The Definitive Wordpress SEO Guide (2017)

Wordpress is an open-source, customizable content management system (CMS) that started out as a blog and has turned into the world’s most popular platform (BuiltWith).

Why is Wordpress so popular?

Well, number 1 it’s free, and number two it’s robust catalog of themes and plugins make it the best free option for basic websites and a powerful platform for complex websites.

What does that mean for SEO?

That means with a couple clicks you can install SEO plugins (Yoast or All in One) that assist your keyword ranking process and provide SEO tips for...

  1. Keywords
  2. Title tags
  3. Readability
  4. Breadcrumbs
  5. Duplicate content
  6. Technical SEO

It also means you can streamline other processes like web design to move forward with the all-important (and time consuming) task of content marketing.

There are many benefits to Wordpress: the cost (free), the plugins, and customization, however, it’s not for everyone.

Folks looking for a simple website setup should instead turn to a WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) platform like Squarespace or Wix.

This post will be broken down into 4 categories...

  1. Setup
  2. Content
  3. Links
  4. Design

Setup - Technical SEO and plugins for solid SEO foundations

Content - Content marketing + keyword targeting with main pages and a blog

Links - Manual and natural link building tactics to improve your domain’s trust and authority

Design - Your site’s design has less impact on keyword rankings but significant impact on user experience and conversion rates, i.e. prompting users to take action (email, sale, signup).

Technical SEO and Wordpress Plugins

Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

  • Verify your site with Google and Bing. This will prompt search engines to index your site and list it in search results.
  • You’ll also gain access to valuable keyword ranking data
  • Directions to setup Google and Bing with Yoast

Google Analytics

  • Track website statistics to improve your SEO and content marketing tactics. I recommend setting up Analytics for everyone -- even if you won’t view the data, if you ever hire an SEO or digital marketer, they likely will.
  • Setup

XML Sitemap Submission

  • Submit your sitemap to Google and Bing. Your sitemap informs search engines the structure of your website. It contains URLs and pertinent information for Google and Bing
  • Setup with Yoast

Conversion Tracking

  • Most websites have goals or actions they want their users to complete. Tracking conversions like sales, email subscribers, and completed forms allows you to track and attribute value to your marketing efforts.
  • Understand which channels (organic search, social media, email campaigns) drive traffic that converts.

Content Marketing

Why do we make content?

In short, to drive traffic and conversions.

In SEO terms, we make content to rank for keywords in search engines in order to drive traffic and conversions.

Visually, here’s how that looks.

Content, links, keyword rankings, website traffic, conversions and sales

The best content will drive the most conversions, and that’s how you should align your content marketing efforts. Which keyword / content topic is likeliest to drive the most conversions?

Keyword research, the process of determining which keywords to target with content, helps answer this question.

Keyword Research

In order to drive traffic that brings conversions choose keywords that...

  1. Are frequently searched (search volume)
  2. You can rank for (competition)
  3. Are relevant to your products / services / website goals (value)

Here are a couple free tools to help your keyword research process…

Google Keyword Planner - Enter keywords to view their monthly search volume.

MozBar - Examine competition in search engine results for your keyword by activating MozBar and looking at the Domain Authority for ranking domains.

When selecting keywords, prioritize them with these three metrics. Targeting keywords that would bring the most traffic is often the answer, but not always.

Some keywords bring lots of traffic, but have low conversion rates.

Elements of Quality Content

When we talk about content for SEO we’re typically talking about individual web pages (a blog article, a services page, etc.)

Why? Because when you Google a keyword and click on the result you’re going to a web page.

Google’s job is to organize the most relevant web pages for a given search. Your job is to create the most relevant web page for a given search.

Search Intent

A keyword’s search intent is the reason for the search. Someone who searches for “nike shoes” would have a different intent than someone searching for “adidas shoes.”

Even two people who search “nike shoes” can have multiple search intents.

One person who Googles “nike shoes” wants to buy a pair of running Nikes. Someone else may be looking for basketball shoes.

To determine your keyword’s search intent, Google the keyword. What information is contained in the first organic search result? What about the second result?

From viewing high-ranked pages for your keyword you can infer the types of content and information that people are looking for.

On your page, target all of these intents or as many as you can.

Engagement

Keep people interested in your content with short paragraphs, images, and headers.

Headers break up your content. Short paragraphs give users the impression of reading progress, making it easier for them to continue. Images offer a break from reading and add visual value in ways text cannot.

Keep users engaged and they should stay on your site longer.

Content Length

There is plenty written about how content length (for example, your blog’s word count) affects its ability to rank for keywords.

It’s largely dependent on the keyword and its competition.

But I will say this, my blogs that are super in-depth and go the extra mile tend to bring more traffic than the ones that are shorter.

That doesn’t mean every blog you write needs to be a novel.

Just know that in-depth content tends to do well, assuming it doesn’t sacrifice quality.

Meta Tags + Headers

Title Tags

Title tags are the simplest, most bang for your buck SEO element that exists.

Title tags display in Google...

A compelling title tag with keywords is one of the most important pieces of SEO.

Get keywords in your title tag! They tell Google (and people searching Google) that your page is about that keyword.

I can’t emphasize their importance enough.

Keywords towards the front of the title tag are given more weight than keywords at the end.

The character limit on title tags (before they get cut off) is between 60 and 70. If you want to check to see if yours will fit, Moz offers a great title tag preview tool.

Yoast’s SEO plugin allows you to customize title tags sent to search engines. Another reason to get a good SEO plugin!

H1s, H2s, and H3s

Headers help organize the structure of your page.

Header 1

Header 2

Header 3

Headers are understood by search engines. They may not be particularly big SEO factors (especially when you get into Header 3s or 4s), but if you insert relevant keywords into your headers it’s entirely possible the headers will help you rank for long-tail keywords.

Your Header 1 should display at the top of your page and be similar to your title tag.

In Wordpress Header 1s are often automatically generated. It’s a best practice to have one Header 1 per page.

Header 2s help break up content and sections of your page. Header 2s display important information and offer a segway to a new topic.

Header 3s are similar to header 2s. They break up content and indicate a sub-section of their parent header 2s.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions display in search engine results. They are typically cut off in Google around 150-160 characters.

They don’t factor directly into search results, however, an enticing meta description may encourage users to click on your result.

Image Alt Tags

Alt tags describe the contents of your image to search engines.

Like other tags and headers, image alt tags benefit from inserting relevant keywords to your image.

Alt tags shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list, however, a good image with relevant keywords may show up in a Google image search.

A Long-Term Investment

SEO and content marketing are long term investments. Don’t get down if you aren’t ranking and driving traffic after your first blog.

Not only does SEO take practice, even if you’re great at it, it still takes significant time for search engines to settle your content in their rankings.

Some of the most successful blogs I’ve written have taken months (up to 9 and counting) to settle in the rankings.

It takes time for individual pages/blogs to gain traction, and it takes time for domains as a whole. A new website with 0 content and 0 links means you’re starting from scratch.

A website with links and topical authority around certain keywords has a leg up on brand new sites.

But remember, if you rank well for valuable keywords, you will drive consistent traffic without spending a dime.

SEO is a long game, but if it’s played right it brings tremendous results.

Links that point to your website add value. Not only do they bring traffic, they carry weight in search engines.

When your site gains a link from an authoritative, trusted website -- your website gains authority and trust.

Think of a link as a recommendation from one site to another. The more influential the website, the more “link juice” it passes.

Getting more “link juice” typically leads to higher keyword rankings, but the process of getting links can be a bit tricky.

In general, there are two types of link building.

Manual link building involves outreach to webmasters and telling them “If you link to me, it will add value to your site.”

This involves a value proposition. Why should another website owner link to your site?

The value could be in the form of content. Maybe their users would be interested in the content that you offer on your website.

Or maybe you know a webmaster or two that would be happy to link to you.

Building personal relationships with authority figures in your field is a common strategy to getting links from websites that carry weight in your industry and its keywords.

Guest Posting

Reach out to websites in your niche and ask them if they accept guest posts.

Offer an interesting angle on a popular topic or craft content to rank for a valuable keyword. This may convince them to post your article.

Within the article, naturally include a link to your website, but don’t force it.

Some blogs have guest post guidelines — make sure to check those or ask the webmaster yourself before you submit an article.

There are tons of ways to manually outreach for links. We won’t go much further here, but there are plenty of resources out there. Just do a quick Google Search.

Natural link building is the hands-off approach to gaining links. “Create the content and the links will come,” as they say.

This can bring links, but it’s obviously not as effective as the pro-active seeking out of links.

So which process should you choose?

My preference is a mix of both. When I can reach out to get a link, I will do so.

However, I’ve pursued links for hours, and to have them not pan out can be discouraging.

It’s important to find a process that works for you.

I’d recommend browsing different link building tactics and trying them out. Maybe there are some that you love and that come naturally to you.

Find the ones that are in your wheelhouse.

But remember, you need good content first. Quality content makes it easier to attract links and it should lead to more engagement through the referral traffic you get via your links.

Web Design + Structure

Proper navigation with valuable calls-to-action can make or break a website’s “conversion rate” (more on conversion rates below).

Why be concerned about navigation?

Because users are often hurriedly looking for information. We browse the internet at a frantic pace, and when we don’t find what we need? Bye bye.

We don’t have the attention span to dig to find information.

But when websites present information in a simplistic way — or better yet, simple and creative — users love it.

Well thought out navigation leads to a positive user experience which means more engagement, time on site, and likely an increase in the all-valuable sought-after metric of conversions.

Main Navigation Bar

Your navigation bar (or navbar) is typically the same on every page on your website, so choose links carefully.

Your pages and your main navigation should point users to important pages you’d want all of your users to see.

We’re talking about the pages that bring users down the sales funnel: services pages, products, about pages, and contact pages.

Include these pages in a neat array to provide direction to your users.

Footer

Your website’s footer can accomplish multiple things.

Here’s mine...

Here are some common uses of a website footer.

1. Popular page navigation

  • Link out to all your key pages. People sometimes scroll all the way down to the footer just to find this directory of links to find the page they are looking for
  • Example: See Services links above, on the left

2. Subscribe to our email list

  • Want to grab emails for email marketing? Make it simple, but choose your words carefully. Succinctly describe your value proposition. Instead of a long form, use one entry field to make it as easy as possible to sign up.

3. NAP (name, address, phone number)

  • For many businesses (particularly local ones) providing such basic information not only helps users find / contact you, it helps search engines verify your basic information.
  • Business name, address, and primary phone number are relevant fields for any common listing (Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, etc.). Adding these to your footer may help such listings verify your information which may in turn give your listing an added boost.

Conversion Rate Optimization

We’ve talked a lot about conversions already: increasing conversions, tracking them, etc.

One way to increase conversions is to drive more traffic. Another is to optimize your website so a higher percentage of your traffic converts.

Let’s say your site gets 1,000 visitors per month. It converts 5% of those visitors.

1,000 visitors * .05 (percentage) = 50 conversions per month.

But what if you improve your content and 5% increases to 10%? You’ve doubled your conversions.

So how do you do it?

The Sales Funnel

Your conversions or sales are at the bottom of your funnel. They are your end goal.

But you get traffic from all sorts of different starting positions in the funnel.

Your job is to provide the content that leads users towards your goal.

This may mean providing a smaller conversion like a “subscribe to my email list” rather than trying to force a top-of-the-funnel user straight to your product page.

Or maybe in your site’s case, it’s better to augment their user experience with more informational content.

Say a user found your website via your blog. You can offer valuable, related information in your sidebar (more below).

Try to figure out the different values you can offer that can lead users towards your goal. Conversion rate optimization is an ongoing process of tweaking content to improve the flow of your sales funnel.

Calls-to-Action

Calls-to-action (CTAs) catch a user’s attention. A big colorful button that stands out from the text and images is eye-catching. It’s goal? Offer something valuable to encourage action.

Examples

Add To Cart

wordpress-seo-subscribe.png

Subscribe

Download 

Calls-to-action should be strategically placed in your content. Don’t overwhelm users with 10 bright red buttons scattered on your page.

Discover your best calls-to-action; the ones that offer the most value and the ones people use the most.

Make them precise, clear, and compelling.

Sidebars

Your sidebar content should relate to the main content of your page and should be interesting for people visiting your website.

Common uses of a sidebar include…

  1. Linking to related articles
  2. Linking to products / services
  3. A short bio of your company (maybe it links to your about page)
  4. Linking to blog categories

Use a mix of images and text to augment a user’s idea of what they’ll get when they click on a link in your sidebar.

For sidebars that display on multiple pages (especially high-trafficked pages), put yourself in a user’s shoes. What types of content are they looking for? What do they want?

Structure of Products and Services

Your products or services are an integral part of your site, and you want to make sure they’re optimized for (1) keyword rankings and (2) a positive user experience.

In general, have a separate page for each product or service you offer.

This helps each of our two goals.

  1. You can target each product or service with keywords in the title tag. Each product or service becomes a potential landing page for its target keyword.
  2. You can easily link to relevant products or services from other areas of your site.

You’ll also want to have a category page for relevant product groups.

If you sell outdoor apparel (shirts, pants, footwear, etc.) you’ll want a category page that links out to all of your individual shirt products. Same goes for pants and footwear.

Category pages help accomplish the same goals listed above -- you can link to a category page and you can insert keywords for that category page to rank in Google.

In this particular case, you probably want separate categories for men and women.

So your structure will look like this…

Local SEO and Listings

Geographical Content

Create web pages targeting geographical regions, towns, cities, or states. This provides websites with the opportunity to rank for key phrases that contain their target region.

If you own a small chain of restaurants you could create location pages dedicated to each of your restaurant locations.

The best way to structure your pages and their titles would include the type of food and the target region.

For example, you could title your Boston location as follows...

Boston’s Best Italian Food | Your Restaurant’s Name

Use similar keyword combinations for your other target areas.

You could do this for products or services too. Make sure to include your target keywords and your target region in the page’s contents and in its title tag.

Google My Business

If you take one thing out of this post, take this.

Create a Google My Business page. Google My Business listings show up in local packs, typically above organic search results.

The ease at which you can create a page and display at the top of Google for local, relevant keywords makes it a no-brainer.

They are simple to create. Just fill out all the basic business information.

If you have time upload excellent pictures and encourage customers to leave reviews.

If you’ve got multiple locations, create a page for each one.

Facebook

It’s an added bonus to have a Facebook page. Facebook pages will often show up in search results and given Facebook is the most popular social media platform it’s a good thing to do.

Not only can you share content to customers who “Like” your brand, but this page may show up in Google, occupying valuable space that a competitor or someone else could take.

Yelp

Yelp has an avid following of users that rely on reviews to make purchases.

Check where Yelp shows up for your most valuable keywords. Sometimes it may even be the first result. (I’m looking at you, restaurants.)

Trip Advisor

For hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants Trip Advisor is a big player. In Southeast Asia Trip Advisor consistently ranks number one for hotels and restaurants..

Turns out they’re quite powerful in the United States as well. Given their keyword ranking prowess, I’ve created a page detailing how well they structure content and how its quality has likely enhanced their rankings.

Bottom line, if Trip Advisor ranks well for your priority keywords, make a listing.

Industry-related listings

There are a number of other industry-specific listings / directories that can’t hurt to sign up for.

My best guess is that you get diminishing returns the more listings you do, but nonetheless, it’s unlikely they hurt.

FAQs

What is Wordpress SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of creating content and building links in order to rank for keywords.
 

What is the best SEO plugin for Wordpress?

We recommend Yoast SEO. It’s the highest rated and most reviewed Wordpress SEO plugin. Another option is All in One SEO Pack which, based on reviews, looks to be another strong option.

Both plugins are free, but if you’re looking for a little more insight + support there are premium versions available for purchase.
 

Is Wordpress good for SEO?

Yes, Wordpress is a strong SEO platform: it allows you to customize title tags, create quality content, and build links. Wordpress, like many other platforms, checks off the requirements to rank in search engines.

What's the best Wordpress theme for SEO?

This isn’t a sexy answer, but there really isn’t one at SEO than the rest. The best Wordpress SEO theme is the one that allows to create quality content and effectively target more keywords. This could mean a wide variety of themes.

Make sure your theme satisfies the core requirements for SEO -- most all do or are compatible with Yoast SEO plugin.

When choosing themes, consider its design over any SEO factors. The SEO you get out of your theme is based more on your content and inbound links than your theme.

Should I Get a Wordpress SEO Plugin?

Yes, you really should. Both Yoast and All in One will help guide your content marketing process. They will help fill in the gaps, but someone has to put in the work for keyword research, writing, and producing content.
 

Wrapping Up

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve used a lot of SEO techniques described in this post.

We’ll see how it works!

My personal guess is that my domain’s lack of links will hamper this post’s ability to rank on the first page for "wordpress SEO." However this blog's keywords, its title tag, and depth will help it drive significant traffic.

If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to ask!

Or if you’re experienced in Wordpress or SEO, what do you think is the single most valuable Wordpress SEO tip?