When it comes to effectively optimizing webpages for search engines, building your site on WordPress gives you an edge. Besides offering a very reliable content management system (CMS), it provides a solid foundation for SEO with a variety of plugins that can help you boost search engine rankings and drive more traffic to your website organically.
However, even with its easy-to-setup, out-of-the-box SEO tools and plugins, many people struggle with basic WordPress SEO. This is because SEO can be technical, and simply building on WordPress doesn’t automatically guarantee that your content will fulfill all the requirements to rank better.
To make your website search engine compliant, we’ll introduce you to SEO best practices and top SEO plugins for WordPress. Following this simple guide will go a long way in ensuring that search engine crawlers can easily recognize and understand the content and purpose of your website.
Why is WordPress SEO so important?
Although search engines can automatically discover websites designed using WordPress, there are cases when search engine bots find it difficult to index a website due to the complexity of the website’s architecture. Even when a website is indexed, the bots may not understand its content, affecting their ability to rank the website’s pages.
The impact of this is that people could search for topics covered on your website, but your site would never appear on the search engine result pages (SERPs). And since search engines are one of the major sources of traffic, with Google alone getting over 80 billion monthly visits, you’ll be missing out on a whole lot of traffic.
To ensure your WordPress website doesn’t suffer this fate, you have to follow SEO best practices established by search engines such as Google, Bing, Yandex, and DuckDuckGo, among others. Websites that follow these best practices, in addition to executing stellar content marketing, are rewarded with good ranking in top results, while those that don’t are pushed to the bottom or not indexed at all.
6 Essential WordPress SEO best practices
Before we dive further into discussing best practices, here’s the first thing you must do:
- Go to your WordPress admin dashboard
- Navigate to “Settings” > “Reading”
- Scroll down to “Search engine visibility” and uncheck the box labeled “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”
- Confirm your choice by clicking “Save Changes”
That is an option built into WordPress by default to allow you to hide your website from search engines while it’s still under construction. Forgetting to untick that box is one of the basic SEO mistakes you should avoid if you don’t want all your efforts to follow best practices to be a waste.
Now that you’re sure your website is visible to search engines, you can carry on.
Use SEO-friendly URL structures
An SEO-friendly URL structure is one that is descriptive. It tells your website visitors what a page is about and gives search engines more information about the content on that page, whether it’s a software product page or a blog post on a specific topic.
For example, if you’re writing an article about WordPress SEO, the URL of the page could look like this “blog.scoop.it/getting-started-with-wordpress-seo” instead of “blog.scoop.it/?p=2356.”
It is also recommended that URLs should be as short as possible, to improve the appearance of the linked page in search snippets. Keeping that in mind, we can shorten our URL to “blog.scoop.it/wordpress-seo.”
To set up SEO-friendly URL structure by default, visit the Settings > Permalinks page and select “Post name” as your preferred Permalink Settings.
Optimize your content for search intent
When people search, it is because they are looking for answers to a question, trying to solve a problem, or want to accomplish a task. When you create content, you need to understand how to best provide what those searchers are looking for.
First, conduct keyword research to identify the search intent of your target audience and form topics around that intent. Then, invest in providing well-written, well-research and high-quality articles. This research and writing phase usually takes lots of time, so you may consider using a content curation tool that identifies trending topics based on keywords and allows you to quote, edit, and add your unique perspective to them.
While working on your draft, maintain a keyword density of roughly one keyword per 200 words. Also, add the focus keyword to the page title, using HTML heading tags (H2, H3, H4, etc.) for your content headings, and use proper alt attributes for images, including a meta description for each web page. It’s also important to keep entity SEO in mind, where you should cover an entire topic in depth with all of its related entities and content.
Optimize your website for mobile
According to a study by Statcounter, 50.48% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. Google also recently announced mobile-first indexing, which means the search engine predominantly uses the mobile version of a website for its ranking.
This proves that if you want to increasingly drive organic traffic to your site and convert visitors to leads, it is paramount that you optimize your website for mobile.
To optimize for mobile, make sure you use a responsive WordPress theme that automatically adjusts the dimension of your website to mobile screen sizes. Luckily, the majority of the themes in the WordPress theme directory are responsive, so you shouldn’t have trouble getting a good one for your website.
In addition to that, also consider using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which is an initiative by Google. Through AMP, your website gets to load faster on mobile devices, and like everything on WordPress, several plugins can help you integrate AMP into your website.
Create a website structure
Another WordPress SEO best practice you can’t ignore is having a good website structure. This makes it easier for both humans and search engines to navigate your website.
One way to improve your site structure is by organizing your website so that navigating from the homepage to the inner pages and posts follows a simple hierarchy. Your posts should also be sorted into categories and subcategories. There should be a clear navigation menu on your home page, and you can adopt breadcrumbs to make moving from the inner page to the outer page seamless.
You can also achieve a good site structure through internal linking. This means that when you’re writing new content, you link to your previously published relevant content. Doing this not only improves your website structure but also helps to reduce bounce rate, as it encourages visitors to move around your website and spend more time.
Speed up your site
The speed at which your website loads matters a lot to visitors. According to this report, 53% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
A slow site speed frustrates your visitors and this frustration leads to visitors abandoning your website frequently, passing a negative message to search engine bots that your website has a poor user experience.
One popular tool that can help you test your website speed and see if it meets search engines’ requirements is Google PageSpeed Insights. The tool scores website speed on a scale of 0 to 100, and the higher, the better. Suggestions on improving your website speed are also provided for you by the tool. Above all, to boost your website speed, you should use a fast hosting provider such as WP Engine or Kinsta, utilize a content delivery network (CDN), compress your images, and use less plugins.
Take your site security seriously
Every day, Google discovers thousands of websites that have been compromised and affected by phishing. To protect its users, the search engine first appends a warming sign to these websites on its results page as well as on the Chrome browser. After some time, the websites are backlisted and removed from the search engine—and this is why you should take your site’s security seriously.
To ensure your website is secured from hijackers, change your default username from “admin” to something unique and create a stronger password. You can also activate two-factor authentication through any of the 2-FA plugins available in the WordPress plugin directory. In addition to that, you could integrate a security firewall and malware scanner into your website. This tool keeps a tab on your website 24-7, blocking out the IP addresses of hackers trying to access your website.
Besides protecting against illegal access to your website, encrypting the connection between your users’ browsers and your web server is also an important part of site security. It ensures the data transferred between your website and visitors are useless if intercepted by illegal third-party, and to ensure this protection, install SSL certificate/HTTPS on your website.
5 Best plugins for WordPress SEO
Out of the box, WordPress provides features that allow websites to meet some SEO best practices – such as configuring your website to use SEO-friendly URLs and optimizing for mobile devices by using a mobile responsive theme. However, if you want to follow all the best practices discussed above, you need to install the following plugins.
Image sourced from Search Engine Land
With over 5 million active installations, this plugin is arguably the most popular WordPress SEO plugin. Its main function is to help with content optimization, and it does this by conducting an SEO analysis of your content using the focus keyword. After the analysis, the plugin provides you with suggestions that would improve your SEO, such as following recommended keyword density, adding alt attributes to images, and using HTML heading tags.
Yoast SEO also allows you to write meta titles and meta descriptions for your content. Beyond content optimization, the plugin is also helpful in the area of developing a good site structure by giving you control over your site breadcrumbs and helping to autogenerate XML sitemaps.
Key Features of Yoast SEO:
- Conducts SEO and readability analysis and provides improvement suggestions
- Facilitates the creation of meta tags
- Autogenerates and auto-submits sitemaps
- Helps to detect duplicate contents
- Translates content to structured data easier for search engines to understand
- Free, or the premium version costs $99 per year
W3 Total Cache
Image sourced from wpbeginner
Leveraging content delivery network (CDN) and caching technology, W3 Total Cache helps to boost site speed, improve user experience, and help with SEO. Once fully configured, the plugin enhances your overall website performance, and increases the website’s Google PageSpeed Insights score. If your website receives lots of visitors and this slows down your web server, the plugin could help improve the performance of your server.
Key Features of W3 Total Cache:
- Provides content delivery network (CDN) service
- Supports caching of database objects in memory or on disk
- Supports caching over mobile, SSL, and AMP
- Supports lazy loading
- Free, or the pro version costs $99 per year
Really Simple SSL
Image sourced from Really Simple SSL
This plugin helps to automatically install an SSL certificate on your website, changing the URL from HTTP to HTTPS. It works by checking if there is an existing SSL certificate provided by your hosting provider and then activating it for you. In a situation whereby there is no existing certificate, the plugin allows you to generate a free certificate, and depending on the configuration of your hosting provider, the plugin can also help you to install the generated certificate or provide you with installation instructions.
Key Features of Really Simple SSL:
- Facilitates easy migration to SSL in one click
- Helps to monitor server health
- Helps protect web visitors against cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks
- Free, with the premium license starting at $39 per year
Image sourced from WordPress
Unlike texts, which are lightweight, images can be very heavy and slow down a website’s loading speed. Therefore, to make your website load at a blazing speed, all your images need to be compressed, and a wonderful plugin that can automatically do that without reducing the image quality is Smush. The plugin can also be used to resize your images, and if you don’t have the lazy loading feature already enabled for your website, the plugin can help with that.
Key Features of Smush:
- Compresses and optimizes images
- Supports PNG, JPEG, and GIF files
- Auto-detects incorrect image size
- Enables lazy loading
- Allows image resizing
- Free, with the pro version starting at $7.50 per month
Site Kit by Google
Image sourced from Search Engine Land
This WordPress SEO plugin gives you insight into your overall website performance, and since it was developed by Google, it seamlessly integrates with Google Analytics, Search Console, PageSpeed Insights—and even AdSense. With Site Kit, you don’t need to jump from the dashboard of one web analytic tool to another, as all the stats you need to see are available directly within your WordPress dashboard.
Key Features of Site Kit:
- Integrates and shows metrics from different Google web analytics products
- Facilitates easy set-up of Tag Manager
- Supports the setup of Google Optimize, a tool for A/B tests
If you’ve been paying attention so far, then you’re fortified with the knowledge to level up your WordPress SEO game. Remember, as advanced as search engine bots are today, they still need your input to make your website crawlable.
Learn to optimize the SEO value of your content by following the best practices covered in this post. You can be sure that by doing this, your website will be SEO-compliant, and you stand a chance of getting your share of billions of users’ monthly traffic received by search engines across the world.