WordPress is the industry leader when it comes to content management systems. In fact, at last check, 29% of all websites are built using WordPress (the next closest competitor, Joomla, stands at just 3%).
Not only is it arguably the most user-friendly platform, it’s unparalleled when it comes to SEO. Even right out of the box, all the basics of SEO are covered.
That said, with the help of a few other strategies, you can take your WordPress SEO to the next level. Following are 10 ways to make sure your WordPress site and content are optimized to the fullest.
First a note on WordPress.com versus WordPress.org
Please note: This post refers to sites or blogs built using WordPress.org.
While WordPress.com is a decent tool for building a quick, free blog, it doesn’t even come close to a self-hosted, WordPress.org site when it comes to versatility, branding and SEO.
The main SEO advantages to using WordPress.org include:
- The ability to use SEO plugins
- Access to thousands of responsive (SEO-friendly) themes
- Ability to use Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)
- Ability to alter code as needed
As already mentioned, your WordPress.org is pretty well optimized, right from the start. But these 10 strategies and plugins will cover the rest of your SEO bases!
10 SEO strategies for your WordPress.org site in 2019
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1. Set your permalink structure to static
By default, the permalink (or URL) structure in WordPress isn’t great for SEO or for users. Right out of the box, it will look something like this: http://example.com/?p=N.
Fortunately, it’s easy to change your default settings to something more search engine friendly – like http://example.com/your-post-title.
In your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings –> Permalink Settings, and select “Post name”. This will keep your URL structure simple and clean, and will ensure that all your new post URLS are automatically optimized.
For some additional SEO-power, you can also customize your individual post URLs by modifying your slug. Simply scroll down on your post creation page, and add your target keywords in the “Slug” field. This will replace your default URL with the keywords you choose.
2. Use your keywords in the two most important locations: title & header tags
You should obviously be using your keywords (and variations of your keywords) throughout your content. Just remember: a well-optimized piece of content won’t simply use a single keyword again and again. Rather, it will include a wide variety of words and phrases related to the main topic of your post.
That said, you will likely have one main keyword phrase that you’re focusing in on. Arguably the most important location to use this phrase is in your title tag (which should by default also put your keyword in your URL). Preferably, use those keywords as close to the beginning of your title as possible.
Header tags (H2, H3, etc.) ensure Google and your readers know what your content is about. WordPress makes it easy to use header tags simply by clicking on the text formatting drop down box in your Visual Editor (Note: if you don’t see this box, click on the “Toolbar Toggle” button and it will show up).
By default, your page or post title will be your H1 (most important) tag. You should only have one H1 tag per page or post.
For the main sub-headings of my posts, I typically use the H2 tag. For instance, in this post, the main headings are enclosed in the H2 tag, while I used H3 for the numbered items. Any sub-headings beneath the numbered items would be enclosed in H4 tags.
3. Upload an XML sitemap
XML sitemaps aren’t, strictly speaking, a necessity for getting Google to navigate and index all your pages and posts. However, they can make the process more efficient, ensuring your new content is found as quickly as possible.
Fortunately there are some great plugins that will automatically generate an XML sitemap for your WordPress site. Some of the best are Google XML Sitemaps and XML Sitemaps. They will also notify Google each time you add new content, so your sitemap will always be up to date.
A word of warning about your sitemap: make sure you’re not telling Google one thing in your sitemap and another in your robots.txt! For instance, if you’ve blocked a particular page in your robots.txt file make sure you’re not then including it in your sitemap. For tips on how to avoid this, check out this great Moz post on the subject.
4. Make sure you’re set up with Google Search Console
If you haven’t yet set up your site in Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster tools), you might be missing out on important SEO warnings or notifications.
If Google experiences issues accessing, crawling or indexing your content, this is where you’ll be notified. This will also be where you’ll see any manual actions (penalties) leveraged against your site.
Your Search Console is also where you’ll be able to view some of the links to your site, as well as some of the keywords that drive traffic to your site.
5. Focus on the right content length for your keywords
There has been tons of research done over the past few years on the ideal length for content. Most of this research suggests that higher-ranking content tends to be in the 2,000+ word range.
The trouble, of course, is there are many examples of content that’s much shorter, and that still ranks near the top of the SERPs.
So, instead of focusing on your exact content length, focus on just writing really good content that answers the question(s) your reader is asking. Rand Fishkin of Moz gives three great tips for evaluating the optimal length for your content:
- Investigate what’s working for your chosen keywords. Check out the top-ranking content and see how long it is.
- Ask yourself: Can I do an even better job of covering that topic? If you can do so in less words, go for it! If you think a longer post would do a better job, then that’s the direction you should take.
- Match your content to your readers’ goals. If they have a quick question they need answered, you should probably just answer it quickly in a 500-word post. If their questions are more complex, writing a 3,000 word+ post may be optimal for this particular topic.
6. Decide whether to stick with www or not
This is such a quick and easy tip that can have a huge impact on your SEO.
Google urges all website owners to choose their primary domain – namely, either https://www.yoursite.com or https://yoursite.com. Honestly, it doesn’t make a difference (SEO-wise) which one you go with.
Set your preferred domain in Google Search Console (above) as well as in your WordPress Settings
In your WordPress dashboard, you can specify this by going to Settings –> General, and setting both your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) to your preferred domain.
You should also specify your primary domain in your Google Search Console. To do this, log in to your console, click on the gear icon, then go to Search Settings. Choose your preferred domain and you’re all set.
7. Switch your site to HTTPS
If your site gives your visitors the option to input text or other info through contact forms, opt-in boxes or payment fields, you need to make sure you’re using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer).
This will ensure any sensitive personal info your visitors leave on your site is encrypted and therefore protected.
But not only is this important for protecting your visitors’ private information, it’s now an official SEO ranking factor. In fact, if you haven’t switched over to HTTPS, Google may now show a “not secure” warning to visitors when they’re on pages with text input fields.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve switched to HTTPS, check with your web host. They usually offer an easy way to switch over and will be happy to help.
8. Optimize your WordPress site for speed
Not only is site speed a ranking factor, it’s extremely important for user experience. As you can clearly see on the graph below, as page load times increase, page abandonment increases.
One of the best ways to determine how quickly your site loads is to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It will analyze your WordPress site, giving you an overall speed rating out of 100.
It will also recommend specific fixes – like browser caching, image optimization and enabling compression – that will help improve your site speed.
I’d also strongly recommend using a plugin (or two or three) to tackle different aspects of your site speed. The ones I usually recommend are WP Super Cache, Smush Image Compression and Optimizationand WP-Optimize.
9. You still need to build links in 2019
This post has focused largely on internal ranking factors (i.e., things you can do within your own WordPress site to increase your rankings). However, getting external links to your site is still a really critical strategy for SEO in 2019.
SEMrush recently found that links are even more important for sites focusing on keywords with less than 10,000 monthly searches (which let’s face it, is most of us).
And don’t forget about internal links! Linking to relevant content on your site helps spread link equity throughout your site, and also helps improve user signals like bounce rate, pageviews and time on site. And while user engagement may not be a direct ranking factor, the indirect benefits to your site and business are huge.
If you’re looking for some effective link building strategies, check out my posts 6 Link Building Techniques You May Not Know About and 7 Killer Link Building Strategies For Small Businesses.
10. Install the Yoast plugin
If you only do one thing on this list, it should be this one. Many of the strategies above can be covered all in one go using the Yoast SEO plugin.
Yoast SEO has been around for almost 10 years, but its creators are constantly updating it to address emerging SEO rules and algorithms.
Some of the major SEO benefits to using Yoast include:
- Total content optimization*. Yoast will ask you to choose a primary keyword for your content, and then will make sure you’re using it in strategic locations. It will also help you optimize your meta description, so your content is more likely to get clicked in the search engine results.
- Automatic XML sitemaps. Simply check the button and Yoast will create and submit a sitemap of all your post, pages and even images.
- Automatic addition of links to RSS feed. Tired of getting outranked by scrapers who steal your content? Yoast automatically adds a link to your feed so Google will always know who actually created your content.
*The one feature I wish Yoast would add is optimization for multiple keywords. As already mentioned, SEO in 2019 isn’t about optimizing for singular keywords, but rather for many words, phrases and variations related to your main topic.
After making sure the technical features of your WordPress site are optimized, most of your ongoing SEO work will be focused on creating excellent content that attracts links.
All of the SEO strategies that worked last year will still work in 2019, so if you’re already ranking well, keep doing what you’re doing!
The only major shift this year will be to make sure your site is moved over to HTTPS. If you haven’t already, I’d strongly encourage you to do this before the new year!
What WordPress SEO strategies would you add to this list? Anything I’m missing? Share below!
John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online payments company Due and productivity company