13 Ways to Improve SEO on Your WordPress Website
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You want as many eyes as possible on your website — whether your goal is to entertain and inform readers, promote your work, sell your products and services, or, you know, provide the world’s best web hosting. Simply put, the more visitors you get, the easier it will be to build an audience you can count on.
But where to begin?
There are a lot of ways to drive traffic to your site, but Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most effective. SEO is a collection of strategies and techniques aimed at helping your pages rank higher in search engines results. This increases your site’s visibility and can help it really take off.
What’s more, there are plenty of simple ways to improve your WordPress site’s SEO, even if you’re a total beginner. In this post, we’ll explore 13 techniques you can start using right away!
An Introduction to SEO (And Why It Matters)
Think about it. When you sit down to find something on the internet, there’s one place you turn: a search engine. This means if you want to get your website noticed, you’ll need to ensure that it appears in searches on Google and similar sites. Most importantly, you’ll want your site to appear as close as possible to the top of the list.
The best way to do this is through SEO, which is a wide range of strategies and activities based off what we know about how search engines determine their rankings. There are many benefits to optimizing your site for search engines, including:
- A site that ranks highly in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) has greater visibility and the best chance at increased traffic.
- A highly-ranked site appears more credible and trustworthy.
- You’ll present visitors with more useful and relevant information since SEO tends to focus on producing quality content.
If you’re a total SEO newbie, don’t hit the panic button. By creating a WordPress website, you’ve already taken a big step since the platform is well-optimized for search engines. Plus, there are plenty of simple and beginner-friendly ways to give your WordPress site a push towards the top of the rankings. Let’s take a look at those methods now.
Related: Set Up a Blog or Website in 5 Minutes with WordPress
13 Simple Ways to Boost SEO on Your WordPress Website
When compiling this list of SEO strategies, we started with one assumption: you’re busy. So these techniques are ones that you can implement right now (long-term commitment not required). Obviously, there are plenty of other techniques, but this is a great place to start. And remember: you don’t have to use all of these (although you certainly can) — even a few should give your WordPress site a boost in the SERPs.
Also, we’ll be focusing on advice targeted at Google since it’s by far the most popular search engine and releases the most information about its algorithms. That said, many of these strategies should also help you on other sites, such as Yahoo Search or Bing.
1. Choose Your Hosting Provider Carefully
We’re not just saying this because we’re a hosting company. We’re saying it because it’s true: The hosting provider you pick is vital for SEO.
Since Google takes speed into account when ranking sites, a good host can help push you to the top of the SERPs. Your host also affects the amount of downtime your site experiences and the physical distance between servers and visitors — both of which are ranking factors. Last but not least, since Google gives HTTPS sites a small boost, you’ll want that too. At DreamHost, it’s free with all our plans.
If you haven’t created your website yet, you’ll want to choose a host that’s reliable and has a reputation for excellent performance. Even for an existing site, you may want to consider switching hosts if your current provider doesn’t meet these criteria.
A smart way to go is with a WordPress-specific hosting plan. Our fully-managed WordPress plans provide impressive speeds and little to no downtime.
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2. Pick a Theme That’s Optimized for Search Engines
Your theme is one of the most important choices you’ll make for your WordPress site. It determines your site’s appearance and layout, can provide new functionality, and also plays a role in its SEO. For example, your theme can affect your site’s speed — which (as we’ve already discussed) is vital. The way a theme was developed also matters since clean code gives your site the best chance in SERPs.
Therefore, when picking a theme you’ll want to opt for one built with SEO in mind. These themes are often referred to as ‘SEO-friendly’. You may also want to look for a theme that offers features specifically designed to improve your SEO, such as new heading tag options. Fortunately, there are plenty of themes available that fit the bill.
3. Use a Dedicated SEO Plugin
Yoast SEO gives you a number of useful tools for improving your site’s SEO.
If you’re new to WordPress, you may not yet be familiar with plugins. These are small pieces of add-on software you can install, which add new features and functionality to your site. There’s a plugin to help your site do just about anything — including rank higher in search engines. In fact, there are many plugins designed specifically to improve your site’s SEO.
These plugins can provide small, targeted features such as creating a sitemap (we’ll talk more about that in a moment). For even better results, you can also opt for a comprehensive SEO plugin such as Yoast SEO, which will add a whole suite of optimization-focused features to your site.
Related: 10 of the Most Popular WordPress Plugins for 2020
4. Change Your ‘Permalink’ Structure
Permalinks are the permanent URLs that point to your site’s individual posts, pages, and other content. They’re what people will use to reference and link back to your site, and their appearance matters. Clear, descriptive links that describe their content are easier for search engines to make sense of and tend to get a ranking boost.
WordPress offers a number of automatic permalink options:
A few are based around numbers (such as the Plain and Numeric options), which isn’t ideal since they convey little useful information to search engines. Instead, you’re best off with the Post Name structure since it communicates clearly what the linked content is about. You can easily change your permalink structure (or create a custom one) by visiting your site’s back end and navigating to Settings > Permalink.
5. Create a ‘Sitemap’
A sitemap is a list of all the pages and other content on your website, usually organized into a hierarchy. It provides a quick way to see how your site is laid out and what it includes. While these sitemaps were once designed to help users navigate websites, their primary purpose now is to communicate information to search engine bots (also known as crawlers).
While adding a sitemap to your website doesn’t directly boost its search engine rankings, it’s still a valuable SEO tool. It enables crawlers to see all of the pages on your site and understand how they relate to one another. This makes it easier for search engines to index your site, and to present relevant content in user searches. Adding a sitemap to WordPress is simple — you can do so with a targeted plugin such as Google XML Sitemaps, or through a comprehensive SEO tool such as Yoast SEO.
6. Use Heading Tags Throughout Your Content
While a sitemap is useful for helping search engine crawlers see how your site is organized, it doesn’t help them make sense of the individual content. For that, you’ll need to use heading tags. These are formatting options you can apply to section headings within pages and posts.
You can see these settings in your WordPress editor, listed as Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on.
Using these headings to structure your content accomplishes two things. It provides a visual benefit, by breaking up your text and making it easier to read. Also, crawlers pay a lot of attention to headings, using them to understand how your content is organized and what it’s about. So when creating posts and pages, don’t forget to use WordPress’ heading options often and consistently.
Related: 20 Expert Blogging Tips for 2020
7. Build Your Content Around Keywords
Chances are you’ve encountered the concept of keywords before. These are short phrases that describe your content’s topic. For example, you might choose the keyword “easy recipes” for a blog post that shares simple recipe options for beginners. By doing this, you’re predicting that a lot of people will type the phrase into a search engine when looking for this type of post.
Choosing a keyword for each post or page and using it in various places — such as the title, the headings, and the content itself — is a common way to communicate your topic to search engine crawlers and increase the chances of showing your content in relevant searches.
Of course, you want to be smart about the way you use this tool. For example, it’s best to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’, or forcing your keyword into too many places so that it appears unnatural or spammy.
There are tons of great SEO tools out there to help you get started, but Semrush is a trusted solution that we feel comfortable recommending. Its features check all the right boxes for most websites and businesses: great keyword research tools, the ability to track your rankings over time, powerful backlink analysis, and you can even check your website for SEO issues. The good news? We’ve partnered with Semrush to offer our readers a two-week free trial so you can see if the tool is a good fit for your site.
8. Incorporate Useful Internal and External Links
Google and other search engines don’t consider your website in a vacuum. Instead, they look at how well it’s connected, both internally and to other sites. Using plenty of links throughout your posts and pages tells crawlers how they relate to similar content. It also encourages other people to link back to your site — which in turn communicates to search engines that your content is valuable!
As with keywords, this is a strategy you’ll want to use carefully. If you cram too many links into your content or use a lot of links that point to irrelevant pages or exist only to promote products, your search engine rankings will likely suffer.
Instead, look to incorporate links where they fit naturally, and to point readers towards high-quality websites that already rank highly in SERPs. Smart use of both internal links and external links is key to achieving the best SEO results possible.
9. Use Responsive Design on Your Site
More people than ever are using mobile devices to browse the internet. This means your site needs to look and perform as good on any type of device a visitor happens to be using. You can ensure this by following the strategy of responsive design — in other words, designing your site so it reacts and adapts to each user’s device.
Responsive design is so important that Google uses it as a ranking factor. If your site is responsive, its chances of appearing high on SERPs will be that much better. For WordPress users, the best way to get started with responsive design is to choose a theme that supports it (which many, if not most, now do). Just don’t forget to check out each theme’s other SEO features as well!
10. Optimize Your Images
Images are important for just about any website. They provide visual appeal and context, plus they help break up text and make it more readable. As you’ve probably guessed, they can also have an impact on your SEO. For one, the quality and size of your images can affect your pages’ loading speed, which is a ranking factor. Also, crawlers will look at certain information attached to images — such as filenames and ‘alt text’ — when trying to index and understand your site.
Addressing these two issues will go a long way towards shoring up your SEO. First, be sure to optimize your images and other media, so they have as little impact on your site’s performance as possible. Then, give each image a descriptive filename and alt text (bonus points if you use a keyword in one or both places).
11. Write Long-Form Content When Possible
Moz is an excellent example of a site that creates quality long-form content.
When Google’s algorithms are deciding how to rank content, they pay special attention to its length. That doesn’t mean shorter content never ranks highly. However, longer content has an advantage, because search engines consider it more likely to be useful. Plus, the more comprehensive your content is, the better it can communicate its topic to crawlers via keywords, headings, and so on.
Longer content is also valuable to readers, can increase your perceived credibility, and encourages visitors to spend more time on your site. So when creating content, try to make it as in-depth as possible. There are many ways to do this, but the ‘skyscraper technique’ — improving on existing content by making yours better and more comprehensive — is one method worth checking out.
12. Add and Update Your Posts Frequently
Along with length, Google’s algorithms consider the frequency of content when deciding how to rank your pages. Older, high-quality content will do well, of course, but a boost is given to newer, ‘fresh’ content that’s more likely to be relevant to searchers.
Therefore, if you want your site to do consistently well in SERPs over time, you’ll want to add new content regularly. Try creating a posting schedule to keep yourself on track and varying up the types of content you create to keep yourself and your visitors interested. Also, don’t neglect older posts and pages. Updating your existing content prompts crawlers to re-evaluate it and to give it higher prominence than pages that never change.
13. Focus on Quality Content
When Google and other search engines create complex algorithms for ranking websites, their goal is to help the most relevant and useful sites score highly. The specific ranking factors and their effects change over time, but this underlying theme remains consistent. If you want to see success with your SEO efforts, you need to focus on creating quality content rather than trying to cheat the system.
We’ve already discussed long-form content, which is a solid way to increase the quality of your posts and pages. However, there are plenty of other ways to achieve this goal. For example, consider what your target readers want or need most, and focus on providing those things with your content. Also, remember to carefully fact-check and proofread everything you add to your website — details matter!
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Moving up the SERPs
SEO encompasses a wide range of strategies and techniques, so it can be a little bit intimidating. Fortunately, you don’t need to become an SEO expert to help your site rank higher in the SERPs. If you want to begin seeing results, all you need to do is follow a few simple tips.
Of course, choosing WordPress as your platform is the perfect first step to creating a well-optimized site. Then you’ll need to pick the right host, select a suitable theme, and consider picking up one or more targeted plugins. By implementing these strategies (as well as the rest of the suggestions on this list), you’ll be well on your way to improving your site’s visibility and traffic.
Do you have any questions about how to improve your WordPress website’s SEO? Join the DreamHost community and start the conversation!