WordPress is arguably the most popular content management system in the web world. According to various web technology estimates, WordPress powers almost one-third of the web. Thankfully, WordPress comes with a lot of SEO-friendly components, so you have a great head start when it comes to ranking on search engines. All you need is some great content, and of course some basic optimization. In this blog post, I cover some basic tips for optimizing your WordPress website.
Basic Settings for WordPress SEO Success
Ensure Visibility to Search Engines
Make sure you are not blocking search engine bots from indexing your WordPress website. Go to Settings -> Reading in your WordPress interface and check that you have allowed access to search engines to your site.
Set a Permalink Structure
WordPress offers you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your permalinks and archives. Following are the structures available in WordPress:
By default, the ‘plain’ structure is set. This structure is not ideal for SEO as search engines typically truncate anything after ‘?’ in a URL for their indexation. Set your permalink structure such that it provides you opportunities to include keywords in your URL.
Get an SEO Plugin for WordPress
There are numerous SEO plugins available for WordPress across the web. For CSU’s news website, SOURCE, and also for the CSU Social blog, we use the Yoast SEO plugin. You can use this plugin to craft your SEO titles and meta descriptions, generate XML sitemaps, set canonical tags among a bulk-load of SEO tweaks.
Once you have these basic settings in place, it’s time to focus on individual page tweaks. I personally have a two-step process before I set out to build content on a page.
STEP 1: Find a Focus Keyword/Key Phrase
Google and other search engines reward high value, fresh and unique content on a chosen subject. Your rankings on Google are a function of close to 200 ranking factors, some of which are your website’s expertise on the subject, your frequency, and recency of publishing content.
Right at the start of building webpage content, you should think about what search terms you want the webpage to be found for. Some phrases will have more search volume than the others. Single word search terms are more likely to have a higher search volume, but it would be harder for your content to show up for these search terms.
The key is to strike a balance between highly searched and low competition keywords. Keywords with multiple keyword phrases, also known as ‘long-tail keywords,’ typically have a low to medium search volume but very high intent.
Aim to find a unique keyword or key phrase for each post. This is important because if there are multiple webpages with closely themed keywords they might compete with each other for ranking on Google.
Keyword planner within Google Ads platform is a classic keyword research tool that gives the approximate search volume and competition for a keyword. You can access Google ads with your Google account. We have been using ‘Keywords everywhere’ Google Chrome extension to find highly searched keywords. This keyword tool gives you the approximate search volume for a keyword that you type in the browser, in addition to showing related keywords and their search volume on the search engine results page.
It’s also a good practice to Google your selected focus keyword (or key phrase), and observe the kind of content that comes up in search.
Once you have locked-in your focus key phrase, find opportunities to optimize the post with it.
STEP 2: Page Optimization in WordPress
1. Page Title
The actual title of the story will be your HTML title for that webpage. A keyword-optimized page title is a very important ranking factor for search engines. It is the literal title of the tab or browser window, and it’s also the first line people see in the search results:
The focus key phrase selected in Step 1 should ideally be toward the beginning of the title to ensure that it doesn’t get cropped in the search results. The recommended title length is 50-60 characters.
Aim to have your core keyword/key phrase in the URL. You can edit the default URL for your post right below the post title as shown here:
3. Alt Text
Alt text plays a big role in image optimization. It makes your images accessible both to search engines (by telling them what a particular image means) and to people (by displaying an alternative text in case a particular image cannot be loaded or helping screen readers convey images).
Do not use the exact same text for captions and alt-text as it creates a bad user experience.
4. SEO Title and Meta Description
SEO title and meta description help provide context to search engines about the contents of a webpage.
Although its value has decreased over the years as a direct ranking factor, it is still important to use the meta description. It is used by search engines to show a description of your page in the search engine results, usually below your page title. Here’s an example of how an optimized meta description appears in Google search results:
Yoast plugin gives a preview of how the search result might appear with the current SEO title and description. This is how it looks like:
The green bar below the title and the description signifies ideal character length.
As mentioned above, the SEO value of a meta description has decreased significantly over the years. Google (and other search engines) simply pull content snippets from a web page to display in the search results, ignoring the meta description. For example:
So, it becomes important to include the exact key phrase in your content, preferably in the first paragraph. It also makes sense to include keyword synonyms within the content.
Headings are great for structuring webpage content and helping readers process information in small chunks. WordPress transforms the headings you put in your content into their respective HTML tags (<h1> through <h6). By default, the page title is <h1>. The subsequent headings should be <h2> and sub-headings should be <h3>.
Assigning headings in WordPress:
Internal links are hyperlinks that point to another page on your own website. Internal links are most useful for establishing site architecture and spreading link equity.
Link relevancy is an important factor for search engines. The content of the target page should closely match the anchor text (characters and words that hyperlinks display when linking to another webpage) where the link resides.
Examples of excellent anchor texts:
Anchor text styles to avoid:
Visit source.colostate.edu for more information.
Also, you should try to avoid external links (links pointing to a different website) in the first couple of paragraphs of content.