WordPress SEO Basics: On-Page Optimization

Search engine optimization is generally easy with WordPress, once you understand the basic principles. You don’t have to configure any special settings to get your website crawled by Google. And from a technical standpoint, WordPress is a very search engine friendly solution. The Genesis themes, which we use at EfficientWP, give you some advanced SEO functionality beyond what most WordPress themes offer.

Of course, search engine rankings are far from guaranteed, and the more SEO work you put in, the better the results.

WordPress SEO

WordPress is generally SEO-friendly “out of the box.” You may want to temporarily turn off search engine visibility if you are working on a draft site or building a brand new site. If search engine visibility is turned off, you will see a link at the top of your administration panel that says “Search Engines Blocked.” Once your site is ready to be published, make sure you turn search engine visibility back on.

Indexing. If your website is not already listed in the search engines, you can manually add your site URL (Google, Bing). Once your website has been listed in a search engine, it should automatically check your website for updates from that point forward.

Permalinks. Your default URL structure for pages is good for SEO as well as being “human-readable”: your URL is constructed from your page title, with dashes in place of spaces. Your default URL structure for posts usually includes the date before the post title. While this is perfectly acceptable for SEO, some believe that you will get a better SEO benefit without the date. To change this to the same structure as pages, go to the Settings > Permalinks menu, select Custom Structure, and put “/%postname%” in the box (without the quotes).

SEO Settings with Genesis Themes. If you use a Genesis theme, you can change some site-wide SEO settings in the Genesis > SEO Settings menu. You can also change certain elements on a per page/post basis, most importantly the custom document title (the title that appears in your browser bar) and meta description. You will find a panel below the editor, called Genesis SEO Options and Settings, where you can change these values.

On-Page Optimization Tips

On-page optimization refers to changes you make to your website pages.

  • Use your keywords in the appropriate places. The most important places to use your keywords are your page titles, meta descriptions, and headings. While you do not have to fill in a meta description (search engines will use whatever text is relevant), it helps the search engines know what you consider important. You should also consider putting your keywords in bold and near the beginning of your titles, headings, and content (i.e. in the first sentence of the paragraph instead of the last).
  • Use the right keywords. Don’t target general terms, like “Italian restaurant” or “auto repair.” Use “long-tail” keywords to improve your chances. Long-tail keywords are multi-word keyword phrases, typically consisting of three or more words. While each long-tail keyword has much lower search volume than a similar “head” keyword (i.e. “Chicago Italian restaurant” vs. “Italian restaurant”), your opportunity for ranking vastly improves. You simply cannot compete for head keywords. Consider using geographic keywords (state/province, region, city, neighborhood, zip code), specific names of your products/services, and proper names of people (you and prominent members of your staff).
  • Write a lot of content. The more content you have, the more chances you have of ranking different pages on your website. Unless you do a lot of research, you probably won’t know what keywords will give you the most traffic until you accumulate enough traffic data over time.
  • Provide valuable and informative content on each page and post. If your content doesn’t provide any value to your visitors, or if it is directly copied from another source, it will have little to no SEO value and isn’t worth adding.
  • Don’t make your pages too long. Long pages won’t hurt your SEO, but if you separate topically relevant sections into new pages, each of those new pages has a better chance of ranking for different keywords.
  • Don’t make your pages too short. There are no minimums for page length, but a good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 250 words. If you do not have much content on a page, the search engines might consider the page unimportant.
  • Make sure your permalinks, titles, and menus are coded correctly. (The WordPress software and most WordPress themes do this automatically.)
  • Use internal links with good anchor text. An internal link is a hyperlink to another page, post, or file on the same website. Internal links tell the search engines what content you think is relevant to the current page. Anchor text is the visible link text, as opposed to the URL that the link goes to. You should use your keywords in the anchor text wherever appropriate.
  • Use external links in moderation. An external link is a hyperlink to another website. Search engines expect you to link to some other websites, but if you use them excessively (i.e. more than 50 on a page), you run the risk of appearing to the search engines as a link farm, which could lead to low rankings or de-listing.
  • Analyze and adjust. Use Google Analytics or other tracking software to find out what keywords are driving traffic to your website, and to which pages. You can then take steps to improve the keywords on those pages, making sure you do not jeopardize the traffic you are already getting to those pages. If you have pages that are not receiving much search traffic, you may want to consider rewriting those pages with different keywords. You should also use Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools to identify potential issues with your website.

Tips, tricks, and recommendations for improving your site

Learn from my 11+ years of experience building hundreds of WordPress websites, and turn your site into a well-oiled machine. By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy.