How to Improve Your WordPress SEO – The Ultimate Guide27 min read

How to Improve Your WordPress SEO – The Ultimate Guide27 min read

14/04/2019 7 By Vasyl Tsyktor

Search engine optimization, also known as SEO, is a set of practices that allows website owners to adjust their sites to search engine algorithms in the way to get as high positions in search results as possible. These practices refer to making your website more visible for search engines and attracting more organic traffic through removing technical errors and creating useful content rather than trying to manipulate indexing algorithms using blackhat SEO.



The necessary measures for boosting your WordPress SEO hardly differ from techniques used for optimizing typical websites developed from scratch. However, the good news is that you can apply the best practices without coding if you have a blog, Ecommerce site, or landing pages based on WordPress. With this content management system (CMS), you can easily optimize your resource using built-in menu, plugins, or shortcode copypasta.

Technical optimization

Technical search engine optimization is what you should start from. With numerous errors on your site, any additional measure can be worthless. I had a customer who had invested thousands of dollars in promoting his website with no traffic as a result. After conducting an audit, I realized that he had blocked his website with noindex and nofollow attributes, thus prohibiting search engines to index his website. That’s why you should pay attention to your technical SEO measures.

#1: Choose a suitable hosting provider

When considering developing a WordPress website, you should pick up the right hosting provider. It’s worth noting that there are many hosters that focus on this CMS. They include Bluehost, HostGator, SiteGround, etc. You can either choose among these services or pick any other one that supports websites written in PHP. Your hosting should be fast, secure, and capable of dealing with much traffic. It also has to provide enough space for your website core and files.

 

Another important parameter you should take into account when choosing a hosting provider is customer support. It should be approachable since you may face some issues you can’t solve without their assistance. For example, you will need their help when installing a secure socket layer (SSL) for your site to encrypt user data.

#2: Use a top-level domain

WordPress offers free wordpress.com domains that allow you to save your money. However, these savings also have the other side of the coin. Despite third-level domains doesn’t affect your SEO directly, it can affect it indirectly. Google treats equally top-level domains (TLDs) and third level domains like example.blogspot.com. Although, your domain can influence how users perceive your website address.

 

Such TLDs as .com, .info, and .org are traditional and may be associated with reliable sites. In addition, by using a free wordpress.com domain you agree to have third-party ads on your website you will get no profit from. If you want to remove those ads, you will have to pay for an ad-free website. In this case, it makes sense to purchase a TLD with no ads. It will increase user trust to your blog, online store, or landing page.

#3: Install a reliable theme

Wordpress themes library

One of the main advantages of WordPress over other content management systems is that it offers a wide range of free themes. However, you should always install themes from the official directory or do it right in your admin panel. Don’t download theme files from third-party websites unless you know what you’re doing. They can contain bugs or even malware that can affect your site functionality or even compromise your sensitive data.

 

Installing a reliable them is one of the basic WordPress cybersecurity measures. I would recommend you to choose among themes that have premium versions. Thus, you will increase your chances to get a professional theme developers have worked hard on. Even though you will install a free theme, your site will have a limited number of widgets or fonts rather than have no responsive design or be slow.

#4: Make sure your theme is mobile-friendly

How to check whether your site has a responsive design

With Google’s mobile-first index, having a responsive design is extremely important if you have to attract visitors. Google ranks mobile-friendly higher than those with outdated design making users zoom in when they need to read your post. Responsive design enables users to consume content in a suitable way without the need for scaling website pages using multi-touch.

 

To check whether a chosen theme has a responsive design, you should do the following:

  1. Visit a theme homepage
  2. Find a link referring to its demo
  3. When on the theme demo page, click the right button of the mouse
  4. If you use Chrome, choose the View page source option in the appeared menu or use the Ctrl+U keyboard shortcut
  5. Instead of using the right-click, you can press F12 to view the code
  6. Click on the toggle device toolbar button to check how the current webpage looks like on smartphones, tablets, and desktop.

#5: Install an SSL certificate

SSL certificate

A secure connection is what protects users from data thefts. An installed SSL certificate increases trust for your website. In addition, those sites using the secure protocol are more likely to have better positions in search results. To install an SSL certificate on your WordPress website, you need to buy it in your hosting account. To make sure your hosting provides have added it to your resource, contact their customer support.

 

Once they confirm, you should configure the secure connection on your site.

  1. At first, modify all internal links added manually by replacing http:// with https://.
  2. Navigate through the menu Settings – General) in your WordPress admin panel, and modify your website URL by replacing http:// with https://.
  3. Create the .htaccess file in your root folder.
    1. To do so, you can create a .txt file on your computer with any title, for example, abc.txt.
    2. Then drag and drop this file to the root website folder that typically has the public_html title.
    3. Rename your abc.txt to .htaccess.
  4. Copy the code below to your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} =off

RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [QSA,L]

If you see the notification in the address bar that your secure connection has been configured improperly, then check again all manually added links referring to your other webpages and replace http:// with https://

#6: Create a sitemap

How to create a sitemap with Yoast SEO

The sitemap.xml file is the file containing all your webpages. It helps search engines index your website. To create this file and configure this file properly, use the Yoast SEO plugin. Besides generating a sitemap, this plugin can do other useful things we will discuss further in this post. Once you have Yoast SEO plugin installed, navigate through the menu in your admin panel: SEO – General – Features. Then click on the On button under the XML sitemaps option.

#7: Create your robots.txt file

Robots.txt is the file where you can provide search engines with recommendations regarding indexing your website. In this file, you can block particular webpages you don’t want them to appear in search results. These webpages can include filters, archives, etc. If you need a standard WordPress robots.txt file code, then you can use mine:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin

Allow: /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php

Disallow: /wp-content/cache

Disallow: /wp-login.php

Disallow: /wp-register.php

Disallow: */trackback

Disallow: */feed

Disallow: /cgi-bin

Disallow: /tmp/

Disallow: *?s=

Host: cyberpulse.info

Sitemap: https://cyberpulse.info/sitemap_index.xml

Don’t forget to replace cyberpulse.info with your domain. If you don’t want to create this file manually, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin. In the Tools menu option, choose the File editor tool. Here, you can edit both robots.txt and .htaccess without the need for navigating to your website file system on your server.

#8 Enable AMP

If you have a blog or online magazine based on WordPress, then you should enable accelerated mobile pages, also known as AMP, on your site. These are simplified webpages supported by most current browsers. The main advantage of AMP pages is that it takes an instant to load them. Since the website speed plays an important role in Google ranking, AMP is what will increase your site performance thus improving its positions in Google search.

 

To enable accelerated mobile pages, you can use the AMP plugin by Automattic. It’s the most popular AMP plugin for WordPress with more than 300,000 active installations. In addition, it’s extremely simple. You just need to choose the type of pages that will support AMP: pages, posts, or both. I recommend AMP only for posts. You also can configure a color scheme for your AMP pages. Once configured, they will have a lightning sign in mobile search results.

Speeding up your WordPress website

Besides accelerated mobile pages, there are other techniques that can increase your WordPress site speed. To check how fast your site is, use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool. It will also provide you with useful tips on what you can do to make your site faster.

#9: Enable caching

WP Super Cache settings

Caching is a process of storing data in the cache that refers to temporary data storage. With the cashing function enabled, web browsers retrieve previously saved webpages from the cache instead of loading the same page every time a particular user visits it. Thus, your website pages load much faster. To enable caching, use the WP Super Cache plugin. By default, it has all the necessary settings configured. You only need to click on the Enable caching button in plugin settings.

#10: Optimize your images

Images significantly increase the webpage size. The larger they are, the more time it takes for browsers to load it. There’s no need for uploading graphical content that has the Full HD resolution (1920×1080). For your blog, you can use images that have 100% smaller resolution without affecting the way they look on typical computer and mobile device displays. In addition, you can use lossless image optimization to cut the file size while retaining their quality.

 

To optimize images, you can use free Paint.net software on your computer. Just open an image, crop it, and click on the Save as button. The tool will offer you to choose the image quality in percents. Instead of on-premise software, you can install a WordPress plugin called Kraken.io Image Optimizer. It allows you to reduce the image file size right in your website admin panel.

 

When you install the plugin, upload your cropped images and then click on the Optimize button in your WordPress media library. Furthermore, Kraken enables you to optimize those images already uploaded to your media library and published on your website. In addition, developers claim that your images will remain optimized even if you deactivate and remove the plugin.

#11: Shorten your code

The larger your website files are, the longer it takes to load your pages. Making your website code shorter will increase your website speed. Don’t panic, you have no need for learning programming to minify your code. Instead, you can use suitable plugins. One of them is Autoptimize. This plugin can aggregate, cache, and shorten your code by removing extra spaces and comments that have no impact on the code functionality.

WordPress configuration

The WordPress core enables users to conduct basic configurations without any coding. Its admin panel provides a wide range of important options that allow you to make your site SEO-ready and effectively apply other optimization measures with positive results.

#12: Set the correct permalinks structure

Wordpress permalinks

With links looking like a set of random symbols, users can’t understand what your content is about until they click on one of them. In this case, they may not even follow such links because website visitors want to know for sure what they will get if they open a specific webpage. As a result, your click-through rate (CTR) will become lower thus affecting user behavior which is an important ranking factor.

 

Your links should be easy to understand. To enable SEO-friendly URLs, you should set a proper permalinks structure. With WordPress, you can easily do it by navigating through the menu in your admin panel. Go to Settings – Permalinks. In the Common Settings, select a Post name option and click on Save changes. With this option selected, your links will contain your main domain and post name with hyphens instead of spaces. Thus, your links will be short and comprehensive.

#13: Enter the right mirror website URL

General settings WordPress

Website mirror is a duplicate website that has a different URL. In other words, your website can be accessed with different web addresses, for example, https://cyberpulse.info and https://www.cyberpulse.info. Duplicate content can affect your WordPress SEO that’s why you should either set which version is canonical or use the 301 redirect.

 

WordPress provides a simple functionality that allows you to easily set redirects from your site with “www” to the other version that has no “www” in its URL. It means that those users entering your website URL with “www”  in the beginning will be automatically redirected to the URL without “www”.

 

To set this redirect, you have no need for manually edit your .htaccess file. Instead, just go to Settings – General in your admin panel and enter your URL without www in both WordPress address URL and Site address (URL) text fields. In other words, type in the same URL in both fields, for example, https://cyberpulse.info. Then click Save Changes.

#14: Allow search engines to index your site

wordpress search engine visibility

You publish your posts on a regular basis, add new tags and pages, but still get no traffic? The reason may lay in the fact that you block search engines by using the noindex tag and nofollow attribute or special disallow command in your robots.txt file. No matter how useful and relevant your text is, search engines may not rank your site if you prohibit them to index your webpages.

 

WordPress provides the functionality that allows you to discourage Google or other search engines to index your site with a single click of a mouse. To make sure your resource is visible for them, go to Settings – Reading in your admin panel. Uncheck the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” checkbox in the Search Engine Visibility menu section. Then click on the Save Changes button.

Website structure

A structure is a key promotion aspect for any website. The right website structure enables visitors to easily navigate between different pages and quickly find what they come for on your site. Furthermore, it improves your website visibility for search engines since a suitable site structure equals to correct landing pages that drive target traffic properly coming along your sales funnel.

#15: Create categories

Categories are important website structure elements capable of attracting qualified leads. Based on high-volume keywords, these pages can drive more traffic in addition to blog posts. When it comes to Ecommerce or corporate sites offering any services, categories are the main pages that play a vital role in driving potential customers to your site.

 

For online stores, categories are pages that describe what you sell, for example, smartphones, laptops, or tablets. For service websites, categories refer to specific services you provide. If you have a content marketing agency, that your categories may be copywriting, social media marketing, etc. In the case where you have a blog, categories mean topic you create content on. For example, CyberPulse.info has the following categories:

  • Automotive
  • Immersive technologies
  • Adtech
  • Cybersecurity
  • Mobile
  • Blockchain

Think which categories your WordPress website should have. Take into account how your target audience searches for what you’re offering. With a properly segmented keyword list in mind, create your categories by following these menu options in your admin panel: Posts – Categories – Add New Category.

#16: Create tags wisely

Blog tags refer to pages or archives that link to related posts. Compared to categories, tags are more niche and unite posts on similar topics. The main aim of blog tags is attracting traffic based on high-volume keywords. The difference between WordPress categories and tags lays in their topic coverage: while categories are general topics, tags segment content in a more accurate way.

 

For example, this post refers to the SEO tag. Since this topic is supplementary for CyberPulse rather than one of the main ones, it has been added to the tag instead of a category. You can check a full list of tags of this blog in the right sidebar on the homepage. To click your tag, go to Posts – Tags – Create a new tag. In order to associate your post with a specific tag, select the necessary one when editing your blog post.

 

Make sure each your tag has at least 5 posts. Otherwise, tag pages will look empty and contain little content. Furthermore, you can add text to your tag pages to make them more relevant and encourage search engines to rank them higher. Thus, you will have more content on these pages in addition to sample text captured from posts linked to particular tags.

#17: Use pages in a proper way

When developing your site with WordPress, it’s important to avoid confusing posts, categories, tags, and pages. Use pages for helpful content that can provide users with additional information unrelated to main content like posts or categories. WordPress pages are best suitable for the following types of content:

  • Contacts
  • Privacy policy
  • Terms and conditions
  • Shipment information
  • Information for partners
  • About us
  • Media kit
  • Press kit
  • Advertise with us

You can easily add your pages to your site menu in the Appearance – Menus section. Note that some themes support multiple menus. Thus, you can add your pages to the header, footer, and main menu.

Content optimization

SEO-friendly content is a key traffic driver for any website either based on a content management system, for example WordPress, or other content management system, or developed from scratch. The only difference is that this CMS provides rich functionality that enables you to easily optimize your posts or any other type of content with no coding.

#18: Fill in metadata for your content

Metadata, which includes a title and description, is another important ranking factor. All your webpages should contain each of these meta tags. Make your title shorter than 65 symbols while the description meta tag should contain less than 150 symbols. Titles should contain your main keyword. If you have a blog, your post title meta tag can have the following structure: “your post name – your blog name”.

For example: “How to Increase Your WordPress SEO – CyberPulse”

 

To easily fill in meta tags you usually can see in Google search results for your WordPress website, use the above-mentioned Yoast SEO plugin or its analogs, for example, All in One SEO Pack. Yoast SEO will automatically create titles for your posts, tags, and pages. In addition, it has a dedicated text field where you can type in your description. Descriptions may contain one or two keywords and they should encourage users to visit your webpage.

#19: Link to your other posts

Your webpages should be connected within your site. This informs search engines that you have valuable content and provide another useful information related to the current topic. Thus, you better cover a particular wide theme by describing its various aspects in different posts. By adding a link in one your post to another one, you share page rank thus adding value to both pages simultaneously.

 

To insert links in your posts, you can highlight the necessary anchor (keyword or phrase) and use the corresponding 🔗 link sign. To link to some of your posts, you don’t need to copy and paste the necessary URL when using WordPress. Instead, you can highlight an anchor, click on the Add a link sign, and select a post name in the drop-down list.

#20: Structure your posts

Big-ass walls of text are hard to read and perceive. Few readers will ever read your post with no clear structure to the end. When creating a blog post, remember that a form is as important as sense. That’s why you should make your posts easy to read by structuring them in a proper way. Here’s a list of tips you should use:

  • Create a notable title
  • Add a short lede that will encourage visitors to continue reading your post
  • Add a comprehensive introduction highlighting basic issues described in your post.
  • Use paragraphs with spaces between them
  • One paragraph equals to one thought
  • Each paragraph should contain 3-5 lines of text
  • Divide your text into clear parts with subtitles
  • Use subtitles of various levels (h2, h3, h4, h5, etc.)
  • Add images
  • Use ordered and unordered lists

If you need some inspiration, check a couple of Wikipedia pages. You will see how well-structured their content is. They also use a contents block that simplifies the post navigation for users. You can add the same contents block as the one on this page to your WordPress site by installing the Easy Table of Contents plugin.

 

It’s quite easy to configure and use. With this plugin, you also can create an automatically generated table of contents for each post in your sidebar by dragging and dropping a corresponding widget in the Appearance settings menu. Just Go to Appearance – Widgets, add the Easy Table of Contents widget to the sidebar area, and click on Save Changes.

#21: Use a single <h1> tag per each page

the h1 tag search

The <h1> tag refers to your post name. In other words, your post name should be framed with this tag in the code, for example:

<h1>Your Post Name</h1>

In fact, the WordPress core does it by default. However, some themes may use this tag for menu titles or other code blocks. You should make sure your theme has no such errors by using the Ctrl + U keyboard shortcut when on your homepage (for Chrome users). With the Ctrl + F keyboard shortcut, you can search for the h1 tag in your code by entering <h1 in the search field.

 

WordPress enables you to add subtitles of various levels (including <h1>) to your post. It means that you may accidentally add another <h1> to your post. As a result, you will confuse a search engine and it can start ranking your content lower in search results. Remember that each your webpage should have a single H1 title.

#22: Create meaningful content

Oversaturated with keywords, SEO texts with no value for readers no longer work. You can’t just write the watery content striving to reach the maximum word count. This is the case where more doesn’t mean better. First of all, you should write for human readers rather than for search engines because the latter ones based on artificial intelligence have become that smart to understand how good your text is in terms of its sense.

 

You should create meaningful content capable of answering user questions and helping them solve their problems. Your posts should be relevant to their titles. In other words, you should provide your readers with the text they expected when clicking on your link. If your readers will love your content then search engines will appreciate it too.

#23: Use the right keywords

Keywords refer to search request users type in a search line of their browsers or particular websites. To encourage search engines to rank your website higher use relevant keywords for your content. When creating a post, check how people search for what you’re writing about and then use these keywords in your post. Make sure to avoid too many keywords in your text because the keyword spam can affect your content ranking.

 

Your keyword should look natural in your text and be spread evenly all over it. To find suitable keywords, you can use such online services like Serpstat, Ahrefs, and Semrush. They have free versions with limited functionality but it’s likely to be enough for finding relevant keywords for your blog posts. Note that Google can rank your posts for keywords they don’t contain because this search engine can understand what your post is about using its context.

#24: Fill in the image alt text

how to add wordpress image alt text

Based on AI, search engine algorithms still hardly can recognize objects displayed on images. To determine these objects, search engines use metadata or alternative text, also known as alt. To help Google better understand your graphic content, you should fill this metadata. In code. this the alt text attribute looks like this:

<img src="laptop.jpg" alt="laptop on a table">

This attribute notifies a search engine that this is an image of a “laptop on a table”.By typing in image alt text you increase your chances to drive more traffic from Google image search. Moreover, you tell the search engine that you use relevant images in your content. Due to this, Google may rank your webpage higher.

 

To add alt text in WordPress just open on your Media library in the admin panel. Then click on an image, add the alt text in the corresponding text field, and click on Save Changes. When adding a new image, you will see this text field as soon as your content will appear in the Media library.

#25: Use original images

Your content should be original and this rule involves both text and graphics. Avoid using images published on other websites including free photo stocks. When using copyright content, you can get sewed by its owners. Even if nobody cares you’ve used their images, Google definitely does. So strive using graphic content that has never been posted elsewhere.

 

To create original images in a simple, fast, and cheap way, use the following tips:

  • Take photos with your smartphone camera
  • Purchase images on paid photo stocks
  • Make video screenshots
  • Use free online chart creators

#26: Use links to authoritative sources

Don’t hesitate to use external links in your posts. This “tells” search engines that you have clear proofs on what you’re writing about. Thus, you also provide your readers with related useful information. However, you should take a few points in mind:

  • Your links should be relevant. Don’t add random links to your posts.
  • Avoid using links referring to your competitors. Otherwise, you will transfer your traffic and potential clients to them.
  • Don’t use too many links. Otherwise, search engines may “think” you sell those links. 3-7 external links per post are enough.
  • External links should refer to authoritative websites like Wikipedia, Forbes, New York Times, etc.

#27: Moderate comments

Comments settings WordPress

As a WordPress website owner, I often receive spam comments. Some of them are neutral, for example, “Hey, your blog is awesome!”, many of them are irrelevant, and most of them contain links. There’s a couple of significant issues with those comments: they may contain inappropriate keywords and can turn your website in a trash link basket. These facts can affect your site ranking that’ why you should moderate your received comments.

 

You can moderate them either manually or using special plugins. One of the most popular anti-spam plugins is Akismet. It automatically blocks spam comments. However, it’s rather suitable for large blogs. If your blog is new, I would recommend to manually moderate each comment. Thus, you will be able to edit spam comments, remove external links, and publish them.

 

To set manual comment moderation in WordPress, go to Settings – Discussion. In the Before a comment appears section, check in the Comment must be manually approved checkbox. Then click on Save changes. Thus, you will be able to delete inappropriate comments, approve suitable comments, and remove links from neutral comments that can be published on your site.

Solving errors

Critical errors on your site can nullify your optimization measures. A well-written post can bring no benefits if your readers see the 404 or 501 error on a display when trying to visit its webpage. If you accidentally publish a blog post available at two different URLs, search engines may ignore both pages. You should avoid creating errors your website and be able to timely detect them.

#28: Remove duplicate content

Duplicate content can affect your website ranking that’s why you should avoid having two different URLs for the same content. When it comes to WordPress, you can accidentally create duplicate content in a few cases:

  • When setting a mirror website URL (see the point #13), you can create a duplicate homepage by entering different URLs in WordPress address URL and Site address (URL) text fields. Thus, you can visit your homepage by using different URLs. Instead, enter the same URL for both text fields.
  • With an improperly configured https:// redirect (see the point #5), you can create a duplicate website. In other words, all your pages will be available at links with http:// and https://. Make sure you’ve properly configured the 301 redirect.
  • If you the only author on your site and you have a webpage linking to all your posts, then you may have two similar pages available at the following links: https://example.com/categories/uncategorized/ and https://example.com/author/admin/. In this case, you should either remove an author’s archive or properly add your posts to corresponding categories while avoiding adding a page linking to all your posts.
  • When adding different tags and linking them to the same posts, you can create duplicate content. For example, if you create two tags called “software” and “hardware” and then add both tags to a set of posts, you will have two webpages: https://example.com/tag/software/ and https://example.com/tag/hardware/ with the same post samples.

 

To avoid this kind of duplicate content, make sure your tags contain different posts. A single post may refer to different tags but this should be rather an exception than a rule. Furthermore, you should publish a unique description for each tag, thus adding more relevant text on a page while improving your SEO and minimizing risks of creating duplicate content.

#29: Remove 404 errors

404 page exampl wordpress

The 404 error refers to nonexistent pages. This error occurs when your page contains a link to another page that doesn’t exist. Numerous 404 errors can affect your search engine optimization. You create these errors when adding a link to a specific page and then removing this page in some time. Indeed, it’s hard to remember which of your pages refer to a post you want to delete. That’s why you should create useful content you will never need to delete.

 

Otherwise, you should scan your website using such tools as Netpeak Spider and Screaming Frog to detect those pages referring to the one you need to remove from your site. I also recommend you to conduct website scanning on a regular basis, for example, once a month or two. Thus, you will be able to timely detect 404 or other or other errors.

#30: Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a must-have tool that allows you to optimize your content and automatically detect technical errors on your site. With this free online service, you can:

  • check your robots.txt file
  • check your sitemap
  • find new keywords
  • monitor your traffic
  • monitor the indexing progress
  • detect 404 errors
  • understand whether your WordPress theme is mobile-friendly and why

This is only a short list of Google Search Console features. This multifunctional instrument can replace many different third-parties tools foсused on keywords or detecting errors.

Bonus tip #31

Instead of the long summing up speech, I would like to recommend you to use link building to boost your WordPress SEO. Backlinks are an important ranking factor for Google. That’s why you should continuously increase the number of authoritative and relevant websites referring to your site. To generate backlinks, you can use guest posting, social media outreach, listings, directories, etc. Just make sure you publish backlinks on high-quality sites that have a similar topic.