Actionable WordPress SEO guide

Actionable WordPress SEO Guide for 2021

Do you want to optimize your WordPress website but don’t know how? In this WordPress SEO guide, I will give you an actionable process to optimize site’s performance in the search.

I have used these exact SEO techniques to helped my clients rank their websites higher in the search results. It is a simple process, and if you follow this guide then I am sure you will experience the same thing.

Is WordPress good for SEO?

WordPress is quite an SEO friendly platform compared to Wix and Shopify. If you want to get organic search traffic, WordPress is a great option.

Technically you can perform any “WordPress SEO technique” that you want, there are endless opportunities.

Note: This SEO guide is for self-hosted WordPress websites only.

Let’s start from scratch. I want to make this WordPress SEO guide as comprehensive as possible so that beginners can benefit from this guide.

What is SEO and Why You Should Care?

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a process of optimizing websites for better search engine performance.

Most search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo use identical algorithms to crawl and index webpages.

Anyone can easily manage WordPress SEO if he has basic knowledge of HTML tags. However, if you want to master the art of SEO, you should consider improving skills in both CSS and HTML. It will help you change things on your website for better user experience when needed.

There are many SEO techniques which are commonly used by professionals to attract traffic from the organic search. SEO experts have divided SEO into 2 different categories:

1. White hat SEO

In simple terms, white hat SEO is a search optimization practice which follows Google Webmaster Guidelines.

When you follow Google Webmaster Guidelines, it is considered as white hat SEO.

If you use white hat SEO practices then you have a better chance of getting traffic for a long term.

Most entrepreneurs prefer to opt for this method because it is much reliable and sustainable way to improve traffic.

2. Black hat SEO

When a business apply SEO techniques which are disapproved by Google webmaster guidelines, this method is known as black hat SEO. It includes a variety of techniques such as cloaking, link farms, cookie stuffing, etc…

This method is used by often people who are looking for quick results.

It is quite an unreliable way of performing SEO on any business website. I won’t recommend you to use black hat SEO practices at any cost.

It is not a long term solution, Google algorithm de-list websites regularly which uses black hat SEO methods. Read more about white hat and black hat SEO.

WordPress Website Structure for SEO

A logically structured website has a higher chance of ranking in the search results. Why? Because a well-structured website will be easier to index by search engines compared to a website with bad structure.

When you create a new WordPress website, you should always consider creating hierarchical website structure.

For example, let’s have a look at this Wikipedia page:

An example of a Wikipedia page

As you can see, there are a lot of links on this page which are connecting multiple internal pages altogether. When you land on 1 page on Wikipedia, it is much likely that you will click on another link on the page.

So, what’s the benefit?

  • It will increase page views per user and reduce bounce rate.
  • A user on the website will be more engaged and easier to convert.
  • A logical website structure is easier to crawl for search engines.
  • In the search, well structured websites tend to rank higher.

Every page should be easily accessible to the user by links so hat they can navigate all the pages on a website. Please read this post on how to improve your website structure for SEO.

Create a Solid Content Strategy

content calendar

When it comes to WordPress SEO, content is quite important. Having a solid content strategy helps increase user engagement with a brand and make a user perform certain actions.

Content strategy includes the text on the page, images, multimedia content on any platform that your business use. Such as social media content strategy could be a little different than a website content strategy.

However, the goal of any good content strategy is to bring a particular audience and help them solve a problem.

Your business content strategy should be consistent across every platform. For example, if your whole website content is about ‘Travel’ and you out of thin air start to write content on beauty products, it won’t be very good for your brand.

Pick up a few topics, and write about them. Also, avoid copying content from other websites, as search engines can identify plagiarized content. In this post, I have talked about how to find and fix duplicate content issues.

I would highly recommend that you create a complete content strategy before starting a WordPress website. It will help you improve your site structure, SEO, and topical relevance.

You can read more about how to develop content strategy for your small business website.

Perform competition Research for WordPress Website

Competitors research

You can collect a lot of useful competitors information, such as their link building techniques, keyword strategy, content strategy, and more. This will be helpful to understand your market and audience too.

Things to look for when performing competitors research

1- What are your competitor’s high performing keywords? (It is the easiest way to find great keywords for your SEO.)

2- Competitors backlink strategy – which websites are linking to your competitors? You can also use those websites to get more backlinks.

3- Website structure – how they are linking content throughout the website including navigation links, footer links, category links.

You can use these competitors research tools to gather the information that I mentioned above.

Find Out Keywords for Your WordPress Business Website

What is a Keyword?

Keywords are the backbone of WordPress SEO. If you don’t use good keywords, you will be having a tough time to attract search traffic.

What is a keyword?
Any query people typed in the search engines to look for things to buy, read articles and news, or finding multimedia content.

So, as a business owner, you use these queries and words on your website. When people search for those exact words they could find your website in the search.

How to find great keywords to use on your site?

There are a lot of paid and free tools which could help you find out great keywords.

I personally use these 2 tools “Semrush” and “Google Keyword Planner”.

Organic keywords Semrush

In Semrush, I usually enter my competitor’s website and find out their top performing keywords. It saves me a lot of time. Semrush is a little expensive tool but the data it fetches is quite good.

The second method is totally free using Google Keyword Planner. It’s a free tool for Google Ads advertisers to find keywords but this data can also be used in SEO too.

Log in to your Google Ads account and find Keyword Planner from the menu.

Keyword planner tool in Google Ads

Add a keyword that you think might be searched by your audience. Keyword planner will give you similar keyword ideas based on your given keyword.

What you need to do is to look for keywords with higher monthly searches. collect all those keywords and put them in a spreadsheet.

Now, search them one by one on Google and find out which pages are currently ranked on the 1st page. If you think you can outrank them with better content and linking strategy then you should highlight those keywords on your spreadsheet.

You can also try these free keyword research tools to find out good keywords.

Install Google Analytics on WordPress

By using Google Analytics on your WordPress website you can track users activity. It is a very powerful tool to understand your audience. I would highly recommend that you install Google Analytics. It is completely free and easier to install for beginners.

You can also use Google Tag Manager to add Google Analytics and Search Console codes.

Here’s how you can install Google Analytics:

Step 1: Sign-up on Google Analytics website here. Create a new website property.

Add Google Analytics tracking code via Google Tag Manager

Step 2: Enter your website/company name. Now add your website domain address. Choose the protocol for your website: ‘HTTP or HTTPS’. Choose an ‘Industry Category’ that best matches your website.
Now click on Get Tracking ID button.

Step 3: Install & Activate Google Analytics for Dashboard Plugin from WordPress plugins directory or follow this link. After activating this plugin, Open the plugin configuration page, which is located under the Google Analytics menu. Authorize the plugin to connect to Google Analytics using the Authorize Plugin button.

Verify Google Search Console Property

Verifying your WordPress website on Google Search Console will help you measure your site’s search performance. Things like crawling issues, backlinks, keywords people are using to find your business, and a lot more. It will definitely help you improve WordPress SEO.

Note: You need a Google account in order to create a property on Google Search Console.

Add a property in Google Search Console

Step 1: In the Search Console home page, click on the button Add a property.

Use URL prefix method to add your website

Step 2:Use URL prefix method to add your website URL. Type the complete URL of your website exactly as it appears in the browser address bar, including the final / mark. Click on the Continue button to open the Site verification page.

HTML meta tag verification Google Search Console

Step 3: Select HTML Tag as a verification method and copy the meta tag. Now login to your WordPress website and download and activate this plugin: Header and Footer Scripts

Insert Header and Footer WordPress Plugin

Step 4: Hover your mouse to the settings button and click on the “Insert Header and Footer” link. It will open up a new window.

Add meta tag inside the HTML head

Step 5: Paste the verification meta tag inside the head script section. Click on the Save button.

Click on the verify button

Step 6: Now, go back to Google Search Console and click on the Verify button.

After verification, it will take some time to fetch the data in your Google Search Console property. Also, if you are using multiple protocols (HTTP or HTTPs) or WWW/non-WWW prefix then you should verify them too using the same method.

Create and Submit WordPress XML Sitemaps

Now that you have created a website and collected all that data, you should start notifying search engines about the existence of your WordPress website.

The best way to do it is by submitting a sitemap. I personally submit the sitemap to top 3 search engines Google, Bing, and Yahoo. I use Yoast SEO plugin to create a sitemap but you can use a variety of WordPress XML sitemap creation plugins.

Once you are done, submit the sitemap to Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Now let’s move our effort on the technical side of WordPress SEO. How to actually implement WordPress SEO techniques to improve your traffic.

Install and Set up Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin

Yoast SEO is one of the best WordPress SEO plugins. I personally use it to optimize all of my clients’ websites. Here’s how you can set up Yoast SEO Plugin.

Yoast SEO is a free plugin but you can also buy the premium version. I did a comparison of Yoast SEO free vs Premium. You can read more about the pros and cons in the linked post.

Log into your WordPress website. From the sidebar, click on the Plugins > Add New. Search for “Yoast SEO”. Press the install button, wait for a few seconds to let it install then click on the activate button.

Click on the SEO > General then “Configuration Wizard”. It is a self-explanatory basic set up. Fill it out as best as possible and finish this wizard.

Now Go to General and click on the Features tab. You should keep your settings like this:

Yoast SEO General Features tab settings

Hover Your mouse to the Yoast SEO icon then click on Search Appearance. In the General tab, you don’t need to make any changes.

In the “Content Types” tab, it is already optimized by default. However, if you don’t want to index either pages or blog posts on your website then you should make a change here. Otherwise, move on to the next step.

Now let’s move on to the Taxonomies tab. Here you need to specify which taxonomies you want to be indexed by search engines. If you are using categories and tags then you can keep them enabled. See the screenshot below:

Taxonomies in Yoast SEO

In the Archives tab, I disable author archives to be indexed by search engines because I run 1 author blog. However, if you have multiple authors then you can keep the different settings. Please see the screenshot below:

Archives settings in Yoast SEO plugin WordPress

In Breadcrumbs tab, I usually use theme built-in Breadcrumbs or another plugin by the name “NavXT”. You can look it up in the WordPress plugins directory. So, I also keep Yoast SEO breadcrumbs feature disabled.

How to Create XML Sitemap and Submit to Google Search Console Using Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin

Now, here comes the important part. Yoast SEO also offers an XML sitemap feature. We have already enabled this feature in the 1st step.

Yoast SEO XML Sitemap feature

Now we need to go back to the Yoast SEO settings > General > Features. Click on the “?” icon right next to the XML Sitemaps heading. Click on the link “See the XML Sitemap”.

Copy sitemap URL

It will open up a new page, which should be your WordPress website XML sitemap. Copy the link from the browser address bar.

Submit Sitemap URL to your Google Search Console property

Now, go to your Google Search Console Property and inside the sitemap settings, enter the ending part of this URL and click on the “Submit” button.

WordPress SEO for Posts and Pages

Here are the best WordPress SEO practices to optimize post and pages on your website. I have covered the topic of keyword research at the beginning of this guide. We will be using those keywords to optimize our pages.

  • Include your keywords in Page/post title.
  • Include keywords in URL. Not all of them but 1 or 2 keywords
  • Write down effective copy using keywords
  • Add keywords at the beginning of your article or page.
  • Use keywords in the alt text of your image.
  • Add a meta title & description using Yoast SEO plugin. Add your keywords in both of them.
  • Use internal links to other relevant blog posts/pages.
  • Use keyword rich headings on each page or post.
  • Write short paragraphs & sentences so users can easily read content.

How to Add Internal Links in WordPress?

One of the very important topics, which most WordPress SEO guides don’t talk about. You can rank any website if you have a good content strategy, site structure, and internal links.

Internal links are backbone of on-page SEO. However, you should keep these points in mind when linking to other pages and posts on your WordPress website.

  • Use descriptive anchor text when creating links.
  • Don’t place links on every second word of a website. Keep them in balance. A good practice is don’t use any more than 1 or 2 links in each paragraph.
  • Linking pages should be relevant to each other or at least talk about the closely similar topic.
  • All the links on your website must work properly. You can read this post on how to find and fix broken links on a WordPress website.
  • Also, use nofollow attribute when linking to external websites. You can read more on how to add nofollow link in WordPress.

WordPress Site Navigation for SEO

When you create header and footer menu links, make sure to include all the top pages/categories in the menus. However, keep it short and sweet.

Don’t add unnecessary pages in the menus. Footer menu is used for giving legal information, partner links, sitemaps, privacy, terms & conditions.

Google index pages by following links on your website. When you have a good navigation structure all your pages will get indexed properly.

WordPress SEO for Category, Tag & Archive

If you have a blog or shop where you need to categorize content, always use these best practices in order to get the most benefit with SEO.

  • Use categories to divide your content into different sections. For example, if you have a food blog, you can categorize your content into continental food, Asian food, Italian food, etc.
  • Think of tags as keywords, which differ with each topic. Continuing the above example, we can use tags such as healthy food, pasta, burgers, sandwiches, etc…
  • Archive pages, category pages should be optimized for search engines as well. You should add descriptive meta title & description on each category and tag page
  • Keep your tags & categories to minimal. So users can easily navigate them. You can also add your top tags and category pages in the header navigation menu, sidebar, and footer menu.

URL Structure for WordPress SEO

You should aim for URL structure that helps users find content in a logical way. Let’s suppose if you sell sunglasses, you would use URLs similar to these:

Or if you have a blog you will simply use the post name in URL. Aim to make your URLs easier to read and short. If your visitors will look at it, he/she can easily understand what the page is about without even looking at your website content.

Check Your WordPress Website Search Visibility

Many WordPress beginner users make this terrible mistake. There’s an option in WordPress settings to hide a website from search engine. When you install WordPress on a website, it comes with the option ‘Search Engine Visibility’ checked by default. This means that your website will be invisible to search engine crawlers.

When you are ready to launch your website, please make sure to uncheck this option. Login to your WordPress website, go to settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility > Uncheck.

WordPress SEO for Mobile Users

mobile SEO responsive design

Recently Google introduced a new search algorithm, Mobile-first Indexing. The purpose of this update is to first crawl and index a mobile version of a new page rather than a desktop version. In the past, Googlebot used a desktop version when it crawled and indexed webpages.

More people are using Google search from their mobile phones each day. Hence, it is quite important that your WordPress website should be optimized for mobile users. You should keep these points in mind to making sure your website is mobile optimized:

Use a Responsive WordPress Theme

By responsive theme, it means a WordPress website layout which fits and adjust to the actual size of the screen. A well built responsive theme will improve your site mobile user experience.

It can be done by using HTML and CSS (if you want to do it manually). However, the easier way is to use a responsive theme from the WordPress themes directory. Also, there are tons of paid WordPress responsive themes you can use according to your website needs.

Optimize Speed of Your WordPress Website

Website Speed can help you reduce bounce rate as well as it will assure your content is being delivered to your audience quickly.

That’s why your WordPress website needs to be optimized in terms of speed for both mobile and desktop users. Here’s what you can do to optimize it.

To improve your website speed, consider using a WordPress cache plugin. Here is step by step tutorial to configure W3 Total cache settings.

I personally use WP Fastest Cache on this website and a few others I manage. However, you can use any caching plugin of your choice. I did a side-by-side comparison between the 2 amazing cache plugins here: WP Total Cache VS WP Fastest Cache.

Compress and Optimize Images on WordPress

Some of my clients’ sites have ridiculously huge images both in terms of size and resolution. Unoptimized images can have a negative impact on your SEO.

If you have already uploaded images on your WordPress website, then you can use some plugins such as EWWW Image Optimizer and WP Smush, both are great plugins which will reduce the image file size.

If you are looking to add high-quality images to your website then check out some of these stock photo and video websites to enrich your blog posts.

Always optimize images before uploading them to your WordPress site. It is a better way than to rely on plugins. I personally use software such as Photoshop and Gimp to compress images. You can read my comprehensive tutorial on how to compress images without losing quality.

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