WordPress is one of the most versatile platforms available, which is why it’s the most widely-used content management system (CMS) on the market. People use WordPress to connect with an online audience, share thought leadership, make sales, and more. In order to maximize the reach of your site it’s important to optimize it for SEO.
The foundation of all good SEO is writing relevant, compelling, target-audience-focused content and headlines, but here are some tips and tricks that can help you better optimize for search engines in WordPress and boost the visibility of your content.
1. Optimize URLs for search
Make sure your URLs contain actual words, as opposed to meaningless letters and numbers. It’s generally best to use the title of the post separated by dashes (-) and omit filler words, such as “of,” “and,” “for,” “the,” “and,” etc.
WordPress also lets you create rules for how permalinks are created. Instead of just letting WordPress assign a bunch of numbers and letters (which is frequently the default) you can set it so that it automatically takes the name of the post or page as the URL. You can change these rules by going to Settings > Permalinks and switching the settings to ‘Post Name.’ You can also create custom permalinks when you create a post.
URLs should be intelligible to visitors and should ideally include a descriptive keyword or two. If the post’s name isn’t a good description of the content on the page, consider editing that individual URL and using the meta title instead.
2. Optimize your meta title
As one of the most important SEO factors, it’s important to ensure your meta titles are as optimized as possible while still accurately describing the content on the page. Thankfully there are several WordPress plugins that make the process easy. WordPress SEO by Yoast is a fantastic tool that lets you preview how your meta title will look and create a meta title that conforms to best practices with regard to length.
3. Write a meta description
The meta description is the language that appears on the search engine results page (SERP) below the main title. It describes why a page is relevant to a reader’s search. Ideally, your meta description should be between 145 and 158 characters long, including spaces, and include one of your top keywords.WordPress SEO by Yoast can also help you write and preview meta descriptions. Meta descriptions don’t actually count toward making a page rank in Google, but they are seen by searchers and a good meta description can dramatically improve click-through rates. If it makes sense, try to work a keyword or two in there, but you should primarily write for the user.
4. Use image alt tags
Search engines can’t see images, but they can see alternative text, also known as alt tags. By accurately tagging your images, you will increase the likelihood of your post being found through image searches. To optimize your images, it’s important to do two things: First, before you upload your image file to WordPress, change the name of the file on your computer to something legible that includes keywords. Second, when you upload your image to WordPress, describe the image in the alternative text field of the image details section.
5. Generate XML sitemaps
XML sitemaps serve as a way to communicate directly with the search engines, alerting them to new or changed content very quickly and ensuring that content is indexed faster. The Yoast plugin mentioned earlier can be a useful tool for creating a sitemap for your site. After you’ve created your sitemap, you should submit it to Google, which will help the search engine better crawl and categorize your site.
6. Set canonical URLs
Sometimes multiple URls will point to the exact same content, such as a product page with items ordered differently. This can be a problem because the link juice intended for that one page can get split up between the different URLs. Your site can also get dinged for duplicate content. Fortunately, you can add canonical URLs that point Google in the direction of the ‘original’ page. The advanced tab of the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast lets you set a canonical URL that a duplicate page should point to.
7. Set 301 redirects
When you get rid of a page, you should 301 redirect it to the next most relevant page, if one exists. This will pass on the link juice that the old page acquired and also keep users on your site by sending them to relevant content.Setting up 301 redirects is a critical step when updating your site, moving domains, or changing your content management system. There are several plugins that let you redirect URLs. WordPress SEO by Yoast has the functionality to help you set up 301 redirects, but there are others, such as Simple 301 Redirects, Redirection, Eggplant 301 Redirects, and more.
These best practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SEO success. For more information about how to make your site appeal to search engines, read our e-book, How to Give Your Site an SEO Renovation.