How To Properly Prepare Your WordPress Backend For SEO

No matter what your thoughts are, SEO is still a massive part of a lot of businesses worldwide and it’s still alive and ticking. With this being said, it’s clear that there are tons of new inputs, features and, most importantly, strategies to be taken into consideration.

The usage of different pieces of technology to “exploit” Google’s algorithm and therefore its rankings system, for example, has become quite a standard for many SEO professionals, who are, in fact, turning more and more into “SEO-oriented” developers. With this being said, let’s try to analyse why and how you should prepare your WordPress backend for SEO, from a technical perspective.

What Is Technical SEO?

Alright, in order to properly understand how to set up your WordPress site for SEO, we must analyse what Technical SEO is. First and foremost, there isn’t, currently, a precise definition of “what Technical SEO is” but we could outline a general one: with Technical SEO we intent the combination of strategies which are created in order to “let Google know what’s on my site in the quickest way possible”. Technical SEO is something which is highly looked after by enterprise companies, namely Apple, Amazon and TESLA, to list a few. Technical SEO is as complicated as front-end development and, regardless of many articles available online, it does require a deep knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript (in particular).

Is WordPress An SEO-Friendly Architecture?

Sadly, it isn’t. WordPress is the number one enemy of many SEO professionals, as it is what’s known as a “legacy architecture” (more of this later on). Although this may seem frightening, there’s a catch to it: WordPress can indeed be optimised for Technical SEO, prior to some shrewdnesses. SEO developers know that WordPress is “limited” for technical-related tasks and, therefore, they developed a lot of different tools like Yoast to help you build a better architecture, even if you’re not a PHP expert. In 2019, it’s mandatory, if you are working with a WordPress architecture, to have a proper backend in place.

SEO-Friendly Architecture

“I Don’t Know How To Code, What Should I Look Into, First?”

As said above, Technical SEO is heavily code-related, regardless of what dubious blogs are saying online. Not to worry, though, if you’re not a coding expert, since you just need to learn 3 languages, or better, syntaxes. HTML is mandatory, as when planning any form of Technical SEO strategy you will be required to check headings, page titles, meta descriptions and more tags. Keep in mind that Googlebot (Google’s very own crawler) is able to read HTML thoroughly, so having a perfect HTML “skeleton” into place is mandatory.

When looking at a page on your WordPress site, you should analyse your headings (<h2> </h2>) and optimise them with long-tail keywords, whilst your <h1> should be using your main keyword of focus. After HTML, CSS is also important, but you don’t have to learn every single selector, property and value. CSS should be analysed when it’s used instead of the above-mentioned headings (you won’t imagine the number of WordPress pages which use CSS sprites instead of h1,h2 formatting).

What About Javascript?

Javascript for Technical SEO should be considered separately from the other two front-end languages. Googlebot (even if it was recently updated) cannot read Javascript, therefore, if you have any native app, any accordion with a lot of valuable or literally any form of text included within a script, you can consider it gone from Google. Recently, though, Google introduced a “rendering queue” for Javascript (especially client-side), which basically “acknowledges” the fact that some content is lost within the crawling process. In practice, this means that Google will read your content (the one included within a specific script) after your HTML and your CSS, effectively slowing down its rankings.

What About Javascript?

Is There A Way To Fix It?

WordPress is a very Javascript-heavy architecture. There are tons of accordions, sliders and plugins which are powered by jQuery, Vue and other frameworks which are bulky and client-side rendered. The easiest way possible for you to fix this would be the implementation of server-side rendered Javascript, which is a complex matter and does require developers with a big knowledge of Next.js and other server-side rendered frameworks. This is, of course, something which requires time, resources and specific professional figures, which is something that not many companies can deal with.

In general, the best approach for Javascript on WordPress would be limiting its usage to graphics-related tasks, such as animating menus or images. The sole application of a script for a simple line of text could destroy months and months of SEO work, so keep that in mind when planning your WordPress back and front-end!

All The Custom Fields!

If there’s one good thing which PHP does within a WordPress architecture, that would definitely be the usage of custom fields. Custom fields are essential for Technical SEO, especially when planning the usage of GTM (Google Tag Manager) and Structured Data. The second, in particular, has become quite a fundamental part of the SEO world, with dozens of properties, attributes and rich results achievable from using Schema.org‘s markups (more of this later). It’s important to keep in mind that custom fields do require some form of PHP knowledge, so it would be relatively useful to learn its general syntax.

Speaking Of Schema…

Structured data is MANDATORY in 2019 for any Technical SEO strategy. Google highly values sites which are marked up with Structured Data and, therefore, it’s something which every SEO professional should look into. Structured Data refers to the usage of JSON-ld (mainly) coded scripts which are, in fact, a “confirmation” of what the content is covering on your page. On top of this, Google is highly investing in SERP-rich results (star rating for product pages, FAQ boxes and more) just to improve the user’s experience.

Schema is an open-source program and it’s updated on a daily basis, therefore, if you haven’t created custom fields for it, you should do it now. Hypothetically, you could use plugins, like the Schema App, to do so, but with Schema markups, it’s always best to manually code them using the properties and the attributes which could fit your content the best.

Speed: WordPress Biggest Problem

WordPress Speed

As mentioned above, WordPress is what’s called a “legacy architecture”. By that, we intend that the libraries, the frameworks and the engine which are moving it are considered “obsolete” and “old” in today’s front and backend’s world. With this in mind, it’s quite easy to understand why certain WordPress sites aren’t well-performing, speed-wise. Speed is a very important ranking factor for Google’s rankings, and there are tons of different ways to improve it for a technical SEO strategy.

First and foremost, you should reduce the usage of graphics plugins like WPBakery: manually coding your CSS could save you (not even joking) at least 1 second of loading time p/page. Ideally, a developer would be required to build a well-performing site, but optimising speed, especially when done by compressing images and other minor resources, could be done by anyone.

How To Properly Plan Your Backend For Crawling Optimisation

We’ve covered how Google crawls Javascript and now we are ready to outline how to prepare your WordPress site for an optimal crawl budget. For “Crawl Budget” we intend the timeframes for which Google scans a website to subsequently index and rank them upon SERP. There are, once again, a lot of strategies which could be used in order to optimise your WordPress site’s crawl budget, but they all start with analysing its log files.

By using tools like ScreamingFrog or Deepcrawl, you will be able to analyse and outline which pages are being crawled the most and, generally, you will see how Google actually crawls assets like theme files more than actual landing pages. This is, of course, a massive problem, as you are effectively wasting Googlebot’s time by letting him crawl pieces of your site which aren’t keyword-oriented, therefore limiting your ranking potential. Once this is acknowledged by doing a proper log files analysis, you could remove those resources which are being crawled from Googlebot’s crawl budget by disallowing them on your robots.txt file. You can find more info on how to do it here.

What About Mobile?

As you may know, Google highly values every site’s mobile version, to the point for which mobile index has been counted first since 2018 (2017 technically, but it was fully enrolled in 2018) for ranking purposes. It’s extremely important to understand that all these strategies are applying for mobile as well when you’re planning your WordPress architecture with a slightly bigger emphasis on the crawl budget, merely because Google crawls mobile versions of sites far quicker.

On WordPress, some app developers created an AMP plugin with which you will be able to create, improve and optimise, ultimately, your WordPress site’s mobile speed. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is something which could also help featured results on Google if your content/product isn’t very much oriented towards long forms of content.

To Conclude

WordPress is a simple architecture to set up but extremely complex to optimise, especially when it comes to Technical SEO. Please note that these strategies are merely a skeleton of what Technical SEO applied to WordPress actually is, as there are tons of variables included in the equation ranging from setting up detailed GTM rules to optimising the session quality depending on the site’s goal. With this being said, it’s possible to create and deliver an extremely high-quality Technical SEO strategy via WordPress, especially if you optimise its backend from the start. WordPress may be a legacy architecture but there are tons of ways to “surpass” this initial problem, as mentioned above.

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