Few things have revolutionized the landscape of the World Wide Web like WordPress. The Content Management System (CMS) has made starting a website about as easy as it gets. Though there are plenty of ways to spend money when you’re up and running, WordPress is absolutely free to start. In fact, you can create an incredibly professional-looking site without ever spending a dime. That being said, success won’t be handed to you, even when you’re operating within the WordPress model. So keep reading as we discuss one of the main ways you’ll get the results you want by using WordPress: on-site SEO.
The Importance of SEO
Let’s look at why SEO is so important. Unless you’re completely new to websites, you’re probably somewhat familiar with Search Engine Optimization. To put it as simply as possible, SEO is the art of getting search engines, like Google, to bring their users to your site.
So, for example, if a user is looking up dog food and your website sells it, you want the search engine they use to tell that person your website is a reliable source. That’s oversimplifying things slightly, but it’s sufficient for our purposes.
The reason for this should be obvious. No matter how great your website is, how wonderful your product performs or how well-intentioned you are, if no one knows about these things, success will always elude you. SEO is the main way you’ll let people know.
There are two main types of SEO. One is call on-site SEO and the other is off-site. Both are important, but many would argue there is simply more you can do with the on-site variety. So this article is going to focus solely on utilizing SEO to drive traffic to your site.
Start with Permalinks
Alright, the first thing you’ll want to do with your WordPress site is change the permalinks. If you haven’t heard this term before, it simply refers to how your URLs read. When you create your first ever post on your WordPress site, chances are it will look something like this, YourSite.WordPress.com/2014/1/15/This-Is-My-First-Post, where that last combination of words is the title you’ve chosen for your post. It might also just be numbers. In either case, it isn’t very favorable for your search engine results.
So go to the Permalinks setting on your WordPress page and change yours to “custom structure.” For the structure, put in “/%postname%/” (except without quotation marks).
The first reason is because it gives the search engine something important to read immediately. Search engines read websites to gather what they’re about. That way they know whether or not it’s a good fit for the user (this is one method, anyway). When your URL is a bunch of numbers, it’s a less favorable read for the search engine. But when your URL contains words about, again let’s just say, dog food, it now has reason to believe your website is a good one to send users to if they’re looking for that subject.
Of course, this works for actual people too. If your link is on a website somewhere, people will read it when they see it. Seeing what the subject covers may be enough to convince them to click. URLs that are mostly numbers are less likely to garner this response.
The second reason is that it keeps things in order. When people use a hyperlink to send others to your site, they’ll most likely choose words that match what the link is about. “All natural dog food”, for example, may send people who click on it to a post you wrote about just that. By having the hyperlink match up, things are kept organized.
Be sure to keep your URLs as short as possible. Keep it to 3 words, if you can. Also, get rid of stop words when possible (i.e. “a, an, and, the, etc.). Search engines don’t read them anyway.
Content is King
You may have heard this before, but it’s as true as ever. Don’t expect traffic if you’re not keeping your website updated. For one thing, users will simply stop showing up as they learn that you don’t seem to care about your site.
Secondly, search engines will take notice as well. By constantly updating your website, you show search engines that your committed to providing the best experience for your users.
Use Title Tags
It’s debatable, but many believe that title tags are by far the easiest way to improve your websites SEO in a meaningful way. If there’s any one thing you glean from reading this, it should be understanding what SEO is. But the second should an appreciation for utilizing title tags.
Your WordPress site doesn’t show up ready to optimize Title Tags, so you’ll need to handle this part. Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy. There are two plugins I recommend for these purposes. Either use the All-In-One or Yoast’s SEO plugin. Either will work, but the latter is for more advanced users.
Set your general settings as follows:
- Home Title: You’ll want to enter in Targeted Keyword| Site Name.
- Post Title: You’ll simply input, %post_title%
- Page Title: Just type, %page_title%
These changes help put the keywords you’re targeting (in this case, one would be “dog food”) front and center where the search engine is bound to immediately see it.
Focus on Keywords
Speaking of keywords, we should address those in greater detail now. For the most part, stick to a central keyword throughout your site. There are plenty of arguments for doing otherwise, but when you first start out, I think it’s essential. Huge brands, companies and corporations may have the means to diversify, but you’ll be swimming upstream if you try to follow suit.
You can use Google’s Keyword Tool to look into which ones may be best for your goals. Remember, that you want to find ones that best match what the topic of your website will be.
Once you have a keyword chosen, it’s time to use it. Include your keyword in the title tag of your homepage, the heading for your actual website, in anchor text you use for links from other sites and, if/when you have one, even your logo. For your logo and other images, you’ll simply name them your keyword before putting it on your WordPress site. That’s, then, how search engines will read them.
Optimize Meta Tags
If you aren’t familiar with Meta Tags, chances are you’ve still seen them. They’re the short description that you see below a search engine result. So whatever you read in that description is whatever people entered into their Meta Tag.
By adding keywords to your Meta Tags (as well as any others), you help convince search engines that you deserve to be higher up in the results.
Keyword Label Images
At this time, search engines, especially Google, still look for what are known as alt attributes for images on your website. This is welcomed news as it simply gives us one more place we can insert our keywords.
One tool that is especially hand for this is called SEO Friendly Images. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but it allows you to label any images you use with the keywords that correspond with them. So for the imaginary site I’ve been referencing, I’d want to label images I was using as “dog food.”
Link to Your Own Work
This might seem like cheating, but it’s perfectly acceptable to link to your own work within your website. In fact, your visitors will welcome the help. One tenet of SEO you can rely on is that if visitors like it, search engines generally will to. By linking to work elsewhere in your site, you’re making it easier for your visitors to navigate around it and find the information they find most useful.
Let’s return to my dog food website. If I was writing a post about organic dog food, I might reference how the kind made in factories is subpar and bad for a canine’s health. If I had discussed this once before, my readers would probably appreciate a hyperlink that would take them back to that article. As an added benefit, it would help my site link as well.
Choose Pages Over Posts
Alright, now let’s get into some more advanced SEO tactics. My first piece of advice is to always use pages on WordPress instead of posts, at least when you’re covering important information.
For one thing, your WordPress homepage will generally be the most potent on your website. By this I mean, linking from it will garner those pages the most validity because it’s coming from your SEO-rich homepage. So while a post stays there on your WordPress homepage, a page links off from it and, thus, gets more credibility with search engines.
Secondly, on a page you won’t have comments. Why’s this important? Because while comments are nice to read and give your visitors a sense of involvement, they ultimately delude your keyword density. Chances are all those comments aren’t necessarily relevant, after all, so they wind up being counterproductive.
This follows from the last paragraph nicely. Like I said, pages are helpful because they lack comments. In order to further that aid, I’d say deactivate comments from all posts as well.
The only exception would be if you can see that comments clearly play a role in your site’s popularity. For example, if you’re getting hundreds of them per post, then it’s clear that you’re speaking to a vibrant community and that stifling conversation could have negative effects. People might be linking to your page due to certain comments and conversations, for example. But when you’re first starting out, you probably won’t be getting this kind of feedback. It’s best to take comments out and leave SEO strength in.
This might stretch the line a bit between on-site and off-site, but it’s an easy thing you can do on your WordPress page, so I think it qualifies. Plus, it can be very helpful. No matter what your market is for your WordPress site, chances are you aren’t the only one with a website, right? While you might be in direct competition with some people, it’s often helpful to link to their page anyway. This is especially true when you’re just starting out and “competition” is a very loose word.
Linking to other people does a few things. But for our purposes, one of the best things it does is gets other people to link back to you. The more authoritative they are, the better your site looks to the major search engines.
Check Your Speed
Everyone’s been on a website before that lacks the speed it should have. Instead it stumbles along slowly, eventually bringing you to where you want to go. If your site is guilty of this, you can expect most of your visitors to simply leave.
If you’re unsure about your website’s speed, use Google’s Page Speed Tool. It’s free and will give you the feedback you need in no time. Google’s tool doesn’t just measure your speed, it will actually tell you where you’re lacking, so you know immediately what to change. Depending on what Google recommends, chances are a tool called CloudFare will be able to help you handle matters.
Keep in mind that user experience is just one reason to have a faster site. While it’s important, so is a secondary benefit involved. The faster your site runs, the faster search engines can read it. In fact, if you use CloudFare, you’ll almost certainly experience greater results in a shorter period of time. Make sure your server is able to handle the new traffic.
The world of SEO is vast and there is always more you can learn, apply and refine. However, if you follow the above advice your WordPress site will stand a better chance than most that get started. Just be sure you start at the top and work your way down as things get more advanced as you go.