Before you concern yourself with specific SEO strategies, first you need the right foundations.
SEO starts with a good website.
You might think the search engines only exist to help people find your website, but of course, that isn’t the case. There’s a lot of competition vying for that same top ranking spot.
Google cares about one thing: creating the best possible experience for its users by helping searchers find what they’re looking for. If they can do this, more people will use Google, and more people will click on their paid ads — that’s Google’s business model. To Google, it doesn’t matter which website ranks top, just that the best site for each search query wins.
But Google understands your Google experience doesn’t start and end with the SERPs: it continues after you’ve clicked a link. Google is judged by the quality and relevance of the page you’re taken to, too.
So if I search for “Manchester United” and land on a rival team’s website, I’m going to be pretty disappointed – the site just isn’t relevant, and that’s Google’s fault.
Equally, though, I’d be just as disappointed if my search took me to “The Greatest Manchester United Blog in the Whole Wide Universe Written by John from his Bedroom“. Sure, the relevancy is there, but the quality is (I assume) lacking.
Most SEO strategies focus on relevancy. In other words, how your website communicates with Google to rank for the right keywords. And this is important, and we’ll get to that soon.
Website Quality is Most Important
However, before you build a single link, you need to get your own house in order – you need to get your website right. Google factors in several important metrics when judging your site. These include:
- Load times: who likes a slow website?
- Bounce rate: if people leave your site immediately it indicates a lack of relevancy, low quality, or an unusable website.
- Time on site: more engaged visitors will spend longer on a website.
With this in mind, your first step towards building an optimized website is to make sure it’s somewhere people want to visit. I would focus on several things:
- Great content: your content is your website, so you need to make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be — 500-word, keyword-stuffed articles just won’t cut it anymore. At the very least, it should be on a par with competitors’ content.
- Well designed: people are more likely to spend time on an aesthetically pleasing website.
- Quick loading: this is a ranking factor singled out by Google, so you’d better make sure your website is lightning quick. (I wrote about this in more detail here.)
- Usable: it should be easy for a first-time visitor to figure out how to navigate your website
- Working: pretty self-explanatory, everything on site should be working as intended.
If you get these things right, your on-site metrics will improve. This will communicate to Google that you have an excellent site, worthy of ranking at the top of the SERPs.
In my opinion, many webmasters just don’t appreciate this. They’re too concerned with black-hat techniques to give their website a ranking it doesn’t really deserve. That might work for a bit, and you could even get some traffic, but if your site isn’t up to scratch, what’s the point of all that traffic? You’re unlikely to convert customers, anyway.
Get your website in order, and you’ll start ranking well naturally.
That said, there are still a few things you can do to give your website a helping hand in the SERPs. Here are six on-site optimization tips that every WordPress webmaster should know.
1. Keyword Research
Your keywords are the phrases you want to rank for. Personally, I prefer not to get too bogged down with keyword research – I’d rather write an article naturally, and if I use a keyword, all the better. However, there is a place for keyword research, especially for new websites looking to gain traction.
In a perfect world, you’d be ranking for keywords with millions of searches — you can check search volume using the free Google Keyword Planner tool. Unfortunately, with great search volumes comes great competition (usually, anyway).
My tip: be realistic. Try to find a keyword with a modest number of searches, and one with lower competition. A long tail keyword might only have 20 searches per month, but if it has enough buyer intent, it might convert exceptionally well – this can make it the ideal search term for landing your first customers, and long tail keywords often have far less competition.
2. Use a Keyword in Post Titles
Whether you’ve thoroughly done your keyword research or not, you should always have a keyword in mind for each post. When you’ve settled on your keyword, you should always use it in your post title – the post title communicates with the search engines what your content is about.
Google prioritizes keywords at the start of the title, so use it first if it fits naturally.
WordPress’ default permalink setting is not very handy for SEO. The default setting will give you a URL which looks like this:
If your post is about how to bake cupcakes, where is the SEO benefit in the above URL? It’s nonexistent, right? The following URL is far better:
This URL immediately tells the search engines – and the user – what the article is about. From an SEO viewpoint, that’s good.
So, which of the WordPress permalink structure options should you choose? Well, there’s no right answer, but there are definitely two wrong answers: default and numeric.
Choose one of the structures with the post name in the list – post name, day and name, or month and name. If you want the date in there it won’t hurt, and could be beneficial for time sensitive searches, like “how to bake cupcakes 2015“.
4. Optimize Images
Images are an underestimated component of SEO. For a start, they will impact how quickly your website loads, and we already know that speed is a ranking factor.
With this in mind, make sure your images aren’t too big – less than 100kb is a good target. You can reduce file size by cropping an image down to display size, and by using a form of lossless compression – I like the WP Smush.it plugin.
My Tip: if you’re using multiple images per page, don’t use the same keyword for each alt text, or you could be penalized.
You can further optimize your images via the WordPress media library, or by clicking Add Media when creating a new post/page.
An image’s Alt Text is most important for image optimization – this communicates to the search engines what the image is about. It makes sense to pick something related to your content, or even your targeted keyword.
It’s debated whether the image title impacts SEO, but I always give my images a relevant name – this will also improve the organization of your media library, too.
My Tip: if you’ve used your main keyword in the alt text, you don’t need to re-use it in the image title. Use something else instead, and you could rank for two keywords.
5. Internal Links
Internal links are important for any website – they move visitors around your website by pointing them towards relevant content.
From an SEO perspective, internal links can help in four ways:
- When a visitor clicks the internal link, they are no longer classified as a “bounce” – bounce rate reduces
- Internal links move visitors around your site, meaning they spend longer there
- Internal links pass link juice around your website
- You can use anchor text to tell Google what the content is about, which improves ranking
I want to look at the fourth point in a bit more detail. Your anchor text is the visible part of the hyperlink.
For example, let’s say I wanted to talk more about productivity. In this example, “productivity” is the anchor text. Wherever possible, use a keyword in your anchor text.
Don’t go overboard with internal links, though: only link when it feels natural.
6. Meta Description
Below every result in the SERPs, Google displays a brief description – this is called the meta description tag.
Meta tags are used to communicate directly with the search engines, and the meta description tag is no different. Although the meta description is primarily used to encourage searchers to click your link, it also has SEO benefits. Google uses the meta description to better understand your content, so include relevant keywords and you could rank for them.
The easiest way to add a meta description with WordPress is using an SEO plugin – my personal choice is WordPress SEO by Yoast (there are others). After installing the plugin, you’ll be able to see a WordPress SEO meta box below the visual editor.
From here, you can write up your meta description, as well as your SEO title – the SEO title determines how your page title appears in the SERPs.
Although SEO isn’t what it used to be, SEO is certainly alive and well. As Google’s algorithms get increasingly sophisticated, it becomes harder and harder to game the system. This means the best content should, in theory, rise to the top – as it should.
Manipulate Google at your peril: even if what you’re doing is working today, there’s no guarantee you won’t be slapped with a hefty penalty tomorrow when Google figures it out.
There’s nothing “gamey” about proper on-site optimization, though. Better still, on-site best practices are unlikely to change any time soon – good on-site optimization is good on-site optimization.
Even if you don’t have time for a sophisticated SEO strategy, the six tips today are easy to implement, and will give you a significant advantage over an unoptimized website. That translates to better ranking in the SERPs, and, best of all, more traffic.
Do you have any WordPress SEO tips? Let us know in the comments section below!
If you are an Envato Market author, we have also published a post that covers some SEO best practices that will help drive targeted traffic towards your item pages.
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