If you have a business website, then you might have interested in website traffic, generating lead and driving sales giving positive ROI. There are many free as well as paid methods to increase the traffic but improving SEO is something you should not ignore.
Why is SEO so important in improving the website traffic?
Before giving you an answer to that let me explain how the search engines work.
How Do Search Engines Work?
When a person searches for a particular word or phrase (keyword) in a search bar, the Google or any other search engines process that query and find the most relevant resources from the available web pages and bring to the searcher.
Search engine bots (spiders/crawlers) make this happen within a fraction of seconds with the help of advanced search algorithm (a computer program) by crawling through billions of web pages on the internet.
How would the search engine bots find the most relevant contents to the searcher’s query?
Here, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) comes into practice. Optimizing the web pages in such way that search engine spiders can easily crawl your content and make them available in SERP (Search Engine Result Page) for a particular keyword. This process of acquiring the prominent position in search results is also called as ranking.
To get such high ranking or the place on the first page of search results, you should focus on optimizing your website. More than 90% of people only visit the first page of search engines; you can easily find how important the SEO is.
It means improving SEO can bring you a better position in search and more people find your website to click on so that you will get maximum organic traffic.
Now, most of the people may think about how to optimize the web pages for search engines to improve ranking and thus traffic.
There are many SEO guides, but most of them are in technical language, and you can’t digest them easily. Fortunately, you have landed here, and I’m sure that you will get the many SEO tricks to optimize your pages for better ranking.
See, there are more than 200 major factors affecting SEO, but you need not focusing on all of them. Even small tweaks can bring a considerable change in your ranking.
These SEO factors are mainly CTR, keywords, UX, design, security, system and content optimization, etc.
Moreover, SEO has categorized into two sections called On-Pages SEO and Off-Page SEO.
It deals with optimizing the web pages, and most of the factors affecting On-Pages SEO are very easy to understand and cure. Right from visibility to search engines to the site security, nothing is very technical except a few instances where you need coding skills and in-depth knowledge of the system.
It mainly focuses on links, authority, and inbound SEO signals. Off-Page SEO revolves around the backlinks, and if you have more links from relevant authority sites, it will be beneficial to you.
Search engines treat all links equally and focus on the relevancy of those links. But, having links to authority sites can boost your traffic which has an indirect impact on SEO.
Another one misconception is about the link quantity. Many people focus on building links irrespective of quality or sometimes buy links only to get ranking in SERP. It’s not good SEO practice, and search engines can throw down such low-quality sites.
Now, you have got an overview of SEO. Let’s see how to improve your SEO step-by-step.
Why Only WordPress SEO
You might have seen many experts saying WordPress is SEO friendly platform. Is it true?
Actually, WordPress codes make sure to follow the best SEO practices, but a lot more things you need to implement for getting higher SEO score.
There are many other platforms like Blogger, Wix, etc. but the control & flexibility that WordPress gives to its users have added advantage here. And, that’s why many people choose WordPress for their website or blog.
So, in this article, I have focused mainly on WordPress SEO and tried to give the actionable tips so that you can take care of your SEO score properly to achieve your traffic goals.
Though SEO is a technical thing, you need not be a tech-savvy. Simple SEO tips mentioned here can boost your WordPress SEO score significantly.
Best WordPress SEO Practices
1. Make Your Site Visible To Search Engines
WordPress has a built-in feature for discouraging the search engines from indexing your site. It gives sufficient time to the site owner & developer to work on the specific areas before the site gets live on the web.
However, if the option remains checked even after the development has completed, then search engine bots don’t crawl that particular site keeping it out of the ranking.
If your website does not appear in the search results, then make sure that you have unchecked the option of Search Engine Visibility.
You will find this option in Admin Dashboard >> Setting >> Reading once you log in your website.
Uncheck the box in front of Search Engine Visibility and save the changes you have made.
2. Using SEO Friendly URL Structures in WordPress
You might have heard the terms permalink & canonical URL. What is the meaning of them? How they affect SEO?
The permalink is a permanent static hyperlink structure you set for your web pages while canonical URL means SEO friendly URL that you want visitors to see.
Canonical a.k.a. preferred URL contains the words explaining the contents on your page and make search engines as well as human visitors easy to understand your page contents.
As search engines treat canonical URL authoritative, setting up your web page URLs canonical adds an advantage in your SEO campaign.
Some examples of the canonical URL are
If you have not set the permalink to the post name, then you might end up with some ugly looking URLs that don’t specify the web page contents.
The examples of random ugly URLs are
Can you guess what the web pages are by just looking at these URLs?
Remember, using SEO friendly URLs can improve your ranking in SERP. It’s very easy to set up permalink structure by the post name so that it will look canonical.
You need to log in the Admin Dashboard of your WordPress website and go to the Settings option and then Permalinks. You will see different options for setting the Permalinks structure.
Select the permalinks by Post name and save the changes.
Important: Don’t try to change your permalink structure for the old post, more than six months unless they have set to the number option. Otherwise, you will lose the SEO value and social counts for that particular URLs.
Still, you want to change the permalink settings, use a proper redirect (mostly 301-permanent redirect) pointing the new URLs. If you are not confident about your coding skills, it would be better to hire a professional.
If you are in the initial stage, then make sure to do it with priority. Some SEO plugins like Yoast SEO has amazing features to set canonical URLs in one click.
3. Improving Website Loading Speed
Many people say website loading time affect SEO score and Google penalizes the slow loading sites.
What is the secret behind this? Is it truth or a myth?
No, it’s not a myth.
The website loading time is a vital part of SEO.
When a person searches for a particular keyword and clicks on any link in the SERP, search engine redirects him on that web page.
If the page does not load within the first 3 seconds, then the half of all visitors abandon that page and click the back button.
It reduces the on-page time and increases the bounces rate which both are the signs of bad user experience.
It may lower the reputation of the search engine itself which is a very serious issue in this competitive world. So, search engines penalize the slow loading sites and promote faster sites in search results.
Slow loading of websites may happen due to poor optimization of codes, clutter on the page, unnecessarily large-sized contents especially images, flash and videos that take a lot of time to render, etc.
Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project is an initiative to improve site speed (up to 85%) on mobile devices and thus ensuring a better user experience.
Recommended read: 16 Simple Hacks to Speed Up WordPress Site in 2019
4. Setting Up WWW Vs. Non-WWW URL
There is no considerable SEO benefit of setting www before the domain name. You can choose any one according to your preference and stick to it.
Changing non-www URL to www or vice versa randomly is not good SEO practice as search engines treat both URLs different.
Many people prefer non-www URLs because they are short and easy to remember, but www URLs have some technical benefits when your site grows up to a large one. (Source)
Despite that, you need not worry about this part. You can change it from your admin settings.
Go to Admin Dashboard >> Settings >> General and add your preferred URL structure before WordPress address and site address.
Save the changes but don’t forget to update your site in the Google Search Console if you have already added the website there. Use proper redirections to your old URLs pointing the newer ones.
5. Adding an XML Sitemaps
Before going to learn about how to create an XML sitemap and submit to search console, I will tell you what the XML sitemap is in brief.
The XML sitemap is a list of pages on your website or a model of contents designed in such way that both search engine spiders and users can easily navigate (crawl) the website.
It’s an index that lists the web pages & navigation links designed in a hierarchical manner. It speeds up the crawling process and reduces the chances that spiders overlook your subpages due to improper navigation.
The search engines can only display the pages which have been crawled by the spiders, hence adding sitemap is very important.
You can use WordPress plugins like Google XML sitemap or external sources like online XML sitemap generator to create a sitemap of your site.
Once, you have generated an XML sitemap, submit it to the search console.
Visit the Google search console and log in to the admin area. Find the Sitemaps option under Crawl menu and add your sitemap there. You can use option ‘Fetch As Google’ to boost up this process by inviting search engine bots to crawl your site.
This process makes your site appear in the organic listing of the search engines which you can improve later by using other SEO tips.
6. Securing Website With SSL Certificate (HTTPS)
Site security is one of the major factors that Google takes into consideration while ranking. Preventing hackers from injecting different types of viruses or malicious codes in your system are the best ways to keep your site safe.
There are many plugins which take care of the website security from external attacks.
The services like Sucuri will also help you in monitoring the site for threats.
Adding SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is another good security option where the connection between browser & server remains encrypted which adds a layer of protection to your website.
Nowadays, many companies provide SSL certificates including Comodo, GeoTrust, etc. while some companies including Let’s Encrypt and CloudFlare provides free SSL certificates.
Read this article: How to Add CloudFlare Free SSL to Your WordPress Website?
The SSL protected sites are indicated by HTTPS over the regular non-SSL site with HTTP only. Some websites have a green padlock sign & prefix Secure before the web address having more security and EV/OV certification.
If you are running an e-commerce site or processing some sensitive data like credit/debit card payments, then you must protect your site with SSL.
Web hosting providers like SiteGround provide free SSL if you purchase their web hosting plans. You will also find easy SSL integration with other managed WordPress hosting companies.
7. Make Your Site Mobile Responsive
The number of mobile users is increasing rapidly, and now more traffic comes from mobile.
Currently, more than 90% of internet users own mobiles. So, you must quickly act to make your site mobile responsive.
Creating a separate site for mobile users may be one option, but building a mobile responsive site is the best choice.
By the way, what is a responsive website?
The responsive website changes its layout according to the viewport size and orientation to get optimized viewing or user experience on the different type of devices.
Check whether your website is mobile responsive or not by using Google’s mobile-friendly test.
These basic SEO tips you should consider before going to the advanced level. Apart from these, you need to know a few things especially Google’s search engine updates that I’m going to mention in brief.
This is not a guideline about Google’s search engine algorithm but something you should keep in mind. As Google is the largest search engine to the current date, I have focused the Google updates only.
How Google’s Search Engine Updates Have Affected SEO
1. Google Panda
Google Panda is an update to Google’s search algorithm to lower the ranking of low-quality sites or thin sites and display high-quality sites on the top of the search results. This updates is released in February 2011 and affected many low-quality sites especially the content farms.
2. Google Penguin
You know that the relevant backlinks are still alive and you can boost your ranking with it. But, after Google launched the Penguin update in April 2012, many sites got penalized for spamming the search results.
Obtaining links from the networks which are primarily designed to boost ranking in SERP or buying links for the same purpose has not remained useful now.
3. Google Pirate
In August 2012, Google launched another filter to its search algorithm called Pirate Update. It was designed to prevent the sites from escaping from copyright infringement reports. The sites which were escaping easily after breaking copyrights can be caught now.
4. Google EMD
The EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update launched in September 2012 prevents the low-quality sites ranking high in SERP due to match the search query with the domain. By improving SEO, these sites can also get back in search results.
5. Google Payday
The Payday Update has released on June 11, 2013, targeted towards cleaning up the search results for traditional heavily spammed queries like pornographic and Payday loan.
After Google launched this update, the ranking for spammed queries fell down dramatically.
6. Google Hummingbird
Google’s Hummingbird Updates is mainly focused on contents paying attention to each word in the search query. It ensures the users get the most relevant materials to the search query by understanding the meaning of the whole sentence, not an only keyword.
7. Google Pigeon
On July 24, 2014, Google launched the Pigeon update for its local search algorithm, aiming to increase the ranking of local listings in the search results. This update affects the search results shown not only in the regular search results but Google Maps search too.
8. Google Mobile-Friendly Ranking
After that Google released the Mobile friendly ranking algorithm update on April 21, 2015, to boost the mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results.
Nowadays, more than half of all traffic comes from mobile devices, and this is something you should not ignore. Check your site for mobile-friendliness to ensure better ranking in the search results.
9. Google Rank Brain
Rank Brain is another update in the search engine algorithm designed to process search queries and interpret them with artificial intelligence (AI). It understands what users want and provides the most appropriate search results. It’s useful for Google’s high-end projects like self-driving cars.
Still, Rank Brain is supposed to be a part of Google’s Hummingbird Update and it’s Google’s name for a machine-learning artificial intelligence system.
10. Google Fred
Google’s Gary Illyes has confirmed the new change in Google’s search algorithm. It has begun on March 07, 2017, targeted at low-quality contents. Fred is the most recent update in Google’s search engine algorithm we know publicly.
Still, there are many updates are rolling out and Google changes it’s algorithm almost every day. From my observation, it’s clear that Google wants the in-depth & original contents that people are demanding to give the highest possible delight & great user experience.
11. Speed Update
Google has officially announced that the page speed will be used as a ranking factor for mobile searches which was previously focused on the desktop searches only.
Here is what Google has said about this Speed update,
The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.
What Is On-Page SEO?
I have mentioned what the on-page SEO means in brief, earlier in this post. Now, I’m going to explain a few important yet actionable tips that you can follow yourself without much technical knowledge of SEO.
1. Keyword Research
It’s the most important step in optimizing the web pages. Whether you have business selling products & services or not, market research and especially keyword research is something you can’t ignore.
Find the keywords that people are searching and your competitor are ranking.
There are many free as well as premium tools are available for keyword research. Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere Google Chrome Extension, and LSI Graph are a few free tools I use for keyword research.
Understanding short-tail/broad vs. long-tail/narrow keywords is also beneficial. According to the search volume and competition, you should use appropriate keywords for your website.
If you want to know more about SEO keyword research, here’s a complete guide about How to Find Low Competition Keywords with High Traffic and Rank My Website at the Top of the SERP.
2. Title Tags & Headings
By optimizing the title tag around your focused keyword, you can let search engine spiders know about which your content is.
Google only shows the first 50-60 characters of your title. So, keeping your title length around this is a good practice where maximum chances of your title will display properly in search results. It also affects CTR (Click-through-rate) to your website which is another ranking factor for SEO.
At the same time, optimizing headings will help the users and search engines to understand your contents in a better way. Heading tag length should be 15-60 characters, and you can use Heading 1 to Heading 6 for your post.
Adding focused keywords to your heading tags is a good signal to boost your SEO ranking by a little but be aware of Black-Hat SEO practices like keyword stuffing which may harm your SEO.
Including a meta-description around 156 characters will let your users find about which topic you have written that particular post. Actually, meta description doesn’t hold too much value for SEO but provides a preview for your people enticing to click on your link.
It’s recommended that you should use the original & unique meta description for each blog post. You can also add your targeted keywords to it.
3. Page Contents
Page contents or body contains the major part of your blog post, especially for a text-based blog. Optimizing page contents to give a great user experience is a good sign of SEO.
For a blog post, write 2000+ or even larger high-quality post which is intended to solve the problems of the people. If it’s not possible, then write at least 1000-1200 words article.
Thin contents are no longer useful for SEO but same time ensures that you are providing some value to your audience.
Another, important point to mention here is customizing the web page with styling options like bold, italic, underline or adding an appropriate color scheme which lets people read your copy easily.
Adding keywords naturally in the copy will help you to boost your SEO ranking. Use the keywords only 1-2% of all content in your blog post. It’ll not annoy the users, and they will stay on your site for the maximum time.
The videos are another important content type you can use on your site to improve the engagement of visitors and pull them in the buyer’s journey.
Don’t upload the videos directly to your website. Instead of that upload them to a video sharing site like YouTube, Vimeo or DailyMotion, etc. and embed in your post. It will save your resources and increase the chances of referral traffic providing the double advantage.
4. Image Optimization
Image or any type of visual helps in engaging visitors with your blog post. You can convey your message in a better way through the graphical format.
Some simple SEO practices in image optimization can boost your search ranking. I’m going to list a few of them.
Use only relevant and high-quality images but in appropriate size and resolution required in your blog post. You can use image compression before uploading the images to your website.
Add title and alt-text to every image you upload. The alt-text should be clear, concise but descriptive. The search engines can’t read your images so that adding alternative text is important during image optimization. It also helps users to identify which the image is when it does not load due to slow loading speed or browser incompatibility.
You can also add caption and image description if you have enough time for it.
Making your images shareable can add more traffic boost and social signals.
A smooth and easier site navigation enhance the user experience. Make sure you have clear navigation links or menus on every page except the landing pages. Find and cure the broken links as soon as possible.
The breadcrumbs are useful for navigation aid in the user interface. People can know where they are on site by indicating their location hierarchy in a visual aid and helps in smooth navigation.
You should make sure that your website is crawlable by users as well as search engine spiders without any difficulty. The site menus, clickable logo, hyperlinked images, etc. other means of navigation and internal linking will help you here.
You can use WordPress plugins like Broken Link Checker for that.
Internal linking is another SEO practice you should not ignore. Try to link a post to other relevant articles on your blog.
Adding at least three internal links through anchor text help the search engines to find the relevant contents and users to know more about the particular topic in your copy.
It also increases on-page duration, page views and decreases the bounce rate of your site.
6. Properly Using Categories And Tags
WordPress has a special feature of categories and tags to organize your contents.
The category is a broad grouping of your posts having a common thread among all of them. E.g. For a travel/tourism blog, the categories may be honeymoon destinations, special cuisines, accommodation, adventures, etc.
You can also add subcategories to enhance site structure.
The tags are more specific keywords relevant to your particular post. Adding tags can boost your visibility, or you can place a tag cloud to your web pages to let people know about your posts & browse your website quickly. If you have an e-commerce website with WooCommerce, then you can add product tags to improve visibility for your products.
Not only users but search engine bots can easily browse your contents if you are using categories and tags.
7. Customizing Web Pages For SEO
It’s something miscellaneous still I have managed to put in here. While customizing a web page, make sure you have minified the codes which is useful in site loading time also. Make your homepage clutter free and other pages too.
If you have a blog, add up to 8-10 posts only per page and use excerpt rather than a full post. AJAX Loading and Lazy Load are a couple of features helpful in improving site loading time and thus the user experience.
Minimize the use of external scripts and fonts whenever possible.
Add social share icons or links to your profile but make them load after initial render. Placing them in the footer or at the end of the content will help you more in engagement.
The Same rule applies to the scripts used for external ads which are diluting your SEO efforts. Ads are important for earning money but don’t let them rule your page speed, SEO and spoil user experience. The malicious codes in your ads or external scripts may also hurt your SEO.
Another point to mention here is blog comments. Though comments are a sign of user engagement, make sure you have limited number of comments per page.
Delete the irrelevant and spam comments which are not adding value to the conversation. Akismet is a great plugin that will help you in fighting with comment spam and monitoring the comment section.
What Is Off-Page SEO
The Off-Page SEO focuses on improving the authority of your domain through getting the inbound signals especially highly relevant links from other websites.
I have briefed about it earlier but now take an example to understand it.
Suppose, you want to create a 5-floor building. An engineer has told that you need to build the first floor and strengthen it, then second and then third, fourth and fifth.
What will happen if you build all the floors at once without strengthening any of them?
You can create a five-floor building, but it won’t last that much longer as the previous one, or you have expected.
This applies to the link building also. Your links should look natural and from authority or relevant sites to your website’s topic.
Guest posting, HARO signup, websites like Quora, SlideShare & Reddit, social bookmarking, directory submission & online PR are a few strategies to boost your off-page SEO.
Affiliate marketing, Blog commenting and involving the influencer’s events are something you can do with a little effort.
Buying links or spamming search results will no longer help you in ranking for a long time.
Remember, the links are not only inbound, but they can also be outbound or external. You can add rel=”Nofollow” to the external links to save SEO juice but not necessary for all sites.
Adding Nofollow relationship attribute to external sites, you discourage search engines not to follow these links. For ads and affiliate links, you should add this attribute, but if you feel a particular site adding value to your contents, you can consider using Dofollow attributes there.
Social strategy with major networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, etc. has a significant impact (and source of traffic too) on your SEO ranking.
Ultimately creating the skyscraping contents and in-depth contents that people are looking for is the best off-page SEO technique to boost your SEO ranking. Here, people will link and share your site as it’s actually providing value to them.
Look at the influencers in your industry; you will find what I am saying.
Something Important About WordPress SEO
You have now learned a small portion of SEO that you can practice yourself. Still, check the errors using the analytics tools available to you. You can find some free as well as premium tools to audit your site and improve you SEO.
Google Analytics & Search Console can measure many metrics associated with your SEO and provide recommendation over the issues with your site. SEMRush & Moz are other good alternatives in your SEO journey.
If you are confused with SEO, you can hire a WordPress SEO expert or agency to work for you. But remember SEO is an ongoing process. So learning and practicing yourself is more beneficial here if you have enough time. The WordPress SEO plugins like Rank Math can help you to learn and improve SEO strategy.
Look, SEO is not something that you can achieve overnight. It’s a strategy in digital marketing to get free ranking in search results to avail maximum organic traffic. Integrate it with other digital marketing components to achieve the better results for your campaign.
Stay updated and tuned with us. And, if you have any query, put in the comment box below.