What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the practice of optimizing the way your website appears in search engines like Google and Bing. Good SEO practices can help improve your appearance and rankings, while poor SEO practices might have the adverse effect. While the rules for SEO are controlled by the search engine company itself and can change regularly, there are some key SEO recommendations that will generally hold true. In this article we outline some best practices and tips for SEO in regard to WordPress, WP Engine, and to websites in general.
SEO Best Practices
While the rules for SEO change frequently, there are some constants that will generally ring true. Follow these best practices for WordPress and WP Engine with regard to SEO.
Use a hierarchical URL structure
WordPress makes SEO-friendly URL structure easy in the Permalink Settings page. By default, your WordPress website uses an argument with the post ID for the posts on your website. The default is not a hierarchical URL structure, as it doesn’t reflect anything about the information structure (schema) of the website.
However, you are presented with several options which are hierarchical on the Permalinks page. Choosing Day and name, Month and name, or Post name are ideal ways to structure your permalinks in an informative way to humans and search engines alike.
Choose the right title
Titles are important because they are the first thing a user sees when scanning a page of search results. If a user believes your title best matches what they are looking for, they are more likely to click your website over other ranking pages. Pick the words in your title carefully to ensure it will rank for the right searches.
Search engines also tend to put higher weight on words that appear early on in your title. With that in mind, it’s good practice to format your page and post titles with the content title first, and your website title second. For example:
SEO Recommendations | WP Engine®
The above title would rank more highly for SEO recommendations than:
WP Engine® | SEO Recommendations
You can use a plugin like Yoast SEO to easily customize the appearance of your titles for each individual post, or for all posts and pages.
Use proper heading structure
Search engines prefer structured content–in other words, content that is logically separated into sections and sub-sections using headings. Each post and page should have an H1 heading, and then H2 headings should separate sections from each other. Proper heading structure and organization makes your page more readable by humans and search engines alike. And, not only does this logical separation make search engines happy, it helps improve the accessibility of your website too! Learn more about WordPress accessibility.
Link to other pages on your website
The more your posts and pages are linked across the internet, the more important it will appear to a search engine. With that in mind, internally linking your posts and pages to each other where applicable is a valuable step! Related posts plugins are one method you can use to automatically cross-link content, but your text can and should contain relevant links to other content on your website too. Read more from Yoast on why internal linking is important, and how it works.
Allow search engines to crawl your site
If a search engine bot or crawler like Googlebot attempts to visit your site but is blocked, your site cannot be indexed by that search engine. Make sure you aren’t discouraging search engines by blocking them in your robots.txt file when you go live with your website. This option is under Settings > Reading in your WordPress Admin Dashboard.
Some search engines, primarily Google, have announced that they penalize sites which use HTTP instead of HTTPS. The Google team strongly advocates a secure web, meaning they will opt to show sites secured by an SSL certificate rather than unsecured websites. An SSL certificate will encrypt user data entered on your website, and WP Engine makes using SSL easy. All WP Engine accounts can add a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate and choose to Secure all URLs.
Optimize for speed
Google uses pagespeed in its search ranking algorithm, and as of July 2018 this includes mobile page performance as well. WP Engine helps with SEO in this regard by using a comprehensive page caching system called Evercache. A page served from cache can reach your users in a few milliseconds, compared to a few seconds for an uncached page. WP Engine takes it a step further by offering the use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN), included on all plans. Fine tuning your pagespeed is an easy way to boost SEO. Learn how to optimize WordPress for speed.
Debunking SEO Myths
Although a lot of SEO information out there is true and helpful, it’s worth noting that there are also some myths around SEO that simply aren’t true. In this section we will explore common misunderstandings and myths surrounding SEO.
Dedicated IP addresses are for better SEO
The use of dedicated IP addresses, while once commonplace, is now virtually unheard-of. Dedicated IP addresses were, at one time, required to install an SSL certificate on your web server. But with the advent of SNI termination for SSL, dedicated IP addresses are no longer necessary. Not to mention, Google has published interviews and videos through the years confirming that their search algorithm does not favor sites with dedicated IP addresses. Read more about WP Engine and dedicated IP addresses.
Migrating your website will hurt SEO
As long as your website maintains the same permalinks when migrating, maintaining your website’s SEO is very simple. Google recommends monitoring traffic and SEO as you change your DNS records to point to WP Engine, but no SEO tweaks should be needed in the migration process. It is expected to see a temporary flux in traffic after a DNS change for a few weeks as Google recrawls your website on your new hosting provider.
However, it’s entirely possible that your SEO ranking may improve after migrating to WP Engine! Since pagespeed is a factor in SEO, and WP Engine is a WordPress platform specializing in performance, you may see some SEO gains. And, adding free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates through WP Engine is another quick SEO win.
All redirects are bad for SEO
The way Google handles redirects have changed in recent years. Old methodology said, 301 (permanent) redirects lose about ~15% SEO, while 302 (permanent) redirects lose all page rank as they are intended to be temporary. As of 2016, Google announced that any redirect method used, be it 301, or 302, for HTTPS or not, do not explicitly cause loss of page ranking. This can be a two-sided coin, however. Remember that there are hundreds of rules that go into the algorithms used by search engines! So unless your new page is exactly the same as the old one, Google can’t necessarily guarantee that you will maintain, gain, or lose page ranking as a result.
WP Engine Scope of Support for SEO
WP Engine’s award-winning Customer Support team is made up of WordPress experts. Our team can help with WordPress questions and general best practices. However, we are unable to advise your team on how to boost your specific website’s SEO. For SEO and page ranking questions, we recommend reaching out to one of our many partners in our Consultants directory and Agency directory who specialize in SEO and Marketing. It is best to work directly with one of these specialists for advice on how to boost page ranking on your specific website.