WordPress SEO : Getting the basics right

WordPress SEO.

Tuning your WordPress content to pander to the whims of Google and it’s search ranking machine has become a lot easier in the last few months.

WordPress has a definite unfair advantage in the eyes of Google, the search giant seems to reward your site with higher page ranking, fewer issues and faster indexing – just by using WordPress as your digital platform.

That’s not to say that you can fire and forget, many organisations make basic errors in how they implement WordPress, which hurts the way they are indexed. When choosing your WordPress agency it’s important not to forget the role SEO plays and is one of the lesser known reasons to use WordPress.

It’s structure, publishing mode and availability of plugins makes SEO a simple, and almost joyous, activity to carry out.

SEO and WordPress, a strategy

Having a great site and a well-formed digital strategy must include SEO, so here is a short guide on how to succeed with your SEO strategy when using WordPress. It should be pointed out that this article is designed for clients, and not for SEO professionals, as a result huge swathes of techniques are avoided and the language kept simple.

If you already have a professional SEO company working on a plan then seek their advice first. If they are not WordPress experts and you are using WordPress then find a new WordPress Agency with good SEO skills. This is rule one, the agency you choose must have demonstrable experience in both WordPress and SEO.

It’s all about SEO best practices

Google publishes a long list of best practices, and at the same time hides away the actual algorithm it uses to rank sites. They do this to stop SEO gaming that traditionally made the SEO sector so successful in the noughties. It was a bad time.

Best practices with WordPress are similar to old-fashioned hand-built sites but with specific challenges. So, old-school SEO is out and best practices are in, but where to start?

  • Make sure your WordPress site loads quickly. Google will penalise your ranking if the site takes more than a second to load, or the server is slow. We suggest you use Pingdom tools and Google Pagespeed to measure the performance of your site and focus on speed of loading.
  • Use a responsive WordPress theme. Google rewards web sites that render equally as well on mobile devices as desktops and responsive is their preferred method.
  • Content is king. The posts section (blog/news) of your site should contain lots of relevant and original content focused on your subject matter. Frequent updates of articles of around 600 words is what Google currently favours so put in place a content plan that is a) better than your competition and b) manageable.
  • Install an SEO plugin. Lots are available, so go for a reputable one – we use “All in One” but WordPress.org has a big list of good SEO plugins.
  • Focus, focus, focus. Create a short list of around 20 phrases that encircle a users potential search term – avoid industry words, users won’t use them. When writing content make sure you use just one or two of these standardised phrases in each content element. It makes reading easier for the visitor and also should see a nice spread of search-relevant words contained in the articles you write.
  • Relevant page naming. Each item should, where possible, contain some of the keywords in it’s URL. WordPress usefully provides a simple way to edit the page name.
  • Disperse keywords amongst content. But do make sure it appears in the first couple of lines and a sub-heading but take care not to stuff content and, and make sure the keyphrase appears no more than every 10 to 15 lines.
  • Optimize Meta Titles And Descriptions. The meta title and description is the snippet of information you see in Google’s search results. It’s normally generated automatically but we recommend hand cutting it as Google sometimes gets it wrong. Use a good SEO Plugin such as All in One to do this easily.
  • Human readable. Write for real people, not search engines. If you write for Google it will be unreadable and Google can penalise it. Consider using readability checkers to ensure the content is good
  • Do the right Google stuff. This means setting up Google webmaster tools (GWT) and stepping through the process of managing site maps, indexing, exclusions etc. There are guides on Google for setting up GWT in conjunction with WordPress. Here is Google’s view on how to do this.
  • Get social. Link WordPress to Twitter, Google+ and maybe Facebook. There are only 2 good plugins, one is from Mailchimp and other is Automattic’s JetPack. Every article needs to be shared on those networks and the social feeds should also be shown on your site. These frequent changes are rewarded by Google and also sees your site ranking change a good deal faster
  • WordPress post-specific best practices. Google will penalise repeat content so exclude post categories and archives from being indexed to reduce the occurrence of repeated copy.
  • Measure and report. Use an application of your choice for reporting on search engine positions. You can do this manually (make sure your browser is logged out and your cache/cookies are cleared) but we use Position.ly, to report and record.
  • Don’t panic. Resist the urge to knee-jerk every time your ranking shifts, rashly changing what you do will be detrimental to a good campaign. Good rankings take a while to build up, there are no (long-term) short cuts.
  • PPC supports SEO. Glue your PPC to your SEO work and work in tandem, they will co-support each other and speed the whole process up. Keep all your traffic on the same primary domain.
  • Learn, and learn again. Get to grips with how Google works, or ignore it completely and hire a professional company with good history and lots and lots of prove-able experience. A poor knowledge of SEO will produce worse results than no knowledge.

This is just a flavour – an overview, we recommend starting by spending your time understanding what is required and then, if budget allows, talk to a professional agency. A good WordPress agency will understand all these elements and you should be able to buy-in SEO services for a day or two a month to get you started. Operationally, SEO is typically half a day a week in terms of basic resource. Content planning and delivery can take a lot longer.

Massive list of caveats: If your site has taken a beating due to poor practice in the past then you’ll need specialist help (talk to us). If your domain name is new, things are harder and it will take longer. Don’t be tempted to run two websites with similar content, this will ruin your plan. Don’t hire an amateur, only use professional companies with provable track-records, get-rich-quick is the fastest way to ruin your sites for months or years to come. Don’t copy your competitors without understanding the why, you may be implementing bad practice.

There’s no promises with SEO, so don’t believe those that do promise. Ignore amateur and pub advice, if you need help – speak to a professional. If you have poor in-house digital services then you will need the help of a professional agency, always.

As the advice is often “find a professional SEO agency”, how do you appoint one? You could use us, that’s simple enough. Failing that look for a real company, based in your company that has a long track record of delivering good search engine work for a good number of relevant clients.

Running (or considering) WordPress? You should hire a company who does both WordPress and SEO and has done so for at least a couple of years.

Whatever you do, stay away from one-man-bands and gifted amateurs – if they were any good they wouldn’t be amateurs and they’d have proper companies. These are the worst of the SEO world and so very dangerous – send them to your competitors instead!

If you want to talk SEO, then you can contact us. It should be noted that we don’t sell SEO services standalone, only as part of a wider digital brief. Oh, and we’re WordPress-only so will only carry out SEO as part of a WordPress Support contract.

Happy ranking,

By Penny Driscoll