Improving the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) of your WordPress website is critical if you want to receive more traffic to your site, which in turn usually leads to more business.
Sadly, most business owners get scared when it comes to SEO; mainly due to the sheer amount of information available online about what is and what isn’t best practice.
The good news though, is that by reading this beginner’s guide to WordPress SEO, you’ll be able to get the basics right and give your website the best possible chance at ranking well on Google.
So what does this Beginner’s Guide to WordPress SEO cover?
Throughout this guide we’ll be diving into the basics of WordPress SEO and also, more specifically, how you can utilise what is widely considered as the best SEO plugin out there (Yoast SEO) to boost your website’s Google ranking. We’ll even cover considerations for optimising images, URL structure, website speed, internal linking and a whole lot more.
Are you ready to learn? Let’s get going…
Just click on a link to automatically move to that section of the article.
- What is SEO and why does it matter?
- Should you have an SSL certificate?
- XML sitemaps
- Keyphrase research
- On-site SEO factors
- Off-site SEO factors
- Clean up your code
- Speed is important
- Setting up Google Search Console
WordPress SEO Plugins
Why is Yoast SEO the #1 WordPress SEO plugin?
Yoast SEO is the number one downloaded search engine optimisation plugin for WordPress. It’s used on by far the most WordPress websites and it offers everything you need to improve your website when it comes to SEO. The plugin itself is maintained by a team of developers and marketers based in Holland, led by Joost de-Valk (Joost is pronounced Yoast) a widely respected SEO guru.
You can go ahead and download the plugin for free here.
If you want to investigate alternatives, there’s another good (but not as feature rich) alternative plugin called “All in One SEO Pack”.
WordPress SEO Basics
What is SEO and why does it matter?
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the process of ensuring that your website ranks highly in search engine results (primarily Google) for the keywords and phrases your business wants to be found for, which in turn can maximise the amount of visitors your website receives.
Generally speaking the more visitors your website has, the more conversions, sales and leads you will receive.
Getting the right people to your website is probably 70% of the battle when it comes to having a successful online business, with the other 30% being making sure that you convert those visitors into customers or clients once they start browsing your website.
Should you have an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate ensures that your website has an encrypted link between the web server your website lives on and your visitor’s web browser.
What are the benefits?
- Trust – people recognise the secure ‘padlock’ icon in the web browser’s address bar and they also know that “https://” in your website’s URL signifies that this is a secure site (as opposed to just “http://”).
- Security – if you run an ecommerce site you must have an SSL certificate. And if you don’t sell online, but still store customer information, you’ll absolutely need an SSL certificate too.
- Improved Rankings – Historically, Google never used to evaluate a website’s security as a ranking factor, but now they do. So if you don’t have an SSL certificate on your website you could be outranked by your competitor who does.
To sum up: yes you most certainly should have an SSL certificate on your website, and you can learn more about SSL and HTTPS here.
You can use an XML sitemap to tell Google that your website has been updated so that it can be ‘crawled’ or ‘indexed’ again. Typically this is useful if you’re launching a new website, as Google will then tend to crawl and re-index the pages for the first time much faster than if you just left it to get found on its own.
The Yoast SEO plugin has you covered as it automatically generates an XML sitemap. It does this for your pages, posts, custom post types and taxonomies (basically every type of content found within WordPress).
To enable an XML sitemap for your website, make sure the Yoast SEO plugin is installed and go to Settings → XML Sitemaps and voila!
Another benefit of the Yoast SEO plugin is that it also includes your images in the XML sitemap too, which means they stand a better chance at ranking on Google. Google image search can be an awesome source of traffic for your website too.
This is a fundamental step in getting your site to rank well. If you don’t know what people are searching for to find your services or products, you can’t optimise your site for these phrases or words.
- Create a spreadsheet and brainstorm a huge list of everything you think someone will type into Google to find your business.
- Use Google’s own Keyword Planner tool to find out how competitive each key phrase is and then colour code your spreadsheet according to competitiveness. You’ll need to create a Google AdWords account to use the Keyword Planner tool.
- If you’re a new site or new business, ignore the medium and highly competitive phrases for now – you won’t rank for these straight away because you’ll need to build up backlinks and generate a lot of valuable content in order to show Google your website is popular enough to compete with other websites that are much more established.
What should you do instead?
In order to stand any chance at getting found for really competitive search phrases you should come up with “long-tail” keyphrases. Long-tail keyphrases more specific – e.g. “Buy shoes” (which is really competitive) becomes “buy mens black adidas running shoes”, which is much more specific.
There’s also an added benefit here in that when people search for ‘long-tail keyphrases’ they usually have more intent to buy because they’re being much more specific with their search. That’s the number one reason why long tail keyphrases are so important.
We would also recommend you check out this article we wrote about how you can check your competitors SEO rankings so you can be one step ahead.
On-site SEO factors
Make sure your site is visible to search engines
This is a really basic one, but we’ve seen situations before where clients have been confused as to why their website isn’t getting picked up by Google, only to find out that the check box to hide their site from search engines has still been checked.
How do you check this?
Login to WordPress, click “Settings” and then “Reading”, and make sure the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked.
SEO friendly permalinks / URLs
URLs are what you type into a web browser to load up a specific website – basically the domain name and any other info to reach a specific page of a website: e.g. “www.authenticstyle.co.uk/services/branding”
URLs are important because Google uses them as a ranking factor too. Next time you do a Google search, look at how the keywords you search for get emboldened in the results. The image below shows results for the keyphrase “nike running shoes”:
How do I set this in WordPress?
With WordPress you have some options available to you to set your “permalink structure”. A permanent is a static hyperlink to a particular web page or entry in a blog.
To see the options, login to your WordPress website and hover over “Settings” and click “Permalinks”. The most SEO friendly option is “post name” which is shown below, as it gives you the cleanest URLs which are what Google loves.
Optimising page titles
Page titles are really important on two levels.
Firstly, they’re critical to search engine optimisation because you need to include your key phrase or keyword within the title of the page in order to rank highly.
And secondly, your title needs to be accurate of the content the user will find when they click it and enticing, because the title is the first thing the user looks at when scanning through a list of search results. It’s got to compel them to click on it.
Fortunately with Yoast SEO for WordPress, editing page titles on each page of your site is easy.
First you’ll want to just ensure that the ‘Title’ of your website is correct, so to do this hover over “Settings” and select “General” and just double check that the title here is the name of your business as you want it to be seen:
Then click “Pages” and click “Edit” on your homepage.
When you scroll down you’ll see the Yoast SEO box where you can start to customise things.
By clicking on the title element you can edit it to include the key phrases you want to get found for.
In order to fully optimise your entire site you will need to go through this process specifically setting your SEO titles for every page of your website.
Our tip: only try and get found for one or two key phrases per page (this is called your focus keyphrase), otherwise you’ll spread yourself too thin.
The headings that exist on your actual website need to echo the focus keyphrases you want to get found for too. So in the example above where the title of the homepage includes the text “Rain Shade Solutions”, ideally that needs to be worked into the headings on the homepage of the website too.
Our tip: don’t compromise readability! As soon as you start ‘over optimising’ the content on your website you stop sounding human, so don’t just aimlessly add your keyphrases to your content. The best way to approach it is to always aim to provide value with your content. If you do that, Google will reward you.
Similarly to page titles mentioned above, your descriptions (sometimes referred to as meta descriptions) are really important too.
In the same example below you can see the title AND description getting emboldened, highlighting the search the user has performed.
For this reason you must work your focus keyphrase(s) into your description for each page of your website too.
Optimising your posts (news and blog content)
WordPress was just a blogging platform when it originally launched, so it handles blogging extremely well. And luckily for you, blogging is an extremely good activity to undertake to boost your SEO rankings. Hooray!
Many business owners wrongly think that their blog or news page is for sharing mundane updates about their company securing a new project or similar, but instead it’s a gold mine for drawing in potential new visitors to your website – all it requires is a shift in mindset to an “inbound marketing” strategy where you are giving away valuable information and tips for free.
Optimising your posts in WordPress is fundamentally the same as optimising a page. You need to ensure you include your keyphrase in the title, meta description, headings and also the content.
Optimise the title of your post
When you create the title for your post gear it around your focus keyphrase. In this example taken from our own blog, you can see clearly what we want our post to get found for.
Optimise the post permalink
The second part of that screenshot above shows the permalink. In most cases WordPress will create this for you from the title of your post, BUT there may be times when you need to adjust it, such as when your title includes “stop” words, such as “and”, “in”, “the”, which you’ll noticed we’ve removed from the URL in this example so it becomes: https://authenticstyle.co.uk/how-much-does-an-ecommerce-website-cost-uk/
“Stop” words don’t really matter and just make your URL longer and you need to get your URL as short as possible so it comes out nicely in the search results, like so:
Optimise the description for your post
Unless you set the meta description using Yoast SEO then Google will set it for you, usually taking the first sentence or two from the content of your post. Make sure you manually set the description to include your focus keyphrase and keywords.
Optimise the headings within your post
When you write your post, you want to try and reuse your focus keyphrase in your headings as Google places more emphasis on headings tags than normal body text. Always remember though – don’t compromise quality or readability.
Establishing strong internal links between various types of content on your website tells Google that your site architecture is strong, and that you’re all about helping your visitors too, as internal links help visitors navigate to other related content that they might find useful.
Yoast SEO doesn’t help you with internal linking unless you buy the premium version, in which case it then makes suggestions based on the content of your pages what other pages you could link to. This premium feature can be worth the small upgrade fee if you struggle to keep a record of all the content on your website.
The Yoast SEO ‘Traffic Light System’
What is it?
Yoast SEO comes with an inbuilt SEO Checker which many people refer to as the “traffic light system” – basically when you look at your posts in the WordPress admin area, you’ll see a red, amber or green light next to them.
Is it worth make sure all my pages and posts are green?
The traffic light system is definitely worth keeping in mind when optimising your pages, but it’s not the be all and end all, as sometimes it makes suggestions which will compromise the readability of your page.
How do I use the traffic light system in Yoast?
In order for the plugin to analyse your content, you need to set a “focus keyphrase”. The plugin will then analyse the content on that page or post and come back with suggestions (example below):
It will then make suggestions for improvements to the content, your pages titles, descriptions and more. The example above has some issues, but in this instance nothing to really worry about as this post is slowing working its way up onto page 1 out of 48 million results at the time of writing this.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting green lights if you’re really hung up on it.
Image optimisation for SEO
Don’t forget to properly optimise the images in your WordPress content, as Google images can be a great source of traffic.
How do you optimise images in WordPress?
SEO friendly image filenames
It’s really easy to save out images straight from your camera or the images you create in Photoshop with generic file names, but it pays to be descriptive and include your focus keyphrase in the filename. For example, instead of using ‘DC09876.jpg’ or ‘main-photo.jpg’, use filenames that include your focus keyphrase – e.g. ‘black-nike-running-shoes-main-photo.jpg’
ALT tags and Title tags
ALT tags are an accessibility feature. If a blind person is using a screen reader to navigate your website (a screen reader literally reads EVERYTHING out on your site), then the screen reader will read your image ALT tags so the blind user know “Ah, okay, this is an image of black Nike running shoes”.
To ensure your images have ALT tags in WordPress after you upload them in the Media Library you can set the ALT tag over on the right. You should also add in a “title” at this point too.
Image file sizes
Again it’s all too easy to just upload images to WordPress straight from your camera without checking the file size. Big, bulky images will hinder the time it takes your page to load and also hinder your rankings as a result, so make sure to optimise the file size of your images.
How do you resize images if you don’t have Photoshop?
- Pixlr – a great free tool for resizing and editing images.
- PicMonkey – another alternative photo editing too.
- Foto Flexer – this one even lets you work with layers like Photoshop!
This article on the Yoast SEO plugin website itself goes into much more detail about image optimisation techniques and best practices.
Off-site SEO Factors
Social media plays an important role in SEO. If your content is valuable and it’s getting shared on Twitter, on Facebook or other channels then Google will notice.
Yoast SEO for WordPress lets you link up your social profiles so that the various social media channels you use know how to determine your content when it gets shared.
To set this up takes 5 minutes. Just hover over “SEO” in the sidebar and select “Social” from the menu and fill out the links to your various social media channels
The more links you have back to your website the higher it will rank, simply because Google believes ‘Hey, if people are linking to content on this site, it must be valuable.’.
Getting backlinks can be tricky. Sure, you can submit your site to various legitimate online directories, but the most powerful backlinks come from when other websites find your content so valuable that they link back to it because it will help their audience too.
This links us back to why blogging and creating content is such a great long term SEO strategy.
What other methods of obtaining backlinks are there?
Sometimes posting in forums and leaving helpful comments on blogs with a link back to your site can be an easy way to start building backlinks. Another option is to approach other online publications in your industry to see if you can write for them, as often you’ll be able to link back to your site at the bottom of the article you’ve submitted.
Clean up your code
If your website uses a theme or template it can often be the case that the code isn’t as clean and tidy as it could have been if your site had been coded by hand specifically for your business.
This is one of the reasons we’d always recommend steering away from using WordPress themes and working with a web designer who creates custom WordPress themes that are hand-coded. So much more thought will have gone into ensuring that the code is well written and optimised.
Speed is important
Clean, well written, well thought out code often means a speedy website too, and your visitors won’t only love you for it because your site is super snappy, but so will Google as site speed is now a ranking factor.
Want to check how quickly your website loads? Run it through Google PageSpeed.
Setting up Google Search Console
What is it?
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a free tool you can set up that allows you to track much more detailed information about your website’s visibility on Google.
GSC allows you to get at information that Google Analytics doesn’t provide, such as: any problems Google is having indexing your website, what keyphrases people are currently using to find your site, and importantly how many times your website was seen in a Google searches (impressions) versus how many times it was actual clicked.
It also lets you work with structured data, which if your website has been coded the right way can allow you to show more information along with your listing in Google’s search results. An example below shows how the O2 Arena in London actually pull through dates in their search listing that are clickable.
There’s a fantastic article here that dives deeper into everything you can do with GSC on the Yoast website itself.
How do you set up Google Search Console with Yoast SEO?
- Hover over ‘SEO’ and click ‘Search Console’
- You’ll be asked to get an Authentication Code, so just click the “Get Authentication Code” button
- Sign in to your Google Account and copy the code
- Paste the code into the box and click “Authenticate”
Once you have done this you’ll need to wait a few days for Search Console to collect data, and then you should be able to see any particular SEO issues that arise on your site in this area of your WordPress Dashboard.
Conclusion: Is WordPress good for SEO?
Not only does WordPress make creating content super-easy (which Google loves), but when you use the Yoast SEO plugin you have a ridiculous amount of control over your SEO too and that means if you know what you’re doing, you can easily make tweaks and changes to your website with the aim of improving your SEO.
If you’ve got questions about anything in this post, then please do leave a comment. Or if you have a specific SEO issue with WordPress and need help optimising your site, use our contact form to get in touch and we’ll do our utmost to help.
Enjoy, and happy optimising!
Don’t have time to ensure your website is optimised for SEO?
Then just get in touch and we’ll audit your site and propose an action plan to help ensure your website is ready to rock and rank highly on Google.