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Whether a brand new blogger or a seasoned writer, WordPress is one of the most popular and versatile content management systems (CMS) available.
You can set up a quick, good-looking, fully-hosted blog using one of its many templates, or you can get into the world of self-hosting and coding to build your own professional site from scratch.
Last year I wrote a complete guide to setting up and running your own WordPress site along with an SEO for WordPress best practice guide. That latter SEO guide has become somewhat out of date now, so this is a revised and updated version of that previously published post.
What is SEO?
Very simply, it’s an umbrella term for all the methods, tactics and processes by which you can increase the likelihood of your website appearing, and possibly ranking highly, in the organic (non-paid for) search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are black-hat (bad) and white-hat (good) practices, and it’s easy to think of SEO as a manipulative exercise in artificially raising the profile of your site.
In actual fact, good SEO requires a level of attention to detail that will only improve the functionality and usability of your website. If it’s easy to access and navigate then it’ll be all the more appealing to your visitors. Appearing higher in the SERPs is a positive by-product of this ‘best practice’.
However don’t think that because you’re ‘just running a blog’ that traffic from higher SERP rankings is a fanciful notion.
With a regular routine of internal linking to other relevant articles on the site, writing quality content, optimising headlines, permalinks and images, it didn’t take long for my own music and film site to appear in the first couple of SERPs under certain search terms.
There are some bad practices too, such as artificial link-building and keyword stuffing, just bear in mind that Google is quite good at catching you in the act, and is not only quick but severe in its punishment.
As a WordPress user you will be ably assisted by various SEO related plugins, the most useful and popular of which is WordPress SEO by Yoast, however that doesn't mean that all your work is done for you though.
There are still manual things you will need to do to improve your SEO.
Let's take a look at the most important practices...
If you’re not producing good, relevant, entertaining, helpful content at a regular rate, then all of the added SEO tricks won’t help you one little bit.
How does Google know whether you’re producing good, relevant, entertaining, helpful content?
It is of course a complicated and ever-changing algorithim that’s impossible to second-guess or predict. All you can guarantee is that no matter what Google and the other search engines are looking for in terms of ‘site health’, the quality of your content will always be the top priority.
Good quality content gets recognition. That recognition will come in repeat traffic, social shares and links within other websites. This will drive traffic to your site and improve your chances of being found not just within organic listings but also through social media and peer recommendations.
The most important point here is this: write for human readers not search engines.
If your content reads like a robot wrote it, nobody will stay on your site, nobody will revisit and nobody will share it. Search engines will see this lack of interest and high bounce rate and rank you in the toilet-end of SERPS accordingly.
Producing content, regularly and as often as you can is also a must for appearing in the SERPs. When it comes to my own blog, I have a policy of publishing at least one article a day during the week. I take the weekend off.
Blogging is a time-consuming art but does benefit from taking a day or two off to refresh the creative juices. Plus there are cats to feed and social circles to remind that you still exist.
Write as regularly as you can, and you’ll soon see that within a few months you’ll start to appear in SERPs and therefore pick up some organic traffic. If you don’t update regularly, search engines will view your site as irrelevant over time and rank you lower.
Don’t be overly concerned with the wordcount.
If you remember padding out university dissertations with overly rambling sentences just to achieve the 15,000 allotted word-count, do not worry about achieving a similar thing here.
Whether you’ve been recommended that a post should be at least 300 words long, or 500-1,000 words if your blog is new, try to resist padding it out with waffle.
Be as concise as possible. A reader would rather read a shorter article that gets to the point then a long-winded epic.
That being said, if you’ve written a 1,000 word masterpiece stuffed with fascinating, completely relevant and helpful content, where you’ve been as tightly controlled and clear with your text as possible, search engines will prefer this to one that’s half the length on the same subject.
The likelihood of you being penalized for writing a 290 word post instead of keeping to the often recommended 300 word optimal length is very low.
However if you’re struggling to fill a 300 word post, perhaps the subject you’re writing about isn’t quite suitable for you, or may require some more research.
Keep them as concise as possible, although not to the point of making them too obscure or meaningless. According to Moz, if you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly in Google.
“A beginner’s guide to SEO best practice for new WordPress bloggers” is descriptive and accurate. However, to benefit your readers and because search engines tend to give keywords at the beginning of a headline the most attention it might be best to rework it.
“SEO best practice: a beginner’s guide” may be better as the most important words are at the front. ‘Beginner’s guide’ remains as it’s an accurate decription of the content, but then you also don’t want to limit your audience.
I’ve excised ‘WordPress’ and ‘bloggers’ as these tips are universal in regards to most blogging platforms and content management systems. I’ve also removed ‘new’ as it duplicates the meaning of ‘beginner’s’.
It’s quite a dry headline though. It doesn’t have an emotive pull. By all means try the technique of mixing SEO with more emotionally responsive language...
“10 electrifying SEO tips that will charge your blog with awesome”.
That's a terrible example, but hopefully you get the idea. However do be careful about following headline trends...
The standard Upworthy template ‘When you watch this video of a man dancing with a camel you won’t believe what happens next’ or Uproxx’s ‘This woman from Mexico will change the way you think about drinking tequila’ are very endemic of their respective publications.
They’re also technically rubbish for SEO, but they’re not designed to be found on search, the articles aren’t meant to live forever, waiting to be discovered years from now. They’re designed to be shared on social media. Each headline is very emotive, descriptive and long, but not too long so it won’t fit in a tweet.
Which brings me to the next point...
On the Econsultancy blog we are huge believers in evergreen content, as our editor often states “this has been a major factor in this blog's growth”.
Evergreen content is that which is still interesting and relevant weeks, months or even years after its initial publish date. Unlike the examples I gave earlier.
It doesn’t date like news can, it can deliver value in terms of traffic, leads, social shares and can occupy valuable search positions for a prolonged period of time.
Here is our editor Graham Charlton's article on 14 examples of evergreen content formats that work wonders.
Linking to content within your own site is a great indicator to search engines that your site has value. Two or three good quality internal links to relevant content, using accurate anchor text, spread throughout the article is considered best practice.
These are the permanent URLs to your individual blog posts. This is the link that you’ll share when you wish to direct people towards that particular page.
You’ll notice that when you write a headline in the ‘Add New Post’ section of your dashboard, a permalink will be automatically created underneath it.
This will automatically copy exactly what’s written in the headline.
There are a couple of things you need to be mindful of here.
Make sure you have the Permalinks setting switched to ‘Post name’ in Settings>Permalinks. This will ensure a post’s permalink automatically copies the text from the headline.
Do be careful as WordPress will automatically save what’s written in the headline field as soon as you click anywhere else on the screen, whether you’ve finished writing the headline or not. Also WordPress won’t automatically update the permalink if you change your mind on the headline.
Thankfully the permalink can be edited at any time. Just make sure you check it’s correct before clicking publish.
It’s not necessarily best practice to copy exactly what’s in the headline directly to the permalink, even though this is done automatically.
Google has stated that it’s best just to use three to four key words in your permalink, and that you should put the most important keywords first.
“10 electrifying SEO tips that will charge your blog with awesome” would benefit from a permalink that reads “SEO blog tips”.
It’s best to remove any numbers that form part of your headline from the permalink itself as these are considered valueless by search engines.
It’s also good to remove ‘stopwords’ such as ‘a’, ‘and’ and ‘the’.
The meta description is the snippet of descriptive text that appears beneath the URL in SERPs, and will often be used when sharing the link on social media platforms such as Facebook.
Always remember to fill this section in. Depending on your theme, it will normally be found just below the main text entry box in 'Add new/edit post'.
You want this to be less than 156 characters long, with your keywords as near to the front as possible, but still make sense as a readable sentence.
Search engines will not raise you higher in the rankings because of the quality of the excerpt, but it will increase the likelihood that someone will click-through to your article based on how interesting, relevant or entertaining the excerpt is.
An important part of SEO is how you name and tag your images. With accurate tagging, you will increase the likelihood of your post being found through image searches.
Simply uploading an image and leaving the complicated file name as it is just isn’t good enough.
The Title section gives the name of the image. This is for your benefit when searching your media library, so you’ll want to use clear accurate keywords.
Alt Tags are necessary to describe the image's content. This is important for visitors with accessibility problems, and will also to help search engines index your content accurately. After all search engines cannot actually ‘see’ your images. Alt tags are used as a ranking factor by Google, so be as accurate as possible.
The Description section is where you want to describe your image in a slightly longer, more detailed way. This text can be displayed on the attachment page when a visitor clicks on the image.
Click below for larger image...
Categories and tags
Once you’ve finished writing your article, add it to a relevant category. Try to keep the category title as broad as possible.
Then comb through the post to pick out all the relevant keywords to add to the Tags section. These should be more detailed than the category.
Much like the excerpt, tags don’t improve your chances of ranking higher in the SERPs. In fact if you overstuff your post with tags, whether they are related to the content or not, search engines may see this as manipulation and you may be penalised. Google and other search engines have stopped recognising keyword tags all together.
Categories and tags however make it easier for your visitors to navigate your site, and therefore improve its usability, tying together relevant content.
Approach tagging with caution. Be short, relevant and sparing just to be on the safe side.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
As I mentioned earlier, one plugin that will definitely help is Yoast’s WordPress SEO.
Here you are reminded to set your focus keyword and meta description. As you can see it’s telling me my headline is a little long.
Then it will give you a breakdown of what you’ve done correctly and what can be improved.
Again, installing this plugin doesn’t mean your SEO efforts are all solved, but it will certainly give you a headstart.