What it really is is a process, aimed at pushing your site higher on the list of a search engine’s results. No doubt if you’re building a website in these days you’ve encountered the term because the various search engines (Google most prominently, but there’s also Bing and Yahoo among others) are an invaluable tool in interacting with the Internet.
Note that I said process. SEO isn’t just one ‘thing’ you can do; it’s an assortment of various things you can do with your site, from the simple to the complex.
We’ll stick to the easier stuff today, as this is an SEO for beginner’s guide; as you get more comfortable with your site, you can then move on to the more advanced stuff.
1. Consider Your Hosting
A web host is basically where your website is stored. Your site isn’t just on ‘the internet’; it’s located on a specific computer, the server, held by a hosting company.
What you want here is:
loading speed, and
Search engines send their tiny robots, called crawlers, to scour the Internet. These crawlers will track how long it took for your website to load. The crawlers won’t like it if it took too long for your website to get its act together.
Part of it is on you (a page that’s mostly text with only one or two images will load quicker than an image-heavy page), but most of it will be on your host. There are many ways to optimize a page for speed, but it is considered more advanced SEO. I will blog about it in the near future.
Also, uptime. This is entirely on your host. Crawlers also don’t like it if they try to access your site but can’t, because the web host is down for whatever reason. You want as close to 100% uptime as possible.
Remember no sensible web host will promise you 100% uptime. There is no such thing.
Some of the recommended web hosts for WordPress sites are:
Believe it or not, a theme can help or hurt your SEO.
What you want here is a theme that loads quickly and is neat in its code, not something that looks pretty but takes an hour to get ready.
You want something that the search engine crawler can get through smoothly and quickly. There are plenty of optimized themes available, and most of them make your site look good too.
3. Alter Your Permalinks
By “permalink”, we mean the URL used by individual posts on your site. The default WordPress permalink used to be a numerical post ID, which works well enough for some people. But it looks terrible and also does not help with SEO.
By default, the permalink for this site would be:
From WordPress version 4.2, the permalinks are now SEO friendly and as shown below.
You can find the various options that WordPress provides for permalinks, by going to the WordPress Admin Dashboard -> Settings -> Permalinks.
You will find the various common options that WordPress provides you:
As you can see, this blog uses the ‘Post name’ option and it is the recommended option for you too.
This affords people an easier preview of your post from just the URL, which has benefits of its own. It also helps you add keywords in the URL of the post. Now that has made your WordPress site one step more SEO friendly.
4. Make an XML Sitemap
A sitemap is the list of pages on your site that all users can access. You might remember them from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s; they’re still around these days, but now they’re aimed at search engines. Just as a map tells you about where places are in a given area, a sitemap tells a search engine what pages exist on your website.
There are two types of sitemaps – HTML & XML.
A HTML sitemap is more tailored to your human visitors.
An XML sitemap is more geared towards the search engine’s crawlers.
Given that most visitors rarely use an HTML sitemap, it is not recommended to create one.
However, it is good to create an XML sitemap.
Important: By itself, a sitemap will not affect your search rankings. Instead, they aid a search engine’s crawler in doing its job. A crawler is the friendly little robot that wanders about the web, looking for websites and indexing their pages. With a sitemap, the crawler can get every page available and thus the search engine has a fuller picture of your entire site.
Once you’ve got your feet under you, the sitemap remains useful. From your sitemap, a search engine can project how often you update, which segments you update the most, and from that set how often the crawler comes back to look for new stuff. This’ll help make your site quite a deal more visible.
On this blog, I use the Squirrly plugin. It also supports the creation of an XML sitemap.
Once you have installed and activated Squirrly, the steps to create an XML sitemap are very simple.
Click on Squirrly -> SEO Settings -> XML Sitemap
You will see a screen similar to the below:
Enable the ‘Ping your sitemap to Google and Bing when a new post is published’ option.
Select ‘Posts’ & ‘Pages’ in the ‘Build Sitemaps for section’.
Click the ‘Save SEO’ button at the bottom of the screen.
Your XML sitemap will be available at yourdomain/sitemap.xml.
You can also submit your sitemap to Google Search Engine and other search engines.
5. Get Google Analytics
This lovely little offering from Google helps track how well your SEO is doing. Don’t worry, it’s free to use, and with it, you can track a lot of things about what sort of traffic comes to your site. And when you know who’s coming, you can figure out why, and how to attract them further. Good use of Google Analytics could cover an entire article itself; for now, tracking traffic should be enough to get you started as to its capabilities.
6. Use an SEO Plugin
Of course, other people know how playing the website game works, and have developed little tools of their own to help others get ahead. WordPress plugins, for instance, helps you add titles, meta description, and meta keywords to your pages and posts. Others can generate a sitemap, or track links to a domain, or check for broken links. Machines help ease the drudgery, and there’s a good bit of them around, so explore and see what’ll work for you.
I was a big fan of the Yoast SEO plugin, but then I was introduced to the Squirrly plugin in August 2018. I am now slowly transitioning my sites to Squirrly. Try it and see how it helps you.
There are many things that can be said of social media, many of them bad. But there’s also no denying that Facebook and Twitter and their various fellows offer a potent space to spread the word. It’s much easier than typical word of mouth since you can just offer up the link to be clicked.
So add those little buttons off to the side. They’ll help bring traffic.
One recommended plugin for adding social sharing buttons to your site is Sassy Social Share.
8. Make your Website Mobile-Friendly
Smartphones are getting more and more common these days, and Google uses a site’s mobile version first when it ranks pages. So you have to get right on that and ensure your site still looks good when viewed on a phone. Thankfully, Google has its Mobile-Friendly Test to check and score how well your site does on mobile. Run your site past that test, and fix any issues they find.
One way of having a mobile-ready website is by installing a proper theme. Look for themes that are responsive to all device types.
9. Optimize Your Media
No doubt you’ll have put in some images to help things, as humans are visual learners, and studies have found pictures help transmit information better than plain text can. SEO also extends to your images; they also need to be correctly tagged and named. Erase the old numerical filenames your camera gave to them and name it something descriptive. Add some alt text and tag it like you would an article.
You should name images with the keywords that you intend to target for the page.
Also, add the keyword in the alt text of the image when you upload the image to your WordPress site.
10. Use Keywords Smartly
Search engines may be improving at answering questions like you’d ask a normal person, but they still fare much better with the right keywords. It’s easy enough to incorporate a keyword or two here or there while still writing normally, so toss them in.
Also, use your plugins. Squirrly plugin, which I recommend, can analyze keyword density and advise if you should sprinkle it in a bit more.
But remember, keywords are a spice, not the main ingredient.
11. Link Your Old Articles
Your sitemap may give the crawler everything, but it also helps to link your older posts that also relate to the subject of a newer post. When the crawler sees you’ve produced a good bit of content on a particular topic or keyword, it’ll keep that in mind for the search results, and it also helps people find what they need. And that means people are spending more time on your site.
12. Use Your Headings
WordPress includes some styling options that word processors also have; if you’ve spent time with them, you may have used them yourself. They’re text settings above and beyond the usual bold-italic-underline stuff, and they help not just in readability but also because the crawlers will be looking at them.
Think of Heading 1 as your title text. That should be right up front.
Heading 2 is your chapter titles, and every heading after that is sub-section titles.
Most of the time you’ll be using the first two; smaller headings are only really necessary with the long stuff.
Now, this will come as a surprise to you, if you have read any other SEO guru’s advice.
Multiple Heading 1 or H1 tags are fine.
Headings will help organize your content and help your audience understand the thought process behind it, and thus keep their attention.
Also, search engines look at your headings. This makes them an excellent place for keywords, which feeds right back into the virtues of organization and readability.
13. Clean It All Up
All things acquire deadwood and detritus in their way, and that doesn’t exclude websites. Remember, you want to show only good and solid helpful content, so if you’ve somehow ended up with some short two-hundred-word page that doesn’t actually do anything, get rid of it.
Google also doesn’t like it when it finds ‘content with little or no added value’, like thin affiliate pages or doorway pages.
Remember, we don’t want to annoy the search engine. Make sure you know what your pages are supposed to do.
14. Use Links
All humans learn and grow under the influence of other humans, however indirectly.
Show that by linking to pages that you’ve found helpful about the topic you’re discussing. The top pages on a search result generally have links from the other pages on it, and people will be checking who’s been linking to them.
This also helps you; once you’ve put out good content and other people link to it, your own results will rise. Word of mouth still works on the internet, in its unique way.
15. Tag Your Links
This means adding tiny attributes to the links you put in your articles.
There’s a list, but most relevant for the newcomer are rel=“nofollow”, rel=“next” and rel=“prev”. Tagging a link rel=“nofollow” means that the crawler won’t go through that link. Generally, this is used when you can’t vouch for the content of what you’re linking to, or if you don’t want a paid link to mess up your search results.
As for the other two, rel=“next” and rel=“prev” are used to indicate paginated content when you have to break something up into multiple pages.
So if you’ve got, say, Parts I and II of an article published, you would, of course, include a link to the next part from Part I. Tagging that link with rel=“next” helps the crawler see the relation between the two pages.
16. Unleash the Banhammer
We all know and hate spam and spambots, and they’re one of the many and varied hazards of running a website. That said, just ignoring spam as you’d normally find in your inbox is not going to be enough. You need to take action. You could manually employ the mighty Banhammer Modjolnir the way forum moderators do, but just like there are plugins for SEO, there are also plugins to deal with comment spam.
The same people behind WordPress also offer Akismet, an excellent solution against spam comments.
It comes included in WordPress, and all you need to do is activate it to keep your comment sections protected. You’ll have a lot fewer worries about spam afterward.
17. Limit URL Lengths
Remember the point about permalinks? Sometimes even those can get too long, and long URLs look bad both to people and search engines.
You want something short and sweet, and thus easy to remember. Thankfully, you can edit permalinks in WordPress.
As a general guideline, it’s best to cut your permalink down to its focus keyword.
Keep your title to within 60 characters, and at a maximum of 75 characters.
18. Lengthen Your Posts
Where your URLs should be short and sweet, your posts should be long and detailed. You can dig more into a problem, and hence be more helpful, with a higher word count. Summaries are all well and good, but people like not having to dig around six different sites just to solve one thing.
Helpful detail is never a bad thing, and the better informed you are, the more readers will trust you. Of course, this isn’t a license to pound out three thousand words that you can do in two and a half.
You should target your article to be of at least 500 words at a minimum. If you want your content to be shared on social media, longer content helps.
19. Update Frequently and Consistently
Know what search engines like about sites that keep updating? Sites that update consistently. Google likes recently-updated content, so try not to have dry spells of no posts.
Of course, remember that this has to be good content; if you’re scraping content from elsewhere, Google will be very disappointed in you. So make sure it’s relevant, and original, and release it on schedule.
Summary of 19 SEO WordPress Tips
SEO may seem like a daunting task, but don’t worry, a lot of the time it isn’t all that complicated.
Bots and people both visit your site, so make sure it’s easy for both types to navigate and explore. Your first priority must be people. So write for people and the bots will be happy.
If they have a good visit, they’ll come back for more if you prove you’ve done well on a subject.