December 22, 2017

The Ultimate WordPress SEO Guide

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wordpress seo

Alright! If you are looking for a WordPress SEO Guide that will provide the tools to skyrocket your organic traffic, you have come to the right place. This SEO guide includes key strategies, tips, and tricks to optimize your WordPress site for organic search. Search engine optimization can sometimes seem overwhelming, but after reading this guide you will have a clearer understanding of the best practices for 1) planning the site, 2) on-page SEO, 3) technical SEO, and 4) off-page SEO. This primer provides step-by-step instructions in a clear format so you can better organize your SEO efforts and align them with your business goals. The methods outlined here are up-to-date for the current year, 2018, and provide cutting edge advice so you can eclipse your competitors in the rankings. Let’s dive in!

Affiliate Disclaimer: This guide contains affiliate links which means that if you click on one of the affiliate links of the products/services I recommend and you make a purchase, I’ll receive a commission from the sale.

1) Planning the Site

planning the wordpress site

Choosing a WordPress Theme

Those involved in SEO sometimes forget the power of good design. A well-designed site has a much better chance of ranking highly in search engines for its targeted keywords. This is because, based on testing by Larry Kim, engagement metrics, such as dwell time, are important ranking factors in Google and other search engines. Visitors tend to stay (or dwell) longer on sites with good design, eye-catching images, and an engaging writing style.

It is best to select a WordPress theme with a responsive design. ThemeIsle has a variety of beautiful WordPress themes with responsive designs that are perfect for business sites, portfolio sites, or blogging sites.

Puzzle – Best Responsive Portfolio Theme

Get Puzzle Theme

puzzle wordpress theme

Hestia Pro – Great Theme for Businesses, Startups, or e-Commerce

Get Hestia Pro Theme

hestia pro wordpress theme

Amadeus Pro – Premium Blogging Theme

Get Amadeus Pro Theme

amadeus pro wordpress theme

My site, jimmilan.com, uses a ThemeIsle design called Zerif and I credit it for being a major reason why my site tends to have very high ‘time on page.’ Visitors enjoy the design and hang around longer. This high time on page is one reason my site ranks well for competitive keywords like “Chicago SEO expert” and “Chicago SEO consultant.”

Site Hierarchy and Internal Linking 

Getting site hierarchy right in the initial planning phase will save you major headaches later on. Site hierarchy is one of the most important elements of SEO. Your content could be the best in your niche but if it is buried in a badly designed site hierarchy, then it will not receive the organic traffic that it should.

Homepage 

Domain authority flows into your site from backlinks on other sites. In most (but not all) cases, the homepage tends to be the page that collects the most backlinks and is therefore the most authoritative page on the site. Since the homepage is the most authoritative page, it has the best chance of ranking for its targeted keyword so you should use the homepage to target the most important, most valuable keyword that you would like to rank for. The keyword should appear in the title tag, meta description, H1, an alt tag of an image, and at least once in the body content.

Secondary Pages

The next tier of pages, secondary pages, are those linking internally from the homepage. They may appear in the site’s main navigation. These pages should target the second most important keywords and topics you’d like to rank for.

Tertiary Pages

Each secondary page should also link internally to tertiary pages that elaborate on the secondary pages’ topics. These would target more long tail keywords and go into more detail on specific topics. The tertiary pages should link to one another (when appropriate) because these internal links help spread the flow of page authority throughout the site and increase the chances that these tertiary pages will rank well for their targeted keywords. The anchor text of these internal links should include relevant keywords.

WordPress Website Hierarchy

Keyword Research

Keyword research is an integral component of any effective SEO strategy. Each page of your site should be targeted toward the key terms, or ‘keywords,’ for which you want the page to rank. It’s best to think about what topic a particular page will focus on and, from there, you can hone in on the particular words or phrases you’d like to target. In general, keywords with larger search volume will be more difficult to rank but will bring in more visitors.

When choosing a primary keyword to target, look at the domain authorities of the pages ranking on the first page of search results for that term. You can view the domain authorities of websites by installing the MOZBar or checking them individually using MOZ’s Open Site Explorer. If there are many pages with high domains authorities (60-100) then it will be more difficult to rank well for that keyword and it might be better to choose a different keyword. Once you have an idea of a primary keyword or key phrase you’d like to target it is best to include that keyword in the title tag, meta description, H1 heading, a few times in the body content, and once in an image alt text.

Keyword Research Tools

Google Keyword Planner and KeywordTool.Io

Google Keyword Planner can be a good place to start with keyword research, however, Google Keyword Planner no longer provides exact monthly search volume data for keywords unless you are paying for a pay-per-click account so you will have to settle for less exact search volume ranges (i.e. “100-1k”) if you don’t have a paid account. You can use keyword generator tools like KeywordTool.io to generate keyword ideas and then plug these into Google Keyword Planner to acquire their monthly search volumes.

SEMRush

If you would like to upgrade your keyword research efforts and gain an edge on your competitors, SEMRush is a great tool. With the Keyword Magic Tool you can get over 2 millions keyword ideas and use keyword grouping to segment your keywords by topic. You can quickly scan your list of keywords, pick the best keywords, save them, and create up to 50 target keyword lists.

 

One of the best things about SEMRush is you can also see the keywords your competitors are ranking for. This is incredibly important information for competitor analysis. You can see which pages on a competitor’s site are ranking well for various keywords. You can also see an estimate of your competitors’ organic traffic and you can emulate the content strategy of the competitors that are doing well.

2) On-page SEO

on-page SEO

Yoast SEO Plugin

Before diving into how to optimize each element of your website, your first order of business is to download and install the Yoast SEO plugin. This plugin is essential for quickly editing the SEO elements of your site, including meta tags, XML sitemaps, social media integration and more. The plugin adds a meta box to the “Edit Page” view of the your site’s pages that makes it easy to add title tags, meta descriptions, and a focus keyword. The Yoast SEO plugin will be referenced throughout this guide.

Title Tags

What are Title Tags?

A title tag is entered into the HTML of the webpage and is meant to be an accurate, decriptive title of the content of the page. Title tags show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and act as a headline of the search result. The title tag is also visible on top of the Internet browser window, labeling the tab of the page.

Title tags are one of, if not the most, important factor(s) to consider when looking to improve your site’s organic traffic. This is because there is significant evidence that Google uses click-through-rate data as a factor in determining whether your site’s page is valuable and should be placed highly in the list of search results. The higher the click-through-rate and the higher the time on page, the better the chance that this page will rise to the top of the SERPs. And nothing gets a person to click through on a search result more than a compelling title tag.

How to Edit Title Tags in WordPress

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can edit the title tag of a page by clicking “Edit Snippet” in the SEO section of the “Edit Page/Post” view and adding your title tag text to the “SEO title” field.

title tags

How to Optimize Title Tags

If you want to ensure your title tag is displayed in full in search engines without being cut off, it is best to stick to a title tag length of 56 characters or less. No one can say for sure whether a title tag longer than 56 characters will display correctly because Google’s titles currently max out at 600 pixels and the number of pixels a title tag takes up are dependent upon the specific characters and words used. I typically use this Snippet Optimizer to check my title tag length to see if it will display correctly in search engines.

As stated previously, the click-through-rate (CTR) of a search listing is an important factor in whether your website rises in rank or falls off of the first page of search results. One tried and tested way to increase CTR is to employ a title tag template that includes 4 elements:

  • The Format: List, Quiz, Infographic, Facts, Strategies
  • Emotional Hook: Amazing, Insane, Powerful, Unbelievable, Surprising
  • Content Type: Images, Videos, Quotes, Pictures, Facts, Strategies
  • Your Subject: Pets, Marketing, Politics, Health

Example: 5 Proven Ways to Dramatically Increase Your Organic Traffic

Ensure your title tags are keyword-rich and employ the primary keyword or key phrase (and, when necessary, secondary keyword or key phrase) that you have chosen from your keyword research.

Key Takeaways for Title Tags

  • 56 characters or less to ensure title tags display correctly; Use the Snippet Optimizer to optimize title tag length
  • Employ primary and secondary keywords
  • Use the ‘Format, Emotional Hook, Content Type, Subject’ title tag template to increase the click-through-rate

Meta Descriptions

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is a snippet of text that is typically displayed under the title tag in a given search result. Like the title tag, it is an HTML element that is entered into the HTML of the webpage. It is meant to be a description of the content of the search listing that further elaborates on the title tag and entices a searcher to click through.

How to Edit Meta Descriptions in WordPress

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can edit the meta description of a page by clicking “Edit Snippet” in the Yoast SEO section of the “Edit Page” view and adding your meta description text into the “Meta description” field.

meta descriptions

How to Optimize Meta Descriptions

If you want to ensure your meta description is displayed in full in search engines without being cut off, it is best to stick to a length of 156 characters or less. I typically use this Snippet Optimizer to check my meta description length to ensure it will display correctly in search engines.

The purpose of the meta description is to get a search engine user to click through on the result, so be sure to include ‘Power Words’ in your description. Power words are emotion-laden words and phrases that grab people’s attention. Some common power words include “shocking,” “surprising,” “secret,” “proven,” “free,” “premium,” “mind-blowing,” and “dramatically.”

Ensure your meta descriptions are keyword-rich and employ the primary keyword or key phrase (and, when necessary, secondary keyword or key phrase) that you have chosen to target from your keyword research.

Also, try to include a brief call-to-action toward the end of your meta description as this will make it more likely to receive clicks. Enticing calls-to-action include “Learn more,” “Click here,” “Visit today,” “Find out more,” “Discover why,” and “Contact us today!”

Key Takeaways for Meta Descriptions

  • 156 characters or less to ensure meta descriptions display correctly; Use the Snippet Optimizer to optimize the length
  • Employ primary and secondary keywords
  • Use emotional Power Words like “shocking,” “free,” and “dramatically”
  • Include a call-to-action (i.e. “Learn more!”) at the end of the meta description

Headings (H1s and H2s)

What is a Heading?

The H1 heading is the primary text on each page. To visitors of a webpage, it typically appears as the main text in a larger, bolder font and usually serves as the on-page title. In the HTML, headings are marked up in a way to help search engine crawlers understand the contents of the page for keywords and search indexing. In addition to H1 headings, there are also sub headings (typically H2-H6) that can further break up the content into sub sections. After the title tag and URL, the H1 heading is the next most important place to include your target keyword(s).

How to Edit Headings in WordPress

When you create a new page or post in WordPress, there is a field at the top of the “Edit Page” view that says, “Enter Title Here.” The text that is entered in this field will act as the H1 heading and, if not otherwise specified in the Yoast SEO section, as the title tag.

H1 Heading

To break up the content in the body text, you can add H2-H6 headings.

Headings

How to Optimize Headings 

There should only be one H1 heading per page and this should appear before the other subheadings (H2-H6) on the page. It is typically best to make the H1 heading a variant of the title tag and ensure that the H1 heading includes the target keyword(s) from your keyword research.

It is good practice to enter H2 headings into the body content to break up the text. It can be helpful to include other long-tail keywords and key phrases that you would like to rank highly for in the H2 headings. Unlike, H1 headings you can use multiple H2-H6 headings on a page.

Key Takeaways for Headings

  • Use only one H1 heading per page; it should appear above other subheadings
  • Employ primary and secondary keywords in the H1 heading
  • Use additional long-tail keywords in the H2-H6 headings
  • Unlike H1 headings, you can use multiple H2-H6 headings per page 

Image Alt Text

What is Image Alt Text?

The alt attribute, sometimes called an alt tag, is text that is entered into the HTML of an image tag. The alt text is used to describes what’s on the image and the function of the image on the page. It is also used by screenreaders, the browsers used by the visually impaired, to tell them what I son the image.

Image alt text is highly important for image-heavy websites, like eCommerce sites, because it can help webpages and products show up in Google Image search results, which can drive additional traffic to the site. 

How to Edit Image Alt Text in WordPress

In WordPress, you can edit the alt text of an image by clicking “Media” in the WordPress Dashboard, navigating to the image you want to edit, and clicking “Edit.” Then you can enter your descriptive alt text into the “Alternative Text” field. When you add this image into a page or post, it will include the alt text you have entered.

Alternatively, you can click on an image that is already sitting in a page or post and click the “Edit” button (Pencil Icon) and enter the alt text into the “Alternative Text” field and click “Update.”

image alt text

How to Optimize Image Alt Text

The alt text should be 125 characters or less and should accurately describe what appears on the image. For cases where an image is purely decorative (or a spacer), the alt attribute should have a NULL value (no text entered).

It is best practice to have one image on a page that includes the page’s primary target keyword in its alt text.

Key Takeaways for Image Alt Text

  • One image on the page should contain the primary keyword in its alt text
  • Alt text should be less than 125 characters

Outbound Links

What are outbound links?

Outbound links are links from a webpage on your site to a webpage on another site.

How to Edit Outbound Links in WordPress

You can add outbound links in WordPress by highlighting the text in the body copy that you would like to use as the anchor text and then clicking on the “Insert/Edit Link” button in the toolbar. Alternatively, you can remove links by clicking on the “Remove Link” button.

How to Optimize Outbound Links

It is best practice to have outbound links to authoritative sites in your webpage’s content as Google and other search engines see this as a quality signal. Linking out to sites where you would naturally cite an outside source is good practice. There is no hard and fast rule about how many outbound links to have per page (or per word count) but just be sure that outbound links are sprinkled into the site’s content in a natural, non-spammy way. It is best to have outbound links open in a separate tab so that visitors are more likely to continue browsing your site.

If you include affiliate links in your site’s content, then you should definitely err on the side of fewer affiliate links per page because having too many can cause an affiliate link penalty. One way to ensure you don’t have too many affiliate links per page is to create separate landing pages for the affiliate products you’re promoting and linking to those instead. Always be sure to add rel=”no follow” to all of your affiliate links. Finally, cloak your affiliate links with a custom URL. This can be accomplished with the Thirsty Affiliates Link Manager plugin.

Key Takeaways for Outbound Links

  • Include outbound links to authoritative sites in your site’s webpages
  • Utilize the Thirsty Affiliates plugin to cloak your affiliate links
  • “No follow” all affiliate links

URL Naming

What is the URL?

The URL is the address of the webpage. URLs are read by search engine crawlers and also displayed in the search results with the user’s query bolded where it appears in the URL.

How to Edit the URL in WordPress

When you create a new page or post in WordPress, the URL will be automatically created from the text you enter into the H1 heading field. In order to change this URL, you can click the “Edit” button next to the Permalink under the H1 heading field and enter the new URL. You can also include subfolders in the URL by selecting a Parent page in the right-hand sidebar under Page Attributes. 

URL Naming

How to Optimize the URL

URLs should be descriptive and include relevant keywords. Keywords in URLs are a small ranking factor for search queries. URLs can also serve as their own anchor text when copied and pasted in forums, blog comments, or social media networks so it is best practice to make them descriptive and semantically accurate so readers have an idea of what the page is about before they click on the link.

URLs should also be as concise as possible. Shorter URLs tend to rank better in search engines.

URLs should employ lowercase letters and separate path and page words with hyphens.

Finally, URLs should avoid the use of parameters whenever possible as they can cause problems with duplicate content and analytic tracking. If parameters need to be used, use them sparingly.

Key Takeaways for URL Naming

  • URLs should be descriptive, keyword-rich, and semantically accurate
  • URLs should employ lowercase letters
  • Words in the URL should be separated by hyphens
  • Avoid the use of parameters (when possible)

Meta Keywords

What are Meta Keywords?

Meta Keywords are target keywords that can be added to the HTML of a webpage to inform search engine crawlers of the type of content on the page. Meta Keywords used to be a ranking factor in search engines and improved rankings. However, Google and other search engines no longer use Meta Keywords as a ranking signal. It is no longer recommended to use Meta Keywords as it is believed to be a spam signal if used excessively. 

How to Edit Meta Keywords in WordPress

The meta keywords feature in Yoast SEO is turned off by default. It is best to leave this disabled. 

How to Optimize Meta Keywords

Remove any existing meta keywords by navigating to SEO → Titles & Metas in the WordPress Dashboard and disabling the “Use meta keywords tag?” button if, for some reason, it is turned on.

Key Takeaway for Meta Keywords

  • Do not use meta keywords

3) Technical SEO

Technical SEO

Mobile Design

What is Mobile Design?

Google has recently begun the launching of a new mobile-first index. This means that it will rank its search listings based on the mobile version of content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users. Google also recently created a page for testing the mobile speed of a webpage. This makes it clear that the search engine is highly focused on providing search results with good mobile experiences to its users. Therefore, it is essential to review all of your site’s pages on a mobile device to ensure they are quick loading and user-friendly.

There are a few types of mobile websites:

Mobile friendly – the site does not contain anything that will break or load incorrectly if rendered on a mobile device, however, it may not provide the most optimal experience for mobile visitors.

Adaptive – the design of the site physically changes as you resize your window. An adaptive design is based on predefined screen sizes. This design will re-arrange page elements in relation to the size of the window where it is being displayed.

Responsive – a responsive design conforms to the physical dimensions of the device you are using to view the site. A responsive design can actually resize images and page content sections based on the width of the device you are using to view it.

Separate Mobile Site – mobile-dedicated sites are separate sites, distinct from a desktop version of the site, that are specifically designed for mobile phones.

A website with responsive design is Google’s recommended option because it uses the same code to scale and adapt to any screen size, which is easier to crawl and provides a higher quality user experience.

How to Optimize for Mobile in WordPress

Select a Responsive WordPress Theme

Today most WordPress themes are responsive but every now and then you will come across one with a fixed width layout that is not optimized for mobile devices. Make sure that the theme you are choosing for your website is responsive.

As discussed earlier, ThemeIsle creates great, responsive WordPress themes that are optimized for mobile devices “out-of-the-box.” This site, jimmilan.com, uses a responsive ThemeIsle theme known as Zerif.

To be sure that the theme you have chosen is mobile friendly, test it in Google’s mobile friendly testing tool.

Add AMP Markup to Your Site

Adding AMP coding to your website’s content pages like your site’s blog or news section is another way to optimize for mobile devices. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. It is a project endorsed by Google, designed as an open standard for any website to have fast-loading mobile pages. AMP-enabled webapges appear in special locations in the SERPs, including carousels. AMP search listings feature a lightning-bolt “AMP” icon which appears next to the listing in the SERPs. This lets search engine users know that the page is a mobile optimized page and entices them to click through.

To enable AMP pages, download, install, and activate the Automattic AMP plugin. Download, install, and activate the Yoast SEO AMP glue plugin. Next go to the SEO → Amp Settings menu, design tab, and change the styling to fit your website’s theme and branding. Navigate to the SEO → AMP settings menu then to the analytics tab and install AMP-specific tracking code, if you so desire. Finally, review your AMP pages by adding /AMP/ to the end of the URLs you enabled AMP on.

Key Takeaways for Mobile Design

  • Select a responsive WordPress theme
  • Enable AMP on your site’s blog or news section

Page Speed

What is page speed?

Page speed is how quickly the content on a webpage loads. On March 22nd, 2017, Google announced that page speed would be a ranking factor in its mobile-first index. There are a number of factors that affect how quickly a page loads. Images and graphics with large file sizes, non-optimized CSS, HTML, and JavaScript, and a sluggish hosting service can all slow down the page speed of your site and hurt your search engine rankings.

  • Measuring page speed

There are several sites to measure page speed. These include:

WebPageTest.org tends to provide the most detailed information about what is causing your page speed to be slow but it is best to test your site’s pages in all of these tools because each one provides a unique look at site speed.

How to Optimize Page Speed in WordPress

1. Choose a Fast Hosting Service with a CDN

One of the quickest ways to improve site speed is by choosing a fast hosting service. I use Siteground to host my site and I truly believe it’s the fastest, most reliable hosting for your money.

Some highlights of Siteground include:

  • Highly reliable uptimes (consistently at or near 99.99%). They guarantee that if you experience 0.1% downtime on a yearly basis that you will be compensated.
  • A FREE account with the content delivery network, Cloudflare, to further quicken page speed.
  • The Auto-update Tool ensures WordPress plugins and WordPress Core updates occur automatically.
  • Excellent, round-the-clock customer support. Customer support staff is available instantly by phone or live chat or within 10 minutes through their ticketing system.

Siteground is a major reason my WordPress site has been able to achieve blazing fast load times of less than 0.4 seconds!

Page Load Time Under 0.4 Seconds

2. Compress images

  1. Do an initial compression

Sites like CompressJPEG, CompressPNG, and Image Optimizer are great for doing an initial compression of your images before you upload them to your site. A great tool to use when resizing an image to insert into a webpage is the Aspect Ratio Calculator. If you have an image that’s 2068 x 1552 and you need the image resized to a width of 800, you can plug in the original aspect ratio and then ‘800’ for the new width and it will calculate the new height (600). Then you can go to Image Optimizer and plug in your new width and height values and get a perfectly optimized and compressed image.

  1. Use a bulk compression tool

Next, you can download a bulk image compression plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer. This plugin allows you to run a bulk compression of any images on your site that could be further compressed.

  1. Run Google Page Speed Insights and use Google’s recommended images

Finally, you can find any images that can be further compressed by testing each of your site’s pages in Google PageSpeed Insights. At the bottom of the PageSpeed Insights results page, you will see text that reads, “Download optimized image, JavaScript, and CSS resources for this page.” Clicking this will download the compressed versions of your images, JavaScript, and CSS files. You can then upload the compressed images to your site.

3. Optimize CSS and JavaScript

As previously discussed, you can download the optimized CSS and JavaScript files from the Google PageSpeed Insights results page. Then you can upload these files to the appropriate folders in your cPanel.

4. Utilize a Caching Plugin

Caching is the temporary storage of web documents such as HTML pages and images.

W3 Total Cache is a free caching plugin that can be integrated with the CloudFlare CDN to greatly increase site speed. Once the plugin is installed, you must configure the plugin’s settings so that it works correctly. Here is a guide on how to configure W3 Total Cache with Cloudflare.

Key Takeaways for Page Speed

  • Choose a Fast Hosting Service with a CDN (Siteground is great for WordPress and comes with a FREE subscription to the CloudFlare CDN)
  • Compress Images
  • Optimize CSS and JavaScript
  • Utilize a Caching Plugin like W3 Total Cache

Redirect Issues

What are 301 redirects?

301 redirects are a way to point one URL to another. They are mostly used to point old pages to new pages on a website. However, if implemented incorrectly, they can result in poor performance and lowered search engine visibility.

A redirect chain is one way redirects can be implemented incorrectly. A redirect chain happens when there are multiple hops between redirects (for example, URL A → URL B → URL C rather than URL A → URL C and URL B → URL C). Google will still follow up to 5 redirects in a chain but it is best to reduce the number of hops between redirects because it reduces the load time when a visitor is trying to access the final destination page. It will also ensure that the maximum amount of page authority (or “link juice”) is passed to the final URL.

How to Fix 301 Redirect Chains in WordPress

You can implement 301 redirects in WordPress with the Redirection plugin and if a redirect chain has been created by accident you can simply edit the existing redirects in this plugin so that URL A redirects to URL C and URL B redirects to URL C rather than redirecting like so: URL A → URL B → URL C.

301 Redirects

Key Takeaways for Redirect Issues

  • Redirects can be implemented in the Redirection plugin
  • Redirect chains should be reduced to preserve page authority and decrease the load time of the page
  • Existing redirect chains can be fixed by editing them in the Redirection plugin

404 Errors

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error message is a standard response code that indicates that the client was able to communicate with a given server, but the server could not find what was requested. This often happens when a page is deleted and has not been redirected.

How to Fix 404 Errors in WordPress

The best way to fix a 404 error is to 301 redirect it to a relevant live page on your site. One of the most important reasons to redirect pages that have 404’ed is because they may have gained page authority from receiving links from other sites and you can pass this page authority to the most closely related live page on your site. You can implement 301 redirects in WordPress with the Redirection plugin.

It’s best to implement redirects with the relative URLs rather than absolute URLs because if you ever make a sitewide change to URLs, say, to migrate from http to https, the old redirects will work without any problems.

Key Takeaways for 404 Errors

  • Fix 404 error pages by implementing 301 redirects of the 404 error page to the most relevant live page on your site
  • Redirects can be implemented with the Redirection plugin
  • It is best to use relative URLs when implementing redirects

URL Variation Structure

What is URL variation structure?

Search engines treat every way they can access a page as a separate URL unless redirected or canonicalized. For example, if the following URLs all bring up the same content without redirecting or canonicalizing to one official version of the URL, the search engine will believe all four URLs are separate pages and this can cause duplicate content problems:

  • http://www.example.com
  • http://example.com
  • https://www.example.com
  • https://example.com/default.aspx

Every version of a page should have a canonical tag or be redirected to one official version of that page. If you have the Yoast SEO Plugin installed, you can implement a canonical tag on a webpage by navigating to the bottom of the “Edit Page” screen and clicking on the advanced tab (Gear Icon) of the Yoast SEO metabox. Here you can change the canonical to point to any URL.

How to fix URL variation structure in WordPress?

If you are hosting with Siteground, here are ways to fix various problems with URL variation structure:

If you are not using Siteground, there are ways to address these issues in your htaccess file, but it is good to check with your hosting service to see if they have a preferred method for addressing this.

Key Takeaways for URL Variation Structure

  • Every version of a page should have a canonical tag or be redirected to one official version of that page.
  • It is best to check with your hosting service to see if they have a preferred method for addressing URL variation structure before making edits to the htaccess file.

Structured Data

What is Structured Data?

Structured Data is “machine friendly” data that is added to the HTML of a webpage to help Google and other search engines more easily understand and classify the content of the page. Structured data, such as Schema markup, can help search engines understand elements such as phone numbers, addresses, reviews, events, and more. Adding relevant Schema markup enhances the search engine results of your webpages by adding Rich Snippets. By marking up reviews with Schema, you can add star ratings, special offers, and pricing info to your search engine results which can encourage search engine users to click through to your product pages. Adding relevant location-based Schema markup, such as business name, address, and phone number helps your webpage appear higher in Local Search results.

How to Optimize Structured Data in WordPress

Install and activate the All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin. Once installed, you will be able to create Schema markup for reviews, events, people, products, recipes, software applications, video, and articles. When you create a new page or post you will find a “Configure Rich Snippet” meta box where you can select the relevant schema you want to insert into the post. Select the type of post, fill out the relevant details, and publish the post. Google will start showing rich snippets in the search results as soon as the post is crawled.

Always be sure to test the Schema markup with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Type the webpage into the tool, identify any errors, and look for solutions by Googling the particular error code.

Key Takeaways for Structured Data

  • Utilize the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin
  • Test your Schema markup in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool

XML Sitemap

What is an XML Sitemap?

An XML sitemap makes it easier for search engine crawlers to retrieve a site’s pages by listing out all essential pages on the site in XML (Extensible Markup Language). This allows search engines to find the pages on your site that you want indexed even if the internal linking architecture is not perfect.

How to Edit the XML Sitemap in WordPress

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can create and customize your XML sitemap in this plugin. Click on ‘SEO’ in the WordPress dashboard and then click ‘XML Sitemaps.’ If the XML Sitemap functionality is disabled, switch it to ‘Enabled.’ You can customize your sitemap using the newly displayed tabs. Click ‘Save Changes.’ Once you’re satisfied with your sitemap, you can view it by navigating to the ‘General’ settings tab and clicking on the ‘XML Sitemap’ button next to the text saying, “You can find your XML Sitemap here.”

Key Takeaways for the XML Sitemap

  • XML sitemaps make it easier for search engine crawlers to retrieve a site’s essential pages
  • You can edit your XML sitemap in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin

Robots.txt

What is a robots.txt file?

The robots.txt file is a text file that tells crawlers which pages should and should not be crawled on the site. It typically exists on your site with a URL like ‘example.com/robots.txt.’ Disallowing pages that do not need to be crawled (login pages, disclaimers, etc.) speeds up the crawling and indexing of your site.

How to Edit the Robots.txt file in WordPress

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can create and edit the robots.txt file in this plugin. Click on ‘SEO’ in the WordPress dashboard, then click Tools, and then ‘File Editor.’ You can make any changes to your robots.txt file here. If you do not have a robots.txt file, click the button to create it. If you want to block any pages from being crawled add a Disallow directive like so: Disallow: /page/. It is best practice to use the relative path of the URL when adding a Disallow directive. Make sure you have User-agent: * at the top of the text file and it is best practice to link your XML sitemap at the bottom of your robots.txt file like so: Sitemap: https://www.jimmilan.com/sitemap.xml

Key Takeaways for the Robots.txt File

  • The robots.txt file tells crawlers which pages should and should not be crawled on the site
  • You can edit your robots.txt file in WordPress using the Yoast SEO plugin

4) Off-page SEO

Building Links 

What are backlinks?

Backlinks are links pointing to your website from other websites on the World Wide Web. It is HIGHLY important to have backlinks coming to your site from trusted, authoritative websites if you want your site to rank well for its targeted keywords. Unless it has a ‘nofollow’ attribute, a link to your site from another website will pass authority to your site. By acquiring more backlinks from relevant, authoritative sites you can increase your own site’s domain authority, which will make it more likely that your site’s pages will rank highly in search engines.

How to Increase the Number of Backlinks from other Websites

  • Mention other businesses, events, or people in your content and let them know that you have mentioned them
  • Reach out to websites that you have a relationship with (your products’ manufacturers sites, associations, etc.) and ask for a link to your site
  • Answer queries on HARO or SourceBottle
  • Guest post on other sites
  • Monitor your competitor’s backlinks with SEMRush or ahrefs and replicate them
  • Promote your content on your social media properties

For more ideas on how to increase the number of sites linking to yours, check out this list of ‘Link Building Tips and Tricks from the Experts.’

Local Search

What is Local Search?

According to Wikipedia, local search is “a search that references a product or service that is typically consumed locally, such as “restaurant” or “nail salon.”” When a local search is performed Google will typically return organic results and a local 3-pack. By clicking on “more places” under the 3-pack, a searcher can view a longer list of local search results. Appearing in the Local 3 Pack can be a highly important source of website traffic for local businesses.

How to Optimize for Local Search in WordPress

1. Create Optimized Location Pages for Your Business’s Locations

For multi-location business, create landing pages for all of your business’s locations and optimize the title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 heading by including the primary keyword and the name of the location you are targeting. If you only have one location, it is best to optimize the homepage’s title tag, meta description, and H1 heading with the primary keyword and the name of the location. For example, if you are a plumbing business in Chicago it would be best to optimize the homepage’s meta tags for “Chicago Plumbers.”

2. Utilize Local Structured Data Markup

It is also important to mark up the business location’s name, address, phone number, hours of operation, reviews, logo, and more with Schema markup.

As mentioned earlier, the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin is great for marking up certain HTML elements so that they appear as rich snippets, but another excellent plugin that is specifically designed for adding Local Schema markup is the Local SEO for WordPress plugin. This plugin provides several key capabilities:

  • Address output in Schema.org format
  • Opening hours in Schema.org format
  • Store locator
  • Google Maps with a route planner
  • Support for multi-location businesses

This is a premium plugin and it should be noted that all of this can be done manually, but it is much more efficient with the plugin.

3. Claim and Optimize your Google My Business

Go to google.com/business and claim your Google My Business profile. There is a verification process that follows where Google will send a postcard with a PIN to the physical address of your business. You will then enter this PIN to verify the business.

Next, you will need to optimize your Google My Business profile by filling in as much detail about the business as possible. This includes adding a complete description, relevant categories, business hours, types of payment accepted, any photos of your business and its services/products, and your business’ logo.

4. Encourage Online Reviews

According to MOZ’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors, review signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) are one of the top factors in Local Pack/Finder ranking.

To encourage online reviews, consider a plugin like WP Review Pro. This plugin allows you to easily create reviews that are completely customizable. You can edit the color scheme so that it integrates seamlessly with your site’s design and you can choose from stars, percentages, circles, or points for the review scoring system.

WP Review Pro

5. Acquire Citations in Online Directories

Another ranking factor in local search is citations in online directories. The number of citations and the consistency of these citations is highly important. The more citations the business has and the more consistent the business’ name, address, and phone number is amongst these listings, the better the business will perform in local search. Also, duplicate citations hurt local search ranking so it is especially important to remove any duplicate listings if you have them.

Here is a list of the top 50 citations for local businesses in the US and here is a list of the top local citations by business category

While you can acquire all of these citations manually, this work can be tedious and time consuming. Sometimes a business will have old citations that are either incorrect or duplicate and it can be difficult to find and correct all of this information while running the business. It is much more efficient to use Whitespark’s citation audit and cleanup services. Whitespark will complete an entire audit of your site’s citations and will update incorrect citations, remove duplicate citations, and add missing citations. Once the audit is complete, you will get a full report of all the citations acquired along with the usernames and passwords.

Social Sharing

What is social sharing?

Social media is an important part of off-site SEO because it increases the visibility of your site’s content. Likes, mentions, tweets, shares, etc. all help to get your site’s content in front of the most people, which increases the chances that someone will link to your content. Social media’s power is its ability to make your content go viral. The average person on Facebook has 130 friends, so with every ‘Like,’ your brand gains the exposure of another 130 potential customers, or more.

How to Optimize Social Sharing in WordPress

Include social sharing buttons on your site’s content

  • Super Socializer is a free plugin that provides customizable social sharing buttons for your site
  • It is best to include a few social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, rather than a longer list of networks because this tends to increase shares.
  • It’s good practice to ensure your social sharing buttons are displayed prominently on your webpage. It is optimal to have the social share buttons displayed at the top and bottom of the webpage or along the left-hand side of the page so that they stay in place as you scroll down the page.

Ensure your social sharing buttons are displaying the number of shares for each social network as well as the total number of shares for all networks.

  • People are more likely to share a piece of content if they see others have shared it. A high number of social shares is a kind of “social proof” that entices more people to share the piece.
  • If you are using the Super Socializer plugin, you can include the number of shares by navigating to Super Socializer → Social Sharing → Standard Interface and clicking “Show Share Counts.” You will have to sign up for NewShareCounts or OpenShareCount in order to include the number of Twitter Shares.
  • The social media accounts of any People, Companies, and Events that you mention in your site’s content should also be tagged in your social media posts

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, you can add your relevant social media properties by navigating to SEO → Social. This will illustrate to Google that these properties should be associated with your website. Demonstrating that your website has associated social media properties give your site more credibility, or trust, in search engines.

This WordPress SEO guide should put you on the path toward increased organic traffic. Follow the steps laid out here and you will have a highly developed SEO strategy for your WordPress site. Good luck!


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