WordPress SEO Tutorial: 25 Ways To Optimize Your Site For Higher Rankings and get that juicy spot on Google's first page

If we are honest, we will admit that there is really no point in creating a beautiful website—with lots of fantastic content—if the intended audience never gets to see it.

That’s a huge problem for many website owners, and it’s largely because they fail to understand search engine optimization.Let’s be real. Executing search engine optimization (SEO) and getting good results isn’t a single day’s job. It’s a long, systematic process that requires perseverance and an up-to-date knowledge of the latest SEO best practices and how to implement them.

That might sound intimidating. But it’s not as daunting as it seems.

In this article, I have everything you need to turn your site into a magnet for loads of organic traffic with pages that consistently rank at the top of search engine results.

But before we begin our WordPress SEO tutorial guide, let’s start with a quick introduction to what SEO is and why it’s important.

What is SEO and why is it so Important?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an online strategy for ranking high in search engine results and boosting organic traffic to a website.

To achieve search engine optimization, your website and content must contain certain elements that Google and other search engines look for.

Most people choose WordPress for opening their website because it’s touted as the most SEO-friendly CMS platform. WordPress’s code follows the latest SEO best practices. That makes it one of the most SEO-friendly places to build a website.

That said, simply owning a WordPress site is not enough to rank you at the top of search results.

If getting lots of traffic, turning your brand into an industry leader, and making your website profitable is important to you, then yes, SEO is very important.

When you want a steady stream of website visitors, search engines are the place to get them. On average, there are over 5 billion searches run on Google every day. Of those 5 billion, a significant portion will run a search about something related to your site.

With the proper application of SEO, you can make sure that your website’s content pops up on the first page of search results related to your website’s content. That will result in a percentage of those 5 billion searches being directed to your website. Even if you can get just 0.001 percent of those searches to show your website and lead searchers to your pages, that’s a big win.

So, how can you accomplish this?
There are various SEO tactics you can use to get impressive results, and some of the best ones are explained below.

WordPress SEO Tutorial - 25 Ways to Boost your SEO

While certain advanced aspects of SEO are quite technical, you don’t have to be a tech wizard to improve WordPress SEO for your site and get results.

In this WordPress SEO tutorial, I am going to show you some of the most effective yet simple SEO tactics that you can apply in 2020 to make your website perform better in search engine results and get more traffic.

Table of Contents

Confirm SEO Visibility Settings

First and most important, you need to confirm that search engines can see your website. There’s a WordPress feature that can make your website invisible to search engines. If the feature is on, applying every single SEO tactic we are about to discuss won’t matter.

To make sure that your WordPress site’s invisibility cloak isn’t on, log into your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Settings then Reading. Under Reading scroll to Search Engine Visibility and uncheck Discourage search engines from indexing this site. If it’s already unchecked, just hit Save Changes, and now you can get on with the real party.

search visibility

Make your URL structure SEO-friendly

Don’t doubt for a second that the URL format of a webpage can score or cost you SEO points. A URL that’ll cost you SEO points looks like this:

  • https://thewebmonkeyonline.com/?p=10467
  • https://thewebmonkeyonline.com/archives/13367

The above URLs may look okay. But in truth, they are missing details that search engines can use to relate them to the pages they are for.

An SEO friendly URL will contain words that, to some degree, explain what to expect from the content of a page. When a URL looks like this, it’s easy for a human or search engine to read and guess what the page is about.

Good examples of SEO friendly URLs are:

  • https://thewebmonkeyonline.com/guide-to-wordpress-SEO/
  • https://thewebmonkeyonline.com/optimize-SEO-wordpress-site/

Just by looking at the ending of the above URLs, you can guess what’s on the page.

So, if you have URLs with a meaningless combination of numbers, letters, and/or special characters after the domain, consider search engine optimizing them. You can do this by visiting Settings in your WordPress dashboard then navigating to Permalinks.

Once there, simply select the post name option and click ‘Save Changes.’Doing this will add some points to your SEO score. Since every point counts, it’s best to switch to an SEO-friendly URL for your future posts.

permalink setting

Also, make sure the URL is exactly the same in the ‘WordPress Address’ and ‘Site Address’ fields.

Keywords Research

Keywords are the cornerstone of SEO. A keyword is what search engine users type in to find the information they are looking for. It can consist of one word, a short phrase, or even a long-phrase (long-tail keyword).

As a website owner that wants more traffic, you need to identify which keywords people (who are interested in your industry or niche) look for the most. By identifying these keywords, you can build content that responds to those keywords. Then, search engines will offer your content in response to searches related to those keywords.

To find keywords relevant to your industry—keywords that your target audience is searching for—use the following tools.

Answer The Public

Answer The Public is a great resource for finding keywords and search queries that people are using. Simply type in a content topic, and the tool will present you with relevant questions, prepositions, and comparisons related to that keyword.

The image below is an example of the kinds of questions asked related to the keywords ‘WordPress SEO’.

a sample of search result using answer the public tool

Google Autocomplete

When you start typing inside the Google search box, you’ll notice that Google offers suggestions to complete what you’re typing. These suggestions aren’t wild guesses by Google. Rather, they are suggestions based on what other searchers are looking for using the exact words you’ve typed.

How does this help you find keywords?

The suggestions that Google offers in response to a topic you type into the search box are what people are currently looking for regarding that topic. You can pick the most relevant of those suggestions and use them to create content that answers trending search queries.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz Keyword Explorer is very similar to Google Autocomplete but offers more comprehensive results. Simply enter a broad phrase then hit enter. You’ll see various keywords related to the topic you are researching. To see unique keywords rather than lots of variations of the same keyword, choose “yes, with low lexical similarity” under Group Keywords.

moz keyword research tool

HubShout WebGarder

It’s a useful tool for viewing what keywords your competitors’ websites are using. If you can provide better content using those same keywords, you can rank above competitor sites in search engine results.

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are short phrases that contain three words or more. Longer keywords are generally less competitive, which means fewer websites are using them, and there are fewer pages that you have to outperform in Google search results. They are effective for reaching a targeted audience that’s looking for specific answers.

Google Autocomplete and Answer The Public are both simple and free tools for finding such keywords.

To get more bang for your buck when using such keywords, try to use different variations of the keyword in your page title, SEO title, headline, and meta description. But only do this if you can insert the keywords in a way that looks natural and doesn’t disrupt the content’s readability.

If it looks like you are keyword stuffing (adding keywords for the sake of keywords) and it disrupts the readability of your content, search engines will likely penalize you.

Tactically target competitive keywords

Competitive keywords are keywords that several sites are trying to rank for.

Why?

That’s because competitive keywords are the ones internet users search for the most.

By building and optimizing content around a keyword that millions of people are searching for every day, you can get those millions of searchers to visit your site. But that’s only if you can optimize your content enough to rank above the other websites competing for the same keywords.

Keywords are more competitive when:

  • They are broad or long
  • Have top search engine results with strong content and high domain authority websites
  • Have lots of search results

While targeting competitive keywords is useful, it can be a time-waster going after content that you will probably never rank for. That’s usually the case if the top search engine results for that keyword are top quality content from high ranking sites that already extensively cover the topic.

Competing to rank for such a keyword is pretty much a losing battle. But you can go for competitive keywords where you still have a fighting chance. These are keywords where the content in the top results are out of date, lacking useful information, or not from sites with a domain authority higher than yours.

Aside from using Google search results, you can test the competitiveness of a keyword and the domain authority of your site with tools like MozBar.

Content Optimization

Content optimization for SEO isn’t one thing. It’s a long string of things that work hand in hand to make your content easy for search engine bots to scan and get it ranked highly in search results.

A simple rule of thumb is, if people find your content enjoyable and easy to read and navigate, search engines also will. Since that’s kind of vague, let’s take a detailed look at specific content optimization tactics that you can apply to improve WordPress SEO.

Add a table of contents

If your content is long, above 2,000 words, it’s important to properly break it into bits with headings. Not only does it make the content easy to read, but it also makes it easy for search engine bots to crawl.
That said, breaking up your long content with headings (h1, h2, and so on) isn’t enough. You also need to provide a table of content that lists the headings.

table of contents - WordPress SEO

The table of contents must be properly structured with each listed heading linking to the relevant portion of your content. Your website’s visitors can use the table of content to skim the page and jump to the portion of your content they want. And, like I said earlier, optimizing your content for readers equals optimizing your content for search engines.

Optimizing images in WordPress for SEO

Images are a great way to spice up a page’s content. They add value to your text and make the reading more engaging. But images weigh quite a bit, and having a lot of them on a page can slow down the page’s loading speed, which will negatively impact SEO. The solution for this is to optimize an image before uploading it.

Optimizing images for SEO first requires compressing the image so it’s of a smaller size that loads quicker. But when compressing an image, be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll end up with a lighter image with poor picture quality.

After optimizing its size for quick loading, the next step is to search engine optimize the image by adding keywords to it. The keyword must be relevant to the page you’re adding the image to. You’ll add the keywords to the image’s descriptive title and alt tags. With WordPress, this is easy as you’ll see all the fields to fill when uploading the image.

Note that stuffing keywords in an image’s file name or alt text is ill-advised. Only add keywords in these fields if it actually describes the image.

Improve content comprehensiveness

Visitors want content that answers their questions with accurate answers. Search engines want exactly the same thing. To satisfy this, you need to create content that’s above 3,000 words, especially if you are targeting competitive keywords.

The longer your content is, the more it’ll look like a high authority page, which increases its chances of getting ranked highly. But length without substance won’t get you anywhere. As such, your long content must answer every aspect of the user’s query accurately.

SERP-IQ-content-length-graph-example-of-how-to-improve-your-SEO

To provide the most comprehensive content possible, you can use a tool like Answer The Public to find question keywords related to the topic you are working on. You can use these question keywords as subheadings to expand your discussion of the topic. You can also add videos and/or infographics to spice things up.

Just as important, be sure to link to high authority sites that discuss the same topic. Not only will it back up statements in your content, but it will also boost SEO.

Remember, create content that your audience will find useful. You can find ideas for this through your keyword research, which will reveal what type of information people are looking for.

Crafting headlines and SEO titles

You need to apply your content crafting skills to your headline and SEO title, not just the body of your content. There are page headlines and post headlines. Post headlines are typically longer and should contain what the post is about, the primary keyword, and the year. Adding the year is important because it will help target date keywords.

Page headline example: WordPress SEO Guide
Post headline example: The Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO 2020: Everything You Need to improve WordPress SEO

The post headline above contains both a primary and secondary keyword. While this is useful, don’t add keywords and forget to make your headline an interesting attention grabber. People want to click on headlines that promise to answer their questions, not keywords.

The same thing goes for your SEO titles.

Using keywords properly in content

Keywords are important and useful for search engine optimization, but many people make the mistake of overusing them. Overusing keywords will lead to Google penalizing you, which will lead to a lower SEO ranking than you already have.

To get good results from using keywords, you really don’t have to use a keyword more than a few times within your content, especially within the first couple of paragraphs.
Instead of focusing on keyword density, focus on writing content well and letting it read as naturally as possible. That’s what your reader wants, and it’s what Google wants.

When it comes to the proper use of keywords, tools like Rank Math are useful but can also be misleading. For example, Rank Math wants keywords in the first paragraph, but if you start your post with an image, Rank Math counts that as your first paragraph. Also, Rank Math only detects exact matches of your focus keyword.

WordPress SEO Masterclass Course

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Utilize snippets

If you use snippets the right way, you can improve your site’s SEO and click-through rate (CTR). Using snippets correctly requires using the right number of characters, adding your keyword, and providing information that will make search engine users want to click your link.

SEO titles should be between 50 and 55 characters, while your meta description shouldn’t be more than 155. Go higher, and the whole snippet may not show up in search results.

examples of snippets

While adding your focus keyword into your snippet is important, focus more on making the snippets as click-worthy as possible. In a search engine result, your snippet is like a movie trailer. If it’s not exciting or promising enough, people will skip it for search results that look more promising.

Then there are featured snippets. While you have no control over whether Google will choose your content from a search engine result to use as a featured snippet, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances.

Featured snippets are those snapshots of a website’s content that Google shows at the very top of a search result. The featured snippet is usually a direct response to the search query. If your content gets to be in the featured snippet, it will greatly increase your CTR. That’s because being in the featured snippet implies that you have the best answer to the search query.

To increase your chances of being the featured snippet for a keyword or search query, apply the following:

  • Apply a keyword that people want a direct and short answer to. You can use Moz Keyword Explorer or Answer The Public to find such question keywords.
  • Provide the answer to the question keyword in the form of a relevant paragraph, list, or table. Also, target the keyword by using an exact match within your content.
  • Get an image that’s relevant to the keyword, optimize it, and add it to your content.
  • Make sure your content is fact-based and backed with quality references such as graphics, statistics, and links.
  • Increase your chances of being in the featured snippet by targeting question keywords that already have answers, but the current snippet feature answers the question poorly.
  • Optimize your content and images until the webpage gets ranked as the first page of search results for the keyword.

Remember that Google determines who gets to be in the featured snippet, and its choice can change over time. As long as your content is the best answer to the search query, being in the featured snippet could someday be your turn.

Adding links to your WordPress content

We already mentioned that linking to high authority websites is good, but linking to pages within your own website is just as important.

Internal links make it easy for both people and search engine bots to navigate through different pages of your website. That will increase page views from visitors and SEO from search engines.

Google and other search engines assign scores to each page on your website. The score of a page determines its page authority. While we don’t know the exact requirements for a high score, it’s safe to say the quality of the content and how much traffic it gets are big determinants.

Another major determinant is link building. So, don’t overlook linking to pages on high authority sites and pages within your own website.

Internal Links: In content, you can add links to other pages on your website. Linking to your pages that have a higher ranking is commonly recommended for SEO purposes, but linking to lesser authority pages is also crucial. Instead of focusing on SEO, just link to other pages that you can reference in your current content. By referencing your other pages, you’ll get your visitors to check them out and increase your page views.

External Links: When you link to other websites, it’s similar to citing sources to Google. As such, you should only link to high authority sites that are trustworthy.

Linking to high authority sites within your niche is better since Google will take it as a relevancy signal for your content, which, in turn, boosts SEO. But avoid linking to random or suspicious-looking sites as the wrong link can actually hurt your SEO.

Backlinks: These are a great way to build SEO, especially if you do it correctly. A backlink is formed when another website links to yours. The best way to accomplish this is to create amazing content with powerful information that people want to link to, such as content with an infographic, in-depth guides, tutorial videos, or lots of statistics.

You could also hire someone to build backlinks for you, but we don’t recommend it. Most of them use blackhat SEO tactics. These can lead to a hefty Google penalty, and it may take a long time for your site to recover.

NoFollow external links: Linking to a website passes some of your SEO score to that site via the link. For good search rankings, make sure you are getting more and giving away less link juice to other websites. You can accomplish this by adding the rel=“nofollow” attribute to links to websites you don’t own. Adding this instructs search engines to not follow those links, which saves your link juice.

Optimize WordPress comments

More comments on your WordPress site implies higher user engagement. High user engagement is good because it implies more traffic, possible backlinks, and more that can influence Google to increase your SEO rating. But that’s not going to happen if the majority of your comments are spam. Even worse, some comments contain bad links that could hurt your website.

You can use a tool like Akismet to find spammy comments and remove them.

Also, if you get lots of comments, be sure to paginate them. Why? Because too many comments on a page can lead to slow loading speeds, which is something else that affects SEO.

akismet

On that note, let’s look into speed optimization for SEO.

Speed and Performance Optimization for WordPress

What does speed have to do with SEO? Apparently, a lot.

Google is more likely to rank a site highly in a search engine result if it is fast and mobile-friendly. That’s because Google aims to offer the best possible content to its users.

In this age, people don’t want slow loading pages. In fact, the average person is unwilling to wait more than three seconds for a page to load. Also, since more people now visit websites via mobile phones than through computers, it’s important to have a responsive website that can display on any mobile device screen.

What all of this means is that Google prioritizes WordPress websites that are optimized to deliver content to people the way people want to receive it – fast and on the go.

Here are some tricks to boost performance and improve your site’s speed:

Better Web Hosting

First things first, run your website on Google PageSpeed Insights. If your server response time is worse than 320ms, you might have a problem. It’s probably time to switch to a better web host. Another indication of bad hosting is a high time-to-first-byte on GTmetrix.

A web host is a company that provides your WordPress website with all the resources it needs to go live on the internet. The hosting is done on a server, which gives your website bandwidth, disk space, and more.

If the host server can’t provide you with enough resources to power your website, it will have low loading speeds and subpar performance. One hosting company that’s notorious for this is EIG, which owns other hosting companies like HostGator, iPage, Bluehost, Site5, and several more.

For quality WordPress hosting, I recommend SiteGround. It’s reliable, secure, and fast with an average response time of 200ms and 100% GTmetrix scores.

The more speed and security your web hosting gives you, the better your SEO will be.

Read my extensive article on why Siteground are simply the best web hosting company in the world.

Lightweight themes

Themes are a great way to give your WordPress site the sort of aesthetic and functionality you want. While there are a lot of options when it comes to WordPress themes, not all of them are a good idea, especially ones with large file sizes.

The more elements and features a theme has, the longer it will take to load, slowing down your site’s overall speed. To keep page loading on your WordPress site as fast as possible, only opt for lightweight themes.

Some lightweight WordPress themes that keep things simple and fast include OceanWP, GeneratePress, and Astra. Just remember: the less busy a theme and the smaller its file size, the better.

Lightweight plugins

For people who don’t know how to code, plugins are a simple and user-friendly solution for tweaking a WordPress site. But some plugins are poorly coded, and this can lead to slow site performance.

You can use tools like New Relic to identify which plugins are slowing down your website. But because using New Relic itself slows the performance of a website, we advise that you disable it as soon as you’re done using it. In fact, to free up memory space, uninstall any plugins that you are no longer using.

After uninstalling plugins, use tools like Advanced Database Cleaner to clean up the data left behind by the uninstalled plugins.

Other speed optimization plugins you can try include:

  • Swift Performance Lite
  • WP Rocket
  • WP Fastest Cache
  • W3 Total Cache
  • AMP

Image optimization

Like we mentioned earlier, images can make a page weighty and typically cause slow loading speeds. To prevent this, be sure to compress the size of an image before uploading it to your website. You can use tools like GTmetrix to find which unoptimized images are slowing down your site.

wp-optimize image compressions features

Other useful image optimization solutions include:

  • Lazy Load for images
  • Fix the dimensions of your images
  • Losslessly compress images
  • Use CSS sprites for non-essential images
  • Serve images with a CDN
  • Cache images
  • Remove EXIF data

Optimizing the speed of your WordPress website to the fullest is another mighty beast that you must conquer and I have just the article to help you.

Read my Ultimate Guide to WordPress Speed Optimization

Use Rank Math

best SEO plugins for WordPress - RankMath

When working on SEO for WordPress, most people like to use the Yoast plugin. While Yoast has its benefits, we prefer to use the Rank Math plugin.

Some exclusive Rank Math SEO plugin benefits for WordPress include:

  • Easy to set up and configure.
  • The power to optimize rich snippets in just a few clicks
  • Unlike Yoast, which lets you optimize content for only one keyword, Rank Math lets you optimize for unlimited focus keywords per post
  • Google Search Console integration displays important information about your website
  • Rank Math tracks and shows you your keyword rankings in Google
  • It offers an LSI keyword tool that displays multiple keyword variations to use in posts
  • An advanced SEO tool performs SEO audits on your website.
  • Great for local SEO and resolving 404 errors for a better user experience.
  • Deep content analysis tests for on-page SEO and internal linking suggestions.

All of these features working together make search engine optimizing your WordPress site a breeze. And just as important, Rank Math is a super-fast plugin, so you don’t have to worry about it slowing down your site and affecting your long-term SEO.

Google Search Console

If you’ve been using Google Analytics for SEO, that’s cool. But you can get better results with Google Search Console. Here’s how:

Mobile Usability Errors

Google Search Console also has a mobile usability section that you can use to view your site’s mobile errors. Unlike Google’s Mobile Testing Tool that shows errors per page, Search Console will show results for your entire site and possible solutions.

Search Analytics

There’s an international targeting setting on Search Console that lets you target internet users all around the world. To see how effectively your site is reaching its intended audience, you can use Search Console’s search analytics. It comprehensively measures SEO with filters for checking specific stats, such as your CTR, rankings, clicks, and more.

google search console

You can also use the tool for the following:

  • Identify and improve your low-quality content with the lowest CTR
  • Compare your present SEO performance to past performances
  • See the keywords and queries your site currently ranks for and where it ranks

Local SEO

If your WordPress site is targeting people within a specific locality, local SEO is paramount.

With local SEO, potential customers within the same geographical location as your business will have an easier time finding you in search results.

Here’s how to accomplish this

Local keywords

To rank higher in Google Maps and local results, you need local keywords that are specific to the geographical location you are targeting. Such keywords are usually broad and contain the name of the specific location being targeted.

For example, if your site is for SEO services and you are targeting customers in Portland, your keyword could be “Portland SEO expert.” But if the city name is one that exists in various locations, such as Vancouver, adding the state name to the keyword is a good idea. For example, “Vancouver Washington SEO expert.”

For more accurate local keywords, you can use suggestions from Google autocomplete to find exactly what people in a locality are searching for regarding your services.

If targeting potential customers in multiple locations, you’ll have to create Geo-Targeted pages for each location using relevant keywords. For example, if targeting various cities in Oregon, there will be one page for “SEO expert in Portland,” another for “SEO expert in Salem,” and so on.
Larger cities usually have more keyword variations because they have more people running Google searches.

Geo-Targeted Pages

Your geo-targeted pages may be offering the same service to people in different localities, but each page has to be unique. Using the same content for different pages with just slight changes to the keyword will lead to duplicate content, which Google may penalize you for.

For better results, make sure each geo-targeted page contains some information that’s unique about the location, such as neighborhoods, iconic attractions, and so on.
The page should also contain your business name, address, and phone number that’s unique to that location.

Citations

Create citations, which are mentions of your business name, contact details, and social media pages. Place them in directories like YellowPages, Bing Places, Google My Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even social media, with links that lead back to your website.
This is a powerful way to boost your local SEO. You can use tools like Moz Local and Whitespark to do this.

NAP

NAP (Business Name, Address, Phone) is key to local SEO because it’s what you’ll use in your citations and on landing pages, website, footer, contact page, and so on. Just remember that the information in the NAP must be accurate and the same wherever you use it. Even the smallest difference in detail can ruin your results.

If you have businesses in more than one location, make sure the NAP is relevant to that location. For instance, don’t put a NAP for Salem on a page for your business in Oregon.

Optimizing Your Google My Business (GMB) Page

Creating a GMB page is important for local SEO, but it’s not enough. Google tends to put at the forefront active business owners that update their business hours, provide responses to questions and reviews, and basically interact with their GMB page.

To optimize your GMB page for local SEO, apply the following:

  • Make sure you have only one active GMB Page per location
  • Write a business description – no need for keywords
  • Fill out all the relevant attribute fields
  • List your menu/services
  • List your hours and special hours
  • Provide your address or service area
  • List all relevant categories of your business
  • Provide URLs for your booking appointments
  • Add photos and/or videos relevant to your business and services
  • Respond to questions and reviews.

More important than all of the above, always follow Google My Business guidelines. You can also get great results from using GMB for local SEO by taking advantage of tools like Moz Local and Whitespark.

Conclusion

Well that’s it – my WordPress SEO tutorial for the year 2020.

Even though Google’s algorithm for determining which websites to rank the highest is always changing, one thing stays the same – Google prioritizes quality content that’s well-written and provides the most valuable information.

So, instead of trying to fool Google by applying blackhat SEO tricks that may get you penalized, apply as many of the aforementioned tactics as possible.

Most importantly, populate your website with quality search engine optimized content. The more engaging your content, and the more search engine optimized it is, the higher your chances of Google and your target audience noticing you. That, in turn, will lead to higher page authority, search engine performance, and a more profitable site.

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