The Complete Guide to WordPress SEO in 2023
January 14th 2023 | By Emma Grant
WordPress is a globally renowned website content management system, highly regarded for its built-in search engine optimisation (SEO) features. But as world class as the SEO setup for WordPress may be, it is by no means a one-and-done product. In other words, when you launch a WordPress website, you don’t just get to put your feet up and rub your hands together as it flies to the top of the search results pages.
Yes, WordPress is packed to the rafters with all sorts of SEO features that adhere to Google best practice. But this does not make it a replacement for a solid SEO strategy.
So instead of thinking of the platform as an SEO solution, consider it a foundation for your strategy. Because in that respect, it will serve you well. As long as you know how WordPress SEO works, and you are prepared to go the distance and invest what you need to, you should reap plenty of rewards.
WordPress SEO – Getting Started with the Basics
As with a lot of things in life and digital marketing, some of the simplest things you can do are the most effective. And that’s definitely the case with WordPress SEO.
Have a look at these basics as an example. Just getting these right can potentially make a huge difference to your website’s ability to rank well in the search results.
Site visibility settings
Part of the SEO setup for WordPress is an option to hide your website from the search engines. Why would you want to do that, you may ask?
Well you might want to work on your site behind the scenes before you present it to the world. Or maybe you want to keep it for internal company use only.
But if you have been planning to use your website to grow your business, then of course, you are going to want to make sure it isn’t hidden from the search engines.
The trouble is that the option to hide can get checked inadvertently. And that will of course be bad news if you wanted the search engines to find your site.
So first tip… be sure to check that this option is unchecked. Simply head for the admin area of your WordPress site, then choose Settings >> Reading from the left hand menu.
Scroll down to the Search Engine Visibility section at the bottom, and ensure the box alongside ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ is unchecked. Save your changes if you made any, and you’re good to go.
A URL is the address of a web page. SEO-friendly URLs are made up of words that do a good job of explaining what the page is about. They are easy to read, both by search engines, and users.
WordPress SEO lets you control the way your URLs – or ‘permalinks’ as they call them – appear, so you can make them as appealing to search engines – and users – as possible.
An SEO-friendly URL might look like this:
Both clearly show the user what they can expect to find if they click on the link.
A non-friendly URL on the other hand might look like this:
This type of setup uses numbers that don’t help the user in any way work out what they might find on the page. But unless you tell WordPress how to structure your URLs, they could well end up looking like this.
Using an SEO friendly permalink will improve your chances of achieving better search engine results positions, as well as boosting your click through rate.
The good news is that you can amend your permalink structure in WordPress so that all new pages and posts adopt an SEO-friendly URL.
Just head over to Settings >> Permalinks. Then select the ‘post name’ option, and save changes to save your settings.
You can also choose a custom URL structure. So for example if you categorise your blogs (as we do), or you have a hierarchy of services set out under subheadings, you can make it easier for users to see exactly where they are by choosing ‘custom permalink’ and using the available tags to create your structure.
Important note: If your website launched more than six months ago, don’t change your permalink structure without professional help, because you will lose your social media share counts, as well as risking dropping your existing SEO rankings.
A professional WordPress SEO agency will set up redirects so that your original page URLs don’t lose rank. The social share counts will still disappear, but you’ll retain your page rankings.
WWW or non-WWW
There are no WordPress SEO benefits in choosing WWW over non-WWW, or vice versa. Yes, there are some technical differences, but these only tend to come into play for websites that command millions of pages views a day.
The technical side really isn’t important, so let’s not get bogged down in it. What IS important is consistency. If you want to put www ahead of your web address, do so. If you don’t, don’t. Just be sure to make the decision from the beginning, and stick with it. NEVER change your site URL to add or remove WWW from it, because Google will consider www and non-www as two different sites, which will lead to duplicate content issues. And you definitely don’t want those.
You can set your preference by clicking on Settings >> General where you can add your preferred URL across both WordPress and Site address fields. Just make sure they are the same.
SEO-friendly WordPress theme
A WordPress theme makes it possible to customise the design of your website. Depending on the theme you choose, elements such as layout, fonts and colour schemes will change.
When you first create a WordPress website, it comes with a default theme installed. Selecting the right theme to suit your business and industry will make your website more attractive and user friendly.
An SEO-friendly WordPress theme is a theme developed specifically with search engines in mind. The code will be written to deliver the content in a search engine-friendly way, and the theme will support all the popular WordPress SEO plugins (we’ll cover plugins a bit later on).
With an SEO-friendly WordPress theme behind your site, you’ll have a much better chance of ranking higher in Google. The WordPress theme directory has plenty of SEO-friendly options. If you’re having a custom website built, you should make it clear to the developers of your SEO goals, or allow your WordPress SEO agency to liaise with them to ensure the site is built from the ground up with SEO in mind.
WordPress SEO Plugins
With WordPress, there is a plugin for pretty much everything.
A plugin is a piece of software that adds new functionality to a program without altering the program itself.
There are literally thousands of WordPress SEO plugins, which is great in theory, but it does make choosing the right ones something of a challenge.
To make it easier, we will stick our necks out and say there are three that are at the top of the pile:
- Yoast SEO
- All in One SEO
- Rank Math
Yoast SEO has been top of the class since WordPress was launched, but that’s not to say the others don’t have their advantages. In fact, Rank Math is fast becoming a close contender for Yoast. Here’s a bit about them all.
Yoast SEO was actually called WordPress SEO when it first launched back in 2010. It’s considered the most popular plugin of all time, and has expanded to include SEO tutorials, as well as tailor-made SEO plugins for E-Commerce, Video SEO and News SEO.
There are two options: free Yoast, or the paid Yoast Premium. Features include keyword optimisation, page previews, internal linking suggestions, SEO scoring, meta optimisation, readability check, duplicate content detector, page redirect manager, social media sharing, XML sitemaps, permalink clean-ups, Schema Markup and more.
All in One SEO
All in One SEO is the original WordPress SEO plugin. It includes on-page SEO analysis, featured snippets Schema Markup, social media integration, local SEO, internal link assistant, breadcrumb navigation, and more.
In a nutshell, All in One SEO covers all the technical SEO aspects of a WordPress website. There is a free version, plus a choice of paid options.
Rank Math was launched in 2018, and has quickly grown in popularity to become one of the most popular WordPress SEO plugins, installed on over half a million sites.
The plugin allows you to set meta descriptions and titles and social media descriptions; set multiple focus keywords; create an XML sitemap that’s more detailed than the default WordPress sitemap; add and control Schema Markup; control image SEO; optimise for local SEO and add breadcrumbs. You’ll also get internal link suggestions, a link counter, redirect management and basic WooCommerce SEO.
Best practice – how to do SEO work on WordPress in line with search engine recommendations
Following basic WordPress SEO and using a WordPress SEO plugin will help you get ahead with your search engine optimisation. But if you want to soar ahead of your competitors and command attention in the search results, then you are going to need to follow WordPress SEO best practice.
The good news is that there’s very little technical knowledge involved. And definitely no code skills needed. But as we’ve said before, these simple things can make a big difference. Let’s delve in.
WordPress tags and categories
When you post a blog in WordPress, you get to assign it to a category, and add tags. Both will help you manage your content by topic, and will also make it possible for users to find just what they’re looking for.
Tags and categories also help search engines better get to grips with the structure of your website, and what your content is about. Let’s have a closer look at each.
Categories… we use categories to group posts into similar topics. For example, on the Figment blog, we have categories such as content marketing, ecommerce, Google updates, local SEO, SEO, technology, website maintenance and WordPress.
Guess which category this post has gone into?
Well actually, we’ve put it into a few. But we’ve set the primary category to WordPress, because that’s the main theme.
You can also add child categories in WordPress. So for example you could have shoes as your main category, and then ladies shoes, men’s shoes and children’s shoes as sub-categories. Or sports shoes, fashion shoes and shoe care tips. You see where we’re going. Is just a clean way of ordering your blogs so they can be more easily found.
Tags… these are specific keywords that describe the contents of an individual post or page on your website. When you set tags, they become searchable via your website’s search function, making it easier for users to find precisely what they’re looking for on your site.
Tags for your shoe related posts could be, for example, ‘gym shoes’, ‘kitten heels’, ‘block heels’, ‘wide fit’, ‘lace-ups’, etc.
When you use tags and categories to best effect, you make it a whole lot easier for your users to find their way around your website. And when it’s easier for users, it’s a breeze for search engines too. And that will always be a good thing.
Links are one of the most common signals when it comes to showing page authority of a website. This is why it’s so important to link your content from other posts and pages on your website.
Make internal linking a habit. Make it part of your blog posting checklist. It will pay you back in dividends, helping to boost your page views, increase dwell time on your site, and enhance the SEO score of your individual pages and posts.
If you are using the All in One SEO WordPress plugin, you can use the WordPress Link Assistant to make the whole process that bit easier. This feature automatically crawls the links on your WordPress site and provides internal linking suggestions that you can add in just one click.
Schema Markup and Rich Snippets
You may have noticed that certain websites are more prominent in the Google search listings. Some of them include questions and answers, star ratings, images, lists and more.
This is done by using Schema Markup. It’s all about helping you get rich snippets in Google and other search engines so your website stands out more in search, and is more likely to be clicked on. And when that happens, you end up getting better search rankings.
Schema Markup is a special type of HTML code. It’s a great part of the SEO setup for WordPress sites that allows you to tell the search engines more about your content and what it has to offer users.
For example, you could tell the search engines that a particular page is a news article, FAQ, blog, job post, movie, video, event, recipe or product page, amongst others.
WordPress SEO plugins make it easier for you to add Schema Markup to your page courtesy of settings in your page or post editor.
Search engines determine web page authority by the number of links it has coming in to it. Whilst it’s good practice to also link out to authority websites, it is important to make sure you have more links coming in than you have going out.
So, if you are linking out to other sites, it is good practice to add the ‘NoFollow’ attribute to those external links. This instructs the search engines not to follow those links, which helps balance your inbound/outbound link ratio, also known as ‘link juice’.
WordPress SEO plugins like All in One SEO make it easy for you to add a NoFollow option to any link you’ve included in your content.
Full posts vs excerpts
Your blog feed can be set up to either show full posts one after the other, or a summary excerpt with a link into the full post.
The default setting in WordPress is to show the full content in the feed. However, this can have a negative effect on your website’s SEO, as search engines may deem it to be duplicate content. Full articles running one after the other could also slow your site down, which is a no-go for SEO.
Best practice therefore is to set your WordPress blog feed to show excerpts rather than full articles.
Simply go to Settings >> Reading, and select excerpt.
It’s really important not to overload your website with lots of huge images, because they will negatively impact upon page loading time, which is a bugbear for both users and search engines.
Always optimise your images for fast loading. If you include lots of images on your site, use a WordPress gallery plugin.
Image SEO is as important as other aspects of SEO. Always use a descriptive title for each image, and set alt tags. The tags help search engines understand what your image is about, as well as assisting users with visual impairment by allowing their screen readers to verbalise the text.
Google Analytics is a valuable program which tracks website visitors, showing you where they come from, which pages they’ve spent time on and for how long, the pages they entered on and left from, and lots more besides.
This is priceless information. Being aware of where your visitors are coming from and what they are looking at helps you create better content. You can identify which pages are working well, and which could benefit from improvement. You can also see the most popular times of day when your site receives most traffic, so that you can pick the best time to publish your content.
It is good WordPress SEO practice to link your WordPress site to Google Analytics. Simply create your free Google Analytics account, and follow these instructions to setup in WordPress.
A sitemap has the purpose of providing search engines with a list of web pages so that they can come along and crawl and index them.
Whilst it’s not obligatory to submit a sitemap to get your site indexed, doing so can help speed up the process. It will also give you control over which pages you have indexed.
You can use Google Search Console to submit your WordPress sitemap to the search engines.
The importance of a tailored WordPress SEO strategy
Search engine optimisation will never be an automated task. Despite the fact that WordPress is equipped with so many SEO-friendly features, your site isn’t going to rank at the top of Google as if by magic.
You need to put effort (or investment, or both) into an all-rounded WordPress SEO strategy.
You need on-page SEO tactics such as keyword research, content strategy and production, on-page optimisation and technical SEO. And off-page SEO, such as link building, guest posting and citation management.
What you also need to remember is that SEO needs to be a fluid thing. Search engines, especially Google, change their algorithms and add new guidelines on a very regular basis. So what worked for WordPress SEO in 2022 may be different to WordPress SEO in 2023. The same will go for 2023 to 2024.
If you don’t have the resources to keep up with these changing trends and rules, and the many updates Google introduces every year, partner with a WordPress SEO consultant that can.
It’s also vital that you make sure your WordPress site is functioning at its very best so that visitors and search engines are kept onside.
Without regular maintenance, your WordPress site could become a business risk. Over time, it might start to run slowly, develop bugs or glitches, present broken links or forms, or come to a standstill altogether.
But with WordPress maintenance, you can rest assured that you’ll have expert help at hand to make sure your site is kept running at its optimal best.
Specialist WordPress SEO, maintenance and support from Figment
Figment is an award-winning WordPress SEO agency that truly understands the intricacies of the WordPress platform, as well as having in-depth knowledge across all aspects of SEO and user experience.
If you are serious about SEO success, talk to Figment. We’ve been doing WordPress SEO for more than 15 years, and have achieved exceptional results for our clients.
For example, we helped this specialist letting agent achieve a 1678% increase in organic traffic in just six months. Netted this chartered financial planner 107 top 3 Google rankings and a steady flow of new clients. Boosted sales by 71% for this garden building supplier. And drove phone enquiries up by 219% for this hot tub seller.
Looking for specialist WordPress SEO expertise? Team Figment is ready and waiting to help with your personally tailored strategy. Contact us today to discuss your project.