Achieve Higher Rankings – Increase your WebSite Traffic
WordPress is one of the best, if not the best CMS when it comes to SEO. That being said, spending time on your WordPress SEO might seem like a waste of time, but most definitely is not. To achieve Higher rankings just optimize your site according to the best practices outlined in this article. This will help you increase your traffic, improve your rankings, gain more subscribers and generally have a better website.
As we take quite a holistic view on (WordPress) SEO, meaning that we think good SEO should be ingrained in all aspects of your online marketing and PR, this guide covers quite a lot of ground and is therefore a long read. Check out the table of contents below for some quick jumping around.
Updates to this WordPress SEO article
We keep this article up to date with the best practices for WordPress SEO according to latest Google’s directions. Just keep driving this article’s way. We are strongly recommend you to install and activate Yoast SEO plugin which replaces quite a few of those older and out of date plugins. Yoast SEO is proven so powerful that sites like SearchEngineLand, and The Next Web now all use it. Yoast SEO plugin is very stable and ready to use.
If you’re using another SEO plugin, like All in One SEO pack or Ultimate SEO, but would like to switch and make use of our free and extremely powerful SEO plugin, READ this migration guide written by YOAST. It’s a really easy process. If you’re not using a SEO plugin yet, proceed to install Yoast SEO plugin and get going. And never forget that Higher rankings come only after quality SEO settings and optimizations.
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1. Basic WordPress SEO for Higher rankings
Out of the box, WordPress is a pretty well optimized system. It does a far better job at allowing every single page to be indexed than every other CMS we have used. But there are a few things you should do to make it a lot easier still to work with.
1.1.1 Permalink structure
The first thing to change is your permalink structure. You’ll find the permalink settings under Settings → Permalinks. The default permalink is
?p=<postid>, but we prefer to use either
/category/post-name/. For the second option, you change the setting to /%category%/%postname%/ : COPY-PASTE THIS TO CUSTOM URL SETTINGS.
1.1.2 WWW vs non-WWW
You need to think about what you want your site to show up as, www.example.com or simply example.com. Make sure that in your general settings, under Settings → General, the version you want to show up is properly reflected:
You will also want to set this correctly in Google Search Console. Make sure to set up your site with Google Search Console and set the preferred domain, you can find this setting under Settings → Preferred domain:
Where you can set it:
Prerequisite is that you add your property before WITHOUT THE https. But just with http. It does not mean nothing. Just google works 🙂 Otherwise you will face an error message by google telling you to verify your ownership even you have previously verified that.
1.1.3 Stop words
The last thing you’ll want to do about your permalinks to increase your WordPress SEO, is remove the famous stopwords. Words like “a”, “and”, “the” etc. Yoast plugin will automatically warns you to remove stop words from your slugs. So you won’t have those ugly long URL’s when you do a sentence style post title. But need to say here I don’t agree with sentence style post titles.
This is generally not something you want to change after posts have gone live. If people have already linked to it, try to not change the permalink anymore and if you do, make sure the post is properly redirected. For that special, specific and very useful reason you should install and activate 301 Redirects plugin. We will talk about that in a next post. In most cases WordPress should redirect the old URL to the new one but if it doesn’t you need to make the redirect manually. So the use of 301 is crucial.
1.1.4 To SSL or not to SSL
In 2014, Google announced that they’d give a (admittedly minor) ranking benefit to HTTPS / SSL sites, and because of that, more and more sites have switched over to SSL. It might be a good idea for you too. If you want to move to SSL, we have an article with tips & tricks for moving to HTTPS right here.
1.2 Optimize your titles for SEO
The title, the contents of your page’s
<title> tag, is one of the single most important factors for ranking in the search results. Not only is it the literal title of the tab or browser window, it’s also the first line people see in the search results, followed by the URL (or the breadcrumb) and the snippet, usually the meta description combined with a date.
On many blogs, the title for blog posts is still “Blog title » Blog Archive » Keyword rich post title” or “Blog title » Keyword rich post title”. For your WordPress blog to get the traffic it deserves, this should be the other way around, for two reasons:
- Search engines put more weight on the early words, so if your keywords are near the start of the page title you are more likely to rank well.
- People scanning result pages see the early words first. If your keywords are at the start of your listing it is more likely for someone to click on your page.
For more info on how to create enticing titles for your posts, read our article on crafting good titles for SEO.
1.2.1 Controlling titles with the Yoast SEO plugin
You can control your SEO titles with our Yoast SEO plugin. There are two parts of the plugin that control these. First of all, as soon as you install & activate the plugin, you get an SEO section in your admin. Navigate to SEO → Titles & Metas and you’ll see a bunch of tabs for different types of pages on your site. For each post type and taxonomy you can set a so called Title Template (as well as meta description templates but we’ll get to those later). For posts on our site this looks like this:
There’s a bunch of variables you can use in the titles and meta description. You will find explanations in the help tab on the top right of the page. Also check whether the template actually works and you’re not getting a duplicate site title for instance. If this is the case, you might need to check the “Force rewrite” checkbox on the same page or follow the instructions on that page to modify your template.
For the other pages, we have the following settings:
- Categories, Tags and other taxonomies:
%%term_title%% %%sep%% Archives %%page%% %%sitename%%
- Search pages:
You searched for %%searchphrase%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%
- 404 pages:
Page not found - Error 404 %%sep%% %%sitename%%
- Author archives:
%%name%% %%sep%% Author at %%sitename%%
There are some other cool features, for instance: you can use
%%cf_<custom field name>%% to use a custom field, this can be either a post custom field, sometimes known as post meta value, or a user meta value. In this particular case it’s the custom field “role” we use to store the role of a user within our company.
The %%sep%% template code gets replaced by the separator you select on the first tab:
1.2.2 (ON SITE OPTIMIZATION) | Optimizing individual posts
So now that we’ve set decent templates, we can start to optimize individual posts and pages. For that we use the snippet preview added by the Yoast SEO plugin:
This preview automatically takes the values you’ve already filled in in your blog post and applies them to your template. However you can override the title completely using the title field just below it:
The input will show a warning below it if your title is becoming too long. The title length is not a fixed amount of characters but rather limited to the length of the display in the search results.
For titles the following things are important:
- They should always contain your brand, preferably at the end, so people may recognize you in consecutive searches.
- They should always contain the keyword you think is most important for the current post or page, which we’ll call the focus keyword from now on. The focus keyword should preferably be at the beginning of the title.
- The rest of the title should entice people to click.
1.3 Optimize your descriptions
Now that we’ve got proper titles, let’s focus on meta descriptions. The meta description can be used by search engines to show in the snippet, it’s the black piece of text shown beneath the URL. The meta description is usually only used when it contains the keyword the searcher was searching for.
Some popular plugins, use so called “automated descriptions”. They use the first sentence of a post to fill the meta description by default which is not very wise. That first sentence might be an introductory sentence which has hardly anything to do with the subject or the salutation to our fans. 🙂
Thus, the only well written description is a hand written one, and please DO NOT auto generate meta descriptions. On the aother hand if you don’t use the meta description, the search engine will find the keyword searched for in your document, and automatically pick a string around that, which gives you a bolded word or two in the results page. Auto generating a snippet is a “shortcut”, and there are no real shortcuts in (WordPress) SEO (none that work anyway).
So, use the meta description field you find in the Yoast SEO plugin to write a meta description. Make sure it entices the reader to click through and make sure that it contains the focus keyword of your post or page at least once. Besides you will get a notification for that with an orange bold dot.
You’ll notice we do not mention meta keywords. We don’t use them and neither should you, for an explanation, read this article by Joost: meta keywords and why I don’t use them.
1.4 Image optimization
An often overlooked part of WordPress SEO is how you handle your images. By doing stuff like writing good alt tags for images and thinking of how you name the files, you can get yourself a bit of extra traffic from the different image search engines. Next to that, you’re helping out your lesser able readers who check out your site in a screen reader, to make sense of what’s otherwise hidden to them.
Using the proper alt attributes for images is also something that you can check in the Page Analysis functionality of Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast has a comprehensive article on Image SEO that will give you more tips to fine tune this.
1.5 XML sitemaps
To tell Google and the other search engines that your site has been updated, you can use XML Sitemaps. Yoast SEO plugin contains an XML Sitemap module by default that you just have to enable. Go to Settings → XML Sitemaps and enable the XML sitemap (if it isn’t already on):
As soon as you hit Save, it’ll give you some options but in most cases you won’t need those. When you publish a new post or page, the XML sitemap is automatically submitted to Google & Bing allowing them to easily (and quickly) find your new content.
Other than most other XML sitemap plugins, this plugin doesn’t generate a static file, which is a very intensive process, especially for large sites. This means there is no “action” on publish, which slows down the publishing of the post. Instead it generates XML sitemaps as a sort of template using WordPress rewrites, which is much faster while also allowing caching plugins to cache the output.
It’s also being smart about splitting those sitemaps up into smaller bits. So Google only has to fetch one new XML “sub”-sitemap when we publish a post, because the other sitemaps haven’t been changed, using the date modified options.
From SEO perspective, it’s better than most others because it also includes the images in each post. Hence it makes your images rank (better) in Google Image Search. It also integrates tightly with the rest of YOAST SEO plugin. By that we mean that a no indexed post automatically is left out of the XML sitemap. However there is the option to “force” it in.
Thank you for reading this wonderful article originally produced by Yoast SEO.
Nice to see you in our next Article.
Higher rankings for WordPress sites | The Absolute Guide – Part B