Setting up a WordPress website is a great first step towards building the online presence of your business and attracting new customers. Unfortunately, the website alone is no longer enough. If you want your customers to find you, you need to get where they will be looking for you – to the top of Google search engine results. How to optimize your newly-built WordPress site, so that you have a higher chance of ranking high for profitable keywords (outside of getting more backlinks)?
1. www vs non-www Domain
If you are just launching your website the very first question you might have is whether not you should go with www or not, and how this affects your WordPress SEO. It is very simple, there is no benefit SEO wise to having www in your domain. It will not affect your rankings in any way. But that is not to say you should always go with non-www. So why do websites still use www? There are a couple reasons:
Using www as part of your domain used to be the standard back in the day. But that is not necessarily true anymore. Even we don’t use www here at JasaSEO.be. One reason you still might see www being used a lot is simply because changing it after using it for years can be complex and cause issues. So a lot of older brands simply continue to use it.
Another reason large companies with a lot of traffic might want to use www is due to DNS. Naked domains (non-www) technically can’t have a CNAME record used in order to redirect traffic for failover.
So when it comes down to www vs non-www it is more a matter of personal preference. Perhaps you prefer shorter URLs in which case you could go with the non-www. Remember, no matter which version you choose you can setup redirects so that each is accessible. For example, if you visit www.jasaseo.be, it simply redirects to jasaseo.be.
In Google Search Console you can set your preferred domain to appear in Google as www or non-www. We recommend setting this option, however, if you are running a WordPress plugin such as Yoast SEO and Rank Math (which we will go into more below) this is not technically required as the plugin automatically adds canonical tags to let Google know which version to index.
Google Search Console preferred domain
2. Install a WordPress SEO Plugin
WordPress out of the box is pretty good already when it comes to SEO. However, we always recommend that people install an SEO plugin when they are working with their WordPress site. This allows you to have full control over optimizing what Google sees from your website. In terms of popularity, the free All-In-One SEO Pack plugins steal the show with their end-to-end optimization capabilities.
The Yoast SEO plugin allows you to write better content with page and keyword analysis, automatically generate XML sitemaps, enable breadcrumbs, add social and schema markup, as well as a multitude of other optimizations. As of writing this it has over 1 million installs with an impressive 5 out of 5-star rating. You can download their free WordPress plugin from the WordPress repository or follow the steps below to install it from within your WordPress dashboard.
SEO WordPress plugin
Under the plugins section of your WordPress dashboard click on “Add New.” Search for yoast seo and click on “Install Now.”
Install SEO plugin in WordPress
Then click on “Activate.”
Activate Yoast SEO plugin
You now have an “SEO” menu in which you can access the settings of the plugin. We will be digging into more of the Yoast plugin options further below.
Yoast SEO settings
And remember, the plugin doesn’t do SEO for you. It simply offers recommendations for you to make more data-driven optimizations.
3. Setup Friendly Permalinks
By default, WordPress provides creates weird permalinks (URL structure) that simply are not very clean. The default structure currently inserts the day and name into the URL, such as seen below.
Google likes URLs that contain your title and or keywords in the post, but shorter URLs are generally better. We recommend using the “Post name” permalink setting as this is both clean and still can benefit you by using the title or your keyword in the URL. The format then appears like this:
You can change to a “Post name” permalink structure by clicking into “Permalinks” under the settings menu in your WordPress dashboard. Select “Post name” and click on “Save Changes.”
WordPress default permalinks
4. Always Use a Focus Keyword
When it comes to WordPress SEO, it is important to remember that Google is still a computer algorithm, and that is why keywords still matter in 2018. You definitely should be writing for your visitors and customers as Google recommends, but write smart. You can easily write for your audience as well as keeping the best SEO optimizations in mind. And remember, other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo rely sometimes even more on what some may call outdated SEO practices.
Whenever you write a blog post or post a page on your WordPress site you should always have a focus keyword in mind. Don’t just publish a post for the sake of pushing out more content. We will go more into keyword research further below. Using the Yoast SEO plugin you can easily set the focus keyword that you want to write about. For example, for this post we are using the focus keyword “WordPress SEO.” You can see that Yoast SEO actually analyzes the keyword density and it is reporting that it is a little low for this post. Generally, a 0.5% or more is a good amount to aim for. So we should figure out a way to include our keyword a few more times, naturally of course, within our content.
It is important that you have your main “focus keyword” that you want to rank for in your blog post or page title tag. team jasaseo.be, an SEO expert recommends to even place your keyword at the beginning of the title if possible as this will have more weight in search engines. For example, the title of this blog post is “WordPress SEO Checklist – 50 Tips for 2018.” We are placing our keyword, “WordPress SEO” at the very beginning. This might not always be possible, but can help give you a little boost.
You can manually set a title tag in the Yoast SEO plugin, as seen below. Remember that Google has a viewable limit of 65 characters, so if you go over that it might not appear. They are really limited by pixels now, but Yoast SEO uses characters which is a close approximation. And remember that title tags not only affect SEO but also your clickthrough rate (CTR). Some have reported seeing 20% increases in CTR simply by making small tweaks to their titles.
6. Increase CTR with Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions have no effect on your WordPress SEO when it comes to rankings. However, meta descriptions do affect your CTR. A better-written meta description can entice the user to click on your post instead of the one above or below it in SERPs. And it has been said, the higher CTR you have, the more relevant Google will deem your data, and rank you higher. So in a sense, meta descriptions could affect your rankings. But not in the traditional sense. You can set your meta description manually in the Yoast SEO plugin.
Previously there was a 156 character limit. Google updated this as of December 2017 to 320 characters, but then reverted the changed back to 150 and 170 characters. Anything over that might not be visible in SERPs. They are really limited by pixels now, but Yoast SEO uses characters which is a close approximation.
WordPress SEO title tag
Also, it is good to include your focus keyword in your meta description because Google will highlight the search term in bold. For example, say we searched for “google adsense tutorial 2021” in Google. JasaSEO.be happens to have a post with “google adsense tutorial 2021” in the meta description and so Google bolds this keyword as it is relevant to your search term. So by including your focus keyword in your meta description, you can stand out a little bit more.
google adsense tutorial 2021
Remember though, Google also automatically rewrites some meta descriptions. So what you input isn’t what will always show up in SERPs.
Meta keywords are really a thing of the past. We are simply including this in our list for those that might be wondering if they should use meta keywords or not. The simple answer is no. Google and Bing used to rely on meta keywords in their ranking algorithms but no longer due. It appears Yahoo might still rely on meta keywords somewhat, but we wouldn’t recommend using them simply for that reason. However, depending upon where your site is located, it is important to know that the Yandex Russian search engine and Baidu Chinese search engine both still use meta keywords.
According to Yandex, <meta name=”Keywords” content=”…”/> — May be used when determining the page’s relevance to search queries. If you want to add meta keywords to your WordPress site posts and pages you can enable it in the Yoast SEO plugin by following the steps below.
Click into the “Title & Metas” section of the Yoast SEO plugin and click on the “Other” tab. You can then enable the “Use meta keywords tag” option.
Enable meta keywords in Yoast
Then on your post and pages the Yoast SEO plugin now has a section to enter in your meta keywords as seen in the example below.
Again, we don’t recommend spending time on meta keywords unless perhaps you use a search engine that still uses them. Meta keywords have been deprecated for a long time in Google and Bing as it pertains to SEO.
8. Header Tags – H1, H2, H3
The Google crawler (bot) checks HTML header tags such as H1, H2, H3, etc. to determine the relevancy of your site content. Generally, the best practice is to have a single H1 tag per post or page and then multiple H2s and H3s underneath that. Think of it has a hierarchy of importance. The H1 tag is one of your most important header and should contain your focus keyword. Additional headers could also include your keyword or long-tail variations of your keyword. However, don’t abuse headers. These are used to split up your content to make it easier to read for the visitor.
Most WordPress themes, if coded properly, will automatically assign the title of your page or post as the H1 header. You can then assign H2, H3, H4 headers etc. within your post or page. You can create a header by using the dropdown in the visual editor. This automatically assigns the block of text the <h2> or <h3> HTML tags that Google will read.
You can also use the shortcut keys in the visual editor to more quickly apply headers:
ALT + SHIFT + 2 (H2 header)
ALT + SHIFT + 3 (H3 header)
9. Image Alt Text
ALT text refers to the ALT attribute or alternative text that is applied on images on your WordPress site. ALT tags are used by Google to see how relevant your image is to the content around it. They are also used by screen readers for visually impaired people. For example, if someone was using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, ALT text can actually help them navigate the page better. You should always add ALT text to your images. And if you haven’t been, go back and do it now.
Fortunately, with WordPress you don’t need to know any code to add the ALT text, you can simply add them upon uploading images to the media library or by clicking on an image within the visual editor. Follow the steps below to quickly add an ALT text to an existing image.
In the visual editor hover over your image and click on the “Edit” option.
Edit WordPress image
You can then enter in your ALT text description in the “Alternative Text” field. Usually, it is beneficial to add your focus keyword if it is applicable for the image. However, don’t just add your focus keyword as an ALT text across all of your images. As with all things SEO, do things in moderation. Google doesn’t like spamming.
Add alt tag to image
10. Image Title Text
Image title text isn’t used for WordPress SEO purposes and is not crawled by Google or Bing, and therefore you are not required to use them. See an example of what image title text, or the title attribute of an image, looks like below.
However, image title text does allow you to add tooltips to images. This can be a great way to simply add a little CTA when someone hovers over it. So while they aren’t technically going to help you rank better, it can help add to the user experience. Just like with ALT text you don’t need to know any code to add the title text, you can simply add them upon uploading images to the media library or by clicking on an image within the visual editor. Follow the steps below to quickly add title text to an existing image.
In the visual editor hover over your image and click on the “Edit” option.
Edit WordPress image
You can then enter in your title text description in the “Image Title Attribute” field under the advanced options.
Image title tag
You can then see the title text in action as a tooltip if you hover over your image.
Image title tag tooltip
11. Focus Keyword in First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your post and pages content in WordPress is very important! It is always recommended to add your focus keyword within the first paragraph if possible. The reason is that Google crawls content from top to bottom, and if it finds your keyword there it can help deem your article as more relevant to the topic. The Yoast SEO plugin even has a check for this to ensure you are keeping up with this best practice.
Focus keyword in first paragraph
12. Content is King (Word Count)
The old saying “Content is King” is still alive and well. Google and visitors love high-quality content. It is generally much better to publish higher-quality and longer-form content than it is to publish shorter content more frequently. This can vary of course. If you are a news site, this might actually be the opposite. But long-form content has time and time again proven to win in SERPs. Capsicum Mediaworks published some statistics on the importance of content-length.
SEO content length
As you can see from the image above, websites holding the top positions have a lot more content. In fact, 2,000 words or more should really be your new minimum these days.
CanIRank published their findings in an early 2017 study on the effectiveness of content length. They analyzed everything, such as seeing if longer content generates more backlinks and what happens to rankings for those on the third and fourth pages. In short, they found that content length, even with other possible factors in play, does still rank better.
Another advantage from long-form content is that over time you will also start ranking for not only your focus keyword but a lot of long-tail keyword variations, sometimes into the hundreds of keywords. And sometimes the traffic from all the long-tail variations will be more than that of your focus keyword. So it is really a win-win when it comes to long-form content!
13. Use Short URLs
Google likes WordPress sites that are clean, organized, and structured; this includes using short URLs. They can also help improve your CTR. MarketingSherpa ran a study and they discovered that executives are 250% more likely to click on an organic listing if it:
So keeping your URLs as short as possible can be an enormous competitive advantage. The one thing to keep in mind is that WordPress automatically creates a URL for you based on the title. For this post we ended up with the following:
We can clean that up quite a bit and simply use our focus keyword. Follow the steps below on how to shorten a URL for a WordPress post or page.
Next to your URL (also known as a slug), click on “Edit.”
Edit URL in WordPress
14. Use Smart Image File Names
This is one thing that a lot of WordPress website owners do wrong, and that is naming your images correctly! With a few correct best WordPress SEO practices you can really see a nice little boost both in SERPs and Google Image Search.
Always name your image files with actual words related to your content before uploading them. For example, instead of DC0000.JPG, name it wordpress-seo.JPG.
Always include hyphens between words in the image file names. For example, if you were to name it wordpress_seo.JPG or wordpressseo.JPG Google won’t be able to read this. Google reads files with hyphens as individual words, so you will want to name it wordpress-security.JPG.
Include your focus keyword if applicable, at least on your featured image. We always name our featured image on our blog posts the same as our focus keywords.
15. Importance of Dofollow vs NoFollow Links
There are two basic types of links on the internet when it comes to WordPress SEO; and that is dofollow links and nofollow links. Here is the basic differences between the two:
By default, every link you create on a WordPress site is dofollow. Google crawls websites and when it finds dofollow links it passes link juice between them and the site they are linked to. This helps build authority and affects your rankings in Google. You have probably heard people say that you need more backlinks, well, they are usually referring to dofollow links from other high authority sites. In general, the more dofollow links you get the better!
Nofollow links are links that contain the rel attribute of nofollow, as seen below:
Nofollow links tell Google that they should not pass any link juice and that they should simply be ignored. That is not to say nofollow links aren’t important though. Remember that nofollow links can still generate traffic, even if they don’t pass link juice.
Red: Nofollow link
Blue: Dofollow link
16. Add Interlinks
Interlinks are links that point from one page or post on your WordPress site to another page or post on the same site. Usually, this is when you are referring other content you have written or possibly you are linking to your own landing page. Moz has a great article on why internal links are important.
They help people navigate within your own website and increase time on your site.
They help to establish a hierarchy of your information and structure.
They help spread link juice throughout your own website as they are dofollow.
We always recommend adding at least 3-5 internal links on each post or page you write. And depending upon the length of your content, possibly even more. Follow the steps below on how to easily add an interlink.
17. Add High Domain Authority External Links
Just like adding interlinks above, you should also add some external links to high domain authority sites. This helps your WordPress SEO by letting Google know that you are linking out to high-quality content that is relevant to yours and improves the user experience by providing them with additional information.
It can also be a great way to start conversations with another brand. If you link to another company in your post, shoot them a quick email or tweet after you publish it and ask for a share. If they share it over their social profiles this can be instant free traffic for you! We use this approach a lot and it works great.
We recommend adding at least 2 high domain authority external links within your content. And remember, when adding external links a nice little trick to keep people on your site is to make the link open in a new tab or window. Some people might argue that they don’t like this, but it can help people come back and browse your site later on when they might have otherwise just forgot about you. Follow the quick steps below to make a link open in a new tab or window.
18. Affiliate Links
A lot of WordPress bloggers and even some businesses use affiliate links on their websites. Affiliate links are generally used when you want to track a commission or referral of a product or signup between websites. The bad thing is though that Google usually frowns upon affiliate links. Some sites have even got penalized for having a lot of affiliate links. To safely use affiliate links, they should always be nofollow. A great way to keep track of your affiliate links and always make sure they are nofollow is to use an affiliate plugin such as Pretty Links
Affiliate pretty links
Sitemaps are used by search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yandex to grab the hierarchy and structure of your WordPress site as well as ensure better crawling. Are sitemaps required? No, search engines will crawl your site without it, but by creating this file it also allows you to get more reporting data about your site. That’s why we always recommend utilizing a sitemap file: thanks to it, you’re able to provide a clear picture of your site structure to search engines which, among other things, will increase your chances to score Google sitelinks.
20. Submit Sitemap to Google Search Console
Now that you have an XML sitemap file it is recommended to submit it to Google Search Console so that you can access additional data on the status of your WordPress site. We will assume you have a Google Search Console account already, if not, check out this more in-depth post on how to submit to your site to Google.
In Google Search Console click into “Sitemaps” under the Crawl section and then click on “Add/Test Sitemap.” Input the location of your sitemap file which you setup in the previous step and click “Submit.” It will show you how many pages/posts have been submitted and then how many are actually indexed. Google will now automatically crawl your sitemap file on a regular basis.
Submit sitemap file to Google
21. Schema Markup
You have probably heard the crazy term “schema markup” or “structured markup” being thrown around the web. Schema markup is basically an additional code that helps search engines such as Google deliver more and better data to visitors. Ever seen those stars next to a review in SERPs? Well, the stars are a result of schema markup. Schema markup means you can achieve special spots in SERPs as well as a dramatic increase in CTR.
How much do stars actually help in SERPs? The CXL Institute ran a study and both companies that utilized stars for reviews saw a significantly higher click-through rate for organic SERPs, by as much 35%. Their conclusion was that this strategy does yield higher results.
A lot of WordPress themes have schema markup coded into them, but there are also those that don’t. You can test your website or blog post with the Google Structured Data Testing tool. Generally what you want to see is 0 errors and something come back in return. If it is completely blank on the right-hand side that means your WordPress site doesn’t have any schema markup added to it.
Google structured data schema
Google knowledge graph
22. Local SEO
Local SEO is a huge topic. Much more than we can cover in this post alone. Some quick tips is that local businesses should immediately register their site with Google Business and Bing Places. These are both completely free and will help you show up in SERPs locally. For example, below I searched for “canada cannabis store”
A great way to instantly check on how well your WordPress site is optimized is to do a quick WordPress SEO audit. There are great free and premium tools out there to help you. SEO Checker is a great free tool that has over 50 checks to let you know how you are doing.
When it comes to SEO, there is both on-page and off-page optimizations that can be done. We shared with you some of each above, all of which are very important. But if you want to dive in even deeper, we recommend checking out this Ultimate WordPress On-page SEO Guide for Beginners (2021)
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