Although WordPress is widely considered to be a search engine friendly website builder, there’s also a lot you can do to increase the visibility of your site in search engines like Google.
However, when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) it can be hard to know where to start. There’s plenty you can do and just as much misinformation out there.
So to help you improve the chances of your site and its content being found by your target audience, this article will detail the top 10 WordPress SEO best practices that work.
Top 10 WordPress SEO Best Practices
The first five steps below are one-time actions that will improve the SEO of your site, and the last five are ongoing tips that you should use for every post.
Keep reading to discover our top ten WordPress SEO best practices!
1. Make Sure You Are Allowing Search Engines to Index
Are you encouraging or discouraging search engines to index your website? By default, your site should be set to encourage search engine visits, but this setting can sometimes be set to the opposite by accident.
To find out, visit Settings > Reading and make sure the checkbox next to “Search Engine Visibility” is not checked, as shown below:
2. Set SEO-Friendly Permalinks
Permalink is short for “permanent link,” and refers to the URL of a given page of your blog or website. By default, WordPress uses a permalink structure that refers to your posts by their post ID, rather than the name of the post. So your permalink might look like this: http://www.example.com/?p=147
This is not a very user-friendly URL because the post ID doesn’t tell users what to expect when they visit that page. From an SEO perspective, it is also a missed opportunity to include keywords in the URL. For these reasons, it is better to set your permalink structure to the name of your post instead.
You can change your permalink structure under Settings > Permalinks. I recommend setting it this way:
You can also customize the permalink on individual posts. This setting appears directly under the Title box.
3. Install an SEO Plugin
We’ve discussed some of the best WordPress SEO plugins before. If you are serious about optimizing your WordPress website for search engines, it is vital that you install one. For many, their plugin of choice, and the one you’ll see mentioned in some of the steps below is Yoast SEO.
SEO plugins don’t just guide you through optimizing individual WordPress posts and pages. They carry out many optimizations at the flick of a switch. For example, Yoast SEO automatically creates an XML sitemap for you and adds the rel=“canonical” tag to every post.
In a recent update, Yoast SEO pared down their plugin to make it less intimidating to new users. If you want to adjust the plugin settings, I strongly recommend that you turn on advanced settings. To do so, go to SEO > Dashboard, click the Features tab, and enable “Advanced settings pages”:
4. Display Excerpts Instead of Full Posts
By default, WordPress is set to display your entire post anywhere it appears. That means your visitors can read your full post from not just your homepage, but your date archives, category and tag archives, author archive, and RSS feed.
This is bad for your SEO because all of those archives result in duplicate content! The only place a search engine crawler should be able to find the full text of your post is on the post itself – not the homepage, archives, or author page.
I’ll tell you how to prevent some of those archives from being indexed in the next step, but for now, go to Settings > Reading and change this setting to “Summary”:
If you want more control over your excerpts, you can install the Advanced Excerpt plugin.
5. Disable Some Archives
As mentioned in the last step, out of the box WordPress creates a lot of duplicate content with its category and tag archives, author archives, and date archives. While setting posts to display excerpts instead of full posts minimizes the duplicate content problem, it doesn’t get rid of it entirely.
If your blog is a single-author blog – that is, only you, the admin, ever publishes posts – then it makes sense to disable the author archives.
Also, if your date-based archives are not important to you, you can turn those off as well. These are the archives that list every month and year you’ve published content. If you do not post often, or your posts are not really tied to a chronology, it makes sense to turn these off.
You can disable both the author and date archives using Yoast SEO. After turning on advanced settings (see step 3), go to SEO > Titles & Metas and visit the Archives tab. Change one or both of these settings to “Disabled,” as shown below:
6. Don’t Overuse Categories & Tags
Categories and tags are both taxonomies used to organize posts on your WordPress website. They allow you to tie related posts together.
Think of categories as buckets into which to put your posts; they should cover all the broad themes of your content, and every post should comfortably fit into one category. Tags connect related ideas across categories.
Every new category or tag you make creates a whole new archive page. So be strategic about the ones you create and only make them with good reason.
7. Write with a Target Keyword in Mind
You should always begin writing a blog post with a target keyword in mind. A good way to decide on a target keyword is to consider the main idea of the post you intend to write. If you want, you can do keyword research to determine if a keyword is worth targeting and if you have a shot at ranking for it.
When you write with a target keyword in mind, you can make intentional decisions about how often to use your keyword, without over-stuffing your content. And it’s easier to approach your post with the keyword in mind from the start, rather than trying to retrofit it later based on the advice of your SEO tool.
While you don’t want to overuse your target keyword in your post, here are some places you’ll want to try and use it:
- Meta description
- Within the first 100 words of the content
- In at least one sub-heading
- Within the alt tag of an image
In Yoast SEO, you can enter your target keyword and it will make suggestions for how to better optimize your post. It will also score your SEO efforts with a traffic light style system. Aim for a green light on your posts, and try to knock out as many red and orange points in the “analysis” as possible.
8. Write a Meta Description for Every Post
Sometimes, Google will automatically choose the preview text that appears in the search results. The rest of the time, Google will default to your meta description, if you provide one, and doing so is a great way to draw relevant traffic to your post. A well-written meta description includes your target keyword, summarizes what readers will learn from the post, and entices them to click.
In Yoast SEO, you can add a meta description by clicking the “Edit snippet” button.
9. Practice Good Internal Linking Habits
Internal linking, or linking to related posts within your own site, is one of the most important steps to optimizing your site. It’s not the easiest thing to do, either, because it needs to be an ongoing habit, and there is no quick fix.
There are plugins out there that allow you to define a phrase and a page to link to any time that phrase appears. I strongly advise against them. Not only is it unnatural, but you open yourself up to potential Google penalties if you aren’t careful.
Instead, here is what works for me: every time I write a post, I link to at least two previous related posts. I also go back and update one related post to add a link to the new post.
That’s it! Simple advice that will keep your internal linking strong.
10. Add Alt Text to Your Images
Alt text is the text that users with screen readers get as a stand-in for any images in your posts. Not only are you doing those users a disservice if you do not add alt text to your images – you’re doing your SEO a disservice!
Every time you add an image to your website, add some descriptive text to the alt text field before you insert the image. If appropriate, include your target keyword. Just like vision impaired users, search engine crawlers cannot see images, so your alt text is the best they’ve got.
The ten WordPress SEO best practices above will put you well on your way to having an optimized website. While many of these suggestions are best applied when you first set up your website, it isn’t too late to tweak your settings if your site has existed for a while. Also, steps six through ten apply on an ongoing basis.
What’s your #1 piece of WordPress SEO advice? Share in the comments!