We like to spend a lot of time talking about SEO here at Square 205. Like, A LOT. SEO is one of the most valuable digital marketing investments a business can make. Think about it. More free website traffic? Duh.
In its simplest terms, SEO or Search Engine Optimization improves certain aspects of your website, such as on-page elements, off-page elements, and technical components, to aid your audience when searching for what you offer on search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. We call this having search visibility.
Any business’s website can benefit from optimization whether built with Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, BigCommerce, or others. For this article, we’re focusing on the most popular content management system out there, WordPress.
Why Do We Use WordPress?
WordPress is our go-to CMS providing us a highly flexible environment for most websites for clients from any industry to be built on. We have the developmental freedom to use professional themes for small business websites, use the framework for custom-designed websites, or even utilize the WooCommerce plugin for advanced eCommerce websites. It’s also free, has modestly priced themes, many free or modestly priced plugins, and a HUGE developer community.
Did we miss something? Oh, right, and it’s excellent for SEO!
Using SEO plugins like Yoast or AIO allows your marketing team and developers to seamlessly fine-tune WordPress for search engines. It’s free plugins like these, the lightweight, high-performance WordPress framework, and ease-of-use of the WordPress user interface that allow us to design, develop, and optimize websites efficiently.
For this article, we’ll focus on the Yoast plugin that comes pre-installed with any WordPress website we launch at Square 205.
Where Should I Start With SEO?
An excellent question! Our usual answer is, “it depends.” It truly depends on your company’s business objectives, the current condition of the website, and what amount of time you are willing to invest in SEO.
However, there are principles that we generally focus on first when it comes to SEO on WordPress websites. Follow this guide to ensure your WordPress site is SEO-friendly.
Start with the Basics
Install An SEO Plugin
Up next, we install the Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin. Yoast creates an updated sitemap of the website, which we then submit to Google Search Console (a topic we’ll dive into deeper soon!). This step is essential for ensuring our website appears in search results.
Then, we optimize the Search Appearance settings to front-load some of our SEO efforts in the future. We optimize necessary metadata like page titles, meta descriptions, and page type here. In SEO, these are considered on-page elements.
Upgrade Your On-Page SEO
Once we get to this step, we determine who our target audience is and what they are searching for. To do this, we perform keyword research. Keyword research is the process of finding search data for words and phrases that your target audience uses to solve their problems.
Once we find a handful of keywords related to our business objectives, we perform a site crawl with ScreamingFrog and export relevant information to a Google Sheet to see our metadata in one convenient place. We then use our keywords to optimize each web page for its intended purpose.
For example, this blog focuses on the term “WordPress SEO”. We use that phrase and its synonyms in relevant ways so that anyone searching for information on that phrase can hopefully find something beneficial from our content. How’s that for meta?
The main goal is to help users find relevant content. A good rule of thumb is to ask if your content is valuable to your target audience. Optimizing for search engines should come after that. Don’t try to manipulate your content for search engines; that can lead to your site getting penalized and ultimately lowering your search appearance.
If you want to get started with on-page optimizations but don’t know what to look for, here are some essential elements you can and should start optimizing today!
- Page Titles indicate the overall subject for your page. You want to include your keyword in a way that communicates the true purpose of your page so readers can find what they are searching for.
- Meta Descriptions can be optimized for click-through rates in search results. Your meta descriptions should succinctly convey the value of your page in 155 characters or less.
- Headers (H1s, H2s, H3, etc.) should contain content that helps users understand your page and find the page’s contents efficiently.
- Content should capture the essence of the whole section with the first sentence of each paragraph! People skim content when they read, so you want to capture their attention quickly!
- Images can help provide more context about your page for users and search engines. For example, you should optimize file names like URLs, and alt attributes should be optimized for screen-reading for users with little-to-no visibility on screen.
Optimize URL Structure
Optimized URLs should give context to the contents of that particular page on your site. Take these two URLs, for example, and choose which one you think makes more sense:
While those are not actual URLs, you can hopefully understand the first one more than the second. It’s easier to tell that the first URL is a blog post covering the topic of fake URLs, while the second one gives no context to its content whatsoever.
You can adjust your site’s URL setting in the settings section Under Permalinks. For more information on SEO-friendly URLs, check out this blog post from wpbeginner.com.
Website Structure: Categories, Tags, & Internal Linking
It’s important to structure your content to make sense for users. This includes organizing content into categories and tags and linking content internally to relevant pages. WordPress offers convenient solutions for creating and maintaining categories and tags.
Categories are broad groupings of content. For example, we write content about digital marketing and web development, so our categories cover topics related to our services.
Tags organize content that is more specifically related. For example, a blog post about Facebook Ads and a blog post that covers Pinterest Ads discuss two different platforms. Still, a “Social Advertising” tag is a grouping that may make sense for someone researching how to advertise on various social media.
Internal linking is the practice of linking to other relevant pages on your website. When done correctly, linking to other pages has two main benefits: helping users find the information they may not have known to look for and keeping visitors on your site longer. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Security and Performance
An SSL(Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a security protocol that creates an encrypted link between a web server and a web browser. An SSL certificate ensures your visitor’s data is secure from malicious intent and conveys trust to users. Google advocates for a safer internet experience, using HTTPS as a lightweight ranking signal.
Keep your WordPress updated proactively to fortify your website’s health. After any update, check your URL statuses, best-performing content, and plugins to find any issues from the recent update.
Use a reliable hosting provider. At Square 205, we provide managed web hosting through a nationwide partnership with WPEngine. Web hosting includes around-the-clock support, customizable themes for your site’s design, security features, and more!
A Few Quick Suggestions
Additional quick hits for your WordPress SEO and website performance:
Turn off comments
Most of the time, comment features are either unused or used poorly. Disabling comments gives you more control over the content on your site. Specific sites like Reddit use an upvoting comment system, which allows the most helpful or relevant comments to appear at the top by default.
Nofollow external links
When working with a smaller website, you probably won’t be getting links from significant sources right away. Therefore, it’s important to tag your lesser quality links with the rel= “nofollow” HTML tag. This protects your site from lower quality links bringing down your PageRank, an important ranking factor.
Use excerpts on archive pages
Archive pages are automatically generated pages that hold your previous content. They can be organized in many different ways, but it’s essential to update the excerpt in the Yoast settings by using the %excerpt% tag. This sets the passage as a customizable snippet of text that can optimize click-through rates.
We’ll Help Your Search Optimization Efforts
Our team of marketers and developers enjoy keeping up with the ever-changing world of SEO. It can be a daunting task to get everything organized and to put actionable items into place. We’re happy to do all the heavy lifting for you, whether it’s running a site audit, optimizing content, security, maintenance, and everything in-between! Get in touch with us today to get your project started.