You’ve put a lot of time, effort and more than a bit of money into building your new WordPress site.
Even though it’s only small at the moment, you still want as many eyes on it as possible on your website — whether your goal is to entertain and inform readers, promote your work, sell your products and services, or simply share your opinions with the world while making a little cash from advertising services like Google Adwords.
Simply put, the more visitors you get, the easier it will be to build an audience you can count on.
But where to begin?
There are a lot of ways to drive traffic to your site, but Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most effective.
SEO is a collection of strategies and techniques aimed at helping your pages rank higher in search engines results.
This increases your site’s visibility and can help it really take off.
What’s more, there are plenty of simple ways to improve your WordPress site’s SEO, even if it is very small. And we are going to take a look here at some of the best of them.
An Introduction to WordPress SEO (And Why It Matters)
Think about it. When you sit down to find something on the internet, there’s one place you turn: a search engine.
This means if you want to get your WordPress website noticed, you’ll need to make sure that it appears in searches on Google. More importantly, you’ll want your site to appear as close as possible to the top of the list.
The best way to do this is through SEO, which is a wide range of strategies and activities based on what we know about how search engines determine their rankings.
When compiling this list of SEO strategies, we started with one assumption: you’re busy. So these techniques are ones that you can implement right now (long-term commitment not required). Obviously, there are plenty of other techniques, but this is a great place to start.
Also, we’ll be focusing on advice targeted at Google since it’s by far the most popular search engine and releases the most information about its algorithms. That said, many of these strategies should also help you on other sites, such as Yahoo Search or Bing.
1. Choose Your Hosting Provider Carefully
The one thing that many people just don’t take into account enough is the importance of having a good plan with a great web host. It’s vital, of course, to have a good one to try to ensure your site actually stays visible to the world but it’s important to SEO as well.
Since Google takes speed into account when ranking sites, a good host can help push you to the top of the SERPs. Your host also affects the amount of downtime your site experiences and the physical distance between servers and visitors — both of which are ranking factors.
Even if your WordPress website has been up and running for a while, you may want to consider switching hosts if your current provider doesn’t meet these criteria.
And if money is scarce, and you can’t afford to make a mistake, you can find a host that offers a free trial of their hosting service, and then try them out without paying a dime.
2. Choose a WordPress Theme That’s SEO Friendly
Your theme is one of the most important choices you’ll make for your WordPress site. It determines your site’s appearance and layout, can provide extra functionality, and also plays a role in its SEO.
For example, your theme can affect your site’s speed — which (as we’ve already discussed) is vital. The way a theme was also developed matters since clean code gives your site the best chance in SERPs.
When picking a theme, you’ll want to opt for one built with SEO in mind. These themes are often referred to as ‘SEO-friendly’. You may also want to look for a theme that offers features specifically designed to improve your SEO, such as new heading tag options. Fortunately, there are plenty of themes available that fit the bill.
Here’s an extra tip. Don’t go with a free theme UNLESS you get it via the WordPress theme marketplace. There are hundreds of these free themes available (do a quick Google search, you’ll see what we mean) but many are hiding a secret.
Deep within the code of many free themes are hidden links to the developer’s interests, giving them an SEO boost but detracting from your own SEO efforts. Some of them even harbour viruses. So while yeah, free is nice if you can get it but not worth risking your entire site for.
3. Use a Dedicated SEO Plugin
If you’re new to WordPress, you may not yet be familiar with WordPress plugins. These are small pieces of add-on software you can install, which add new features and functionality to your site. There’s a plugin to help your site do just about anything — including rank higher in search engines. In fact, there are lots of plugins designed specifically to improve your site’s SEO.
These plugins provide small, targeted features such as creating a sitemap (we’ll talk more about that in a moment). For even better results, you can also opt for a comprehensive SEO plugin such as Yoast SEO, which will add a whole suite of optimization-focused features to your site.
A word of warning though. These plugins do not do anything automatically. They simply serve as a guide to remind you of the SEO best practices you should be following; it will still be up to you to ‘put in the work’.
4. Change Your ‘Permalink’ Structure
Permalinks are the permanent URLs that point to your site’s individual posts, pages, and other content. They’re what people will use to reference and link back to your site, and their appearance matters.
Clear, descriptive links that describe their content are easier for search engines to make sense of and tend to give your content a small ranking boost.
WordPress offers a number of automatic permalink options. The default settings are based on numbers which aren’t ideal since they convey little useful information to search engines. Instead, you’re probably best off with the Post Name structure since it communicates clearly what the linked content is about.
Some people prefer the Post Name and Date setting as it can help search engines and readers determine the age of the content. But not everyone likes the idea of their content being specifically dated, so that may be a choice to be made based on your unique content. Whatever you decide to do though, you can easily change your permalink structure in WordPress – or even create a custom one by visiting your site’s back-end and navigating to Settings > Permalink.
5. Create a ‘Sitemap’
A sitemap is a list of all the pages and other content on your website. It provides a quick way to see how your site is laid out and what it includes.
While these sitemaps were once designed to help users navigate websites, their primary purpose now is to communicate information to search engine bots.
While adding a sitemap to your website doesn’t directly boost its search engine rankings, it’s still a valuable SEO tool. It enables crawlers to see all of the pages on your site and understand how they relate to one another.
If you do create a sitemap, and you should, take a few minutes to submit it to Google and Bing. Although their bots will probably find their way to your site by themselves in the end, giving them a little nudge in this way should help get your site indexed faster.
6. Use Heading Tags Throughout Your Content
While a sitemap is useful for helping search engine crawlers see how your site is organized, it doesn’t help them make sense of the individual content. For that, you’ll need to use heading tags.
These are formatting options you can apply to section headings within pages and posts. You can see these settings in your WordPress WYSIWYG editor, listed as Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on.
Using these headings to structure your content does two important things. It provides a visual benefit for your readers by breaking up your text and making it easier to read.
Also, crawlers pay a lot of attention to headings, using them to understand how your content is organized and what it’s about. So when creating posts and pages, don’t forget to use WordPress’ heading options often and consistently.
7. Build Your Content Around Keywords
Chances are you’ve encountered the concept of keywords before. These are short phrases that describe your content’s topic. For example, you might choose the keyword “easy recipes” for a blog post that shares simple recipe options for beginners. By doing this, you’re predicting that a lot of people will type the phrase into a search engine when looking for this type of post.
Choosing a keyword for each post or page and using it in various places — such as the title, the headings, and the content itself — is a simple but effective way to communicate your topic to search engine crawlers and increase the chances of your content showing up in relevant searches.
Of course, you need to be smart about the way you use this tactic. For example, it’s best to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’, or forcing your keyword into too many places so that it appears unnatural or spammy. Google hates that, and actually, most humans do too.
8. Incorporate Useful Internal and External Links
Google and other search engines don’t usually ‘like’ sites that live in a vacuum. Instead, they prefer sites that are well connected, both internally and to other websites.
Using plenty of links throughout your posts and pages tells crawlers how they relate to similar content. It also encourages other people to link back to your site — which in turn communicates to search engines that your content is valuable!
As with keywords, this is a strategy you need to use carefully. If you add too many links to your content or use a lot of links that point to irrelevant pages or exist only to promote products, your search engine rankings will likely suffer.
Instead, look to add links where they fit naturally, and to point readers towards high-quality websites that already rank well in SERPs.
The smart use of both internal links and external links is key to achieving the best SEO results possible, and so even if it takes a little extra time the rewards you’ll reap will make that time very well spent.
9. Use Responsive Design on Your Site
More people than ever are using mobile devices to browse the internet. This means your site needs to look and perform as good on any type of device a visitor happens to be using. You can help ensure this by following the strategy of responsive design — in other words, designing your site, so it reacts and adapts to each user’s device.
Responsive design also eliminates the need for a separate mobile site, something that was popular a few years ago but is rather redundant now. In fact, responsive design is now so important that it’s believed by most SEO experts that Google uses it as a ranking factor. If your site is responsive, its chances of appearing high on SERPs will be that much better.
10. Add and Update Your Posts Frequently
Along with length, Google’s algorithms consider the frequency of content when deciding how to rank your pages. Older, high-quality content will do well, of course, but a boost is given to newer, ‘fresh’ content that’s more likely to be relevant to searchers.
Therefore, if you want your site to do consistently well in SERPs over time, you’ll want to add new content regularly. Also, don’t neglect older posts and pages. Updating your existing content prompts crawlers to re-evaluate it and to give it higher prominence than pages that never change. And focus on quality.
One great blog post a week is always going to be better for your site’s SEO than terrible posts published on a daily basis.
SEO for WordPress sites covers a wide range of strategies and techniques, so it can be a little bit intimidating. That’s where Pearl Lemon can help. Our WordPress SEO experts have years of experience and understand all the ins and outs of WordPress SEO. Interested in learning more? Give us a call.