This is the second installment of the series on SEO for WordPress. In the previous installment, I defined the term Search Engine Optimization and highlighted its importance. In this installment, I will discuss WordPress SEO basics.
WordPress is the most popular CMS on the internet. It powers everything from a personal blog to online stores to corporate portals. One important reason for this massive user base is the fact that WordPress is easy to optimize for better SERP rankings. With minimum effort, WordPress developers and administrators could get the good position in Google and other search engines.
WordPress SEO Related Options
The first step in the process of optimizing your WordPress website for search engines is to check and set (if required) the following options and settings.
Check Website’s Visibility Settings
The first thing you should check is whether your website is visible to search engines. A checkbox in the Settings menu determines if the search engines could see and index your website. This check ensures that under-construction websites do not accidently get indexed in the search engines’ results.
In several instances, this check remains in place even when the website goes live. Thus, the first thing you should do is to make sure that this box is unchecked so that search engine could properly index your website without any problems.
SEO Friendly URL Structure
URL structure is important for both the people and search engines visiting your website. A SEO friendly URL clearly explains the content of the page and is easy to read for both human and search engines.
Suppose there is a page on your website that explains how to install WordPress. A SEO un-friendly URL structure for this page would be:
While search engines might not have any difficulty in reading this URL, people viewing this URL will have no idea about the contents of the page. A SEO friendly URL structure that is easily readable for both search engines and people would be:
You should also use keywords in your URLs. This is relevant for several reasons. It helps in identifying your content for people who see your URL on social media or in an email.
Secondly, if there is no anchor text used, your naked URL will act as anchor text in indicating what your content is about.
And thirdly, URLs appear in the search engine results and research has shown that users consider URLs before clicking on a link from the search engine.
Make use of hyphens and underscores if you want to separate words in your URL. Search Engines now treat both of them equally. You can use spaces as well but it is not recommended because it renders awkwardly in URLs as %20, which doesn’t look good.
Here is how you can update the WordPress website’s permalink structure.
Go to Settings > Permalink. Select the option for Post name and change the structure.
Warning: Be very careful when changing the permalinks of the existing pages because you will lose all your social links, which is terrible for the existing SEO rankings
WWW vs. Non-WWW
Another URL related choice is between www (http://www.example.com) and non-www (http://example.com). Remember that search engines consider both addresses to be separate websites. However, there is no negative website related consequences for opting for either URL structure.
To set your choice, go to Settings > General add your preferred URL structure for both WordPress Address and Site Address.
Meta Title Tags
Many people overlook the all-important meta tags for both the pages and post on the website. These tags are essential for high SERP rankings because these tags are the only introduction to the content of the page in search engine results. The following two images highlight the position of meta title and meta description tags in search engine results listing. The first image shows the meta title while the second tag shows meta description:
Meta title gives a short heading for the page while the meta description gives a short description of the content of the page. Both these tags are included in the <head> section of the HTML of the page/post. Always make sure that you have a relevant meta title and meta description of every page and post published on your website.
Meta Title Best Practices
- Your meta title should include both, primary and secondary keywords
- Keep your title limited to 55 characters or less
- Use a dash between your keywords
Meta Description Best Practices
- Your meta description should be enticing.
- Limit your meta description to 150 – 160 characters
- Do not use special characters. They don’t show in the description.
Keyword phrases are targeted and focused long-tail keywords that people enter as search engine queries. A good SEO practice is to make a list of keyword phrases that you will target in your post. There must be at least one focus keyword phrase and 2-3 supporting keywords phrases that are related to the focus keyword phrase.
Make use of your keywords in the title of your page. You can also use variations of your keywords along with synonyms as well. A smart approach would be to use keywords in the url and the meta description too. Using them in anchor texts that link back to the web page is an effective practice.
Warning: always observe the standards for using keyword phrases in your content. Excessive use will flag the article as an attempt to rank in SERP and search engines might penalize your website for such content.
Image Names and Alt Text
Google has placed high importance on image names and alt text. In one of their articles, Google mentioned “Create great alt text”, which proves how highly it is rated. Through alt text, Google not only determines what is in the image but also determines the text that is surrounding the image.
All images used on your website must have proper names that tell both the people and search engines about the image’s content. Similarly, always make sure that the Alt Text field for the images is properly filled with a description of the image. This field is used when the browser is not able to render the image properly. To boost SEO rankings, make sure that you have included the focus keyword phrase in the Alt Text field.
Website Internal Linking
Internal linking is a popular SEO practice that links the various content pieces published on your website. In this process, you must include anchor text that could be linked to other blogs and/or pages on your website. This is a major component of the On-Page SEO of the website.
Interlinking ensures that the visitor stays longer on the website and reads more than one content pieces, resulting in an increase in page view time and a decrease in the bounce rate of the website.
When interlinking, select a good phrase or a keyword to create a hyperlink rather than “Click here”. Also, make sure your links open in new tabs as this affects user-experience. Your links will be more effective if they are deep. Links that are deep within the structure of the site work best.
Page Load Speed
Google has specifically mentioned that site speed is one of the factors it includes in its algorithm to rank websites. Research also shows that Google might be measuring the site speed to first byte when it considers page speed. A slow website also means that Google will be able to crawl fewer pages and this could have adverse effects on your indexing.
If your website does not load within 2-3 seconds, the visitor will move away (in many cases, for good!). Page load speed is a key factor in WordPress SEO enhancements.
You can increase your page load speed with following techniques:
- Choose reliable and fast hosting service providers
- Use web-optimized graphical content on the homepage and posts
- Optimize pages be resizing them
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Use the minimum number of widgets and plugins, particularly on the homepage
Do-Follow and No-Follow Links
Do-Follow links allow Google and other search engines to follow them and reach your website. In contrast, NoFollow links do not allow search engines bots to follow a link.
That was a pretty simple description wasn’t it? Do-Follow links allow Google crawlers to crawl your web pages. They also give you more exposure and your content is more likely to be discovered by the users. Do-Follow links also have lasting SEO benefits as they can help you deal with Panda and Penguin updates.
<a href="http://www.google.com" rel="nofollow">Google</a>
Remember that while search engines are not able to use a No-Follow link, people could easily click them to go to the target web page.
From the WordPress SEO perspective, category archives are more important than individual pages and posts. These archives are the first thing that a search engine checks on a website, and a properly organized categories archive will greatly facilitate the task of a search engine.
WordPress is one of the best options launching a successful website. I hope that by following the above suggestions, you have optimized your website for better SERP rankings. Remember that it takes some time for the results to be visible in Google. In the third part of this series, I will be focusing on best WordPress SEO plugins. If you have a problem or would like to contribute to the discussion, do leave a comment below.