The ultimate guide to WordPress SEO

WordPress is the most popular Content Management Systems (CMS) available to bloggers and website developers. It is estimated that around 455 million websites use WordPress as of 2021. One of the biggest advantages of using WordPress is the simplicity of optimising your SEO straight out of the box. While that may be true, there is a lot more you can do to optimise your WordPress content for higher search engine rankings. In this guide, we’ll provide you with the best practices for optimising your WordPress content for SEO.

What is SEO?

Before getting into the details of how to optimise your WordPress website for SEO, we’ll quickly go over what SEO is. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising your digital content in order for it to rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs). By optimising your SEO, you stand a much better chance of becoming more visible on the results pages, which means your site will be more visible to searchers.

Search engine crawlers are used to index the vast number of websites online. These crawlers work by:

  1. Crawling – where the search engine crawlers discover your web pages.
  2. Indexing – where the algorithms organise the pages that have been discovered allowing the result to appear in the search listings.
  3. Ranking – where the pages discovered are indexed according to which is deemed most relevant according to the search query.

Organically optimising your content for SEO can bring numerous advantages too. One of the biggest advantages is your content will appear more truth-worthy and reliable. You can increase the amount of traffic to your site, rank higher than your competition and, most of all, increase your potential leads. Compared to pay-per-click ads, it can be a lot more cost-effective too.

SEO is one of the most important tactics you can adopt within your digital marketing strategy. If you don’t spend the time optimising your content to help the search engine algorithms rank your content, you won’t be visible on the results pages.

So, now we’ve covered what SEO is and why it’s important, it’s time to start exploring how you can optimise your WordPress content for SEO.

The ultimate guide to WordPress SEO

WordPress has become a popular choice for CMS users due to its out of the box SEO experience. However, just using the WordPress framework won’t guarantee you high rankings. That’s only the first step. Once you start using your WordPress CMS, there are many other tips and tricks you can explore to help optimise your SEO. Let’s take a look at 10 easy tips to get you started…

1.      Site visibility

The very first step is to make sure that your WordPress site is visible to the search engines so they can index your site. Fortunately, it is simple to check. Under your site’s general settings, navigating to “Reading” will display options for how many blogs are displayed and what your homepage displays.

The site visibility settings in WordPress

The site visibility settings in WordPress

However, the option we are most interested in here is under “Site Visibility”.

The site visibility option determines whether search engines can index your site. When the option is set to “discourage search engines from indexing this site” this means the search engine crawlers will ignore your site and will not appear in search results. If this setting is ticked, you may as well go home as all your SEO efforts will be in vain.

I found this option to be on the “discourage” setting straight out of the box, so double-check and make sure you change it to “allow”. Once you’ve got that covered, search engines shouldn’t have a problem crawling and indexing your site.

2.      Permalinks

A permalink is the full URL of a webpage that you see. Permalinks should be SEO friendly as search engines use them to determine the relevance of your content. They also allow users to know exactly what they are clicking on.

An example of a permalink would be: https://www.dreamscapedesign.co.uk/blog

Permalinks (or URLs) include different parts, using the permalink example above:

  • Schema/protocol (“https”)
  • Second-level domain (“dreamscapedesign”)
  • Top-level domain (“.uk”)
  • Subdirectory (“blog”)

Sometimes a permalink may include a subdomain, displayed before the second-level domain.

When using WordPress CMS, you should change your permalinks. The setting to change your permalinks can be found under settings. This time we want to click on “permalinks”. From here, you have several options that allow you to customise your permalinks. Make sure your permalinks clearly explain the contents of your pages to help with optimisation.

The permalink settings in WordPress

The permalink settings in WordPress

3.      Installing an SEO plug-in

When creating content for your WordPress site, there is one crucial factor you should consider. Installing an SEO plug-in, such as Yoast SEO, can be an excellent supplement to help you optimise your content.

Check our guide to Yoast SEO for optimising your WordPress content.

Plug-ins can be installed on WordPress directly by clicking “plug-ins” on the left-hand option. Then, from the plug-ins section, click “add new” at the top of the page. You are then able to search and install plug-ins for use straight away.

The add plugins page on WordPress

The add plugins page on WordPress

4.      XML sitemaps

An XML sitemap is an XML file that lists all the URLs on your website. Using an XML sitemap allows Google to find and crawl your pages and for search engines to better understand your site structure and hierarchy.

An XML sitemap is vital if you want Google and other search engines to crawl all your essential pages. You don’t want to be manually updating your site map every time a new page is added, so it’s best to let a WordPress plug-in do the hard work for you. Yoast SEO, among other plug-ins, can help create and maintain your XML sitemap.

An example of an XML sitemap created by Yoast

An example of an XML sitemap created by Yoast SEO

5.      Internal links

If you want to improve the authority and relevancy of your site pages, you should be implementing internal links. Adding internal links strategically can improve your pages’ authority (PageRank) which helps in turn to boost your SEO.

Internal links can be placed anywhere on your WordPress site, providing they are relevant to the content. That’s not to say “go crazy” about the number of internal links you start including. Adding too many internal links to a page can decrease the authority of a page, so use them strategically.

Inserting internal links on your WordPress CMS is a simple task and can be done by clicking the link icon on the editor toolbar. Then copy in the URL you want to be linked, and that’s it. Just make sure you set the anchor text to something relevant to the URL being linked.

Showcasing internal linking on in the WordPress blog editor

An example showcasing internal linking for a blog post

For example, if you are linking to a page about developing your buyer persona, the anchor text could read something like “developing your buyer personas”. Then users know exactly what they’ll find after clicking the link, plus the search engines can better rank your content for relevancy.

6.      Nofollow links

On the subject of links, you will no doubt be linking to external sites too. It’s generally good practice to also link to external sites (where relevant) as it shows you have sources to back up any relevant points. However, when you include an external link, you are passing some of the authority (PageRank) from your pages to the external pages. In this case, you may not feel like sharing!

In the words of Google themselves: “From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.”

Fortunately, there is a way you can prevent the authority of your pages from being passed through the external link. Making your external links “nofollow” can solve the problem.

When adding a link to your content on WordPress, you can enter an attribute into the link code by adding rel=“nofollow” after the URL in the href tag. Alternatively, there are plug-ins you can install that do this for you.

7.      Images

One of the most common mistakes when optimising content is the lack of ALT text on images. When using images on your WordPress site, you need to add ALT text if you want to better optimise your pages.

Search engine crawlers cannot see the images you use on your site. By adding ALT text, you are telling the crawlers what the picture contains. Using ALT text that clearly describes the content of the images will help your SEO. Naming the filename of the image something relevant will also stand you in good stead.

Adding ALT text to your image

Adding ALT text to your images on WordPress

8.      Making your site secure

Another ranking factor that Google and other search engines look for is whether a website is secure and encrypted. You can do this by incorporating HTTPS on your site.

HTTPS extends the traditional hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) by adding a secure extension. Adding the secure extension allows secure communication over a computer network using the SSL/TLS protocol for encryption and authentication.

HTTPS is preferred by search engines as it adds encryption, authentication, and integrity to the HTTP protocol. It also helps build trust with users on your site when entering personal details, such as an order form requiring card details.

9.      Comments

Allowing comments on your pages and blog posts is a great way to connect with your users and boost engagement with your content. Engagement on your site is never a bad thing as it can drive more traffic to your site and increase link sharing. In turn, engagement and sharing can help boost your SEO. Unfortunately, though, spam comments are also inevitable and can potentially harm your SEO.

To make sure the comments left on your site are genuine and not filled with spam links, it is best to set to “manually approve comments” before allowing them to go live. Fortunately, WordPress has many plug-ins that can help make your life easier. Plug-ins, such as Akismet Anti-Spam, will block spam comments so that you never need to worry about having to monitor your comment sections for spam. Also, it can prevent the spammers from ever returning to your site.

10.  Avoid duplicate content

Search engines hate duplicate content.  Duplicate content occurs when search engines discover multiple URLs that have the same, or very similar, content. Then, it creates a dilemma for crawlers as they don’t know which page is the original version. This confusion can result in both pages being ranked lower. A mistake I’m sure you’ll want to avoid, right?

Content management systems, such as WordPress, may create duplicate content without you even knowing. Session IDs or tracking URL parameters can result in CMS platforms creating duplicate content. It could also happen if you have a www and a non-www page, as Google treats these as two different pages and websites. Tip – you can 301 redirect from www to non-www from within your htaccess file.

While duplicate content won’t always harm your SEO massively (unless you are trying to deceive and manipulate ranking) it is still something you should address where possible. Find out more about duplicate content causes and solutions.

There you have it, our ultimate guide to WordPress SEO. Taking the time to implement the tips and tricks we’ve outlined above will help you get an all-important boost to your SEO. But remember, a huge part of your SEO ranking comes from producing great content that is both meaningful and relevant to your users. A successful content marketing strategy can go hand-in-hand with a well-optimised website.