The Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO

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Welcome to The Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO. In fact, I would say this guide is both the “essential” and the “ultimate” guide to WordPress SEO. This guide will list all basic and advanced WordPress SEO techniques, tools and tips for your WordPress website. Also note that all methods mentioned in this guide can be implemented for free and do not need any paid plugins.

A quote for you to think about before we start with the guide:

Search engines follow people. They think like people. They continuously want to be able to replicate how people think. This is exactly the reason why search engines keep updating their algorithms to model how people think. Each time, the algorithms tend to come closer to how people think. So stop trying to fool search engines. That is NOT how SEO is done. Just keep one basic rule in mind: If your readers like to read your content, search engines would love to index it.

A. Introduction to WordPress SEO

This guide will give a detailed insight into SEO for WordPress blogs and websites.
WordPress is very powerful blogging / CMS / multi-purpose platform. To understand how to optimize WordPress for search engines, it is essential to understand the structure of the WordPress platform and to use the right SEO plugins. This post will explain WordPress SEO by optimizing the WordPress structure as well as by using plugins. It is recommended to use good SEO plugins for WordPress as WordPress, by default, does not come with very powerful SEO options.

Based on the quote at the starting of the guide, we will see how the method we list on this guide tells us how similar people and search engines really are!

1. Using Plugins

For WordPress optimization, we will use one master plugin and multiple additional plugins to achieve the perfect combination for WordPress SEO. The master plugin will take care of most changes that need to be made or the overall optimization and the additional plugins will take care of specific optimization which cannot be achieved by the master plugin. You should choose one master plugin and can use multiple additional plugins while ensuring there is no conflict between the two. This post will list the best plugins you can use along with their functionality in the methods section (Section 2).

2. Master Plugins

For the master plugin, select either “All-in-one SEO” or “WordPress SEO by Yoast”.
You do not need to decide right now. Go through the guide and the methods. See which plugin looks better to you and choose that one.

3. Additional Plugins

All additional plugins will be listed in the individual methods itself as these plugins are to be used for very specific optimization.

4. On-page SEO

On-page SEO refers to all the optimization you perform on your website to optimize it for search engines.
Examples: meta keywords, description, titles, post content, image optimization, are all examples of on-page SEO since these are optimization techniques performed on your website.

5. Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to all the optimization perform outside of the website for the website.
Examples: Link building, bookmarking, social media sharing, are all examples of off-page SEO as they optimize your website from outside of your website.
We will cover these methods as well in this guide. A combination of both on-page and off-page SEO is required to make your website successful.

B. Methods for WordPress SEO

Now let’s see all the methods for achieving perfect SEO for your WordPress site.
For each method, we will see what to do and how to do it ie. the method for SEO and how to implement the method with / without plugins. We will also quote the comparison between people and search engines with each method to see how similar both of them are!

1. Permalink Structure

Let’s start with the basic structure of the post URLs. I’ve chosen this as the first method because this is, ideally, one of the first few SEO changes we make to a fresh WordPress installation. If you’ve missed this, do this now! (And we will see how to deal with the duplicates later). You don’t want post URLs to be like durofy.com/?p=1928938292, right? You want something descriptive! And so do people and search engines. Having dates, numbers, categories int he URLs usually just leads to long and useless URLs. It is recommended that you chose the “sitename.com/postname” format.

What to do:

Change your WordPress permalinks and use the “Post Name” permalink format.

How to do it:

On your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings > Permalinks from the left column. Then select the “Post Name” from “Common Settings” or enter “/%postname%/” in the custom structure field as shown below:

permalinks wordpress seo

If you already have posts on your blog, you should use the following plugin to redirect old URLs:

Plugin: Change Permalink Helper

By default, WordPress permalinks are nothing but combinations of numbers and symbols which do not make literal sense to readers. Hence, they do not make sense to search engines!

 

2. With or Without WWW

You should make sure http://yoursite.com and http://www.yoursite.com point to the same page WordPress will handle this for you by default. Check your current redirection status at this link before your continue reading.

By default WordPress will do this for you, but it might handle this with a 302 redirect. Search engines will recognize 302 as a temporary redirect but you want to tell them that it is permanent. You need to do this by implementing a 301 redirect from non-www to www.

What to do:

Implement 301 redirect (permanent) instead of 302 redirect (temporary).

How to do it: 

Kindly go to the .htaccess file in your server and use the following code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yoursite.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.yoursite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Your .htaccess file might already have some code considering that you just changed the permalink structure (yes, that changes the .htaccess file)

People do not always type the “www”! Readers should be able to reach your website with or without www and so do search engines! Another example of how search engines think like people.

If you’ve implemented the code correctly, the final check for redirection should return as follows:

www redirect

3. XML Sitemap

Sitemaps are like indexes of your WordPress website which include the links to all posts (and other elements) of your website. You should make sure that search engines have access to your post and page sitemaps.

What to do:

Create a sitemap > Submit it to search engines > Add a link of the sitemap on your site.

How to do it:

Plugins:

WordPress SEO By Yoast (Master Plugin)
All in One SEO Pack (Master Plugin)
Google XML sitemap (Alternative)

You can do this by using “WordPress SEO by Yoast”. This is one of the master plugins for SEO.

After installing WordPress SEO by Yoast, go to the plugin settings link “SEO” in the left navigation in your WordPress dashboard and select “XML Sitemaps”.

sitemaps wordpress

If you’re using All in One SEO Pack for WordPress, then you will need to go to the plugin settings and find the “Feature Manager” link. You can activate the XML Sitemap feature there.

The Google XML sitemap plugin can generate sitemaps for a number of major search engines apart from Google.

The next step should be to submit these sitemaps to search engines.

Submitting sitemap to Google:

To submit your sitemap to Google, go to your Google webmaster account / create one if you don’t have it and configure your site. Follow the image below to add and manage a sitemap:

sitemaps analytics

Submitting sitemap to Bing: Read this.

Ok. Perhaps, people don’t always want to see a sitemap for your website. But trust me, right-brained people really love sitemaps! This is more like you helping search engines index your website by clearly mentioning all links you want indexed on a single page called your sitemap.

 

4. Post and Page Titles and URLs

Changing the permalink structure of your WordPress blog is not enough when it comes to optimizing URLs. It is also important to have URLs that search engines love. Titles and URLs both should contain the keywords but URLs need not be same as URLs. Titles are complete statements that make sense to readers which URLs should be treated as the version of titles which has only the keywords. Stop words include words like “a”, “the”, “and”, etc which are not part of the keywords and should be removed from the URLs. These are called stop words as they are ignored by the search algorithms.

What to do:

Remove / Don’t use stop words in URLs

How to do it:

stopwords

Remove any of the following stop words from your URLs. Here is a list of stop words to help you.

Now, as a reader, if you see the URL for this guide on WordPress SEO; then which URL will you prefer: durofy.com/ultimate-guide-wordpress-seo OR durofy.com/the-ultimate-guide-for-wordpress-seo? I think most people would just prefer durofy.com/wordpress-seo, right? In the same way, search engines want short URLs which are to the point (focus on keywords).

 

5. Keyword Optimization

It is very important to optimize your post for on-page WordPress SEO by optimizing it for a certain keyword / phrase.
Please do not stuff keywords unnecessarily. It does NOT work! At the same time, it is very important to have keywords where required.

What to do:

Choose a specific keyword and optimize your post on around that keyword / key phrase.

How to do it:

Make sure you have your keyword of key phrase in your post title, URL, content, and description along with suitable meta data. The following plugins will help you do this:

Plugins:

WordPress SEO by Yoast (Master Plugin)
All in One SEO Pack (Master Plugin)

SEO by Yoast has a feature called “Focus Keyword” which I would recommend to be used for keyword optimization. To understand more about how to use this feature, read this.

focus keyword seo

This one is pretty much self-intuitive. You are here for WordPress SEO. If I talk about 10 different things which have nothing to do with WordPress SEO, then of course my post will not have the words WordPress and SEO. This pretty much means you gotta write about what you want to write about! Have your keywords in title, description, content and URL!

 

6. Using Headings

WordPress Headings are a great way to logically divide your post in different sections. Headings help both readers as well as search engines to understand the topics and ideas portrayed in your posts / articles.

What to do: 

Use headings to organize your content.

How to do it:

For detailed instructions on using headings in your WordPress blog, read this.

wordpress headings

People use headings to divide content into meaningful sections. Just like headings tell you what a post is all about, they also tell search engines about the main ideas of the post.

 

7. Categories and Tags:

Categories are the broad topics that your WordPress site is about. The best way to go about this is to sit down and write 5 major topics that you would write on. These topics will form your blog categories.

I think 5 is the magic number you should look at while creating categories. Otherwise, anything between 3 to 7 is fine. Avoid creating more than 7 top-level categories. If you do, then you’re probably going out of your niche. Always maintain your niche! You can have sub-categories for specifics and tags for further specifics.

This is where tags come in: they are more specific classifications of your blog posts. Assign each post to 1 (or max 2 categories) and tag each post with 1 to max 3 tags. This is the best practice when it comes to categories and tags (purely based on common sense).

Example:

  • Category: Internet
  • Sub-Category: WordPress
  • Tag: WordPress SEO

Choose specific tags that are used repeatedly throughout the site (use only 2-3 tags per post).
Think of tags as extensions of categories.

What to do:

Create 5 top-level categories. Assign 1 category and 1-3 tags for each post. 

How to do it:

No plugin is required to do this. Some useful features while making changes can be the “category to tag conversion feature” which can be found on the “Categories” page. Use this to convert less used categories to tags.

tags wordpress

Note: Do not have the same thing as both a category and a tag. Read more about using tags here.

Categories and tags help people find related topics and allow them to identify the structure of your blog. Some readers will want to read posts only on a specific category or tag. Thus, these are important elements for optimizing your WordPress website and can do wonders when used effectively!

 

8. Nofollow and Noindex:

These are tags that help you communicate with search engine algorithms and tell them what links you want them to follow / not to follow / index / not to index.

Don’t index but follow:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

Don’t index and don’t follow:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>

Some pages on your WordPress site are only for the structure and navigation and may not be treated as “great content” by search engines. Thus, it is a good idea to noindex such pages. There is no point in having nofollow links on your blog: You don’t want to have content which you don’t want search engines to follow if you know what I mean.

What to do: 

Noindex your category, archives, tag and author pages. Even better: Add custom content to these pages and turn them into “useful pages”.

How to do it:

Plugins:

WordPress SEO by Yoast (Master)
Ultimate Noindex Nofollow Tool II
WordPress Meta Robots

Search engines want great content just like people. As said before, keeping in mind search algorithms, some structural elements of WordPress may not be treated as great content and need to be noindex-ed.

 

9. Breadcrumbs:

You’ll want to add breadcrumbs to your single posts and pages for WordPress SEO. Breadcrumbs are the links, usually above the title post, that look like “Home > Articles > WordPress SEO”. They are good for two things:
They allow your users to easily navigate your site. They allow search engines to determine the hierarchy of your site more easily.

What to do:

Add breadcrumb links trail to your WordPress blog.

How to do it:

There are a number of plugins including SEO by Yoast that allow you to add breadcrumbs. However, since this is only about one-time adding a piece of code modification, I suggest you read this tutorial by Stuart to add breadcrumbs without using plugins. For breadcrumbs on the Yoast plugin, go to “Internal Links” in the plugin settings.

10. Submit to search engines:

Make if easy for search engines to crawl and index your website by submitting your website directly to them.

What to do:

Ask Google and other search engines to crawl your website.

How to do it:

For Google: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url/
For Bing: http://www.bing.com/toolbox/submit-site-url
For Yahoo: http://search.yahoo.com/info/submit.html

11. Image optimization:

It is important to optimize your images for search engines for optimization your content as well as image search results.

What to do:

Add title, alt text, caption, and other details for your images, Allow readers to pin images from WordPress to Pinterest, Set descriptive file names for images before uploading them.

How to do it:

Adding details for your images:

images seo

Allow users to Pin images: Read this.

12. Interlink Posts:

Linking your old posts allows users to go back to links within your site, reduces bounce rate, and improves WordPress SEO.

Interlink: pref add internal links higher in the HTML content. For users, links above the fold will get more attention (Remember, search engines behave like people do). Also, if you have multiple links to the same old post, search engines will follow only the first one (like people, again)

What to do:

Interlink your WordPress posts.

How to do it:

Plugin: Insights

You can do this manually. However, this plugin lets you search for your old blog posts apart from other things to be added in any post you’re writing / editing.

insights

Search engines will follow only the first link to a previous post even if you have multiple links to that same post. This shows how similar they are to readers. Also, again like readers, search engines will pay more attention to the links which are above the fold!

 

13. Last post and next post links:

Last post and next post links allow easy navigation for users as well as search engines.

What to do:

Add last post and next post links on every post page.

How to do it:

To learn how to do this, please read the WordPress doc at http://codex.wordpress.org/Next_and_Previous_Links and Speckyboy’s post here.

links wordpress

14. Add related posts:

Related posts allow readers and search engines to find the posts which are similar and also reduce the bounce rate by keeping readers on the site!

What to do: 

Add related posts widget to each post.

How to do it:

Plugin: Related Posts via Taxonomies

A number of plugins can be used for this. I recommend using Related Posts via Taxonomies for WordPress.

wordpress related posts

15. Implement Google Authorship:

Google Authorship is a great way to add a face to your posts and show users / search engines that your blog is genuine. You can understand the important of this SEO method considering Google’s attempts of desperation to somehow make Google+ work.

What to do:

Implement Google Authorship for your WordPress blog.

How to do it:

Sign up for Authorship: https://plus.google.com/authorship

Read instructions by Craig here.

google authorship

16. Social Sharing and Bookmarking

It is important to spread the news about your posts when you publish them. Also, you should encourage readers to share your posts on their social pages and bookmarking sites! This is on marketing method and that will get you a large amount of traffic on your website and is also great for getting backlinks and off-page optimization!

What to do: 

Add sharing and bookmarking options to your WordPress blog posts.

How to do it:

Plugins:

Shareaholic | share buttons & related posts
Share Buttons by AddToAny
Share Buttons by AddThis

17. Comments

It is important to encourage comments on your WordPress blog. However, comments could also change the keyword density of your post. Some bloggers advice turning off comments if you don’t have a lot of them. I think comments are a great way to interact with your readers. Remember, you don’t just want people from search engines, you want them to stay with you and participate!

What to do:

Encourage comments.

How to do it:

Don’t just encourage readers to comment. What you should do is reply to each comment in detail. This is ensure happy readers as well as regularization of the keyword density since it will be now in your control.

18. CREATE EXCELLENT CONTENT!

Don’t create good content. If you really want perfect SEO; Create excellent content.
Remember: Search engines follow users. That’s the simple rule. Do not try to fool them. If people like to read your content, then search engines would love you index your content. I’m not saying you cannot fool search engines. Bloggers try to fool them, then they update their algorithms and this loop goes on. Why not just create quality content and let search engines find YOU!

We will keep updating this post based on the coming changes / updates and new additions to the guide. Do leave your comments to let us know if you like the guide or if there is any additions you would like to make!

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About Author

Founder at Durofy. Blogs on technology & startups, runs a full service digital agency, teaches AP Calculus.

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