Your How-To Guide to WordPress SEO and Plugins
Looking to start your career as a professional blogger? Wanna punch up the content that you’ve already written? Trying to hit the top of the search rankings without devoting your life to learning SEO? You’ve come to the right place. Using WordPress with SEO plugins and techniques can help you bolster your blogging career, grow an audience, and write with a newfound purpose.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a marketing technique that relies on search engines’ algorithms to promote your business without paid ads. SEO rides on the back of how search engines like Google function (so much so that Google makes a pretty penny with its SEO tools). See, search engines were designed to do the legwork of sorting through the vast volume of pages on the Internet. To do so, they have algorithms that try to sort content based on how relevant, well-written, and how popular a site is. This is done by calculating things like:
- How many relevant keywords appear in your content? The words that searchers are looking up should appear in your writing prominently, as that signals to search engines that you’re creating content that is the most relevant.
- How many words have you written, and is the written content high-quality? If what you’re writing is not particularly good or thorough, search engine algorithms may be able to spot that.
- How many people are visiting your site, and for how long? SEO research has many metrics designed to indicate to site owners how users are using their site. Suppose users are clicking away quickly because your page title is misleading or because your site is poorly built. In that case, search engine algorithms will note that.
As you might expect, Google engineers can’t just read every site on the Internet and manually scan them. Instead, they employ bots called Web crawlers or Web spiders. These bots go from site to site via backlinks or links that lead you to an external page. The result is SEO, a series of techniques that try to use what we know about search engine algorithms (and the public doesn’t know everything) to rank highest in them. For obvious reasons, showing up first on a search engine results page is pretty desirable. People don’t navigate beyond the first page of search results often, and the first result on a page has something of an air of legitimacy about it. However, SEO marketers should always be careful not to use SEO dishonestly. Dishonest SEO marketers, or blackhat SEO marketers, may use tactics like: irrelevant keywords, misleading headlines, and empty sites linking to their ranking target site. They do this to artificially increase the number of backlinks. These efforts not only cheapen the quality of your work but could also lead to ranking penalties and even search engine blocklisting (though deindexing isn’t usually permanent). SEO is a pretty widely-used tactic in online content building. For the most part, it’s pretty unnoticeable to audiences who aren’t already very knowledgeable about marketing. Why is this so great, you ask? Well, according to tons of advertising research, people seem to hate flagrant marketing with every fiber of their being.
Why you should care
If it’s not already obvious, the benefits of SEO are huge. With some dedication, patience, and a little bit of site-building know-how, you can have an insanely powerful marketing tactic within your grasp. Many polled marketing professionals stated that they believed that SEO was significantly more effective than traditional pay-per-click advertising. From a more negative perspective, SEO might be the difference between success and failure. According to a 2018 study conducted by Ahrefs, an estimated 91% of sites on the Internet have never received organic traffic from Google. Can you imagine that? The vast majority of the Internet is entirely unclicked and mainly as a result of no SEO knowledge. Ahref’s analysis of these untouched sites points to a lack of backlinking and low word counts as two main culprits. When employed properly, SEO can propel your site from obscurity to prominence. The most prominent, juiciest, most delicious cherry on top of this hypothetical success sundae? SEO is totally free. While you may have to invest money in some SEO tools down the road, you could hypothetically spend nothing. SEO does not involve paid ads or promotional materials, and tons of SEO resources exist online. How cool is that?
Basic WordPress SEO
If you’re looking to kickstart your company’s online presence with some newfound SEO skills, creating a WordPress is an excellent start. WordPress is a content management system with which you can publish, edit, organize, and optimize websites. However, creating an SEO-friendly site can be overwhelming, regardless of the platform you’re using to make it. I’ve broken down the basic site creation process into a WordPress SEO how-to guide with 10 significant parts:
- WordPress configuration
- SEO Plugins
- Website Performance
- Organizing posts
- Post summaries/excerpts
The first step to creating anything on WordPress is determining how exactly you’ll host your site. Choosing a hosting service that fits your needs is an important choice that can determine the quality of your site. Link up with a janky service, and you may just end up with, well, a janky site.
Choosing a high-quality hosting service
When choosing a hosting service, don’t settle for just anything. Instead, assess the quality of the company based on reliability, performance, and support.
- Reliability If you’re paying cash for a company to host your site, make sure that they are trustworthy and keep things running smoothly. A low-reliability hosting service may have shoddy uptime rates and poor security standards. Any time spent with your site offline is money lost. Any security issues pose risks to yourself and even your customers. Don’t settle for services that will let your site break down or risk losing valuable info. Instead, look for hosting services that have excellent security and uptime guarantees.
- Performance Performance is a crucial factor when choosing a hosting company. Different people might have different performance needs. For instance, if you’re starting with no audience or platform, your site may not need to be able to handle tons of traffic just yet. However, suppose your old site is already getting high traffic volumes, and you’re looking to switch to WordPress. In that case, you’re going to need to find a hosting company that can accommodate your needs. Aim for a hosting company that offers high speeds and adequate bandwidth for your needs. Users are not willing to wait much longer than a few seconds for pages to load, after all. Choose a low-performing hosting company, and you could risk would-be customers clicking away and choosing another faster site.
- Support Depending on your experience level with creating websites, the quality of customer support may be a significant factor. For a first-time creator, web hosting may involve high levels of troubleshooting and question-asking. If this is the case, it might be essential to find a company that can guide you through the process. Look for sites that have multiple contact options, 24/7 service, and excellent customer reviews regarding support staff. If you are more comfortable with site building, you may be able to skip out on rigorous customer support. However, keep in mind that horrible customer support might signify a low-quality product or company.
Good options for WordPress hosting
It can be hard to know what services to use to host your site when so many companies are available. To sort through your options, here is a non-exhaustive list of some good hosting sites:
- SiteGround SiteGround is an excellent option if you’re looking to host a WordPress site. They seek to service small to medium-sized websites with super fast site speeds. SiteGround understands the importance of a quick website for search engine ranking, customer retention, and user conversion. Additionally, SiteGround promises exceptional security with AI anti-bot systems and custom firewall systems. SiteGround also offers payment flexibility, with three different plans for different sizes of business.
- BlueHost BlueHost is a prevalent hosting platform. This hosting provider offers users easy website building and high-quality security. They also offer Google My Business services, which can help you rise to the top of the page in local SEO. This is especially useful for websites that service a brick-and-mortar business or businesses that have offices. Finally, they offer 24/7 website support, which can be especially helpful for novice bloggers.
- HostGator HostGator is a highly scalable hosting platform that can service any type of business. This platform offers free domain name registration for the first year of hosting with them. Additionally, they have a 99.9% uptime promise and SSL certificates, so you can trust that your site will stay running and your data will be safe.
Configuring your WordPress is one of the first steps to setting up a site. Most of the configuration options are intuitive and will come to you naturally. However, some configurations may be difficult to sort out.
Creating SEO Friendly Permalinks
Choosing to be WWW or not
- Using strong and unique passwords to access your WordPress account.
- Evaluate your hosting service’s security measures.
- Use a backup system to prevent any lasting damage in case of WordPress attacks.
- Use security plugins.
Themes on WordPress are pre-built templates for bloggers to use as the foundation on which they’ll make their site. Generally, themes make the more technical aspects of web design less tedious and more beginner-friendly. They often utilize site editors that are non-technical and are aesthetically appealing. However, there are many different themes available to you, so it’s essential to be somewhat discriminating when picking your WordPress theme. Here are a few factors to keep in mind while choosing a theme for your blog:
Responsive, mobile-friendly themes
When searching for a theme online, always be sure to find a responsive, mobile-friendly theme. Mobile support is a crucial ranking factor, and approximately 60% of online searches come from mobile devices. Using a frustrating or even unusable theme to most searchers can impact your traffic and rankings, so keep that in mind.
Free themes are an excellent option for those who are starting and might be strapped for cash. In general, free themes tend to be basic and lightweight, and they may not offer the best UI, UX or be great for WordPress SEO. They will generally serve basic functions and are often tailored to broad categories for websites, like “business,” “personal,” or “portfolio.” However, free themes still get the job done. They are ready-made to be aesthetically appealing and easy to use, easing up some of the legwork involved in site design. They are perfect for the interim before your site starts blowing up and can give a professional edge to even the greenest of newbie bloggers.
Paid themes are ideal if you’re looking to streamline your site’s UI and UX. While they might cost you a pretty penny, generally ranging between $40 and $100, they can drastically improve your web presence. Premium themes are designed to support specific site needs or features and tend to be more focused in terms of purpose. They are typically more responsive, more flexible, and have more features available. They are also SEO-optimized much of the time, with better organization for improved web visibility.
For some site-builders, the premade themes available on WordPress’s theme gallery may not be the best or most flexible options. For those builders, I highly recommend Divi. Divi is a powerful theme builder that offers users tons of control in the appearance and functionality of their sites. It boasts a site editor that is almost entirely visual, making it accessible to those who are not experts in building sites with code. In addition to being all-purpose, Divi is speedy. In fact, it ranks as one of the fastest loading WordPress themes of 2021, with an average load time between 2-3 seconds. That’s pretty impressive, considering how flexible and heavy-duty Divi can be. With a plugin and a few adjustments, you might even be able to get your Divi themes to run even faster, improving conversion rates. However, it might take a newbie some time to adjust to Divi. The features available can feel somewhat overwhelming to someone who is just figuring out how WordPress as a platform works. While it’s certainly not entirely impenetrable to a newcomer, it might seem somewhat more imposing than a simple free WordPress theme from their gallery.
Plugins are pieces of software used on WordPress to make the base platform even more flexible. They offer additional features that can massively improve your blog and make WordPress even more valuable as a blogging platform. In fact, there are many plugins available specifically for improving WordPress SEO functionality and streamlining the process of optimizing your site. These WordPress SEO best plugins often offer benefits to users over other online keyword tools because they come in all-in-one bundles. For instance, one significant function offered by these WordPress SEO plugins is sitemaps. Sitemaps are essentially files that tell search engines the architecture of your site, acting as a sort of blueprint or map. Providing accurate and thorough site maps can improve your ranking drastically, as they make your site much easier to crawl. Sitemaps are also beneficial to beginner bloggers who may not have many backlinks yet. Since crawlers travel via links, it may mean that blogs that don’t have many external links yet will not be crawled at all. Sitemaps allow for your site to be crawled and indexed, even if you’re just starting. Additionally, WordPress plugins for SEO may provide real-time SEO analysis of your site. Having all of your SEO tools bundled together on your blogging platform is helpful. You will find it makes the process of creating high-ranking content a lot easier than it would typically be.
WordPress SEO best plugins:
All In One SEO
Rank Math SEO
Another crucial aspect of creating a WordPress blog that succeeds online is prioritizing your website performance. While much of how your blog performs comes down to the quality of your hosting service, you can impact site performance, too. There are a variety of factors to keep in mind when thinking about blog performance, including:
Site speed is a critical aspect of WordPress SEO. It is not only measured by search engines and factored into their rankings, but it also impacts user behavior. When users click on a site that takes a long time to load, they will most likely click away from it pretty quickly. This speedy entrance and exit is always a bad sign to search engines. It indicates that your site is not helpful to users, and search engines do not want to rank useless websites in high spots. A good target time to shoot for is a 2 second page load time. This should be the total time it takes for all of the page content to appear. Additionally, your time to first byte (TTFB), or the time it takes for the first byte of data to load, should be around 200 milliseconds. If it takes longer than that for your site to load, it may be worth using site audit tools to see what’s going on. Furthermore, it’s essential to make sure that your site is speedy, even on mobile. Mobile searches make up the majority of all searches online, and shutting them off of your site is bad news. Ensure that your site is optimized for mobile and pare download times by optimizing images and utilizing plugins that make your site more efficient.
Fortunately, plugins are the antidote to slow load times. They conduct a variety of functions built to streamline your site and make them faster. For instance, many plugins offer minification features. These are features that clean up and minimize code on a website to make it easier to load. The “fat” is trimmed from your website without impacting its function so that users can access it much faster. Many plugins also offer caching features. Caching is a function that also drives download time by storing frequently retrieved data in a location that is easier to locate. This usually means storage in RAM, which can serve data up faster than expected. This lowers loading times significantly. Some good performance plugins for reducing load time include:
W3 Total Cache
Content on your WordPress site can generally be divided into two categories: pages and posts. Often, these two words are used interchangeably in passing. However, WordPress uses them to designate aspects of your site that will have distinct features and functionalities from one another.
Pages are your site’s static or unchanging portions. While you might tweak them every once in a while, they are not constantly updated. Pages like this can include:
- ‘About me’ pages
- ‘Contact us’ pages
- Legal disclaimers
Pages like these do not have archives, as older versions are not preserved. They are typically organized by hierarchies like menus and are navigated to via drop-downs or sidebars. They do not show up in RSS feeds, either. Any fans you might accrue likely have no interest in reading updated versions of your “about me” page, after all.
On the other hand, posts are part of the constantly updated stream of content you’re creating for your site. They are generally organized from newest to oldest. On WordPress blogging templates, posts will be posted on your site’s blog page by default. For most online content creators, their posts will generally consist of blogs. Posts can include:
- News Stories
Unlike pages, posts are shown on RSS feeds. In this way, fans of yours can keep up to date with your content. (Ideally, your posts will have limited RSS excerpts — more on that later). On an optimized site, your posts should be organized by categories and tags. These make your site more “legible” to search engines, boosting your rankings. A healthy volume of blogs will develop on your site over time, and their reverse chronology can often make them seem like indicators of your site’s development. Contrast this with pages, which should ideally be set up from the very beginning.
In terms of SEO, hierarchy and categorization are crucial to improving rankings. For one thing, well-structured sites are much more navigable for a search engine’s crawlers.’ The better a crawl job, the more info from your site is searchable on search engines, meaning more organic traffic. Additionally, search engines may give site links or the category links in search engine results pages to well-organized sites. This can improve click-through rates and grant a sense of legitimacy to your site.
Categories act as a way to organize posts rationally in WordPress. They structure your posts into different types of content. Posts should only really fall under one category on your site. Cross-listing posts between two or more categories can feel redundant and unhelpful to users. It may also be an indication that your category system is not set up well. If you find that many of the posts you make can reasonably be sorted into multiple categories, consider organizing your site. It will improve navigability and help bolster your rankings, as categories are crucial to helping search engines understand your site. When setting up the categories on your site, make sure to set up the SEO keywords you’re aiming to rank with. When included in titles, categories, and descriptions, SEO keywords gain improved visibility and can further improve your ranking. Pick keywords that are accurate and relevant to your category’s purpose. Otherwise, you’ll rank in search queries that have nothing to do with your site. Using my site as an example, I have used these basic categories to structure my site. Additionally, describes the sort of posts that would be included in those categories:
- Blog management These posts revolve around how the blog is managed and aim to help readers improve their own blogs. Topics covered under this might include site hosting, blogging platform tips, and other web-building advice. These are the fundamental basics of creating a blog.
- Content creation These posts discuss content creation and advise readers on creating content that is perfect for your site. They may discuss the best types of content to start, how to hone your content, and how to tailor it to your audience.
- Promotion These posts discuss how you can use marketing tactics for advertising your blog and gaining a broader or more dedicated audience base.
- Monetization These posts discuss the process of making money from blogging and might include how-to guides. Some topics covered under this category might consist of affiliate programs, improving conversion rates, and efficiently selling products.
- Business These posts discuss the process of running an online blogging business, including many of the ins and outs and obstacles involved. These topics generally revolve around making your blogging business more profitable.
- Lifestyle These posts discuss what it’s actually like to live life as a blogger. This might include discussions of some of the difficulties of freelancing, many lifestyle perks, and ways to maximize free time.
Tags act as a way to group similar posts together to help readers find topics they’re interested in. They are certainly not required, but they are beneficial and can improve the user experience on your site. However, they don’t have as big of an impact on SEO or navigation, so you can skip tagging if necessary. Tags should always include more than one post, or else they serve no purpose on your site. However, posts can have more than one tag to indicate what the post is about and its features. They can cross all categories, and the number of tags your site has and the number of posts in each tag will increase over time. Tags can help define your content’s purpose since you might be creating posts to fit them into a tag. They make your content a little more uniform and orderly. Similar to having a template for your article, a structure can make everything seem more orderly. Our site uses tags pretty consistently to improve organization. Some example tags that we might place on an article can include things like:
- WordPress: in articles tagged with this, we’ll be talking prominently about WordPress.
- SEO: in articles tagged with this, we’ll be discussing SEO techniques, benefits, statistics, etc.
- Time management: in articles tagged with this, we’ll be discussing potential time management techniques or offering perspectives on time management issues we’ve experienced.
Post summaries are features that are rarely considered by beginner WordPress bloggers. However, when starting on WordPress, they can sometimes act as obstacles to total optimization on your site.
Where do post summaries crop up?
Generally, post summaries appear wherever the post is linked on your sites. These typically include home pages, category pages, category archives, tag archives, date archives, and other navigation pages.
Why are full post summaries a bad thing?
While full post summaries may seem totally harmless, they can impact your site’s ranking and performance in subtle ways. For one thing, post summary features show the entire post by default, creating unnecessary duplicate content. For obvious reasons, this can be incredibly tedious for your user base and may even make your site harder to use. It may also be more strenuous on your site, causing longer loading times than necessary. Additionally, it may impact the actual number of page views you receive, as viewers can read these posts from the site’s RSS feed. As a result, they may never actually visit the individual posts from which the excerpts derive. All of these factors can affect your ranking in search engine results. It’s essential to disable any settings that allow for post excerpts to contain the entire post.
How can I avoid them?
Fortunately, you can get rid of whole post excerpts reasonably quickly:
- Go to WordPress Admin
- Go to Settings
- Click on Reading
- Set “For each post in a feed, include” to summary
- Fill in your excerpts when creating your next post
Your theme may also have options to display an excerpt, summary, or the full content. If this is not available, you may be able to insert a “read more” tag with the HTML editor.
Images are another critical aspect of creating a successful blog. They can enrich a blog and give your site a more professional presence, provided you’ve picked appropriate images, of course. However, understanding the caveats of using images is also essential and can prevent future issues with your site.
Images have a significant impact on page loading time
For one thing, having images on your site can have a considerable effect on your page’s loading time. Pictures take up an exponentially more significant amount of space and data than words. More data means more time is needed to load. And more time to load does not a happy Google make. Slow loading times have a significant impact on SEO for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the time users spend on your page is very important to search engine rankings. Short visit times on one site compared to similar sites usually mean something is wrong. And when users are having to deal with a longer wait time than expected, they’ll be super likely to click away. Additionally, Google has recently begun measuring not only user visit times but your page’s loading speed. This means that even if users are satisfied with your load time, your site may be penalized if you don’t meet Google’s standards.
Fix #1: Size
If you find that your images are too large and impact your load times, feel free to resize them to the size you need. As you might expect, smaller images contain a smaller amount of data and take less time to load as a result. Fortunately, WordPress streamlines the process of resizing images with its easy cropping and resizing tools.
Fix #2: Compression
Image compression is also an excellent strategy if you find yourself faced with crummy load times. As a blogging best practice, all images should be compressed and optimized, ideally. Compression seeks to reduce file size without irreparably damaging the image and making it indistinct or grainy. Some compression methods do this better than others. Lossless compression, for instance, should cause no information loss whatsoever, allowing for the file to be resized without any change in quality. Some compression plugins that can help you include:
EWWW Image Optimizer
ShortPixel Image Optimizer
When it comes to SEO basics, linking is one of the most essential factors for creators to learn about. Linking between sites is not only the roadway through which search engines travel to crawl and index your sites, but it is vital within your website, too. On your WordPress blog, you’ll encounter two types of linking — internal linking and external linking.
Internal linking is linking that happens within one site or domain. You have probably noticed an article referencing a related topic on the same site before. Other examples include home pages linking to important pages or category pages linking to posts within those categories. Links that point to pages that relate to the current page (i.e., articles mentioning other related articles in the body text) are considered contextual links. Contextual links generally come in the form of links in the body text of the page. These sorts of links are integral to the architecture of your site — search engines interpret a higher number of internal links as a sign of importance. This impacts your sites in a similar way to backlinking. It’s unlikely that a crawler bot will end up on your site without a backlink or a sitemap. However, once discovered, internal linking will massively benefit you when a crawler does end up on your page. With a thorough enough linking system, they’ll be able to index all of the pages on your site and figure out which pages matter the most. To set up your internal links, start by identifying the most critical content on your site and adding links that direct you to it on other pages. This helps to indicate to search engines that these pages are the most important on your site. Additionally, be sure to pepper in contextual links within the body texts of your pages. In addition to helping search engines analyze the context of these pages, it helps your readers navigate to other pages they might find helpful or interesting.
External linking, however, is just as important as internal linking. External links point towards pages on other sites and domains. They’re backlinks for the website you’re directing users to, and they indicate to the search engine that the site you’re linking to has some amount of authority. The higher your site’s authority, the better your links will help the other sites rank. However, external linking can be detrimental to your site if not done correctly. While your site can impart authority, external linking can actually take away a tiny portion of your site’s ranking. This ranking authority that you lose is colloquially called “link juice.” Think of it like energy transfer — some of your site’s quality gets passed on to the website you’re linking to. Adding what is called “nofollow”s to your links can help prevent this energy loss. When linking to outside sites, you can add little bits of text to the link when editing with HTML. For instance, you might type out a normal link in HTML like this: <a href=”http://my.example.com” > While a nofollow link would look more like this: <a href=”http://my.example.com” rel=”nofollow” > For those unfamiliar with HTML, WordPress plugins for SEO can add nofollow links in the text editor itself. Two plugins like this include All in One Seo and Rank Math SEO.
Starting a WordPress website and configuring it to be SEO-friendly can seem very daunting. However, you will discover many tools and services available to help you create your site. From hosting services with 24/7 support to WordPress plugins designed to make your life infinitely easier, WordPress can become a breeze. Best of all, with this WordPress SEO how-to, you can start your blogging career with the know-how of a seasoned pro without having to weather all of the mistakes that come with experience.
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