All kinds of things go into how Google and other search engines rank your website compared to your competition. Though no one really knows exactly how the algorithm works, we know there are many factors they consider, ranging from the cleanliness of the code itself, to keywords, time spent on site, age of the domain, and more. Some factors have more bearing on the rank than others, of course – and that’s why SEO is such a complicated science.
WordPress is a wildly popular content management system that’s user-friendly, too. If you’re using it to manage your website, here are some tips to ensure you’re building it with SEO in mind.
Use an SEO Plugin
One of the major selling points of WordPress as a platform is how good it is in terms of SEO right out of the box. But, it’s always a good idea to install an SEO plugin so you get full control over the optimization process.
To list all available SEO plugins would not only bore us both, but would take much more time than I have to dedicate to this article, so I’ll skip over the junk and get you straight to the two that are the most popular. They’re popular because they’re free, of course, but more important than the price tag is the fact that they do a good job at giving you control over the SEO.
Yoast SEO: This plugin allows you to get a page and keyword analysis, generates a sitemap, enables breadcrumbs, add social media and schema markup, and more. It’s a robust SEO plugin.
All-in-One SEO Pack: This plugin is older, but not as feature rich. It’s ad supported, but if that bothers you, there’s a premium version that will remove them. It will give you control of the meta description, and let you change a number of variables.
Now, there’s a chance the theme you’re using also gives you some SEO control – as many premium themes do have this built in. But, even though you’ll have fields for title and meta description, you won’t have as many features and tools as you would with Yoast or All-in-One. I wish I could tell you these plugins will actually do the SEO for you – but that’s not the case. And what fun would that be anyway?
The default WordPress permalink setup isn’t clean, because it inserts the date and name in the URL. It creates a lengthier URL and one that Google’s not exactly fond of. It doesn’t mean you won’t get ranked, but changing the permalinks to something Google likes a bit better? Always a good idea.
Choose a Keyword for Each Post
There’s definitely not as much emphasis on keyword density as there used to be, but Google still looks for, and uses keywords as part of the ranking algorithm. What matters now is how naturally the keyword, and related words and phrases are woven into the post. Keyword stuffing just doesn’t’ work anymore, and hasn’t worked in quite some time.
Each post you write should be centered around that focus keyword, and use it, naturally, multiple times throughout the course of the content. Aim for a rating of around .5% – so the more words you have in your overall post; the more instances of the focus keyword you can safely get away with – as long as you’re not including it just to include it.
Write a Damn Good Title and Meta Description
Your title tag is what the search engines will show as your link in the results. When possible, include that focus keyword as close to the beginning of the title as you can. Your title tag does not have to be the same as your blog post title – though WordPress will by default, use your blog post title as your title tag.
Your meta description is the small piece of information that displays in Google under your link in the search engine results page. This is basically free advertising for your business, and is your chance to convince the users to click on your site instead of another one in the list.
Many SEO plugins include the meta keywords feature, but you don’t need to use them. Though search engine algorithms used to rely on them in determining rank, which is why you see a field for them, they no longer do. But, if for any reason you’re trying to rank on a global level, specifically in search engines like Baidu and Yandex, those still rely on meta keywords in their algorithms.
Use Header Tags Appropriately
The Google bots check header tags (H1, H2, H3, and so on…) to determine how relevant your site content is. In terms of best practices, it’s a good idea to have a single H1 tag, with multiple H2 and H3 tags nested in a hierarchy as appropriate to the content. It’s important not to abuse the use of headers for SEO – their primary purpose is to break up the text and make it easier for your audience to read.
Image File Names
Google Images chooses and ranks images, so it makes sense to boost your chances of appearing in the SERPS by using image file names to your advantage. Before you upload your content to the WordPress media library, change the name of the file to something that uses your keywords, or describes your image. Use hyphens in the file name so you make it easier for the bots to read – because files with hyphens are read as individual words. Only use your focus keywords on your featured image, if possible – because it’s better to use words that actually describe the image than match your keyword – if they don’t mesh up completely.
Always Include Image Alt Descriptions
ALT tags label the alternative text displayed when someone hovers over your images on your WordPress website. These are good for SEO because it’s another chance to use your keyword – as long as it relevantly describes the image. These are used to describe the photos for people who have low vision or are blind. The screen reader will read the ALT text to allow the user to get an idea of what the photo displays. You can add the ALT text directly within the WordPress media library upload screen.
Use the Image Title Tag Wisely
The image title tag isn’t necessary for SEO since Google and Bing do not crawl it – but it can help you add a CTA in a tooltip type style.
Content is still king. Google’s first priority is keeping their users happy, so the higher-quality longer-form content that really dives deep into an issue is generally a better approach. Typically, posting shorter articles more frequently doesn’t do much to help you in terms of ranking, but this of course can vary depending on your niche. As a news site, it is expected that you’ll have multiple shorter updates.
The average length of the top 10 search results ranges from roughly 2,450 words in position one to barely over 2,000 words in position 10. The key is to not write words for the sake of words – fluff doesn’t add value. Google, and users, look for value in the content they read.
Google likes websites, not just WordPress based sites, that are structured, clean, and organized. Part of this includes the use of short URLs. One study showed that shorter links can improve CTR by as much as 250%. WordPress will generate your URL based on the title of your post, which means you can end up with some pretty long ones. However, there’s a box that allows you to edit the permalink to shorten it.
Dofollow vs. Nofollow Links
By default, all WordPress links are do-follow. When Google crawls a website and sees dofollow links, the link juice passes between that link and the site its linked to. It helps build authority, and can affect your rankings in Google – hence the practice of link building. Typically speaking, the more dofollow links you have to your site, the better but it does get a bit more complex than that. I’ll have another post on the art of backlinking soon.
Nofollow links on the other hand, tell Google it should not pass link juice and to ignore them. Nofollow links can still generate traffic, so they are still important, even if they have no bearing on your link juice.
If you have affiliate links on your site, you should always add the rel=nofollow tag. There are WordPress plugins that can assist with this if you’re not HTML savvy. This ensures Google doesn’t think you’re just adding links for the sake of making money, which is something they frown upon.
Interlinks are links that point from one place to another on your website. You’ll see I do it often, but only when relevant – such as when I’m discussing a subject I’ve already written about in detail in another post on the blog.
It’s a good thing to link to other content on your site because it helps your visitors navigate and spend more time on your site. It helps establish structure and hierarchy for your information, and they help spread link juice throughout your site since they are do follow. The number of interlinks you should include varies depending on content length.
Just like you should link to other pages and posts on your website, you should link to high authority domains, related to your content. This helps your SEO by letting Google know that you are linking out to high quality content that’s relevant to yours, but also improves the user experience by making it easy for them to get more information, if they want to.
It can also help you establish relationships with other websites, which can help you get more backlinks.
Search engines use sitemaps to understand the structure and hierarchy of your website, whether or WordPress or not, and will ensure better crawling. Sitemaps are not required, because the crawlers will work without it. But, creating a sitemap is always a good thing because it lets you get more data about what’s going on with your site.
If you use the Yoast SEO plugin I talked about at the beginning of the article, it will generate a sitemap for you.
While many WordPress themes have Schema already coded into them – some don’t. You can learn more about Schema and how it impacts your website rankings here… and validate your schema with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
Social signals play a role in SEO, but not the role you may think. Simply having a profile on social media isn’t enough. It’s the traffic and engagement you get to your site from social media that helps improve your rankings. You can learn more about it from this article at Search Engine Journal.
This is nothing but an added layer of security to your HTTP, with the use of a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate you can purchase from your host. Google has said it is an official a ranking factor – and though it is a small one, it can give you a competitive advantage.
This is Just the Beginning
SEO may not literally be alive, but it is growing and evolving constantly. What worked in the early days doesn’t work now, and what works now, will likely only be a fraction of what must be considered in the future. As Google continues to weed out poor quality content to better serve its users, we can expect to see more changes that always favor the websites that have focused on providing high quality information to their audience.
Doing SEO on your website today, doesn’t mean you’re done tomorrow. You’ll need to pay attention to the analytics and rankings, bearing in mind that it does take time to propagate and see a change in the ranks. And you never know when the competition will be increasing their SEO efforts in an attempt to outrank you. Always keep your eye on the ball.