Because WordPress onpage Search Engine Optimization should become second nature
Hold off on the whole optimize WordPress for onpage SEO thing for a moment. Let's start somewhere else:
A little while ago, we were witness to a big Rap Genius SEO scandal. TLDR; they were penalized for their extremely spammy link building practices, and as a result the site was dropped from Google completely.
Overnight, they went from 700,000 unique visits per day to only 100,000, according to Quantcast. That's an 85% drop. If Rap Genius hadn't solved that problem eventually, they wouldn't have been with us today.
What this whole story basically means, is that you cannot disregard optimizing WordPress onpage SEO as a blogger or a site owner. Because if you do, you've already lost the online game.
So here's the question:
How to optimize your WordPress site to be search-engine friendly? What do you do if you want to organically increase website traffic?
- One-time blog setup adjustments - do those just once, reap the benefits for months to come.
- Plugins to have - let's be honest, you need some plugins for good optimal WordPress onpage SEO. Not a lot, though. In fact, just 3 will do.
- Things to do for every new post - go through this part whenever you're just about to hit the Publish button for a fully onpage SEO optimized post.
Recommended Supplementary Reading for Joomla guys: 15 Joomla SEO tips that every website should enable
Before we begin, these tips are meant primarily for self-hosted WP sites, as opposed to sites on WordPress.com which have more limitations on what can be done. Read about this difference on this CollectiveRay blog.
Starting from the top:
One-time blog setup adjustments for WordPress onpage SEO
1. Make sure your indexation settings are enabled
Our first and most important part of this onpage search engine optimization checklist is making sure your site is Googlebot friendly! In short, Google will only index your site if WordPress allows them to do so. There's a small setting in the Settings > Reading section of the wp-admin. It's called Search Engine Visibility. Make sure that the box is deselected:
If it's enabled, for let's say, development purposes, you'll need to make sure it's been switched off to enable your site to get indexed by search engines - otherwise, all the rest of your efforts will be for nothing.
2. Optimize permalinks for onpage search engine optimization
Permalinks represent how WP goes about structuring every URL that's part of your site.
Link to SEO URL structure.
Unfortunately, the default settings aren't very onpage SEO-friendly. A clean install of WP uses links like so:
While you want them to be:
You can set those in Settings > Permalinks. The idea is that in a setup like that, you can include keywords in your posts' URLs which is very important for WordPress onpage search engine optimization.
3. Sign up for Google Search Console (GSC)
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, GSC is a great tool providing you with various insights about the condition of your site, the indexation status, the issues found, and loads of other useful info. Listing it all here would take a post of its own. Suffice to say, it's one of your most important tools for WordPress on page optimization. Not only that, it's also completely free.
Signing up is quite easy too. Google takes you step by step through the whole process.
We highly encourage you to spend a while looking at what's available there.
(On a personal note, GSC was the tool that notified me that my site got hacked a while ago. Hadn't it been for them, we probably wouldn't have found out so quickly - of course, if you want to prevent your WordPress website getting hacked - we've got all the steps you need to take.)
4. Sign up for Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT)
This is an alternative solution to GSC. But you can work with both, GSC and BWT at the same time if you want to.
After all, if you do so, you gain access to additional data and tools, this time, coming from team Bing. No downside.
Go here to find out more and get started.
What's next on our onpage search engine optimization checklist? Analysis of traffic, because you'll want to know exactly where your traffic is coming from.
5. Use a traffic analytics tool
If you're going to do anything with your website, you need to monitor your traffic on a regular basis. How else are you going to know if your efforts are bringing any results or not?
Now, there are two popular solutions that I like:
- Google Analytics - the most popular traffic tracking tool out there. It also integrates neatly with GSC. If you want help adding Google Analytics to your WordPress theme follow our tutorial.
- Clicky - I like this one even better, actually. The interface looks clearer to me and it's not as intimidating.
The WordPress integration is simple. Both tools give you a piece of embed code to place in your site's footer.
You know how most of your users come to your site? Via their google searches on their smartphone. That's why our onpage optimization checklist continues with having a responsive site.
6. Make sure your site is responsive and mobile-friendly
Let me say it this way, in 2015 80% of internet users own a smartphone. And what's even more interesting, mobile tends to be the preferred way of accessing the web for many of them.
Therefore, if your site is still not mobile-friendly, you're leaving a lot of opportunities on the table and alienating the bigger part of your audience.
Not only that, but Google has actually announced that they're now favoring mobile-optimized sites over those that are not.
So what to do?
First, check how mobile-friendly your site actually is via Google's dedicated tool.
- If you get negative results, either a) adjust the code of your website theme to make it mobile-friendly (hire someone for this task), and hence search-engine friendly b) change your theme entirely to a fully responsive theme, or c) help yourself to a certain plugin (more on that in a minute). It's good to note that such themes as Divi and Avada are already fully-optimized for mobile access. Check out CollectiveRay's review of Divi and Avada WordPress theme.
- Create a mobile-friendly website using WP Touch:
WP Touch is a WordPress plugin that instantly adds a mobile-friendly theme to your website for mobile users. That is, it still shows your current theme to your desktop visitors and displays a mobile-friendly website only for your mobile visitors.
- Instant solution to optimize your website for mobile visits. It passes the Google Mobile test and ensures your rankings do not drop.
- Reduce the load time to a great extent, so it doesn’t turn your visitors crazy regarding the data consumption.
- If you’re using a lot of call to actions on your site, you may lose them on mobile.
- Additional configuration is required if you’re using a cache plugin like WP Super Cache or WP Rocket.
7. Onpage optimization using headings: Check how your theme handles H1, H2 tags
We are now actually getting to the optimization checklist of actual items on your page, post or article.
Very important as part of your onpage seo techniques are you content headers. H1-H6 tags are a critical part of your on-page search engine optimization structure. For years now, those headings have been used to notify the reader (and also the search engines) what the hierarchy of the information on the page is, and what's more and less important.
The idea is simple:
- H1 - main, top-level heading - it's what the page is about. It's somewhat of a standard to only use one H1 tag on a single page. Google also recommended that in the past so don't put multiple H1 tags
- H2 - secondary heading - it's what a section on the page is about.
- H3 - third level heading ... and so on.
Check how your theme handles those headings. To do so:
- Visit any given post.
- View source by pressing Ctrl+U (Windows) or ⌘-Option-U (Mac) in most web browsers.
- Press Ctrl+F (or ⌘-F) to find all instances of H1 and H2 tags. See if they make sense and present a good structure of the document:
When it comes to the order in which the tags appear, apparently it's not that important. Not just me saying, but Matt Cutts as well.If
If you're still not too sure about how to get this done, this lightweight SEO guide is a good and useful resource to help you figure it all out.
8. Improve your site speed
When performing your on-page seo checklist, do make sure you've checked how fast your website loads.
Site speed is yet another element that Google pointed out as one of the ranking factors. And it's not only words, it's actually been proven experimentally that site speed strongly correlates with search engine position.
What this means in plain English is that you should do whatever it takes to make your site load as fast as possible. Even setting search engine rankings aside, good site speed will improve the overall experience that your audience has with the site. There are a lot of on-page benefits for WordPress sites that can get their load time to less than 2 seconds.
How to make your site faster? I'm afraid there's no one-sentence explanation to this. Below is a 21 step-by-step case study that talks about all the how's and lists a number of optimizations you can perform.
If you want one plugin which can do a signficant amout of difference to your website's speed though - do have a look at WP Rocket. Its our recommended plugin of choice to make your website faster incredibly quickly. It's not free - but it's well worth the investment! - Get it from here, install and make your site faster in minutes.
Recommended Reading: How to get fast WordPress website - a complete guide [21 actions]
What I am going to say, though, is that the best way to make your site faster is to simply switch to a faster hosting platform. Sometimes you just can't make up for the shortcomings of your web host by doing WordPress onpage SEO tweaks. That's why changing your hosting provider is often the quickest and also the best solution.
If you don't know how to find a fast host, I encourage you to hop over to these hosting reviews - it's a comprehensive ranking focusing mainly on the site speeds you can get from various hosting providers. The list is kept up-to-date, so you can visit it in the future as well.
WordPress OnPage SEO Plugins to have
Let's move to the plugins department. As I said at the beginning, working on your WordPress on-page SEO without plugins can only take you so far. The thing is that WP isn't that onpage SEO-friendly right out the gate, which leaves a lot of room for plugins to come in and fill the gaps.
The most popular WordPress onpage SEO plugin of them all, with more than 1 million active installs. It gives you all the basic settings you'd need, and also lets you in on some of the advanced stuff, should you want to experiment. We dare say that this is the one on-page seo tool that you cannot do without.
Some of the things you should do right away after installing it:
- Change the default title and description of your homepage. Do it in SEO > Titles & Metas > Homepage. We'd advise you to target some long tail keyword in your homepage title that also includes a shorter keyword in it. That way you're killing two birds with one stone. Example:
- Do the same for your Post Types and Taxonomies (available as tabs in SEO > Titles & Metas).
- Generate a sitemap. Go to SEO > XML Sitemaps:
- Prevent duplicate content by not indexing the archives pages. Go to SEO > Titles & Metas > Archives:
One thing that Yoast does not address in their plugin is Rich-Snippet schema markup, so you'll have to find another plugin which does that. WPSuperStars have an excellent roundup of plugins you can use.
Other SEO plugins
While Yoast might be the most popular plugin out there, it doesn't mean it's the only one - and not necessarily the best one. As somebody who has been in the industry for a while, we are always on the looking for the next big thing, and we think we might have found a strong contender for the title of best plugin for on-page search engine optimization. It's called The SEO Framework and has been picking up a lot of traction recently.
Not only has it become popular, but it's rated 4.9 stars from nearly 160 votes as at the time of writing. And we don't say this only through third-party experience. We've actually used the plugin ourselves and have found it to be extremely useful, in certain aspects exceeding our expectations in terms of the suggestions it makes to users who are writing to make sure their content is fully-optimized for search engines (and users!)
For example, the Focus extension allows you to find synonyms of your target keywords, such that you write content both Google and your users will love, without exceeding the recommended keyword density and also writing naturally.
How do you find the right keywords to target?
You can do it by trial and error. It takes time. It's frustrating. You may hit a jackpot. Or you may not. The right way to find the good keywords with little competition is by using Long Tail Pro.
Social sharing is a must for your on-page seo efforts.
Yep, Sumo is a social media plugin/tool most of all. But social media metrics are actually an important factor for Google - as reported by Moz.
Recommended plugin for increasing Facebook Likes on your Facebook fan page: DC WordPress Facebook Like Plugin
By far, the best way to grow your social proof is to just display some nice share buttons next to every post/page on your site. Sumo is a great and free tool to do so.
If your site isn't mobile-friendly, this plugin will fix this. It simply switches between your standard design and a mobile-optimized version based on the device that the visitor is using to access the site.
The plugin works on autopilot and it's completely free. The mobile design it delivers is clear and good-looking. In short, a great free solution if you don't want to rebuild your whole theme.
After you've thought about search engine optimization, (or maybe even before), you'll need to focus on converting any existing visitors. We've found the best WordPress popup plugin to help you build your email list and improve conversion rates. Because of course, after you've increased your organic traffic, you need to have excellent conversion methods in place.
Things to do for every new post as part of your WordPress on-page optimization checklist
Okay, now let's get to the final part - the things worth doing with every new post to make it search-engine friendly. These are things which should be doing on a regular basis on each of your posts. You should follow this checklist repeatedly for each post until these onpage optimization activities become second nature to you.
12. Use two-fold headlines for improved keyword targeting
I can't recall where I first saw those things, but the concept is really clever. Basically, the idea is to make your headlines optimized for the search engines and for humans both at the same time.
Construct your headline from two parts:
1) the keyword-rich search engine optimized part, and
2) a twist.
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This sets the right tone, both for users and for search engines. The great thing is that you can use your primary and secondary keywords in the headlines.
This is a really important step of your on-page seo checklist.
13. Always set titles and descriptions manually
This is a must-do for every new post. Don't be lazy about this. While WordPress will fill out the meta title and description fields for you, those auto-generated texts aren't always the best, both from a keyword optimization perspective and copywriting perspective.
If you have Yoast installed, you get a nice box under the main editing screen to take care of this:
Use your main keyword for the post, and also some related keywords in the description.
14. Include a keyword in the first paragraph
The first paragraph is the most important part of the post's content from an search engine optimization point of view. You simply need to let Google and your visitors know what your post is about.
This may require some brainstorming to make things sound right, but you should always make an effort to include your main keyword in the very first paragraph.
Exhibit a): scroll to the top of this post.
15. Keyword density still matters
It's simple, if you want to rank for a certain keyword, you need to mention that keyword some number of times in the body of the post.
The team behind Yoast recommends anything from 0.5-2.5% density. The Yoast plugin has an onpage seo checker which also lets you know about your current keyword density score
As part of your on-page search engine optimization, try not to over optimize or use keywords such that they do not make for good reading. Which brings us to the next point on our on-page checklist.
16. Use related keywords
Related keywords can be just as important as your main keyword for the post. Basically, Google wants to see some range of words and phrases alongside your main keyword if you expect them to be convinced that your post is indeed on topic.
Find related keywords through Google suggestions on the standard search engine results pages:
17. Interlink with older posts
If I'm not mistaken, Rand Fishkin (the guy behind Moz) said in one of his Whiteboard Fridays that he hasn't yet come across a site whose optimization for search engine couldn't be improved by working on the internal link structure alone. It's simply something we tend to overlook.
So do this:
For every new post you're working on, find at least 3 existing related posts on your blog, and then link to them from within the body of that new post. You should have noted we've linked to multiple supplementary posts on this page ;-)
Most importantly, see which of your posts get the most organic traffic, and link to other sites you want to rank, from those posts. This is because this has the most link juice which they can pass on to the other pages. This is a really great on-page seo trick.
Some people call this, link sculpting.
18. Use alt text for images
Yes, you should use images in your blog content. Posts with images get more clicks.
But the thing with images is that Google has no idea what's on them until you find a way to tell them directly. Hence, alt text.
<img src="https://cdn.collectiveray.com/img.jpg" alt="what the image is about" />
In WordPress, you can set alt text very easily for every image you have on the blog:
A good practice is to use a short 2-5 word description of what's in the picture, plus include a keyword whenever it makes sense. On to our final step in the on-page seo checklist...
19. Jumpstart your social shares
The number of social shares your content receives is believed to be an important ranking factor. As I mentioned above, Moz continues to point it out for the last couple of years in their annual Search Engine Ranking Factors report.
Stack these odds in your favor by sharing your content to your own social profiles right after publication. Every share counts. You shouldn't feel weird about promoting your own stuff.
So ... are you working on your site's onpage search engine optimization?
Be honest with me here, are you working proactively to improve your Wordpress onpage SEO? Or maybe you just "don't have the time"?
Okay okay, I'm no saint here either. I also struggle to get through the whole process whenever I publish a new post. But I hope we're all going to get better at this in 2018 and beyond!
What's left for WordPress SEO checklist?
After you've done all of your WordPress onpage search engine optimization - there is one thing still left to do. This is offpage optimization. If we had to simply answer the questions what is onpage vs off page seo? - onpage optimization is all of the above which we have described. Off page is all of your link building towards the content you are writing. But that is another topic for another time :)
Finding the right keywords to target
It's always difficult to find the right keywords to target. They are either very very competitive. Or they don't have any traffic. How do you find the right middle ground? We can tell you how we find our good long tail keywords. It's saved us lots of time. And it helps us bring plenty of great traffic.
What steps have we missed in our SEO checklist? Let us know in the comments below.