January 16 2020

Search engine basics for WordPress websites

SEO basics for WordPress websites at WordPress North East event, Gateshead

We’re presenting a talk at WordPress North East in Gateshead tonight on search engine basics for WordPress websites. Here is a summary of our notes for new WordPress users on making their website search engine worthy.

The talk is entitled “Search engine basics for WordPress websites”, and is designed to cover content for new WordPress website users and small businesses attending the meetup.

What is search engine optimisation?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving and monitoring your website to improve its rankings in search engines. This is typically split in to two categories:

  • Onsite SEO is how your website is built, the content on your website, and the relevance of your content
  • Offsite SEO is external links & references, Google Business listings, (and a few other bits we won’t cover here)

Healthy websites use a mix of both offsite and onsite optimisation.

1. Make sure search engines can find you

One common issue we see with new WordPress websites set up by small businesses is that a fundamental setting preventing search engines such as Google and Bing from indexing (or “reading”) their website’s content. To check this isn’t the case on your WordPress website:

  1. Navigate to Settings > Reading in your WordPress control panel (if you can’t see this setting, you may not have the right permissions – contact your web designer or hosting company if in doubt).
  2. Look for the Search Engine Visibility heading in this setting page.
  3. Ensure that the Discourage search engines from indexing this site box is unchecked – this will mean that search engines aren’t blocked from reading your website.
  4. That’s it!
WordPress - discourage search engines from indexing this site

 

2. Use search engine friendly URLs

A URL is a page address – a place on the web where your content can be read. It’s unique to that page on the web, so website1.com/about is different from website2.com/about.

Good URLs (page addresses):

  1.  Contain relevant words related to the content of the page. Luckily, WordPress does this for you!
  2. Don’t change frequently: to be most effective, the content on the page needs a stable home address (or URL) to be visited at, so pick carefully the first time round and avoid changing your page’s address once it’s published.

For example, cheeseshop.com/about-us is better than cheeseshop.com/?p=123 or cheeseshop.com/page123. To change your WordPress website to friendly URLs:

  1. Navigate to Settings > Permalinks in your control panel.
  2. Under common settings, chose an option other than “Plain“. We recommend either Post name, or Month and name.
  3. Save changes. This may require you to create a .htaccess file; if you’re unsure of how to do that, check WordPress’ guide here, or consult your web designer or hosting company.
Change WordPress website URLs for better SEO

Beware that making this change on an already-launched WordPress website can create issues with search engines so please consult a web designer or digital marketing professional before making any changes.

3. Use relevant, unique page titles

A page (or post) title is one of the major items on your website that a search engine considers when ranking your website.

WordPress page titles for SEO

As the page title is one of the main factors in your onsite optimisation, and gives a strong indication of what your page is about, chose carefully. A good page title:

  • is unique on your website, and, ideally, the whole web!
  • is relevant to the content of the page it describes
  • tends to contain your brand or company name after the descriptor of the page’s content. E.g. “About us | The Cheese Shop” is a better page title than “About us”. Most WordPress themes will add your website’s name to the end of the page title anyway.

4. Keep your WordPress content relevant and well-written

Similarly to page titles, the content you provide for each page on your WordPress website has an effect on where search engines rank you. Here is some general guidance for page content:

  • A minimum of around 300 words is a good target to aim for.
  • Ensure page content is written in full prose (ie, full sentences) for the most part, though use of bullet points can be effective. The important thing is that the content makes sense to human visitors to your website.
  • Make use of headings (Heading 2, Heading 3 etc) within WordPress to help break longer page content in to sections.
  • Link to other relevant content in your website (see Internal links, below), and other websites too (so long as they’re not competing with you).

5. Use internal links in your WordPress content

An internal link is a link to a page or post in your own website. Adding these are natural points within your website pages’ content can help boost the relevance of phrases on other pages. Good page links:

  • Use relevant anchor text (the text that is used to link to another page). E.g., “click here” isn’t a good anchor text as it’s very vague, whilst using “
  • Don’t go overboard! A few links in relevant places in your content can be much more effective than tens – or hundreds – of links!

6. Use image alt text in WordPress

Alt text – or alternative text – provides a text description of images within content. When images are relevant to the content, this can help SEO. Luckily, WordPress makes it easy to add alt text for your images; when inserting an image with the Insert Media tool in WordPress, look for the Alt Text field; add a brief description of the image you’re inserting there, and click the Insert image button. You’re done!

Adding alt text for images for WordPress SEO

7. Pick your WordPress theme carefully

If you’re using free or cheap WordPress themes, you will need to chose carefully to avoid having an impact on your website’s SEO. A good WordPress theme:

  • is mobile-friendly (responsive)
  • uses good, search-engine friendly HTML. This is a lot harder to spot if you’re not familar with the world of web design and development. If you need advice about a WordPress theme, approach your web designer, or ask in a WordPress user group’s discussion area for opinions from those with more experience. Alternatively, if you have the budget available, consult a local web designer with WordPress experience.

8. Install a good WordPress SEO plugin

WordPress SEO - Yoast plugin

Yoast is a popular SEO plugin for WordPress websites, and provides a range of tools for free to help improve your website’s search engine worthiness. In particular, the Yoast SEO plugin:

  • can create XML sitemaps, which search engines can use to better understand and index your website with.
  • allow you to use breadcrumbs to help search engines better understand the hierarchy of content within your WordPress website. This can be particularly beneficial if you have a lot of content on your website.
  • can add structured data for Knowledge Graph, which can add and confirm your business’ contact details and addresses, so as in the box on the right-hand side in the screenshot below:Structured data in search results of WordPress website

9. Monitor and refine your website over time

There’s not much use in optimising your website if you’re not monitoring and refining your website over time. There are two free tools you can use to help you with this:

Both of these options are free to use (at a basic level, at least), and provide visitor data and other insights about your website. WordPress plugins exist for both; if you’re new to the world of websites, I would suggest that Jetpack is probably the first one to try as it is WordPress specific, and easier on the eye!

10. Pick a good website hosting company

Finally, a good website hosting company can help in a few ways:

  • ensuring your website is performing at a good speed. There are also many WordPress performance plugins available – a source of enough content for several more talks, I suspect!
  • Adding a security certificate to your website. This is a recommendation from Google and has been for some time now, and free SSL certificates are available through organisations like Lets Encrypt.
    SSL certificate for WordPress websites

Need more help with WordPress and your website’s SEO?

If you’d like to improve your knowledge of WordPress and SEO, we run some 1 to 1 and small group training courses for WordPress and Introductory SEO.

A copy of the slides from the event is available online here.