A Beginner’s Guide To SEO in WordPress

Ever wondered how to get your WordPress website on the first page of Google results?

It’s the key to huge, sustainable traffic to your site. In fact, statistics show that more than 50% of people only click on the first three links of a Google search.

So we really want to get your WordPress site into those top three search results.

The big question is how do we do it?

That’s where SEO comes in.

In this beginners guide, I’ll show you how to tweak and optimize your WordPress site to swiftly move up the Google search rank.

But first things first:

What exactly is SEO?

SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. It’s a series of tricks, tips and hacks to improve your presence on Google.

You’ve already made a good first step by creating a site with WordPress. WordPress comes with plenty of built-in SEO features as standard.

However, if you want to beat the competition, we’ve got to go one step further and tweak a few things ourselves.

What Makes Google Tick?

To improve your SEO, you’ve got to know what Google is looking for. In other words, what factors do Google use to determine its search results?

Google sends out ‘crawlers’ to gather information from your website in order to rank it. Here are some of the top things the crawlers are looking for:

  1. Keywords – ‘Keywords’ tell Google what your website is all about. By including descriptive keywords in all the right places, Google can figure out where to categorize you.
  2. User experience – Google wants to send people to websites with a good user experience. After all, they want to recommend the best websites. So the crawlers are looking for features like site speed, low bounce rate and a high time-on-site.
  3. Links and authority – Google wants to send people to websites with high authority and respect. To do this, they look for the number of links back to your website (and the authority of those links).

So, now that you know how Google’s algorithm works, let’s start tweaking your WordPress site for better search engine performance.

Step 1. Turn on WordPress ‘search engine visibility’

The first step is an easy one, but it’s also essential. WordPress has a toggle to turn your search engine visibility on and off.

This option exists for those who are working on a site that isn’t ready to launch yet. If you’re doing that, you might not want search engines to start indexing your site.

But for ultimate search engine optimization, we need this setting on.

Go to Admin > Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility and make sure the box is not checked.

Search engine visibility

Step 2. Choose your keywords

Let’s imagine you’re doing a Google search. What words or phrases would you type in to find your WordPress site?

If you sell rock climbing equipment, you’d probably search “rock climbing shoes,” right?

This is easiest way to come up with your first keywords. The real trick, however, is finding niche and unique keywords and phrases so you can dominate Google.

This is a science in itself, and it’s worth doing some further reading on how to generate unique keywords and phrases. Write down a few keywords now that describe your website, and keep them handy. We’ll need them throughout this post.

Step 3. Make sure your WordPress site is lightning fast

Google has confirmed that it takes load speed into account when ranking websites. It makes sense if you think about it – Google wants to give people answers fast.

There are plenty of things you can do to make sure your site is lightning fast:

  1. Choose a faster web host. Your web host is your site’s engine – it’s got to respond quickly. Test how fast your web host responds with Bitcatcha’s server speed checker. Google recommends a 200ms response time. If you’re slower than that, it might be time to upgrade!
  2. Install a WordPress cache – A cache serves lightweight copies of your site to readers, making it much faster to load. Download a WordPress cache plugin like W3 Total Cache to get started.
  3. Compress your images – Images are often dense and heavy, making them slow to load. Use a WordPress plugin like WPSmush to compress your images without losing quality.
Step 4. Download the Yoast SEO plugin

There are all sorts of WordPress SEO plugins out there, but this is the best by far.

Yoast SEO plugin

Best of all, the plugin is free. It comes with lots of built-in features that automatically tweak your site for search engine visibility. And it prompts you to make optimal changes to your blog posts and pages.

We’ll explore more about this plugin as we go through this tutorial.

Step 5. Create an XML Sitemap

If this sounds technical, don’t worry, it’s not! In fact, Yoast SEO will do this for you.

What is an XML sitemap? Well, it’s an index of all your website’s pages and posts. It puts all the information in one simple file or ‘sitemap’ so that Google can easily index your content.

Think of it like creating a cheat-sheet for Google, so it can quickly understand your site.

Best of all, if you’ve installed Yoast SEO, the plugin has already created your XML sitemap. Just go to Yoast SEO > XML Sitemaps > Enable.

XML Sitemap

Step 6. Optimize your URLs

URLs are the first place Google looks for information.

For example, a URL like this: instantshift.com/SEO-beginners-wordpress tells Google exactly what the post is about.

Google’s crawlers can immediately see that the page is all about SEO for beginners in WordPress. It can then index the site accordingly and make sure it shows up when people search.

Contrast that to a URL like www.instantshift.com/123shjvdjys-siub12.

Google has no idea what this post is all about. And worse, neither do your readers if they see the link somewhere.

The takeaway here is this:

  1. Keep your URLs short, simple and readable.
  2. Insert your keywords into the URL.
  3. Remove ‘stop’ words like ‘and’ or ‘at’
  4. Remove all code and/or numbers from the URL.
  5. Choose the simplest URL format in WordPress (Go to Settings > Permalinks)

Optimize your URLs

Step 7. Optimize your headers (<H1>, <H2> etc.)

The next place Google looks for your keywords is in your headers.

Google assumes that your headers contain important, descriptive information about your website. With that in mind, make sure your headers contain your keywords throughout your website.

Think about this when you’re using headers in your blog posts, ‘about’ page, and your home page itself.

Step 8. Optimize your blog posts

Blog posts and content are fantastic for SEO. Why? Because it gives you more opportunities to include your keywords. It’s also more likely to generate backlinks from other websites (remember, this is one of Google’s most important factors).

And finally, it improves the overall user-experience; visitors are more likely to stay on your site longer and browse through other posts. (Great for SEO!)

But we can optimize that content further. This is where the Yoast SEO plugin is particularly powerful.

In the blog post editor, Yoast SEO starts by asking you which keywords you’d like to optimize.

If you’re writing a blog about the best app designs, you’d enter the keywords ‘best app design’ into the Yoast SEO console.

Optimize your blog posts

The plugin will now give you a traffic light checklist. This checklist contains all the elements that will boost your SEO. A green light means your blog post is strongly optimized for this particular keyword. An orange light means it could be improved, and red means it is poorly optimized for SEO.

Optimize your blog posts

In the following steps, we’ll look at some of the specific optimization techniques within the blog post.

Step 9. Optimize your blog title and description

The title and description is what appears in the Google search results.

Optimize your blog title and description

Your title and description is important for two reasons. First, Google will crawl these sections to hunt for keywords. It uses the title and description to categorize your content and make it shows up in the right searches.

Secondly, people look at the title and description when choosing what to click on. As they’re scrolling through the search results, you want them to click on your link. So your title and description should convince people to click on it.

Again, use the Yoast SEO function to edit the title and description. You’ll get a green, orange or red light depending on how strong it is.

Optimize your blog title and description

Step 10. Use relevant categories and tags

This is a small tweak, but it’s still worth doing because WordPress makes it super easy.

WordPress allows you to put every post into a category. If you run a sports website, those categories might be “football,” “hockey,” “basketball” etc. Now it’s even easier for Google to figure out what your content is about.

Tags allow you to get even more specific. Using the example above, you can tag your posts with specific basketball players and teams. That gives Google even more information with which to categories and rank you.

Step 11. Optimize your images for SEO

Images are still a real problem for Google’s crawlers. They can easily read and categorize text, but they can’t look at an image and figure out what it is. You need to tell Google what the image is.

You do that by editing the file name, title, description and “alt-text.”

When you upload an image to WordPress, take a second to add the details below.

Optimize your images for SEO

Include your keywords in the title and description. The alt-text is the text that will appear if a browser isn’t able to load an image (it’s also used on accessibility computers used by the blind). You should use the alt-text to describe the image.

Again, this helps Google understand what the image is, and how to categorize it.

Step 12. Link to your other content and blog posts

I explained earlier how links back to your site are crucial to Google’s algorithms. Well, links within your site are also useful.

It helps Google better understand your content and it links relevant blogs to each other. Internal linking helps show Google the architecture and hierarchy of your website, and it creates a network of connected posts.

It’s also one of the easiest things you can do on the SEO checklist. If you haven’t already, go back through your posts and connect them with various internal links.

Step 13. Link out to other authority sites

You might think that linking to other resources would harm your own SEO. Actually, the opposite is true.

Linking to other authority sites makes you a more solid resource in Google’s eyes. It shows that you are citing references and giving your readers more information. It makes you a more valuable source.

External linking is also a great way to get a reciprocal link. Other websites are much more likely to link back to you.

For further reading on why external linking matters, check out this guide from MOZ – arguably the king of SEO online.

Step 14. Boost your WordPress security

WordPress security and SEO are more intricately linked than you might think. Google routinely blacklists and blocks websites that pose a hacking threat.

In fact, they blacklist as many as 10,000 sites every single day for phishing and malware threats. If your WordPress site is infiltrated, it’s much more likely to be put on Google’s blacklist.

So how do you secure your site? You can start by reading our guide to protecting your WordPress site. There are also a handful of WordPress plugins that will help, such as Sucuri. It scans and detects any malware and loopholes that might compromise your site.

Finally, make sure you keep all plugins and WordPress software up to date.

Step 15. Attract backlinks to your WordPress site

If you’ve followed all the steps so far, you’ve created the best possible foundation for SEO. Your site is fully optimized for search engines.

But what next?

Well, it’s time to turn your attention to generating links back to your WordPress site from authority websites. There are plenty of ways to do this. For example, you could guest-post for another blog or website. You could submit your website to directories or ask your community to promote or spread your content.

Final Thoughts

If you’re just getting started with your WordPress site, then SEO is an essential tool. It might take a while for your hard work to kick in, but it’s all worth it when the search traffic starts flooding in.

If you have any questions about SEO or the techniques in this post, let me know in the comments below!

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One Comment

  1. Hello Ellie Martin

    Thanks for this awesome piece of great SEOcontent, just what everyone needs.

    The first plugin each blogger must have is yoast, this plugin has set standards for our contents in an effective way.

    Another great thing I do while creating a content is linking to a relevant authority site, it is just perfect to do that as search engines get to discover how relevant our content is.

    Thanks for the great Tips.

    Best Regards!

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