WordPress is the most commonly used CMS on the market. A few optimization measures are all you need in order to get the most out of your content and make your website ideal for Google rankings.
The time when WordPress was only used for blogs is long gone. Even larger websites, companies, and online shops now use this free content management system. This explains why it is important to be accustomed with the optimization basics and relevant SEO aspects. This article will give you important tips to guide you through the step by step improvement of your content’s ranking in Google search results.
The basics, such as detailed keywords analysis, the associated keyword targeting, and the creation of high-quality content, are theoretically similar for each content management system. In this article, we will first explore the basic WordPress settings.
When installing WordPress, you should first ensure that the WordPress webpage is visible to search engines. The "Search Engine Visibility" enables you to specify if search engines should crawl and index the website. If you have already installed WordPress, you will find this setting under Settings – Read. If "Discourage search engines from indexing this site" was previously checked, the first key step should be to uncheck this checkbox and save the changes.
Figure 1: Activate visibility for search engines
A descriptive URL is not only important for SEO, it is also crucial from the users’ point of view as it is much easier to remember.
Standard URL in WordPress: www.mydomain.com/?p=123
Descriptive URL in WordPress: www.mydomain.com/seo-for-wordpress
Both URLs point to the same article. The first URL is an example of a standard URL in WordPress. The second is a custom / descriptive URL.
In WordPress, you can easily change a standard URL to a custom URL. You can view your current settings under Settings – Permalinks:
Figure 2: Changing to custom URLs
Here, if the first point is selected by default, you should think about how you would like to structure your URLs. For example, you can integrate the day or month the URL was published. I prefer the easiest way, right above the Post Name of the article. This way, you keep the URL short and easy to remember. The settings are automatically saved when you select the desired option.
When creating a new webpage or post, you have the option to assign it a descriptive URL. By default, WordPress uses the title as the URL. Clicking on the "Edit" button next to the URL allows you to specify more settings:
Figure 3: Changing the URL in a post
It is often sensible to simply use the title as the URL. However, shorter URLs are more appropriate in some cases. For example, it could be advisable to assign an article with the title "The 10 best SEO plugins for WordPress" the URL /wordpress-seo-plugins.
It is always advisable to use small letters and replace spaces with hyphens (Note: not an underscore!) when choosing a URL.
Headlines in the HTML code are marked using so-called H-tags. WordPress already does this on its own. The title of a webpage or post is automatically assigned an H1 tag. Here, you should choose the title carefully and try to integrate the main keyword.
You should also try to organize the article using other sub-headers. In the example below, the H2 tag is used for Heading 2 and H3 tag for Heading 3:
Figure 4: Choosing headlines
Every page should only have one H1 tag. An article only has one main topic and hence only one main headline. You should therefore avoid repeated use of the H1 tag in the body text. H2 and H3 tags can be used repeatedly.
The use of categories and tags has great potential for search engine optimization. Nonetheless, this potential is rarely exploited.
Every well-structured WordPress blog consists of different categories for better organization of its content. Different articles also have multiple tags in order to make them visible under their respective keywords. If the categories and tags are used sensibly, you also get landing pages that contain changing, current, and growing content. Such landing pages are therefore often ranked highly in the Google search results. You should however make sure that you only use the categories and tags sensibly. The subject matter of the various categories should not overlap, and the categories should always be seen as a bundle of articles.
Nevertheless, most websites lack the search engine optimization basics. For example, most of the content is not unique and the meta tags are not well optimized. The main challenge lies in filling the categories and tags with additional relevant content. Here, a lot of content is needed for Google to consider the page to be important. You can use the Rich Text Tags plugin to add valuable content to categories and tags. For instance, if you have one category for "Vacation in Bavaria" where all the related posts are grouped, such as "Top 10 attractions in Munich", you can fill the respective category page with unique content and hence raise its value in Google’s ranking.
Figure 5: Edit categories in WordPress
You can manage the title and description of category and tag pages using the Yoast SEO plugin. This plugin will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
Rich Snippets are a good way to make your webpage standout in the search results, e.g., using review stars, recipe images, etc. For Rich Snippets to be displayed, you need to use schema.org. Here, the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin is very helpful when using WordPress. After you have completed the installation, you will find the Configure Rich Snippet Box on the individual article pages. You can hereby select the type of snippet you want as well as add extra information.
Figure 6: Select type of snippet
For example, if you select "Recipe", you can augment the existing recipe with extra information that is already known by Google. This way, the recipe photo or recipe information is included in the search results.
Figure 7: Recipe with photo in the search results
Pictures add value to the content of your website. They can also help win you more users through the Google Image Search. Since Google currently cannot interpret an image completely, you should certainly consider the following when optimizing your images:
1. Images should always be assigned a descriptive file name. This file name is reflected in the image’s URL and is therefore read by Google.
2. You should also include alternative text when uploading every image. This helps Google understand the type of information presented by the image to the user.
In WordPress, alternative text can either be entered directly when uploading an image or in the media library (menu item: Media) by clicking on the respective image. In addition to alternative text, you can also add a title for the image. This is displayed when a visitor places the mouse pointer over the image. The URL and file name can additionally be used to integrate the corresponding keyword.
Figure 8: Add alternative text to images
In addition, the file attachment detail window also shows you the size of the image, its dimensions, and its format.
Plugin Tip: There are many situations where several people or employees work on the same website. This often makes it hard to ensure that every employee adds alternative text to image files. In such a case, it is advisable to use the SEO Friendly Images plugin. This automatically assigns every image an alt and title tag. Here, you can specify the settings for the automation in advance. You can also choose to overwrite the alt and title tags manually.
There are several plugins for WordPress that can greatly help simplify your everyday work. One of the most popular all-in-one SEO plugins is the Yoast SEO. The basic version is available free of charge and combines many settings that are key for good OnPage SEO.
Once installed, the plugin is displayed in the WordPress sidebar with the title "SE"”. If you open this menu, you will see eight different sub-menus where you can change the various settings:
General – Here, you have the option to start a quick tour, view the recent changes, and restore default settings. You can also add information about a person or company – this is then provided to Google as semantic information. Furthermore, you can also register your website for all webmaster tools.
Title & Metas – WLike the name suggests, this is all about the title tag and different meta tags. You can set the title and descriptions to be created automatically as well as configure desired indexing settings. This way, all your sub-pages are automatically assigned a unique title and description without much maintenance effort and you can also prevent specific content from being indexed by search engines.
Social – his allows you to configure settings that affect the appearance of the image in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus). You can also link social profiles to the website.
XML-Sitemap – This enables you to create an XML Sitemap as well as leave out specific content or articles. The XML sitemap lists all websites in an XML file format. Search engines are thus able to identify the website structure as well as the sub-pages and hence index them.
Advanced – This enables you to configure additional settings regarding your URLs. You can also activate a breadcrumb navigation. This shows users the current path of the open article or page.
Tools – Yoast has four different tools that you can use, e.g., to easily edit your robots.txt or .htaccess file in an editor or modify the titles and descriptions of your webpages within a short time.
Search Console – This feature imports your website’s crawl data directly from the Google Search Console. Thus, you can always see the problems that Google experienced when crawling your website.
Extensions – When you click on the Extensions menu item, you will first see an overview of all the premium extensions in Yoast SEO.
The plugin is not only displayed in the WordPress sidebar. A box for the individual configuration is also shown below the respective webpage and article. This has three different settings tabs.
Under Content, you have the option to add an individual title and description. One very important feature in this case is the preview snippet. It enables you to see how the snippet will appear later in Google search results. You can also select a focus keyword. This keyword is used by the plugin to check if all the key OnPage factors have been adhered to. The main keyword should always be set as the focus keyword in order for all factors to be reviewed.
Figure 9: Snippet preview using the Yoast SEO Plugin
You should try and make sure that every line receives a green dot. This is an indication that you have done a good job in the OnPage optimization of your webpage or post.
Under Advanced, you can specify the indexing settings and set a canonical tag among other things.
Under Social, you have the option to determine how your webpage or post appears in social networks. These settings currently do not directly affect the SEO ranking. However, if the website is strongly represented in social media, it would be worthwhile to maintain these settings.
The loading time of a website was made an official SEO ranking factor in 2010. Google justified this decision by saying that fast websites automatically result in satisfied visitors and hence better search results.
The loading time of a website can be evaluated using Google PageSpeed. This tool evaluates your webpage by giving it a rating ranging between 0 and 100. It also shows you tips on how you can improve this rating and hence make your website load faster.
Below are some of the most important factors regarding WordPress and a shorter loading time, which should always be heeded:
When a user opens a webpage, the browser saves it in its cache. If the user revisits the webpage, the browser asks the server if the respective data on the webpage have changed. If they have, the page is loaded anew. If not, the browser simply retrieves the webpage from the browser cache. This reduces the number of HTTP requests significantly.
However, checking whether the webpage is in the cache takes valuable time. Since such a request is necessary for every file, the request for all available files often ends up taking too long. In addition, the inquiry to the server on whether the respective website data have changed also takes a lot of time. With browser caching, the server tells the browser to refrain from these requests for a certain duration.
You need to add a code in your .htaccess file (system file) in order to implement browser caching. You can either add the code directly in your webhosting or conveniently via WordPress using the SEO Yoast plugin under Tools – File Editor.
The code below first activates the expires.c module that is necessary for browser caching. Next, it sets all values to "1 week" and defines different validity durations for the different file formats:
ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 week"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 1 month"
ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 3 month"
ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 3 month"
ExpiresByType image/ico "access plus 3 month"
ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access plus 3 month"
ExpiresByType image/jpg "access plus 3 month"
The code can be modified and adapted to specific validity durations for the different data as desired.
A compression of data aims to save content on the server with the smallest possible file sizes. This makes it possible for the browser to load and process the data much faster.
Similar to browser caching, a compression must be enabled using a code in the .htaccess file. The code below activates the deflate.c module that is needed for the compression and then defines the various specifications for the relevant file formats:
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/atom_xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-shockwave-flash
The optimization of images is initially done even before the images are added in WordPress. You should first use a graphics tool to optimize your images before uploading them to WordPress. This is possible, e.g., using Photoshop or a free version of Gimp.
WThe important thing when optimizing images is to make sure you select the correct image format and save it in the correct image dimensions. In addition, the file size should be kept as small as possible.
Image format - The selected image format should either be JPEG or PNG. JPEG has the advantage that the files can be compressed. You can therefore reduce the file size, but this also reduces the quality of the image. PNG does not compromise the image quality but is much larger than JPEG. The greatest advantage of PNG is the transparency, which is not supported by JPEG.
Image Dimensions - Basically, you should always upload images in WordPress in the required dimensions. If you fail to do this, the browser will have to later readjust the images manually. This takes a lot of time. Besides, an 800x400px image is significantly larger than a 400x200px image.
Image compression - Photoshop has a "Save for Web" function with which you can save an optimized web version of the image. This helps you reduce the image size. In addition, you can reduce the size of JPEG images with a quality reduction of just 80%. One rarely notices any differences in the quality with 80%, yet the size difference is evident.
Plugin Tip: The WordPress Plugin, Optimus, promises a lossless compression of images as well as an easy way of retrieving WebP images in WordPress. WebP is Google’s own image format that can compress high-quality images and is much more effective than JPEG. The plugin is very interesting if you have many images on your website and if many users visit your website using the Chrome browser. It does a very good job and automatically loads the perfectly compressed version for all Chrome users.
The Mobile Friendly Update from Google went live on April 21st, 2015. This update applies to the mobile Google search. Since then, webpages that have a mobile version are ranked better in the mobile search results compared to webpages that do not have a mobile version. This way, Google plainly addresses the mobile sector and drives website operators to a situation where they have to maintain a mobile version of their website or risk lower rankings in the mobile search.
You can easily check if Google considers your website to be mobile friendly using the Mobile Friendly Testing Tools from Google. Once you give in your URL, the tool tells you if the website is mobile friendly and also highlights any problems found by Google regarding the user-friendliness for mobile devices. In addition, you also get a preview of how Google sees the mobile version of your website:
Figure 10: Google’s test for mobile optimization
It is important to note that mobile friendliness is evaluated individually for each page. If the homepage is mobile friendly, the rest of the sub-pages do not necessarily have to be mobile friendly.
The easiest way to meet all the conditions for the Mobile Friendly Update is looking for a theme with a responsive design. This version is automatically identified by Google and no further maintenance is needed. All modern themes already have the so-called responsive web design.
Plugin Tip: If you want a current theme that doesn’t have a mobile version, you can use the different mobile plugins for WordPress. For this, you should take a closer look at plugins such as the WPtouch.
The nine optimization measures presented in this article can significantly help you optimize your content in WordPress and win more users in the future via Google and other search engines. These aspects are not just SEO measures, they also help make your website more user-friendly, e.g., through faster loading times and a simpler structure. This optimization should be the goal of any SEO measure, both for search engines and users.
Published on 06/08/2016 by Mario Träger.
Mario Träger is a partner at the Webworks agency and specializes in Search engine optimization for online shops. Since 2007, he has been working with all aspects of search engine optimization, and until 2014 he was the head of SEO and social media at Witt Gruppe (a member of the Otto group).Become a guest author »
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