt text as the image. Whenever possible, use your keywords naturally in the alt text. However, don’t spam the text with keywords that aren’t helpful or relevant.
For example, our garage door repair clients’ image alt text may include ‘rustic garage doors,’ ‘garage doors with windows,’ and ‘grey garage door styles.’
Unlike your site visitors, Google cannot see what’s in your images and relies on alt text to describe them. You can add alt text to your pictures as you upload them to your media gallery or within the image settings of the ‘blocks’ menu.
If images are a vital portion of your website’s strategy or you have a lot of images, consider creating an image sitemap. Yoast SEO will automatically include your images in your XML sitemap. You can then submit your sitemap within Google Search Console for priority indexation of your images.
Length & Frequency
Google’s algorithm continues to prioritize informational content that answers the searcher’s original question and includes any supporting information the searcher might find helpful. Studies have shown that most pages ranking on page one of the SERPs have at least 2,000 words, including product pages!
Besides a leg up in ranking on page one, creating long-form content allows you to rank for longtail queries that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Many sites get the bulk of their traffic from long-tail searches, so they should not be ignored.
However, the search intent behind the query is just as crucial in determining the ideal word count for your page. The best way to determine the type and length of content ranking for a particular query is by doing manual Google searches.
For example, when you search for a query with “tips” or “guide” in the phrase, you will likely find detailed and long blog posts ranking. If you’re also looking to rank for that same query, your post should match in length.
By matching your content with the search intent behind your target query, you will have the best chance of ranking on page one.
9. Categories and Tags
Categories and tags allow you to organize your content by topic, which makes it easier for site visitors to discover the content they’re looking for. Categories are broad labels for your pages. They can be hierarchical, so you can use a system of child categories to organize your content.
You can assign a page to multiple categories, but using this tool sparingly is best. Placing one piece of content into too many categories or creating too many child categories will confuse your site.
Tags are more specific and in-depth than categories. While the category tells the reader what type of content is on the page, the tags reveal more about the factual information in the post. For example, if you run a food blog, a page may fall under the “recipes” category, but your tags may include “dessert,” “cake,” or “quick bake.”
To add categories and tags, go to the “Posts” section of the menu. When you create a new category, give it a slug, an SEO-friendly URL. You can add tags directly to a post by clicking the “Tags” module in the Post Editor.
Categories and tags help search engines browse your site and understand your content. If you use a clear and consistent system that targets your keywords, you can boost your rankings.
10. No-Index Content
All sites have pages that provide value for human users but are optional for Google and other search bots to crawl and index. Privacy pages, login pages, and blog tag pages are all examples of these types of valueless pages.
When these pages pop up, the best way to handle them is by adding a noindex tag; this will still allow the pages to be accessed as usual for users, but it will prevent Google from crawling them.
This becomes especially important when considering your site’s crawl budget – the time Googlebot has set aside to crawl your entire site. The last thing you want to happen is for Googlebot to get stuck crawling your privacy page and missing out on your high-quality blog posts.
One of the easiest ways to add a no-index tag to a WordPress site is through the Yoast SEO plugin. Simply navigate to the page you want to index, scroll down to your Yoast SEO widget, look at Advanced Settings, and hit the No toggle button under Should search engines follow links on this Page?
Link-building is one of the most important ranking signals. Internal links, links from one of your website pages to another, help Google’s bot crawl your site and discover all of your site content.
Links help to establish authority, too, which has a direct impact on your ranking. External links from other websites are essential in establishing authority because they show Google that your content is valuable enough that others are referencing it.
The easiest way to build links is to hyperlink to your other pages in your blog posts. Try to include three or four links on each page. This will also direct your visitors to your other content and keep them on your site longer.
Adding internal links in WordPress is a snap! As you write your content within the WordPress Editor, highlight the anchor text you want to use and click the “link” button in the toolbar that pops up.
When selecting your anchor text, choose a word or phrase within your copy relevant to the piece you’re linking to. For example, for our kitchen remodeling client, we may link to a blog post on “Modern White Kitchens” for our kitchen remodeling client using the anchor text “how to modernize your kitchen.”
Adding external links to your content provides multiple benefits:
- They provide additional resources to your readers.
- Brands you link to will likely amplify and share your content with their audiences.
- It can open the opportunity for backlinks to your piece of content.
To add an external link to your WordPress page, simply follow the internal linking steps above and substitute an external link for the internal link.
It’s best to focus on external linking to sites with high-domain authorities; the length of your content will determine the number of links you add. A best practice when adding external links is to ensure they open in a new tab or window when a user clicks them. This ensures that they won’t lose their place on your page while benefiting from an additional resource.
12. Structured Data
Google’s algorithms become more advanced with each update. The goal is for Google to understand the page’s content instead of noticing specific keywords. Structured data tells Google the context and intention of your page, which increases your chances of ranking highly.
Adding structured data can also help your site appear as a rich snippet, which is a result that includes extra information. For example, a product listing page that appears as a rich snippet will show the average rating, the number of reviews, and the price alongside the URL, page title, and meta description. Viewers are likelier to click on rich snippets than traditional results because the extra information is more compelling.
Fortunately, you don’t need to know how to code to add structured data to your WordPress site. Several online tools and plugins will do it for you.
WP SEO Structured Data Schema Plugin
One of the easiest ways to add Schema to your WordPress website is through the WP SEO Structured Data Schema Plugin. To install the plugin, search the plugins section in the left-hand toolbar of your WordPress dashboard for the WP SEO Structured Data and click the “Install Now” button.
Once you’ve installed the plugin on your WordPress site, it’s time to configure the settings. If you’re a local business, filling out general settings information is essential.
To add your local schema, find WP SEO Schema in the left-hand navigation, click on it, and click on WP SEO Schema. Then, add your business information in the general settings.
How to Test Schema
Once you’ve added your Schema to your site, it’s time to double-check that it’s being recognized by Google. The quickest way to validate your Schema is through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Simply add the URL that the Schema can be found on, and Google will attempt to find it within the HTML of the page. The results will tell you exactly what type of structured data was found and if any information is missing for a complete markup.
If you don’t need immediate validation, wait for the Schema to appear within your Google Search Console Account. As you continue to add various Schema types to your website, different enhancement sections will appear within the left-hand sidebar of your Google Search Console account. Common enhancement sections include Video, Product, and Breadcrumbs.
13. Speed and Performance
Shared hosting providers offer some features that can boost your site’s performance, but if other sites on the server receive a lot of traffic, your site may slow down. Managed hosting platforms tend to be more consistent with site speed.
Our attention spans have shortened since the creation of smartphones and mobile browsing. Most of us want our minds to be occupied every second of the day, and we don’t have much patience for slow-loading sites. Almost half of internet users click away if a site takes more than 3 seconds to load.
Page speed is a Google ranking factor because it’s such a critical part of user experience. You can use a free WordPress speed test to see how quickly your site loads. Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, and GTmetrix all offer speed and performance tests. Your goal should be for your page to load in less than 2 seconds, but even faster is better.
You can also use a caching plugin to reduce lag. Caching is the temporary data storage for easy retrieval, which can lower your bandwidth and decrease loading time for site visitors. We typically recommend WP Rocket as our preferred caching plugin.
WP Rocket offers page caching, cache preloading, GZIP compression, browser caching, lazyload, minification, and deferred JS loading functionalities. Depending on your site speed and the recommendations from the page speed testing tools we mentioned above, you may need to use a few or all of WP Rocket’s capabilities.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed WP Rocket, browse through the settings and select the options you need. By implementing caching, you will improve your WordPress site speed and your SEO.
If your site is image-heavy, optimizing the images will be one of your best ways to increase speed. Photos in their original formats often have massive file sizes, but you can compress them first with an editing program to make them load faster.
Because images tend to be the slowest part of your website, it makes all the difference when you compress and optimize your images. Plugins are available that will take this otherwise manual process and automate it for you – one of the most popular being the Smush Image Compression and Optimization plugin.
This plugin will allow you to utilize lossless compression, lazy load, and image resizing, all using automated processes.
For your site to rank well, it has to perform well on mobile devices. Over the last few years, Google has been gradually transitioning to mobile-first indexing, meaning their bots crawl your site’s mobile version instead of the desktop version.
Mobile browsing will soon overtake desktop browsing, so having a high-performing mobile site is in your best interest, even if it doesn’t affect your SEO. If your website doesn’t offer all its content And features to mobile users, you’re missing out on a considerable portion of your potential audience.
You can use the mobile-friendly test in the Google Search Console to find out whether your existing site works well on mobile devices. If the results aren’t good, change your theme to one that uses responsive design. Responsive sites adjust to the visitor’s screen size so that everyone sees the same content. Mobile-friendly design is the norm nowadays, so almost all high-quality WordPress themes are responsive.
Another way to test your site’s mobile usability is with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. You can submit the URL in question with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool and receive a Pass or Fail score. If your page isn’t mobile-friendly, the tool will provide fixes and recommendations to improve your site’s mobile usability. The tool will also show you how Googlebot renders the mobile version of your page, which is especially important in the mobile-first index.
For additional information on your mobile (or desktop) page speed, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It provides you with a score from 1-100 (with 100 being the best) for the page’s desktop and mobile versions.
Underneath the score, PageSpeed Insights provides recommendations to improve your page speed, including the new Core Web Vitals scores. Core Web Vitals become a part of Google’s Core Algorithm in March 2021 and specifically looks at the Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift. You’ll especially want to focus on improving the scores of Core Web Vitals as it’s become a vital part of SEO.
Google blacklists thousands of sites every day for malware and phishing. Even though you don’t intend for your site to be harmful, it’s always possible for it to be compromised. Security should be one of your top priorities.
One of the best ways to increase your site’s security is to use SSL or Secure Sockets Layer. This technology will encrypt the connection between the server and the browser, protecting visitors’ information while browsing the site.
You can tell that a site uses SSL when you see a padlock sign to the left of the URL in the address bar. SSL is required if you have a WordPress store and process payment information through your site.
Google has used SSL as a ranking signal since 2014. Most sites today use SSL, so if your site doesn’t have it, your chances of ranking highly are slim.
Most WordPress hosting companies offer a free SSL certificate. Here are some of the most popular hosts that provide free SSL:
You can also purchase an SSL certificate from Domain.com. Their plans start at $33.00 per year, which is well worth it to protect your site, your visitors, and your reputation.
Install A Security Plugin
Installing a WordPress security plugin is a no-brainer! The installation is straightforward, and a security plugin manages dozens of tasks you would otherwise have to manually update. Security plugins help prevent brute force attacks and keep your customers and visitors safe while shopping and browsing your site.
While you only need to choose one security plugin, two of the most popular are Wordfence and Sucuri.
Pros and Cons of Wordfence
Wordfence is a free security plugin you can use on unlimited sites! The plugin will monitor hacking attempts and breached password usage and prevent brute force attacks. Uniquely, Wordfence also offers a comment spam function, which can reduce the need for a secondary plugin.
The most significant downside of Wordfence is that the plugin needs to run on your server instead of being cloud-based, potentially leading to site slowness. A premium version of Wordfence starts at $119 a year, but the free version should suffice for most smaller sites.
Pros and Cons of Sucuri
The Sucuri plugin boasts a robust security audit that includes security hardening, file integrity monitoring, and blacklist monitoring. Although there is a free version, the paid version costs $199.99 a year and has more frequent scans. Other features included in Sucuri are WordPress site cleanups if your site gets malware, firewall protection, and serving static content from CDN servers.
No matter which plugin you use, you can sleep a little at night knowing your WordPress site is secure and malware-free.
15. Setup Google Analytics
Google Analytics is widely known as the best way to monitor your site’s traffic, transactions, and revenue, along with hundreds of other website-specific metrics. Whether you’re interested in the most common location of your visitors or the pages with the lowest bounce rate, Google Analytics has it all.
To connect your Google Analytics account easily with your WordPress website, we recommend installing the MonsterInsights plugin. MonsterInsights has free and paid versions, but the free version should suffice for most websites.
You must connect your Google Analytics account after downloading and installing the MonsterInsights plugin. The plugin will prompt you to sign into Google Analytics using the email associated with the account. Grant MonsterInsights access to your analytics account and specify the profile you want to connect to.
MonsterInsights will prompt you to select the appropriate settings for your website, but remember that the default settings will work for most websites. The plugin will then suggest additional but related plugins you can install if desired. Finally, you’ll be prompted to finish the setup.
Once the integration is complete, you’ll be able to view your Google Analytics data within WordPress and view it within Google Analytics!
A proper SEO strategy for your WordPress website can help your business reach its full potential. Leveraging the power of search engine optimization can help you achieve a wider audience by improving your visibility on major search engines. With the right tactics and strategy, your website can be seen even more in search engine results pages, driving traffic from users looking for precisely what you offer. Remember, having a good SEO strategy in place is ongoing and requires regular updating and maintenance. By understanding the basics of WordPress SEO and following the tips outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to achieving success online.