WordPress by itself is a good web publishing platform – probably the best as of today. It can even rank in search results with just a little bit of configuration, even without using plugins, provided that the target niche is not really that competitive and as long as you generate quality content on a regular basis. But if you really want to dominate your niche or be able to compete against established sites in your field, then you must have a proper understanding of on-page SEO optimization. Still, having a proper understanding of on-page SEO is not enough. Every year, new information comes into the world of SEO. Nothing is the same as it was in the first days of search engines and as such. So you need to keep yourself updated with the latest SEO trends. Keeping all of them in mind, in this article, we’re going to see how to make proper on-page SEO optimization for your WordPress website fully updated for 2018!
Before we begin, here is an on-page SEO optimization checklist for a quick glance of what topics we’ll be covering. Also, try asking yourself these questions and see whether you already implement them or not on your WordPress site.
- Do you use an SEO plugin?
- Do you use SEO friendly URLs?
- Do you use your target keywords in your title and description? Are they properly written?
- Do you properly use heading tags?
- Are you producing quality content?
- Are your images optimized?
- Do you have a sitemap?
- Is www or non-www your preferred option, and is it properly configured?
- Does your site load fast?
- Do you have webmaster tools and Google Analytics implemented?
- Is your website responsive?
- Are you using HTTPS?
- Do you have supplementary content?
- Do you avoid using aggressive ads?
Now that you’ve checked which one of these you already have, let’s go over each of them and explore them in details.
- 1 Use an SEO Plugin
- 2 Use SEO-friendly URL Structure
- 3 Optimize Your Post and Page Title and Description
- 4 Make Use of the Heading Tags
- 5 Content is King
- 6 Optimize Your Images
- 7 XML Sitemaps
- 8 WWW and Non-WWW
- 9 Make Your Website Load Faster
- 10 Use Google Search Console and Google Analytics
- 11 Make Your Website Responsive
- 12 The Importance of HTTPS
- 13 Supplementary Content
- 14 A Word on Aggressive Ads
- 15 Conclusion
WordPress by itself doesn’t offer fine-grained control over SEO. Although some of the themes have integrated SEO features in them, they are simply not enough. Remember, the theme is for presentation and plugin is for functionality. Plugins like Yoast SEO and All in One SEO Pack will allow you to fine-tune your website’s on-page SEO. They have settings that allow you to configure global and per post/page SEO settings. Properly configuring these plugins will certainly give your website a ranking boost, so don’t forget to install one!
The default WordPress URL structure is not SEO friendly. They look like this: http://website.com/wp/?p=123. Search engines and people alike don’t like these kinds of URL permalink structures. Although search engines don’t actually penalize your ranking for using this kind of URL structure, having a clean and readable permalink will boost it, especially if your target keyword is included within the slug. Humans, on the other hand, also love clean and readable URLs because they are easier to remember and share – and sharing (much like word of mouth in offline marketing) will help spread your website if people love your content. Your URLs should be descriptive and should reflect the content of the page. Luckily, WordPress has a feature that allows you to create a custom URL structure for your permalinks and archives. They can be found in settings > permalinks.
From there, it’s recommended to use the post name format.
That way, your permalinks will use your post or page’s title by default. You can, of course, edit it manually by using the post editor or via your SEO plugin’s settings.
By default, WordPress won’t allow you to create a custom SEO meta description for your posts and pages, that’s why it is important to have an SEO plugin installed. If you have one activated, you will be able to provide a custom SEO meta title and meta description for each of your posts and pages. But simply having one is not enough.
Your title and description should follow the standard maximum length. For titles, a maximum of 60 characters and for descriptions, a maximum of 160 characters. Don’t forget to incorporate your target keyword within them. For example, if you write a post targeting the keyword “building a computer,” then your SEO title and description should look like the picture below (which uses the plugin Yoast SEO):
Take note that Yoast SEO (and most SEO plugins) has a nice “focus keyword” feature. This allows you to enhance your content by inputting your target keyword to the plugin, which then is used to analyze if your content is fully optimized for the keyword.
The meta title tag is one of the most important on-page SEO factors, so make sure it is well-written and optimized. The meta description tag, on the other hand, is not really a big factor in SEO, but a well-written meta description will certainly increase your CTR in SERPs. Think of it as your sales-pitch to entice searchers to click on your website instead of your competitors. Remember to not overstuff them with keywords; this will only hurt your rankings and your SERP appearance will look unprofessional.
Heading tags are <h1> to <h6>. Your post title should be an <h1>; check your theme if it uses the <h1> tag for post titles. If not, either choose a better theme or edit the theme’s post.php and page.php or at times, also the single.php templates (use a child theme so your changes won’t be lost when the theme updates). Keep in mind that you should only have ONE <h1> tag, which is the post title. If you must add additional headings in the content body, use <h2>, <h3>, etc.
A proper usage of headings helps users scan your content, especially longer posts, and helps reduce the number of bounces that you get. No one wants to commit reading a 3,000-word article, not knowing if what they are looking for is actually in the article itself. Help your readers know that you are actually answering their questions and that you are providing in-depth information about it.
Although you may have the perfectly optimized meta title, meta description, and headings, your ranking is greatly affected by the quality of your content. Your post body should be original, informative, readable, properly researched, well-written, and properly formatted. It’s recommended to have at least 300 words of relevant content, but the longer, the better. According to serpIQ, web pages in the top 10 results of Google have at least 2000 words.
In addition, the frequency of your content output should be consistent because Google loves crawling websites that are consistently updated. It helps get your site indexed and show up in search results.
“King-sized and royal-quality” content not only helps your website rank better in search results. They will be loved by robots and also users looking for information. However, do not create a 2000-word post just because these are the trend in websites within the top results. In the end, the most important thing is the quality of the content. Stuffing your content with fluff is useless.
An optimized image has a proper alt-tag, a proper file name, and is not overweight in terms of file size. On WordPress, you have the option to set a title and alt-tag for each image you upload.
The image above has a descriptive file name and alt-text. Alt text or alt tag is the way for search engines to “see” your images. In addition to that, in case a user has a slow network connection, the alt text is displayed first if the image can’t be fully loaded, giving them an idea of what the unloaded image is about. It also helps handicapped users visit and enjoy your site when using a screen reader because it reads the alt tag for them.
You should never stuff your image alt tag with keywords because it can hurt your website rankings. In the past, it was a popular method to get higher rankings. Now, however, because of the changes in search algorithms and the continuously growing emphasis on user experience, it now does the opposite. So use the alt tag to describe what’s in the image and not for getting a higher ranking.
Finally, a small image size will make your website load faster, so try reducing your image’s file size before uploading them to your site or use plugins like WP Smushit. Faster loading times = better rankings.
Using an XML sitemap is a way to tell search engines that you’ve updated your website. It also allows you to lay out your URL structure for search engines. Most SEO plugins include a sitemap by default, but if you want a standalone solution, you can use Simple WP Sitemap. However, if you already have an SEO plugin with an integrated sitemap, use that one instead for better compatibility.
Once you have an existing XML sitemap, you need to submit it to Google Search Console or other webmaster tools that you are using so that they can begin crawling your website. We’ll discuss more about Google Search Console later on.
How would you like your site to show up as? www.example.com or just example.com? Once you’ve decided which one you like, go to settings > general in your WordPress dashboard. From there, you can set your preferred URL.
You will also need to do that via Google Search Console, which we’ll cover later on.
A fast website is loved by search engines and people. In fact, it’s a direct ranking factor. Check your website using Google’s PageSpeed Insights. It will tell you how fast your website loads and offers tips on optimizing your website’s speed. You can use the results here to tell your developer about the optimizations that can be done for your website. In general, to have your website load as fast as it can, you can:
- Reduce image size – especially if you’re using a lot.
- Choose a better hosting company – you can upgrade your hosting plan or choose a better web host or if you are using a VPS, you or you can ask your administrator to optimize it for speed. You can activate gzip compression and cache control, etc. You can use this website to check whether gzip or cache-control is implemented.
- Use caching plugin – there are many caching plugins available for WordPress like W3 Total Cache.
- Use a CDN
- Minify your website’s code. One good WordPress plugin for this is called Fast Velocity Minify.
A slower website will rank lower and will affect your conversions. According to kissmetrics, a second is all it takes to reduce your conversions by 7% and you will lose 40% of your visitors if your website fails to load after 3 seconds. So, try to squeeze as many milliseconds as you can out of your site loading time.
These two are very important tools in monitoring and improving your website.
Google Search Console will allow you to submit your website and its sitemaps and view how often Google-bot crawls them, their position in search results and any error that it can find such as slow loading time, 404 errors, server errors and more.
Google Analytics, on the other hand, provides you with an in-depth analysis of your traffic. Your visitor’s location, the browser, and the device they used as well as the time they spend on the website, which part of your website they accessed, the bounce rate, and more.
Together, these two tools will allow you to make important decisions to improve your website.
A responsive website renders smoothly across screens of all sizes. Be it a mobile phone, a tablet, a desktop, or a TV; be it a 480p, 720p or 2160p resolution, your website should be able to display its contents clearly, smoothly, and aesthetically.
During the advent of mobile phones, responsive web design was a very hot topic since most websites failed to render correctly on devices with small screens. But today, almost all new WordPress themes and websites are fully responsive, so this shouldn’t bother you much. Just to be sure, always try to check your website on a mobile phone and on a desktop or laptop and see if it loads everything correctly and adjusts its layout accordingly.
The tool Google PageSpeed Insights will also check if your website is responsive or not, so if you get an error there, make sure you replace your theme with a responsive one. Otherwise you might lose up to half of your traffic as more and more people are using devices other than their desktop or laptop to browse the web.
Additionally, you can use the device toolbar in Chrome Developer tools to see how your website will look in a certain resolution and even test how fast it loads on a mobile phone by throttling your network speeds similar to 3G or 2G.
To access Chrome Developer tools, hit CTRL + SHIFT + I. If this is your first time opening the Chrome Dev Tools, you’ll find it located on the right side of the browser window. I recommend that you move it to the bottom of the window so that you’ll have a better view of the menu items. To do that, refer to the image below:
Now, Chrome Dev Tools should be docked at the bottom of the screen.
To access the mobile view:
To access network throttling:
Google Chrome’s built-in developer tools will provide you with an excellent toolset for making sure that your website looks good and loads fast no matter what kind of device or network your users are using.
Also known as HTTP Secure, HTTPS protects both your website and your users from malicious attackers and eavesdroppers. By implementing HTTPS on your website, you will preserve your website’s data’s integrity. In addition, adding HTTPS to your website will give your users a feeling of safety and trust. Plus, Google boosts the ranking of websites using HTTPS. If you are looking for a free HTTPS certificate, you might want to take a look at Let’s Encrypt.
What is supplementary content? These are the things that increase a visitor’s time spent on a website. Examples are related posts, recent posts, author bio and comments. These are the things that enhance or add value to a page. Of course, having an excellent amount of supplementary content greatly reduces your bounce rate. The lower your bounce rate is, the better your search ranking will be.
Why is this? Google wants to deliver the best possible results to its users. For example, if a user searched on Google and landed on your website and then searched or clicked on other parts of your website, then it means that the searcher found more than what they were looking for. This makes Google proud of itself because they knew that displaying your website on the SERP was an excellent decision made by their algorithm. As a reward, your rankings are boosted. An in-depth explanation of this can be found here.
If you clearly think about it, to achieve higher rankings your website should have quality content and should be user-friendly. It’s very simple. The problem is, some website owners are “greedy.” They want to insert as many ads as possible, destroying their user interface. They encourage accidental clicks, use loud and flashy advertisements, and scatter ads all over the place. Not only is this penalized by Google, it also makes your users unhappy and some or even most of them will probably never visit your website again. Explore this topic in depth here.
Optimizing your website takes time, but it pays off in the long run. You might have thought, after reading this guide, that there’s so many things to check and so many things to keep in mind! In the end, it’s just about making your website accessible and informative to your target audience. The tools and tips outlined in this article will help you do that. Remember that your website should make visitors say, “I loved this article! I love the site; it’s easy to use!” If this is your readers’ reactions, you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll gain loyal readers and visitors. After all, they are the ones who will buy your product or click your affiliate links and ads, not search engine spiders.