Stand out with these SEO basics for WordPress beginners
If you’re new to WordPress, you’re probably new to search engine optimisation (SEO) - your key to being found online.
What is search engine optimisation?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) helps sites rank as highly as possible on search engines like Google.
It can be intimidating to know where to begin with SEO, especially if you’re already busy learning WordPress. But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see good results. So we’ll go over some of the basics here and then dive into how they apply specifically to WordPress.
Search engine optimisation is a set of strategies and practices to help sites rank as highly as possible on search engines like Google. It’s an on-going process which builds up over time. It can increase traffic and sales — both of which are obviously great for your business.
Three main components of SEO: On-page, off-page SEO, and technical SEO
This refers to the various changes you can make to your site and its content in order to improve your rankings. If WordPress is your CMS, then all your on-page SEO happens in WordPress. These include things like:
- Using key phrases that are relevant for the topic you’re writing about. The terms that you use need to reflect the language that people use in their searches.
- Creating strong calls-to-action that encourage readers to take the next step with your site (e.g., buy a product or sign up for an email list).
- Using appropriate headings and subheadings so that content has good structure and reads well.
- Formatting text so readers can easily scan through it quickly without getting bogged down by complicated sentences or long paragraphs.
Content and keywords
The content of your site is vital to getting found in search engines.
If you have a food blog, your primary keyword might be “food recipes” or “easy dinners” — no matter what it is, you’ll want to use it throughout your site.
- Include relevant keywords in the body of the text. Don’t overdo it, but don't underdo it either — just enough so that someone searching for that topic will find what they need on your page without having to sift through a bunch of unrelated information.
- Use your keyword in the title and meta description. The title tag is one of the most important elements on any web page because it's what shows up next to every link (including image links) pointing back at your site.
Google uses this data when ranking pages for certain queries, so make sure your keywords reflects what people would type into Google.
For more about working with keywords, including how to discover keywords that suit your website, see our DIY on-page SEO guide for small businesses.
Technical SEO refers to the less visible aspects of your site that affect its search engine ranking.
Search engines use “crawler” bots to find out what’s on your website and index it all. A lot of technical SEO helps these crawlers to see and understand your site.
Aspects of technical SEO include:
- Sitemaps: A sitemap is a special file that lists all the pages on your website and their URLs. They help Googlebot crawl your site, which improves its indexing speed and helps Google understand what content exists on your site.
- Robots.txt: A file that tells crawlers how to behave when crawling specific pages or directories on your site (such as disallowing access). You can also use it for other purposes such as preventing duplicate content from being indexed by Googlebot.
- Sitemaps: These are in-depth guides for search engines about how often certain parts of your website change so they can update their indexes accordingly or create new ones if needed (e.g., when a new post is published).
- Page load speed, which is a direct ranking factor.
Off-page SEO refers to activities that take place outside of your own website.
The goal of off-page SEO is to prove that web users trust your website, and consider it to be a source of authority. The main signals that search engines use for this are links to your site from other sources. These include:
- Backlinks, or hyperlinks from other websites pointing towards yours. They're a very influential ranking factor for Google and other search engines, and you'll want to have a lot of them if you want your content to rank highly on Google. You can ask for backlinks on relevant forums or through guest blogging opportunities on other sites, where you submit a blog post and get it published there as well.
- Social media: sharing your site content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help boost its visibility in organic search results. This is because the more times people engage with your content on these platforms (such as liking or sharing), the higher it will appear in their newsfeeds when they log onto their accounts next time around - which encourages more clicks through, and can all lead to a better ranking in search results.
Working on SEO in WordPress
Popular plugins for SEO
WordPress is a great platform for SEO. It's easy to use, easy to customise and has a large community of developers and users who are always innovating and creating new ways to make WordPress better. It also has a vast library of plugins, into which we’re going to dip our toes now.
There are countless plugins that cater to narrow aspects of SEO, like metadata for example, or keywords and content. But if you want a single plugin that can cover a range of on-page, off-page and technical SEO basics, then the ‘big three’ to compare are:
These three plugins all have over a million active installations and high 4+ star ratings on wordpress.org.
How themes can affect SEO
Search engines prefer sites that work on whatever device or screen size your users happen to have. They also prefer sites that visitors stay on, rather than quickly “bouncing” back out.
So when you are choosing a WordPress theme, keep in mind that people are less likely to bounce from a visually appealing site. Also make sure to choose a responsive theme - that is, one which will make sure that your pages are laid out nicely whatever sized screen your site is viewed on. Even though your site may have been designed for desktop browsers, everything will be easy to read and navigate on mobile devices.
You can use any WordPress theme as long as it's coded with responsiveness in mind—meaning that its layout responds appropriately when resized. Many themes are already built this way by default. You can always find out which themes use responsive web design by checking the documentation or downloading and checking them yourself before deciding which one works best for you.
One potential SEO downside of themes and plugins
Themes and plug-ins can also affect your page load speed, because they add code to your site. Two simple tips:
- Whenever you add a new theme or plugin, run before-and-after page speed tests to see what effect it has.
- Make sure to completely uninstall any themes or plugins that you’re not using anymore.
Blogging for SEO
WordPress started out as a blogging platform, and while it’s expanded a lot since then, it’s still very well suited to regularly publishing articles on whatever topic you choose. This makes blogging a very good SEO technique.
- Keep your content fresh. Your content should be unique, relevant and useful to your audience.
- Keep your blog posts relevant. Break down long-form articles into bite-sized pieces of content that are easier to digest on mobile devices or tablets.
- Include a call to action at the end of each blog post so readers will know what you want them to do next (subscribe to your newsletter, visit your store, follow you on social media, etc).
- Keep your site updated by adding new pages and posts regularly.
- Use WordPress’ inbuilt categorisation and tagging of articles to bring related articles together under a topical keyword.
SEO is an ongoing process
SEO is a routine to get into - it’s not something that you can ever say is “done”. The more work you put into it, the higher your website will rank in search engines like Google and Bing.
Results accumulate slowly, so give each of your changes time to pay off. Remember to work on all three aspects of SEO - on-page, off-page, and technical - together. And most importantly, if you’re just wrapping your head around all of this, get started now!