WordPress SEO Tips To Optimize Your Website
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is, in a nutshell, a method of making sure your site’s pages rank well in search engines such as Google. It’s a popular topic, as well as a rabbit hole you could get lost down if you’re not careful.
However, there are a few basic tactics you can use to make sure your content ranks well without too much effort. For example, choosing strong keywords, optimizing your permalinks, and even speeding up the time your site takes to load are all factors that can make a significant difference.
This post will look at the topic of SEO, specifically as it relates to WordPress. We’ll discuss whether the platform is good for SEO, then look into some specific features and plugins to help you improve your own site’s optimization. Let’s get started!
Is WordPress Good for SEO?
WordPress is easily the most popular Content Management System (CMS) on the market. Its prevalence is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario – WordPress became (and still remains) popular in many ways due to its inherent SEO features and extendibility.
For example, here are just a few SEO benefits of using this platform:
- WordPress installations are often super-quick to load, given their clean code and lean default setups. What’s more, many themes are also coded for optimized site speed.
- The platform offers myriad structures for URLs, including the popular Pretty Permalinks option.
- Since the code base is clean and logical, search engines can crawl information better, helping your content rank more highly.
What’s more, there are a wealth of default features available to WordPress users, which can help you improve your SEO further. Let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.
Basic WordPress SEO Features?
While you can extend WordPress’ SEO functionality (more on that later), there’s plenty you can achieve right out of the box. Even before pushing your site live, there’s an option to make your site ‘invisible’ to search engines, so you can get it ready without affecting your rankings.
However, for the most part, you’ll want to actively encourage indexing of your site. To do this, you’ll first want to generate a sitemap, which is possible using a tool such as XML-Sitemaps. You can also take advantage of settings such as the Site Title and Tagline fields.
To optimize your posts and pages individually, you can set custom titles, create meta descriptions, and use built-in taxonomies to make sure they are organized and searchable. There are also a few ways to set your taxonomy archive pages as noindex and nofollow, although without some development experience, you may need to use a dedicated plugin.
WordPress SEO Plugins
Certain WordPress plugins can help you achieve SEO tasks with ease. Since there are so many, we can only highlight a few. Fortunately, the WordPress Plugin Directory contains practically everything you’ll need to make your site search-engine friendly, and best of all, each solution below is completely free to use.
In order to improve loading times, you’ll want to consider using a caching plugin such as WP Super Cache:
While it’s not the only option available, this plugin performs admirably, and is almost certainly guaranteed to work with most WordPress installations. If you’re using a higher end WordPress host it’s unlikely that you’ll need this because they will incorporate custom or server-side caching. At WP Engine it’s on our disallowed plugins list, because we handle caching more effectively on the server side.
You’ll also want to look at some great SEO ‘utility’ plugins, such as Redirection and Rel NoFollow Checkbox. While the latter hasn’t been updated in a while (meaning you should check whether it works with your current WordPress installation), they’re great for being able to easily make a link nofollow, and alerting you to broken links respectively. Redirection also helps you carry out another key task – correctly redirecting broken links to the right place.
Both plugins enable you to set post and page titles, meta descriptions, social media snippets, and much more besides, all from a central interface. They can even generate sitemaps and submit them to search engines on your behalf.
Yoast SEO, in our opinion, is an essential plugin given its wealth of functionality and add-ons. Each plugin is free, however, so you’ll want to spend some time finding the right solution for you.
Other Ways to Optimize a WordPress Site
Of course, plugins aren’t the ‘be-all-end-all’ of optimizing your site for search engines, and there’s plenty you can do without them. For example, we’ve previously looked at some techniques to improve your site speed and performance, as well as various caching options.
While we’re on the subject, you’ll also want to look into optimizing your images and media. This can make a huge difference to site speeds, bandwidth, and resource usage, and contributes to quicker loading times all around.
Finally, you’ll also want to look into areas we’ve already discussed, such as your options for generating sitemaps. Converting your site to HTTPS is also an essential step. While an explanation on that topic is outside of the scope of this piece, it’s a ranking factor you’ll definitely want to focus on.
SEO Coding Tips
If you’re interested in diving in even deeper to improve your SEO, see below for a few important coding tips you can take advantage of at the theme-building level.
One of the first things you should do when you start coding a theme is to make sure you are using Semantic HTML. Semantic helps search engines find out more about your content by coveying context. For example, content in the site navigation section of a theme is tagged with a <nav> element around the code. Alternatively, advertising that doesn’t have anything to do a site’s content is tagged with an <aside> element to help search engines better distinguish what’s what.
Search engines are getting smarter and more effective all the time, but don’t rely on search engines to interpret what your page is about. Instead, it’s beneficial to help the search engines along by being explicit regarding what your page is about.
CSS and Speed
With speed in mind, Google has recommended a new way of doing things. Early web design involved inline CSS. In other words, you would have a particular element in your HTML and you would go ahead and just apply that style right there to that element.
Then, everybody got better practices and started putting them into CSS files. So you would have something like main.css and you would link to it from the head of your document. We are, in a way, reverting back to the older style except we are doing it with better practices. That is by taking the CSS that is in the CSS doc and putting it directly in the head on the HTML page. What that does is takes away an additional call when a browser is trying to bring up a page.
Header Footer Plugin
For this after-the-fact problem, you can use the Header Footer plugin. This is a solid plugin that has been around for a while; it’s free and highly recommended. If you’re running the Yoast SEO plugin (hopefully you are), as soon as you activate the Header Footer plugin, Yoast will give you a warning. Just ignore it. As long as you use this to insert code in the header and footer of your pages then it’s not going to mess up or override what the Yoast plugin does.
Consider using AMP
AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is a Google-led project that’s working to make the web faster on mobile devices and deliver a better user experience.
Here’s an example of AMP in action. On the left is a normal blog post. On the right, the same page appears, just without many of the elements that slow pages down—users get the essential information, faster.
Above you can see an example of how Google is doing this on a mobile device. If you are on your phone and you search for something news-related, you’ll see an AMP icon (red arrow). If you click on that, you are going to go to the AMP version of that page.
AMP generally helps sites achieve better rankings on search results pages— definitely something worth considering. AMP is also being used for eCommerce sites and other verticals with a high percentage of mobile web traffic.
Image optimization is one of the biggest improvement opportunities people are missing out on with their sites—particularly when it comes to mobile. We’ve gotten used to broadband or flooding our blog posts with huge images intended for desktop browsers. However, as we now know, more and more of our traffic is mobile. If you still have those big images on your site, it’s going to take longer for mobile users to load them. These are some of the things Google takes into account when it ranks your site in its results.
When on WordPress creating a new post, the first thing to do is compress the image before uploading it. ImageOptim is a free app for Macs with plenty of Windows equivalents.
EWWW Image Optimizer
Again, there is an easier way to compress images. The EWWW Image Optimizer will automatically optimize and compress every image you upload. *If you’re a WP Engine customer, we disallow this plugin but recommend using the cloud version: https://wordpress.org/plugins/ewww-image-optimizer-cloud/
Google Search Console
While all the above is helpful as your creating a site or new content, ongoing monitoring is also needed to alleviate the inevitable issues that will arise—with SEO and beyond. One great way to keep an eye on things (with a lens for SEO performance) is with Google Search Console. Google has worked pretty hard to keep this updated. It will tell you what errors you have so you can address them relatively easily.
Site Auditing Tool
A site auditing tool will automatically monitor your site weekly or monthly. Things break all the time. Particularly if you are not the only one who access to your site. The other thing is, the internet is never stagnant, you are always vulnerable.
Site Auditor does exactly what was just described. It’s the quintessential tool for site auditing to ensure your SEO is kept at peak performance.
Get Support For Improving WordPress SEO From WP Engine
SEO is infinitely easier when you’re using a platform like WordPress. What’s more, having a top-quality managed WordPress host at your side powering your site can help immensely..
With a WordPress-specific hosting provider such as WP Engine, you’ll have automatic HTTPS, a site running quickly on a highly-tuned server, and much more besides. To discuss what WP Engine can do for you, get in touch today!