Ultimate Guide To WordPress SEO
WordPress is without doubt the most popular content management system (CMS) available today, with more than one third of all websites on the internet using WordPress. Is WordPress any better than other CMS solutions when it comes to SEO? In some cases, yes. But it does not mean that it is the best solution for every website. WordPress was originally designed to be a platform for blogging but has developed to be a CMS solution used for company websites for both small businesses and large corporations.
Before delving into how to set up your site for SEO success on your WordPress site, we will cover some frequently asked questions that a lot of people have about WordPress SEO.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is WordPress good for SEO?
So, with the platform being so popular, it must be great for SEO, right? Like most questions, it must be answered with “it depends”. Just installing your website on a WordPress site will not guarantee top SEO results. WordPress offers you a tool to make it easier to set up your website and webpages compared to a static website. But to outrank your competitors in organic search, you still need to do the SEO basics like keyword research, write efficient content that contains the right signals and keywords, write good Meta data and have a good link building strategy.
What makes WordPress good for SEO?
WordPress will not do any SEO for you, but it offers all the tools you need to create an SEO friendly site. One of the key benefits of using WordPress is the ease of which to customise it. WordPress is based on a programming language called PHP, and the site owner gets access to all of the code to make changes themselves, for better or worse. The fact that it is fully customisable and that it gives the web developers full access to make the changes they need is very attractive to a lot of developers.
Does WordPress have “built in” SEO?
WordPress does not have “built in” SEO, as in that it will do all the work for you, and you start ranking. However, there are a host of good and not so good plugins available such as Yoast that can guide you towards the best practices in basic SEO. When using these plugins, keep in mind that blindly following their recommendations will not guarantee success. In fact, we never look at those recommendations myself when doing on-page optimisation.
One of the first things you want to do is make certain that your URLs appear as what is called “pretty URLs”. For example, you want your URLs to look something like this: https://sitename.com/page-name instead of https://sitename.com/?p=123 or similar. We always recommend keeping the URLs relatively short, but also keep the main keyword in the URL.
Meta Titles & Description
Out of the box, WordPress does not offer a good method of adding the very important Meta Titles and Descriptions to web pages. So, we recommend using a plugin to get this capability added. We usually use Yoast for our client’s sites, but there are a few other ones out there that will do a similar job. When adding a SEO plugin to your website, make certain that you set it up correctly. Yoast is a free plugin, but you will get an option to purchase a “premium” edition. The free edition will be sufficient for 99% of users out there. Yoast premium offers some added benefits such as a redirect solution and internal linking suggestions. But in my opinion, you can definitely do without that added cost. Don’t get me wrong, 301 redirects is very important, but there is a free plugin available that does the job perfectly.
When writing Meta titles, we recommend keeping the length of the titles to about 65 characters to avoid them being cut off. As a guide, start the title with the most important keyword and highlight the most important benefit of using you.
When it comes to Meta description, it is recommended to have a maximum length of 155 characters to avoid important information being cut from the search results. Meta descriptions are not a major ranking signal, but it helps convince potential visitors to click through.
Very often we encounter clients who have lost all their rankings after their developer changed their design or moved their site over to WordPress or a different platform. Whenever a webpage’s URL changes, that page will lose all the SEO value built up over time unless you set up a redirect from the old URL to the new one. This redirect will automatically transfer anyone who would arrive at the old URL to the new URL including the very important search engine crawling bots that index your site. When the bots from Google and other search engines find the redirect, they will realise that the URL has changed and start showing the new page in search results instead of the old ones. In addition, any SEO benefit derived from links from either your website or other websites going to the old URL will be transferred to the new website as well.
One of the first plugins we install on clients’ WordPress sites is Redirection, a free plugin that handles redirect incredibly well.
However, if you do not want to handle redirects through a plugin, you can create redirects in htaccess if you have access to the server. WordPress is one of the few CMS’s that allow you to create redirects and other rules in an htaccess file, which can be extremely useful if you have migrated from a different CMS and need to change the URL structure. For example, if you run an eCommerce store, the old category URLs might look something like https://sitename.com/category/pencils whereas in WordPress it would be https://sitename.com/product-category/pencils. The redirects for all the categories can be handled through one simple piece of coding in htaccess instead of creating individual redirects for all the different categories.
Page Speed Optimisation
How good is WordPress when it comes to optimising for speed? Page speed is incredibly important, not just for SEO, but for the user experience as well. The slower your site loads, the higher the bounce rate you will have and the more potential customers you will miss out on. WordPress can be one of the best platforms when it comes to optimising for speed, as long as your site is set up right. Because you get access to editing the code, a good developer can work on reducing load times through tweaks to the code.
However, we have seen some very slow WordPress sites that are weighed down by using a lot of different plugins. We always advise our clients to only use the plugins that they really need. At the same time, there are a lot of plugins that can help you optimise page load times. Some of them help a bit, but the only one that we have found that has changed the landscape is Nitropack.io. Installing Nitropack has taken some sites that we have worked hard to get to a Google PageSpeed Insights score for mobile view from about 30 up to a perfect score of 100.
And one last thing when it comes to page speed: ditch the animated slider on your homepage / landing page once and for all. First of all, it is bad for page speed and SEO, and most importantly it is generally bad for the user experience.
Best WordPress SEO Plugins
We did say to keep WordPress plugins to a minimum, but there are a few plugins that are essential when it comes to optimising your site for SEO. We recommend installing the following types of plugins:
We have already mentioned Yoast as a good plugin, but there are others out there that will do the job just as well.
Speed Optimisation Plugin
As we have mentioned, Nitropack is a great plugin for optimising the code on your site for page speed. We also recommend using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) so that your visitors can access your files from a server close to where they are. Cloudflare is a popular option if you are not using AWS servers to manage it. Nitropack has also been fantastic at making our client’s WordPress sites comply with Core Web Vitals, allowing for a better user experience.
And one of the most important factors in managing page load time is to optimise your images. You can choose to use a plugin for this. However, in order to keep the number of plugins to a minimum, we normally optimise these ourselves. The golden rule is to not have images that are larger than they need to be. You don’t want to serve an image that is 1400px wide when the visitor will only see it scaled down to 300px. Also, save the images in the right formats! If you need transparent background, use gif or png formats. Otherwise, save the files in jpeg format optimised for web.
Potential WordPress Issues
When using WordPress as a CMS, you need to be aware of a few potential issues. First of all, when you install WordPress, your site will be installed with a lot of dummy content, posts, tags and categories. Make certain that you delete these URLs. If they have been indexed in Google, just redirect the URLs back to the home page.
But most importantly, as WordPress is the most popular CMS by far, it attracts the most hackers looking for vulnerabilities to get access to your site’s backend or server. You would want to make it as difficult as possible for hackers to take control over your site, as once they get in, they can do a lot of damage. There are a few steps that you can do to minimise this risk. But the most important one is to take regular backups of your site. If your website gets hacked, you will be able to restore it to a recent copy quickly and easily.
But also, make it more difficult for the hackers to get access. Most of the WordPress sites have the standard login URLs: /wp-login.php or wp-admin. The hackers look for these URLs and use bots to try usernames and password combinations to get access. Get your developer to change the login URL to significantly reduce this risk.
Hackers also look for weaknesses to exploit in plugins to get access to your server and files. Keep the plugins installed to a minimum and make certain that you update them regularly.
Other SEO optimisation techniques
In this article, we have mainly covered issues specifically related to WordPress. There are a lot of other optimisations that can be done to boost your organic rankings, including content optimisation, internal linking and link building. You can read more about these issues in some of our other posts.