Search Engine Optimization is near the top of the most important marketing strategies for your business. It’s very competitive, but the benefits are long lasting and will serve you well for years.
- SEO Plugin: Rank Math
- On Page SEO
- Long Form Content: The Longer the Post, the Better
- Eliminate Duplicate Content
- Internal Links
- NoFollow External Links
- Read More Links
- Improve Page Load Time
- Optimize Images
- WordPress Security
- Local SEO
- Wrap Up
Good WordPress SEO starts with good hosting. A web host is any company or network that runs servers, which are computers that your website exists on. A good host will make your site load fast for your visitors, which is a key ranking factor. I personally recommend the hosting company SiteGround, and I have friends who have good experience with InMotion. You can sign up for SiteGround hosting through this affiliate link: Get SiteGround
“SSL” stands for “secure socket layer” and such a certificate encrypts your visitors’ data, protecting it from hackers. This is crucial if you’re collecting email addresses, or credit card info through your online store. Today, web browsers will tell you if a site is secured by an SSL with a padlock icon in the URL box.
Fortunately, SiteGround partners with a non-profit group called Let’s Encrypt to provide free SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt is available through most other hosts as well. When you have an account with a web host, you can access the control panel page, find the Let’s Encrypt link, and assign an SSL to your site.
After you get your hosting account, you can install WordPress either by clicking the “QuickInstall” link and selecting WordPress as the builder, or there may be a dedicated WordPress link in the control panel. Because WordPress is so ubiquitous among bloggers, web designers, and businesses, most mainstream hosting companies make it easy to set up.
When WordPress is installed on your site, you need a theme and page builder plugin to design the appearance. My favorite themes are Astra, GeneratePress, and Divi. Divi is a paid theme that you buy from Elegant Themes, and has its own proprietary page builder system. Astra and GeneratePress are freely available in the WordPress theme repository, although they have paid versions with advanced features. Astra and GeneratePress let you use any page builder plugin, and I recommend either Beaver Builder or Elementor.
Astra has a handy feature called Astra Starter Sites that lets you upload pre-made websites that utilize Beaver Builder and Elementor. Divi has a massive collection of layout packs that you can upload. The great thing about the pre-made templates in these themes is that they’re completely customizable. You can delete, resize, re-color, and rearrange sections of pages through these builders.
The 2 most important considerations for a theme, in SEO terms, are loading speed and whether it’s mobile friendly. Divi, GeneratePress, and Astra have been tested by many bloggers and web designers, and are trusted for their loading times. These themes and builders use responsive web design, meaning the objects on pages resize and rearrange to fit the screens of mobile devices. This makes them suitable for desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
When you log into WordPress, you’ll enter the Dashboard and see the menu items on the left side. Under “Settings,” there are 2 important sections, “Reading” and “Permalinks.” On the Reading page, make sure the box by “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked. In Permalinks, select the option “Post Name.” This makes the url of your sub pages and posts include the page and post names, which the search engines prefer to display in search results.
SEO Plugin: Rank Math
Your site needs an SEO plugin. Plugins are applications that extend the functionality of your WordPress site, and there are a few popular and up-and-coming plugins that aid you in search. For many years, Yoast has been the industry standard SEO plugin, but I recommend an exciting new one called Rank Math. Rank Math has probably the most complete feature set in SEO for FREE! Its paid version is still in development as of this writing.
In the left side menu, go to “Plugins,” and click the sub menu “Add New.” You can look up Rank Math in the WordPress Repository and install it on your site. Rank Math will ask you to create a profile on its own developer’s site, then enable you to use its “Setup Wizard.” The first step in the Wizard ist to enter in your site’s name, logo, and other identifiers. I’ll go over the next Setup Wizard steps in the following sections.
Google Search Console
Rank Math will prompt you to create a Google Search Console profile if you don’t have one already. Google Search Console is a Google service that guides you in improving your site’s searchability. In your Google Search Console profile, click on “Add Property” and type in your site’s domain or url. Google Search Console has its own setup sequence that’s cut and dried, and you’ll eventually verify ownership of your site. Rank Math will give you a line of code to paste into Search Console, then Google and your site will match up.
An XML sitemap is a file that you submit to search engines, that tells the engines which pages and posts you want to be found. Rank Math will generate a sitemap for you after you select the settings. You can copy the link code to the sitemap file, and submit it to Google in the Search Console.
The next step in Rank Math Setup is “SEO Tweaks.” It’s fine to keep the default setting, but read the descriptions under each setting to understand what they do. Next is the “Ready” step, from which you can return to your normal WordPress Dashboard, but you can continue on to the “Advanced Options.” The 404 and Redirect steps are related, and you can set it up so Rank Math notifies you when external links to your site are broken. You can have those broken links sent to new pages in the future.
The final Setup Wizard page, titled “Miscellaneous,” includes a very important feature called Rich Snippets. Here you can enable rich snippets on different pages, blog posts, products, and more. Snippets are data about your page structured in a way to easily display in Google Search Results. They’re free in Rank Math, which is a huge reason I want you to use this plugin.
After the Miscellaneous page, you’ll go back to the WordPress dashboard. You can go back to the Rank Math setup wizard any time and make changes.
When you’re writing blog articles and content for your pages (using your chosen theme and page builder,) you need to include words and terms that web surfers are looking for. There are a few free tools that will let you see how many searches different keywords launch, and their levels of competition. There is Google’s own Keyword Planner tool. I’ve been using a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere that shows the same data on Google’s own search results pages. There is also Ubersuggest, developed by SEO and marketing guru Neil Patel and available on his website.
Conducting keyword research will give you ideas for your next blog article, and show you what your competitors are doing well with. You should examine the top ranking pages under different keywords and find gaps in their information- gaps you can fill and rank for yourself! You can go on YouTube and listen to Neil Patel’s advice for finding content ideas with Ubersuggest.
On Page SEO
When Rank Math is installed on your website, a special section appears at the bottom of your page and post editing screens. There are 4 tabs in the Rank Math section, “General,” “Advanced,” “Rich Snippet,” and “Social.”
Under the General tab, you can edit the way your Google Search Result will look. It should say things you think your clients will find relevant. Below the Search Result editor, you can enter the keywords you want the page to rank for. Rank Math lets you use multiple keywords for free, while other SEO plugins save this for their premium versions. Below the keywords box, there are boxes with suggestions to make your page’s or post’s content better. These are helpful if you’re new to writing optimized content, but don’t stress out and try to get a perfect rating. It’s more important to write naturally in a way regular humans can relate to.
Under the Advanced tab, you can check boxes for “robots meta tag” values. These are factors that the search engines “crawl” and know to rank your site for. To keep it simple, check only “Index” box, because the other boxes restrict what Google can crawl. Below the robots meta tags, you can set the “canonical url.” If you have more than one page or website with identical content, this is where you tell Google that this page is what you want to be found. Below this, is the “redirect” section. If you ever change a page’s url, Google or other websites with links to the old url would get an error page. You need to redirect old links to your new url, and you set that url here.
Under the Rich Snippets tag, you can create the snippets for that page. A rich snippet is a markup that makes your content easier to index by the search engines, as well as display relevant data in search results. Rank Math gives us a handy form that makes these snippets and is easy to fill out.
The Social tab is where you set how your page links appear in Facebook and Twitter posts. This makes them easier to share and more enticing to click on.
There’s a debate whether you should allow a comments section in your blog posts. Comments are a sign of audience engagement, which Google favors. Unfortunately, the section is an easy target for spammers. There are so many sketchy marketers, hackers, and bots posting junk that some bloggers don’t bother to curate them, and turn the comments section off. If you do allow comments, use the Akismet plugin. Akismet will automatically curate comments based on your settings. Either use Akismet or don’t allow comments; the risks and rewards are balanced, so no one would judge you on your choice.
Long Form Content: The Longer the Post, the Better
When you write blog articles, the ideal length is between 1200 and 3000 words. Search Engine Journal says, “Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal.” The point is that the article should be full of resources and valuable information. My free ebook, “Be True, Cut Through,” tells you how to write a sufficiently long article in a timely manner.
Download: Be True, Cut Through
Headings (not to be confused with website headers) are text formats that are bolder and larger than regular text, that act as titles for sections of text, and have special value for search engines. Headings help organize your blog posts and pages, which is good for search engines and vision impaired visitors who use screen reader apps to listen to text.
Heading text have 6 levels of strength, Heading 1 being the most powerful and Heading 6 being the least. You can assign heading levels in WordPress by highlighting the text and selecting the level in the WordPress editor. Page builders have text modules where you can set headings, too.
Heading 1 should be used only once per page or post, as the main title of that page. The other levels are for groups of paragraphs covering a subtopic. Think of them similar to outline subjects, with certain topics placed under other overall topics.
It helps to include your keywords in some of the headings. Rank Math will suggest this, but again, it’s more important that your text reads naturally to humans.
Eliminate Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is when your website’s content is copied elsewhere, on your site or someone else’s. This is a big problem for search engines since they don’t know which copy of the content to rank. It’s also a sign of plagiarism, unless the original source is given credit and linked.
Some duplicate content within your own site is acceptable. This is when you display excerpts of your blog posts on other pages. The team at Yoast wrote a helpful article for finding duplicate content: Yoast- “What is Duplicate Content?”
Backlinks are links from other sites to yours. This is a huge factor in search rankings because it’s a sign of your site’s authority. Backlinks aren’t something you can create yourself because other people have to bestow them. Getting backlinks has more to do with building relationships than anything technical. This is where your brand and reputation come into play. Read my guide to building brand awareness here.
There are strategies for earning backlinks. They include guest posting on other websites; forming networks with related businesses and sharing audiences; utilizing journalism websites like Help A Reporter Out, offering tips to reporters and bloggers (they should give you credit as a source). You can find more strategies in my ebook Be True, Cut Through.
Internal links are links between pages and posts within your own website, and they help Google crawl your site better. Again, we turn to Neil Patel for advice.
Patel’s first rule is to have a lot of content. He says not to worry about an organized hierarchy of pages like other experts recommend, just link pages and articles that logically relate to each other. Second, links should be in the form of “anchor text.” This is just text that plainly describes where the link goes to. Remember your blind visitors and make it easy for them to know through their page reader apps.
Third, don’t include a lot of links to your homepage, “Contact” page, or any top tier page that’s included in your top menu. The menu links should be enough. DO link to other blog posts or less-visited pages. These are called deep links. Neil’s fourth rule is to use links that are natural and provide value to the reader. This is related to the 1st rule. The point here is to keep visitors engaged and on your site.
Fifth, links should be between related pages. It makes no sense to link between a post about credit cards and a post about vintage guitars, unless you’re telling readers how to buy vintage guitars. The sixth rule is to use “follow” links. Follow links are ones that search engines can read. You can set links as no follow if the page content is meant to be exclusive. In general though, follow links help Google crawl your site. The seventh and final rule Patel gives us is to use a reasonable number of internal links. There’s no set rule to how many are enough or too much- just make it useful to the visitor.
NoFollow External Links
As I said in the last section, follow and no follow links signal whether search engines can crawl between pages. In the past, SEO pros and webmasters would make links to other sites no follow. This was a competitive tactic to keep the engines focused on one’s own site. Today, sources like Search Engine Land say no follow external links are just selfish and hurt your site’s SEO. The idea should be to allow the free flow of visitor traffic and Google’s tracking.
Read More Links
“Read More” links are commonly buttons linking to a full blog post or a page dedicated to one topic. These are another example of internal links and will help your rankings. These aren’t mentioned in Neil Patel’s article, but enough people ask about them to make them worth a mention.
Improve Page Load Time
If your web pages take more than 2 seconds to load, visitors are tempted to leave. This is a bad sign to Google. There are ways to improve your site’s load time. The main factor, which I’ve already mentioned, is your host. See my recommendations above. The next most important thing is the size of your images. Image files can be compressed with plugins like WP Smush. I also like the free website TinyPNG.com.
Images are another attack vector for gaining search traffic. Google Image Search is its own category, and if you have a gallery of your business space, portfolio, or pictures of your recent events, you should optimize them.
WordPress includes a section in its Dashboard menu called “Library.” This is where you can upload images (which are compressed, I hope) and assign data to them. You should fill out the boxes on the right side of each image file in the Library screen. Give your images names, captions, tags, and descriptions. Descriptions are a big help to our vision impaired friends, because those are what their screen readers will speak out when the mouse arrow is hovered over images.
If your website has malware, Google will blacklist it, so let’s go over WordPress security. This is a major topic all on its own, so I’ll focus on the most important steps in this article. I already told you about SSL certificates, but here are some more common sense measures.
The first safeguard to your WordPress site is protecting your Dashboard login info. When you first install WordPress through your hosting service, you need to select a username and password that is complex. SiteGround does a good job telling you whether a password is strong. The most common hacking technique of WordPress sites is “brute force” attacks. This is where bots automatically fill your login with random words and phrases, trying to guess your login.
The three most popular WordPress security plugins, in my estimation, are Sucuri, WordFence, and IThemes. I personally use IThemes, but the other two are great as well. These plugins can limit the number of login attempts allowed. You can also get plugins to enable two-factor authentication, security questions, and Captcha.
The next main security measure is to update your WordPress theme and plugins regularly. Whenever you log into your Dashboard, check the upper left area for any update notifications. Hackers can find exploits in older versions of your WordPress assets and sneak in through them. The developers of your themes and plugins, and WordPress itself, very often make security patches to prevent this. Updating WordPress is easy- just go to the Updates page and click the button. If you have a Managed WordPress hosting service, this can be done for you automatically. If you have a continuing relationship with your web designer, he or she can do this as part of their ongoing maintenance.
Third, you should have a backup system. If your site is ever hacked, you can have your web host delete it, then restore it with a backup from before the infection. Most hosting companies offer a backup service, but it’s wise to have a separate system as well. You should get the plugin UpDraftPlus and connect it to a 3rd party storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon’s cloud service.
SEO for local business has special requirements in addition to everything I already mentioned.
Local SEO Keywords:
Tom Dupuis of OnlineMediaMasters.com gives us a trick to find what people in your area are looking for. Go to Google, type your city name, the underscore character, and your type of business. Google’s autosuggestions will fill up with common search terms in your city. WordPress Local SEO: How To Optimize Your Website (And Citations) To Rank Higher In Google Maps/Localized Results
This is short for, Name, Address, and Phone Number. These should be included in either the header or footer sections of your website. The point is to make this information available on every page of your site. It’s good to add a code to your phone number so visitors can dial it by tapping on it on their smartphones.
Google My Business:
This is one of the most powerful tools in local SEO you can use. If you already have a Gmail account, go to google.com/business and sign in. You’ll need to claim your business and web address, complete the profile with your business name, address, phone number, business hours, photos, business logo, and so on. Complete as many fields in the profile as are relevant. You’ll need to request a verification postcard to arrive in your snail mail to verify you are the owner or admin of this business.
Google My Business will make your business eligible to appear in the Map Pack, which appears in the search results page for businesses in your area. It enables customers and clients to post reviews. Reviews are a huge factor in your rankings in the map pack and search results in general, so offer great service and ask your previous clients for positive comments. Your business’ physical location is especially important in local search for visitors using their mobile devices. Google will likely rank you higher if you’re closer to that searcher’s phone.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do when making your WordPress site search engine ready. I wrote this as a guide to beginners and business owners who work in other industries besides web marketing. I’ve provided several resources through links and affiliate offers. If you would like more personalized assistance, check out my Services page at the link below, then reach out to me. I’m based in Iowa but open to anyone in the United States.