No matter how much work you put into making your WordPress website look good, it won’t pay off if you can’t get people to show up.
The internet is packed full of websites vying for attention. For people to find yours, you have to put some effort into getting them there. A top tactic for doing that is search engine optimization (SEO).
- It improves your website’s visibility.
- It makes it easy for people already looking for what you do to find you.
- It increases traffic.
- It’s affordable.
- Once achieved, SEO results are long-lasting.
SEO isn’t your only option for getting more eyes on your WordPress website, but it’s one of the best places to start.
15 Steps to Improving WordPress SEO
SEO is competitive and can take a lot of time to do well. But many of the most important steps for WordPress SEO are actually fairly simple. Some of these you can even get done today, while for some others you’ll want to create an SEO plan to implement over the coming weeks and months.
1. Make sure you have the right hosting provider and plan.
Search engine algorithms—the complex code that determines which order websites show up in when you do a search—aim to prioritize websites that provide the best experience to visitors. Now think about how you feel when you click on a website and it takes forever for the page to load.
In the fast-moving world of the high-speed internet, “forever” can actually just mean a few seconds, but that’s long enough for waiting to feel like a nuisance. Search engines are well aware of how people feel about slow loading times, so site speed is a ranking factor they’re upfront about.
For your website to load quickly, choosing the right web hosting provider and plan is paramount. If your website isn’t delivering the level of speed you need, consider if it’s time for either an upgrade or a switch to an all new web hosting company. Look for one that offers managed WordPress hosting and can promise reliable service and site speed.
2. Install an SEO plugin.
Choosing WordPress for your website means you don’t have to deal with HTML when making updates (thank goodness). In its place, you need to find the right plugins that provide the substitute functionality you need.
Some SEO steps that you’d otherwise use HTML for can be completed via an intuitive interface with the right plugin. Some popular options include:
Many of the next steps on our list are much easier to complete with a good WordPress SEO plugin.
3. Create a sitemap.
For a page on your website to show up in a search, the search engine has to first know it’s there. The search engines have bots that continually crawl the web to find and index web pages.
You can speed up the process of getting all the pages on your website indexed by creating and submitting a sitemap. All of the plugins shared above have features to help with this step. Use the plugin of your choice to generate a sitemap for your WordPress site, then submit it to each of the main search engines.
4. Do keyword research.
Keywords are the cornerstone of an SEO strategy. You don’t want to show up in the search engines for just any search, you want your website to show up when people are looking for what you do. When you optimize a web page for search, you’re optimizing it for a specific keyword.
To determine which keywords to base your strategy on, use free keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Answer the Public, or paid tools like Moz and SEMRush to gain data on the terms your audience is using in search.
You want to identify keywords that get a decent number of monthly searches, but aren’t too competitive to rank for. For new websites and small businesses long-tail keywords—terms that are specific and tend to be longer—are usually your best bet.
5. Choose a primary keyword for each page.
When you have a strong list of keywords to target, figure out the best primary keyword for each page on your website, along with a secondary keyword or two. Every page should have a different primary keyword so you aren’t competing with yourself for search engine rankings. Selecting your keyword is necessary for the next several steps.
6. Customize all your URLs.
When you create a new page in WordPress, it will automatically generate a URL for it—but one that provides no useful information. It will look something like this:
The URL is part of the page search engines look at to learn what the page is about. Not only is a generic URL like that not useful to your visitors, who will never remember it, it also doesn’t communicate anything to Google about what’s on the page.
Your SEO plugin should provide a field for you to customize the URL of each page, or it may even automatically generate a URL based on the page title you enter. Make sure to fill in a URL that uses your primary keyword and relates to what’s on the page.
7. Write a relevant meta description for each page.
Meta descriptions don’t have an effect on a web page’s rankings, but they’re still important because they often show up on the search engine results page when you rank for a term.
The meta description is your opportunity to get someone to choose your website out of all the options that appear. Use the brief space you have here (around 155 characters) to make a case for why someone should click. And be sure to include your primary keyword. If your page starts showing up in the results when someone searches for your keyword, it will be bolded in the meta description (as in the example above), drawing more attention.
8. Use headings strategically.
Another part of the page the algorithms look at to understand what it’s about is the headings you use. With HTML, you would add headings to the page using the <h2>, <h3>, and <h4> tags.
Within WordPress though, you can select a heading each time you add a text block to the page.
Headings are useful for separating the page into different sections that make it easier for your readers to skim. In terms of SEO, they give you more options to include your keywords—but you should only do so if including your keyword in a heading also makes sense for your human readers.
9. Optimize your images for search.
Search engine algorithms can’t see images, but there are a few parts of an image file that they can read. That includes:
- The image filename
- The alt tag
- The caption
- The description
You can fill in these sections easily in WordPress each time you add a new image to your media library, allowing you to optimize your WordPress images for SEO. Look for the Attachment Details section on the right side of the screen.
Each of these fields is another opportunity to communicate something about your web page to the search engines. Fill in this information for every image you add to your website, including your keyword where relevant. Most of these sections won’t be visible to your average visitor, but the caption will, so make sure anything you add there is useful to your human visitors.
10. Optimize your images for speed.
We already established how important speed is for SEO. Even with the right web hosting plan, if you add a lot of large, high-resolution images to your website, they can slow your page loading time. But there are a number of tips to make your images load faster, while still looking good.
Here are a few suggestions for optimizing your images for speed:
- Save your images as .jpg rather than .png so they’re smaller
- Compress your images with a compression plugin.
- Set up lazy load. Another option a plugin can help with.
11. Create a blogging strategy.
Blogging is good for SEO because it keeps your website current and fresh, and gives you lots of opportunities to rank for different relevant keywords. And WordPress is well designed for hosting a blog on your website.
Use your keyword research as a starting point to create a blogging strategy that targets relevant terms your audience is searching for. Create an editorial calendar to keep you consistent in your blogging and strive to make sure each piece you publish:
- Is useful to the readers you most want to reach
- Is relevant in some way to the main thing your website offers, be it products, services, or a certain type of information
- Is written in a web-friendly format. That means lots of white space, short paragraphs, sections separated by headings, and bullets or numbered lists where appropriate (kind of like this one)
- Is optimized for search (that just means following all the rules in this post)
Blog posts are a good way to increase your website’s visibility and gain the attention and trust of the category of people you want to reach.
12. Practice internal linking.
An internal link is any link on a web page that points to another page on your own website. Internal links are useful for SEO because, by showing Google which pages are related to each other, it’s yet another signal about what your page is about.
And with internal links, you have the power to choose the anchor text you use—e.g. the words that are hyperlinked (those that usually show up in blue and underlined). The more context clues you give the algorithms, the better a job they do of understanding what terms your page should link for.
Internal links are also a way to spread link authority around your website. When you add an internal link to a popular page that ranks well now, it makes the linked page look a little more valuable in the eyes of Google.
13. Build backlinks.
Internal links are nice, but backlinks are where your web pages start to really gain points with the algorithms. A backlink is any link to a page on your website from another website. Every backlink from a well respected, relevant website works as an endorsement for your website. Google sees it as confirmation that what’s on the page is valuable.
The more high-quality backlinks a website earns, the more SEO authority the website will have. More authority = higher search results.
Link building is one of the hardest parts of SEO, but once you have all the on-site optimization covered (which is the category everything else on this list falls under), it’s the most important step for boosting SEO on your WordPress website.
14. Learn from your analytics.
This list covers all the best practices for improving SEO for your WordPress website, but the details of what will work best will depend on your particular website and audience. You can use a plugin like the Google Analyticator to put some of your most important analytics front-and-center in your WordPress dashboard to easily track how much traffic you get, and which pages are the most popular.
Supplement that information by digging deeper in Google Analytics. And if it’s in your budget, you can gain even more in-depth information with SEO tools like Moz or Ahrefs that provide rankings data.
Analyze that data as you go and learn what types of pages and content you create perform best in the search engines. Then apply what you learn to your strategy moving forward.
15. Perform regular content audits.
Creating new content for SEO takes a lot of time and energy. Make that work go further by performing a content audit at least once a year to find opportunities to make your old content stronger.
High-performing pieces can be updated to make them more current and keep them strong. Low-performing pieces can either be scrapped or improved based on the insights you’ve learned from your analytics.
Don’t publish and forget. Treat the content you have as a living thing—it should evolve and grow over time to strengthen your business and become ever more useful to your audience.
Build Your WordPress SEO on a Strong Foundation
For everything on this list to pay off, your website has to work consistently and load fast. For that, you need a web hosting plan that provides nearly constant uptime and promises the highest level of performance. HostGator’s managed WordPress hosting plan delivers.
It’s compatible with all WordPress websites, delivers fast loading times, and has a 99.99% uptime guarantee or your money back. Start your WordPress website stronger with the right web hosting plan.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.