WordPress is not only the most popular CMS in the world at the moment, but it’s also SEO-friendly.
While this is terrific news, this doesn’t mean you can’t take it to the next level and maximize the SEO-friendliness level of your WordPress site.
Contrary to what some people believe, you don’t need to have technical skills to be able to optimize your blog for SEO. And I’m going to prove it to you in this article.
But first, let’s find out why SEO is essential for your WordPress site.
Why Your Site Needs SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it’s the process of improving the visibility of your site by ranking higher in organic search results.
Here’s why it’s important for your site:
- It can help you stay ahead of your competition and even outrank them;
- SEO makes your site more user-friendly;
- An optimized website brings in more traffic;
- It increases and builds trust.
SEO strategies can be divided into two main categories:
- On-page SEO – the process of optimizing your pages so that they rank higher in search engine results;
- Off-page SEO – the process of improving your site’s authority, relevance, and popularity.
In this post, I’m going to focus on on-page SEO, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about optimizing a WordPress site for SEO from scratch.
Time to get the show on the road because we’ve got plenty of things to cover.
1. Site Speed
In April 2010, Google started favoring page loading speed within its ranking algorithm. Even though this algorithm takes into consideration the page load speed only for desktop, in 2018 there’s going to be an algorithm dedicated to mobile pages as well, so keep an eye out on that.
Our attention span is shorter than ever now, which means that, according to Google, we have as little as two seconds to capture someone’s attention on the Internet.
Site loading speed is a critical aspect of user experience, and it’s one of the main reasons why it’s included in Google’s algorithm.
Web hosting can significantly affect site loading speed so it’s important to choose a solution that is optimized for speed to ensure the fact that all of your pages load quickly.
Having an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate is an important Google ranking factor as well.
SSL is a technology used to add another layer of security for your site by encrypting and keeping private the data that is passed between a web server and a browser.
This encrypted connection establishes trust, which is one of the most important things you need when you run an online business.
You can use Let’s Encrypt, which is a free SSL service, to add the certificate on your site, or you can contact your hosting company and purchase the certificate from them.
If you’re running an eCommerce site, then it’s even more important for you to get an SSL certificate because you’re collecting payment information from people.
After you have the certificate, just follow the steps from this article to add it onto your WordPress site.
3. Site Visibility
WordPress comes with the option to discourage search engines from indexing your site, which is a great feature that allows you to work on your site before it’s ready to go live.
However, you have to pay attention to this aspect because sometimes, if your pages don’t appear in search engine results, it’s because this option is checked.
Before starting working on other aspects, go to your WordPress dashboard > Settings > Reading and see if the box for Search Engine Visibility is checked or not.
4. SEO-Friendly URLs
Non-SEO friendly URLs look like this:
This is bad because neither users nor search engines can figure out what that page is about.
On the other hand, an SEO-friendly URL looks like this:
As you can see, there’s a massive difference between them, and it’s evident for users what they’re going to read if they access the latter page. Additionally, search engines will be able to read these URLs as well.
Setting your permalinks a.k.a. SEO-friendly URLs is a piece of cake.
You just need to go to your WordPress dashboard > Settings > Permalinks, select Post name, then click the ‘Save Changes’ button.
It’s essential to start using SEO-friendly URLs right after you’ve installed WordPress.
Important note: if you’ve been running your site for a few months now, then we advise against changing the permalink structure because you will lose all your social shares and it can also affect the rankings for your pages.
5. WWW or non-WWW
In your WordPress dashboard > Settings > General, you have the option to choose if you want to use www (http://www.site.com) or not (http://site.com) for your site’s URL.
It’s essential to choose only one option and stick to it because search engines will consider that you have two different websites if you don’t.
For SEO purposes, there’s no difference between a www and a non-www website. It’s just a matter of preference.
6. Installing A WordPress SEO Plugin
The best part about having a WordPress site is that you have access to hundreds of plugins and so you’ll definitely find one that will fit your needs.
Now, even though WordPress is an SEO-friendly CMS, you should also install an SEO plugin to maximize your efforts.
We use Squirrly SEO on our site so, in this post, we’ll show you how to optimize your blog using this plugin.
But first, download it from this link and install it on your site by going to your WordPress dashboard > Plugins > Add New > Upload Plugin > Choose file and select the zip file you just downloaded.
Then, activate the plugin and click on the Squirrly option from the menu that you have to the left side and enter your email address to create your account.
7. Add Your Site to Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools (or Google Search Console) is essential for website owners because it provides reports about your site, so you know how search engines see it.
You can also receive alerts when something is going on with your site, for example, in case you have duplicates or when search engines can’t access it.
To submit your site to Google Webmaster Tools, follow these steps:
- Make sure you’re logged in with your Google account;
- Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/;
- Add your site’s URL and click on the ‘Add a property’ button.
- Then, you’ll have two options. The easiest one is to click on ‘Alternate methods’, select ‘HTML Tag’ and click ‘Verify’;
- Copy the meta tag as per the instructions and paste it in Squirrly > SEO Settings > Connections (tab) > Google META verification code for Webmaster Tool (field) and click the ‘Save SEO’ button;
- Now, go back to Google Webmaster Tools and click on ‘Verify’ to finish the process.
8. Add The XML Sitemap
The XML sitemap is a file which contains all the pages that are on your site and makes it easy for search engines to crawl it.
To activate the sitemap from Squirrly SEO, you need to go to Squirrly > SEO Settings > Let Squirrly SEO optimize this blog (panel) and switch the option ‘adds the XML Sitemap for search engines’ to Yes.
To submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools, you need to:
- Go to the Search Console home page https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and click on your site URL;
- In the left sidebar menu, click Crawl > Sitemaps;
- Then, click Add/Test Sitemap;
- Add the URL to your sitemap (e.g., http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml) and click Submit.
Now, go to Squirrly > SEO Settings > Sitemap XML tab and switch ‘Ping your sitemap to Google and Bing when a new post is published’ to Yes.
Here, you’ll also have the option to select which type of pages you can to include or exclude from the sitemap, and whether you want to add images and videos.
9. Optimizing Your Pages For SEO
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you have a WordPress SEO plugin installed, your job is automatically done.
SEO is an ongoing process so you must tackle all the tools available.
One of the most important ones provided by Squirrly SEO is the ability to optimize every page on your site for both humans and search engines.
Before writing a post, you need to do a keyword research and find a keyword that your site can rank for. You get up to 50 keyword suggestions, and for each one, you receive valuable information such as SEO search volume, trend, competition, and whether there are recent discussions about that topic on social media.
Moreover, if you run a local business, you have the option to do the keyword research for a country of your choice. There are 124 countries to choose from.
This is extremely important because naturally, people from different regions will be searching according to different queries.
So the first step you need to make when optimizing your blog is doing a keyword research with this amazing Squirrly SEO feature.
Then, you can start writing your post using the keyword you’ve just researched.
The virtual live assistant, which are the sections that are on the right side of the WordPress editor, will guide you in real time as you type your content.
It will tell you:
- Whether your post is over-optimized;
- If you need to add more keywords in the text;
- If you used the keyword in a headline or the Alternative Text;
- If the title and the URL contain the keyword;
- If the title has the right length.
After you’ve finished your post and all the sections are green, it means your post is SEO-ready and good to be published.
10. Customizing Your Titles and Descriptions
For maximum results, we also recommend taking advantage of the snippet section and customize the title and descriptions for your pages. This will help you attract more organic visits from search engine results pages.
Squirrly SEO will create a preview showing you exactly what users will see when your page pops up in their search results.
As you can see in the image below, you have multiple tabs because you can customize the metas for your pages when they are shared on Facebook and Twitter, by choosing the image that you want to show up as well.
All of these aspects are easy to customize from the snippet section from Squirrly SEO which you can find below the WordPress editor.
Also, from Squirrly > SEO Settings > First Page Optimization (panel) you can edit the title and description for your homepage, so don’t forget to tweak this section as well.
If you want to take it one step further, you can use the SEO patterns feature.
At Squirrly > SEO Settings > Patterns (tab), you can select a custom pattern for every page type depending on what content you have on your site. A custom pattern acts like a shortcode for titles, descriptions, or categories.
11. Categories and Tags
Categories and tags make it easy for your visitors to find content based on a particular topic. Moreover, search engines will be able to better understand your site structure and the type of material you’re publishing.
Categories are used when you want to group your posts into broad topics, such as health, lifestyle, food, skincare. You can also add sub-categories to each of them.
Tags are used to describe each post individually. For example, if you wrote a post about your favorite restaurant, you will add it in the food category, and add tags such as dinner, steak, pasta, salad, lava cake (or whatever food you ate).
Post tags are not mandatory to add, but categories are. If you don’t add a category, then your post will be added in ‘Uncategorized’. This will disrupt the flow and the experience your visitors will have when they browse your site and they won’t find what they’re looking for.
12. Internal Linking
The PageRank score given by Google for each page is majorly influenced by how many sites link to your pages. The other aspects that influence the score are, of course, kept a secret so that people don’t hack the system.
That’s why it’s important to link your pages and posts between them, where it makes sense.
You should make a habit out of internal linking when you optimize your blog because it will help you increase the authority for those pages based on the keywords you used.
With Squirrly SEO, it’s so easy to do this.
In the same box where you add your keyword, you need to click the quotation mark icon to receive suggestions with your previous posts that were written on the same topic.
If you want to search for posts that have different topics than the one you’re writing, then you can click on ‘Not relevant?’ and write a new keyword of choice.
Thanks to internal linking, users will spend more time on your site which means it will increase its SEO value.
13. No-Follow External Links
When you link to another website, you are passing link juice to that site and decreasing yours. According to CrazyEgg, link juice refers to “the SEO value of a hyperlink to a particular website or webpage”.
This means that, even if you link to several different websites in your article, which is okay to do, you need to use the no-follow attribute by checking the box “Add rel=”nofollow” to link”. You can see this in the image below:
14. Social Media Profiles
In Squirrly > SEO Settings > Social Media (tab) you have the option to connect your social media profiles to your site. It’s not necessary to have profiles for all these platforms, but it’s recommended to at least half of them.
Social signals are another critical Google ranking factor, so you want to make sure that you do these settings. It won’t take you more than a couple of minutes.
Squirrly SEO takes care of the robots.txt file as well. This file is used to instruct engine crawlers on how to crawl your site or which parts of your site you don’t want to be crawled.
With the latest Squirrly version, you can now edit this file and use the ‘disallow’ function to hide specific pages from being indexed. For example, you may have certain pages you don’t want users to access it unless they take a specific action first (such as a “thank you” page).
You can find this option in Squirrly > SEO Settings > Robots.txt (tab).
Optimize Your Blog For SEO And Reach Top Places In Google
As you can see, optimizing your WordPress site for SEO is not that hard, especially when you’re using a tool like Squirrly SEO.
I hope you enjoyed this article and you learned something new and valuable.
Keep an eye out on the blog because there will be a few more articles coming up on this WordPress SEO series.
And if you have any questions about what we discussed today, please leave them in the comments section.
See you on the blog!