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WordPress SEO: How to optimize your WordPress website for Google

Using WordPress as a CMS? This article explains the SEO measures you should take to improve your content’s visibility and rankings on Google.

WordPress is the most commonly used CMS on the market. By some estimates, it’s currently powering 455,000,000 websites on the internet. An impressive statistic, but also incredibly daunting for websites looking to increase their traffic and improve visibility. Thankfully, a few WordPress SEO measures are all you need to optimize your website for users and search engines.

WordPress SEO measures this guide will cover:

Activate your Search Engine Visibility

After installing WordPress, you should first ensure that the WordPress website is visible to search engines.

Search Engine Visibility” enables you to specify if search engines should crawl and index your website. If you’ve already installed WordPress, you will find this setting under Settings > Reading.

If “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is checked, the first key step should be to uncheck this checkbox and save.

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Figure 1: Check your search engine visibility in WordPress to ensure that Google can crawl and index your website.

Optimize your URL structure

A descriptive URL is not only important for SEO, it’s also crucial from the users’ point of view as it’s easier to recall.

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, but the first URL is an example of a standard URL in WordPress. The second has a customized structure.

In WordPress, you can easily change a standard URL to a custom URL via Settings > Permalinks.

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Figure 2: Start optimizing your URLs in WordPress by selecting your desired structure.

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. Many consider “Post Name” to be the easiest way. It will generate the URL automatically and keep the URL short and easy to remember. The settings are automatically saved when you select the desired option.

When creating a new page or post, you have the option of assigning it a descriptive URL. By default, WordPress uses the title as the URL. Clicking on the “Edit” button next to the URL will allow you to specify additional settings.

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Figure 3: Continue to optimize your URLs by editing URLs within a page or post.

Tips for optimizing URL structure in WordPress

Use the page’s title as the URL: It is often sensible to simply use the title as the URL, since you’ve ideally already included your primary keyword here. 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.

Keep your URLs concise: Make sure to keep your URL short and simple and avoid “filler” words like “with,” “and,” “or,” “for,” as well as adjectives. Additionally, you should use small letters, and use hyphens (not underscores) to replace spaces. If you follow these guidelines, your URL will be displayed in the SERPs and will positively influence the CTR.

Understand the risks of changing a URL: If you want to change your URL in WordPress after it’s been published to shorten the URL or optimize keywords – keep in mind that the search engines and your users already know the old version of the site. It is therefore advisable to set up a 301 redirect from the old to the new URL. Otherwise, a 404 error page will show up upon accessing the site. Google has already indexed it, and internal and external links direct there. This is not only unfortunate from a user experience perspective. The Googlebot is also running into a void. To install redirects for your CMS you need a plugin, like the free plugin Simple 301 Redirects. After the initial installation, you can find the option in Settings > 301 Redirects.

Use header tags correctly

Header tags or h-tags are tags in the source code of a document that define the headlines of the webpage. The headlines are defined by <h#>, where # is a number between 1 and 6 that defines the order and format of the headline.

Using header tags correctly is important for both users and Google. Proper headlines on a page create a better user experience by breaking longer pieces of content into smaller digestible pieces. They improve the overall reading experience for visitors, which in turn can improve the page’s average bounce rate and time on page. Google will take these positive signals into consideration when evaluating and ranking your website.

WordPress makes it easy to add header tags to your content and even creates some headers automatically. The title of a web page or post is automatically assigned an H1 tag. Therefore, be sure to choose the title carefully and try to integrate the main keyword.

For the remainder of your article or website, try to organize your content using other subheaders. In the example below, the H2 tag is used for heading 2 and h3 tag for heading 3:

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Figure 4: WordPress makes it easy to select the appropriate header tag for each page.

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 – but don’t go overboard. You want your user to be able to read your content.

If you have a lot to say about a certain topic within your article and there is a lot of text in one URL, maybe consider if it’s worth creating an additional URL for this topic. This is completely up to you and the type of page though.

Check out this article on How to Use HTML Heading Tags Correctly for more information.

Not sure if all of your pages have the right h-tags? Easily check them with a Ryte Free account

Check my h-tags

Use categories and tags for SEO

Categories and tags in WordPress are labels you can add to your WordPress pages that allow you to organize and structure your content- but that’s not all! Categories and tags can also be advantageous for SEO.

According to the WordPress definition, categories should be used for broad topics while tags can be used for more specific topics.

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 SEO 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.

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Figure 5: Easily edit your 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 Snippet optimization

Rich Snippets are a great way to make your page standout in the search results e.g., using stars ratings, recipe images, etc. Sadly, rich snippets can’t be switched on with a flip of a switch, Google decides when rich snippets will be displayed. But one important prerequisite for Rich Snippets is to use schema markup.

Schema markup is a form of microdata added to the source code of a website that helps search engines understand your content better and in turn, offer the right content to fulfill specific search queries.

The easiest way to add schema markup to your WordPress website is to install a plugin. The All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin makes implementing schema tags on your WordPress website pretty simple.

After installation, you’ll see the Configure Rich Snippet Box for individual pages of your WordPress site. Select the type of content that the page displays and the box will recommend schema tags that you can add to the page.

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**Figure 6:**This is the Configure rich snippets box in WordPress.

For example, if you select “Recipe,” including the information like the recipe name, time required or a photo will help increase the chances of this information being included in the search results as a rich result.

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Figure 7: Here is an example of a recipe that’s been enriched by schema tags, resulting in a rich snippet.

Most importantly, after configuring your schema tags, don’t forget to test your schema markup to ensure that everything is working properly.

Optimize your images

Images add an incredible amount of value to a webpage. They make pages more appealing and help visitors understand the content better. Optimized images also offer another avenue for visitors to find your website through Google Image Search.

Since Google currently cannot completely interpret an image, you should consider the following when optimizing your images in WordPress:

  1. Save your image files with a descriptive file name, connecting separate words with hyphens. This file name will be included in the image’s URL and is therefore “read” by Google so you should also consider strategically using keywords that make sense to the image.

  2. Add alternative text (alt tags) to each image. Including alt text with your images is best practice for accessibility, will be displayed if the image fails to load, and helps Google understand the type of information presented by the image to the user.

You can add alt tags in WordPress directly when uploading an image or in the media library (menu item: Media) by clicking on the respective image.

Additionally, you’ll have the option to edit other text related to the image. You can add a title for the image that will be displayed when a visitor hovers over the image and edit the URL and filename to include relevant keywords. You will also see details about the size of the image, its dimensions, and its format.

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Figure 8: WordPress allows you to adjust the URL, title, caption, alt text, and description of an image.

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 alt text to image files. In such a case, it’s advisable to use the SEO Friendly Images plugin This plugin 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.

  1. Make sure your image files aren’t too large and compress your images if need be. Large image files can hurt your page speed and therefore your website’s performance. More on this later in the article.

Use the Yoast SEO Plugin

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 Yoast SEO. The basic version is available free of charge and offers a number of solutions that are key for good OnPage SEO.

Once installed, the plugin is displayed in the WordPress sidebar with the title “SEO.” If you open this menu, you will see eight different submenus where you can change the various settings:

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Figure 9: This is what the Yoast SEO plugin looks like in your WordPress navigation.

Dashboard: Here, you have the option to start a quick tour, view recent changes, and restore to default settings. You can also add information about a person or company – this is then provided to Google as semantic information. Furthermore, you can register your website for all webmaster tools.

Title and Metas: As the name suggests, this is all about the title tag and different meta tags. Here you can choose to automatically set your title and descriptions so that all of your subpages are automatically assigned a unique title and description without much effort. You can also configure your desired indexing settings to prevent specific content from being indexed by search engines.

SocialThis allows you to configure settings that impact the appearance of the image in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus). You can also link social profiles to your website.

**XML Sitemaps:**This tab allows you to create an XML Sitemap and manage which specific content or articles get included. The XML sitemap lists all websites in an XML file format. Search engines use this to identify the website’s structure and subpages and subsequently index them.

Advanced: This enables you to configure additional URL settings. You can also activate breadcrumb navigation. This shows users the current path of the open article or page. This can help your search result appear more attractive and may help increase clicks.

Tools: Yoast has four different tools that you can use to easily edit your robots.txt or .htaccess file or quickly modify the titles and descriptions of your web pages.

Search Console – This feature imports your website’s crawl data directly from the Google Search Console. Therefore, you can always see the problems that Google experienced when crawling your website.

Premium – When you click on the Premium menu item, you will first see an overview of all the premium extensions in Yoast SEO.

In addition to the sidebar, the Yoast plugin is visible on each WordPress page with a box titled “Yoast SEO.” With this box, you can configure individual settings for the respective page.

Under Content, you have the option to add individual titles and descriptions. One very important feature here is the snippet preview. It enables you to see how the snippet will appear later in Google search results.

Here, you can also select a focus keyword. In doing so, the plugin will check OnPage elements to see how optimized your article is. The main keyword should always be set as the focus keyword in order for all factors to be reviewed. 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.

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Figure 10: Snippet preview using the Yoast SEO Plugin

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 web page or post appears in social networks. These settings currently do not directly affect the SEO ranking. However, if your website has a strong presence on social media, it would be worthwhile to maintain these settings.

Optimize your WordPress page speed

Page speed is incredibly important. Not only is it an official ranking factor, but it is also crucial for happy users. If your page is too slow, people are going to leave and you’ll miss out on conversions and revenue.

Test the page speed of a single WordPress page

Start by testing your page speed with Google PageSpeed Insights. Google PageSpeed Insights will analyze the content of a page and provide suggestions on how to make it faster.
Simply enter a URL from a page on your website and click “Analyze.”

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Figure 11: Google PageSpeed Insights

After a few seconds, your results will load and you’ll be able to toggle between your mobile and desktop results. Your overall score will be a weighted average of a number of important page speed metrics.

If you scored 90-100 (green), well done, your page speed is good! A score of 50-89 (orange) means your page speed needs Improvement and 0-49 is poor. But don’t worry, even if you have a poor score, Google offers suggestions on how you can improve your page speed. To ensure the best mobile experience for your users, you should strive for a score of 90-100.

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Figure 12: Suggestions to improve page speed from Google PageSpeed Insights

If you receive a bad score, you’ll get recommendations to see what you need to improve.

Test the page speed of your entire WordPress website

While Google’s PageSpeed Insights is an incredibly helpful tool, unfortunately, you have to test each page individually. If you want a complete picture of your mobile and desktop page speed, it’s best to try the Performance section in the Ryte Suite.

Under Performance > “Load times”, you can see all the load times of your pages on your mobile website at once.

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Just below, you will find the details about the page load time of your pages. If you click on the charts (“Ok”, “Slow”, “Very Slow”), you will get a list of all URLs in this group.

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In addition, all performance values of interest to Google can be found in the “Web Vitals” report. It could appear more complex, but it’s way more precise!

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Analyse your website's web vitals with Ryte!

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🚀 Tips for a faster WordPress website

Below are the key points you should consider to improve your WordPress page speed:

Use browser caching

When a user opens a webpage, the browser saves it in its cache. If the user revisits the page, the browser asks the server if the respective data on the webpage has changed. If they have, the page is loaded new. If not, the browser simply retrieves the webpage from the cache. This significantly reduces the number of HTTP requests, helping improve loading time.

To add browser caching to WordPress sites, you need to add a few lines of code in your .htaccess file (system file). You can add the code directly in your web hosting service or in WordPress with a browser caching plugin.

If you choose to implement browser caching manually, the code below first activates the expires.c module that is necessary for browser caching. After inserting it, set all values to “1 week” and defines different validity durations for the different file formats:

<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 week"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/javascript "access plus 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/x-javascript "access plus 1 month"
ExpiresByType text/javascript "access plus 3 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.

Enable compression

The aim of data compression is to save content on a server with the smallest possible file size so that the browser can load and process the data much faster.

Similar to browser caching, compression can be enabled with code in the .htaccess file. The code below activates the deflate.c module that is needed for compression and then defines the various specifications for the relevant file formats:

<IfModule mod_deflate.c>
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/atom_xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-shockwave-flash

Minimize CSS and JavaScript

CSS and JavaScript files usually consist of many code fragments and therefore include many spaces, comments, and other unimportant characters. You can use so-called Minify methods to remove all unnecessary content from these files, minimizing the file size. The Better WordPress Minify Plugin reliably reduces the size of your website’s CSS and JavaScript code.

Optimize images

Image optimization starts before images ever even added to WordPress. It’s very important to select the correct image format and save it in the correct image dimensions. Most importantly, the file size should be kept as small as possible.

Image format: Images should be saved as 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 image quality but is much larger than JPEG. The greatest advantage of PNG is transparency, which is not supported by JPEG.

Image dimensions: You should always upload images in WordPress in the required dimensions. If you fail to do this, the browser will have to readjust the images manually, which will impact loading times.

Image compression: Photoshop has a “Save for Web” function that allows you to save an optimized web version of the image. This helps you reduce the image size. You can reduce the size of JPEG images by reducing the quality by just 80% – a small difference in quality, but huge for speed.

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 a lot of images on your website and if many users visit your website using the Chrome browser. It automatically loads the perfectly compressed version of an image for all Chrome users.

Mobile SEO for WordPress

In March 2021, Google will make the switch from “Mobile First” to “Mobile only,” meaning it will only use mobile crawlers to crawl and index webpages.

Creating a Mobile Friendly website is no longer best practice, it’s critical.

The easiest way to meet all the conditions for a mobile-friendly website is looking for a WordPress theme with a responsive design. Responsive websites are easy to implement, easy to maintain and provide a good user experience for visitors. Most modern WordPress themes already have a responsive web design.

🤓 Reading tip: Learn everything you need to know about creating a Mobile First website in this ebook

Start optimizing your WordPress website

The nine measures in this article can help you to significantly 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.

If you don’t know where to get started: Ryte will help you (& it’s free)! A Ryte Free Account offers all necessary information to apply SEO measures to your WordPress websites. We will even give you an overview of which topics to cover first!

Ryte users gain +93% clicks after 1 year. Learn how!

Published on Aug 23, 2021 by Kate Aspinwall