Search engine optimization is the technique of bringing your site top in search results pages. Whatever the powerful content you write, your WordPress site needs a push to rank top in search engines. Here is a list of simple do it yourself SEO tips for WordPress beginners. We strongly recommend not to rely on external SEO agencies and spending big amount with them. We have also consolidated the complete guide in an attractive PDF eBook format. You can download the WordPress SEO guide and read it offline.
SEO Strategies for WordPress Site
Your SEO strategy should cover the following SEO methods:
You can learn black hat SEO to make sure, these methods are not used on your site. Here is a complete WordPress SEO checklist considering all these acpects.
Note: WordPress by default supports most of the SEO techniques, but it is unavoidable to use plugins to improve SEO. In this article we explain some SEO features with three plugins – Yoast WordPress SEO, Redirection and WP Smush. You can also use any other plugins to get similar features.
1. Allow Search Engine Indexing
Many users install WordPress from the hosting company while some prefer to develop locally and migration from local server to live environment. While the site is in development, it is a common practice to hide the site from search engines. Once your site is completely ready for live world, don’t forget to deselect the search engine visibility checkbox “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” available under “Settings > Reading” section. This setting will allow search engines to crawl and index all pages on your WordPress site.
2. Permalinks Settings
WordPress by default uses numbers for URLs like http://www.yoursite.com/?p1. These non-descriptive URLs are called ugly URLs and not much useful for human users. In order to make your URLs more user and search engine friendly, you need to activate pretty permalinks so that your URLs will be in a readable format. Enable the required permalinks structure under “Settings > Permalinks” menu from your WordPress admin panel.
3. Verifying Site with Webmaster Tools
Ensure to add and verify your WordPress site in Google Search Console and Bing webmaster tools account. This informs the search engines that the site is reliable and have a verified owner.
- Add and verify site in Google search console
- Add and verify site in Bing webmaster tools
- Add and verify site in Baidu webmaster tools
- Add and verify site in Yandex webmaster tools
4. Generating a XML Sitemap
With version 5.5. or later, WordPress by default creates XML Sitemap for your site. However, we recommend you using a third-party plugin for this purpose. Almost, all SEO plugins offer automatic creation of XML Sitemap for your site. Once the Sitemap is created, ensure to check it is accessible on browser and submit the same to webmaster tools account.
5. Install Google Analytics
Though installing Google Analytics will not directly impact your SEO, it helps to monitor the site’s performance. Analytics offers large number of reports with different parameters. You can use these reports to monitor the traffic with your SEO strategy and take corrective actions. Instead of Google Analytics, you can also use simple statistics tools like Jetpack Stats to monitor the traffic status quickly. Using Jetpack Stats you can not only monitor the stats using WordPress mobile apps but also check the downtime which Google Analytics does not provide.
6. Redirecting Modified Posts
You may be changing the URL of blog posts and pages during the time of building your site. If not redirected properly any links to old URLs will result in “404 page not found” error. It is recommended to set the auto redirection for modified posts so that you will not loose search engine ranking of the old post URL. You can do this easily with the popular “Redirection” plugin.
7. Use Proper Title and Separator
Your post title is displayed on search engines results as a first line and attract users to click on it. Use descriptive titles less than 65 characters so that it can fit the search engine display screen. Your site title will be displayed after the post title in search engines. So, use your site’s brand as a site title with appropriate separator.
It is recommended to use “Yoast WordPress SEO” plugin so that the search snippet view can be seen before publishing the post. Based on the preview, you can do necessary adjustments without hassle.
8. Keyword Density
Generally speaking there is no need of worrying about keywords if the content is appropriately written. For example, an article talks about dogs should automatically contains the word “dog” fewer times along with the word “dog” appear in heading. It is no harm to check appropriate usage of keywords with the easy to use plugins. Plugins like Yoast and Rank Math offers built-in feature to view the SEO analysis of your page before publishing.
The analysis meta box is shown on each post and page with lots of insights like the usage, readability, density, etc. You can target to get the green signal by making the recommended corrections.
9. Meta Description
After the title / URL, the next section appears in search results is your meta description. Search engines will pickup the description from your page content if you do not add it separately. All WordPress SEO plugins offer meta description on each post so that you can separately enter the summary of your post or you can use the default “excerpt” section. Some general guidelines for meta description are:
- Use your keyword in meta description.
- Use appropriate length (less than 155 characters) so that the paragraph will not get truncated when displayed in search engine.
Ensure to avoid duplicate meta description for multiple posts.
10. Use No-index and No-follow
WordPress does not provide default feature to hide only certain pages/posts from search engines. For example, you may not want “Thank you page”, “Newsletter” or “Archive” page is indexed in search engines. You need to use plugins to set those pages as “No-index” and “No-follow” so that search engines will not crawl those pages or you need to modify “robots.txt” to set such rules.
Individual posts can be hidden from search engines using Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. Also you can disable all unnecessary archives like author archives and date archives. You can learn more about SEO for crawlers to understand how it can impact your ranking.
11. Using Update Services
Be default WordPress updates certain services whenever you publish a new blog post. You can add your own ping list under “Settings > Writing” to update the needed services so that people can find the latest content of your blog quickly.
You can also use the latest IndexNow feature from Bing to inform search engines instantly after publishing new posts. This will send your URLs to the central pool from which any search engines can pickup the content.
12. Using Internal and External Links
Internal links inform search engines how your site is structured and the most linked post/page will be considered with highest priority. There are many ways you can create internal links in WordPress:
- Creating a normal text and image hyperlinks within content.
- Use sidebar widgets to display set of related and popular posts
- Show related posts below the content
- Use footer area to show frequently used pages
Always use descriptive anchor text for links instead of using text like “Click Here”. Similar to internal links, it is also good idea to link quality external links related to the article.
13. Optimizing Images
Ensure all your images are attached to a post and you are redirecting attachment URLs to parent post. This will ensure users are redirected to content page instead of ending up viewing an image. Always add “Alt Text” to all images so that search engines can understand the meaning of the images.
Use plugins like WP-Smush to optimize the images so that the page can load faster.
14. Use Solid Hosting
No one likes the slow loading page including search engines. Check your site with Google PageSpeed Insights tool and take corrective actions suggested. Among all the factors we have explained in this article, using solid hosting is the most important for improving your page speed.
If you have a smaller site, try using shared hosting with Bluehost or SiteGround. For running a bigger site or online store, make sure to have a VPS hosting like SiteGround Cloud or managed WordPress hosting like Kinsta or WPEngine.
15. Use Mobile Friendly Theme
Google and other search engines check the mobile-friendliness of your site and decide the ranking accordingly. Hence it is mandatory to use responsive themes or separate mobile site to ensure your WordPress site is mobile-friendly and rank higher. Use Google mobile-friendly tester tool to check your site is complying to the requirements.
16. Defer or Lazy Loading Files
Lazy loading of resources will help you to load the files only when the user interaction is needed. For example, you need not to load the images that is available at the bottom of the page until user reaching to that position. Lazy loading initially started for media files and WordPress 5.5 or later versions will automatically lazy load media files.
However, lazy loading is extended to scripts like AdSense ads, Analytics and social promotional links. These scripts should be loaded at the bottom of the page so that the initial loading time is not affected. Premium plugins like WP Rocket offers this feature and you can soon expect other plugin developers to offer such feature for free.
17. Minify and Combine CSS and JS Files
Theme and plugins will load lots of CSS and JS files to create the required layout and functions for your site. However, loading each CSS and JS file separately will increase the network bandwidth. The best option is to clean the files (minify) and combine together to reduce the size and network trips. If you are using SiteGround, you can use SG Optimizer plugin for this purpose. Otherwise, use W3 Total Cache or WP Rocket to minify and combine static files.
These plugins will also help you to remove parameters in static URLs like version numbers from CSS / JS files.
18. Use GZIP Compression
GZIP compression helps you to compress the HTML content and save bandwidth. You can enable GZIP compression from your hosting account. SiteGround and many other companies enables the compression by default.
19. Cache Static Content and Optimize Delivery
There are many free and premium caching plugins available to convert dynamic PHP pages to static HTML pages. Most free plugins allow browser caching by setting proper HTTP headers. However, plugins like WP Rocket goes one step further and allows you to optimize CSS delivery. It will generate critical above the fold CSS to load pages much faster.
The latest trend in CSS delivery is to remove all unused CSS and inline used CSS in the header section. This will help to fix issues like render blocking CSS and reduce unused CSS in Google PageSpeed Insights tool. It will help to increase the page speed to near 100 level as above the fold area will render fast with inlined CSS.
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20. Use CDN
Since many hosting companies offer services from United States, the network latency will affect the users trying to access pages from other parts of the world. In order to avoid this problem, you can use Cloudflare or any other CDN service. CDN will cache static content like images, CSS and JS and serve your content to users from the nearest server. This will help you to improve the site speed and offer good user experience.
21. Preload Links, Fonts and Prefetch DNS
If you are using custom fonts hosted on your domain (generally it is part of your theme), it is essential to preload them. This will help you to shorten the page loading time and improve the Google PageSpeed score.
Similar to preloading, prefetching DNS of the third servers can improve the connection time. You may need to use plugins like WP Rocket (or SG Optimizer for SiteGround) to use these advanced features.
22. Avoid Third-party Resources
23. Use Simple Theme
At the end, your theme decides the final layout for your site. Using heavy theme that offers hundreds of features is no more desirable. Features with shortcodes will not only affect your SEO, you also have to struggle when changing the theme.
Consider using minimalist themes like GeneratePress, Astra or Genesis to have super fast website.
24. Limit Number of Plugins
Similar to theme, ensure to limit the number of plugins on your site.
- Avoid using heavy page builder or bundled plugins with theme.
- Delete unused plugins on your site.
- Avoid using outdated plugins that is no more compatible with the latest WordPress version.
Each plugin will load CSS / JS thus affecting your SEO efforts. Limiting number of plugins will not only improve the page speed but also reduce your maintenance tasks.
25. Consider AMP
Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP is recommended if your site heavily relies on mobile traffic. However, the implementation may have a big impact on user experience and revenue. For example, using AMP with AdSense may tend reduce your revenue as there will be less AMP advertisers. Therefore, evaluate the need based on your situation and check whether you really need AMP for your WordPress site.
We strongly recommend you to setup all SEO features when starting your blog or site. It may take considerable time at the beginning. However, it will bring good results and make your life easy in the long run. Otherwise, you will have real difficulties in changing the setup after few years when your blog gets good traffic.